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Bernadette Mayer reads from Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager is a favorite book of mine because it was the first book Bernadette Mayer published after her stroke, and as I read it I knew that she could still write a poem. I went upstate to visit her a little while ago and she agreed that she also liked Scarlet Tanager. I asked her if she would read a few poems from it and she agreed. “Wars” was published earlier in another book of hers, Another Smashed Pinecone, and may have been written long before the stroke when she was living in Massachusetts with Lewis Warsh and their daughters, Marie and Sophia in the 70s.




Bernadette enjoys language so much and knows it so well that she can easily play games. Any excuse for language is one of them. A poem of hers, Incidents Report Sonnet, was translated into French by twelve people at the Abbaye de Royaument. Bernadette doesn’t know French, but she translated Sonnet De La Main Courante back into English just for the fun of it.




On hearing her read To Admiral Scott About Space, the listener has no idea that the words are contained in (constrained into) stanzas of four lines. These stanzas, rectangles in space soon turn into one line after another, all remaining, however, within the limits of that frame. Not so the language breaking free of its chains.





Tomorrow is an anti-war poem. I’m an ESL teacher and have used it successfully working with students getting them familiar with the future and the conditional helping verbs in English. War? What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.


I forgot to ask Bernadette to read Well When You Begin A Poem, which is the other poem that is published in both Another Smashed Pinecone and Scarlet Tanager. I may have been the only person in the world who knew that, but now you do too—and I add it just for the heck of it.


New Directions:


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