The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Spotlight on … Bernadette Mayer Memory (1971)


‘During the month of July in 1971, poet Bernadette Mayer exposed a roll of 35 mm film every day and kept a daily journal. The result was what Mayer calls an “emotional science project”: a conceptual, hybrid work that incorporates photography and text to display the texture and raw material of memory.

Memory begins on July 1 as Mayer writes, “& the main thing is we begin with a white sink…” What follows in the next thirty days of July is a slipstream of consciousness, precise in Mayer’s desire to record things as she sees them, as well as lyrical and expansive. “I ate leftover chicken,” Mayer writes. “I ate colors in a dream.”

‘I surprised myself by reading Memory in an afternoon. I read it lying flat on the concrete slab that is my outdoor space, hunched over the glossy book, my legs hot against the new spring heat that bounced off the pavement. There was something I had been craving that Memory offered me in its precise record of time, its willingness to linger, its aberrant take on self-documentation.

‘When Memory debuted as an installation piece in 1972 in Holly Solomon’s gallery in New York, the piece incorporated text, approximately a thousand photographs, and audio recordings in a public space that people could move through at their own pace. Now, in book form, Memory invites the reader to engage with the work in a much more intimate way. The book reads as if we are seeing through Mayer’s eyes, immersed in her consciousness. Through rolling prose of half-finished thoughts, moving images, and fleeting emotions, Mayer attempts to document the mercurial present moment.

‘“It’s astonishing to me that there is so much in Memory,” Mayer writes in the preface of the book, “yet so much is left out: emotions, thoughts, sex, the relationship between poetry and light, storytelling, walking and voyaging to name a few. I thought by using sound and image, I could include everything, but so far that is not so.” What is illuminated in Mayer’s attempt to record what she experiences as she experiences it is the space where images, interiority, and action flow into each other and carry equal weight.

‘“Lights. Lights all electric electric machines,” Mayer writes. “& we are going to toronto tomorrow, something to put together, & more memory into a schedule of light: am I crazy & don’t I want to fuck.”

‘In a modern culture obsessed with self-documentation and with putting our best, most photogenic moments on display, Mayer’s attempt to show everyday life as it is—out of focus, strange, and repetitive—feels fresh. Mayer writes that “…everything that becomes popular [in our memory] is a very small part of the experience of being human, as if it were all too much for us.” And Memory, monumental in scope, sometimes does feel like too much. Mayer’s photographs, which range from dimly lit bars in New York City to a bag of onions to close-ups of lush vegetation to “corn yellow taxis” are aligned in a grid throughout the book, causing them to blur together as they would in one’s memory, reminding readers of the prodigious scope of daily experience.’ — Natalie Dunn, The Rumpus



Bernadette Mayer Site
Everyday Life, Revisited—with Bernadette Mayer’s Memory
Inside Bernadette Mayer’s Time Capsule
Bernadette Mayer’s Memory by Diana Hamilton
MEMORY by Jennifer Krasinski
Anthony Madrid Reviews Memory
Bernadette Mayer on the Changing Colours of the Alphabet
“The Spaces Between”: Bernadette Mayer’s Memory and the Interstitial Archive
From Bernadette Mayer
What Lives Inside Bernadette Mayer’s Project, “Memory”
A Month in the Life
An Emotional Science Project
The Written Image: Bernadette Mayer’s Memory
From Memory to Reproduction: The Cinema of Bernadette Mayer
Bernadette Mayer Predicted Our Obsession with Self Documentation
Bernadette Mayer Evokes the Banality and Urgency of the Quotidian
‘Memory’ @ Siglio Press
Download ‘Memory’ for free





Bernadette Mayer reads an excerpt from Memory (1971)

Installation of Memory by Bernadette Mayer

Anselm Berrigan reads July 1 from Bernadette Mayer’s MEMORY

Lynne Sachs reads July 30 from Bernadette Mayer’s Memory

Bernadette Mayer reads July 31 from Memory


Bernadette Mayer remembers Memory
from Artforum


Everybody in my family died by the time I was sixteen. My relatives were afraid that if they adopted me, they would die too. My father died of a hereditary condition at age forty-nine, so I thought I had to hurry up and do everything I wanted to do before age forty-nine. My older sister, Rosemary, got married after my mother died. I felt abandoned. I had to move in with my grandfather and my uncle, who were both doddering idiots. I immediately tried to go to college, but my uncle said I had to go to a Catholic college. I said, “Oh shit!”

It was good to get out of the house, but Catholic college was a really bad place to be. They told me they would throw me out for wearing sandals and reading Freud. I went to the New School and got the rest of my credits. I took a poetry course with Bill Berkson and that’s how I got to know Kenneth Koch, James Schuyler, John Ashbery, Barbara Guest, and Frank O’Hara.

I was twenty-six years old when I started Memory. I look like such a kid in the photos . . . I can see myself growing up through the course of the month. I got the idea from Godard, who said that image and sound make a film. Then again, he also said all you needed to make a film was a girl and a gun.

July 1971 was a random point in time. I didn’t know what was going to happen, and that was the idea. I ended up being on the road a lot, going between city and country. Ed Bowes, my boyfriend at the time, had been hired by the Berkshire Theatre Festival to make films. I was taking a roll of film a day and developing it at night. I was also keeping a journal, recording my thoughts and feelings and transcribing actions as they were happening. It was exhausting. By the end, I had a total breakdown. Later on, I projected the slides I had taken and wrote a second text. I wanted to see what I had left out. The combination of these two texts—a text of sound and a text of image—is the audio component of Memory. I was presented with the choice of including everything or leaving a lot out. I chose to include everything, just to see what would happen.

