I spent many hours of the otherwise fretful Covid spring and summer of 2020 preparing to review the new edition of Bernadette Mayer's Memory, published by Siglio Press. The particulars of Memory's evolution as a project from Mayer's time-constrained photographic and writing experiment across July of 1971, to the multi-media gallery installation of that work in 1972, to the prose poetry book she derived from that show in 1975, to this edition were clear now. I had considered the effects and implications of the edition's pairing of Mayer's photographs and her text for the first time in the project's life. I had lived with Mayer's language and the texture of her experiences in New York City and the Berkshires in the early 70s, all while perched on my bed in Ann Arbor, Michigan a makeshift home "office" handling the book's weight and pages, peering into its grids of images with a magnifying glass. But on the cusp of turning in a draft, I realized that I wanted to know more about its material life. On the book's inside cover, I found the number for Siglio and dialed. To my great surprise and pleasure, Lisa Pearson, Siglio's founder, publisher, and lone worker, picked up.

Pearson started Siglio in 2008 in California, and is now located in the Hudson Valley of New York. In just over ten years, she has published about 40 books. She describes Siglio as feminist and "fiercely independent," concentrating on recovered avant-gardes and other "work[s] of art that might otherwise remain unseen and unread"; taken as a whole, its list and website including the "Affinities" blog she and her interns have worked on over the years attest to Pearson's vision of Siglio as an "inverse to a boundary" (an opening, one might say). I recommend you check out the "women artists and hybrid forms" entry, and its "Feminist Portal," and take a look and their editions of works by Joe Brainard, John Cage, Sophie Calle, Jess, Cecilia Vicuña, and Nancy Spero. Speaking with Pearson was thrilling, often in ways that her website could have predicted.

I left the conversation wanting to know more about her experience of publishing Memory, and to bring that experience to others poets, artists, and scholars thinking about the new edition. Part of my interest in Pearson's contributions to the making of Memory involve Mayer's own emphasis on process in her writing, and on her eagerness to show mundane work including housework and parenting as inseparable from poetry. Mayer's challenge to traditional distinctions between art and work is central to her importance and vitality for twenty-first-century poets.

And in fact Memory is a book full of work: in the month of July 1971, Mayer shot and processed a roll of film per day (totaling more than 1,000 photographs), and wrote journal entries by hand to evoke as faithfully as possible her consciousness. The sustained, exhaustive attempt at recording daily data in journal entries was so arduous that Mayer's hands often hurt, and she leaves traces of the effort involved in producing the photographs, too: lists of chemicals and steps required to shoot and process film. All this alongside several paid production jobs, including joining the "visual effects" team for the Terrance McNally play Where Has Tommy Flowers Gone, which opened at the Berkshire Theater Festival immediately after Memory's completion.   

Memory repeatedly posits that the task of remembering is laborious and collaborative, dependent on dialog. Much of what "happens" is Mayer and unnamed friends examining contact sheets and trying to link the images to memories and locations from July. Pearson's own sense of the intimacy of her labor in the remaking of Memory renews aspects of that project: her sorting through the contact sheets in the Mayer's archives at UC San Diego; color-correcting the slides; transcribing the text and photographs into their new material form; collaboration with Mayer and her daughter Marie Warsh. As you will see, Pearson's labor and vision and interactions with Memory form a major part of its still evolving form. We conducted this interview over Google Docs in October and November of 2020. 


White: Tell us a little about the history of Siglio and your work as a publisher. 

Pearson: Siglio is a tiny but ambitious small press just a one-person operation that is driven by its feminist ethos and its commitment to writers who work in the spaces between art and literature. To date there are almost forty titles, numerous editions of ephemera, at least a dozen artist multiples/editions, and now a newsletter called The Improbable that's inspired by Dick Higgins's Something Else Newsletter. It is very much a labor of love and a means to proselytize for works that have been invisible, unread, misread, or illegible, for various reasons. There's a manifesto called "On the Small & the Contrary" that delves into what Siglio does and why it does it in more detail.

White: How did you come to work with Bernadette Mayer on this version of Memory? That is, who approached whom, and what considerations came into play for you in taking it on?

