Commentaries - April 2013

Henri Matisse, Woman with a Hat, 1905.

Dominique Fourcade and Charles Bernstein in conversation
"La poétique, l'écriture de la poésie et l'invention du modernism"
(Poetics, the writing of poetry, and the invention of modernism)
presentated at the  Gertrude Stein and the Arts  conference, which was part of the Matisse, Cézanne, Picasso... L’aventure des Stein 
at the Grand Palais in Paris  (same as  "The Steins Collect" at SF MoMA now at the Met (in NY). 

Oct. 21, 2011. (1:05:45): MP3
the conversation in entirely in English
courtesy PennSound

Bernstein notes for the conversation: pdf

second of three pages


Dominque Fourcade on PennSound, including Close Listening conversation.

Picabia Stein
Stein by Picabia, around 1937

by Charles Bernstein
translated by Luo Lianggong, et al.
Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press, Feb 2013
ISBN  978-7-5446-3021-4 / I-0229
190 pages

i    Preface (for this series of translations) / Nie Zhenzhao

v   Acknowledgements / Nie Zhenzhao and Wang Songlin

I    Translator’s Preface  /  Luo Lianggong

IX  Author’s Preface: The Expanded Field of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E / Charles Bernstein
                 Translated by Zhang Qiong, Wang Min, Min Min, Liu Xiaoyan, and Duan Bo

1     Three or Four Things I Know about Him     Translated by Wang Zhu

13   Thought’s Measure             Translated by Liu Xiaoyan

27   Writing and Method            Translated by Liu Fuli

35   State of the Art                    Translated by Chen Hongbo

41   Artifice of Absorption         Translated by Luo Lianggong

115  The Revenge of the Poet-Critic, or The Parts Are Greater than the Sum of the Whole       Translated by Shi Liling

127  Poetics of the Americas       Translated by Zhou Xin

147  The Practice of Poetics        Translated by Li Zhimin

167  Appendix: Interview with Professor Charles Bernstein / Nie Zhenzhao
       Translated by Luo Lianggong, Wang Songlin, Zhou Xin, Li Haiming, etc

The book follows up on an earlier volume

cover image by Susan Bee


Selected Poems of Charles Bernstein
Edited by Nie Zhenzhao and Luo Lianggong
Translated by Nie Zhenzhao, Luo Lianggong, et al
Wuhan, China: Central China Normal University Press, September 2011
ISBN 978-7-5622-5223-8/I 712. 245
220 pages

  /  Contents

序/Preface                                      聂珍钊/Nie Zhenzhao

1  诗/Poem                                               钱志富 译 / Tr. Qian Zhifu

4  责任感/Senses of responsibility          钱志富 译 / Tr. Qian Zhifu

8  帕卢卡维尔/Palukaville                      罗良功 译 / Tr. Luo Lianggong

11  污点/Stigma                                       周  昕 译/ Tr. Zhou Xin

13  突起/Bulge                                         周  昕 译/ Tr. Zhou Xin

15  政策那些事儿/Matters of Policy      黄晓燕 译/Tr. Huang Xiaoyan

23  白描/The Simply                               黄晓燕 译/Tr. Huang Xiaoyan

30  光阴膜片/The Years As Swatches      黄晓燕 译/Tr. Huang Xiaoyan

33  分解代谢/Catabolism                        王松林 译/Tr. Wang Songlin

35  评论家的椅子/The Critic’s Chair     王松林 译/Tr. Wang Songlin

37  在读数仪表旁/At Reading                王松林 译/Tr. Wang Songlin

38  几维树上的几维鸟/The Kiwi Bird In The Kiwi Tree     周昕 译/ Tr. Zhou Xin

39  论诗学:为英属哥伦比亚温哥华写作学校新诗研讨会而作,1985年8月 / Being A Statement On Poetics For The New poetics Colloquium of Writing, Vancouver, British   王松林 译/Tr. Wang Songlin

