Skip to content

[Mayer] writes as if everything were still possible in the work of a lifetime at the coincidence of all the turvy moments.

Clark Coolidge

Bernadette Mayer

Contemporary American Poet

Bernadette Mayer was born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1945. A most prolific poet, her first book was published when she was twenty-three years old. For many years Mayer lived and worked on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. She was the Director of St. Mark’s Poetry Project from 1980 to 1984. Now, many texts later she continues to write progressive poetry from her home in East Nassau, New York. Mayer has taught at Naropa Poetics Institute, New School for Social Research, College of Staten Island, and New England College. She has received grants and awards from: PEN American Center, Foundation for Contemporary Performing Art, The NEA, The Academy for American Poets, and American Academy of Arts and Letters. 

Works and Days

Poetry by Bernadette Mayer

Part springtime journal (“why are there thorns?”), Works and Days meditates on the first wasps and chipmunks of the season, times’ passage, grackle hearts, and dandelions, while also collecting dozens of poems considering the Catholic Church, Sir Thomas Browne, “Go Away” welcome mats, books, floods (“never of dollar money”), the invention of words, local politics, friendships, property development, dogs, and Hesiod. Every page delights. As the poet herself notes: “My name is Bernadette Mayer, sometimes / I am at the head of my class.”

I don’t mean to get all

Parallel universey on you

But I am at once the spider

The spider web, and

Me observing them

The Helens of Troy, New York

Poetry by Bernadette Mayer

Profiles of all the women named Helen in Troy, NY, with poems and images, mixing the classical with the ordinary and delightful intelligence with irreverence.

everybody died
there’s nothing more to say
my hair’s braided like a family
i took off, it was fun, i loved it
if you did something wrong, they punished you
one helen is enough, trust me

Poetry State Forest

Poetry by Bernadette Mayer

Called “a consummate poet” by Robert Creeley and "a poet of extraordinary inventiveness, erotic energy and challenge, and ironic intelligence" by Michael Palmer, Bernadette Mayer can be found in all her variety in Poetry State Forest, which contains nature poems, sonnets, prose poetry, pastiches, long sequences, and epigrams.

Scarlet Tanager

Poetry by Bernadette Mayer

Comprised almost entirely of never-before-collected poems, Scarlet Tanager is Bernadette Mayer’s first collection of new work in nearly a decade. Called “magnificent” by John Ashbery and “consummate” by Robert Creeley. Mayer mixes together delightful epigrams (“What it means to be a mammal / sexually /it’s cute”), long-line free verse, and her astonishing sonnets. There are also curious, extremely witty translations of Mayer poems into joking, free-style French, which are then re-translated back into English, landing quite some ways from the original. There is no one writing today who can touch Bernadette Mayer for sheer pleasure and indelible brilliance.

Midwinter Day

Poetry by Bernadette Mayer

Midwinter Day was written on December 22, 1978 at 100 Main Street, in Lennox, Massachusettes. "Midwinter Day," as Alice Notley noted, "is an epic poem about a daily routine." A poem in six parts, Midwinter Day takes us from awakening and emerging from dreams through the whole day-morning, afternoon, evening, night-to dreams again: ". . . a plain introduction to modes of love and reason / Then to end I guess with love, a method to this winter season / Now I’ve said this love it’s all I can remember / Of Midwinter Day the twenty-second of December."

Available: May 01 1999

A Bernadette Mayer Reader

Poetry by Bernadette Mayer

"Truly this is the best How To book I’ve read in years. Bernadette Mayer makes a various world of real people in real times and places, a fact of love and loving use. She has impeccable insight and humor. She is a consummate poet no matter what’s for supper or who eats it. Would that all genius were as generous." – Robert Creeley


Be strong Bernadette

Nobody will ever know

I came here for a reason

Perhaps there is a life here

Of not being afraid of your own heart beating

Do not be afraid of your own heart beating

Look at very small things with your eyes

& stay warm


From "The Way to Keep Going in Antarctica"

Available: May 01 1992