Friday, April 9, 2010

Poet and Anti-Poet

Check out the following article by Daisy Fried, which was published in the New York Times Book Review on April 7, 2010:

At a reading I attended in the Smith College science lecture hall a few years ago, Charles Bernstein, famous as a poet and anti-poet, pointed to the giant poster on the wall behind him and said, “I want to thank the Poetry Center for putting up my poem ‘The Periodic Table of the Elements.’ ” He then proceeded to give a mock-dramatic rendition of the symbols, left to right, down the page. “H, He, Li, Be!” he panted, growled and spluttered. “Why!?” he complained when he goted up. “No!” he bellowed for nobelium, then finally whispered “Lr,” the last chemical symbol. He turned to face the audience. “I’ve always wondered if I should have ended with ‘No’ rather than putting that ‘Lr’ on the end. I think it was a mistake. I think it would have been more emphatic with the negation.” This was the funniest, most impromptu- brilliant, serious moment I’ve ever witnessed at a poetry reading — and very much about sound, language, expression and communication.

Jemimah Kuhfeld
Charles Bernstein


Selected Poems
By Charles Bernstein
300 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $26

With “All the Whiskey in Heaven,” his first book not published by a university or independent press, Bernstein takes his place in the mainstream of American poetry, the very “Official Verse Culture” he’s attacked entertainingly for years — a fate awaiting all our best outsiders. Bernstein is identified with the Language poets, who emerged in the 1970s. Interested in the materiality of language, they are politically left, theoretically grounded and deeply suspicious of the lyric “I” that speaks from the heart in traditional poems without examining its own existence in a sociopolitical power structure. Their work is often most subversive when both joining and satirizing that weary old, dreary old genre, poetry about poetry. Early Bernstein can be opaque, annoying those who see difficulty as elitist and who want poetry to be cuddly and educational. But everyone should love the later Bernstein, a writer who is accessible, enormously witty, often joyful — and even more evilly subversive.

To read the rest of the article, click here.

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