Saturday, August 06, 2005

Bernadette Mayer on the Ancient Sonnet

I’ve read some of Bernadette Mayer’s sonnets. As well as some of her other poems. And I have to say that she just doesn’t do it for me at all (not because of obfuscation either; her work is all too clear). But that’s neither here nor there. I just want Mayer to speak to us about the sonnet, and after much searching, I finally located an online interview with Mayer on the sonnet at the Internet Archive. Here are some telling excerpts.
I like the sonnet form because it gives you the chance to develop some thought, and then come to a conclusion. It's all totally false -- that's not how you really think, but in a way, it is how you think, so that' s why sonnets are interesting. Sonnets pretend to reflect the way you think. That's always been my theory.


Also, of course, a sonnet is notorious for having a certain number of lines, even though it doesn't really. Fourteen lines is the traditional kind of sonnet, but a sonnet until recently could be as long as fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, or eighteen lines. When I say "recently" I'm talking about the sixteenth century.


I think it's important to tell children - or anyone who's learning about poetry - that a sonnet isn't a fourteen-line poem. Many ancient authors wrote sonnets that were longer or shorter than what many of us might imagine a sonnet should be. Catullus would write eleven-line poems that were twelve lines long. I think if you tell somebody a form is a certain length, they really believe you, and that's too bad. Catullus didn't really write sonnets, of course. He wrote in hendecasyllables, which are eleven-syllable lines, and then a lot of them were twelve-syllable lines. In other languages or in other times, nobody took these rules too seriously. They broke them all the time. I'm sure they took the rules seriously, but they seriously broke them. That's kind of fun, actually, breaking the rules. It also calls attention to the way in which you broke the rules.
Sonnet August Five

I met a lovely couple who live in a houseboat
on Ipswich Bay. They were moored on the riverside
in Newburyport that day. Old hippies they. But wealthy
now after making 'tres' killings in the nineteen-nineties
on Amazon stock. They both cried, yay! She was into plastic
surgery and Gingko; he espoused Viagara and green “tay”.
They fucked like Niagara he laughed. And she raised
a question. Do I like faux tits? It’s a wonder what they do
with the medicine show these days. He made a princely obscene
gesture with his rolling stone tongue and said I adore
the koans of Bernadette Mayer under the red chandelier.
If she asked me if I knew the poet and if so if I could
reach her and arrange a three-way reading. She winked.
Now that’s what I call a real Yankee Homecoming. He blinked.

~Son Rivers 2005

1 comment:

little kernel said...

Bernadette is my favorite!! I can't believe you feel the same way. For less sophisticated language, but great true life laughs, feel free to check out my blog.