The Midwinter Constellation

Edited & Collected by Becca Klaver

Introduction to Midwinter Constellation

Becca Klaver

from Midwinter Constellation

Et al


Mia You


Julia Bloch


Stephanie Anderson


Hanna Andrews


Caolan Madden


Stefania Heim


Bronwen Tate


Elisabeth Workman


On December 22, 2018, the 40th anniversary of Bernadette Mayer's writing of her epic of dailiness, Midwinter Day, 31 women poets joined me in typing into six Google Docs labeled Dreams, Morning, Noontime, Afternoon, Evening, and Night, following the six-part structure of Mayer's book. We composed or copy-pasted alongside each other all day, dozens of cursors blinking in a virtual happening.

I'd proposed the collaboration first of all as a way to bring attention to Midwinter Day, still "one of the unacknowledged masterpieces of late-twentieth-century writing in English," as the Dictionary of Literary Biography put it decades ago. Proof that this lack of recognition persisted had arrived in the summer of 2018, when AWP rejected my panel proposal for a 40th anniversary celebration; this snubbing only further fueled my desire to show how important the book is to so many poets and to poetry.

In writing our homage, Midwinter Constellation, I also hoped to understand more fully not by analyzing, but by reenacting the magic of Midwinter Day. I wanted to find out all over again whether, and how, "the day like the dream has everything in it," as Mayer writes.1 Later, I understood that I had been addressing a deprivation. I was trying to borrow some of the book's power to reanimate the social life of poetry, now so often diluted and distorted, sapped of any possibility of meaningful exchange, because of social media. Where were the textures of people's real lives in the infinite scroll that is designed to starve us of a desire for belonging, meanwhile mimicking the appearance of connection? In the end, I experienced our virtual collaboration as a sort of anti-feed. All the intimacy that I'd go to social media hoping to find, only for it to be turned into a product or otherwise rebuked, was there in the shared documents.

We begin with dozens of pages of poet-speakers in bed with lovers, children, pets, devices, books, and coffee. The opening stanza features a "daughter / now wiggling out," the image of an actual poet's actual daughter, but also an apt metaphor for our collective emerging as Mayer's self-appointed heirs. Throughout Midwinter Constellation, we reenact her methods, often in direct dialogue with our foremother. The word "Bernadette" appears in the book 25 times, as in: "There is much I don't remember but there is much not worth remembering and there is what I will remember today remembering as Bernadette remembers." Thanks to Mayer, we know how to make a book by telling our dreams, writing in bed, detailing bodily aches and longings, using proper nouns, describing the sky, walking into town, shopping, making meals, and remembering while living while writing. We've also learned from her how to allow our poems to shape themselves into prose paragraphs, catalogues, lyric bursts, or whatever form the moment requires.

As in Midwinter Day, there is the seamless incorporation of the political in Constellation, and the implicit acknowledgment that caring labor is political, too. Mayer makes it clear that "when I write of love I write of / Binding referendums, bankruptcy intent, / Industrials, utilities and sales, / The petitions of a citizens' group" as she launches into an epic catalogue of the news of the day.2 On our day in 2018, a looming government shutdown sat in tension with the opening up of private life and collective feeling. Like Mayer, we knew that seeking insight beyond the hazy familiarity of our everyday conditions was a political act. "But I wanted to see further," Mayer writes on page two, and we become her telescopes into the future lives of women, where so much has changed and so much hasn't where the US government still acts, for example, as if care work adds no value to the gross domestic product. The shutdown lurking at the edges of Midwinter Constellation seems to imply that, in the absence of the (already dubious) support of the state, women and other careworkers would keep the world running.

Mayer is not only invoked and addressed, but is also actively present as a character in our book. In the second stanza of the first section, a poet recalls a phone call with Bernadette the day before the 2018 solstice (which fell on December 21 that year) and we get another dose of wisdom about the relationship between writing and domestic life this time, the longer view:

and I called Bernadette around 8:15pm
To wish her Happy Solstice and when I told her I had been
Cleaning cleaning so that someday I could finally write a poem
And she says she does not clean anymore it just makes things more cluttered
Which I now believe is true  

A few sections later, Bernadette appears again at the marathon reading of Midwinter Day in Albany, NY. As Constellation opens, some of the collaborators are taking bus and car rides to the reading, and we eventually find Mayer at the Hudson River Coffee House on Quail Street, just 42 miles northwest of Lenox, MA, where she wrote Midwinter Day in 1978. Some of her book's cast of characters are there, too Mayer's daughters Sophia and Marie plus her daughter-in-law and grandchildren. The daughters keep emerging.

