Mayer & Mulligan Reading

The Red Square reading by Bernadette Mayer and Joe Mulligan on Friday was a treat, if I may say so myself, with an excellent audience of over fifty — which is major for a date when the University is not yet in session. This venue is the best thing that has happened to Albany in a while & the owner is as enthusiastically welcoming to poetry as he is to post-punk rock. With a bit of luck we’ll be able to turn this once-off reading into a series.

It was my pleasure to introduce the poets and while waiting for a bit of free time to turn this blog into a vlog and post audio & video excerpts from the reading, I’ll append the little intros I composed for occasion:

Intro to Bernadette Mayer:

Whenever I get the feeling that I have read too much experimental avant-garde poetry or else too much traditional classic verse poetry or again too many of those new-fangled foreign, just-translated world poetry poets, and I get worried that I may never ever want to read another poem, avant-garde, old-fashioned or foreign because this indigestion has killed my appetite for keeps, well, then I turn to a book by the good doctor Bernadette Mayer. I open it at random & just start reading, and after a few lines I can feel that bloated feeling going away, there may even be a little wind down there, but there certainly is immediate relief. A page or two in, my appetite returns, my muscles begin to relax — except for those 124 or however many face muscles they say are involved in smiling, because they’re all busy by now. And depending on the poem, a smile can become a giggle or even a guffaw. In fact, therapeutically speaking, you can treat yourself allopathically or homeopathically: a brief one- or two-liner or one of the lovely aphorisms in Scarlet Tanager can have the same amazing effect as reading 20 or 30 pages from memory or from The Desire of Mothers to Please Others in Letters. I recommend reading Mayer for all sorts of occasions & all sorts of places: she is truly a woman for all seasons, in the city or upstate, she covers the waterfront. But don’t just take my word for it. Listen to Robert Creeley who says about her: “What a clear health there is here — as if the so-called world were seriously the point, which it is, and we could actually live in it, which we do… Bernadette Mayer makes a various world of real people in real times and places, a fact of love of loving use. She has impeccable insight and humor. She is a consummate poet no matter what’s for supper or who eats it. Would that all genius were that generous.” Indeed, her poetry shows extraordinary inventiveness — the way, as Jackson Mac Low put it, “she bounces experimental art balls off traditional walls” — & vast erotic energy at the service of a wonderfully wide imagination — that incorporates the wildest flights of Dada fancy with the down-home yet visionary hearth-flights of an Emily Dickinson.

Introduction for Joseph Mulligan:

Joe Mulligan is awesome. He was already awesome when I first met him some 4 years ago when as a crazy undergraduate he proposed to do a translation of Vallejo’s Trilce — the most difficult & untranslatable book of twentieth Century Latin American avant-garde poetry — which he proceeded to do excellently so. And then, when he could have gone on to grad school having done a major piece of literary work, he feels that he needs to more on Trilce & goes down to Peru where he has been working on it & his own poetry for the last couple years. This is the way things should be done by young poets: apprentice yourself to a major older poet like Vallejo, translate him or her & work at the same time on your own poetry, all this a few 1000 miles away from the next MFA program. And it has worked out for Mulligan: last year he published his first substantial collection, Lo, including poems and translations — & I hope Joe has some copies of this here for sale after the reading. But I am sure that today we will also hear new work done since then, and I for one am most eager to do so. Please welcome Joe Mulligan.

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