Commentaries - October 2012

All the Whiskey in Heaven: Selected Poems -- Salt Publishing UK edition

Salt Publishing has just released the British edition of All the Whiskey in Heaven.  Also available at Amazon/UK. While the text is the same as the U.S. edition, there is a new cover, with a painting by Susan Bee -- Blue Ladies (2006, 11 x 14") (collection: Michael Davidson).

“Charles Bernstein uses words as a surgeon uses a scalpel. He strips away the skin and cuts to the bone to reveal reality and—ultimately—to heal. This essential collection from 30 years of cutting edge work will confirm Bernstein as our true poet laureate—the voice of a new generation.” —John Zorn

More information about All the Whiskey in Heaven, including links to many reviews and interviews – here.

“This wonderful book confirms Charles Bernstein’s position as the pre-eminent American poet of mental activity—delineating not simply the mind as it registers stimuli, but the more radical commitment to mind as a machine that constantly invents totally new moves and strategies in the daily battles of perception. All the Whiskey in Heaven captures 30 years of ground breaking and revelatory work.” —Richard Foreman

“With All the Whiskey in Heaven, his first book not published by a university or independent press, Bernstein takes his place in the mainstream of American poetry, the very “Official Verse Culture” he’s attacked entertainingly for years — a fate awaiting all our best outsiders. Bernstein is identified with the Language poets, who emerged in the 1970s. Interested in the materiality of language, they are politically left, theoretically grounded and deeply suspicious of the lyric “I” that speaks from the heart in traditional poems without examining its own existence in a sociopolitical power structure. Their work is often most subversive when both joining and satirizing that weary old, dreary old genre, poetry about poetry. Early Bernstein can be opaque, annoying those who see difficulty as elitist and who want poetry to be cuddly and educational. But everyone should love the later Bernstein, a writer who is accessible, enormously witty, often joyful — and even more evilly subversive.” —Daisy Fried, The New York Times Book Review

Also just out: the Salt Companion to Charles Bernstein.

The age of plastic

The death of typography

Apple iBooks announcement, October 2012
Apple iBooks announcement, October 2012

There was a time when the Apple Macintosh computer was known for its graphic design style. Excellent typography was part of the Macintosh mystique, perhaps deriving from Steve Jobs’s time spent in a calligraphy class at college. Well, Steve is gone, and so is the typography. Read this, and weep.

At the recent (23 October 2012) Macworld event in the California Theatre in downtown San Jose, California, we were treated to the release of iBooks, Apple’s software product that allows writers and publishers to create, sell and buy their own e-books. Apple CEO Tim Cook began his iBooks demo with a brief overview on the iBookstore, noting that customers have downloaded more than 400 million books. The iBooks app is ‘one of the most popular apps on the store,’ said Cook, before outlining the enhancements in the new version, iBooks 3.0.

Alas, the engineers who designed the program and the people who designed the presentation of the new version of it share a dirty little secret: they don’t actually read books, or magazines, or newspapers. What do they read? Nothing, it seems. And here’s why…


Look at the shot of the iBook sample page in the photo of the announcement, above, then look at the images below, all scanned from popular books or magazines, beginning in 1702 and ending last week, in 2012. Spot the difference! Over three hundred years of enlightened, tested and proved typographical convention thrown out the door.

Up until now, all books or magazines or newspapers — real texts, printed on paper — have the first paragraph of each chapter ‘flush left’, or ‘full out’, or ‘not indented’. Insert your phrase of choice: they all mean the same. They are never indented for a simple reason: they don’t need to be.

Above them is blank space; lots of it. And often the legend ‘Chapter Three’ or whatever. This opening paragraph is clearly and obviously the start of a new chapter. You don’t need an indent to tell you that this is the start of a new paragraph, as you do for all the following ones. So you set it flush left. The indent is irrelevant, so you don’t need to use it, so you don’t use it. Okay?

As well, it looks somehow ‘neater’ (typographically) if you set the paragraph flush left. It starts the chapter with a neat block of text, like a nice new brick, or a solid new block of wood, that says ‘this is the start of a new chapter’.  

Then look again at the ugly example that Apple chooses to showpiece its software. There is a useless and distracting graphic at the top of the text, there is useless extra space added between paragraphs, and the first paragraph is indented. All things that real books never have. But the engineers who designed this awful piece of software clearly don’t read real books, or magazines, or newspapers.

