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Bernadette Mayer (1945–2022)

Author of Midwinter Day

54+ Works 572 Members 10 Reviews 2 Favorited

Works by Bernadette Mayer

Midwinter Day (1982) 108 copies
A Bernadette Mayer Reader (1992) 76 copies
Works and Days (2016) 35 copies
Sonnets (1989) 29 copies
Scarlet Tanager (2005) 28 copies
The Art of Science Writing (1989) 17 copies
Utopia (1984) 16 copies
Bernadette Mayer: Memory (2020) 13 copies
Another Smashed Pinecone (1998) 13 copies
Studying Hunger Journals (2011) 11 copies
Milkweed Smithereens (2022) 11 copies
The Formal Field Of Kissing (1990) 10 copies
Memory (1975) 10 copies
The Golden Book of Words (1978) 9 copies
Piece of Cake (2019) 7 copies
Two Haloed Mourners (1998) 7 copies
Ceremony Latin (1964) (1964) 6 copies
Moving (1971) 6 copies
The 3:15 Experiment (2001) 6 copies
The Basketball Article (1975) 5 copies
Ethics of Sleep (2011) 5 copies
Eruditio Ex Memoria (1977) 4 copies
Indigo Bunting (2004) 4 copies
Experiences 1 copy

Associated Works

Baseball: A Literary Anthology (2002) — Contributor — 337 copies
Deep Down: The New Sensual Writing by Women (1988) — Contributor — 116 copies
Poems from the Women's Movement (2009) — Contributor — 109 copies
Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability (2011) — Contributor — 76 copies
Individuals: Post-Movement Art in America (1977) — Contributor — 24 copies
Poetry Magazine Vol. 207 No. 5, February 2016 (2016) — Contributor — 11 copies
unmuzzled ox 13 — Contributor — 7 copies
Big Deal #2 — Contributor — 3 copies
New World Journal, Vol. 1, No.4 (1979) — Contributor — 2 copies
Strange Faeces 15 — Contributor — 1 copy
Lines, No. 6 — Contributor — 1 copy
Telephone 14 — Contributor — 1 copy

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About a day but the day scrolls forward and back through time with memories and thoughts of the future so that one the shortest day of the year it feels like a lifetime has happened.
 
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wellred2 | 3 other reviews | Apr 1, 2024 |
The question is, do you find Bernadette Mayer's mind to be interesting enough to spend 119 pages of free verse modernist poetry with. Because that's what you get here: her thoughts from a single unremarkable day, and even worse her nighttime dreams, riffed on. I did not.
 
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lelandleslie | 3 other reviews | Feb 24, 2024 |
Bernadette Mayer interests me. She even interests me alot. But I can't put my finger on why. I've read another bk by her called "Studying Hunger" that has a photograph of her face on the cover. It was taken while she was fasting. Her eyes seem very clear, she seems very alert. I've fasted many times, I know the feeling & recognize the expression. I find it fantastically attractive. "Moving" has that word on the front & "Jungle" on the back. An inside page has "Moving" & "The Jungle" so one might think this bk's called "Moving the Jungle" or "Jungle Moving" but, apparently, it's not. Anyway, I seem to have a strong emotional reaction to this: I see the cover, it's black & white, there's a framing device of a Kodak gray scale chart, Mayer's face is there, there's something about it that seems startlingly intelligent & alive. The bk is slightly oddly sized: 8 inches by 9&7/8 inches. It's like I immediately 'fall in love' w/ her based on non-pheremonal signals.

