Commentaries - September 2012
Eu son unha forasteira, sempre unha forasteira. I am a foreigner, always foreign. Loito nunha escuridade funxíbel con toda outra escuridade. I struggle in a fungible and obscure darkness alongside every other kind of obscurity. Son unha forasteira con historia, con historias multiples, historias que nunca vivín. I am a foreigner with a history, with multiple histories, histories I never lived. Historias xenéticas, de xenética. Genetic histories, of genetics. Sempre sei que idioma uso. I always know what language I speak in. Imaxino sen imaxes, senón con temperaturas e luz e vagaridades que me pican no pel. I imagine without images, but with temperatures and light and wanderings that prickle and disturb my skin. Indescriptíbeis. Indescriptible. Postures with furniture. And I age, I am aging. Limits of the body and mind.
And the text. It is here before me, in front of me, the text. É e está. It is in itself, and it is sited in time/space. And me, awake. With coffee. Without glasses. Light. The form of the letters in front of me.
I observe. What does observe mean? Absorb? Multitudes of cells. Letters. I have observed alphabetic letters since I was a small child, perhaps from the age of two. With just two years of life I attempted to observe these letters. Would letters move on their own? Are they not something else as well? Their silence mutes me too. Letters.
What does the lettering of letters say?
Today, clearly, I am much older than two, I am aging, I feel it in my body. In the morning, I have another face, in fact. Another mouth. Other hands? No, I have the hands I have always had.
And the text. Before me. The text composed of alphabetic letters from somewhere else. From other light. This text enters into me. Before this text, the body has no limits, just porosities and blood, heat and proteins.
What is a mind? What is human consciousness?
And a text. Letters.
And a language? It’s not letters or lettering, a language or idiom is a “Felt Thing,” a sensible thing, sensed or touched with the eyes, or even made by the hands. Translated through them.
Introduction: Fifteen years ago I discovered a cache of worksheets that I had abandoned in the early 1990s. Going through them, I found fascinating passages and lines in poems that as poems did not work. Rather than losing this material with everything else, I typed it up. I think there must have been a hundred or so entries, one to five or six lines each. Since there was no continuity, I put the cut out pieces in a lettuce dryer, spun it, and ask Caryl to pick them out one by one. Her random pick determined the order in which they appeared. I called them “Erratics” after the boulders one finds in fields, provenance unknown. Hunger Press published them as a chapbook in 2000.
A couple of years later, I reprinted them in a revised form in My Devotion, Black Sparrow Press, 2004. Several years after that, I again edited them and added a few of the sightings, aphorisms, and probings that had appeared in some of my books. I also added some quotations of writers and artists whose insights have stayed with me over the decades.
This is now the final version of “Erratics,” the form of which is once again determined by Caryl’s random pick (other than for the first and final entries). This last entry is Northrop Frye’s penetrating statement on Blake’s figure of Enion, from “The Four Zoas,” whose lament is the epigram to The Price of Experience. The first entry concerns the multifoliate spider experience in 1962 that has invested my poetry with a daemon familiar.
The challenge of such notations is to avoid the traps associated with aphorisms: clichés, truisms, commonplace. Here, while many of the entries reflect each other, the random pick creates a shifting galaxy. My aim has been in this labyrinth of tesserae to register the focal points, and the gists and piths, that have supported my poetics over the years. Such are set against a backdrop of speculations on the origins of image-making initially worked out in my book Juniper Fuse: Upper Paleolithic Imagination & the Construction of the Underworld.
1]: 1962, Kyoto: There was a gorgeous red, yellow and green Aranea centered in her web attached to a persimmon tree in the Okumura backyard. I got used to taking a chair and a little table out there under the web where I’d read. After several weeks of “spider sitting” the weather turned chill, with rain and gusting wind. One afternoon I found the web wrecked, the spider gone. Something went through me that I can only describe as the sensation of the loss of one loved. I cried, and for several days felt nauseous and absurd. When I tried to make sense out of my reaction, I recalled César Vallejo’s poem “La araña”—“The Spider”—which I first read in Bloomington, Indiana, in 1958, right at the time that I had started to get serious about writing poetry. Like the death of the Kyoto spider, the poem had gone right through me. I could not get it out of my mind for months:
It is an enormous spider that now cannot move
a colorless spider, whose body,
a head and an abdomen, bleeds.
Today I watched it up close. With what effort
toward every side
it extended its innumerable legs.
