Bernadette Mayer's writing experiments

Date: Sun, 28 Nov 1999 22:38:49 -0500 (EST)



Okay, here's an intro exercise. Everyone do it! Read on and learn how to
participate in this group exercise. Read on, read on....

>From Bernadette Mayer's suggestions for "writing experiments" we can
derive a number of basic ideas or assumptions or principles operating in
much contemporary avant-garde poetry.

So let's look at eight of Mayer's experimental suggestions.  I'll copy
them here and now I ask 88'ers to write to the listserv remarking on any
one or two of them.

For each of Mayer's experiments, 88'ers should say what general idea is


Mayer suggests this:
  "Rewrite someone else's writing. Experiment with theft and plagiarism."

...and I, if I'm an 88'er, might write this:
  "The idea behind this is that writing is not owned and it's not
  individual. Writing is perhaps not 'original.' Writing is a collection
  of borrowings from other writers and other writings. We should
  be honest about this and stop pretending poems are uniquely the
  expression of the individual poet who writes them. Or maybe
  Mayer is assuming that theft is okay, thus reversing the usual
  moral code about writing. She's breaking the law, associating
  writing with iconoclasm."

Okay, so here are some of Mayer's experiments. Write back to the list and
tell us what general ideas seem to be operating here.

1) Write what cannot be written; for example, compose an index. 

2) Attempt writing in a state of mind that seems least congenial. 

3) Write on a piece of paper where something is already printed or

4) Find the poems you think are the worst poems ever written, either by
your own self or other poets. Study them, then write a bad poem. 

5) Write a work gazing into a mirror without using the pronoun I. 

6) Take a piece of prose writing and turn it into poetic lines. Then,
without remembering that you were planning to do this, make a poem of the
first and last words of each line to see what happens. For instance, the
lines (from Einstein):

     When at the reception
     Of sense-impressions, memory pictures
     Emerge this is not yet thinking
     And when. . .

would become:

     When reception
     Of pictures
     Emerge thinking
     And when

And so on. Form the original prose, poetic lines, and first-and-last
word poem into three columns on a page. Study their relationships.

7) Systematically derange the language, for example, write a work
consisting only of prepositional phrases....

8) Write twenty-five or more different versions of one event. 

Let's see what you can come up with!

Gobble, gobble,



Mayer's list of experiments is mentioned by Jerome McGann in his
introduction to the language poetry, here:

The list itself is also linked to our chapter 9 readings:

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