The Twelfth House: Art and the Unconscious

This paper was published in a leading Western Occult publication, The Fenris Wolf, which is available for purchase here.  First presented as a talk at the "Psychoanalysis, Art and the Occult" conference in London, March 2016.



I have a theory.

Today we see women poets everywhere. I heard Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge say once, “All the best poets are women.” She was saying she didn’t think gender was as much of an issue in today’s American poetry because the best poets are in fact all or mostly women. And yet, there is a disjunct between the beliefs of poetry communities and the official record.

This book, TENDER OMNIBUS, exists because if in 100 years someone looks back and says, “Well, there was Spicer, O’Hara and Ashbery...” I will just die.

When I look at the canon, the Whitmans and the Pounds and the William Carlos Williamses, and I read essays and theories which contain zero female historical examples, I think we’re in a system in which women weren’t allowed to be documented.

In the years since Edward Said’s Orientalism, much work has been done to examine the systems that produce and officiate literature. For example, Pascale Cassanova points out how all of the Western greats were published in either Paris or London, creating a very limited canon. Or, the Italian Renaissance where women writers were always present, even the most popular in salons, and while permitted to entertain and to fuck, they were not allowed to publish.

I believe women writers have existed at every moment throughout history. We can’t see them in the historical record because of (a lack of) “documentation” – the process of publishing and critical reviews and writing of histories: the process of canonization. I think it’s absolutely about process and nothing to do with existence or excellence.

It’s not some Neptunian-shrouded mystery how the Western canon got written: it was done by men.  And they wrote it everywhere: “Men,” “All men,” “Mankind,” etc.

Without documentation women have not been allowed to compete for a chance at history, even a revised history. This creates a loop where our canons— our benchmarks for the possible— are missing at least half of their exemplaries.

I should say more than half because I’m only brushing the surface of “women” which can be understood as a freely-chosen archetype embodied by many souls in this world.

Without a proper history, how can we think about what poetry is? How can we say avant-garde isn’t a spoken-word poem that derives from an ingenious secret-code Underground Railroad song? How can we talk about “what’s modern” when what’s not white & male is barely in the conversation? And how can we look our daughters in the eye and say “sorry, there aren’t any books your color.”

Today erasure continues, albeit at a different angle, as we see year after year in VIDA Foundation statistics about which books are reviewed in major publications and which books are not.

Like the Italian Renaissance, although women are everywhere and everyone’s favorite poets today, nothing is guaranteed to make the historical record. Because men still dominate the writing of history, the reviews, the editorial boards, the newspapers and the publishing houses, the process of documentation could continue on just reading “mankind.”

Documentation is a labor we too often assume will be done by others, and assume will be permitted in ever-narrowing academic environments. Ask your friends, “Were you allowed to write a PhD on Bernadette Mayer?”

Google “John Ashbery” (half a million results). Then Google “Rosmarie Waldrop” (sixty thousand). “Harryette Mullen” (fifty thousand). It’s wrong and it matters.

I believe it is imperative that we as poets and writers offer up proof with our own hands, and then take it directly to those who write history at all levels: popular, unpopular, academic, official, non-official, unofficial, whatever.

We publish this OMNIBUS with the fierce intention to begin to alter the imbalance.



Katy Bohinc / Star Arkestress / Tender Buttons Press

New moon solar eclipse / March 8th, 2016 / New York City


P.S. I very much hope you bring this book to the next galaxy.

P.P.S. I totally blame the monks.





The idea of “canon” is appalling to Bernadette Mayer—

a club she would not enter alone without her students, comrades and contemporaries; she credits this piece of writing, Experiments, as “written with her St. Mark’s Poetry Project Workshop.” This piece of writing which performs in so many directions: as pragmatic muse, as granting of permission, as Ars Poetica about not “what is poetry,” but literally “what poetry can be”—which says it all about Mayer’s Poetics. Mayer’s poetics include just about everything (and radically well or better at that), but I’ll mention here poetry as communal practice: the poetry of dialogue whose daily place in the wordplay of society means everything to all of us. In Experiments, Mayer opens the door to generativity in the most democratic of manners. And how expansive and resonant the conversation! What a terrific symbol of our era!