41  糟糕透顶的练习曲/Blow-me-down Etude       王松林 译/Tr. Wang Songlin

56  岛屿/捣鼓/Islets/irritations                 罗良功 译 / Tr. Luo Lianggong

59  举起犁刀/Lift Plow Plates                  罗良功 译 / Tr. Luo Lianggong

60  运动症/Motion Sickness                     罗良功 译 / Tr. Luo Lianggong

65  一个问题/A Question                         罗良功 译 / Tr. Luo Lianggong

66  疯人院/Asylum                                   罗良功 译 / Tr. Luo Lianggong

74  收费员的生命/The lives of the Toll Takers        罗良功 译 / Tr. Luo Lianggong

90  虚拟现实/Virtual Reality                   黎志敏 译/Tr. Li Zhimin

94  普通人情感/Emotions of Normal People            陈尚真 译/ Tr. Chen Shangzhen

108 黑暗之城/Dark City                          黎志敏 译/Tr. Li Zhimin               

118 半敞着车门玻璃/Liftjar agate          周昕 译/ Tr. Zhou Xin

120 逃命的绝望/Fugitive Desperation    周昕 译/ Tr. Zhou Xin

121 选战后/After campaign                     周昕 译/ Tr. Zhou Xin

122 中国全是茶/All the tea in China      周昕 译/ Tr. Zhou Xin

123 革命诗/Revolutionary Poem             周昕 译/ Tr. Zhou Xin

124 想着我在想我在想/thinking I think I think   李海明 译/Tr. Li Haiming

126 鼠面人群的骗局/fiddle of the rat faced men      李海明 译/Tr. Li Haiming

127 如此/like this                                      李海明 译/Tr. Li Haiming

130 消极经验的制造/the manufacture of negative experience      王群 译/Tr. Wang Qun

138 人的概要/the human abstract                               罗良功 译 / Tr. Luo Lianggong

139 诗:为杰克逊·马克洛而作/poem composed for Jackson Mac low’s    王  群 译/Tr. Wang Qun

142 孤儿拼字图/little orphan anagram                       罗良功 译 / Tr. Luo Lianggong

143 物质必定流过岁月的孔隙/the inevitable flow of material things through the pores of the years      何庆机 译/Tr. He Qingji

153 航海日志节奏/log rhythms                                   罗良功 译 / Tr. Luo Lianggong

164 人间众生相/In Particular                                      王  卓 译/Tr. Wang Zhuo

169 泥瓦匠的手臂/Bricklayer’s Arms                         王  卓 译/Tr. Wang Zhuo

174 比如说吧/Let’s Just Say                                        王  卓 译/Tr. Wang Zhuo

176 像/Likeness                                                            罗良功  译 / Tr. Luo Lianggong

184 有湖就有屋/Every Lake                                        聂珍钊 译/Tr. Nie Zhenzhao


186 查尔斯·伯恩斯坦教授访谈录/Interview with Professor Charles Bernstein          聂珍钊/Nie Zhenzhao

200 “翻译诗学观念”:论美国语言诗的诗学观及其翻译/ “Translate Poetic Ideas”: On LANGUAGE Poetry and Its Translation                                     罗良功/Luo Lianggong

211 后记/Postscript                             罗良功/Luo Li

Chinese web pages for both books

Bernstein lecture in CCNU, Wuhan, September 23, 2011

'Future Tense' program on MOOCs, including ModPo

Future Tense,” a program hosted on Radio National by the Australian Broadcasting Company, features an exploration of MOOCs — a half-hour program that includes a discussion of one course, namely ModPo. For “Future Tense” program notes, go here. To listen to the recording of the broadcast directly (and to download it), go here.

[Originally a talk at a panel on canonicity (Jessica Pressman, Brian Reed, & Bob Perelman) at University of California, San Diego, organized by Michael Davidson, Feb 2013.]

 Now that I'm 65 I can ride Philly buses free. That's the good news. The more 'interesting' news is that the balance of homeostasis and desire has become a surprisingly touchy question. Keeping things the same is suddenly attractive, quite attractive, impossibly attractive. All my writing life I've learned that semantics are open-ended, but I'm starting to get the feeling that some words will turn out to have only one meaning, which is a novel and not a totally pleasant thought. "Finite" is one of those words. I don't in fact know what its one meaning is, but extraneous hypotheses are getting shorn away daily, even hourly, which I suppose is progress.

