Girly Manby Charles Bernstein
After 9/11, postmodernism and irony were declared dead. Charles Bernstein here proves them alive and well in poems elegiac, defiant, and resilient to the point of approaching song. Heir to the democratic and poetic sensibilities of Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg, Bernstein has always crafted verse that responds to its historical moment, but no previous collection… See more details below
After 9/11, postmodernism and irony were declared dead. Charles Bernstein here proves them alive and well in poems elegiac, defiant, and resilient to the point of approaching song. Heir to the democratic and poetic sensibilities of Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg, Bernstein has always crafted verse that responds to its historical moment, but no previous collection of his poems so specifically addresses the events of its time as Girly Man, whichfeatures works written on the evening of September 11, 2001, and in response to the war in Iraq. Here, Bernstein speaks out, combining self-deprecating humor with incisive philosophical and political thinking.
Composed of works of very different forms and moods—etchings from moments of acute crisis, comic excursions, formal excavations, confrontations with the cultural illogics of contemporary political consciousness—the poems work as an ensemble, each part contributing something necessary to an unrealizable and unrepresentable whole. Indeed, representation—and related claims to truth and moral certainty—is an active concern throughout the book. The poems of Girly Man may be oblique, satiric, or elusive, but their sense is emphatic. Indeed, Bernstein’s poetry performsits ideas so that they can be experienced as well as understood.
A passionate defense of contingency, resistance, and multiplicity, Girly Man is a provocative and aesthetically challenging collection of radical verse from one of America’s most controversial poets.
"Girly Man, Charles Bernstein's latest assault on contemporary life, is poetry to be read for pleasure and solace in our rather sobering timne."
“Charles Bernstein may be our most inspired formalist. He dares to look at all the things that poetry historically is not in order to fashion what it might become. In his brilliant new collection, Bernstein continues his genuinely unreasonable assault on the gentle reading public. Long live the girly man!”
DIRECTIONS: For each pair of sentences, circle the letter, a or b, that best expresses your viewpoint.
a. Girly Man’s meanings are largely organized by luck or chance.
b. Charles Bernstein’s intentions determine what these poems mean.
a. Girly Man is indifferent to human needs.
b. Girly Man has some purpose, even if obscure.
a. Poetry like this brings the greatest happiness.
b. Poetry like this is illusory and its pleasures, transient.
a. Overall, Charles Bernstein has been harmful to American culture.
b. Overall, Charles Bernstein has been beneficial to American culture.
(This written endorsement of Girly Man should be removed for inspection and verification.)
"Charles Bernstein’s pairs of jingles of ‘public discourse’ are 'simultaneous double narrative / the space between’s the other narrative/as if they’re opposite.' In the space between, outside representation but in the ‘presence’ of it, we are provoked to laugh. Bernstein alters our language to open a double range that’s public and mind at once and inseparable, that is 'Poetry is patterned thought in search of unpatterned mind.' Girly Man is doing it."
“When we thought we had Bernstein pegged or that his work had possibly reached its limits, he emerges in Girly Man as a poet at the top of his form, capable still of the greatest modernist & postmodernist swervings, & for whom no form of expression is now entirely foreign. As with other poets of his rank (& that rank is very high), he has the ability to make categories dissolve & for himself, as poet, to become happily unclassifiable. From the comic to the archromantic, the avant-garde to the avant-pop, the formally constructed to the deceptively lawless, the personally political to the impersonally poetical, the poems in Girly Man are an example of what poetry can be in the hands of a supercharged & superrestless poet. Charles Bernstein is now more clearly what he has always been—a major poet for our time—& then some."
“Improvisational volatility, wordplay, near rhyme possibilities, frolic arguments, standup skepticism, loopy affirmation, accurate wit, restless ethical inquiry: I can’t think of a better way for a reader to experience Charles Bernstein’s fierce commitment to poetry as a necessary calling than to read this, his latest and perhaps most accessible collection. In this restless world we live in, Bernstein is one of our most radical and resilient voices.”
"[Bernstein] has rattled the chains in close to 30 books of poetry and three spirited and quite wonderful books of essays. At the same time, and almost coincidentally, Bernstein has come up with a bracing way of being both a very political and a distinctly Jewish writer.Girly Man is perhaps Bernstein’s most approachable and focused collection. As a rule, his poems do not aspire to recount some experience that lies tantalizingly out of the reach of language. They have nothing to do with the tasteful matching of situation and epiphany...Bernstein’s poems insist on their unsettled surfaces, on the way they patch together incompatible levels of our everyday speech, from the most vapid self-affirmations to the densest inanities of professional jargon. The basic unit of Bernstein’s poetry is the exploded cliché or the dislocated fragment of conventional unwisdom....Bernstein has made a habit (and a career) out of questioning modern American poetry’s love affair with personal experience and 'voice.' Now that his critique is something of an institution, it makes perfect sense that this poetic kochleffel should double back and try a cockeyed version of it himself. In Girly Man Bernstein is stirring it up again and — he would love this scrambled metaphor — adding something new to the mix."
