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Bernadette Mayer

1945–

Bernadette Mayer was born on May 12, 1945, in Brooklyn, New York. She received her BA from the New School for Social Research in 1967.

She is the author of numerous books of poetry and prose, including: Eating the Colors of a Lineup of Words: The Early Books of Bernadette Mayer (Station Hill Press, 2015),  Poetry State Forest (New Directions, 2008), Scarlet Tanager (New Directions, 2005), Two Haloed Mourners (Granary Books, 1998), Proper Name and Other Stories (New Directions, 1996), The Desires of Mothers to Please Others in Letters (Hard Press Editions, 1994), The Bernadette Mayer Reader (New Directions, 1992), Sonnets (Tender Buttons Press, 1989), Midwinter Day (New Directions, 1982), The Golden Book of Words (Angel Hair Books, 1978), and Ceremony Latin (Angel Hair Books, 1964).

From 1967 to 1969, Mayer and conceptual artist Vito Acconci edited the journal 0 TO 9. She received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1979. With her husband, writer and publisher Lewis Warsh, she edited United Artists Press. She has taught writing workshops at The Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church in New York City for many years and she served as the Poetry Project's director during the 1980s. Bernadette Mayer lives in East Nassau, New York.


Selected Bibliography

Eating the Colors of a Lineup of Words: The Early Books of Bernadette Mayer (Station Hill Press, 2015)
Poetry State Forest (New Directions, 2008)
Scarlet Tanager (New Directions, 2005)
Two Haloed Mourners (Granary Books, 1998)
Proper Name and Other Stories (New Directions, 1996)
The Desires of Mothers to Please Others in Letters (Hard Press Editions, 1994)
The Bernadette Mayer Reader (New Directions, 1992)
Sonnets (Tender Buttons Press, 1989)
Midwinter Day (New Directions, 1982)
The Golden Book of Words (Angel Hair Books, 1978)
Ceremony Latin (Angel Hair Books, 1964)

Bernadette Mayer
Photo credit: Marie Warsh

By This Poet

7

Ode on Periods

the penis is something that fits into the vagina
so's the tampax or sponge
therefore Aristotle never thought of women at all
the penis like a tree fits into mouth, hands and asshole too
it can be the subject of an academic poem
disguised as a sloop, catapult or catamaran's mastpole
never the monthly menstruation will she
belie tradition's bloody demagoguery enough
to appear in the rough in a poem in a monthly
I dream I had a deep cut on my finger
filled with a delicious tofu cake
and when you took off your clothes your penis
was among them hanging by a cord on a hook
I took it down hoping its disassociation from being
would not thus prevent its manly erection from existing
and therefore I tried it out and it went well
such as license as mine perhaps made it swell independent
I think the world is all fucked up in many ways (see footnotes)
and one of these is the apparent interdiction in dumb poetic tradition
of speaking of and being heard on the glories of sublime menstruation

I first got my period when I was twelve the day my father died
at least I knew what it was, some girls didn't then
we were told you can't go swimming but don't you wanna have
	children
so much for confessionalism
I won't call on the moon like in a real poem
or anthropology or the bible or talk about being untouchable
or power etc. I've nothing at all to say but to exercise
my freedom to speak about everything

now that poems've got everything in them
even rhetoric and dailiness plus the names of things again
including flowers like the spotted touch-me-not
so inviting to hummingbirds
and I'm writing one
I'd like to mention or say blatantly
I got my period today
probably like nobody
certainly in the nineteenth century ever did
and if you really wanna know
most of us you know
all get ours on the same day no kidding
and we talk about it frequently and peripatetically
Alice with Peggy Peggy with Marion Marion with me me
	with Anne
Anne with Alice Peggy with me Grace with Peggy Marion with Grace

So Friends! Hold the bloody sponge up!
For all to see!

On Gifts for Grace

I saw a great teapot
I wanted to get you this stupendous
100% cotton royal blue and black checked shirt,
There was a red and black striped one too
Then I saw these boots at a place called Chuckles
They laced up to about two inches above your ankles
All leather and in red, black or purple
It was hard to have no money today
I won't even speak about the possible flowers and kinds of lingerie
All linen and silk with not-yet-perfumed laces
Brilliant enough for any of the Graces
Full of luxury, grace notes, prosperousness and charm
But I can only praise you with this poem—
Its being is the same as the meaning of your name

First Turn to Me...

First turn to me after a shower,
you come inside me sideways as always

in the morning you ask me to be on top of you,
then we take a nap, we’re late for school

you arrive at night inspired and drunk,
there is no reason for our clothes

we take a bath and lie down facing each other,
then later we turn over, finally you come

we face each other and talk about childhood
as soon as I touch your penis I wind up coming

you stop by in the morning to say hello
we sit on the bed indian fashion not touching

in the middle of the night you come home
from a nightclub, we don’t get past the bureau

next day it’s the table, and after that the chair
because I want so much to sit you down & suck your cock

you ask me to hold your wrists, but then when I
touch your neck with both my hands you come

it’s early morning and you decide to very quietly
come on my knee because of the children

you’ve been away at school for centuries, your girlfriend
has left you, you come four times before morning

you tell me you masturbated in the hotel before you came by
I don’t believe it, I serve the lentil soup naked

I massage your feet to seduce you, you are reluctant,
my feet wind up at your neck and ankles

you try not to come too quickly
also, you dont want to have a baby

I stand up from the bath, you say turn around
and kiss the backs of my legs and my ass

you suck my cunt for a thousand years, you are weary
at last I remember my father’s anger and I come

you have no patience and come right away
I get revenge and won’t let you sleep all night

we make out for so long we can’t remember how
we wound up hitting our heads against the wall

I lie on my stomach, you put one hand under me
and one hand over me and that way can love me

you appear without notice and with flowers
I fall for it and we become missionaries

you say you can only fuck me up the ass when you are drunk
so we try it sober in a room at the farm

we lie together one night, exhausted couplets
and don’t make love. does this mean we’ve had enough?

watching t.v. we wonder if each other wants to
interrupt the plot; later I beg you to read to me

like the Chinese we count 81 thrusts
then 9 more out loud till we both come

I come three times before you do
and then it seems you’re mad and never will

it’s only fair for a woman to come more
think of all the times they didn’t care

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