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My introduction to Bernadette Mayer, reading with Clark Coolidge at the Colby College Art Museum on 14 June 2008, as part of the National Poetry Foundation Poetry of the 1970s Conference: an ABC of Mayer's literary biography.

A great and terrifying honor it is to introduce Bernadette Mayer, at this conference, to this amazing audience.

Mayer was born in 1945 in Brooklyn, NY and graduated from the New School for Social Research in 1967.

she has produced three of, Sophie, Marie, and Max, and many, many more poems.

The Desires of Mothers to Please Others in Letters, itself a 346 page tour de force written during Bernadette's final pregnancy in 1979-80 and published by Hard Press in 1994, was merely the last of several large-scale writing experiments Mayer conducted through the 1970s, including Memory (132 pages of prose--derived from 7 hours of taped narration and 1200 color snapshots that were compiled during the month of July, 1971, and exhibited in a gallery in 1972--the text published by North Atlantic Books in 1976); the Studying Hunger journals (500 pages of prose written between 1972 and 1974, 70 pages of which were published by Adventures in Poetry and Big Sky in 1975); and Midwinter Day (120 pages of breakneck prose and verse written on the shortest day of 1978 and published by Turtle Island Foundation in 1982).

ex Memoria (Angel Hair, 1977) is another favorite of mine--where Bernadette rescues her old school notes and reformulates them as art.  (Come on, you know you have some of those old notebooks stored somewhere--did you recycle them?)

From 1967-1969 Bernadette edited, with Vito Acconci, the field-jumping conceptual art poetry magazine 0 to 9, gloriously reprinted by Ugly Duckling Presse year before last.  She also edited Unnatural Acts (with Ed Friedman, from 1972-74) and United Artists (with Lewis Warsh, from 1977-83).

Good enough or unlucky enough to be the only woman featured (out of twenty-six writers) in Ron Padgett and David Shapiro's 1970 Anthology of New York Poets, at the age of twenty-five, Bernadette went on to write work that was not so well-received by that New York School, but that was met with excitement by the "language" poets and other groups.

However obvious Bernadette's debt to Stein and to Burroughs, I see in her work an extension of the intensities and procedures of Riding and Queneau--the latter Oulipian connection leading to her inclusion in the wonderful Noulipian Analects, published by Les Figues Press this year.

In the mid-1970s many of the writers excited by her work sought out her now legendary workshops conducted at New York City's St. Mark's Poetry Project, an important cultural organization she would go on to direct in the 1980s.

Just as importantly, Bernadette has always been collaborating, with fellow poets, with students, with lovers, with her children and with friends, editing the collaboration-based magazine Unnatural Acts with Ed Friedman from 1972-1974, writing The Basketball Article with Anne Waldman in 1975, The Cave with Clark Coolidge from 1971-1978 (finally to see the light of day thanks to Marcella Durand and Adventures in Poetry later this year), The Art of Science Writing with Dale Worsley in 1995, and countless collaborative pieces with the poet Phil Good and others, in her more recent volumes of verse.  Today's conjunction of Bernadette and Clark Coolidge, here amidst the work of Alex Katz and Joe Brainard, amongst others, feels especially fortunate.

K is for Catullus (sort of) whose epigrams Bernadette translated and imitated brilliantly in her book The Formal Field of Kissing (Catchword Papers, 1990) and who she continues to emulate.

"Love is a babe as you know" . . . sorry, that comes under S.  Learning to write, for me, I mean really getting down to it from the inside out, didn't happen until I had discovered and studied Bernadette's Studying Hunger.  

Memory (a partial reconstruction of the exhibit) is currently on show at the Lord Hall Gallery on the Orono campus--don't miss it.   

New Directions will be publishing Bernadette's next volume, The Poetry State Forest, this fall.  

Other recent volumes, each as delightful as the last, displaying an intent to learn as much as Bernadette can through poetry about the various life surrounding her recently adopted home in rural upstate New York, include Scarlet Tanager (New Directions, 2005), Two Haloed Mourners (Granary Books, 1998), and Another Smashed Pinecone (ND, 1996)

Periods are a blatant topic of Bernadette's poetry, a subject for odes not just full stops.

Questions about human nature, the nature of consciousness, and our relation to the rest of nature lie at the heart of Bernadette's work, always writing to discover, if not recover.

Reprints of her earlier works have begun to appear: New Directions republished Midwinter Day in 1999; Shark Books has recently reprinted Bernadette's first book, the 1964 Ceremony Latin (first published in 1975) as well as her 1975 collaboration with Anne Waldman, The Basketball Article (1975); there have been rumors for some time of a Qua Press edition of the full Studying Hunger Journals; and reading editions of most of the key early works can now be accessed in PDF format at Craig Dworkin's eclipse website with the University of Utah.

Sonnets, well, if you don't know that marvelous Tender Buttons book of Sonnets (published by Lee Ann Brown), which has not without reason been compared to the Sonnets of Shakespeare, then maybe you should drop everything else and start right there.  Perhaps that was what got me started.  You can get a copy on for $68.10.

Teaching poetry has always been as important as the writing of poetry, for Bernadette; even when she was not so well I remember weekly meetings at Bernadette's and Phil's apartment on New York City's Lower East Side, to read aloud Milton's Paradise Lost; you can still study with her, at her home, at negotiable rates.  

Under the title "The Faces That Launched 1000 Ships," Bernadette currently is writing a grant for a project to photograph the Helens of Troy, New York.  

Verse in the English or perhaps any language will never be the same after Bernadette Mayer.

"Work your ass off to change the language & don't ever get famous," may be the most oft-quoted "writing exercise" from Bernadette's workshops; I'm not sure she's doing too well on that second part (the getting famous one) but there is no doubt she has carried through on the first, fulfilling Dante's aims for poetry, if not those of Karl Marx.

"X for Ted Berrigan," in Two Haloed Mourners, is a sestina Bernadette wrote where she manages to repeat the first words in each line as well as the last words, and break your heart in the process.

You'd never know Bernadette had broken her neck just a few weeks ago, in a dramatic fall down a twenty-foot slope, so

Zip to attention and please join me in welcoming Bernadette Mayer.