In one sense the question of canons in poetry seems decidedly old-school. It brings back memories of the 1980s — Marjorie Perloff's "Can(n)on to the Left of Us, Can(n)on to the Right of Us," Jerome Rothenberg's "Harold Bloom: The Critic as Exterminating Angel," Charles Bernstein's "The Academy in Peril: William Carlos Williams Meets the MLA" — when the battle map was in crisp focus. That was when O'Hara's poetry could be compared to a small electric fan blowing out crepe-paper streamers, when Stein was a hoax, when Language writing was a dismissible fad, when Williams meant wheelbarrows.

The canon was on the other side of the battlefield. Rothenberg's essay tells of "a struggle between new vision & the literalisms of the canon-making mind" (24); "the struggles of . . . poets against repression, authority, & dogma . . . against the total apparatus of canon-formation both as a religious & secular phenomenon" (25). His opening salvo most famously compared Bloom to Josef Mengele, the exterminating angel of Auschwitz, a high pitch of rhetoric you might say, but then you'd also have to say that Bloom started it by declaring, "I am engaging in canon-formation, in trying to help decide a question that is ultimately of a sad importance: 'Which poet shall live?'"(5)i; and by invoking the Holocaust to deny Jewish poets the possibility of being canonized: an outrageous ex cathedra pronouncement harkening back to Wagner's anathema from 1848, The Jew in Music, where Jews can only imitate servilely or parodically; they are incapable of genuine creativity. Who would want to be in that kind of canon?

The battle had a long history, with the interesting side almost never winning in any given present but always with the passage of time having won. There's been a long-running basic conflict in poetics between outlaw and classic (Stein 1925), between iambic pentameter and the variable foot — or, if I may offer a friendly amendment, the speech-pulse — (Williams 1920-60), between closed and open (Olson 1950; Hejinian 1978). Who wouldn't want to be on the interesting side of such choices?

But with the interesting side having repeatedly won — Loy, H.D., Zukofsky, Niedecker, and Tolson are in print, as are the first ten volumes of the Olson-Creeley correspondence, and Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing, to name a few signal victories — doesn't this then simply reproduce the dilemma of canon? The anti-innovative canon is dead, long live the . . . is this the right term? . . . innovative canon?

Rothenberg's essay would argue against the proposition, however labeled, using Blake's figures of the Devourer and the Prolific to dramatize the difference between fearful canon-makers, fixated on elimination, and exuberant innovators furthering life in all its variety: "Unlike the Prolific — the producer — who revels in his own & others' excesses, the teacher / Devourer / critic is driven to despair & to canon-formation to relieve the stress" (10).

But faith, a secular faith, in the Prolific does not solve the problem of canon-formation. While one can truly say that — in the poetic field at least — the Prolific has bested the Devourer (what better emblem of which than Rothenberg's many big books?) and that the exterminating angel has been bested by the recording angel, still, the Prolific then runs right into its own canonical, quasi-canonical, para-canonical dilemmas.

Because it turns out that every recording angel — and there are millions of them, ourselves among them — are human. We have access, most of us, to storage and retrieval capabilities of great sophistication, and they often work well, but we are human and our powers of reception have not kept pace with our machines of proliferation. Thus canons are as loaded an issue as ever, dull pun intended, with its blunderbuss of old-modernist-to-postmodernist shrapnel pointed, fuzzily but nonetheless accurately, at the heart of what we do, disparate as our practices are. The question of choice, of carrying anything along or of discarding it, of not just archiving but of de-accessioning, becomes, with time, as ubiquitous as gravity.

The not-funny comedy of inclusion/exclusion. In the introduction to his own big anthology, In the American Tree (1986), which includes thirty-eight poets, Ron Silliman named seventy-nine more (ending the list with "and others") from whose work, he asserted, an anthology of "absolutely comparable value" could have been gathered. Fifteen years later, in his postscript to The Art of Practice: 45 Contemporary Poets, eds. Dennis Barone and Peter Ganick, which gathered poets who had been excluded from Silliman's Tree and Douglas Messerli's "Language" Poetries, Silliman listed seventy more poets who could have been included in that anthology.

