My Way; Speeches and Poems


"Verse is born free but everywhere in chains. It has been my project to rattle the chains." (from "The Revenge of the Poet-Critic")

In My Way, (in)famous language poet and critic Charles Bernstein deploys a wide variety of interlinked forms—speeches and poems, interviews and essays—to explore the place of poetry in American culture and in the university. Sometimes comic, sometimes dark, Bernstein's writing is irreverent but always relevant, ...

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My Way: Speeches and Poems

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"Verse is born free but everywhere in chains. It has been my project to rattle the chains." (from "The Revenge of the Poet-Critic")

In My Way, (in)famous language poet and critic Charles Bernstein deploys a wide variety of interlinked forms—speeches and poems, interviews and essays—to explore the place of poetry in American culture and in the university. Sometimes comic, sometimes dark, Bernstein's writing is irreverent but always relevant, "not structurally challenged, but structurally challenging."

Addressing many interrelated issues, Bernstein moves from the role of the public intellectual to the poetics of scholarly prose, from vernacular modernism to idiosyncratic postmodernism, from identity politics to the resurgence of the aesthetic, from cultural studies to poetry as a performance art, from the small press movement to the Web. Along the way he provides "close listening" to such poets as Charles Reznikoff, Laura Riding, Susan Howe, Ezra Pound, Allen Ginsberg, and Gertrude Stein, as well as a fresh perspective on L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, the magazine he coedited that became a fulcrum for a new wave of North American writing.

In his passionate defense of an activist, innovative poetry, Bernstein never departs from the culturally engaged, linguistically complex, yet often very funny writing that has characterized his unique approach to poetry for over twenty years. Offering some of his most daring work yet—essays in poetic lines, prose with poetic motifs, interviews miming speech, speeches veering into song—Charles Bernstein's My Way illuminates the newest developments in contemporary poetry with its own contributions to them.

"The result of [Bernstein's] provocative groping is more stimulating than many books of either poetry or criticism have been in recent years."—Molly McQuade, Washington Post Book World

"This book, for all of its centrifugal activity, is a singular yet globally relevant perspective on the literary arts and their institutions, offered in good faith, yet cranky and poignant enough to not be easily ignored."—Publishers Weekly

"Bernstein has emerged as postmodern poetry's sous-chef of insouciance. My Way is another of his rich concoctions, fortified with intellect and seasoned with laughter."—Timothy Gray, American Literature

