Bill Berkson & Bernadette Mayer
excerpt from What's Your Idea of a Good Time?: Interviews & Letters 1977-1985
What's Your Idea of a Good Time?: Interviews & Letters 1977-1985
Tuumba Press, 2006
255 pp. $13.50.
Available through Small Press Distribution (firstname.lastname@example.org)
SECOND SET OF QUESTIONS WRIT FOR BILL BERKSON ON VALENTINES DAY 1981
You like Valentine's Day? Do you do anything on it?
What do you think about "performance poetry"?
Did the noises of the city ever bother you?
Does cold weather relate to hard work in your mind?
Have you ever read Life Against Death by Norman O. Brown?
Does sophistication necessitate and/or belie sarcasm?
You say: "declaration seems like a miracle" – Explain!
Are you the same person you were 15 years ago?
Does style in poetry seem to you to have a political or sociological significance?
What are your fantasies about writing?
What's the difference between observing and honesty?
Do you have a desire to know all about science? Did you ever want to be a doctor? A lawyer? Any sort of professional person, as they say?
Are you vain about your looks?
Who are the other "chamber music" poets?
Please tell me if you think feeling is a form of behavior and if love is a feeling.
Have you ever read the works of Erving Goffmann?
Have you ever attributed poetical qualities to moths?
What is your secret inner life? What do you think about when lying abed alone?
Do you like to write occasional poems? Do you like it when you are called upon to make poetry serve a purpose? Do you like writing for a deadline?
Do drinking, smoking, drugs or anything similar ever affect your writing?
What would a post-verbal culture entail? What would that be like?
How can you say hedonism doesn't mix with art?
Is heroin addiction shocking? What shocks you?
What's the worst thing you've ever done?
What is your complaint, right now? (write in poetic form.)
What's your favorite poetic form?
Are you prejudiced against rhetoric?
Leonardo da Vinci wrote his journals backwards so they could only be read in the mirror, like many children write; Shakespeare said, I can't quote him, that life is all the same, Clark knows where it is, Hawthorne wrote a story about looking in a mirror, Edgar Poe wrote about William Williams and his double, as did Thomas Mann. My question is, my twin, my transposed head, my dear Steinian lack of identity, my psychologic imposter: do you think that you are you? And, while writing, when beyond you, is it another?
If I made a series of photographs of fruit markets on First Avenue, would you think that silly? Or corny?
What is corny?
What do you think of homeopathy? Of schoolyard basketball?
Who's your favorite Latin/Greek poet?
Are you a pantheist? Were you ever one?
What are you wearing?
March 8, 1981
Lynn is back from Mexico so my complaints have diminished lots. The nut-brown maid! & I have a new silver ring besides. We've been studying Moses's first report card with its funny levels of grading: M, P, I, N. It's all about amounts of time, except I which means "Improving." He's doing OK, it seems, but the motor skills have to catch up with his pride. Mostly we are concerned about the teacher, Pt's, poor printing & the idea that in studying matched sets any 5-6-year-old should be expected to know a cot from a bed, beef from meat, boxes from cartons, & therefore rhyme them image-wise (via drawings) according to the teacher's whim. For chrissake! Meanwhile my sweet-bumblebee instructions as poet in the school continue apace. Most classes are brilliant & so, like they say in the trade, gratifying. One in particular is deadheads, truly apathetic, & I have to think hard to come up with inspiring ideas for them. Ritalin? (I left, I realize, that drug off my list for you, but anyway it's a bummer.) One thing I discover in other classes is how much kids dig forms, poetic forms, and especially counting. Like for the first time in teaching Wms Red Wheelbarrow I had them count out the syllables 4-2/3-2/4-2 & look hard at the spaces between every two lines & that they loved & wanted to match somehow. Funny, I can't remember the last time I counted other than lines (stresses, etc) in writing poems, & now feel compelled to try it. Who knows, maybe I'll be able to answer your questions better with a little practice, a few hendesyllabics, yeah.
Thanks for your Valentine, honeybunch!
