Bernadette Mayer

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Bernadette Mayer
Born May 12, 1945
Brooklyn, New York, United States
Occupation poet, writer, visual artist, editor
Genre Poetry
Literary movement New York School, language poets

Bernadette Mayer (born May 12, 1945) is an American poet, writer, and visual artist associated with both the Language poets and the New York School. Mayer's record-keeping and use of stream-of-consciousness narrative are two trademarks of her writing, though she is also known for her work with form and mythology. In addition to the influence of her textual-visual art and journal-keeping, Mayer's poetry is widely acknowledged as some of the first to speak accurately and honestly about the experience of motherhood.[1] Mayer edited the journal 0 TO 9 with Vito Acconci, and, until 1983, United Artists books and magazines with Lewis Warsh. Mayer taught at the New School for Social Research, where she earned her degree in 1967, and, during the 1970s, she led a number of workshops at the Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church in New York. From 1980 to 1984, Mayer served as director of the Poetry Project, and her influence in the contemporary avant-garde is felt widely, with writers like Kathy Acker, Charles Bernstein, John Giorno, and Anne Waldman having sat in on her workshops.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Bernadette Mayer was born in a predominantly German part of Brooklyn, New York, in 1945. Her parents were, as she writes in the autobiographical piece, "0–19," "a mother-secretary & father draft dodger WWII electrician." Mayer's parents died when she was in her early teens and her uncle, a legal guardian after the passing of her parents, died only a few years later. She has one sister, Rosemary, a sculptor who was a member of similar conceptual art communities during the 1970s and 80s, in addition to being a founding member of the feminist art space A.I.R. Gallery. Mayer attended Catholic schools early on, where she studied languages and the classics, and she graduated from the New School for Social Research in 1967.[3]

Mayer's work first caught public attention with her exhibit Memory, a collection of photographs taken during July 1971. Mayer photographed one roll of film each day, resulting in a total of 1200 photographs. Memory toured eight locations in the United States and Europe from 1973 to 1974 as a part of Lucy R. Lippard's female-centric conceptual art show, "c. 7,500".[4] The photographs were installed in sequential rows and displayed alongside a 31-part narration that was created by Mayer as she remembered the context of each image, using them as "taking-off points for digression" and to "[fill] in the spaces between." The text of Memory, later published by North Atlantic Books, was a transcription of this narration.[5]

Involvement with St. Marks[edit]

Like many other younger poets, Mayer found a home in the poetry community surrounding The Poetry Project at St. Marks Church. Mayer was well known for the workshops she taught there, ones that "have become renowned for the variety of textual approaches deployed, and for their emphasis on nonliterary (or not primarily literary) texts." She taught regularly from 1971 to 1974 and sporadically for the rest of the 70s. From 1972 to 1973, Mayer co-edited the publication Unnatural Acts, a "collaborative writing experiment" that arose from one of her workshops. Only two issues of the magazine were published, though a third—a postcard issue with work by visual artists—was planned.[6]

Mayer was elected director of The Poetry Project in 1980 and served until Eileen Myles took over in 1984. As director, Mayer retooled the marathon reading and worked to get more funding for The Project's programming, including a $10,000 donation from The Grateful Dead. Among other things, Mayer was in part responsible for the implementation of a lecture series and the Monday night reading series, both of which remain a part the Poetry Project's programming schedule today.


Mayer ran 0 to 9 magazine with Vito Acconci from 1967 to 1969 and published 6 issues full of content by artists including Robert Barry, Ted Berrigan, Clark Coolidge, John Giorno, Dan Graham, Michael Heizer, Kenneth Koch, Sol LeWitt, Jackson Mac Low, Harry Mathews, Adrian Piper, Bern Porter, Yvonne Rainer, Jerome Rothenberg, Aram Saroyan, Robert Smithson, Alan Sondheim, Hannah Weiner, and Emmett Williams. 0 to 9 also had unfulfilled plans to publish a book by Adrian Piper.

From 1978–84 Mayer co-edited United Artists books and magazine with her then-partner Lewis Warsh. United Artists published some of the most significant books of Mayer's peers, in addition to several of her own volumes. In an interview with Susan Howe in the late 70s, Mayer spoke on the topic of self-publishing: "I think it’s great to publish one’s own work. I never felt any vacillating about that whole thing....It seems like a way to disseminate writing in a very efficient way. You can get it to all the people who you know are going to read it. There’s no fooling around. You can do it the way you want it done."[7] United Artists remained an active press after Mayer and Warsh split in the mid-80s.

