The invitation to revisit Midwinter Day and write in collaborative homage was an invitation to return to the book I'd cut my scholarly teeth on. Rereading Mayer's lists, walks, and chores brought me back to when, pregnant with my first child, I declared I would work on my dissertation chapter on Midwinter Day and Lyn Hejinian's My Life every single day for 100 days.1 Having made this commitment, I set out to keep it with a tenacity I now see as slightly perverse. I can recall setting the timer to write through a fever. On another occasion, I opened my laptop to write after arriving late in the evening for a wedding in Marfa, TX, feet so swollen from late pregnancy, flying, and heat that I could only wear flip-flops. I was uncertain about so many things, then, not least of which was whether I could be a mother and a scholar.

Writing into the structure of Midwinter Day in Google Doc simultaneity six years later, I was struck by the presence of our children and chores. This collaboration finally seemed to impress on me in a way that reading articles and poems, even by many of these same writers, never had, how many of us make our intellectual and creative lives amid the repetitive work of social reproduction and the bodily demands of our children. I felt a great tenderness for all of us thinking about technology, history, or desire while wiping noses and spreading peanut butter on toast.

And that while is what Mayer offers us. Writing happens not only between but during, simultaneous with. Finally, all that care work was brought into the writing, following Mayer's example. Rather than being understood as what we had to escape to do our writing, this mess was our writing. It was still our mess, still hard to write amid, but no longer a thing to set aside. And there was an abundance to seeing all of it as material. Mayer offered us a version of writing the personal, the ordinary everyday, that didn't feel narcissistic or narrow. In an interview with Kate Schapira and Deborah Poe, Mayer once said, "I've always very rigorously used myself as the example because that's what I have available to me. And for free, right?"2 In taking the self as an "example" or case study, Mayer models a version of life-writing driven by curiosity. And in works like Midwinter Day where Mayer connects the shortened hours of her local library with oil politics, she models a version of writing the proximate that constellates out along lines of contiguity: prices, consequences, politics.

In my dissertation, I'd written about Mayer chopping onions and thinking about Saint Augustine, about how her daughter's spilled milk sends her to Wittgenstein. Simultaneous, permeable. Not separate. That day in December, I found myself doing the same: "Like Bernadette, I'm trying to read and make soup . . . " Midwinter Day wasn't just the book I learned to write analytic prose about, it was the book that raised the possibility that the person I was while chopping peppers and singing to my children wasn't someone I needed to leave behind when I wrote. Writing critically about Mayer six years earlier, I'd championed her rich permeability between domestic, intellectual, and aesthetic work. Through this collaboration, I stepped fully into that mess-as-abundance and found myself in company.

Bronwen Tate's The Silk the Moths Ignore is forthcoming from Inlandia Institute in September 2021. Bronwen is an Assistant Professor of Teaching in the School of Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Her poems and essays appear in CV2, Bennington Review, The Rumpus, Journal of Modern Literature, Contemporary Literature, and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter or Instagram @bronwentate or at


  1. A version of this chapter was later published as an article: Bronwen Tate. "The Day and the Life: Gender and the Quotidian in Long Poems by Bernadette Mayer and Lyn Hejinian." Journal of Modern Literature 40, no. 1, (2016,): 42-64.[]
  2. Mayer, Bernadette. "A Conversation with Bernadette Mayer." Interview with Kate Schapira and Deborah Poe. Denver Quarterly 46.1 (Winter 2011): 76.[]