Canons, sanctioned or prolific, are medium-term machines of reproduction — syllabi with their reading requirements, anthologies with their poets, schools with their fight songs, blogs with their names and blogrolls, gossip with its items — the question extends to finely granulated contexts of judgment. Think of the slider on digital maps, but applied to our human-cultural landscape, stretching from the personal to large institutional and historical effects. The question of what's interesting, the inclusions and non-mentions that indicate what is felt to be of note, what needs to be brought forward — all this (I'm trying to evoke a scale from making a remark in a conversation, to constructing a syllabus, to editing a once-a-decade update of a major anthology that has a strong, fairly stable market share, to going viral), all this depends on judgment.

Has this book been checked out in the last three years? If not, it's bound for high-density storage. But, the optimist says, those are books, a material-bound storage and retrieval device of an older era; in the digital realm there are not these constraints: additional storage is too cheap to meter as they used to say about nuclear power. You could say that digital storage changes everything. That all the drama adhering to the question of canon was an outgrowth of print. All the high-minded questions concerning value, as well as a great deal of lower-minded behavior springs from the facts of print. What gets promoted into permanence is a matter that everyone has to notice with the unalterable objectivity of everyday recognition: when there's only so much space not everyone gets in. But, you could say, the easy expandability of digital space makes such angst anachronistic, something of a costume drama. But proliferation doesn't solve the problems of judgment. Proliferation exacerbates those problems.

Some of my first conscious moments concerning art came when I found Pound's ABC of Reading in a bookstore at music camp: "We live in an age of science and of abundance. The care and reverence for books as such, proper to an age when no book was duplicated until someone took the pains to copy it out by hand is obviously no longer suited to 'the needs of society', or to the conservation of learning. The weeder is supremely needed if the Garden of the Muses is to persist as a garden."ii

In view of the antiquarianism (to phrase it politely) of Pound's later career, one can almost imagine this as read by Maggie Smith: " The care and reverence for books as such . . . . The butler is supremely needed if Downton Abbey is to persist as a great house." But fear of the multitudinous is salient in a presentist like Stein, as the beginning of Geographical History of America (nearly contemporaneous with ABC of Reading) shows: "In the month of February were born Washington Lincoln and I. . . . Let us not talk about disease but about death. If nobody had to die how would there be room for any of us who now live to have lived. We could not have been if all the others had not died. There would have been no room."iii

Act so there is no use in a canon — didn't Stein write that? But didn't she also write that that in English literature in her time she is the only one? And hasn't the Library of America issued a two-volume selection of her work?

Space: I write it uncapitalized because it is a basic constituent of all our choices. The finitude of active possession — what's easily in mind for use; what tools are on the swiss army knife; how much you can carry; what cans of what are on the shelf to cook with — makes for small groups of things.

We may now live in post-canonical times, but more than ever we live in the long century of the example, the trending, the viral.

Typical cruxes of aging (partial list): de-accessioning; frequent urination; making lists, then forgetting them; making lists where the desire to cross the item off and never have to think about it again is greater than the desire that impelled the writing down of the item in the first place. Forgetting what Nietzsche wrote in "On the Use and Abuse of History for Living." Frequent urination.

Critics are crucial to poetic market share. To create the taste by which the poetry is to be enjoyed. True. Jameson is a most noli me tangere critic: The most interesting Baudelaire is this one, which he dismisses at the end. There are many B's, we're told: the dull diabolic B, who Henry James already yawned at; then there's mod and postmod, but in between there's this, which I'll type out: "Then there is the hardest of all Baudelaires to grasp: the Baudelaire contemporary of himself (and of Flaubert), the Baudelaire of the 'break,' of 1857, the Baudelaire the eternal freshness of whose language is bought by reification, by its strange transformation into alien speech. Of this Baudelaire, we will speak no further here."iv

New senses are always needed, at least this has been my experience, as I've grasped it via everyone I've known and heard of. Senses of gender; senses of humor; senses of carbon; senses of the global. New-born senses are not well developed; teaching, modeling, some sort of systematic reinforcement is always needed, as well as generous anti-systematic rupture of continuities (use as needed). Technocratic avant-gardism will not thrive if it does not nourish attentiveness and make frame-switching and mind-reading plausible and energizing.

