Bernadette Mayer is one of the most acclaimed poets of the “New York School” of poetry. Her avant garde and exquisitely rendered final pieces are a result of adventurous journal keeping and writing experiments, some of which will be evident September 13 when the Walker and Rain Taxi Review of Books co-present Bernadette Mayer along with poets Jennifer Karmin and Philip Good, an evening of collaborative literary mayhem.
Mayer’s life as a literary artist has been well pronounced in the world of visual art. In the late 1960s, she — along with artist Vito Acconci — edited the groundbreaking mimeographed magazine 0 to 9, which brought together the era’s leading figures of experimental poetry and conceptual art. Featured artists included Sol LeWitt, Adrian Piper, Dan Graham, and Robert Smithson; writers ranged from Ted Berrigan and Clark Coolidge, to Hannah Weiner and Dick Higgins.
Though 0 to 9 is now longer in active print, the majority of the magazine’s archives are now available as a book: 0 to 9: The Complete Magazine (Ugly Duckling Presse). In celebration of the upcoming performance, we’re publishing Mayer’s introduction to that volume, “Rock, Paper, Scissors,” in which she recounts how she and Acconci taught themselves, through 0 to 9, “how to make art that had no boundaries.”
Rock, Paper, Scissors
Vito and I created 0 To 9 as an environment for our own work, which did not seem to exist anywhere else.
We based the name of the magazine after Jasper Johns’ work 0 Through 9. The publishing of 0 To 9 also bypassed the sagas of trying to get work, including one’s first book, published by an established press. We found a mimeograph machine in my boyfriend Ed Bowes’ father’s office in New Jersey. We had to buy paper, stencils and ink from the A.B. Dick company. For each issue we drove there with the typed stencils when the office closed at 5pm, and by the time they reopened at 8 am, we would have an issue of 0 To 9 run off and collated. Friends would help us, including my sister Rosemary Mayer. It was an accidentally ecologically sound thing to do.
In the first issue, Vito published a poem of his, “Kay Price and Stella Pajunas”, who were the winners of a typing contest. We published a lot of anonymous work by American Indians, as well as Edoardo Sanguineti, Bruce Marcu, Hans Christian Andersen, Novalis, Robert Viscusi, Morton Feldman, Gertrude Stein, Raymond Queneau, Aram Saroyan, Ron Padgett, Stefan Themerson, Clark Coolidge, Robert Greene, Ted Berrigan, Harry Mathews, John Giorno, Steve Paxton, Emmett Williams, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, Jackson Mac Low, Dick Higgins, Bern Porter, Sol LeWitt, Hannah Weiner, Dan Graham, George Bowering, John Perreault, Philip Corner, Rosemary Mayer, Jerome Rothenberg, Robert Smithson, Yvonne Rainer, Les Levine, Adrian Piper, Eduardo Costa, Kenneth Koch, Jasper Johns, Alan Sondheim, Lee Lozanno, Lawrence Weiner, Bernar Venet, Robert Barry, Douglas Heubler, Karen Prups-Hvarre, Larry Fagin, Nels Richardson and others. So you can perhaps see in what direction we were going.
The pages of 0 To 9 looked more like maps than literature and sometimes were maps or directions; for example, the Seneca song from Number 5 by Richard Johnny John and Jerome Rothenberg. Typing the stencils for the magazine was no mean task. The correction fluid for them made you high in an unpleasant way and the liquid had to dry on the stencil film while it was separated from the padding and backing sheets. You blew on it, having put a pencil between the sheets. Actually, the point was never to make mistakes because it was impossible to get the corrections in the same place as the original.
We’d print between 100 and 350 copies for each issue, taking them around to bookstores in New York City, sending them elsewhere and to our subscribers. Needless to say we didn’t make hordes of money. Nothing was perfect about 0 To 9 in its mimeograph form. We were trying to get far away from the idea, so promulgated, of the perfection of the poem with white space around it, set off from other things. The first cover was a mimeograph stencil — it was dark blue. Next was a rainfall map of the US. The third cover was all the first lines of work in the magazine. For the fourth issue, we wrapped all the book jackets Vito and I had in our possession around the cover. The fifth cover was a crumpled sheet of paper and the sixth was six blank sheets of paper.
Vito and I both had gone to Catholic schools, thus our earnestness and sadomasochism. I don’t think either of us had any less ambition than to change the world. My sister met some of the boys from Regis, where Vito went to high school, and Vito began courting her. He would take here to dinner at the Chateau Henri IV. When they got married, I was the maid of honor. For a time I went out with Vito’s friend Bob Viscusi, now a poet and professor at Brooklyn College. I had grown up in Brooklyn, Ridgewood to be exact, very close to the next trendy section of Brooklyn—Bushwick.
Vito had gone to Holy Cross and then joined the Marines. After that he went to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop with my sister, where they lived in a Quonset hut. My parents had died in their forties, so I moved in with my uncle and grandfather, probably propelled to write poetry by “the people downstairs,” who were my godmother’s son, Richard Nirengarten, his wife and their baby. They had plastic on the furniture and would fight a lot. My uncle, a devout Catholic living in the single state of blessedness, would create a pile of Ave Maria’s (a magazine unlike 0 To 9) so the unread copies were on top. My grandfather was world-weary, stingy and liked yellow pants. He would lock me out of the house at night because “I should’ve done my reading in the daylight.” In high school my sister joined the Ridgewood Saints, a gang that had garrison belts. This was the time of the ’50s and ’60s, so we learned a lot — like how to make art that had no boundaries and to expect that change was possible. After all, Robert Smithson made an upside-down tree.
—Bernadette Mayer, from 0 to 9: The Complete Magazine