COMPLAINT, OR THE FORM OF WHAT REMAINS ON THIS PAGE
Lynn is in Mexico. Maybe you wonder if this makes me distressed, bereft, jealous, using solitude wisely (writing, writing answers to these questions, reading Frances Yates, the last few cantos of Purgatorio, Paul Bowles' Up Above The World), lying abed thinking what's so great about Mexico, about my father, the extra housework. The floor was has specks of grit in it, won't dry quickly enough & I have wet (red) socks from pussyfooting it to get to the refrigerator & stove. (Oh buzzing exalted, do I need more coffee for this?) Vexed as I am love poems for an absent lover are unlikelier than poems from me when I'm traveling, when I am absent. How absent am I? It was wonderful to hear Bob Creeley once describe someone's personality (Ebbe Borregaard) as "beautifully absent." In school Moses is having difficulties with small motor skills, forming the letters over dots between lines. It's like your question about poetic form. I never feel like writing lines on a ruled page. Today to Moses I said "Please stop hitting me!" I didn't turn into my father (I never seem to as a father) who used to poke at me & screw up his eyes like a Chinaman. Some clown. He applied what he called "Dutch Rub," with knuckles, to my scalp. He called me Bub, which later I found out was a Chicago School term of endearment. The last time I spoke with him before he died he called me Bub. Then about two weeks later I got a phone call that he had died. First a doctor then my mother on the phone. I called him Dad or Daddy. I can't be called on to complain. If my father didn't stick around to explain my relationship with him in grown-up terms there's probably freedom in it both ways. But it leaves an enigma among my thoughts about, as you would have it, identity and destiny, both.I woke up yelling.
I'm crying all the time now.
Vista'd my haunts I know not subject for.
It's not the Curse, it's the Plague.
I have a job to undo it
I object. Too bad. Case dismissed! "What have you got to complain about? You've had a good life!" (-- Anne Waldman, New Years, 1969). This good life of compartmentalized energies I often feel helpless to gain mastery o'er! With luck it works? With quirks? I wouldn't rhapsodize about demonology or mistake angels for my personal vernacular. I knew a guy who said "huh" every time he talked. But I'm sure Clark is right about something (speaking of mysteries to me) (he is one) even if his self-view is written as practically all complaint. Since my self-view turns out all like that when I begin to express it I have to wonder who the hell is talking. Because I honestly don't feel like that, I don't listen that way. Am I then listening in the wrong direction? Do you know what I'm talking about here? (Room here for several lectures by Ted on Polish pronouns & what is a "shiftless" person.) The words we're supposed to know turned judgment inward somehow, unspeakably false, & when in disgrace in that regard naturally we feel bad. I feel bad, yeah, but this thing I hear seems a common indictment, a language horror. I do think only poetry can take command & alter this horror, & the proof of that is what makes Williams & Frank O'Hara & maybe 1 or 2 of the living us so great. Showing up the horror & maintaining that it is unalterable, despite everything being so sublime is John Ashbery's (I don't think lesser) glory. Philip Guston's late paintings tore his own battles on these grounds, grounded in language as you see, wide open! What do you think about Edwin's early most disturbed poems? Is he (am I?) conceited about what poetry should be, as Alex said?
Poetic forms I like are more like things than literary models. Blocks & bricks & bubbles. My sense of form is really like a sophisticated kindergarten lesson. But of course I have literary models. You didn't ask me about them. So I have to ask you if you read certain poems by me as written in poetic forms.
Logic is a pain. But, no, rhetoric is poetic skill so who can take a stance against it? Well, what you objected to in the schoolteacher's words was empty rhetoric or mechanical logic. Bullshit poetry that sounds nice, successful dishonesty in art, shocks me. This is what I mean by the relation of charm to belief.
Next question: (the long one about from Da Vinci to Thomas Mann!): I know all that, what's the problem? Exactly what I've been saying! The horror of bi-cameral refractions… I who am continues to behave like who isn't quoth the guy who left these questions wadded between leaves of BEING & NOTHINGNESS, THE GEOGRAPHICAL HISTORY OF AMERICA etc. Valéry's idea that a poem is written by someone other than the poet & addressed to someone other than the reader no less accurate & amusing for the consciousness it describes but to dote on that produces the endless easy ironies I think we've had it with. (It can only, for instance, produce one John Ashbery!) I feel it's bullroark, it's a bulwark against simpleminded biologic poetry. (Listen here, Bernadette, we're writing now in the real world!) What otherwise can be the big draw about The Sublime other than that there are no mirrors in it? There's the mirror and the window, both nice for kinds of dreamy poems, but there is also the Door including threshold/lintel/edge no material partition twixt you & the stuff except to try to stand right there, cosmic axis! He raves? Part of Dante Diary says I have to work hard to maintain being all 3 persons. Sometimes I think I'll say or be anything to get there, move to that spot. Sure, I mean to be me, have it my way, have it be me, & I'm just as narcissistic as you are but that's not the point.