So if you ever intend to submit a typescript of a paper, or a story, or a novel, to anyone to mark, or edit, or publish, please do yourself a favour, and try to look as though you have once upon a time read a real book. Do not indent the first paragraph of each chapter. Set it  ‘flush left’, or ‘full out’, or ‘not indented’. Even those cheap novellettes about doctors and nurses designed to pass the time of idle shop assistants (of either sex) use this convention.

It is so easy to do — and your work will look so much more professional.

1. Printed book from the Imprimerie Royale, Paris, 1702. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. From James Sutton and Alan Bartram, An Atlas of Typeforms, Wordsworth Editions, Hertfordshire, 1988.  

1. Printed book from the Imprimerie Royale, Paris, 1702. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. From James Sutton and Alan Bartram, An Atlas of Typeforms, Wordsworth Editions, Hertfordshire, 1988.  

2. Chapter One of Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way (trans. C. K. Scott Moncrieff). London: Chatto and Windus, 1941, reprinted 1969.

2. Chapter One of Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way (trans. C. K. Scott Moncrieff). London: Chatto and Windus, 1941, reprinted 1969

3. Chapter Three of Daphne du Maurier, My Cousin Rachel. Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1951.

3. Chapter Three of Daphne du Maurier, My Cousin Rachel. Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1951.  

4. ‘Preliminary confessions’, from Thomas de Quincy, Confessions of an English Opium Eater. Penguin: Harmondsworth UK, 1971, reprinted 1979.

4. ‘Preliminary confessions’, from Thomas de Quincy, Confessions of an English Opium Eater. Penguin: Harmondsworth UK, 1971, reprinted 1979.  

5. From the New Yorker magazine, 15 October 2012, page 46.

5. From the New Yorker magazine, 15 October 2012, page 46.

Short Takes on the Long Poem

Auckland, New Zealand, poetry conference

New Zealand map, text by John Tranter
New Zealand map, text by John Tranter

I left Sydney at dawn on Wednesday 28 March 2012 headed South-east over the Tasman Sea, aiming for New Zealand, on an Emirates A380 Airbus, a massive double-decker airplane that drives like an aircraft carrier full of warm mud.

I had been invited to attend the Short Takes on the Long Poem symposium at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, right at the bottom of the South Pacific Ocean. If you look South-west into the setting sun from San Diego and fly at thirty thousand feet for fourteen hours, there it is. From Sydney you do the opposite, more or less, except that is a much shorter trip.
You can read hundreds of pages of poems and commentary and see dozens of sparkling photos on my Main Site here.

That evening I donned my disguise as an executive of the Hartford Fire and General Insurance Company, to wit, a fine wool summer-weight suit, and a subdued tartan tie; the tartan in honour of my mother’s Scottish-New-Zealand forebears — my mother had been born in Invercargill, a place in southern New Zealand satisfyingly colder than the Shetland Islands, whence her maternal ancestry.

On the opening night, I took part in the ten-person poetry reading at Auckland’s Old Government House, a sedate and spacious venue in a leafy park across the road from the hotel, in the University grounds. The readers were Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Pam Brown, Dinah Hawken, David Howard, Jill Jones, Cilia McQueen, Jack Ross, Susan Schultz, Hazel Smith, Robert Sullivan and John Tranter.
Read more here:
Text and Photos: Auckland: University of Auckland Symposium: “Short Takes on Long Poems”, 28-30 March, 2012

  1. Wednesday evening: lots of short, fast poems
  2. Thursday early: papers
  3. Thursday: My long slow poem “The Anaglyph”
  4. Thursday, later: papers
  5. Friday: On the beach — the longest poem on earth!
  6. Summary: Rachel Blau DuPlessis Wraps it Up

You can also read my handwritten 110-page Tapa Notebook from the Auckland Symposium: these detailed notebook pages include idle comments, photos, my clumsy handwriting, various odd decoupage objects pasted in and colourful native stamps, to misquote Australian poet John Forbes. See it all here: my Tapa Notebook.

Photo below: John Tranter and Lisa Samuels at a Chinese Restaurant in Auckland, after the poetry reading. Photo courtesy Pam Brown. Note the tie. Is that tartan?

John Tranter and Lisa Samuels at a Chinese Restaurant, after the poetry reading Photo courtesy Pam Brown

Charlie Morrow at Kelly Writers House

Charlie Morrow. Photograph by Sophia Ciocco.

Charlie Morrow visited the Kelly Writers House recently and gave a packed house quite a performance. As usual, of course, he got us involved in making meaning of “mere” sound. The program is further described here. Soon — but not yet — links to both the audio and video recordings will be available at that page and also at PennSound.