cover image Proper Name and Other Stories

Proper Name and Other Stories

Bernadette Mayer. New Directions Publishing Corporation, $13.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-8112-1325-7

""Why are the lines of poetry so short, so much shorter than prose, why do they rhyme, why in order to complete themselves do they have to end with what they began,"" asks Mayer in her short piece ""You Don't Aggressively Soothe the Butter."" By an author best known for her poetry (A Bernadette Mayer Reader), the 21 short stories, poems and prose poems here are so much about the sounds of language and about their appearance on the page that the meaning behind the sparsely punctuated stream of consciousness is often murky. In the prose poem ""A Non-Unified Theory of Love and Landlord,"" the narrator's philosophical consideration of physics is blurred by the fragmenting of words from one line to the next (""Tumbling results from precisely the same gravi/ Tational laws and tidal forces that cause moon/ S to lock""). Many of the pieces and some of the most compelling are about the writing process, about what is evoked by a word or even a letter. The collection begins with an alphabet accompanied by color values that lead to all sorts of musings about the prisms of different words-MOON is brown/white/white/gray; SKY is yellow/dark blue/yellow-gold. The ambiguity of the writing lessens when the narrator moves beyond New York City and crisply encapsulates new surroundings. (of New England, for instance: ""Everything's black and white. Everybody eats beans. Everything freezes.""). Particularly in ""Farmers Exchange"" and ""We Plow the Roads,"" Mayer is able to capture regional speech in the briefest whisper of dialogue. As stories, these don't always make sense, but then again, they're not meant to; instead Mayer has created a unique exploration of words. (June)