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A tweet from Andrew Epstein, a great scholar of the so-called New York School of poets and a professor down at Florida State University, alerted me to the fact that today is Bernadette Mayer's 75th birthday, and that's about as good a reason as any to write about a Mayer poem.

Mayer is a prolific poet and artist who I know best for Midwinter Day, a good book-length poem written, as you may now suddenly expect, over the course of a single midwinter day. She often experiments with stream-of-consciousness, a mode I find fun to use but not so fun to read, unless I'm in a mood to just swim around in someone's head for a while. That said, I do love the poem Epstein points out in that Tweet! It's called "The Way to Keep Going in Antarctica," and you can read it in A Bernadette Mayer Reader, available at local bookstores.

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A few notes:

• In the poem, the speaker searches for a way to keep calm and carry on in the middle of a desolate tundra, a pretty solid metaphor for the constant existential crisis of human life. She's anxiously hopeful about living a life outside that crisis, and offers herself a few admittedly insufficient but hard-won pieces of advice for accessing that life. My favorite is, “Look at very small things with your eyes / & stay warm," which is the work of the poet made plain, and, in my wildest dreams, a reference to Elizabeth Bishop's "Sandpiper," which references William Blake's "Auguries of Innocence," which, as Mayer does in her own poem, charges the reader to: "To see a world in a grain of sand, / And a heaven in a wild flower, / Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, / And eternity in an hour." Fun to zoom through the ages like that in a quick line.

• Anyhow, the general theme of her lessons is something like: escape the prison-kingdom of your own self. "Nothing outside can cure you but everything's outside," the speaker says, before later imploring herself again to focus on the "Small things & not my own debris." After a little slide into a dream sequence, wherein she appears to experience a sort of linguistic panic attack, she pops out with a wonderfully fatalistic line for the ages: "If I suffered what else could I do." Finally she forgives herself for fretting over her obsession with mining her own inner life, and she ultimately submits, as we all must do, to the Buddhist view of life as suffering, which if nothing else feels true. The exasperated tone in that last line contrasts with the faux muster of the first line—"Be strong Bernadette"—which gives the discursive poem a narrative while also expressing a lifetime of strength and resilience in the face of internal and external obstacles. Not bad! In fact, I'd argue, very good!

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