TCI Transmission 09: Give Everybody Everything: The Financial Life of Bernadette Mayer

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Today we release the ninth episode of TCI Transmissions. This episode came out of a conversation inspired by our study on the financial state of artists today, and was produced by Rachel James and The Organist (a podcast created by McSweeney’s and KCRW) in collaboration with TCI. You can also find it on The Organist’s website.

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Give Everybody Everything: The Financial Life of Bernadette Mayer

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?

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About The Organist: Take a weird, thoughtful and pleasurable journey into literature, music, art, philosophy, the internet, language, and history with McSweeney’s and KCRW. This unconventional arts-and-culture magazine features contributors and guests like Miranda July, George Saunders, Lena Dunham, Tig Notaro, and Sarah Silverman.

Credits: Produced by Rachel James and The Organist, in collaboration with The Creative Independent. Hosted by Andrew Leland, with additional production by Ross Simonini and Andrew Leland. Special thanks to Harry Dodge and Callie Gardner. Images used on this page are by Max Warsh and Kevin Dooley.

Note: 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.

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