Give Everybody Everything: The Financial Life of Bernadette Mayer

Hosted by

Paper money, extreme macro. Credit: Kevin Dooley/Flickr

If poetry makes nothing happen, it also makes very little in the way of income. Take the acclaimed poet Bernadette Mayer. Often aligned with the Language Poets, Mayer overcame entrenched sexism to establish herself as one of the most influential poets of her generation. At 73, she’s still producing work. And yet she only made about $17,000 last year. That’s hardly enough to live on, even after Mayer and her partner moved out of New York City.

Tech moguls like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk talk about Universal Basic Income as a fix for increasing automation. But could poetry — culturally necessary but essentially unmarketable — provide an even more compelling argument for UBI? Some minimal allowance might deliver poets like Mayer from financial ruin. What do the rest of us lose when poets can no longer afford to pursue their life’s work?


Produced by Rachel James, in collaboration with The Creative Independent, a resource of emotional and practical guidance for artists. Special thanks to Harry Dodge and Callie Gardner.

The Committee on Poetry, founded by Allen Ginsberg, is still around. There’s a small group of poets who have organized the “Friends of Bernadette Mayer Fund” that coordinates donations to the Committee, which then gives the money to Mayer.

You can find a link to the fund here.

Music credits:
Ahmad Jamal, Poinciana
Sun Ra, Someone Else's World 
Jimmy Giuffre, Paul Bley, Steve Swallow, In The Mornings Out There 
Eric Dolphy, Booker Little, Tenderly 
Bill Evans, Peace Piece
David Murray, Milford Graves Under & Over