Pearson: At the heart of Siglio is It Is Almost That: A Collection of Image+Text Work by Women Artists & Writers (2011). When I started the research, Bill Berkson suggested a few specific pieces to look at as well as artist-writers working with language and image. Memory was at the top of his list. I met Bill and his wife, curator Connie Lewallen because I reached out to them when I was working on Siglio's first book, The Nancy Book by Joe Brainard. I should also say they were instrumental in helping me realize Tantra Song: Tantric Painting from Rajasthan, edited by the French poet Franck André Jamme, who very recently passed away. I found the electronic facsimile of Memory, originally published by North Atlantic Books at the wonderful archive Eclipse, as well as some documentary materials of the original installation. Then I made a trip (from LA where I lived until 2016) to UC-San Diego to the Bernadette Mayer Papers to look at the slides in person which was thrilling.

The slides more than 1100 of them are housed in those clear sheets with little pockets, and if I remember correctly (it was 2009 or 2010), there was a longish light table in the special collections study room, so I could put several sheets next to each other, in a kind of approximation of the original grid installation (though obviously not in the same order). Backlit, the colors popped and a kind of punctuation emerged as several slides were very dark (underexposed), while others were blown out in overexposure. The first impression was almost abstract color, motion, rhythm. Then, once I had a loupe in hand, I could ascertain detail, one slide at a time, so that my focus was circumscribed to a moment a split-second really when the camera shutter clicked. But moving from slide to slide some yielding more detail than others those impressions accumulated in a kind of dance between precision and blur. I think that experience in the library deeply informed my relationship to the text and my thinking later when working on the publication of Memory in its entirety.

But I didn't know then I would be publishing all of it. At that moment, I was thinking of just an excerpt for It Is Almost That. When I'm working with artworks that originate outside of the book form, I see my agency as editor-designer as really the work of a translator rather than documentarian: these forms (the book, the wall, the material, the sound, the space) are language. For It Is Almost That, which was printed in grayscale (for both conceptual and logistical reasons), I thought losing the color was analogous to a syntactical shift. I had to find ways to create a similar impression of visual structure and rhythm without color. I'm not sure if I accomplished that in It Is Almost That, but I attempted to, and, at the time, it was the only way to see some of Bernadette's text and images from Memory in the same space. So it seemed necessary.

Several years later in early 2019, in fact Bernadette's daughter Marie Warsh wrote to me at the suggestion of Barbara Epler (the editor-in-chief of New Directions) to propose publishing Memory in its entirety. We met for coffee to discuss it, but I knew before we met that I would say yes. And I knew that it would have to be a very big book, all in color, which meant it would be very expensive to make. And I knew that it was going to be very challenging to work with more than 1100 images (in terms of budget, time, and expertise), and to proof a text that, in its radicality, would not easily submit (and nor should it) to textual conventions. But I love I live for the challenges of the unwieldy. If someone says, "That's impossible to publish," then I'm intrigued! As I already loved Memory, its particular challenges just made it more enticing. I published two books in 2020 that I think I could not have known how to publish even a couple of years ago. Everything I learned in twelve years of Siglio informed decisions I made in publishing Memory and The Saddest Thing Is That I Have Had to Use Words: A Madeline Gins Reader, the latter edited (thankfully) by poet, novelist, and critic Lucy Ives. I'm so pleased that I could serve both of these works well. They are both pinnacles.

White: Had you read Memory before you agreed to publish it? What appealed to you about it? Do you always publish books you care about? What of Mayer's work had you read before? 

Pearson: At the time I was researching for It Is Almost That, my knowledge of Bernadette's work was limited. After Bill recommended Memory, I read her correspondence with him (What's Your Idea of a Good Time, Tuumba Press, 2006), and Midwinter Day, of course. Before that, I was familiar with the magazine 0 to 9, thanks to my comrades in small press publishing, Primary Information and Ugly Duckling Presse, who had published all of the issues in a large facsimile edition in 2006. That's what really registered initially.

I never publish anything I'm not unequivocally excited about. Because I do everything editing, design, production management, publicity, et cetera  I really have to not only love it, but also trust that it will yield something every time I turn to it. I am always looking for the book to which my initial reaction is: "Wow, what the fuck is this?" And yes, I had read Memory, but not well even now, after reading it multiple times to edit, proof, typeset, after hearing it read every day during the Poets House series this summer, it is always a new text to me. I'm not sure there's a better reward for the risk.

