Charles Bernstein

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Bernstein in 2008

Charles Bernstein (born April 4, 1950) is an American poet, theorist, editor, and literary scholar. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and is one of the most prominent members of the Language poets.


  • tire
    swift swept
    ly and lie and lane
    • "disfrutes" (1974), first published in 1981 by Potes & Poets Press
  • she
    • "disfrutes" (1974)
  • The combination of low culture and high technology is one of the most fascinating social features of the video game phenomenon. Computers were invented as super drones to do tasks no human in her or his right mind (much less left brain) would have the patience, or the perseverance, to manage. [...] Now our robot drones, the ones designed to take all the boring jobs, become the instrument for libidinal extravaganzas devoid of any socially productive component. Video games are computers neutered of purpose, liberated from functionality. The idea is intoxicating; like playing with the help on their night off.
  • As part of the spring ritual of National Poetry Month, poets are symbolically dragged into the public square in order to be humiliated with the claim that their product has not achieved sufficient market penetration and must be revived by the Artificial Resuscitation Foundation (ARF) lest the art form collapse from its own incompetence, irrelevance, and as a result of the general disinterest among the broad masses of the American People. The motto of ARF's National Poetry Month is: "Poetry's not so bad, really."
  • Poetry will never win the war on terror
    But neither will error abetted by error

    We girly men are not afraid
    Of uncertainty or reason or interdependence
    We think before we fight, then think some more
    Proclaim our faith in listening, in art, in compromise

    So be a girly man
    & sing this gurly song
    Sissies & proud
    That we would never lie our way to war

  • Not for all the fire in hell
    Not for all the blue in the sky
    Not for an empire of my own
    Not even for peace of mind

Quotes about Charles Bernstein

  • I was also looking for poems that didn't simply reproduce familiar versions of "difference" and "identity." I agree with Charles Bernstein, poet-critic and exponent of L*A*N*G*U*A*G*E poetry, when he remarks in A Poetics that "difference" too often appears in poems simply as "subject matter and ... local color" rather than as "form and content understood as an interlocking figure the one inaudible with-the other." Indeed, there are legions of columnar poems in which the anecdote of an ethnic parent or grandparent is rehearsed in a generic voice and format, whatever the cultural setting. I was glad to find poems by Carolyn Lei-Lanilau, Kimiko Hahn, C. S. Giscombe and Wanda Coleman, among others, that embody dialectics of "otherness" in language itself, the strange and familiar interpenetrating.
  • In the America where I'm writing now, suffering is diagnosed relentlessly as personal, individual, maybe familial, and at most to be "shared" with a group specific to the suffering, in the hope of "recovery." We lack a vocabulary for thinking about pain as communal and public, or as deriving from "skewed social relations" (Charles Bernstein).
  • Recently, I read an essay by Charles Bernstein criticizing a facile multiculturalism that can "have the effect of transforming unresolved ideological divisions and antagonisms into packaged tours of... local color of gender, race, sexuality, ethnicity, region, class. . . . In this context, diversity can be a way of restoring a highly idealized conception of a unified American culture that effectively quiets dissent." Many of us, I think, have had our doubts about such a "multiculturalism" or "diversity," or symbolic "inclusion," when the real question in our radically unequal society is power and privilege...Charles Bernstein, again, has called our public space "befouled" by "spectacularly inequitable distributions of power." In this "befouled" public sphere poetry cannot hope to lend itself to social change through conventional or contaminated methods of communication. Language, the medium, "autonomous and self-sufficient," must do its work by its own methods. I am, of necessity, abbreviating and simplifying here...The public space is indeed befouled. But I also think that Bernstein and others are right when they imply that threadbare language, frozen metaphors, poems in which we "cling to / what we've grasped too well" are part of the problem, and that the power of a poem to subvert, to "intensify / our relationships" depends on its being poetry-taking on the medium of language with all its difficulties. Difficulties of relationship and strangeness, of truth-telling and torsion and how the netted bridge is to be suspended over the gorge.

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