The religious trappings of canonicity have always creeped me out. It's probably the unsubtle whisper of violence. The pun of cannon comes back insistently. Cannons are old-fashioned weapons: the Civil War, freshly painted cairns of fused cannonballs in city parks. Then, too, the human cannonballs: what a lousy way to make a living, or so I imagine. More than 30 human cannonballs have died, I learn from Wikipedia.

Judging how art feels and what it does is a lifelong activity. Although, at my age, I have to admit it's looking like the ones who said art is longer than life were correct. But trying to get right with the canon is a dull endeavor.

Writing (the practice, the activity) is for the living, as is reading. As a kind of stoic peptalk, I'll close with lines from my quasi-elegy for Derrida:

               We poets
(it must be written) really don’t know,

 are prohibited (structurally) from knowing
what we write before it’s written, and,

 in a back-eddying double-whammy,
can’t really forget what’s come before

 the most recent word.
In that we model both the alert insouciance

 of the newborn (with its millennia of entailments,
but still in-fant, unspeaking) and

 the fully aged fluent inhabitant
of language flowing

 around a life, offering infinite comprehension
all the way out to the sedgy banks

 with fields of goldenrod beyond them
but not the algorithm that would allow for

 moment by moment access to the whole story
which we never get to hold with frankly human concern

 but have to address via the nerved scrimmage
of writing.v

 The moment of desire! The moment of desire! Blake wrote it twice to tell the future that it takes two to tango: read-write is the name of the game, and the game itself changes.


i Jerome Rothenberg, "Harold Bloom: The Critic as Exterminating Angel," in Sulfur 2 (1981).
ii Ezra Pound, ABC of Reading (NYC: New Directions, 1960), 17.
iii Gertrude Stein, Writings 1932-1946 (NYC: Library of America, 1998), 367.
iv Fredric Jameson, The Modernist Papers (London: Verso, 2007), 223.
v Bob Perelman, Iflife (NYC: Roof, 2006).

image from W.G. Sebald's The Rings of Saturn

Laynie Browne: Is there such a thing as a “poet’s novel”?  If so, how would you characterize the form?

Dan Beachy-Quick: I do think there is such a thing, though I don’t think it’s any one thing. The simplest answer would be a novel that a poet writes, but I think we all feel that such a measurement fails. I suppose in my thinking I consider a “poet’s novel” one that bears a certain kind of relation to itself, a relation that parallels a poem’s relation to itself. Such a novel may or may not have a stake in plot, but such narrative drive feels to me an accident of a deeper investigation, one which can only be conducted by the novel being written. Such a book asks a question that can only be asked within the world it creates, as Melville must include within Moby-Dick that information, that encyclopedia, that makes a whaler of any reader of the book. The poet’s novel draws us in to it in ways that can be frankly uncomfortable, refusing the mere excitement of our being entertained, often image from Moby-Dickburdening our pleasure with questions that undermine a typical novel’s certainty — say, the difference between reader and writer, self and other, word and world. A poet’s novel works within our imagination in ways atypical to the normal (so-called) novel. It implies, as Keats implied, that imagination isn’t a momentum that carries us away from the reality of the world, but something far different, perhaps opposite. Imagination is that which allows us to see appearance as appearance, attunes us to reality, even if reality is a wilder and wider margin than we could have accepted before — as, say, Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn brings us through the “traces of destruction” left in any given landscape to work us toward not only a greater proximity to our mythic selves, but seeks a transformative metaphor. I might say such work is what most typifies the poet’s novel. It uses literary trope not as a trick but as a condition, a schism opened in the world we know that allows us to glimpse the world that is. To stick with Sebald, we have the silkworm’s cocoon, that despite its history linked to time’s devastation, gives us hope — as does the long, dark, silken line that moves from margin to margin — of transformation.   

Browne: Can you please talk about your novel, An Impenetrable Screen of Purest Sky, (forthcoming, from Coffee House Press)?  Where did the project begin for you?  Does the process differ for you from writing poetry or non-fiction?

