Thursday 19 February, 5 pm
American Literature Research Seminar, Rothermere American Institute, Oxford
Andrew Epstein, Florida State University
Quotidian Poetics and the Maternal Everyday: Bernadette Mayer and Her “Daughters”
This talk focuses on a particularly potent strain of experimental realism, one I refer to as “the poetics of the maternal everyday.” Developed in part by the American poet Bernadette Mayer in the 1970s, this groundbreaking, influential mode provides a feminist challenge to canonical, dominant approaches to the everyday found in both literature and critical theory. In her unusual long poem ‘Midwinter Day’ (1982), Mayer composes a book-length ‘epic poem about a daily routine’ during the course of the day itself, chronicling a single,
supposedly uneventful day in her life as a young mother with two small daughters. In such works, Mayer and her descendants explore how daily experience is inescapably shaped by gender, strive to represent the lived realities of being a woman and a mother, and insist on the fact that motherhood is always, at some level, political. The particular model of everyday-life poetics Mayer inaugurates – concerned with the maternal and domestic, attuned to the politics of daily life and to gender and power, formally experimental and driven by conceptual projects – has been highly influential for contemporary poetry, as can be seen in the writing of a whole range of Mayer’s “daughters,” a diverse group of younger contemporary women poets, including Rachel Zucker, Claudia Rankine, Laynie Browne, Hoa Nguyen, Eleni Sikelianos, Susan Holbrook, and Catherine Wagner.
Seminar convenors: Lloyd Pratt, Rachel Malkin, Jurrit Daalder, Michael Walsh.