Attack of the Difficult Poems

Poetics: further reading

from Introduction to Scholarship in Modern Languages and Literatures


ed.  David Nicholls, published by the MLA
3d edition, 2007

This is the "Further Reading" supplement to my "Poetics" essay in the volume. The main part of my contribution is collected in
Attack of the Difficult Poems: Essays and Inventions as "Professing Poetics. 

I wrote this in 2006 and have not updated or revised it. The history and bibliography are highly condensed due to the space restrictions of the printed volume; so what I  was able offer was no more than a brief sketch of possibilities and directions, with  much elided. 


For the long history of Western poetics any short list is bound to be reductive and misleading; still, anthologies such as Hazard Adams’s Critical Theory Since Plato offer a good start, though, for poetics, it would be better to begin not with Plato but with  Heraklitus, who already offers a response to Plato’s banishment of poetics from the ideal republic. Even the quickest tour of the Western canon of poetics would include stops for Longinus and Lucretius, apologies for poetry by Philip Sydney and Percy Shelley, William Blake’s “Marriage of Heaven and Hell” and Algernon Charles Swinburne’s William Blake, William Wordsworth’s “Preface to the Lyrical Ballads” and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria, alongside Lautréamont’s Les chants de Maldoror and that still-burning torch, Oscar Wilde’s The Decay of Lying. On the American side, Edgar Allen Poe’s Philosophy of Literary Composition and Emily Dickinson’s letters[i] complement Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays and Henry David Thoreau’s Walden.

April is the cruellest month for poetry [placard]

Fraud’s phantoms: Czernin and Schmatz

from Attack of the Difficult Poems

This is an excerpt from "Fraud’s Phantoms: A Brief Yet Unreliable Account of Fighting Fraud with Fraud (No Pun on Freud Intended), with Special Reference to the Poetics of Ressentiment" from Attack of the Difficult Poems: Essays and Inventions

In the early summer of 1986, two young Austrian poets, Franz Josef Czernin and Ferdinand Schmatz, had the idea to write poems that closely resembled the poems they found most typical and at the same time most deplorable in contemporary poetry volumes, for example the work of Rainer Kunze, Günther Kunert, and Sarah Kirsch. At first they had the idea to call the poet Irene Schwaighofer (silent court), a poet born in a little town in upper Austria, who, familiar through schooling with the tenets of modernism, would need no time to forge her own distinctive style and upon being published would proceed to win many prizes and much praise. However, Czernin and Schmatz felt this process would take too long and in order to shorten the “difficult and boring” process, decided to give authorship of the poems to Czernin. They completed the work in a few weeks and the book was immediately accepted for publication under the title Die Reise (the journey). The book received positive attention, some of which suggested that at last Czernin has given up his thrashing about in the waters of experimentation and found a more profound and authentic voice. When Czernin broke the news of his own duplicitous relation to the poems in Der Spiegel in March 1987, a furious hale of criticism descended upon him, not the least from the publisher of the book, who felt he had been betrayed. Later the same year,  Czernin and Schmatz published a book-length account of the story together with exchanges between them and several interlocking essays.

Breaking Through: TV interview show with Charles Bernstein & Ian Probstein

host: WJ. O'Reilly

These excerpts are from a 50-minute interview with Charles Bernstein and Ian Probstein on Breaking Through, with W.J. O'Reilly, on eGarage.TV, June 17, 2011.

Full episode here

From Attack of the Difficult Poems: Essays and Inventions


"The Difficult Poem" (excerpt)

Our Americas: New Worlds Still in Progress

Jerome Rothenberg had just published "Our Americas" on his Poems & Poetics site. This is one of the essays from Attack of the Difficult Poems: Essays and Invetions:

part one
, part two

Attack of the Difficult Conversation: The Brooklyn Rail interview

Charles Bernstein & Adam Fitzgerald talk about Attack of the Difficult Poems


 read the interview in the June Brooklyn Rail

... Poetry’s unpopularity, or anyway the unpopularity of the kind of poetry I want, is part of its cultural condition and so part of its advantage. Its unpopularity may even be popular; that’s poetic logic for you. How about saying that poetry is the research and development wing of verbal language, better understood as collaborative thinking and investigation, at least for some of the practitioners?  It doesn’t necessarily express an individual author’s biographical feelings in a conventionally lyrical manner—a great deal of poetry does that, but a great deal doesn’t. The elitism is not poetry’s, but commodity culture’s, which says that value comes exclusively from the market or audience share. Forms of culture that are not immediately accessible to a mass or popular audience also matter. Difficulty is not an obstacle, it is a material means for engagement with the social real. Yes we can.

Book party for "Attack of the Difficult Poems"

A.I.R. Gallery, Brooklyn, June 11 4-6

Katie Couric
Katie Couric, photo by Lawrence Schwartzwald

just when you thought it was safe to go back to the poetry waters ....

Norman Fischer on Attack of the Difficult Poems

  "attack of the difficult poems" … is a great book!  you must read this book!  it will provide you with an education about what is happening, has been happening, in the world of post modern poetry and why it is important for everyone to pay attention to it, important socially, personally, religiously.  also very funny (the book is funny) and brilliant and a pleasure to read.  i was sad when i finished it, but well, isn't this always what happens. …

TLS's J. C.. on "Attack of the Difficult Poems"

NB logo

 On April 8 and 15, J.C. in his NB column in the TLS took up one of the keynote essays in Attack of the Difficult Poems, “Against National Poetry Month as Such.”

Attack launch Tuesday April 26 6-7:30pm

Penn Book Center (PHL)

Bernstein Alien pix

Attack of the Difficult Poems: Essays and Inventions
(University of Chicago Press)
Penn Book Center Launch
130 S 34th St, Philadelphia

Tuesday, April 26
6-7:30pm

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