Bernadette Mayer’s «Midwinter Day»: Dream of the («Extra»)Ordinary. 1. Imagining her self or, more specifically, how words have the power to give texture and. Midwinter Day [Bernadette Mayer] on *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. Perhaps Bernadette Mayer’s greatest work, Midwinter Day was written. I had an idea to write a book that would prove the day like the dream has everything in it.” — Bernadette Mayer, Midwinter Day Today marks.

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This piece is about 26 printed pages long. The Internet address of this page is http: This work steps outside the boundaries of traditional history, literature, and mythology challenging the reader to trace a feminine perspective through the dailiness of mothering coupled with the sacred act of creating and the mysterious investigation into the psychoanalytical exploration of dreams and memory.

The experiment, leading the reader through December 22, from dreaming world to waking and back again, proves that the self is not the subject in this poem, but rather language and words and how this particular day is shaped by them. At the age of 27, Mayer embarked on a conceptual art piece exploring memory that involved color snapshots and 7 hours of taped narration.

She shot one roll for every day in the month of July, Portions of the text and some photos for the cover were published by North Atlantic in with the title Memory. Her next experiment, Studying Hunger Journals, tracks states of consciousness within a month.

Again, only portions of this text were published as Studying Hunger [1]. So, Midwinter Day represents both a narrower time constraint, one day, and as a result a publishable venture, the entire text has been published in book form. The text Studying Hunger can be read as a precursor to Midwinter Dayone in which Mayer toys with the idea of writing a text in a single day and works through the problems of recording unconscious states.

What further differentiates Midwinter Day from other previous long poems is its collage of both the scientific experiment, with its nod towards Freudian analysis, combined with the feminist personal as political movement and the lyrical narrative that keeps the text from being overtly objective. What balances the language experiment in Midwinter Day is the infusion of emotional complexity of the artist as a young woman: The narrative of the poem moves forward propelled by the passage of time, but the tropes of love, death, children and writing recur regardless of the setting or time period.

The events from the day before the dream are not made available to the reader. This narration, though, is continuously plagued by neurotic doubts about the telling of these dreams.

The dream imagery is constantly interrupted by an awareness of the experiment of recording the dreams as well as attempts to interpret and contextualize the imagery. The notion of seeing and seeing clearly recurs throughout this section; Barthes noted that: This first section then engages in the fictive act of recreation, asking the reader to suspend disbelief and actively engage in this process through the inaccurate and foggy landscapes of both dream and memory.

This dreaming sequence in the beginning is not only the longest section, but it is more than double the length of the other sections of the book. The starts and stops of the dream narrative along with the digressions into memory seem to try to mimic the process of sleep. There is the desire to both recount the dream and to participate in trying to analyze the dream: Mayer confesses as well as apologizes during the retelling: The threat is that the narrator has no control over the dream and therefore to tell it truthfully may reveal more than she is willing to share.

So, even as she affords them the importance of being retold in the poem, she is aware that the recreation is a fiction tempered by her own anxieties and fears. There is a circular nature revealed in her movement from dream to memory to dream, and the one constant factor is the shaky ground on which they both stand. Mayer questions whether a dream can represent truth and whether any true retelling of the dream can even occur.

The traditional epic themes of action and struggles to overcome are not found here, and unlike other long poems by Pound, Eliot or Williams, Midwinter Day circles closer and closer into the intimate view of the family rather than out towards an all encompassing view of history or the tale of the tribe.

And love, love is a theme that Mayer explores again and again prompting the sense that this is indeed a romantic text and not simply a stoic experiment or writing exercise.

Likewise, an exposition on love and the intimacy of the family stands in direct opposition to the subjects of most male generated epics or long poems, and Mayer struggles to elevate the subject of motherhood to that pinnacle long held by subjects such as war or male aggression.

This is precisely what Mayer does throughout Midwinter Day ; she aims to capture the basic details of life which she believes are the essence of poetry rather than trying to create poetry that elevates or makes astonishing her life. Mayer claims that poetry can represent this everydayness and pushes her reader to stay invested in the experiment of seeing how language can transform the most ordinary into a beautiful meditation on life. Mayer at times is carried away by the pleasure of rhyming for its own sake: There is no formal rhyme scheme but Mayer consistently uses rhyme ceasing only during the prose section before returning to poetic stanzas and rhyme at the close.


What is your substance and wherefore are you made That millions of strange shadows you tend? Since everyone has, every one, one shade, And you but one, can every shadow lend This stanza with its iambic pentameter form is interrupted by a return of the narrator anxiously wondering how to say what she means.

Midwinter Day [Excerpt]

She then begins another formal iambic quintet with an a bb cc rhyme scheme. This movement from formal to free verse puts both forms side by side; Mayer demonstrates her ability to work this experiment in both modes. Bernadettf is creating a parallel instead of a hierarchy between higher poetic language and everyday speech. Instead of choosing one form in favor of another, Mayer is consistent in her attempt to include all.

Her text is playful and serious in its task as well as experimental in its desire to reveal what words are capable of transmitting from any writer to reader on a conscious level. Part two is written in blocks of prose, and more than any other section it details the movements of the mother in relation to her children during a morning routine. It is the shortest section with the action contained completely within the domestic sphere mirroring in its prose form part four.

These two parts representing the interior life of the family at morning and at evening bookend the middle part three, which occurs exclusively outside of the home focusing on family errands and the history and mapping of the town. Listing is a device that Mayer returns to throughout the poem; in part two she uses it to set the scene cataloguing the entire makeup of several rooms of the house. Lists can be completely impersonal simply cataloguing objective data as one would in a scientific experiment.

