The Desires of Mothers to Please Others in Letters

Bernadette Mayer. SplitLevel Texts (SPD, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (322p) ISBN 978-0-9858111-9-8
This new publication restores to print a vital text from Mayer (Eating the Colors of a Lineup of Words), a powerful treatise about balancing identities and conceiving both children and works of art. The long collection, originally published in 1994, assembles unsent letters drafted between summer 1979 and February 1980, during Mayer’s third pregnancy—apostrophes to the living and the dead that are openly preoccupied with this new birth. Pregnancy contemplation swells to surround topics of femininity, female bodies, and what it means to be both mother and poet: “Since I am a woman I got accustomed to the other part of life too as if there were two parts, I don’t forget I am a poet but I forget to be being one except for the writing.” Stylistically, the work holds true to Mayer’s unmistakable voice, ringing with a musicality that arises through her irregular prose grammar. These forms are a foil to much of this work; the normality of pregnancy and the ordinariness of domestic life—“We have a house and it has nine rooms!”—become meaningfully heightened by Mayer’s delivery of such personally specific lines. Poetry or prose, epistles or pregnancy guide; from any perspective, Mayer’s rediscovered work delivers the goods. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 12/05/2016
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