White: What particular challenges and pleasures did publishing Memory present to you? Describe a little about what working on the project was like?

Pearson: It was like running a triple marathon. Barefoot. Like I said, this required twelve years of training because during the process I was still on a steep learning curve. Just the scope of the book is extraordinary: over 200,000 words and more than 1100 images. Memory was complex, not only because of the number of images, but also because it required translating the original installation into book form, to think conceptually about how to manifest this work on the page when it had existed very differently in space and time. This is perhaps the greatest pleasure in the work I do; in fact, this challenge is the pleasure.

I remember an exercise during the first week of a graduate course in translation. The professor had us do a very short translation maybe 250 words and write down every single decision we made and describe the criteria by which we made each one. Of course, the second document was much longer than the first, and we were meant to think about how to interrogate our assumptions as well as when to trust our intuition (or not) and acknowledge it. It's a high-wire act: I never forget I'm balancing on a tightrope in this other kind of translation process too.

White: How did decisions about the book's making happen? For instance, how did the decision to color-correct the slides happen? How did you come to decide the layout of the photographs both to put them into grids but also where and when to place them vis a vis the text. 

Pearson: The translation I do as a designer and editor requires thinking about how the physical book mediates the reader's experience, so I ask: what do I imagine the original experience to be? Marie had told me that she watched many visitors to the 2017 installation at CANADA Gallery walk the entire length of the wall to "read" a single row of photographs, then walk back (almost like a typewriter return), to read the next row, and then again and again. So of course while sequence was extremely important in the constraint-based construction of the work, it also seemed to govern, or at least inspire, many viewers' engagement with it: people wanted to see the sequence of Bernadette's visual thinking, her eye, where it landed, where it traveled next. And yet, the installation was also a massive grid with images brushing up against each other, by virtue of chance, so that all kinds of other relationships emerged (that abstraction of color and rhythm I mentioned). Meanwhile, the audio recording of Bernadette's voice is playing so the viewer hears her speak. The text may line up serendipitously once in a while with what the viewer sees, but usually there's disjuncture. Finally, what also seemed clear from Marie's reports, from reviews as well as documentation of the original installation in 1972, was that despite the monumentality of the work, it was experienced very intimately. The viewer felt connected to, almost permeable with, the first person "I" (which is sometimes a lower case "i").

So the next question is: how do I honor the sequence, the linearity of the work, while also creating opportunity for convergence and divergence, for the serendipity of juxtaposition? How do I cultivate that intimacy while also giving some feeling of the expanse? What can the book do to approximate that experience even when aspects are inevitably lost (standing back to take in the abstract whole, listening to Bernadette's voice over time, sharing that space with others who are also listening and looking)?

The first thing is the size, proportion, and weight of the book. In terms of intimacy, it was important that it was small enough to take to bed, to fit on a nightstand, or to sling in a backpack to be transportable. Marie suggested the landscape format which made sense: it mirrors the proportion of most of the individual photographs. We were also certain that the grid needed to be reproduced in some form, so size was also determined by legibility: how many images could fit in a grid so that the individual photographs were large enough to ascertain some detail? Nine images per page was perfect; twelve made the book too big; sixteen made the book too big and square; fewer than nine would have increased the thickness (and weight) of the book substantially. Of course, there's another layer of design thinking when it comes to the space between and around the images, as well as how the text reads across the page (thus two columns so that the eye doesn't get lost on very long lines).

Then there was a question about the relationship between the images and the text, how each day's entry was notated and whether text or images from one day might overflow into another. I mocked up several layouts governed by different rules and gave them to Bernadette and Marie to consider. We were unanimous in deciding (a) that each day's entry needed to be discrete; in other words, it would be very clear to the reader where each day begins and ends; (b) that the text and images needed variation as to their location so that they eye did not get too accustomed to seeing images always verso and text always recto, for example; and (c) that pulling images for full bleeds (in which the single image fills the page to the edges) on occasion could punctuate the flow and create a more interesting rhythm.