They also bring to mind their function, which is quite literally to stand in the place of remembering. Mayer brings attention to how lists replace memory and how memory functions to create lists and, in relation to lists, how one assigns value to the items encased in the list form.

Light, time and death are intrinsically linked throughout the book, and Mayer returns to the connections between the three again and again.

Midwinter Day by Bernadette Mayer

The importance of light parallels the motion of the story; the light is short and therefore there is a condensation of the events of the day recorded in these bursts of prose: The importance of time is magnified not only by the shortness of the day, but also by the act of mothering two small children, which takes bernadete considerable amount of time and energy. It is a rich and various landscape recorded in a midwinteer banal routine: Her ady opens the field as to what the subject of a long poem can be in opposition to what her male predecessors viewed as worthy subjects for the long poem.

The act of creating this book brings value to the brrnadette of motherhood and provides a standard for future mothers who struggle under the same constraints of finding time and energy for their creative aspects as well as their family demands. Instead of separating the categories of child rearing and poetry, Mayer attempts to berjadette the two since the combination reveals a more accurate portrayal of life.

The winter season, symbolic of stasis and death, brings to the forefront the mortality, or the dying of the light as it were, that Mayer is constantly drawn to in the poem. Death or the dissolution of self is a trope intrinsically linked to the idea of the day being shortened. Of course the image is completely inverted as the voice calling out is a woman anxious to know if she has left anything out of the poem and instead of crucifixion the narrator has been forsaken for joy.

The joy is what Mayer sees amyer her, and the need to get it in is almost a talismanic desire to ward off death with description. The eye of the narrator telescopes outward from the detail of seeing the family unit poised on the threshold of their doorstep to a mapping of the small town in all directions: The description expands to place the family not only in a geographical setting but also in a historically literary one: There is never a shift in perspective that tries to dissolve the narrator or that tries to move too far away from the experiment at hand.

The obstacle then with the precise recording of the day as it unfolds is that: Although the reader knows that language is not the living, the suspension of disbelief allows for the creation of a world, an entity as it is made of words that stands in comparison to the reality: Thinking things the world. The poem is an object other and external to the self, and the poem is also a world created by language that references and influences our own. The tantrum scene is written with all the flourish and eye to detail that a Shakespearian tragedy would give to the mmayer of the play.


The overblown language adds humor to the retelling but beneath the surface is an honest look at the tenuous hold children have on their emotions and how this affects the adults around them.

The child is described in terms comparable to a mythic creature, as choleric as Circe or Athena: Mayer does not just record that her child had a tantrum in the public library, instead she brings us into the emotion, into the chaos and the depths showing how language can go into an experience rather than simply retell the experience.

The tantrum seems to last forever as the long lines pile up and indeed even the reader must catch their breath at the end. Mayer then turns the entire scene into an opportunity to explore midwinteer nature of rage and love.

ALL THE FEMINIST BOOKS: Midwinter Day by Bernadette Mayer – WEIRD SISTER

The list form emerges again as she draws a mental picture of their surroundings: Mayer illustrates another use of listing as a way to orient oneself in a geographical sphere. Mayer indulges in her lists again later in the section at the bookstore; 19 lines of book titles are listed with no comment other than to display in their listing the importance that Mayer gives these items.

There is a consciousness in regard to the writing life always at work in the dag whether it is present in her obsession with book titles or in questions of poetics that come up: As with earlier descriptions, this investigation as well is interrupted at times by the actions of the children: Mayer pushes her investigation to include not only facts, but the everydayness even its crude display: Mayer in her view of the town censors nothing, and continues to push the reader to accept everything as the bernaddtte of poetry.

Here Mayer subverts this notion claiming that there is no action when in reality the action is the daily routine. Mayer draws a parallel between writing and life through this example showing that the everyday is not brenadette what makes up our lives, but ultimately also what makes up poetry as well. The two opposing poles become then the safety of the family unit locked in the house and the threat of moving out of that safety where death or betrayal lurks around the edges.

The melding of high and low art converges in this section through her descriptions and allusions to books. So, The Tiny, Tawny Kitten is as much a part of the makeup of this poem as the Egyptian and American Indian mythology books discussed or references to poet Anne Bradstreet. Mayer is more interested in recording and tracking the movement of her mind rather than trying to discover the psychology of why her mind leaps to these disparate points.

As in part one, the idea of psychological analysis is hinted at in the desire to tease out why the mind would go to these certain subjects. As the section progresses, the action occurs primarily within the contexts of the books; Mayer recreates in this focus how the bernnadette escapes her domestic sphere and enters an exteriority offered by the books. In part four, Mayer returns to her interest in what a story is and how stories are constructed.

In a way, her attention to books is another look into how stories are integral to life. Mayer shows the importance of the books that she has read by placing their tales directly in line with her tale of her family.

The paragraphs become expositions on both her immediate present and the memories of books read that this present stirs up, and the two seem to be disparate but in fact illustrate the circuitous nature of memory and intellect. Her memories lead her not only into books but into personal stories as well: The stories that make up her personal retinue bernadstte as well thoughts about maywr own writing: Someone else said I was no longer a true experimentalist.

Midwinter Day

Mayer layers story upon story to flesh out the workings of the mind and how integral the act of telling and retelling is to life. The form of the story varies from book summaries to memories recounted to word of mouth gossip, but its function remains important: Mayer draws attention to this unconscious tendency or this act that is taken for granted on a daily basis in order to question what the idea of story is to the reader.

She tempts the reader to try and make sense of this micwinter of stories piling up and this in turn prompts the reader to question the use of narrative in their own lives.