The form of the work starts out in a standard enuf 'poetic' way w/ line breaks & indentations that aren't paragraph based.. but by the 3rd page the form starts to vacillate between the initial form & borderline paragraphs. What happened? Whatever it is, it's somehow potent for me. I don't remember reading this at all but I'm sure I must have b/c ever since "Studying Hunger" Mayer has fascinated me. I'm sure everything that's passed by me by her I've read searching for some kind of clue, a clue about why she seems so alive to me..
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tENTATIVELY | Apr 3, 2022 |
review of
Bernadette Mayer & Lewis Warsh's Piece of Cake
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - August 6-13, 2021

For the full review go here: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/1358563-peace-of-cake

I got & read & am now reviewing this bk for various reasons: 1. I have a special interest in Mayer's work, 2. It's published by Station Hill Press, a press I have a long-term enthusiasm for. Hence, when Station Hill announced its release of this & somewhere along the line mentioned the difficulty they have w/ getting their bks reviewed I was quick to offer my services in exchange for a reviewer's copy.

I've previously read Mayer's MOVING (1971), Studying Hunger (1975), her work in the Postmodern American Poetry anthology (1994), Poetry State Forest (2008) ( https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/1103004-mayer ), & in at least one literary magazine that I know of. I even have a "Top 100 Poets" website ( http://idioideo.pleintekst.nl/Top100Poets.html ) but there're currently only 19 people listed on it & Mayer's one of them - wch, I suppose, is an 'honor' - or, perhaps more accurately, an indication of how tenuous my selection process has been so far. It's easy for me to pick bks & music that I love, to pick writers & composers.. but when it comes to poets it gets much harder b/c I seem to find a much higher percentage of poetry that I consider to be drek & that makes criticism problematic. At any rate, this isn't poetry, it's a memoir, a diary.

By the by, I'm not neglecting the coauthor, Lewis Warsh - it's just that this is the 1st bk of his that I've read. I've got another bk of his laying in my poetry-bks-to-be-read pile but WHO knows if & when I'll ever get a round tuit.

W/ all that in mind, I think I took it for granted that I'd find this interesting. & I did - but it also was more of an emotional roller-coaster than I was expecting. I had a HATE-LOVE relationship w/ it. I wasn't really expecting that. I DID find it engrossing, I even looked forward to reading it.

Written as a collaborative acct of the 2 authors moving into a small town & raising a baby for one mnth - Warsh writing on odd-numbered days & Mayer writing on the even ones, the premise was relatively straight-forward. Warsh only had to write on 16 days & Mayer only 15. Considering that they did an excellent job of this it's remarkable that it took over 40 yrs for it to be published. In Warsh's intro to this edition written on December 24, 2018, he tells us:

"She was co-editing 0 to 9 Magazine with Vito Acconci, and I was co-editing Angel Hair Magazine with Anne Waldman." - p 9

That's excitement enuf for me given that Acconci's one of my "Top 100 Artists" ( http://idioideo.pleintekst.nl/Top100Artists.html ) (I'm only up to 35 in that list but the choices seem more solid than those on the poets site) & that Waldman has at least attracted my attn as a political poet.

"Everything happened quickly after that, and for a few brief months, in late winter and spring of 1975,we lived together in the 2nd Avenue apartment. We decided, almost immediately, to have a baby together." - p 9

Maybe this is where it already hints at an aspect of what I became annoyed by. Having a baby is certainly a momentous thing for anyone to do. Doing so radically changes one's life. Other people who've been involved in child-rearing will probably find the details of their baby's day-to-day of deep relevance to their own life - but, for me, a person who doesn't have kids & who's preferred to live a life in wch having kids wd've been very problematic, much of Piece of Cake is just too bourgeois liberal normal, I'm not ultimately going to care that much any more than I'm going to care about how cute people think their cats are. James Joyce cd describe Bloom turning on a tap in Ulysees & make it utterly fascinating - but this isn't Ulysees.