Personal life[edit]

Mayer was in a relationship with poet Lewis Warsh with whom she had three children. Of her romantic life, Mayer wrote, "Left a beautiful anarchist lover of 10 years because he wanted no responsibility for children, I chose to have three with another, now living "alone" with them." Mayer now lives with her partner the poet Philip Good in Upstate New York. In 1994, Mayer suffered a temporarily debilitating stroke. While she has recovered, it altered her motor skills and continues to affect her writing process.

Mayer has corresponded extensively with many writers, including poet Clark Coolidge with whom she collaborated on The Cave, a project revolving around a trip the two of them took to Eldon's Cave in western Massachusetts. Mayer has also collaborated with poets Anne Waldman, Alice Notley, Lee Ann Brown, and Jen Karmin.


  • Story, New York: 0 to 9 Press, 1968.
  • Moving, New York: Angel Hair, 1971.
  • Memory, Plainfield, VT: North Atlantic Books, 1976.
  • Ceremony Latin (1964), New York: Angel Hair, 1975.
  • Studying Hunger, New York: Adventures in Poetry/ Bolinas, CA: Big Sky, 1976.
  • Poetry, New York: Kulchur Foundation, 1976.
  • Eruditio Ex Memoria, Lenox, MA: Angel Hair, 1977.
  • The Golden Book of Words, Lenox, MA: Angel Hair, 1978.
  • Midwinter Day, Berkeley, CA: Turtle Island Foundation, 1982.
  • Utopia, New York: United Artists Books, 1984.
  • Mutual Aid (Mademoiselle de la Mole Press, 1985)
  • Sonnets, New York: Tender Buttons, 1989.
  • The Formal Field of Kissing, New York: Catchword Papers, 1990.
  • A Bernadette Mayer Reader, New York: New Directions, 1992.
  • The Desires of Mothers to Please Others in Letters, West Stockbridge, MA: Hard Press, 1994.
  • Another Smashed Pinecone, New York: United Artists Books, 1998.
  • Proper Name & other stories, New York: New Directions, 1996.
  • Two Haloed Mourners: Poems, New York: Granary Books, 1998.
  • Midwinter Day, New York: New Directions, 1999 (reprint of 1982 edition).
  • Scarlet Tanager, New York: New Directions, 2005.[8]
  • What's Your Idea of a Good Time?: Letters and Interviews 1977–1985 with Bill Berkson, Berkeley: Tuumba Press, 2006.
  • Poetry State Forest, New York: New Directions, 2008.
  • Ethics of Sleep, New Orleans: Trembling Pillow Press, 2011.
  • Studying Hunger Journals, Barrytown, NY: Station Hill Press, 2011.
  • The Helens of Troy, NY, New York: New Directions, 2013.
  • At Maureen's (with Greg Masters), New York: Crony Books, 2013.
  • Eating the Colors of a Lineup of Words: The Early Books of Bernadette Mayer (Station Hill Press, 2015, ed. Michael Ruby and Sam Truitt)


  1. ^ Burns, Megan. "Bernadette Mayer's "Midwinter's Day"". Jacket Magazine. Retrieved February 5, 2014. 
  2. ^ Champion, Miles. "Insane Podium". The Poetry Project. 
  3. ^ Gordon, Nada. "Form's Life: An Exploration of the Works of Bernadette Mayer". Retrieved February 6, 2014. 
  4. ^ Hudek, Antony. "Amarcord: Numbers Shows". Flash Art. Archived from the original on January 9, 2014. Retrieved February 5, 2014. 
  5. ^ Mayer, Bernadette (1975). Studying Hunger. Adventures in Poetry/Big Sky. 
  6. ^ Champion, Miles. "Insane Podium". The Poetry Project. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ *Mayer, Bernadette (2005). Scarlet tanager. New Directions Publishing. ISBN 978-0-8112-1582-4. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Smith, Dinitia. "Fresh Look at a Syntax Skewer". The New York Times. 
  • Burt, Stephen. "Mother Tongues". Village Voice (New York, NY). 
  • Corbett, William (1989). "Review: Nine Brief Reviews by William Corbett". Harvard Book Review (13/14): 27–28. ISSN 1080-6067. 
  • Bendall, Molly (1993). "Review: [untitled]". The Antioch Review. 51 (3): 466. doi:10.2307/4612805. ISSN 0003-5769. 
  • "'The Art of Self-Indulgence'". The Washington Post. 
  • Burnham, Emily (June 7, 2008). "Words processing; UMaine's Poetry of the 1970s conference dissects a decade". Bangor Daily News (Maine). 

External links[edit]