A long poem about a short day, Bernadette Mayer’s Midwinter Day stakes a claim to the aesthetic of sincerity, even as it experiments with form in radical and inventive ways that foreground the artifice of the feminist poet’s project.
First published by Turtle Island in 1982, Mayer’s six-part avant-garde work purports to document the daily routine of the woman writer raising children. Mayer herself has claimed to have written the poem in a single day—December 22nd, 1978, the day the poem takes place on—and the poem often references the conditions of its composition. But Midwinter Day‘s claim to spontaneity, to recording life simply as it is, is transparently artful—the epic revels in artifice and cleverness. Prose alternates with verse; ambiguous syntax breeds a multiplicity of meaning; affected rhymes pepper the poem; allusions on the levels of both form and content occur frequently; bizarre formatting choices abound. For all of the poem’s ingenuity, though, Mayer does remain invested in the concept of poetry as sincere expression, even if she recognizes it to be an unattainable ideal. With her hyper-autobiographical subject matter and her painstaking attention to detail, Mayer attempts to capture the experience of daily life in her poem, without destroying it. Midwinter Day might be viewed, then, not as the attempt to chronicle life but as the self-conscious probing of what it means to write about the everyday or stake a claim to sincerity, as a woman poet.