"I don't know who had the idea to write a month-long journal that became this book, but my guess it was Bernadette, who had already written a month-long book on her own called Memory." - p 11

Keep in mind that I very much liked this bk & realize that any negativity that I might initially display will become ameliorated by praise later on. It might be too early to mention my own bitterness but maybe it's time to introduce it. No-one likes bitter people, including the bitter person themselves (ok, I'm overgeneralizing), so my own bitterness is annoying even to me - but while I was reading Piece of Cake I found myself thinking that the authors were a bit too trite, a bit too spoiled, not really that interesting after all. Then I thought of my own writing & of how much more I like it, how much more innovative it is, how much more original it is, how much more varied it is, how much more daring it is (Here's a website of mostly earlier work: http://idioideo.pleintekst.nl/Writing.html ). I've written 15 bks but hardly anyone reads them - apparently they find them too difficult - &, in contrast, Mayer & Warsh started seeming like 'experimentalism-lite', not really experimental at all. Take the idea of a one-mnth long diary: big deal. NOT. It doesn't take much investment. Contrast it to Tehching Hsieh's incredible yr-long pieces (see my review of his Out of Now https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6260155-out-of-now ): Warsh & Mayer seem like people pretending to have a life but playing it safe. Even I invested more in my (unpublished) Positive (August 1, 2005 to July 31, 2006): A friend of mine & I decided that we were both too negative so I proposed that we each keep a diary of only positive things that happened to us. She quit after about 2 wks, I stuck to a whole yr.

From Mayer's intro: "Also nearby was the Audubon Society where I'd seen an owl for the first time while helping my friend Ed Bowes work on the film Alice's Restaurant." - p 13 Things like this reference put the bk in a time context. It seems to me that Alice's Restaurant was a very popular 'alternative culture' product at one time, maybe now largely forgotten. I remember going to a well-attended outdoor concert of Arlo Guthrie during his Alice's Restaurant period - on the same bill as the then-somewhat-obscure Ry Cooder.

August 1st, Warsh: A norm of sorts is established:

"After Marie falls asleep, Bernadette wakes up and I tell her everything that happened. I fill her in. Was she (Marie) in a good mood? How much did she eat? Did she shit? What's the weather like? She lies in bed trying to remember her dreams while I go out to the bakery around the corner on Housatonic Street for croissants." - p 20

Marie's a retarded giraffe that they've kidnapped from the zoo that they're trying to keep secret from their neighbors.

Bernadette & Lewis were still young, in their early 30s, & they don't have to work at anything other than their chosen profession: writing. They don't really seem to be struggling, they don't seem to lack for much, they can always afford food when their foodstamps run out. Life seems pretty easy for them. Why?, my bitter self asks, Why them when I've been unable to afford food for mnths at a time? When I've been denied unemployment when I was clearly laid off - even by the admittance of my employer. In other words, despite their occasional token political statements these people are no threat to the status quo & they're pd off w/ moderate luxury in consequence.

I was just kidding about the giraffe, Marie was their baby.

In their small-town existence, their nearest neighbor is poet Clark Coolidge & spouse Susan. Coolidge is another one of my favorite poets & I reviewed a bk by him published by Station Hill: Selected Poems 1962-1985: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/1312961?chapter=1 .

"We have a phone which never rings, our closest friends, Clark and Susan Coolidge, live seventeen miles away in Hancock, Mass." - p 21

On August 4th, Mayer wrote:

"Clark is a tall man, now thin but once large, born of historical families with roots among whalers and presidents, New England Yankees. He wears glasses and writes, day and night, or day or night, intransigent prose which approaches, in motive and design, what I think prose might ever be, what it ought to be, communicating in great waves like an apparition, come to a person inundated with words. Clark's writing roots are in the fashion of writing gibberish and exploring syllables, sounds, prepositions. He once told me that he could spend a long time thinking about the confluence of two prepositions in a normal sentence, like "up in," and I'm glad that he does.

"He's a geologist and a caver and lives at the top of a strangely middle-class housing project on a mountain" - p 40

Mayer's take on Coolidge's writing is something that I enjoyed here - I've written extensively about many Coolidge bks & I'm not sure I've ever been satisifed that I've sd what I wanted to say in the way that'd be the best way to say it. Just mentioning "the confluence of two prepositions in a normal sentence" goes a long way for me.

I tended to like Mayer's writing more than Warsh's. I don't mean to make it a competition between the 2 of them, I just found Mayer's stream-of-consciousness to swoop thru more content & styles than Warsh's more matter-of-fact consistency.

