Recantorium, adapted for the 2013 AWP Convention
For the Boston AWP in the Spring of 2013 (the only time I have attended the gathering), I presented an adaption of “Recantorium: A Bachelor Machine after Duchamp after Kafka,” the orignal of which was collected in Attack of the Difficult Poems: Essay and Inventions. David Caplan asked Adam Kirsch to join him in speak on “How Do We Know How Much is Too Much, Not Enough, or Too Little?”. We filled a hotel ballroom for the panel and there was a lively conversation after that delineated what I called the theological differences between Kirsch’s view on poetry and mine. AWP had contacted me in advance to get permission to record the event and, although a recording was made that day, AWP informed me a few months ago that the recording will not be made availalbe because they lost it. Here is the text of my AWP adaption of “Recantorium.”
I, Charles, son of the late Joseph Herman, later known as Herman Joseph, and Shirley K., later known as Sherry, New Yorker, aged sixty-two years, arraigned personally before this Esteemed Body, and kneeling before you, Most Eminent and Reverend listeners, conventioneers, wayward and waylaid poets, honored and dishonored, appreciated and ignored, praised and scorned, apprentice and young, middle age, old, fresh and putrid, open minded, unminded, and dysminded, peptic and dyspeptic, careerist and more about just-having-a-lot-to-drink-and-a-good-time, just-here-to-hang-out with-old-friends-don’t–bug-me-with agendas-or-partisan-grudges novelists, personal and impersonal essayists and authors of all manner of creative and uncreative writing, memoirists and fake memoirists. I, Charles, having before my eyes and touching with my hands, the books of the Accessible Poets, swear that I have always believed, do believe, and by your help will in the future believe, all that is held, preached, taught, and expressed by the Books of Accessible Poets.
I was wrong, I apologize, I recant. I altogether abandon the false opinion that creative writing workshops that focus on craft and craft alone, honing poems down so that they use no wasted words, but direct their energies -- spiritual, material, immanent, exigent, single and collective -- toward fabricating a voice that gives strong, direct, and original expression to, for some, the deepest human feelings, and for others, if they have no deep human feelings, then superficial human feelings, a workshop that anaesthetizes itself from the corruption and aridness of intellectual concepts, metaphysical puzzles, fantasy and the imaginary, ideological conundrums, and political pretexts; that is a workshop that successfully avoids philosophical and ideological agitation and partisanship, that eliminates unwanted and distracting extremes of forms, an approach that is advocated with the dexterity and openness of liberal pluralism –that welcomes all voices except those of bitterness and dissent – in the Writer’s Chronicle of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, the official organ of the sponsor of this vast convocation, conference & bookfair, The Association of Writers and Writing Program's largest conference to date, with over 11,000 attendees, 600 events, 1,900 presenters, and 700 bookfair exhibitor … almost none of whom, or which, have any connection, concern, engagement with or concern about the approaches to poetry and poetics articulated by the AWP leadership, especially when many, perhaps most, possibly all writing workshops have so radically changed in recent years, corrupted by just the sort of erroneous ideas I have hitherto espoused, and which I now renounce, even at the risk that my concerns here – to return the workshop to its core values as defined in the Books of the Accessible Poets – is totally at odds with the prevailing conviviality, good spirit, and give-me-a break-let’s-just-get-along focus of the convocation as it appears to the participants and those at the book fare: independent and noncommercial, small and micro, nano and underground, ephemeral and invisible, regional and subregional, local and loco, international and infranational, idiosyncratic, idiopathic, and idiotic publishers, presses, magazines, zines, mags, rags, periodicals, blogs, journals, newsletters, organizations, groups, factions, programs, websites, series, centers, and non-centers and writers of all stripes and of no stripe at all. Let me proclaim openly to you all, 11,000 attendees, 1900 presenters, 700 bookfair exhibitors, avow of my own will with no coercion and without motivation that this will ingratiate me to you all, counter any negative image I may have acquired over the years, and make my new book, on display in the book hall, a more attractive purchase (for those with hand-held devise, preorder now at deep discount on Amazon & Barnes & Noble): so without pretext, cunning, or guile, with an absolute disingenuousness, I recant the view, that I had hitherto advocated with the fervor of a boy released from his vows of mental chastity on the eve of Bar Mitzvah – that is to say, I reject and renounce the mocking of the approaches to teaching creative writing adumbrated here as a lesson in error, approaches that I have hithertofor mistakenly claimed foster an anemic poetry, a poetry that fails the test of wildness, of unpredictably, of resistance, of wild logos. I abjure, curse, and detest the aforesaid error and apostasy. And I now freely and openly attest to the virtues of the Associated Writing Program’s Enlightened Doctrine and Dogma, which is indeed not doctrine or dogma at all but represents the common human truth of all writers of poetry, regardless of their race, creed, origin, gender or absence of any of these, and regardless of their aesthetics or lack of aesthetics, as symbolized by this mighty convocation, which encompasses, like America itself, voices lesser and greater, louder and weaker, timeless and tired, indeed that incorporates and celebrates all poetry of every type, shape and form, manner and non-manner, style and non-style, and indeed that even includes with open arms and welcome cheer a miserable, divisive, grumpy reprobate such as myself, who answers Professor Caplan’s question -- How Do We Know How Much is Too Much, Not Enough, or Too Little? – with an inappropriate, self-serving inability to know when enough is enough or to even to know how anything could be too much.
