My Sex App


Photograph by emdot

From The New Yorker:

Here is Bernadette Mayer’s “Beware of the Killer Dog”:

Today I’m just like
A person with a device
My mind jumps from place
To place, I’m doing karaoke
I make the screen go up
To another thought, oops
I don’t like this one oh
My! Let’s scroll down to
A more Hallmark moment I
Have an app for waterfalls
No I’ll go to my sex app

Mayer is “just like / A person with a device” because she doesn’t have one—not a smartphone, not a computer. At seventy-one years old, she writes on a blue Smith-Corona typewriter, tapping at the keys with a single finger. Yet “Beware of the Killer Dog” embodies the catchall genome of the Internet: it’s slapdash, perceptive, sardonic, confessional, deceptive. The same goes for the collection it comes from, “Works & Days,” published this summer by New Directions. The book, Mayer’s twenty-eighth, jumps between sonnets and springtime journals and lists of plants. Lines as casual as text messages (“OK there’s a dark cloud”) follow lines that read like Continental philosophy (“when we began and ended / So did the world we see”). Some sentences make sense: “I’m reading a book by Margaret Atwood.” Others do not: “snomal slebs socru deeibs sbieed mayrac caryem”—from notes that Mayer took while trying to solve a newspaper word game.

Mayer was cross-wired from the start. In 1970, when she was twenty-four, she was the only woman included in “An Anthology of New York Poets,” the volume that popularized the plainspoken New York School of Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery. Back then, she was interested less in the rhythms of everyday life than in failures of everyday logic: “Corn from Delft / Is good for elves,” she wrote in one of the anthologized poems. Soon, though, Mayer turned to her own experience, filtering it through conceptual constraints—she composed an epic on motherhood in a single day, a series of lyrics while half-asleep, a dialogue with a house. Her “thing” was not having a “thing,” apart from a roving curiosity, which helps explain both her contemporary appeal and, perhaps, her relative obscurity. Eileen Myles, who in the mid-eighties succeeded Mayer as director of the St. Mark’s Poetry Project, in the East Village, has criticized Mayer’s work as chilly (“She’s probably godless like Voltaire if you know what I mean,” Myles wrote on the Poetry Foundation Web site. “Probably not even that passionate.”) But Mayer’s wide sweep, unsentimental and uneven, can make other poetry seem artificial by comparison. “What a clear, insistent health there is here,” Robert Creeley, the late master of the minimalist lyric, wrote of her work. “As if the so-called world were seriously the point, which it is, and we could actually live in it, which we do.”

“How To Look In The Mirror Without Saying I”, Daniel Wenger, The New Yorker