Two Haloed Mourners

Two Haloed Mourners
Bernadette Mayer

Two Haloed Mourners was compiled by Lewis Warsh from Bernadette Mayer’s unpublished manuscripts. The title poem is the only previously published work, but the phrase persists in nearly every poem. The first section of the book flows quickly in a stream-of-consciousness style. Tension builds and foreshadowing what is to come with hints at “volcanoes” and a warning that something will soon “erupt.”

Half way through the book, the form changes dramatically. The traditional form of stanzas and paragraphs sprawling across the page turns into a dramatic triangle; a volcano. Isolated in the center of the volcano is the repeated phrase “two haloed mourners,” demanding the eye’s focus and obscuring the text behind it.

Mayer’s poems reference a locality. She mentions Canal Street, the Poetry Project, the Lower East Side, and Ted Berrigan. She builds a specific atmosphere into her poems, limited only in the reader’s ability to pick up on her name-dropping. Her excessive use of proper nouns reduces the reader’s experience of the text to something that relies heavily on context. Either the reader is limited to his own subjective experience or he is alienated and unable to engage in the concepts she tries to relate. The specificity and concreteness forfeits the opportunity for the reader to interactively participate with the text.

To contrast, Mayer successfully creates a portrait of her surroundings by mimicking local accents. Potting soil becomes “pottin serl.” The reader can hear the voice speak “…git some seeds but where kin I put them tomater plants…” This depiction of a specific place succeeds by requiring the reader to actively engage in the text. The words become more than mere instruments to convey ideas. By removing the words from her personal context, Mayer’s text de-familiarizes English even for native speakers. This technique demonstrates a way in which language constantly alienates. I would like to see more of this in Mayer’s writing.


-Claire Sammons 

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