cover image Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager

Bernadette Mayer, . . New Directions, $14.95 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-8112-1582-4

Mayer's first book of new verse since 1998 shows her ease in many poetic forms, her attraction to New York City and to the Berkshires (where she now lives), her recovery from a recent stroke and her continued enthusiastic enmeshment with writing itself. Mayer (Midwinter Day ) begins with 25 pages of brief poems she calls epigrams, some witty, some musical, some playfully bizarre. The bigger, freer poems that follow (several of them collaborations) include apparent nonsense ("leopard/ yodeled alleluias, vehement borax after reaching/ the extraterrestrials") but also talky, enthusiastic odes ("This Is a Problem-Solving Dream Where the Group Attempts to Change the Language"), charming verse dialogues ("House, I am gay"; "I am too"), free-verse sonnets, diary-poems and work based on found texts ("Before Sextet," a riff on condom-use instructions). Above all, the collection highlights the rambles, digressions and whimsies on which Mayer's style depends. "Bernadette Mayer, in a rush to put down her/ weird thoughts, like everybody tells her to,/ writes down too much, only a fraction of which is/ even ever read because she is so disorganized." Mayer should know that many young poets continue to read everything she writes; those readers will delight in the disarming appeal her capacious collection retains. (June)