I was wrong, I apologize, I recant. I altogether reject, abjure, and denounce the sarcasm that has ’til now undercut the sincerity of my confession. I abase and prostrate myself in humbly and sincerely asking your forgiveness and the forgiveness of all those who seek, above all, sincerity and authenticity in poetry.
I was wrong, I apologize and I recant. I altogether abandon the false opinion that the D.W. Fenza, the most revered, honorable, energetic, and entrepreneurial leader of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, and editor of its official organ the Writer’s Chronicle, which promulgates the Right Way and Right Path for poetry in the 21st century and which has the courage to stand forthrightly against iniquitous and overly intellectual poetry practices such as mine – so I was saying, before my meandering digressions interrupted the contrary and error-filled flow of my thought, what I have come here to say at the Boston Sheraton Hotel, which is conveniently connected to two premier shopping malls and just steps away from the boutiques and fine restaurants on Newbury Street and close to the Museum of Fine Arts, a walk along the Charles River, or dining at the bistros in the South End … what I have come the Boston Sheraton to say, to proclaim -- me, poet chetif, a soul lost in the maelstrom of competing ideas, fantasies, hopes, despairs, and resentments, a poet who wishes to rid himself, or herself, of his – or are they not mine but thoughts planted in me by a demonic force? – my, or its, polarizing, arrogant outbursts and accept a true openness to all directions in poetry, yes, -- as I was trying to say, keep trying to say … I confess, aver and allow, rebuke myself and ask to be rebuked, for, this is the point, this is what I want to aver: I am out-of-line not to feel grateful when Executive Director and Writer’s Chronicle editor Fenza called me, in the Chronicle “morally repugnant” for not sharing his views about poetry. As one of the Blessed of the doctrine of Pluralism in poetry, he is entitled to his views and my mentioning his calling me “morally repugnant” is divisive and partisan and, precisely, morally repugnant and has no place in these meetings or in my recantation.
I was wrong, I apologize, I recant. I altogether and totally, completely and thoroughly, without reservation, quibble, or question, and with newly faithful heart, abandon the false doctrine that meandering, digressive, or paratactic prose, prose that fails to state clearly its meaning, sentences that get caught up in their own rhythms and sounds and cadences, nuances and nooks, rather than in getting to the point or meat or heart of the matter or meaning or substance, as I say, I abandon and renounce the false doctrine that crooked and bent prose can have any value for truthful discourse or accurate representation. I abjure, curse, and detest the aforesaid error and aversion and the many related errors and aversions that flow inevitably as a consequence of the aforesaid error and aversion, as a baby inevitably flows from its mother or an ocean from its rivers or a false conclusion from a flawed premise or a disease from a virus or death from repeated blows with a blunt instrument or gorging from a starving child given food. Clearly written expository prose, with a delineated argument including a beginning, middle, and end, is the only guarantor of Rational Mind.