Here we’ve included a version of Experiments handed out at Mayer’s Poetry Project Workshop (previously unpublished), as well as several responses from poets and non-poets alike. Some of the responses were written for this book, others taken from projects or pieces long in conversation with Bernadette’s Experiments or Sonnets. Some are written by readers who are not poets and knew nothing of Bernadette Mayer (my mother, for example) until they were asked to write for this book. We’ve included, as well, the first review of Sonnets by Dawn-Michelle Baude, a piece whose detailed analysis gives great context for any reader of Sonnets, and interesting insights into the poetry conversation at the time of first publication by Tender Buttons Press in 1989. We imagine this guide and sections of it will be helpful to a student or teacher of Mayer’s works or poetry in general, and hope it serves doubly as artifact for the aficionado. Maybe the first Experiment is to outline how each response poem we included relates to Bernadette Mayer’s work…

Mayer’s Experiments enact her magnificent oeuvre’s sensibilities: the reinvention of the traditional form in Sonnets; the expansion of consciousness in her hypnogogic poems, in Studying Hunger JournalsThe Ethics of Sleep and other works; her original investigations in Memory; and etcetera and etcetera, the correlations and broadenings of Mayer’s works being endless and endlessly wonderful. Thank you Bernadette for your leadership in teaching us how to be better teachers, as in knowing we learn as much as we teach, that none of us are closed, that all of us are citizens in the land of language and what we say and how far we dream into everything can be reinvented, can be reimagined, can be improved towards a greater peace, a more open field.

Please add to this list.

Katy Bohinc

Star Arkestress, Tender Buttons Press




Can love, thinking as two, be enough to bond poetry which thinks as "elsewhere" and philosophy which thinks in distinctions?

Despite the dramatic metaphor, in the end there is not a mathematic answer to such a question. Each answers their own way. Love the union of singulars.

Now then, is this poetry? If Badiou's conditions are all redoubled here, poetry on philosophy, philosophy on poetry, etc. then is is too much of a Godel trick to ask? (the Indians wrote their calculus in verse, you know.)

Either transcendental way, and I don't really mind as long as it's transcendental, what I want to say is I think the relationship between philosophy and poetry is like what happens at the real projective plane: various degrees of infinite, like a mobius strip. For when I think back on my own poetic departure, it happened when it happened, and why I'll never know (it wasn't really a choice), but it happened against all "reality" which had conditioned me in my life up until that point. And that was many things, including, fundamentally, definitions which all necessarily have philosophical underpinnings be they from texts or passed through the cultural conversation. That poetry, or writing, or art "reacts against" is true (and in this reaction often critiques!), but a reaction is also itself a relation. One cannot exist without the other. In this sense I think poetry is the fearlessness to depart from the position of the self in relation to all that is present in and up to that moment each poem is born - street wisdom or Alain Badiou of whatever. Poetry is also Robespierre's eyes. Or the sun's, or the moon's. 

Be it a description or logic, this is how I saw it at that moment when the songs began (I also saw it as a sortof affliction, but that's a past sentence, pun intended, and isn't it odd how sometimes the things we hate at first we love later the most?) Perhaps it's a proof, perhaps it's my poetic "elsewhere". I don't really care to designate it, it just is. To smile and laugh utterly naive to each moment's possible meanings whisping into the next moment's forgotten will always be more beautiful to me than the rigid lines of any conclusion. It's not that I (read we, if you prefer) can't, just that my preference is right now. As a way to perceive.

What I really want to say is that philosophy is not sovereign (thank you, Alain). And that poetry is quite good at defining itself! As it has been for thousands of years, regardless of whatever the philosophers have been saying. (What, what was that? Did you hear something?) And even, the practice of reading, interpreting, writing, and if you want to play that way, naming...philosophy?

Something I always knew was it's all Aristotle's fault. - Bernadette Mayer

In some sense, poetry's and philosophy's irresistible urge to discuss each other for thousands of years is like the longest love affair in history since, well, Philosophy was born!

There is perhaps something in all of this of poetry's - and my - disdain for constraint or boundaries. Poetry, I think, is the undefined (and so, everything.) And as writing is different from language in that it is about sex, I'll talk about Badiou's "woman": one who thinks love is what ultimately centers and binds the conditions of us all. If this is the meaning of "woman", then I proudly stand to militantly defend such a view with all my soul.

Love, always,