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
One of the key theorists of the workshop-busting Language poets, the charismatic Bernstein (A Poetics; Dark City, Rough Trades) continues to expand his purview past the formal concerns of that group. His latest critico-poetic salvo takes in issues of multiculuralism; "standard" vs. "non-standard" forms of language usage; the ossified conservative agenda of literary institutions in the United States; poetry in performance--both on the page and on stage; and graduate-level pedagogical practices ("Frame Lock"). Eclectic both in its forms of expression (scholarly essays; interviews; generous explications of poets like Charles Reznikoff, Larry Eigner, Hannah Weiner and Susan Howe; quirky poems; and forms that are hybrids of all of these) and in its range of interests, My Way also grants us peeks beneath the surface of Bernstein's sometimes strategically difficult discourse, as in a long autobiographical interview with Loss Glazier, or deceptively accessible poems like "A Test of Poetry," which documents the traumas of his translators. "Water Images of The New Yorker" is a fine little investigative piece, discovering that 86% of the poems over a 16 week period contained images of water, while "Dear Mr. Fanelli," a poem in skinny Schuyleresque lines, takes the language of a subway administrator's "request for comments" literally, highlighting how even bureaucratic language is vexed with double-meanings. "Poetics of the Americas" creates an important bridge between the ethnically marginalized practices of poets like Claude McKay and Paul Lawrence Dunbar and more self-consciously "avant-garde" writers like Louis Zukofsky, Basil Bunting and the Language poets themselves. This book, for all of its centrifugal activity, is a singular yet globally relevant perspective on the literary arts and their institutions, offered in good faith, yet cranky and poignant enough to not be easily ignored. (Feb.)
Library Journal
In this collection of speeches, cultural critiques, personal essays and anecdotes, interviews, and poems, Bernstein (poetry and letters, SUNY at Buffalo) intentionally bounces back and forth among sociological, ontological, poetic, and banal frequencies. There are flashes of brilliance but often with enormous helpings of malice and defensiveness. Self-indulgence in the style and authoritative presumptions and irreverent cleverness in the writing sometimes detract from what might have made for a leaner, more interesting volume. Bernstein loves class polemics, has a Rousseauean notion of "relevant discourse," and displays a wicked sense of humor. But his rhetoric often opts for inference over observation, and readers may be left wandering whether for Bernstein having it "my way" isn't having it at all. If one is after genuine insight into the elegance of writing (which counts modesty as an ingredient), one would do better with Marie Ponsot and Rosemary Deen's Beat Not the Poor Desk (1981). For those who like their discourse theoretical and shrill.--Scott Hightower, NYU/Gallatin, New York
Kirkus Reviews
An imaginative mensch fruitfully complicates poetry. Bernstein (A Poetics) is one of the most sophisticated readers and writers we have. And he's also a wag-but seriously. His "alternative" perspective can only rejuvenate, partly because he's both a teacher (State University of New York, Buffalo) and a student (by temperament), both the critic and the criticized, earnestly engaged with and yet also helpfully detached from poetry and its ongoing politics. Combining commentary on general intellectual issues (e.g., multi-culturalism's move into the academy) and criticism (of Ezra Pound, Charles Reznikoff, et al.) with interviews and even poems—which here tend to double as philosophical or aesthetic credos—this excellent collection could serve well either as an introduction for newcomers or as the latest installment, for familiars, of a continuing conversation with the author. For, more than is true of most literary thinkers, Bernstein remains a committed personalist (without downsizing the scale of his investigations): You hear his voice as though he were sitting beside you, offering an amazingly mixed bag of wise asides and sensibly contrarian discussions. A sampling: "The poet's life is one of quiet desperation, although sometimes it gets noisy Many days I feel like one of those 50s street vendors demonstrating multi-purpose vegetable cutters; the flapping hands and jumping up and down may generate a small crowd because there remains interest if not in the product at least in the humiliation of trying to sell something few seem to want." Bernstein's pluralism, favoring the goal of "finding the possibilities for articulation of meanings that are too often denied orrepressed," is in fact anything but politically correct; as a founder of "language poetry," he has always chosen to side with outsiderhood. It's remarkable how much more persuasive his renegade stance now seems than that of the poetic mainstream. For, as Bernstein so eloquently shows and tells us, "Language, along with outer space, is the last wilderness."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226044095
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/1999
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 329
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles Bernstein lives in New York and is the Donald T. Regan Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania, as well as coeditor of  L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, the Electronic Poetry Center, and PennSound and cofounder of the SUNY-Buffalo Poetics Program. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Among his many publications are three books also published by the University of Chicago Press: Girly Man, With Strings, and My Way: Speeches and Poems.

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Table of Contents

A Defense of Poetry
The Revenge of the Poet-Critic, or The Parts Are Greater Than the Sum of the Whole
Thelonious Monk and the Performance of Poetry
An Interview with Manuel Brito
Solidarity Is the Name We Give to What We Cannot Hold
What's Art Got to Do with It?: The Status of the Subject of the Humanities in an Age of Cultural Studies
A Test of Poetry
The Book as Architecture
Dear Mr. Fanelli
An Interview with Hannah Mockel-Rieke
I Don't Take Voice Mail: The Object of Art in the Age of Electronic Technology
Weak Links (on Hannah Weiner)
Again Eigner
Frame Lock
"Passed by Examination": Paragraphs for Susan Howe
The Value of Sulfur
Shaker Show
Gertrude and Ludwig's Bogus Adventure
Introjective Verse
Poetics of the Americas
Unzip Bleed
Lachrymose Encaustic / Abrasive Tear
Stein's Identity
Provisional Institutions: Alternative Presses and Poetic Innovation
Pound and the Poetry of Today
Inappropriate Touching
Robin on His Own (on Robin Blaser)
Water Images of The New Yorker
The Response as Such: Words in Visibility
From an Ongoing Interview with Tom Beckett
Explicit Version Number Required
Hinge Picture (on George Oppen)
Reznikoff's Nearness
An Autobiographical Interview
Beyond Emaciation
Riding's Reason
Whose He Kidding
Unrepresentative Verse (on Ginsberg and Eliot)
Poetry and [Male?] Sex
Close Listening: Poetry and the Performed Word
Taps [In memoriam Eric Mottram]
Warning - Poetry Area: Publics under Construction
The Republic of Reality
Notes and Acknowledgments

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