Piece of Cake with Bernadette Mayer & Lewis Warsh

From Station Hill Press: “Bernadette Mayer and Lewis Warsh wrote PIECE OF CAKE as a work of collaborative prose poetry, based on a process of each writing on alternate days in the course of August of 1976. It recounts the quotidian nuances of young, married-with-child life, the artistic path and citizenship in the town of Lenox, Massachusetts. It has the ‘I did this, I did that; of a New York School poetry text, as characterized by the poetry of Frank O’Hara, and is somewhat reminiscent of Mayer’s work STUDYING HUNGER JOURNALS, written not long before taking up PIECE OF CAKE. As Mayer writes on August 24th, ‘I will go just one step further and take the liberty of saying that writing this book is different, for me, so completely different from any other experience I have ever had with writing. Now, when I sit down to write I tremble with fear before the page, and from the reactions of my body I can tell that the possibility of finally telling everything, and telling it as if it were all a series of plain household events, is at last coming closer.’ This work is also distinguished as arguably the first significant male-female collaboration in 20th-century American poetry. Regarding the possible derivation of the work’s title, and also exemplary of the work’s tenor, is the start of Warsh’s entry of August 29: ‘I also recall getting up and eating a piece of left-over cake (a very sweet store-bought cake with green or possibly pinkish icing) and drinking a glass of milk at the kitchen window. Empty streets, no moon. Michael and Twinkie asleep on the floor of Bernadette’s room, Guy and Karen in mine, Bill on the couch in the living room. Marie in her crib. Everyone “dead to the world,” a phrase I dislike, what a full house.’ This book also includes a section of photographs taken within the family from the period of PIECE OF CAKE’s composition.”

Bernadette Mayer

Bernadette Mayer was born in Brooklyn, New York, and received her B.A. from the New School for Social Research in 1967. She is the author of more than two dozen volumes of poetry including Works and Days (2016), Eating the Colors of a Lineup of Words: The Early Books of Bernadette Mayer (2015), Helens of Troy, NY (2013), Studying Hunger Journals (2011), Ethics of Sleep (2011), Poetry State Forest (2008), Scarlet Tanager (2005), Two Haloed Mourners (1998), Another Smashed Pinecone (1998), Proper Name and Other Stories (1996), The Desires of Mothers to Please Others in Letters (1994), The Bernadette Mayer Reader (1992), The Formal Field of Kissing (1990), Sonnets (1989), and Midwinter Day (1982). From 1967 to 1969, Mayer and artist Vito Acconci edited the journal 0 TO 9, and in 1977 she established United Artists Press with Lewis Warsh. She was the Director of St. Mark’s Poetry Project from 1980 to 1984. Mayer has taught at Naropa Poetics Institute, New School for Social Research, College of Staten Island, and New England College. She lives beside the Poetry State Forest in East Nassau, New York.

Photo: Dan Wonderly

Lewis Warsh

Lewis Warsh is the author of four novels—Agnes & Sally (1984); A Free Man (1991, 2019); Ted’s Favorite Skirt (2002); and A Place in the Sun (2010)—and a book of collected stories, One Foot Out the Door (2014). His numerous collections of poetry include, among others, The Origin of The World (2001), Inseparable (2008), Alien Abduction (2015) and Out of the Question: Selected Poems 1963-2003 (2017). He is co-founder, with Bernadette Mayer, of United Artists Magazine and Books, and co-editor, with Anne Waldman, of The Angel Hair Anthology (2001). Mimeo Mimeo #7 (2012) was devoted to his poetry, fiction and collages, and to a bibliography of his work as a publisher and editor. He is recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Fund for Poetry, The New York State Council of the Arts, The American Poetry Review, and The Poet’s Foundation. He has taught at Naropa University, The Poetry Project, Bowery Poetry, and SUNY Albany and currently teaches at Long Island University (Brooklyn), where he was founding director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing (2007-13).