The Poetry Project

“here there’s no buds on the trees yet but somewhere there are.”

Bianca Rae Messinger

Last Friday in Buffalo we all gathered to celebrate Bernadette, Lee Ann Brown sang Bernadette’s rendition of “Amazing Grace,” Joey Yearous-Algozin read from the society of February 25th, Tyrone Williams read from "Ice Cube Epigrams.” Bernadette reminds us that remembering is always a form of moving, and a form to be shared with friends. She reminds us that addition is always better than subtraction, writing over what is written not as a sense of covering up but in adding to, “on the notes side of things” writing over the canon, through the canon, against the canon, but always on the side of movement against codification. Bernadette teaches us that sending letters to your friends is a form of remembering—as a form of tracking memory and creating writing that feels memory, that “moves” like memory, “my sheer insistence on the past has made me the genius of the tight palms.” (“I Imagine Things”). Our waking memory is a terrible resource for remembering things, but we can make it better. Bernadette pushed it as far as possible, as far as language could hold.

I remember talking to Bernadette in Iowa, itself a kind of impossible feat made possible by Elizabeth Willis, drinking red wine in solo cups talking about translation. At some point she lets it out, that translation is like a sex change. We get more wine. I asked her about this later in a letter—to which she replied, “I don’t remember saying it but, yes, translation is a sex change. I’ll go for that. You should track down my work Memory, which I made long ago when I was a conceptual artist, you might find it on the internet.” There’s something unsettling here but maybe not for the reasons I thought when I first heard it. Perhaps because what Bernadette’s work does is go to the center of what writing is, writing “is” changing sex—changing sex into the writing of the poem. Maybe there is little difference here between writing and translation because both require the need to change “sex.” Bernadette understood this perhaps better than anyone, except maybe Catullus.

#272 – Spring 2023