"Girly Man, Charles Bernstein's latest assault on contemporary life, is poetry to be read for pleasure and solace in our rather sobering timne."
- University of Chicago Press
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Read an ExcerptGIRLY MAN
By CHARLES BERNSTEIN THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS
Copyright © 2006 Charles Bernstein
All right reserved.
LET'S JUST SAY
for my father Herman Joseph Bernstein (1902-1978) at 100
beyond any blessing or song
In Particular "I ADMIT THAT BEAUTY INHALES ME BUT NOT THAT I INHALE BEAUTY" -FELIX BERNSTEIN "MY LACK OF NOTHINGNESS" -THE GENIE IN THE CANDY STORE
A black man waiting at a bus stop A white woman sitting on a stool A Filipino eating a potato A Mexican boy putting on shoes A Hindu hiding in igloo A fat girl in blue blouse A Christian lady with toupee A Chinese mother walking across a bridge An Afghanastani eating pastrami A provincial walking on the peninsula A Eurasian boy on a cell phone An Arab with umbrella A Southerner taking off a backpack An Italian detonating a land line A barbarian with beret A Lebanese guy in limousine A Jew watering petunias A Yugoslavian man at a hanging A Sunni boy on scooter A Floridian climbing a fountain A Beatnik writing a limerick A Caucasian woman dreaming of indecision A Puerto Rican child floating on a balloon An Indian fellow gliding on three-wheeled bike An Armenian rowing to Amenia An Irish lad with scythe A Bangladeshi muttering questions A worker wading in puddlesA Japanese rollerblader fixing a blend A Burmese tailor watching his trailer An Idaho man getting a tan A Quinnipiac girl with a bluesy drawl An Arapahoe whaler skimming failure An anorexic man with a remarkably deep tan An adolescent Muslim writing terza rima A Scots pipe fitter at the automat A gay guy in tweed boat A red man with green ball A dyslexic sailor with an inconsolable grin A Northumbrian flier heading for Tipperary A Buddhist financier falling to ground A curious old boy jumping into threshing machine An Hispanic sergeant on lookout for a cream-colored coat An addicted haberdasher eating soap A Peruvian child chewing gum A Sephardic infant on shuffleboard deck A Mongolian imitating Napoleon An anarchist lad with skewed glance A Latvian miner break dancing with the coroner A poor girl eating apple pie and cream soda A Sudanese fellow with a yellow stroller An atheist with a flare for pins A Bahamanian on the way to inordinate machination A stuttering Iranian in blue and gold fog A tell-tale somnambulist rehearsing Gypsy A homosexual child in a taxi A Wiccan matron swimming in glue A Moravian procrastinator practicing jujitsu A Syrian swami on Lake Origami A flirtatious gentleman spinning wool A colored youngster admiring a toaster A Danish designer in a diner A Montenegrin taking Excedrin A D.C. dervish dribbling dodecahedrons A Denver doyen davenning defiantly A Bali busboy getting high An Iraqi contemplating hari-kari An Ojibwa pushing a button on the Trans-Siberian A harried officer somersaulting on banister A moldy Whig directing catfish An agoraphobic professor on cruise control A feminist in a rocking chair A Burmese cook in bobby socks A teenager infiltrating an air mattress A pro-choice guy reciting rimes A dog-faced Finn in shining car A Czech man in a check suit A Pentecostal lawyer jogging in his foyer A communist wearing a sad apron A Canadian woman with a nose ring A ghoulish girl dating a dentist An idiot in a closet A Moorish magician in her kitchen A sorrowful soldier with a morose clothier A dilettantish senior washing strictures A socialite on routine imbroglio A bicyclist hoarding hornets A toddler pocketing the till A hooded boy eating cheddar cheese A balding brownnoser in tutu A brunette chasing choo-choo train An Argentine dancing on a dime A bespeckled dowager installing Laplink An australopithecine toddler grimacing in basement A Nicaraguan pee-wee with preposterous pipe A kike out cold on ice A Hoosier off the booze A swollen man with an impecunious grin A Burmese fellow with face of terror A lost poll in the forest A dilapidated soul drinking rum A pistolero with folded heart A Shockwave momma hunkering down on puck A vellobound baby two-facing the cha-cha A postcolonial fiduciary eating a plum A maladroit Swede coughing bullets A hexed Haitian on involuntary vacation A Persian oncologist in metrical parking A Peruvian French hornist sipping Pernod A Terra Haute charmer with infinite capacity to harm her A Mongolian chiropodist at a potluck A São Paulo poet reflecting on deflection A white man sitting on stool A black woman waiting at bus stop
Thank You for Saying Thank You
