Thursday, June 23, 2011

Studying Hunger Journals

Studying Hunger Journals

Bernadette Mayer

Station Hill Press, 460 pgs, $24.95

In 1972 Bernadette Mayer began this project as an aid to psychological counseling, writing in parallel journals so that, as she wrote in one (in bed, on subways, at parties, etc.), her psychiatrist read the other. Using colored pens to “color-code emotions,” she recorded dreams, events, memories, and reflections in a language at once free-ranging and precise—a work that creates its own poetics. She sought “a workable code, or shorthand, for the transcription of every event, every motion, every transition” of her own mind and to “perform this process of translation” on herself in the interest of evolving an innovative, inquiring language. Studying Hunger Journals registers this intention within a body of poetry John Ashbery has called “magnificent.”

Made public at last in its gorgeous various and unstinting entirety, Studying Hunger Journals reveals itself to be one of the great in fact epic works of a movement that could never be given a name. No label fit for such limitless activity, its terms being those of our restless language and its relentless go-betweens that move and may alter. Attend therefore and let them have their way, these words given without let and best received in kind.
—Clark Coolidge