Charles Bernstein

Delany on Close Listening, April 2014

Samuel Delany (left) and Charles Bernstein (right) in a still of the recording of Close Listening.

Editorial note: The following has been adapted from a Close Listening conversation recorded as part of “The Motion of Light: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany,” a program hosted at the Kelly Writers House in April 2014. The conversation was transcribed by Tracie Morris. Listen to the audio program here. — Julia Bloch


Can poetry have a socio-political impact?

Image of Occupy Poetry logo.

While Auden famously wrote that “poetry makes nothing happen,” he offers a clarification: “it survives / A way of happening, a mouth.” It is one of the most basic questions in our field, and one that I often hear from students: does poetry matter, and, if so, how? Certainly poetry’s ability to “matter” does not rest on socio-political impact alone. Nevertheless, the question of poetry’s significance alludes to a long debate: is poetry always about poetry — l'art pour l'art — or does poetry serve a societal function. Put in Auden’s terms, what happens when we read or write poetry? — Katie L. Price 

Respondents: Brian Ang, Charles Bernstein, Michael HelsemRachel Zolf

A response by Brian Ang

Poetry can have a sociopolitical impact through how it constitutes communities toward forms of struggle adequate to acting on historical conditions. Within historical conditions, the totality of poetry’s social networks breaks down into overlapping communities defined by common aesthetic and political values, an expression of struggles within and between communities over those values.

Witness my own

Forget gadget

What is a prosodic device?

In 1970, Hannah Weiner exhibited a telegram in Oberlin College’s conceptual art survey Art in the Mind. After the “mail strike,” her letter to Virginian Dwan was delivered to the gallerist (page one and page two). In it Weiner complains that Vito Acconci’s telegram-piece should be exhibited in Language IV along with Walter DeMaria’s telegram, arguing that the medium was immaterial, and that the artwork, in either case, consists in its sphere of reference. So that there could be no redundancy involved. She cites her piece at Oberlin.

But she might have also claimed more significance for the telegram. A primitive speech-to-text technology, it is a phonic ticker, defamiliarizing the otherwise imperceptible but crucial transfiguration that takes place between sound-image and thought.

Nina Zivancevic's 1983 interview with Charles Bernstein and Douglas Messerli, with a new postscript by Messerli

audio and text

Howard Fox, Charles Bernstein, Douglas Messerli, Doug Lang (r to l)

This interview was first publlished in the Belgrade literary magazine, Knjizevnost, and  in Sagetrieb's  Winter 1984 issue (Vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 63-78).

The undedited audio of the original interview,  from  November 5, 1983,  is avaialbe on PennSound:
(2 hrs, 18min):

Physio-digital responses to the digital

Stephen Vincent's haptic drawings of the sound of poets reading

Stephen Vincent, "Haptic: CA Conrad Reading at Nonsite," September 12, 2009 (Ink on paper, 7.25 x 11")

The visualization of the sound of Charles Bernstein’s recording of “1-100” (1969), which I presented in a recent commentary titled “Anti-ordination in the visualization of the poem's sound,” struck artist, poet, maker of books Stephen Vincent as interestingly relevant to “haptic” drawings he has made while listening to various poets reading their work in the Bay Area, and I agree. He has called this activity drawing by sound (rather than of). “I like comparing my ‘physio/digital’ responses to the digital electronic ones,” he has written to me.

Ann Lauterbach

A 9-minute excerpt from a recent reading


PennSound podcast #39 is devoted to Ann Lauterbach — a nine-minute excerpt from a reading she gave at the Kelly Writers House in November of 2013. Allison Harris introduces and hosts. For a full video recording of the reading and/or a full audio recording, see the Kelly Writers House web calendar entry. Charles Bernstein introduced the event, and a few seconds of his remarks can be heard in the podcast.

Anti-ordination in the visualization of the poem's sound

Bernstein chants 73 through 75 in "1 to 100" (1969)

ARLO visualization of the PennSound recording of Charles Bernstein's "1 to 100," numbers 73 through 75

Through ARLO (Adaptive Recognition with Layered Optimization), enabled by the HiPSTAS (High Performance Sound Technologies for Access and Scholarship) project headquartered at the Information School of the University of Texas at Austin, I sought to visualize the later passages of Charles Bernstein's chanted/screamed list or counting poem, “1 to 100” (1969). Thanks to Chris Mustazza, Tanya Clement, David Tcheng, Tony Borries, Chris Martin, and others, I am finally learning how to use ARLO to some rudimentary effect. Every single PennSound recording is now available in a test space to which ARLO can be applied by researchers, including myself, associated with the project. We are just beginning. HiPSTAS has received two NEH grants to make all this possible, and PennSound is a founding archival partner.

PennSound 10 years after

Featuring Michael Hennessey's recollections of his own work with the archive


Perhaps a new optimism (PoemTalk #68)

Ray DiPalma, 'It makes / of nonsense'


Aaron Shurin (then just in from the Bay Area), John Tranter (visiting from Australia), and Charles Bernstein (coming in from New York) joined Al Filreis for this episode of PoemTalk to discuss a poem by Ray DiPalma, “It makes of nonsense.” The poem was written in 1976, and first performed, we think, in 1977. Our text of the poem comes from the poet, and is reproduced below. Our PennSound recording of the poem was segmented from a longer tape of a reading DiPalma gave, along with Michael Lally and Bruce Andrews (quite a threesome in those years), at the Ear Inn in New York City on November 10, 1977; the tape-recording itself was made by the aforementioned Charles Bernstein, one of this episode’s interlocutors.

Aphorisms from Matvei Yankelevich & from Recalculating (video webcast)

 June 15, 2013, video web capture, part of Andrew Maxwell's LIFE SENTENCES: An Afternoon of the Epigrammatic, Los Angeles

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