INTERVIEW WITH BERNADETTE MAYER –Answer for Second Set
You like Valentine's Day? This Valentine's Day in Bolinas: The day after, one guy confessed that his sense of the occasion was so depressing "I just went to bed." During the week previous the bookstore clerk kept noticing women who are married buying 4 maybe 5 Valentines obviously intended for diverse love objects. See, this town is pretty monogamous. I'm married and I feel monogamous. But I like Valentine's Day because it inspires expression of all the loves & lusts anybody's capable of. Elective affinities. It's like a perennial contemplation at the outset. And you can move into mushiness, flirts, renewals. It's like that 5-minute area around the stroke of midnight New Years where everybody wonders who's gonna kiss & how. Actually I gave a poetry reading at the bookstore on Valentine's & Lynn & I spent the evening out on the boring drab town, mostly in the bar. Do you remember that passage in Kore in Hell where Williams begins "I have been reasonably frank with my wife about my erotics"? Just before this date Lynn & I realized we'd been living together for almost 9 years! Dante & Williams are the Valentine's poets, and pre-Dante and after Williams. In-between it's hard to find appropriate ones unmixed with heavy conceits. Do you think we should send Valentines to our parents? I don't like the ironic ones, the best are bright red satin hearts with either real old lace or white paper lace-like doilies.
What about "performance poetry"? I'm impressed when anyone gives a performance that's like a class act – I mean, something extra of bodily presence with a real written text. I try to give a good performance when I read my poems, but first I think of it as reading my poems. I feel a little snotty about "performance poetry" as such because it's usually disappointing psychodrama or preachy or some how geared to pull my coat like a special-interest group. That kind of activity argues assumptions about energy and passion that I find offensive. The best performers in poetry, awards in this category go to: John Ashbery, John Wieners, Ted Berrigan, Victor Hernandez Cruz, Clark Coolidge, Philip Whalen, Kenward Elmslie. Special awards for individual readings to Tom Raworth, Robert Creeley, Tom Clark.
Did the noises of the city ever bother you? Where I grew up, on the 11th floor, it was so quiet! but not like country quiet because you could feel the whole city humming. Noises in the country like chainsaws, barking dogs, motorbikes, catfights, and neighbor's marital spats are more abrupt, erratic. In Bolinas when there's a ground tremor, even tho it may mean potential earthquake, I get a wistful recall of ripples IRT-related-uptown under my bed on 57th Street. I still think midnight-to-dawn NYC the greatest for working & at the same time being in the world. Other aspects of city noise are probably bad for you. I remember how after a couple of years in Bolinas the New York heavy-metal subway clashing shocked me. Some of these noises make people stupid, like shellshock.
Does cold weather relate to hard work in your mind? Is that like some question out of the Menninger clinic? In Southampton, I kept hearing the echo of Ted's line "Winter, you think of sex" which is a terrific correction I believe of some other line but by Delmore Schwartz. But, yeah, it's easier to stay inside during cold weather & what else can you do but one of those things? kind of a Euro-Slavic-American tradition! But in New York City I remember most winters taken up with office work. I went to offices pretty regularly for about 8 years there, & then going out socializing a lot at night. The most prolonged, hardest working, periods of writing were the summer of 1968 (at Yaddo) & the last 2 or 3 years wherever I've been. The most impossible place to work is Mexico, Acapulco to be precise, because it's very hot & thick & also because hedonism doesn't mix with hard work.
Life Against Death by Norman O. Brown? Yes. Joe LeSueur told me it changed his life, along with Individuation by C. J. Jung.