"Me and Marie. All she wants to do is eat grass. So I stop every minute or so, every five seconds in fact, and pull it out of her hands and mouth. I stick my fingers in and find crushed white clover flowers where two new teeth are breaking through, both on the left side, one upper, one lower. I forgot to ask the dentist whether that might have to do with handedness." - p 24

I'd like to hear an informed answer to that too. If I were around a baby I'm sure I'd run interference on their mouth stuffing tendencies as well but I wonder if the grass might be perfectly good for them. That's another question I'd like an informed answer to. I'm sure having a baby around wd prompt quite a few of such questions.

Here's an example of the writing of Mayer's that I like:

"I figure ten years from now, when we're forty, all mysterious dramas we act in will disappear and then there is calm and peace for five years, then another five years of turmoil, possibly of a more dangerous sort and feeling our age, like hearing someone call your name, and then, assuming I've survived it, more peace. Someone said to me that one year was as peaceful and irresponsible an age as seventy but there was nothing like it in between. Thirty seems to be an age for convoluted logic where one is unable to trust one's instincts, momentarily readjusting to a new metabolism. And I feel a love of the ordinary to the point of revolution." - p 29

I liked that when I read it, early on in this bk, now I find it less interesting as I retype it. She's reaching for observations & predictions but I find nothing solid in any of it. Why wd "all mysterious dramas" [they] "act in" "disappear"? at age 40? It wd be more obviously likely to be accurate to predict that when Marie reaches puberty all heckagoshen will break loose - Mayer wd be around 43 then. There is a common trajectory for many people in wch they lose the energy to run around like a chicken w/ its head cut off & cocaine pouring down its severed neck but some of us keep adventuring 'til the bitter (or sweet) end. We don't all plod thru the typical 'stages' of life as if we're on a conveyor belt in a slaughter house, uncritically accepting every brain-deadening step of the way. Her "love of the ordinary to the point of revolution" interests me more but I'm not sure she elaborates on that.

One thing that's positively strange to me is that there's mention of offers of giving readings & of selling poetry bks. Do these people live in an alternate universe from me? In my current increasingly gentrified environment there is more or less no interest in my writing AT ALL. It may even worry some people that I might open my mouth in public. The 2 Brooklyn-imports are definitely not going to let a local read who doesn't fit whatever their stereotypes are. They're here to feed us Brooklyn-originated culture until we puke on its shallowness, its lack of originality, it'll get stuck in our throats b/c it'll be too hard to swallow.

"At the bookstore on Housatonic Street, Matt Tannenbaum, the proprietor, asks us if we want to give a poetry reading at the store, something we'd discussed with him on an earlier visit." - p 34

It's tempting to go to that bookstore in Lenox, NY, & give a reading NOW, 45 yrs later. The last time I gave a reading in a bkstore was in 2011, 10 yrs ago:

377. "Innisfree Reading"
- @ Innisfree Poetry Bookstore & Café in Boulder, CO on June 1, 2011

01. tENT @ Innisfree - pt 1 - 4:34
- on my onesownthoughts YouTube channel here: https://youtu.be/iWwMJDdEGr8

03. tENT @ Innisfree - pt 3 - 8:15
- on my onesownthoughts YouTube channel here: https://youtu.be/SeKRPVGa_ko

05. tENT @ Innisfree - pt 5 - 9:59
- on my onesownthoughts YouTube channel here: https://youtu.be/9GohN-MtOMg

Having read this bk during what might be called the Great Scare, the era during wch the mass media & the medical industry have succeeded in dumbing down humanity w/ their constant sensationalizing of the natural process of death, I was a bit surprised to find that something similar must've been happening in 1976 when I was apparently gleefully unaffected by it.

