by Charles Bernstein

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Praised in recent years as a “calculating, improvisatory, essential poet” by Daisy Fried in the New York Times, and as “the foremost poet-critic of our time” by Craig Dworkin, Charles Bernstein is a leading voice in American poetry. Near/Miss, Bernstein’s first poetry collection  in five years, is the apotheosis of his late style, thick with off-center rhythms, hilarious riffs, and verbal extravagance.

This collection’s title highlights poetry’s ability to graze reality without killing it, and at the same time implies that the poems themselves are wounded by the grief of loss. The book opens with a rollicking satire of difficult poetry—proudly declaring itself “a totally inaccessible poem”—and moves on to the stuff of contrarian pop culture and political cynicism—full of malaprops, mondegreens, nonsequiturs, translations of translations, sardonically vandalized signs, and a hilarious yet sinister feed of blog comments. At the same time, political protest also rubs up against epic collage, through poems exploring the unexpected intimacies and continuities of “our united fates.” These poems engage with works by contemporary painters—including Amy Sillman, Rackstraw Downes, and Etel Adnan—and echo translations of poets ranging from Catullus and Virgil to Goethe, Cruz e Souza, and Kandinsky.

Grounded in a politics of multiplicity and dissent, and replete with both sharp edges and subtle intimacies, Near/Miss is full of close encounters of every kind. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226571195
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 10/26/2018
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 192
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Charles Bernstein is Donald T. Regan Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is codirector of PennSound. He is the author of Pitch of Poetry and Recalculating, also published by the University of Chicago Press. 

Read an Excerpt


High Tide at Race Point

for Norman Fischer

A commercial with no pitch.
A beach without sand.
A lover without a love.
A surface without an exterior.
A touch without a hand.
A protest without a cause.
A well without a bottom.
A sting without a bite.
A scream without a mouth.
A fist without a fight.
A day without an hour.
A park with no benches.
A poem without a text.
A singer with no voice.
A computer without memory.
A cabana without a beach.
A bump with no road.
A sorrow without a loss.
A goal without a purpose.
A noise without sound.
A story without a plot.
A sail without a boat.
A plane without wings.
A pen without ink.
A murder without a victim.
A sin without a sinner.
An agreement without terms.
A spice with no taste.
A gesture without motion.
A spectator without a view.
A slope without a curve.
A craving without a desire.
A volume without dimension.
A Nazi without a Jew.
A comic without a joke.
A promise without a hope.
A comforter without the comfort.
The certainty without being sure.
Stealing with nothing stolen.
The might have beens without the was.
Mishnah without Torah.
The two without the one.
The silken without the silk.
The inevitable without necessity.
Logic without inference.
Suddenness without change.
A canyon without depth.
Fume without smell.
Determination with no objective.
Gel without cohesion.
A cure without a disease.
A disease without a trace.
A mineral without a shape.
A line without extension.
Persistence without intention.
Blank without emptiness.
Border without division.
A puppet without strings.
Compliance without criteria.
A disappointment without an expectation.
Color without hue.
An idea without content.
Grief with no end.

Don't Tell Me about the Tide, I've Been There and Back, My Friend

Of time I can tell you nothing that is Not already written in sand, scarcely Noticeable just before the water Engulfs it without even trace of a Trace of any inscription remaining.
Man is no better, crumbling in currents Of perilous recrimination, where Humanoids dwell in close proximity To beasts. Who doesn't adore them? It is The story of the birth of the mother —
Only now I am too paranoid not To say it in another's words. Or to Try again, one more time without feeling.
Motion alone encumbers her meaning.