Then we decided on some further rules. For clarity, text always opened a day's entry and when possible ended it. This created an opportunity for a lot of variation as to how the image sequence flowed in between, depending on how much text each day's entry contained (and how many images). Next, the original sequence of images had to be preserved, and only images that were completely black from underexposure or totally white from overexposure were omitted as some were in the original installation. This meant that only certain images in the sequence could be considered for full bleeds. Because the grids uniformly contain nine images, that means the first image, the tenth, the nineteenth, the twentieth-eighth, et cetera, could be considered for enlargement for full bleeds (and there's another mathematical equation if a day's entry had more than one full bleed it's a complicated constraint). While these choices seem different empirically from the installation of the large single grid, I was attempting to translate (some of) that experience into the book: an attention to navigating the expanse sequentially (walking the length of the wall), to savoring the close-ups of single images (stepping in to look closely), to seeing text and image correlate sometimes while often times diverging, to hearing the spoken text while looking at the images.

I could get very deep in the weeds of design, so I'll just say a couple of things to directly answer your questions above: paper was determined by prioritizing photographic detail (hence the matte coated art paper rather than uncoated stock with which, because ink spreads on it, detail is lost). But I left the cover uncoated (and a little toothy) because that tactile sensation is more akin to printed matter from the era of Memory (and is a little more seductive). As for the process, everything was done in conversation with Bernadette (and Marie was really instrumental in helping to realize the book), by showing them multiple rounds of design in which layout and typesetting options were given, as well as choices about which images to use for the full bleeds. Early on, I asked Bernadette very specifically if she wanted me to preserve how the photographs were reproduced for the original installation (3x5 prints were made from her slides without any color correction hence the magenta cast when they were underexposed), or if she wanted me to make them look as good as they could look. She didn't hesitate to choose the second option. "Why not?" I remember her saying. At every juncture, it's a collaboration that requires the kind of transparency my professor in the translation class was demanding of us in that first exercise. I was incredibly fortunate to work with Bernadette who made that process very easy.

White: Was there any part of the late 1970s edition of the text that changed significantly in this edition? I was reminded by David Hobbs that one section the August / "Dreaming" section was left out. Why?

Pearson: Bernadette felt we didn't need either "Dreaming" or David Rubinfine's introduction. The idea here, for this publication, was to translate the original installation to book form, and that had included neither. We Bernadette, Marie, and myself also had to make a number of decisions about textual consistencies and inconsistencies. As we began the many rounds of proofing, we had a running list of what inconsistencies kept appearing with regards to capitalizations, abbreviations, uses of proper names, em-dashes, ellipses, and perhaps most importantly, the use of "I" versus "i." I had a questionnaire for Bernadette, and from her answers, I made a Bernadette Manual of Style, so that all of us (four total) who were proofing could refer back to this set of "rules." But of course, there are inconsistencies that were also necessary. "I" predominates, except where there was a series of sentences in which the repetition of "i" becomes more incantatory and where a capital "I" seemed too assertive. There are maybe five or six places where this happens in the text whereas in the North Atlantic publication, the lower and upper case I/i often seemed randomly interchangeable.

White: Last but not least: how would you describe your feeling/relation/lasting impression of Memory? You're a reader of it (does that describe it?) who has probably had one of the more intimate experiences of it possible. Would you agree? Or is publishing it more like handling so much matter and material?

Pearson: I've had an incredibly intimate experience with this project, but I do with every book, so I get to know every artist-writer's work I publish in a very different way than a reader would. In the case of Memory, I'm not sure anyone else has spent more time looking at these images, and because I looked at them on screen, zoomed in for detail, thinking about how to alter them in order to bring out detail, balance color, sharpen focus or allow for blur, I almost feel like they've become a part of my consciousness. The images both belong to me and they don't they're alien, apart (I was a toddler when Bernadette made this project). Bernadette asked me once if the images had penetrated my dreams. But really the images live in that liminal space in which something quivers: you can't remember if you've dreamt it, experienced and remembered it (rightly or wrongly), or just imagined it fleetingly in a waking state. It's deeply felt, some details acutely remembered or recalled, but as a whole completely porous no, not porous, but liquid. And part of me feels as if I know Bernadette, and yet of course I don't really as any reader might feel reading the book. But that's not the point. For me the point is the inhabitation of moving with Bernadette's own consciousness, through her space and time, to see and read in between the lines, the words, the images. She has written a lot about wanting to capture it all, but failing at that. But I think that "all" is there, in between. And it's thrilling.

Gillian White is Associate Professor at the University of Michigan, and the author of Lyric Shame (2014).