This is a totally accessible poem. There is nothing in this poem that is in any way difficult to understand. All the words are simple & to the point. There are no new concepts, no theories, no ideas to confuse you. This poem has no intellectual pretensions. It is purely emotional. It fully expresses the feelings of the author: my feelings, the person speaking to you now. It is all about communication. Heart to heart. This poem appreciates & values you as a reader. It celebrates the triumph of the human imagination amidst pitfalls & calamities. This poem has 90 lines, 269 words, and more syllables than I have time to count. Each line, word, & syllable have been chosen to convey only the intended meaning & nothing more. This poem abjures obscurity & enigma. There is nothing hidden. A hundred readers would each read the poem in an identical manner & derive the same message from it. This poem, like all good poems, tells a story in a direct style that never leaves the reader guessing. While at times expressing bitterness, anger, resentment, xenophobia, & hints of racism, its ultimate mood is affirmative. It finds joy even in those spiteful moments of life that it shares with you. This poem represents the hope for a poetry that doesn't turn its back on the audience, that doesn't think it's better than the reader, that is committed to poetry as a popular form, like kite flying and fly fishing. This poem belongs to no school, has no dogma. It follows no fashion. It says just what it says. It's real.
Let's Just Say
Let's just say that every time you fall you never hit the ground
Let's just say that when the day ends the night refuses to come
Let's just say that if all else fails you at least you can count on that
Let's just say that a bird in the fist is better than a bird and a foot
Let's just say that the scarlet ambrosia of your innermost longing is the nectar of a god who never chooses to visit
Let's just say that if chance accords possibilities, melancholy postpones insomnia
Let's just say that sleep is the darker side of dreams
Let's just say that sometimes a rose is just a read flower
Let's just say that every step forward is also a step nowhere
Let's just say that the thirst for knowledge can only be quenched if one learns how to remain hungry
Let's just say that green is always a reflection of the idea of green
Let's just say that I encounter myself not in the mirror but in the manure
Let's just say that each door leads to another door
Let's just say that we think it before we see it or better we see it as we think it
Let's just say that a stone's throw might be a world away
Let's just say that love is neither here nor there
Let's just say that the girl is the mother of the woman
Let's just say that without disorder there can be no harmony
Let's just say that the aim is not to win but not to lose too bad
Let's just say that a knife in the back is better than a knife in the heart
Let's just say that between sleep and dreams is the reality behind reality
Let's just say that I am very weak and want to take a bath
Let's just say that the truth is somewhere between us
Let's just say that the top of a tower is not a good place to hide
Let's just say that mankind suffers its language
Let's just say that a bird cannot always be in flight
Let's just say that we're not far from where we would have been if we had lived better lives
Let's just say that pretty ugly is an aspiring oxymoron
Let's just say that if the sun is a rock burning in space then the earth is a shard hurtling from its designation
Let's just say that little is gained when nothing is lost
Let's just say that the lie of the mind is the light of perception
every lake has a house & every house has a stove & every stove has a pot & every pot has a lid & every lid has a handle & every handle has a stem & every stem has an edge & every edge has a lining & every lining has a margin & every margin has a slit & every slit has a slope & every slope has a sum & every sum has a factor & every factor has a face & every face has a thought & every thought has a trap & every trap has a door & every door has a frame & every frame has a roof & every roof has a house & every house has a lake
SOME OF THESE DAZE
It's 8:23 in New York
What I can't describe is how beautiful the day is in New York; clear skies, visibility all the way to the other side of wherever you think you are looking.
Or looking away.
After the long and strange Odyssey back from LaGuardia airport this morning, I went to a jammed local upper west side coffee shop. A family was eating, deciding, loudly, whether to get the chicken or tuna salad; the mother expressed great disappointment that there was no skim milk. The coffee shop was packed and the mother said, "Well, it's OK, at least we're not in a rush right now and after all the restaurant probably has more people than they are used to handling."
Outside, two guys with work boots and cell phones strapped to their waists yelled toward the coffee shop, "I can't believe these fucking people are sitting in a cafe when the city is being blown up."
I can't imagine Manhattan without those two towers looming over the south end. As I was walking across the 59th Street bridge I couldn't stop thinking of that Simon and Garfunkel song named after the bridge, "Feelin' Groovy" ("Life, I love you ... all is ...").
It was hard not to feel like it was a movie, and one with an unbelievable plot at that. All the airports closed; the Pentagon bombed; four commercial jets hijacked on suicide missions. The bridge was overflowing with people streaming out of Manhattan, a line as wide as the bridge and as long as Manhattan itself. If you looked out to the left, there was a big plume of smoke over downtown Manhattan. You couldn't see that the Towers were not there.
