Universal Basic Income & Other Gifts We Have To Imagine To Make Them Real

Jason Boog
May 23 · 3 min read

Every year, poets and readers get together to read Bernadette Mayer’s 120-page poem out-loud, celebrating a single day in the life of a poet in 1978.

Locus Solus blog describes the birth of this poem more than 40 years ago…

On December 22, 1978, the young American poet Bernadette Mayer undertook an unusual experiment that she had been planning for weeks. She wrote an entire book-length poem during and about the events and thoughts she experienced on that particular day. She later described the resulting poem, which she titled Midwinter Day, as ‘a 120-page work in prose and poetry written on December 22, 1978, from notes, tapes, photographs, and memory.’

I discovered this poem through an audio essay created by Rachel James and The Creative Independent for this Organist podcast episode…

During the podcast, we can hear Mayer reading a list of presents she wished she could buy for the people in her life. In her narration, James explained how the repetition of dream gifts, read every single year by readers around the country, transforms the poem:

Something about this list of people Mayer wanted to buy gifts for being read aloud again and again over the course of 40 years makes the gifts real. In the poem, Bernadette uttered the presents into existence.

The Organist essay also explores the concept of Universal Basic Income, the idea that everyone in our country deserves enough money to survive, even if they don’t have the earning power.

Presidential candidate Andrew Yang has made Universal Basic Income part of his platform.

In the next 12 years, 1 out of 3 American workers is at risk of losing their jobs to new technologies — and unlike with previous waves of automation, this time new jobs will not appear quickly enough in large enough numbers to make up for it. To avoid an unprecedented crisis, we’re going to have to find a new solution, unlike anything we’ve done before. It all begins with Universal Basic Income for all American adults, no strings attached — a foundation on which a stable, prosperous, and just society can be built.

No matter what you think about Universal Basic Income, Mayer’s poem makes a powerful point.

If we can’t imagine the gifts we wish to give to the world, then they will never exist. If we don’t have stories or poems to share about making radical changes in our lives, those changes will never happen.

Transformation depends on our ability to imagine that change is possible — that’s why we need writers like Mayer. They tell us stories about a better life so we can dream alongside them.

These writers have given us gifts. By sharing their stories over and over again, we might be able to make those gifts real.

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

Jason Boog

Written by

Journalist, author & West Coast correspondent for Publishers Weekly.