Elsewhere in Midwinter Constellation, various collaborators meet up in Milwaukee and Philadelphia for additional marathon readings. The readings were the public-facing part of the global anniversary party I instigated so that Midwinter Day might become a literary holiday like Bloomsday (Midwinter Day calls back to one of its own models, Joyce's Ulysses, by beginning with the same word: "Stately"). Also on December 22, 2018, events marking the anniversary took place in thirteen US cities, and in Toronto, London, Glasgow, and Malmö, Sweden.

The wisdom of Mayer choosing the winter solstice as the day for her project is made apparent throughout our homage: it's not only the shortest day of the year, but also one with an appealing mix of ordinariness and specialness. Is this the daily or a holiday? I find myself wondering. The answer is that here, once more, is the epic everyday: it's the day after the solstice, the Saturday before Christmas, and there's a full moon in Cancer. (The word "moon" appears 39 times in the book, flying in the face of the wisdom shared by one collaborator via Gregory Corso: "the MOON you gotta EARN the moon.") Gifts, treats, and sensory pleasures abound. In 1978, Bernadette's longtime collaborator Clark Coolidge arrives at her house with a bushel of apples; in 2018, my co-writer Jenny Gropp returns to Woodland Pattern with mulled wine.

Reading Midwinter Constellation, I get the delightful, dreamlike feeling of going home for the holidays and finding all the poets there, in the bedrooms of an ancestral home. The book somehow reads to me like a dream even though I participated in it, writing in the Docs and driving to Milwaukee for the Woodland Pattern reading. It begins with actual dream reports, yes, but the scenes of meeting up at marathon readings feel almost as otherworldly, as if this is what poets secretly do every night, or at least on the solstice as the sun goes down: we go out and find each other.

I'd dreamed up the Google Docs with the hope that seeing each other typing in real time might create a felt sense of togetherness. I also wanted to use 21st-century technologies to aid our performative feat, as Mayer used a tape recorder and camera in 1978. One poet is able to write while mothering because she's speaking her poem into a voice memo; another mimics the use of ampersands by the poet writing just above her at the same time in the shared document, and comments on this friendly pilfering in the midst of her poem. Adjacency edges toward synchronicity at certain points, as when one passage begins, "I say I'm scared of getting close to people, getting hurt," and then the next opens: "Weird how you're supposed to be okay on your own." Elsewhere, a poet asks: "In the waking, who is there? Am I alone?" She is and isn't, in the digital simultaneity of our textual lives.

The idea was just to be there together writing that day; we didn't plan to end up with a book manuscript. But when I put all six Google Docs together and separated the poems with little stars, it was clear that that's what we had. The following excerpt from Midwinter Constellation (to be published by Black Lawrence Press in 2022), along with process notes and critical reflections from several of my collaborators, give a glimpse into the feeling of intimate, embodied poetic presence for which Mayer's Midwinter Day provides so many permissions. What follows is a record of a collective day-in-the-life and life-in-a-day; a document of poetic inheritance constellated via screens and social life around a beloved book; an account of how we tend to our kin at home and in poetry, and a reenactment of the possibility of doing both at once, a feminist feat first unlocked by Midwinter Day.

It took 32 of us to prove again what Mayer already showed: if you heed one day closely enough, you will transcend the illusion that our individual lives are ours alone. Before the arrival of bots and data-miners, the utopian dream of the internet must have looked something like this: interconnection as oneness, hive mind as oversoul. In retrospect, December 22, 2018 was also a rehearsal for the way we've had to remake collectivity during a pandemic that has forced us deeper into virtual life, in poetry and elsewhere, if we've been privileged enough to be able to avoid the physical world. Here we live, on the internet, to our horror and relief, as we continue to invent ways to feed our deprivation.

Midwinter Constellation was written by Stephanie Anderson, Hanna Andrews, Julia Bloch, Susan Briante, Lee Ann Brown, Laynie Browne, Shanna Compton, Mel Coyle, Marisa Crawford, Vanessa Jimenez Gabb, Arielle Greenberg, Jenny Gropp, Stefania Heim, MC Hyland, erica kaufman, Becca Klaver, Caolan Madden, Pattie McCarthy, Monica McClure, Jenn Marie Nunes, Danielle Pafunda, Maryam Ivette Parhizkar, Khadijah Queen, Linda Russo, Katie Jean Shinkle, Evie Shockley, Sara Jane Stoner, Dawn Sueoka, Bronwen Tate, Catherine Wagner, Elisabeth Workman, and Mia You.

Becca Klaver is the author of the poetry collections Ready for the World (Black Lawrence Press), Empire Wasted (Bloof Books), and LA Liminal (Kore Press). She was a founding editor of Switchback Books and is currently co-editing the anthology Electric Gurlesque. She also created the pop-up poetry journals Women Poets Wearing Sweatpants and Across the Social Distances. A new chapbook will be out soon from The Magnificent Field. Find her at


  1. Bernadette Mayer, Midwinter Day (New Directions, 1982), 89[]
  2. Ibid., 90.[]

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