"I'm torn today between being totally obsessed with the American Legion epidemic, deaths of the legionnaires in Pennsylvania, and just laughing about it. Why must this be the year for epidemics? The swine flu season, the creation of a scare. Or is it that I just never noticed them before. More likely that, surely I never really feared the flu till Marie was around." - p 37

"Susan and I compared notes on legionnaires disease; evidently Reagan had his own water brought in in Kansas City." - p 249

Yeah, yeah, I remember when the legionnaires died at a convention. Sad for those close to them, no big deal on a grander scale. Wd the complete obliteration of humanity be a big deal on a cosmic scale? I think not. That doesn't mean I want it to happen. For better or worse, I like being human & find the few of us that've survived The Great Dumbing-Down to be a pretty interesting bunch.

Warsh ruminates:

"Today I'm writing to keep my brain at a distance from what I don't know might be happening to the rest of my body. In other words, someone might put this differently, I'm feeling under the weather, not literally, one couldn't ask for better "weather" but within myself, a personal forecast, dark clouds, scattered showers. Can one write, I wonder, with only part of the body? One is using of course the fingers to clutch the pen. One is breathing, constantly. Writing prose, possibly one can "think" and "feel" separately, unlike poetry where a lack of kinship between head and heart defeats (and defines) the purpose." - p 44

Really? All this effort that poets seem to put into defining poetry as some sort of form of 'higher functioning' just seems likes an act of self-delusion to me that covers over what is often a thoughtless process. Something more concrete for me is the horrible landlord:

""So there's no electricity."

""Not yet. But it won't be long..."

""But we can't move in without electricity. What about water?"

""There's water in the kitchen but the toilet isn't ready yet...one of my boys is working on it now."

""Let's get this straight: even if the housing inspector does arrive there still won't be any electricity or water tonight."

""That's right, but you can still sleep here if you want."" - p 54

I spent the 1st 40 yrs of my life in BalTimOre & its nearby environs. That makes me an East Coaster. I've avoided using the term "poet" to describe myself b/c I think it's an uninteresting cliché. Nonetheless, I was always friends w/ poets &, as such, moved uneasily thru 'Poetry World' & such-like. As such(-like), there're names thrown about in Piece of Cake that have personal meaning for me.

"I'm in the kitchen contemplating the tiny white magnesium phosphate pills Hannah Weiner sent after Bernadette told her I was having difficulty breathing." - p 57

Weiner is another writer on my above-mentioned "Top 100 Poets" webpage. My review of Hannah Weiner's Open House is here: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/372092-hannah-weiner-s-open-house-opened . She & I were on the same bill when I read at the Ear Inn in NYC on January 9, 1982. I already knew about her work, knew about her purported clairvoyance, & found it interesting that she looked at my forehead as if she were reading words there - wch she claimed to do. I liked her, we had a good conversation about guerrilla performance. Hence, reading about her & several others that I'll mention as we go along here made reading this bk seem more personal, made me feel more connected. I'm sure the same applies for many others reading the bk & that this increases the enjoyment, the involvement for these readers significantly. Of all the people I cd've read w/ at the Ear Inn I'm glad Weiner was the one - we were both somewhat associated w/ 'Language Poetry' but we were both, ultimately, outsiders.

Mayer starts off her August 6th entry w/ a dream description. Quite a few dreams are woven in her portion(s). I like that, it brings in different levels of 'reality'. Are you familiar w/ the Annandale Dream Gazette? It's a website where poets recount their dreams. The editors are Robert Kelly & Lynn Behrendt. I contribute to it despite my rejecting the label "poet" ( https://annandaledreamgazetteonline.blogspot.com/search/label/tENTATIVELY a cONVENIENCE ). As far as I can tell, Bernadette Mayer & Lewis Warsh aren't on there. That seems a shame.

"I dream I go to Stockbridge for food; I ask for Persian blue paint. They hand me baby food-size jars of it. Marie falls down in some paint, a very messy dream-day. I meet Grace and Gerard, or, I meet the orange colors of the g's and r's of their names, complementary to the primary blue of the paint." - p 59

For the full review go here: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/1358563-peace-of-cake
… (more)
 
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tENTATIVELY | Apr 3, 2022 |

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