Does sophistication necessitate or belie sarcasm? Gee, I forget what it means now! Sophistication: a word Kenneth Koch used glowingly in his poetry workshop, modern poets like Auden/Apollinaire/Ashbery/& Frank O'Hara being extremely sophisticated "knowing all about Ezra Pound" (Jack Kerouac) & life's conundrums, the major ironies of language, how sophisticated it could be to say you didn't understand. Sophistication in high school meant dressing "tweedy" (but not like a professor in tweeds), smoking, employing many abbreviations or distortions of words ("fabbyboo!" "That girl has potes," "potes" meaning "potential," mostly sexual), very sarcastic, you bet! When I met Larry Rivers in 1959 I considered him the most sophisticated painter, but in person he seemed simpleminded. "Frank, how can Larry Rivers if his works are that sophisticated be so simpleminded?" Frank: "Maybe he's come out the other side." Kenneth is ironic, Frank was dialectical, Larry really is simpleminded, none of them had much use for sarcasm. In high school I wanted sarcasm like crazy but I couldn't get it. (Sob.) Sophos, quite a journey from clever to wise, expert, worldly. I don't think becoming cultured, knowledgeable or disillusioned deprives you of genuineness, but simplicity maybe. "Subtle and dead like life"? In these questions are we being caged by artifice? Well, we do have to live being know-it-alls among the forget-me-nots! (c.f. "hermetic tradition.")
"Declaration seems like a miracle" – explain! I can't explain "declaration seems like a miracle." Don't you think a declarative sentence that is memorable and true is a miracle?
Are you the same person you were 15 years ago? No, really I'm not. The person is different, some nature having been either altered or lost in the process. I don't know if that's a joke or not, or if it's true as Jimmy Schuyler once said that I know my own mind. Anyway, I feel as if we began to meet in 1971… or more recently, at Hotel Algonquin?
Does style in poetry have a political or sociological significance? No, but that's the least of our worries. (No joke!)
What are your fantasies about writing? Oh shit, you really want to know? First poem I ever wrote ends "But for a single tender thought/ I'd die someday!" Dreams I've had of full-throated singing "surprising everyone." Complete declarative simplicity like simple fact that is in common sense completely sublime. Classicism! Great hulking scourging clear-the-air mess! Writing fluently perfectly no hesitation no irony everything & buzzing exalted all the way as when certain poems-in-process have me feel that way. Fantasies: The Sublime (& is it?), The Obvious (c.f. Simplicity above), Frank (his speed), Dante (his assurance, like "blessed assurance"), Shakespeare (his fluency). When certain poems-in-process have me feel that way (like DeKooning's glimpse) I know I don't have to look or judge, so the fantasy is for that feeling to be less partial or rare. I wrote in a notebook "A break for the heart (continual)" but that gets us more into the area of Ideals. Driving between Bolinas and San Francisco I can fantasize many different ways of working & 1 or 2 good ideas for things to write; the ways of working have to be forgotten chop-chop because I have too many of those already, ideas (you know what those are?) are often too good in themselves.
What is the difference between observing and honesty? I've read writers whose observations derive from dishonest attitudes. No, I don't care much about this question either.
Desire to know about science? Yes, I do have a desire to know all about science. But instantly. So it's not a very energetic desire, right? & anyway I like all the wrong theories, like about black holes penetrating the material earth and the mental-prowess of Stonehenge builders. I'm just not that good a student, tho I'm a lot better at studying than I was when (high school, college) the basic dope on the sciences was most available, as per instructions. Funny how we learn: I had my first out-of-the-body experience while staying up all night to prepare for a chemistry exam. I must have taken huge quantities of NO-DOZ so that around 4 a.m. after staring at 1 page for x-eons my personality got up & sat on the edge of the bed opposite my body slumped in the chair. I was very alarmed & thought I was dead.
Did you ever want to be a doctor, a lawyer, any sort of professional person, as they say? The second part of your question is interesting, but no I don't think "professional" was the person I was after. What I did want to be: Cowboy, Movie Star, Pop Singer (like Frank Sinatra), Baseball or Basketball Player (well yes professional like that), Episcopalian Priest, Bartender, Journalist (Sports or Crime reporting), Long Distance Runner (4-minute Mile), Cab Driver, and Director of the Poetry Project at St. Marks In-The-Bouwerie Church! I think being professional is one of the articles of faith among poets & between the poet & his poems & the audience. That's its use. Any other use is sort of laughable or at best just something that helps us keep better work habits.
Are you vain about your looks? I am not vain about my looks. I am not vain about my looks. I am not vain about my looks. I used to be vain about my looks, but now, maybe more generally vain! I know about looks & about the axiomatic beholder. You always get what you wish for. Like you say, not being considered beautiful at an earlier age: At about 13 I was transformed from squinty pudgy awkward to squarely handsome with speed & agility, the same sporting man about town you see before you today. Yes, of course, I'm vain but I don't work at it.
