[The following is the text of an introduction I gave before a reading by Charles Bernstein from his book Recalculating on April 16, 2013, at the Kelly Writers House in Philadelphia.]
In Recalculating (Chicago, 2013), Charles Bernstein follows every imperative invoked from the late Emma Bee Bernstein in its epigraph, among them “Pump up the radio,” “Retrace your route in reflection,” and — profoundly — “Race your future to the finish line.” For Bernstein, via Fernando Pessoa, poets are fakers whose faking is so real they even fake the pain they truly feel. Reversing effectiveness with an eye on redemption, he seeks to kill two stones with one bird. Recalculating Wallace Stevens’s “Loneliness in Jersey City,” he offers us “Loneliness in Linden,” where — as is not the case in Stevens — “Jews do Jewish things” with failed language: cobbling together the six million tunes of the never-heard-of-in-modernism dead.
In “Fold,” the poet makes a prose-poem list of sentences in which transitive verbs are identical to direct objects, facing faces, voiding voids, gulping gulps, fearing fear and hating hate. Re-addressing friends and poetic colleagues, he offers a poem in honor of Bob Perelman in which Bob is presented only by way of possessives: what he has, what he writes, not what he is. His numinous nominalism. His casual attire surrealism. His direct address to entropic homeopathic Jewishness. In “I Will Not Write Imitative Poetry,” Bernstein — teacherly — sends himself scolded to the blackboard, forcing himself to write sixteen times that he will not write imitative poetry, he really won’t, he won’t, he won’t, he promises he won’t. It’s a wash-your-mouth-out-with-soapistry, an ars poetica as bold as the poetic-pedagogical absolutism it opposes, a few don’ts for the post-imagist. Thus he recalculates – re-understands – innovative writing in the progressive socio-literary lineage, the “pen [being] tinier than the sword,” free verse being “not a type of poetry but an imperative to liberate verse from constraints no longer applicable for a new time and new circumstance.” He recalculates a pragmatic progressive politics of language, thinking aloud through Lakoffian reformist optimism: “All the signs say no passage; still, there must be a way.”
In this episode of the LINEbreak series, co-editors of RIF/t,Loss Pequeño Glazier and Kenneth Sherwood, talk with Charles Bernstein about electronic publishing and the politics of editing the first online hypertext journal of poetry and poetics, RIF/t magazine. Their program was recorded in the Music Department at SUNY Buffalo in 1995. An audio recording of the full program (29 minutes) can be heard here: MP3.
On March 14, 1979, Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein visited the studios of WBAI in New York and were interviewed by Susan Howe, host then of the Pacifica Radio Poetry Show. This installment in the PennSound podcast series, introduced again by Amaris Cuchanski and based on editing done by Nick DeFina, features an excerpt from that interview focusing on a discussion of opaque as distinct from transparent language and of language’s materiality.
from Michael Hennessey’s “A Life, Spliced: On the Early Tapeworks of Charles Bernstein,” published in The Salt Companion to Charles Bernstein, edited by William Allegrezza, Salt Publishing, 2012.
“I am a recording instrument” — William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch 
“Oh Charles, how could you be so cruel. Charles turn that magadget off … I'm gonna get my own tape recorder and I'm gonna tape your conversations Charles.” — Bernstein’s mother, Sherry (from “#4: a portrait of one being in family living”)
More than thirty-five years after the release of his first book, Asylums, Charles Bernstein is justifiably recognized as one of America’s most influential living poets — a fact attested to by his recent career-spanning collection, All the Whiskey in Heaven: Selected Poems (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2010). While, as a pioneer of Language Writing, Bernstein has made significant contributions to contemporary poetics, his work as a scholar, editor, curator and pedagogue are perhaps of equal, if not greater, importance, and indeed, all of these discrete facets work together in a complementary fashion to construct his overall aesthetic, which is equally a product of numerous extra-literary cultural interests including music, film, drama and the visual arts.
For all their twists and spin, poets like Kamau Brathwaite and Charles Bernstein seem strikingly direct in their politics when compared to Vanessa Place and her poetics of iteration. Where in a work likeWorld on FireBernstein clearly attacks the US invasion of Iraq, Place, like some other conceptual writers, seems to reject the idea that we might change the world by transforming our language. Indeed, at times Place takes direct aim at texts that seek a revolutionary change in the social order.
For instance, in her “Boycott Project,” Place reproduces feminist classics such as Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex with all female-gendered words replaced by their male counterparts. (See Place’s The Father & Childhood.)
A raucous evening of translations and transformations, performances and metamorphoses in/around All the Whiskey in Heaven and "Johnny Cake Hollow."Charles Bernstein with Miriam Rainer, Julia Dengg, Manuel Niedermeier, Dimitri Smirnov, Helmut Ege, Franz Vala, Judith Aistleitner, Nina Truskawetz, and Peter Waterhouse. With thanks to Katharine Apostle. Filmed by August Bisinger