And I have thought about its invisible eyes,
the spider’s fatal pilots.
It is a spider that tremored caught
on the edge of a rock;
abdomen on one side,
head on the other.
With so many legs the poor thing, and still unable
to free itself. And, on seeing it
confounded by its fix
today, I have felt such sorrow for that traveler.
It is an enormous spider, impeded by
its abdomen from following its head.
And I have thought about its eyes
and about its numerous legs…
And I have felt such sorrow for that traveler!
A week later, I decided to motorcycle out to northwest Kyoto and visit Gary Snyder. Gary was not home, so I had tea with Joanne Kyger and, late in the afternoon, started the half-hour drive back home. Riding south on Junikendoori, it appeared that the motorcycle handlebars had become ox horns and that I was riding on an ox. A lumber company turned into a manger of baby Jesus and kneeling Wise men. I forced myself to stay aware that I was in moving traffic. Looking for a place to turn off, I spotted Nijo Castle with its big tourist bus parking lot. Getting off my ox-cycle, I felt commanded to circumambulate the square Castle and its moat. I saw what seemed to be Kyger’s eyeballs in the moat water. At the northwest corner, I felt commanded to look up: some thirty feet above my head was the spider completely bright red, the size of a human adult, flexing her legs as if attached to and testing her web. After maybe thirty seconds the image began to fade…
In my spider vision, the green and yellow of Aranea’s abdomen disappeared. The visionary spider was all red.
I had been given a totemic gift that would direct my relationship to poetry. Out of my own body, I was to create a matrix strong enough in which to live and hunt.
2]: Robert W. Brockway: “It is very doubtful that we have any myths that could be traced back to the last Ice Age, although Wilhelm Schmidt, Mircea Eliade, and other scholars have made such claims. Both, for example, think that the creation story of the animal who dives into deep water to bring up the stuff of which the earth is made originated in central Asia and was brought to the Americas in Paleolithic times.”
3]: A squirrel peers, traffic-confused,
through its Jurassic periscope
4]: As an early form of Ariadne, Arihagne (“the utterly pure”) was a spinning hag or sorceress who enjoyed intercourse with the labyrinth and its grotesque inhabitant. When patriarchal consciousness overwhelmed matriarchal centering, Ariadne became a “maiden to be rescued,” who “falling in love” with the hero Theseus gave him a “clew” or thread that would enable him to get in and out and, while in, to slaughter the sleeping Minotaur. The labyrinth, without its central hybrid, was thus emptied of animality.
5]: The uroboros is hardly “prior to any process, eternal” (Neumann à la Jung), but rather a major arrest of movement drawing into its vortex an overwhelming preoccupation with mother-goddessing the earth (carrying in its wake the attribution to women of many of the horrors to be found in nature). Of relevance here is a little poem by Charles Olson excluded from The Maximus Poems:
the IMMENSE ERROR
the ‘Great Mother’
6]: Reality is a feminine wall
soft and cloud-like, a white Hermitage with a skeleton
[NOTE. The title of Clayton Eshleman's forthcoming The Price of Experience, from which the preceding has been extracted, comes from "Night Two" of William Blake's The Four Zoas. This work is a literary anatomy, including two long poems ("The Moisinsplendor," written on LSD in NYC 1967 and "An Anatomy of the Night," a “summational vision” completed in 2011); "Adhesive Love," an essay based on Whitman's distinctions between "adhesive" and "amatory" love; three New York city stories; a memoir of selling vacuum cleaners door to door as a teenager in Indianapolis; a poetry and prose journal kept during a 1985 trip to Brittany; essays on Paul Blackburn, César Vallejo, Pierre Joris and Aimé Césaire; three sections of "Noticings" from Sulfur magazine; reviews of works by Leland Hickman, Charles Olson, Adrienne Rich, Chaim Soutine, and Leon Golub; eleven lectures on the Upper Paleolithic painted caves of southwestern France; notes on Carolee Schneemann, apprenticehood, the Medusa, Rodin, and Steven Antinoff’s "Spiritual Atheism”; four interviews and a conversation with Robert Kelly; prose poems inspired by the work of Daumier and Laura Solorzano; a translation of Henri Michaux's poem "Movements"; and "Erratics," a chance-assembled collection of sightings, aphorisms, tiny poems, and quotations.]
