the complete introductory lectures on poetry

To Ted Berrigan

It was when the words on the covers of books,
titles as true as false leaves led me to believe
in inviting the ultimate speculation of love –
that I could learn all of the subject –
that I first began to entertain what is sublime.

Like a moth I thought by reading Jokes and
Their Relation to the Unconscious
or Beyond
the Pleasure Principle
or Eat the Weeds or
The Origin of the Species or even a book on
Coup d’Etats or The Problem of Anxiety I
could accomplish all the knowledge the titles implied.

Science that there is often more
in the notes on the back of a discarded envelope,
grammar in the shadows slanted on the wall
of the too bright night to verify the city light

and then awakening, babies, to turn and make notes
on the dream’s public epigrams and one’s own
weaknesses, self that’s prone to epigrammatic ridicule

and to meditate on fears of all the animal dangers
plus memories of reptilian appellations for all
our stages of learning to swim at a past day camp

It is to think this or that might include all
or enough to entertain all those who already know
that in this century of private apartments
though knowledge might be coveted hardly anything
is shared except penurious poetry, she or he
who still tends to titles as if all of us
are reading a new book called THE NEW LIFE.”

(Bernadette Mayer, pp. 20–21 in Onward: contemporary poetry and poetics, ed. Peter Baker.)

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