Who are the other "chamber music" poets? Almost all the good poets are "chamber music" poets. I don't think of it as a category that's inhibiting. It's only a matter of pitch. An oratorical style would be at a higher pitch, like big-time theater (Racine, Sophocles). We don't have one of those. Everything not chamber music tends towards hysteria, OK?
Feeling a form of behavior and if love is a feeling? Few years ago I told myself "Love is not a feeling – you have to go out & do it."
Ever read Erving Goffman? Erving Goffmann, yes, one book: The Presentation Of Self In Everyday Life. So?
Ever attributed poetical qualities to moths? I do attribute beautiful qualities to moths. The moth & the flame is an important closet theme in my poetry. Without its love for the flame (or light bulb) the moth is not very interesting, just a pest that ruins good sweaters & pairs of pants. There's a kind of night moth in California that sits on your nose in the dark when you're on the verge of sleep. Maybe when you & Lewis visit here you'll get introduced to one of those!
What is your secret inner life? Oh-oh, deep trouble this one. (These questions are making me feel drunk. Were you perhaps drunk when you wrote them?) My secret life is probably laid bare in poems without my noticing it. I can believe that because I've noticed it after reading again & again. A lot of my life because of well-known difficulties of self knowing itself is secret from me. If I could tell you I would let you know! Much of the time I am secretly counting via songs in my head. Part of my secret life is forgetting how hidden I am to others who don't recognize the surface of my self as I do. Very puzzling. How come they don't see? I'm shocked at being misunderstood because I think I'm being lucid most of the time. Maybe rhetoric is a problem there. If I am misunderstood I tend to mumble. Lying abed (what a sweetheart expression that is!) I listen to all the voices, then if not too tired (tired but not sleeping I'm in deep trouble!) I take stage center, conduct, blank-face & try not to get too upset. When it gets like a dogfight I step out, pretty ignoble but what can you do? I'm ruminative, then reasonable. I can't quite make a story out of this & I'm not sure it's an inner life. If I have an inner life it's the mirror-opposite, contradictory to all this & everything else besides. Often I feel there's nothing for me to do inside. In bed last night I thought so hard about my father I became his face for a few edifying moments.
Like to write occasional poems, etc.? Lewis must be asking these questions! Come on, you guys! Any real topic is a blessing. Occasional poems, therefore, sure. But I don't think I've ever honestly triumphed in that form, & I still clutch if called upon. & I guess there's some perverse proportion between deadlines & my hesitations. I don't write poetry for deadlines but sometimes use deadlines to get me off my ass to gather what I've done.
Do drinking, smoking, drugs or anything similar ever affect your writing? John Thorpe told me he sat down the other night with a bottle of wine to write poems. I don't really have any shaman-type devices, just me & the words, y'know. But I've written poems under the influence of lots of stuff – alcohol, meleril, LSD, psylocibin, aspirin, nicotine, nitrous oxide, amyl nitrate, PCP, coffee, speed, cocaine, darvan, valium, amanita muscaria, marijuana, opium. I won't take heroin, can't imagine ever shooting up. Almost all of Shining Leaves was written smoking grass but that was in ideal solitude. Grass still gets me funny & receptive but also makes me irritable, impatient socially, & affects my sinuses worse than cigarettes. From cigarettes, I get temporary relief & focus (the relief & focus of not wanting cigarettes, which habit I've indulged since I was 15), pause for thought, sinusitis, bad smelling workroom sugary rushes, carbon monoxide stupor & stamina-loss. All-out orality! Stop right now? Stopping, the consciousness of stopping takes over every waking minute. Pretty dull.
What would post-verbal culture entail? Whatever.
How can you say hedonism doesn't mix with art? My writing process isn't all pleasure, is yours?
Is heroin addiction shocking? What shocks you? I have this giant needle phobia. I literally faint at the thought of this. So I believe in the powers & pleasures of heroin but clearly they are not to be mine.
Greed shocks me. Sins of being other (out of character), military build-up, Tom Clark, macho sly-rap (never see it coming!), Joe Brainard (in a friendly way), couples breaking up (never see it coming), me (lassitude, cigarette smoking, etc etc), death, filling in the public library questionnaire under Age Group "40-65," child psychology.