Publication Date: 25-Sep-12 | ISBN: 9781844714858 | Trim Size: 228 x 152 mm | Extent: 388pp | Format: Paperback / softback
“What we have here is the ideal Primer for the Gradual Understanding of Charles Bernstein: the coverage is wide, & all you need is “to be ready, not prepared.” You will not be asked to lounge on the couch as nobody remembers its colors, but the essays come in all colors, except sad. Enjoy, & then get back to the poems.” —Pierre Joris
“A major poet for our time — & then some – Charles Bernstein has emerged as a principal voice –maybe the best we have – for an international avant-garde now in its second century of visions & revisions. It is in celebration of this that the Salt Companion to his work appears here, to show him in a trajectory from an American-centered language poetry in the 1970s to an active & significant relation to a constantly renewing & expanding global poetry in which his singularity has played a vital role. What becomes clear in these pages is how his generosity of mind & spirit continues to enrich us all.
” —Jerome Rothenberg
William Allegrezza 1
Charles Bernstein Or An Insistence To Communicate
Caroline Bergvall 6
Either You’re With Us And Against Us: Charles Bernstein’s
Girly Man, 9–11, And The Brechtian Figure Of The Reader
Tim Peterson 11
The Cave Children Of New York Are Never Free
Miekal And 30
The Metaphysical Mouth And The Asylum Of The Everyday: Charles
Bernstein And Contemporary Continental Philosophy Of Language
Michael Eng 35
“Gazoop” Replaces “Is/Are” “In A Restless
World Like This Gazoop Gazoop”
Madeline Gins 55
Girly Men Ballads: (Il)Legible Identities In
Charles Bernstein And Gertrude Stein
Kimberly Lamm 57
That Poem For Charles Bernstein
Lars Palm 85
“Spectres Of Benjamin”: (Re)Presentation And (Re)
Semblance In Charles Bernstein’s Shadowtime
Steven Salmoni 86
What As Poetic
Steve Mccaffery 111
Taking On The Official Voice: Charles Bernstein’s Poetic
Sophistry And Post-Process Writing Pedagogy
Megan Swihart Jewell 114
From The Alphabet
Ron Silliman 134
Beyond The Valley Of The Sophist: Charles
Bernstein, Irony, And Solidarity
Paul Stephens 140
Poem For Charles
Ray Craig 169
To Think Figuratively, Tropically: Charles Bernstein’s Post-9/11
Grammar And Pragmatist Lessons In The Age Of Baudrillard
Jason Lagapa 172
Charles Bernstein’s Anti-Suburban Poetry
Peter Monacell 192
Donald Wellman 207
From A Philosophy Of Poetry To Poetry As Philosophy:
The Dialectical Poetics Of Charles Bernstein
Carlos Gallego 208
Content’s Profusion: Noise, Interruption And Reverse
Peristalsis In The Poetics Of Charles Bernstein
Michael Angelo Tata 234
Charles Bernstein In Buffalo 1999–2004
Kristen Gallagher 261
Charles Bernstein’s Catalogue Poetry
Thomas Fink 269
Readdressing Constructivism And Conceptual
Art:Aspects Of Work Factured By Charles Bernstein
Allen Fisher 286
Circles From Which
Maggie O’sullivan 301
Visual Strategies: A Line, A Verse, Something On Paper
James Shivers 302
After Residual Rubbernecking (A Speculative Non-Serial Anti-Romance)
Erica Hunt 340
A Life, Spliced: On The Early Tapeworks Of Charles Bernstein
Michael S. Hennessey 344
Notes On Contributors 370
cover photo by Emma Bee Bernstein
In French, the still life is called nature morte or “dead nature” — appropriate for the posed piles of plucked fruit, cut flowers and dead fish, fowl or mammals that used to be painted by art students (my father still reminisces about how, if the teacher left the room, he and his hungry fellow students would ravage the pile, leaving apple cores and fish bones).
So, a still life is a composition — natural things juxtaposed with a human-made object such as a vase or glass — arranged for visual surfaces and shapes. Cezanne’s still lifes, for example, get down to the geometries (speaking of cores) of the artificial and natural — finding their essences as shape and color within paint. And thus the painting finds its own life; is brought into existence; has its own light, texture and color; is discrete from what it began from. Artificial and natural are made equivalent in this double process of composition (or “dividing the plane”).
What are still lifes like in poetry? I tried to think of poets who have arranged a pile of fruit and flowers, placed next to or within a vase, and then wrote while staring at that pile.
