Bernadette Mayer

Eating The Colors Of A Lineup Of Words: The Early Books of Bernadette Mayer

Bernadette Mayer
Edited by Michael Ruby & Sam Truitt

Bernadette Mayer is among the most influential poets of the late 20th century and to the present, with much of that interest falling to her earliest works. At the age of 15, in 1960, Mayer began writing and instantly with an incarnate directness and resource belying her youth. Over the next two decades, this precocious start would culminate in a body of writing extraordinary in its range and import. Even given that Mayer was moving in a New York milieu given to radical practice—as evidenced in the journal 0 to 9 she co-edited in the late ’60s—these books in their collective force represent an explosion of poetic forms and investigation as profound and sustained as American poetry perhaps has seen….

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Bernadette Mayer
Edited by Michael Ruby & Sam Truitt
Bernadette Mayer is among the most influential poets of the late 20th century and to the present, with much of that interest falling to her earliest works. At the age of 15, in 1960, Mayer began writing and instantly with an incarnate directness and resource belying her youth. Over the next two decades, this precocious start would culminate in a body of writing extraordinary in its range and import. Even given that Mayer was moving in a New York milieu given to radical practice—as evidenced in the journal 0 to 9 she co-edited in the late ’60s—these books in their collective force represent an explosion of poetic forms and investigation as profound and sustained as American poetry perhaps has seen. The permutations of her poetic shapes are myriad and through it all forms the irreverent and sacred, jocular and deadly serious, erotic, rigorously fashioned and off the cuff, gentle and tough, deadpan dance of a soul on fire—a poetic intelligence and skill operating at the heights. These early books have played an oceanic role in the formation of generations of experimental poets, though in shards, as many of the books on which her reputation is based have long been out of print—and so their operative life partial. This multi-volume publication, which includes some poems that have never been published—including such early long poems as “A Moving Boat Is a Squeezed Boat: 52 Cards” and “Complete Music of Webern (A Movie)”—makes available for the first time the near totality of Mayer’s early books.

Ceremony Latin (1964) * Red Book in Three Parts * Story * The Old Style Is Finding Out Something About A Whole New Set of Possibilities * Moving * Poetry * Eruditio Ex Memoria * The Golden Book of Words


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Piece of Cake

Bernadette Mayer & Lewis Warsh

Bernadette Mayer and Lewis Warsh wrote PIECE OF CAKE as a work of collaborative prose poetry, based on a process of each writing on alternate days in the course of August 1976. It recounts the quotidian nuances of young, married-with-child life, the artistic path and citizenship in the town of Lenox, Massachusetts…

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Bernadette Mayer & Lewis Warsh

Bernadette Mayer and Lewis Warsh wrote PIECE OF CAKE as a work of collaborative prose poetry, based on a process of each writing on alternate days in the course of August 1976. It recounts the quotidian nuances of young, married-with-child life, the artistic path and citizenship in the town of Lenox, Massachusetts. It has the “I did this, I did that” of a New York School poetry text, as characterized by the poetry of Frank O’Hara, and is somewhat reminiscent of Mayer’s work STUDYING HUNGER JOURNALS, written not long before taking up PIECE OF CAKE. As Mayer writes on August 24: “I will go just one step further and take the liberty of saying that writing this book is different, for me, so completely different from any other experience I have ever had with writing. Now, when I sit down to write I tremble with fear before the page, and from the reactions of my body I can tell that the possibility of finally telling everything, and telling it as if it were all a series of plain household events, is at last coming closer.” This work is also distinguished as arguably the first significant male-female collaboration in 20th-century American poetry. Regarding the possible derivation of the work’s title, and also exemplary of the work’s tenor, is the start of Warsh’s entry of August 29: “I also recall getting up and eating a piece of left-over cake (a very sweet store-bought cake with green or possibly pinkish icing) and drinking a glass of milk at the kitchen window. Empty streets, no moon. Michael and Twinkie asleep on the floor of Bernadette’s room, Guy and Karen in mine, Bill on the couch in the living room. Marie in her crib. Everyone ‘dead to the world,’ a phrase I dislike, what a full house.” This book also includes a section of photographs taken within the family from the period of PIECE OF CAKE’s composition.


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Studying Hunger Journals

Bernadette Mayer

In 1972 Bernadette Mayer began this project as an aid to psychological counseling, writing in parallel journals so that, as she wrote in one (in bed, on subways, at parties, etc.), her psychiatrist read the other…

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Bernadette Mayer

In 1972 Bernadette Mayer began this project as an aid to psychological counseling, writing in parallel journals so that, as she wrote in one (in bed, on subways, at parties, etc.), her psychiatrist read the other. Using colored pens to “color-code emotions,” she recorded dreams, events, memories, and reflections in a language at once free-ranging and precise—a work that creates its own poetics. She sought “a workable code, or shorthand, for the transcription of every event, every motion, every transition” of her own mind and to “perform this process of translation” on herself in the interest of evolving an innovative, inquiring language. Studying Hunger Journals registers this intention within a body of poetry John Ashbery has called “magnificent.”

Made public at last in its gorgeous various and unstinting entirety, Studying Hunger Journals reveals itself to be one of the great in fact epic works of a movement that could never be given a name. No label fit for such limitless activity, its terms being those of our restless language and its relentless go-betweens that move and may alter. Attend therefore and let them have their way, these words given without let and best received in kind.
—Clark Coolidge

We have been waiting a long time—decades, in fact—for the publication of Studying Hunger Journals, so this is an occasion to celebrate—that they have come into the world, into the light, and into our hands. Mayer’s experiment, her transcription of consciousness, is timeless and sexy. There is gentle genius in her heroic quest to be “an observer of self in process.”
—Brenda Coultas

Someone irritated me recently by saying “Our time lacks a poet’s poet. You know, a poet who gets you writing.” SHAME ON YOU I said. YOU ARE LIVING ON THE PLANET WHERE BERNADETTE MAYER LIVES AND WRITES! Are there bigger shoulders we stand on today? I don’t think so. Every time I’m in the same room as Bernadette I look around and think, “She is the best poet and smartest person
here!” My religion is Poetry and Bernadette Mayer is High Priestess!
—CAConrad


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