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All the Whiskey in Heaven: Selected Poems

Overview

A NEW RETROSPECTIVE OF ONE OF AMERICA?S MOST INNOVATIVE POETS

All the Whiskey in Heaven brings together Charles Bernstein?s best work from the past thirty years, an astonishing assortment of different types of poems. Yet despite the distinctive differences from poem to poem, Bernstein?s characteristic explorations of how language both limits and liberates thought are present throughout. Modulating the comic and the dark structural invention with buoyant soundplay, these ...

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Overview

A NEW RETROSPECTIVE OF ONE OF AMERICA’S MOST INNOVATIVE POETS

All the Whiskey in Heaven brings together Charles Bernstein’s best work from the past thirty years, an astonishing assortment of different types of poems. Yet despite the distinctive differences from poem to poem, Bernstein’s characteristic explorations of how language both limits and liberates thought are present throughout. Modulating the comic and the dark structural invention with buoyant soundplay, these challenging works give way to poems of lyric excess and striking emotional range. This is poetry for poetry’s sake, as formally radical as it is socially engaged, providing equal measures of aesthetic pleasure, hilarity, and philosophical reflection. Long considered one of America’s most inventive and influential contemporary poets, Bernstein reveals himself to be both trickster and charmer.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This gathering of 30 years worth of work by the prominent L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poet and essayist offers a rigorous critique of the art of poetry itself, which means, among other things, a thorough investigation of language and the mind. Varied voices and genres are at play, from a colloquial letter of complaint to the manager of a Manhattan subway station to a fragmentary meditation on the forces that underlie the formation of knowledge. Bernstein's attention to the uncertainty surrounding the self as it purports to exist in poetry—“its virtual (or ventriloquized)/ anonymity—opens fresh pathways toward thinking through Rimbaud's dictum that “I is another.” In addition to philosophical depth—which somehow even lurks beneath statements like “There is nothing/ in this poem/ that is in any/ way difficult/ to understand”—a razor-sharp wit ties the book together: “You can't/ watch ice sports with the lights on!” These exhilarating, challenging poems raise countless essential questions about the form and function of poetry. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
This gathering of 30 years worth of work by the prominent L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poet and essayist offers a rigorous critique of the art of poetry itself, which means, among other things, a thorough investigation of language and the mind. Varied voices and genres are at play, from a colloquial letter of complaint to the manager of a Manhattan subway station to a fragmentary meditation on the forces that underlie the formation of knowledge. Bernstein's attention to the uncertainty surrounding the self as it purports to exist in poetry—“its virtual (or ventriloquized)/ anonymity—opens fresh pathways toward thinking through Rimbaud's dictum that “I is another.” In addition to philosophical depth—which somehow even lurks beneath statements like “There is nothing/ in this poem/ that is in any/ way difficult/ to understand”—a razor-sharp wit ties the book together: “You can't/ watch ice sports with the lights on!” These exhilarating, challenging poems raise countless essential questions about the form and function of poetry.” (starred review) —Publishers Weekly

"Charles Bernstein is not just a theorist of poetry but of language itself. The ideas guiding his creative work might be summarized, albeit reductively, like this: Words are meaningless in themselves, and find significance only when we agree upon a definition. Bernstein’s poetry tends to draw attention to the slipperiness of words, and to reload them with new, and sometimes better, meanings.

"All the Whiskey in Heaven, his first book from a major publisher and required reading for poetry enthusiasts, selects from the dozens of works the author has written over the past 35 years. Don’t look here for intensely felt personal recollections or anything referencing particular biography. Instead, you’ll find verbal collages in many different forms. One of the foundational figures of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E movement, Bernstein likes to borrow from various sources—political discourse, personal correspondence, mental-health literature and advertising—and see what happens when they bump up against one another. “I am especially interested in the treatment of depression,” one prose poem opens, but begins shifting drastically a few lines down: “Nowadays, being a husband, father, homeowner and Jew keeps me both busy and satisfied.” The poet is often quite funny (see, for instance, “Mao Tse Tung Wore Khakis”).

"Though Bernstein borrows from other sources, his poems display imagination and great formal variety. There are rambling free-verse prose poems, long poems, songs, political tirades and even aphorisms: “War is nature’s way of saying I told you so.” While much of what’s here is unsettling and even difficult to understand, that’s the way it’s meant to be. This is the culture we’ve made, the one we’ve agreed upon—Bernstein is merely reflecting it back at us."Craig Morgan Teicher, Time Out New York

"Cheers! to poet Charles Bernstein whose All the Whiskey in Heaven is a rousing selection from thirty years of work. “The Ballad of the Girly Man” begins with an elegiac couplet—“The truth is hidden in a veil of tears / The scabs of the mourners grow thick with fear”—before shuffling the sadness offstage and bursting into a wry singson: “So be a girly man / & take a gurly stand.” Bernstein deftly shifts moods and tones, but a sense of urgency and a hard-won clarity are in evidence throughout this volume."—Bookforum

 

Daisy Fried
With All the Whiskey in Heaven…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.
—The New York Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374103446
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 3/2/2010
  • Pages: 300
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

CHARLES BERNSTEIN is the author of forty books, ranging from large-scale collections of poetry and essays to libretti. He is the Donald T. Regan Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania.

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