What's the worst thing you've ever done? You tell me. If you mean about guilt & being a bad boy, I punched my father in the ribs & even though I really meant it (I punched him hard!) & I was being unjustly accused, I can't help imagining a direct connection between that incident & his fatal heart attack 2 years later. #2 I was incredibly mean to Frank O'Hara one time: I shouted at him for liking the sound of his own voice too much. I think now it was out of envy. It's one of the few things, maybe the only one, I feel a physical hellfire damnation about, partly because he was so vulnerable to the attack, he didn't retaliate. #3 When I was about 9 I shot a bird with a BB gun but just to prove what a saint I became that instant I went over & picked up the bird & propped it onto a branch. The miracle was that after a couple of minutes it flew away.
If I made a series of photographs . . . would you think that silly? I'm getting pretty sick of photography except at the amateur-narcissist level. Other exceptions: Harry Callahan, Rudy Burckhardt, Jerry Hiler. Your photographic "eye" from what I've seen is remarkably like my own. (I'll send prints of my window pictures soon!) So naturally I both like it & think so what.
MWhat is corny? Cornballs. (What is trite?)
Homeopathy? Schoolyard basketball? Homeopathy, those little brown bottles you lug around? Only you & Diane di Prima know for sure what's in them! Schoolyard basketball should be all-out competitive & bloody. No place in it for winded old farts like me, or guys like Jim Carroll who won't play good. I'll shoot baskets with you any time!
Your favorite Latin/Greek poet? Latin poets, poems: "Pervirgilium Veneris," Catullus, Horace, Ovid "Amores". Greek: Odyssey, Hesiod, Archilocus.
Are you a pantheist? or were you ever? Yeah, I think I was or thought so. I believe in the presentation of gods in everyday life. To be fair, I also think everything has powers intrinsic equal to the powers of everything else. The garbage man has extraordinary powers. I believe in the single personal protestant god too, tho he may be the god of garbage.
What are you wearing? Brown wool scarf, one of many Malcolm Ponder gave us for the Southampton winter. Blue shawl-collar cardigan knit sweater with big blue buttons I got on sale on Job's Lane in Southampton last spring. Green L.L. Bean corduroy shirt. Blue Fruit of the Loom t-shirt. Boot-style Levis, medium-old, with grease spots. I forgot what color socks (red). Brown moccasins (L.L. Bean also). White jockey shorts. 3 silver rings.
For Bernadette –
SECOND SET OF INTERVIEW QUESTIONS FOR BERNADETTE MAYER
If the world is as we imagine it, can narcissism be wrong?
Do you have a good memory of events?
Who are your favorite contemporary painters?
What for you is so great about Dante?
What would you like to change about the world?
Do you know (re Mirror Theory) about The Invisible Twin?
If you were to write an anonymous or pseudonymous review of your poetry what would you say? (It could be a jacket blurb.)
What shape comes to mind when you think "eternity"?
Have you ever taken LSD? What happened?
What do you think about smoking cigarettes?
If Lewis went away for 10 days what would you do?
Does Lewis's past bother you? Does yours?
Do you feel you belong to an elite among writers?
Have you ever seen white plum blossoms out your workroom window?
Have you ever had a room you considered your workroom or studio?
What do you consider vulgar? Is it shame or delight?
Have you ever been to Europe?
Do you boss your children around or continually reason with them?
What are your favorite New York restaurants?
Could you, if called upon, write a spontaneou song of praise? (Do it.)
Do you understand rhetoric as other than poetic skill? What is it?
How do you decide where to break lines in your poems? Does it have to do with sentence structure?
Do you think there's such a thing as a new sentence in form?
What do you think about Structuralism? Semiotics?
Are you a Marxist?
Do you have a sweet tooth? Do you like candy & more specifically do you like chocolate?
Have you ever gone to Mexico?
Where do you draw the line between livable & messy in your house?
Do you like planning meals?
What do you mean "short-circuit style"?
Do you like Laura Riding?
Are you interested in the Mafia?
How would you describe the characters of: Joe Brainard? Ron Padgett? James Schuyler? Alice Notley? Bob Rosenthal? Rosemary Mayer?
What is the life of the mind? Is it different from the body?
Do you think of the condition of your soul? Do you worry about it?
Which character in Arthurian romance do you identify with?
Have you ever acted in a play? What character-role did you take? What awareness of audience was yours?