Yellow is vital to the book. Of the different color films available at that time, I chose Kodachrome, which is why there’s so many bright yellows, blues, and reds. I wanted the three primary colors to be dominant. I literally, physically hated the other films.

All of the writing I had done prior was practice for Memory. If you practice writing constantly, you can start to speak in poetry form and so whenever you feel like writing something, all you have to do is immediately write what you’re thinking. John Ashbery says that poetry is like a stream that’s always running and whenever he wants to, he can dip into it and take a little ladleful and have a poem. If I hadn’t devoted my life to poetry, then I’d have to sit down and struggle with the page. That seems torturous to me.

I’ve always written using set intervals of time as a kind of constraint, because I never really knew how to end anything. When you have a time frame, you know when it’s over. A day, a month, a year.

I first met Holly Solomon at a party that winter. She invited me to have the first show at her new space at 98 Greene Street, which was in an old manufacturing building in Soho, before the neighborhood had any galleries. Gordon Matta-Clark, who was running FOOD at that time, who I remember making oxtail stew, helped install the exhibition. A.D. Coleman from the Village Voice reviewed the show, but beyond that it received little attention. It’s taken forty years for it to regain a new life.

Memory was an attempt to find out if people would get into that funny space where the words are floating around the room and so are the pictures. I still am hoping.


Selected images from Memory



Bernadette Mayer Memory
Siglio Press

‘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





p.s. Hey. ** Dominik, Hi!!! Ah, you tracked him down. I’m beginning to suspect he’s a bit of a troll. Which I guess is … good news, if so? Ha, I’m glad you and love spotted that ‘mom’ thing. It seduced me like a pastry. Love sending you a love letter written in a handwritten childish scrawl and using his saliva as ink, G. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. Everyone, Two potentialities of reading both Mr. Erickson’s thoughts and interlocutor skills today: ‘Here are my review of LOVING HIGHSMITH and interview with Ricky D’Ambrose.’ Exactly about that conspiracy theory as mere charm magnet. Btw, if you didn’t see it, _Black_Acrylic did a follow up: ‘@ Steve, there’s an interview here with the guy who set up that page. 3 years of work went into it and he believes in what he’s doing so yeah, fair play.’ ** _Black_Acrylic, Happy you were swept inside. And thanks for the interview link. I’ll hit it too. ** Sean, Hi! Oh, wow, Sean, thank you so much. That’s very kind of you, and really great to hear. Take care. ** A shorty. Okay. Today your choice is to whether to check into a very interesting book or not, and clearly I am on the side of you doing the check in. See you tomorrow.


  1. Tomk

    This is so cool. Just started back at school so not sure if I’m ever going to have time again but putting this on my list to buy.

    Hope you’re well man

  2. _Black_Acrylic

    What is a very beautiful idea for a book. Of course I would love to have a copy of the first edition pictured here. Sadly out of my price range, though.

    Kind of appropriate for the post, today my mum and brother scattered my dad’s ashes at a place called Buttertubs Pass in the Yorkshire Dales. Very nice day for it for it and my brother took a bunch of photos. Lying on the hillside there is his cycling jersey from the days when he would race across this terrain.

  3. Dominik


    What a wonderful book. I’ve never heard of “Memory,” but as I was reading, I found myself drawn to it very deeply. I’ll try to get my hands on a copy.
    I’m fascinated with any attempt at capturing thoughts in their rawest form. This post made me think of Megan Boyle’s “Liveblog,” which was born in a very different era and probably with a different purpose but maybe not from a very different place, ultimately.

    I had to track him down – icepity/cocainjesus, I mean. And I’m more than ready to meet his next persona, haha.

    “Seduced me like a pastry” should be a way more widely used phrase.

    Well, some would say love’s letter is pretty disturbing, and I might agree, but I usually find disturbing things attractive and/or endearing, so… I’m charmed. Thank you! Love feeling really fucking glad he’s not in school anymore, so he doesn’t have to deal with the whole back-to-school nightmare right now, Od.



    Hello!, well, today, I have some incredible news (I spent like, maybe 20 mins legit crying about it)
    I got an email today from a friend and booking agent for a particular venue




    im so overwhlemed with pure pure joy and energy, im so excited, Im finishing the album this month hopefully (in demo soon) and i am sure I will be signed based on it i think, considering the instrumental demos got me the gig, which isnt even the proper like fully vocal and instrumental etc etc ‘songs’ so im like, so so excited, let me know if you have any london friends that wanna come along,

    hows the film also? I should have asked lol

    Lots of love


  5. Jeff J

    Hey Dennis – I have the lovely Siglio edition of this, but it was nice to see the extra material you included here, especially the piece she wrote for Artforum. Those grids of images are particularly lovely in their arrangements, too.

    I recently bought Mayer’s Selected Poems collection from New Directions. The range of her work is remarkable. You have particular favorites among her projects?

    Really enjoyed the Sarah Charlesworth post yesterday, too. Startling work.

    How’s work on the short fiction coming? Are the pieces at all related or completely separate? And when do you and Zac head to LA?

    Julian Calendar played our second show. It went well, though I’m feeling my age when we have to perform at midnight like we did last night. The crowd seemed really into the new songs and friends seemed to think the new material and new drummer are a big step forward. We don’t have any other shows on the books, but hopefully soon.

    There was a last-minute opening at a nearby artist residency — I’ll be there second week of September and planning to immerse myself in the new novel. Really looking forward to that, even though it’s only a week.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© 2023 DC's

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