Beachy-Quick: I’d long wanted to write a novel, starting a draft of one all the way back in graduate school, and after abandoning that, every few years would dip my hand into fiction again, always to the same end — not feeling ready to write such a thing. A few years ago I began writing fairy tales, this work springing out of reading George MacDonald, and feeling once again that I needed to learn something about how words behaved in this other form. I began to feel, I suppose, the way a symbol could contain within itself its own narrative urgency, and to trust not exactly to plot, but the inner fate of symbolic reality. In some sense, I began to feel like fiction, even to the extended level of the novel, could come into being by tracing those lines of how symbols interacted with each other — these gravitational points characters could not help but be in the tow of.

My novel began in consideration of Emerson’s sense that the nature of the world is compensatory. I began to wonder if it could be true, that every loss, even the most rueful, was met by some reciprocal force, something kind, gifted, and it is so even if we who suffered the loss can’t feel it. I wanted to write a novel where that world could be seen by a reader even if not grasped by the characters in the book—a kind of cosmogonic effort, offering a picture of a world more than a narrative about the lives that occur within it. Those lives occur, and I think a novelist must love those lives, must care for them; but the work in the end is not simply writing those lives, but giving some sense of how this particular world works, this one that may look like ours, but isn’t wholly ours, this imagined world. In this way the work feels very much like the work of writing a poem. Other aspects don’t: negotiating certain spaces a poem can easily ignore, simple things, such as how a character gets from one room to another, certain kinds of details, and so on. But in the end, it felt to me immersive, possessing, in the way poetry does; as well as the way writing an essay does.

I also began running, training for a marathon. I’d always thought I hated running, and so coming to love it felt like something of a sea-change. As miles increased — 10, 15, 20 — I’d eventually fill the time by letting myself think through the characters, let the next scene or connection unfold, and then would spend the afternoon that day, or when time next opened, writing down what had become clear to me. Something about running for hours coincided with the pages and pages a novel requires—my body and brain were working in distance. 

Browne: I wonder if you might relate your earlier comment about “narrative drive” as “an accident of deeper investigation, one which can only be conducted by the novel being written” to your own writing process.  Does this apply to the book you are writing?  If so, how?

Beachy-Quick: The way in which my process in terms of writing poetry and my process in terms of writing fiction feel to overlap occurs — at least so it feels — with a similar kind of patience. In the way I might hear a first line of a poem and write it down and nothing else — just wait for days, sometimes weeks, sometimes months, reading the line over and over until I can feel the next line drop down from the first, so that it feels as if the poem is showing the way forward through itself, so it felt while writing the novel. Except more than an aural experience, it was often a visual one: seeing an image that as I lived with it, or let it live within me, I could begin to feel a momentum, a magnetism, that the image was itself in tow toward some other point, one the novel had yet to establish, but via the image could find. The plot felt an accident of this kind of patience, Leyden jar of the image, or some such magnetic catalyst.

Browne: Could you please tell a bit about the title in relation to the text.  Is it taken from Emerson?

Beachy-Quick: The title does come from Emerson, from “Experience,” which has for many years been my favorite of his essays. The sentence the title comes from occurs in a remarkable place in that essay—one which my novel feels deeply exploring. He writes the sentence after the incredibly moving admission of his son’s death, and his grief, so paradoxical, that he cannot grieve, and that what should touch him so dearly as to remove him from himself, has not, cannot, and despite himself, he feels still whole. It is a curious despair: to feel his lack of feeling. Part of what is moving in the essay is how he seeks a way to redeem his idealism from the crisis just mentioned, to return to that sense of form and truth he inherits from Plato, and the screen of sky pulled down on either side of us comes with the command not to look behind, and not to look ahead. It looks infinite on either side, but what we’re contained in is the “infinite,” which is a measure finite, just not one we know how to measure ourselves.

painting by Moreau is discussed in Beachy-Quick’s forthcoming novel, An Impenetrable Screen of Purest Sky

Browne: Are there any particular novels by poets that have influenced you greatly?  Or are there particular novels which inspired you to turn to prose?

Beachy-Quick: The earthquake novel was for me Melville’s Moby-Dick. I’ve never recovered from the encounter. The other novel — well, novels — that hugely impacted my sense of what the form could be was Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. Those two works are really the bookends of my sense of novelistic possibility, but there are books in the shelf in between them of great importance to me. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn. Borges. Hawthorne. Faulkner. Woolf. Berhnard. But the two which made me feel I must one day learn how to write a novel are Melville and Proust.