Bernadette Mayer


June 30, 2020
Daily reading: July 1–31, Language Is a Temptation
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Complete text and over 1100 images

In July 1971, Bernadette Mayer embarked on an experiment: For one month she exposed a roll of 35mm film and kept a daily journal. The result was a conceptual work that investigates the nature of memory, its surfaces, textures and material. Memory is both monumental in scope (over 1100 photographs, two hundred pages of text and six hours of audio recording) and a groundbreaking work by a poet who is widely regarded as one of the most innovative writers of her generation. Presaging Mayer’s durational and constraint-based diaristic works of poetry, it also evinces her extraordinary—and unheralded—contribution to conceptual art.

Mayer has called Memory “an emotional science project,” but it is far from confessional. Rather, this boldly experimental record follows the poet’s eye as she traverses early morning into night, as quotidian minutiae metamorphose into the lyrical, as her stream of consciousness becomes incantatory. The space of memory in Mayer’s work is hyper-precise but also evanescent and expansive. In both text and image, Mayer constructs the mercurial, fleeting consciousness of the present moment from which memory is—as she says—“always there, to be entered, like the world of dreams or an ongoing TV show.”

Siglio's publication brings together the full sequence of images and text for the first time in book form, making space for a work that has been legendary but mostly invisible. Originally exhibited in 1972 by pioneering gallerist Holly Solomon, it was not shown again in its entirety until 2016 at the Poetry Foundation in Chicago and in 2017 at CANADA Gallery in NYC. The text was published without the photographs in 1975 by North Atlantic Books and has been long out of print. 

336 pages / 10 x 7.25 inches / ISBN: 978-1-938221-25-5 / Trade edition / Limited edition

"This dreamy volume . . . is as much a conceptual exercise as a diaristic one, a Hydra dancing at the intersections of language and image, calling forth what time and a voracious mind can create there . . . To a reader leafing through Memory now, Mayer’s feral run-ons may elicit a wistfulness for an era that appears so much freer than our own, and her photos’ rich cinematic hues might prompt a person to wonder how our age, so manically documented, seems far less vivid in comparison. And while prescience is always a dicey claim, Mayer’s self-portraits, often taken while staring into the lens, somehow appear like eerie proof that she was seeing us long before we would see her." —BOOKFORUM

"Memory is a prodigious effort to move into a new visual and textual language where Mayer can explore the simmering possibilities of consciousness. . . . That weaving between poetry and image opens spaces of light, time, language, awareness, expression, and creation." —HYPERALLERGIC


Bernadette Mayer (b. 1945, Brooklyn, NY) is the author of over thirty books including the acclaimed Midwinter Day (1982), The Desires of Mothers to Please Others in Letters (1994), and most recently Works and Days (2016) which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry. Associated with the New York School as well as the Language poets, Mayer has also been an influential teacher and editor. In the art world, she is best known for her collaboration with Vito Acconci as editors of the influential mimeographed magazine 0 TO 9.

About Siglio
Siglio publishes uncommon books that live in the rich and varied space between art and literature. Siglio is a small, fiercely independent press driven by its feminist ethos and its commitment to writers and artists who obey no boundaries, pay no fealty to trends and invite readers to see the world anew by reading word and image in provocative, unfamiliar ways. Support Siglio by becoming a Siglio Advocate.