And it didn't seem possible that this had happened either.
Even with all the people streaming out, and the small clutch of us walking back to the island.
The FDR drive below us was empty, with just the occasional emergency vehicle. The UN Secretariat building looked naked, vulnerable. Why wouldn't a plane smash into that while we walked across the East River?
The skies unnaturally clear of airplanes, though every once in a while you hear the ominous swoop of a jet overhead, presumably military. Once in Manhattan, the entrance to the bridge was mobbed. But walking west, people were quietly hanging out on street corners. Most of the avenues were cleared of traffic and quiet, except for the sirens of an ambulance or fire truck racing downtown.
While the phones are not working very well (so much of NYC communication is streamed through the World Trade Center), the email is working fine. There are notes of disbelief and worry from people from all over, especially Europe. My friends Misko and Dubravka from Beograd write and I remember their emails when their city was under fire. And various friends we had just seen on our recent trip.
As I was walking home, about half a mile from our apartment, I stop by the storefront hair salon of Andrew, who lives upstairs in our building. I had been trying for a couple of hours to get Susan on the phone, to see if she had picked up Felix at school. But neither the cell nor land phones were working. Andrew said Susan and Felix had just walked by and were heading home. He said he was going to stay open just because he thought people would want to have him there, standing in front of his shop.
At about 6, Felix, Susan and I walked down to the Hudson. I wanted to see New Jersey, to see the George Washington Bridge. The sun gleamed on the water. The bridge was calm. Folks were bicycling and rollerblading. The scene was almost serene; just five miles from the Trade Center.
Uncanny is the word.
What I can't describe is the reality; the panic; the horror.
I keep turning on the TV to hear what I can't take in and what I already know. Over and over. I don't find the coverage comforting but addictive.
This could not have happened. This hasn't happened.
This is happening.
It's 8:23 in New York.
(September 11, 2001)
Today is the next day of the rest of your life
all of a sudden tonight the smell of burning plastic pervades our apartment, making eyes smart. is it something in the building? no, a neighbor explains, that's the smell coming from downtown.
* * *
Mei-mei Berssenbrugge calls; she's OK, hanging in a couple of blocks from the epicenter. I say to her I have trouble imagining what is going on. She says, oh you can imagine it all right, from the movies. You just can't conceive it.
* * *
I see Andrew, the hairdresser, in the lobby of our building. He says things were on and off today; several appointments were no shows.
"Maybe they're not coming back."
* * *
A friend in Berkeley asks me how things are going and I write back. The reply is immediate: "automated response." It is entirely blank.
* * *
We drop Felix off at a friend's across from his school on 77th and Amsterdam. The fire station on the block, which we pass every day, is empty, with piles of flowers in the doorway. A wave of terror sweeps over us; after all, 200 to 300 firefighters have died. Later in the afternoon, I come to pick Felix up, and there are ten or twelve firemen in front of the firehouse, calmly, so it seems, washing the two fire trucks parked in the middle of the street. It's a relief to see them.
Then we hear that nine of the thirty men stationed there perished.
* * *
The most frequent analogy is to Pearl Harbor, though the London blitz might also be mentioned. I keep thinking of something else, not something that happened but something I expected to happen. In the 50s, we were trained to prepare for a nuclear attack on Manhattan. In elementary school, we had drills in which we were marched into the halls and all the window and door glass was covered with wood. Others were told to crouch under their desks. The events of yesterday seem to finally play out that fear.
* * *
A psychologist friend is on extra duty through the weekend. Those at the edge are going over it.
"I may be paranoid but there really are people out to get me."
* * *
"It's a bit ominous," a friend writes, "the way the politicos are speaking about talking with one voice."
-I am just trying to get by talking with no voice.
* * *
Many of the officials on TV say we will come out of all this stronger.
But it won't be the same we.
Stronger or not.
* * *
Jerry and Diane Rothenberg come by. We finish off the bottle of "reserve" Stoli I bought just a few weeks ago at the Moscow airport "duty free."
* * *
On the Poetics List someone quotes the Tao Te Ching: "Give evil nothing to oppose and it will disappear." I can't help thinking-
give nothing evil to oppose and it will crash the program
* * *
the image is greater than the reality
the image can't approach the reality
the reality has no image
* * *
our eyes are burning
(September 12, 2001)
Excerpted from GIRLY MAN by CHARLES BERNSTEIN Copyright © 2006 by Charles Bernstein. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Charles Bernstein is the Donald T. Regan Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of more than twenty books, including My Way: Speeches and Poems and With Strings, both published by the University of Chicago Press.
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