Hun 12, 2016

On Bernadette Mayer’s “FIRST SHOW HOTLINE”

Out the somber window that shows
Hibernation trees, the water pump, the road
Nothing falling from the gray sky yet
The room I’m in’s too clean, the fire’s failed
I’m doing the French fries on the top of the stove
The mail’s failed to come, the turkey had no liver
But it may work to write this poem unless
It gets stuck like a car by the creek
The creeks are over the top, be wary 
Of them, of getting mail from a bank
And a flyer from the Family Dollar store
In which everything is more than a dollar
Except sardines, I don’t even have a bank
Account but I saw a rainbow in the woods once
          When the sun got low enough to shine
          Under the earth’s cloud cap, I thought
          That’s not a bad deal on dish detergent

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[ LITERARY HUB ]
[ EXQUISITE CORPSE ]

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Glad we’re warming up. And with such fine angles too. “First” has me stumped. “Show” kind of drives home the point that this is not a life (or a process) typically produced by TV and consumed by viewers. Szymborska once remarked that the poet-at-work is “hopelessly unphotogenic” as opposed to the lives and processes of others artists (painters dancers, thespians)—those were much more cinematic. With a poet, all we have before us is a person slumped over a screen or some odd pieces of paper. “Once in a while this person writes down seven lines only to cross out one of them fifteen minutes later,” Szymborska continues, “and then another hour passes, during which nothing happens... Who could stand to watch this kind of thing?”

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Would like to ride this tangent and add “soap opera” as a possible association of the titular “Show” and the last line’s “dish detergent”. This is a domestic scene, but one connected to the outside, represented and appropriated by the forces out there that try to shape our “in here”. I see poetry here as resistance. And I’m still unsure if Mayer embraces the frustrations or if she is hostile to them, sees them as unnecessary distractions, asks us to “be wary” of them as well. A cautionary note that could clue us in on what that “Hotline” is all about.

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Well if attending to poetry isn’t poetic, I don’t know what is. I can feel your anger all the way to my place, but this also sounds like you’re about to read “Show” metapoetically.

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Two views of these contractions. First is how it’s reflective of a poetics that refuses to sound all noble and wise (and maybe that amounts to its own wisdom). Next is how it tries to save breath, save time, save space in the household and consequently in the language itself—maybe the interior of the poet.

It’s really curious, and I think it’s fruitful how you pointed this out to us. Visually, it works so that all the punctuation marks are in-line while the ends are free from markings. Everything is perhaps swept “in”—which is a weird form of cleanliness.

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From this juncture, the thought of how the operating room is sometimes referred to as a theater.

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Here’s a link to an appearance in Exquisite Corpse on January 2015. However, this one has for us a certain “FIRST SNOW HOTLINE” by Bernadette Mayer. Either LitHub committed a typo error or it’s a newer (?) version. Then again, maybe it’s not a typo, as there are other differences. Family Dollar was “family dollar” in this one (as in the last line of “SARDINES”: “& shipped to the family dollar store for Bernadette”). In fact, aside from personal “I” and the “F” in French fries, there are no other capital letters (not even the words at the beginning of lines). This one uses an ampersand rather than “and” in line 11. The stanzas are also cut differently, “the creek” and “the creeks” going their separate ways, be wary placed more closely to “them”.
FIRST SNOW HOTLINE
out the somber window that shows
hibernating trees, the water pump, the road
nothing falling from the gray sky yet
the room I’m in’s too clean, the fire’s failed
I’m doing the French fries on top of the stove
the mail’s failed to come, the turkey had no liver
but it may work to write this poem unless
it gets stuck like a car by the creek
the creeks are over the top, be wary
of them, of getting mail from a bank
& a flyer from the family dollar store
in which everything is more than a dollar
except sardines, I don’t even have a bank
account but I saw a rainbow in the woods once
          when the sun got low enough to shine
          under the earth’s cloud caps, I thought
          that’s not a bad deal on dish detergent
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Following you, I also prefer “SHOW” over “SNOW” because I think the second significantly stunts the line “Nothing falling from the gray sky yet”. I felt cutting the stanza after “be wary” had more power (was more “wary,” formally speaking) and increased the threat of “them” over the household and the poet within. The lines are around ten syllables each, plus/minus a syllable or two so maybe it does suggest the sonnet. Or a sonnet that has yet (or refuses) to fall into place.

This thread reminds me of the WCW exercise: which poem does the better job? (Which is a rather uninspired and inaccurate way to recall our trademark second essay.) It’s not like correct ideas will wash away all your sins.