About what to put in your poem-painting:
Flowers are always nice, particularly delphinium.
Names of boys you once knew and their sleds,
Skyrockets are good—do they still exist?
—John Ashbery, “And Ut Picture Poesis Is Her Name”
But the poet has already departed from the traditional still life by the time he’s reached “names of boys,” which are evocative, not observed. By the end of the poem, he’s veered into the impressive disjunct between the “extreme austerity” of the (almost) empty-headed poet’s head and the “lush, Rousseau-like foliage of its desire to communicate.” (Sigh. How true. Galaxies of language exist within that particular disjunct.) And then, thinking of other examples, for some reason Steve Zultanski’s efforts to lift every object in his apartment with his penis came to mind (in mind's mischief). No, no, no—one is not allowed to lift the objects of one’s still life with parts of one’s body, although there’s a certain continuum of engagement with the art students’ ravishment of their subjects. More somberly, then, there are Brenda Coultas’ linguistic arrangements of discard and detritus—the haphazard leftovers of voracious acquisition.
Poets may have detoured the nature morte — in writing poetry like a painting of a still life. Moving poetry through art from nature, to look at the process itself of artifice. Ekphrastic poetry in which the pastoral eye is moved from contemplation of the “natural” scene (which is, of course, completely posed — even the view is framed) to art of the scene, even the frame, and the gallery, and maybe how the art was paid for. Art has never been satisfactorily pegged as either natural or artificial. A painting (or earthwork) just doesn’t seem to inhabit the same universe as a plastic bag. But at the same time, everything human-made could be seen as somewhere somehow artful; some creative choice lurks in even the most utilitarian object (see Duchamp, Marcel — Urinal).
[Originally published in Khurbn & Other Poems (New Directions, 1989), “The Nature Theater of Oklahoma” fell out of general circulation when I incorporated the title poems of that book along with Poland/1931 and The Burning Babe, into Triptych (2007). The principal reference points in the present set are a season spent in Oklahoma and the title of a chapter in Kafka’s Amerika, very much in my mind throughout that sojourn. They will appear again in Eye of Witness: A Jerome Rothenberg Reader, to be published in early 2013 by Black Widow Press. (J.R.)]
someone arrives from tishimingo
it is practically florida
it is practically the calories of summer
plin plin is the name for tea
the curtains rise & fall
the shadow of a mirror
in a yellow lake
the shadow of a town called shootout
it is practically the way we are
it is practically the way the car toots
down the draw,
the car toots down the draw
the memory of god
is god the cauliflower glistens
like a handkerchief
torn from the sun
& flailing ice
that conjure up her image
step into the light,
let the flies walk up your arm
in search of honey,
evading the tiny hairs, their world
the mirror of your blue milk,
daughter of the sun,
the buds are red for you in oklahoma,
the birds are blue
pawnee bill rides bareback
into my smeared horizon
myths of soft eels
they knock us off our feet
a black man
with his fist shoved up
a cow’s ass
what a fancy smile!
what perfect choppers!
like the hands of god
like the hands of god
angels pray for you
the choirs wear
white robes the dancers
prance in leather
setting the final derrick up
the road to cowboy country,
scarcely a league away,
strides covered by a giant’s gumshoes,
the land returns to
verdure & the country
& names itself
“as simple as a dollar bill
the ides of march in shawnee
in the middle of a prairie
birds go nuts
they make a fallacy of fables
the fist sinks into its second face
the one seen in the corner
of the bar, the golden tooth
reflected in the mirror
a state of grace, a place
“you are a bear” she said
& he became
a bear, he wore it
like his skin
the lost look
the interior grace
that surfaced on him,
he was faceless too
& walked inside
his footsteps half
an animal who loves
his other half,
the silence of the moon
over his head,
this is the mark the man’s arm
on the cave wall,
in the cave,
the nature theater of oklahoma
opens its little flags
against the southern wind
a history of poetry
a history of jesus christ
a history of tishimingo
the cowhand plays
at coon can, holds
the final heart
the horse called kafka
cannot prance or turn
“I love your boots” she says
a history of where we are
in the heart of the indian territory of oklahoma
a chicken in every coop
a jesus in every garage
a tiger on every bush
the state of nature
in the state of oklahoma
old men & febrile women
in white shawls
that the grandfathers stitch with hexagrams
of a star as black as tar
o my oklahoma jesus