Do you think you are fair-minded or snobbish or both? Would you wish yourself otherwise?
Do you believe in will?
Do you wear make-up?
What do you think of the editing of The World Record?
How are your teeth?
It might take me a coon's age to answer all the new questions which I love & both & also the old answers, however in the meantime I thought you might like to read this new answer to one of the old questions which I've been mulling over now since that century ago you asked it of me, as I have been feeling very busy, however am not really so, no more than before that is but I've decided to do everything in half-time or 1/2-time for a while since I've almost got spring fever. Hope you like my effort & its thought.
Just got a copy of the tapes for the record, and will glom them tonight. Can one? I am so intellectually febrile, I don't even have any ink for my real pen.
Wish you were here,
EVERYBODY SLEEPS IN ROYAL BLUE SATIN SHEETS
LIKE CUCUMBERS IN A BOX OF SNOW
"What's your idea of a good time?"
— Bill Berksonit's morning, I live on a farm at 10th St. & 2nd Avenue
We yawn like warriors in bearskins amidst our 100% cotton sheets,
Race to get fresh chives from our bowery for our farmer's omelette,
Enormous rooms, champagne, salmon & smoked ham this morning
(Since the revolution, accomplished pacifically, all artists
Live on large sufficient farms in the city with other poor people
All of whom now have plenty of food, shelter, health services & libraries)).
After breakfast we go to work on books and farms in libraries & fields,
We read the news (The Times is revolutionary), we put on shows,
Our children study music, languages & carpentry in the day nursery,
We skip lunch and swim in the pond instead, then we have a beer,
Afternoons we read, teach children about art and play basketball,
Meanwhile an enormous meal is being prepared of seven vegetables
And a rack of lamb with Homeric wines and demystifying lagers,
We eat in hedonistic postures all the while engaging, for fun,
In a mock rhetoric competition which is won today by Bill Berkson.
Then we read Shakespeare, Kerouac & others aloud to the kids for hours,
After this all the children go to bed without any sort of problem,
We stay up and talk all night occasionally partaking of ancient
Delicacies like English muffins & drinking an elucidating beer,
We might call someone long distance who isn't here.
We argue about the difference between the generous love poem of Alice's
And Clark's more circumstantial, Bob R's of problems like lattices,
Ted's of cursive lengths of life, Lewis's of observations, Gary's
Of sealing off perfection, John Godfrey's queer rhymes, some are wary
Of the so-called language & performance schools who seem harsh or
Else all out of love – without books love is just the signifier!
We don't smoke cigarettes anymore but a mesmeric blend
Which is the very elixir of life & clarifies all processes of the mind.
At some point our conversation takes us outside on the bowery to see
What's going on in the rest of the galaxy, we kiss, we plan a trip,
When we awaken the night has gotten longer for our free pleasure
& though we stayed up so late examining every known desire
We still got plenty of rest & get up early nearly effortlessly.
Frequently somebody stops to write a poem or a series of poems
Which is immediately read and published in such a fine edition
That all the world will know it and the author will make money from it.
I'm writing a long prose work about all that exists this while –
You read it & say it is my best work though you think I may be berserk
(But I am calm, unselfconscious, healthy, useful & afraid of nothing
And we are each in love but never mean & always think of everything).
April 4 1981
Now after completing all these questions – what a collaboration! – I am heartfeltly desirous of telling you what I think about answering them. When you first said it I didn't agree that it was a built-in identity crisis but then I began wondering why I was having one anyway having previously palmed it off to other causes – Poetry Project, spring, reminiscences at time of parents' birthdays. But then when I began answering them again! Oh dear, how I realized how many of the thoughts I've had had to do with this project of ours! And indeed the form is relentless for not only does it allow for our narcissisms but it is also deleterious to those, making me at least for one to feel that I'm a great know-nothing! The whole idea of interviews in the first place portends or pretends that you are stars, or worth questioning, then one begins to see about questions & answers and their nature, and doing it privately which I think is wonderful lets us even more indulge ourselves but at the same time be more careful, so that our idea to branch out and ask others questions is almost like a desire not to ask each other the most intimate questions which this whole interview might also be tending towards.
Indeed I think all of us poets are like-minded and we get so miniscule as to believe not (perfunctory? Rhetoric?)
