Commentaries - June 2016

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers

“The fatal problem with poetry: poems,” says Ben Lerner (32). What he means by this is that each actually existing poem stands a monument to the unrealizability of the utopian hope that we call “poetry.”

Lerner has some interesting things to say about poetry and its relationship to work, the desire and the worry that writing poetry not be work. Poetry is utopian insofar as it seems to offer an alternative to “getting and spending,” an order of work that is also seamlessly a way of leaning and loafing at one’s ease; hence the defenses. That very utopian possibility also seems a monstrous indifference to the brutalities of being constrained to sell one’s labor in order to live; hence the denunciations.

Perfect contempt

“I, too, dislike it.” It’s the title of Mia You’s new book from 1913 Press; it’s also the opening gambit in Ben Lerner’s recent book The Hatred of Poetry, a book that takes Moore’s gesture of self-distrust as emblematic of poetry itself, an art “defined for millenia...[by] a rhythm of denunciation and defense” (10).

Ted Greenwald (December 19, 1942–June 17, 2016)

photo © 2007 Charles Bernstein

Ted Greenwald’s poems sing the commons and dance with a homely grace American poetry has rarely seen.

EPC 
PennSound

Bill Berkson, 1939–2016

As we begin the beginning of mourning the loss of Bill Berkson, we naturally look back on Bill’s appearances in Jacket and Jacket2 over the years. In the fifth issue of Jacket (back in 1998) Bill published two poems, one of them “Last Words” (above). In 2006 there was Robert Glück’s interview with Bill. The Berkson “Close Listening” episode was released in 2015. There was James Hart’s review of Portrait and Dream in which the poems are “masterfully composed from a depth, which ... seems to disappear." In December 2012 we published Tom Devaney’s interview with Bill, "The Education of Poetry." Said Bill to Tom: “One friend once pointed to what he called my Roman coin personality and messy mind. Where does the personality leave off and the mind begin? Is there surface and not surface? I think that, yes, both are operating at the same time, all the time.”

Clumsy, erroneous, freakish, foreign

Charles Bernstein's new book of essays

Charles Bernstein after reading at the Kelly Writers House on April 12, 2016; photo by Al Filreis

Pitch of Poetry is a book full of important essays. And of course I urge you to read the whole thing. The seven essays under “L=A=N-G=U=A=G=E.” The seventeen pieces about individual writers under the titular heading “Pitch.” The comic deadly serious epilogue under “Bent Studies,” that catalogue of recalcitrances, aphoristic chips from the workbench of a life’s work of radical anti-sectarianism, index-sourcework for what I take to be Charles Bernstein’s most significant contribution: his incessant anti-anti-intellectualism. If you can’t manage all that reading, I recommend starting with the eleven collaboratively written essays under “Echopoetics,” for there is where readers will locate the heart of this poet-critic’s intellectual generosity and aesthetic flexibility.

What follows is the text of an introduction I gave at a book launch event marking the publication of Pitch of Poetry (University of Chicago Press, 2016) held at the Kelly Writers House in Philadelphia on April 12, 2016. — Al Filreis

This is a book full of important essays. And of course I urge you to read the whole thing. The seven essays under “L=A=N-G=U=A=G=E.” The seventeen pieces about individual writers under the titular heading “Pitch.” The comic deadly serious epilogue under “Bent Studies,” that catalogue of recalcitrances, aphoristic chips from the workbench of a life’s work of radical anti-sectarianism, index-sourcework for what I take to be Charles Bernstein’s most significant contribution: his incessant anti-anti-intellectualism. If you can’t manage all that reading, I recommend starting with the eleven collaboratively written essays under “Echopoetics,” for there is where readers will locate the heart of this poet-critic’s intellectual generosity and aesthetic flexibility.  “Echopoetics” is a poetry of call and response. Its poetic theory and its frankly affirmed values are discernible variously in these essays, talks, conversations, statements and anti-programmatic programmatic dicta.