I was wrong, I apologize and recant. I altogether abandon the false doctrine that ambiguity, irony and aesthetic excess are anything more than sophistry. I abjure, curse, and detest the aforesaid error and apostasy, which I have lapsed into again and again, like a habitual drinker seeking his five o’clock martini, or an erotomaniac seeking non-procreative sexual experiences, or a worker idling on the job, or a habitual truant passing notes in class. I recant my cant. I abjure, curse, detest, and renounce the aforesaid error and apostasy and the many related errors and apostasies that flow inevitably as a consequence of the aforesaid error and apostasy, as a baby inevitably flows from its mother or an ocean from its rivers or a false conclusion from a flawed premise or a disease from a virus or death from repeated blows with a blunt instrument or gorging from a starving child given food.
I was wrong, I apologize most humbly before you, and with great contrition I recant. I altogether abandon, renounce and revile the use of found or appropriated texts in poems, whether attributed or unattributed, or the use of any external constraints, operations, procedures, algorithms, engines, or devices, whether machinic or manual, automated or calculated, digital or analogic, real or imaginary, virtual or actual. Such approaches to poetry soil, defame, and besmirch all traces of human expression, which is the necessary foundation for all poetry, and in pernicious and insidious ways foster depersonalization and inauthenticity by means of the substitution of the plagiarized and manufactured for the original and creative.
I was wrong, I apologize, I recant. Like the black sheep who strays too far from the adoring flock, or like the drunk with a pale green beret who, deep into the night, and desperate for one more absinthe before closing time, babbles uncontrollably to the deaf and crippled barkeep, I embraced an elitism that puts me out of touch with the sentiments, feelings, convictions, beliefs, preferences, perspectives, and dyspepsia of everyday, ordinary, run-of-the-mill people, the Johns and Joans and Janes and Jills, the Billys and Bobs, the Shirleys and Toms, the Frans and Fritzes, Millys and Moes, not only thinking I was better than John and Joe, Mary and Harry, but that their sentiments, feelings, convictions, beliefs, preferences, perspectives, and dyspepsia did not matter.
I was wrong, I apologize, I recant. Like a rat seeking a dark cavity to eat its hapless prey, I succumbed to what Emeritus Pope Benedict called the dictatorship of relativism, a state of profound confusion in which I could not recognize anything as definitive and based my judgments solely on my own ego and desires. In this graceless state, I falsely believed that the real tyranny was intolerance to those who do not adhere to the aesthetic values of honesty, coherence, clarity, and truth as revealed to all with a moral conviction and a commitment to the timeless human story. I repudiate this gutless indulgence toward benighted and fallen ideas and commit myself to the dictatorship of obedience.
I was in error, I apologize, I recant. I altogether abandon the false doctrine of midrashic antinomianism and bent studies, what I have later called the pataqu(e)rical, with its insistence on dialogic and situational values rather than fixed and immutable moral laws, a poetics of the odd, weird, curious, strange, funny, peculiar, oblique, obscured, eccentric, bizarre, dubious, perverse, affected, fey, swish, sissy, freak, warped, girly, effeminate, insincere -- not high bred but low bred – vulgar, bathetic, disgusting, illiterate, ignorant, awkward, clumsy, erroneous, ugly, mongrel, deformed, incoherent, nonsensical, aberrant, foolish, contradictory, awkward, frivolous, ungainly, self-indulgent, infantile, stubborn, the phony and fake, the prevaricating, disorderly, troubled and troubling, and indeed deviant and morally repugnant – a poetics in which, Professor Caplan: too much is still not enough. I loved language and metaphor, hyperbole and irony, sarcasm and performance and excess more than truth – discourse more than reality, sensation more than emotion – and so allowed to spread, in myself and in others, an intellectual virus that uproots what Pound called the “plain sense of the word.”
I, the said Charles Bernstein, have abjured, sworn, promised, and bound myself as above; and in witness of the truth thereof I have with my own hand subscribed the present document of my abjuration and abjection, first in Tucson and then in Lyon and after that in New York, Buffalo, and Stockholm, and now, recited word for word at Back Bay, Boston, also pronounced Boston, named after the port town in Lincolnshire, on the east coast of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and evoking for this reason the performance of Daniel Day-Lewis, son of poet Cecil Day-Lewis, communist turned laureate, who warned “laboring aloft you forget plain language / and your time totters like a tenement condemned” – I, sworn and bound to these vows today, here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, on the lands of the Massachusett, by the Blue Hills, on the Seventh Day of the Third Month, in the year Two Thousand and Thirteen of the current era.