Charles Bernstein Interview

An excellent interview by Jay Sanders with Charles Bernstein in the new issue of BOMB, the occasion being the publication of Bernstein’s new volume of selected poems, All the Whiskey in Heaven; Here’s an extract:

JS: In your and your poetic peers’ early work, you feel that intensity of purpose, of provocation, amidst what was perceived as a staid poetic and political climate. Drawing on peculiar inspirations and tactics, that anxiety or struggle of reception seems implicit in the actual textures of your work—it’s its key attribute. As your combined efforts have gradually opened the field, that shift in reception can be felt too, mirrored in the poetry that’s subsequently emerged. You find more work now that can calmly execute formal disjunction.

CB: That’s right; the difference that I would make is that some recent poetry and poetics concertedly take out the contentiousness from formal invention. This comes up with the Norton American Hybrid poetry anthology; while the editors welcome a certain kind of elliptical, fragmented style, they also try to find a happy mean between extremes. For me, it’s the extremity, the eccentricity, even the didacticism, that shakes things up. When poetry becomes normalized and more oriented toward craft, it loses the point. I’m not interested in any of the styles, per se, that were developed in the ’70s and ’80s—my own or anybody else’s. The issue was never stylistic technique as such. You have to read that era in the context of the intense resistance to nonlinear poetry, to algorithmic forms, to appropriated language, and non-“I”-centered poems—all of which are now accepted. Even the procedural is just one technique or form that emerges, sometimes zombie-like, to reveal hidden codes, or other times just as textile, as generator of texture.

The rest of this conversation is in Issue 111, available on newsstands now
or SUBSCRIBE to get the current issue.

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