Your last answers are mind-boggling and I've decided to send you my answers before I send new questions because I want to go through both mine and yours with more time before I can come up with the next questions. I feel pretty confused lately having given all the required or not required readings in new york city and listened to a spate of them too & I can't even remember what poetry is or could be & I've made a moratorium on writing it except when I can't help it & I feel ill-read, uninformed and generally backward, though I don't mean to say that within the (more political rhetoric) poetry project I'm not functioning – there are interesting things there too about men & women – the whole Bob Holman question! I always know that whatever Bob says I will think the opposite! Another whole story.
Meanwhile I've a great delight I mean desire to tell you about other things, yet I don't know where to begin. Lewis certainly does not think that Menachim Begin is a good person. Our Max is walking & beginning to seem like an iconoclastic person, he pulls everything down and then throws it, but then he smiles. Sophia's "social worker" (indeed, this is paid for by the govt) told us Sophia was slightly above normal for motor skills and abnormally above normal for communicative ones but yet Sophia was still shy so her teacher who is about 20, said she was going to put Sophia in more "leadership situations". Marie's kindergarten proceeds quite forthrightly with an old-fashioned sexist teacher and they are going to the circus come my birthday (which has nothing to do with sexism). What is one to do?
How do I best love my husband? Is it by being this ethical sadsack? What is a husband? Better to be the ethical wildcatter: What is one to do? We do all love each other, oh don't derogate that. I'd better tell a few more things that've happened: the disco radio players are beginning to hold their own again, warm weather torturing us all night with their "raporamas" – do you know about these? Meanwhile Lewis got depressed by reading at the New School with Alice and Diane Ackermann (not to imply that Alice's name is Ackermann) who was introduced by Gregory Kolovakos who is the very same man who's in charge of the Literature Program of the New York state council on the arts, and since I had to introduce both Alice & Lewis that night I arrived late wearing a cowboy hat I had whimsically borrowed from the dinner guest of ours who owns the Lenox Mass bookstore and the director of the series at the new school was mad at me, I got in trouble, I was only 8 minutes late but everybody was mad at me and then Gregory K. shows me the article about the mafia in Coda and I got engrossed in it and then Lewis got mad at me for thinking about that instead of his reading, and then we all went to steve levine's house for a democratic gathering. Then two days later I read at the Newfoundland Theater to an audience of 9, for which I got paid fifteen dollars (two weeks previous I had read at the Anthology Film Archives for which I got paid nine dollars) and meanwhile my entire personal life is in a mess and I don't even think my life is personal I think it must be much more than that. But now, as with Mexico, other things come up. Reagan's shooting & all that, wouldn't it be great if we all lived in the same neighborhood?
I'll send you my new questions soon, soon as I study everything, meanwhile I thought it would be fun to speed things up a little, since it takes me so long lately to do anything, I, I didn't mean I, the io (the Io?) the work at the poetry project simmers down at this time of year, but I have more to do because there's endless possibilities of what they call corporate fundraising and also the fucking Friends Committee, whatever that is, & also I'm exhausted from this year and tend to spend a lot of my letter-writing and working time just thinking and dozing off like an old woman trying to figure out everything about the world. I can't write, I've never been in this fix before in my whole life, I cannot write. How come I have to say this twice? I am completely confused about (don't laugh when I say this) what poetry is, having listened to so much of it, and read so much in that peculiar context which is an attempt to "judge it", I'm stymied, also I listen to much advice and wish I had time to just read more books. In my complaint I'll also say I love getting a view of the political knowledge and it makes me feel like a grown-up & that I have much to do with the world, but doing it with three small children is artful at best & I often think the Poetry Project, for one, would be better off with someone who could devote full time to it, though I do and though everyone and no one can.
Well as a result of our interviewing I always feel I've said too much and too little and I wonder what this new form of letter writing & all will lead to. Please enjoy that I am sharing whatever identity crisis you are having because in all truth as we've discussed it I am completely not knowing within this interview or within my love of Lewis or within NyCity or within the workings of the poetry community (or my soul! As you put it so daringly) who the fuck I am. I wish I were a slimmer more youthful woman whose gregariousness was more contagious and whose poetry was the inspiration of all the world! I wonder how I could bring that about! Oh all this is too much – what are we doing to each other? Wouldn't it be nice to be (fill in the blanks – the function of questioning!)
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Read Larry Sawyer's review of What's Your Idea of a Good Time?