Grief Haunts the Spoken

And if in a minute or a few days The ghost of what is to come Clatters down on me, pipe in mouth Or do I claw back to higher ground Only to be shorn in plain sight Of nominal excommunications

Nowhere Is Just around the Corner

Yeah I know. All that horizontality.
It's enough to drive you to drink. Vista, schmitza. I just want a little hope for life, even if it doesn't pan out. Yeah I get it: emptiness is plenitude.
At 49.95 a yard. There is nothing I long for more than a cool,
clear draft of hot air with geometric framing. The canopy saves it ... seriously. A frame is like a rabbit pulled from a hat in Dallas, 1948. Baby rabbits multiplying like Republicans in Waco trying to shut down Planned Parenthood as if it were a tool of Islam. I know Marfa is not Dallas — but open spaces seem to translate into open carry and concealed carry too:
the only adequate response to gun violence is more gun violence, isn't that it?,
just like the New York Jew lawyers say about free speech. Don't get me wrong:
I love Robert Smithson
& I am all over the spiral jelly. (Or am I thinking of Donald Thudd? Association is like a kaleidoscope of missed references that form a mosaic of freighted cymbals.) And don't get so puffed up: after all Jersey City is where we are seeing this painting — and is the local governor any better than that Texas governor, I already forgot his name, Slick Ferry?
Rich Very?, but you know,
the one who ran for president just like Tricks Christie, governor of the great state that borders the Keystone and Empire states,
the state in which we are looking at this Rackstraw Downes painting?
I mean Rackstraw used to do New York City scenes until he got the Marfa bug. The next thing you know he won't even paint the ambient structures but just brush weed. I hope he has an air-conditioned painting igloo as I wouldn't like to see him in pain air, like the French say, 110 in the shade,
if there were any. Sure, I see he's painting the shade, I just hope he's in it too, you know, outside the picture's frame. And that's just what I mean: How did Christie respond to the Islamic State attacks against Paris? Let's make sure no Syrian kids get to encamp in Jersey City or even right here at Mana (where there seems to be enough space for a refugee camp,
don't you think?, and plenty of room for the Syrians to party on the roof).
Manna? Isn't that the "small round thing," as small as the "hoar frost on the ground," that the starving and desperate Israelite refugees found in the wilderness? You see these refugees had fled from Egypy —
you've probably heard the story —
and were wandering in a desert that looked a lot like what you are seeing in this picture. The exiles called the sustenance they received
manna because they didn't know its name, only that Moses said it came from their God.
Manna nourished the exiles,
the sick, those lost their homes and those never had one,
the dispossessed and maimed,
the sick of heart. Manna is a gummy, crystalline white sustenance that covers the ground. Maybe the word comes from the people saying "man, oh, man!" when they first saw manna pock-marking the desert. Some people say manna was a kind of psilocybin that quenched the hunger of the exiles. In the Qur'an,
Mohammed speaks of the juice of manna as a "medicine for the eye": perhaps it turned the barren desert into a hallucinogenic painting.
Manna provided enough for each sojourner; none would know lack.
  —But there will be no manna
in Jersey City. God forbid.
Emily Dickinson knew the enveloping darkness of America that thrives in the harsh night of terror.
She names that "White Sustenance,"
where "We must meet apart,"
"Despair." The kind of despair Christie sells on the open market as if it were a golden calf.
And you don't have to be a refugee fleeing from Syria to get the point.
Just take the bridge and get stuck in the ideological gridlock he and his Republican friends call
"getting government off their backs"-
and onto ours. I get it now:
I am going to move to Marfa or maybe get a condo on the banks of Río Bravo.
And listen to the twang of country and western music as I cry into my beer. But what scares me is that no one will hear my cry. It will just fade away in the wide open spaces of America.
Sometimes a space is empty because it's in perfect harmony with the world. And sometimes it's empty because no one is listening.

S'i' fosse

after Cecco Angiolieri

If I were fire, the world'd burn;
  if I were wind, there'd be tempests at ev'ry turn;
  if I were water, watch earth drown;
  if I were God, I'd smash it all to worms.
If I were Pope, to hell with moral compass,
  the Christians'd all be flung into a stinkin' rumpus;
  if I were 'mperor, what'ld you see?
  Everybody's heads rolling round me.
If I were death, I'd go straight for my father;
  if I were life, I'd run fast from that bastard;
  likewise, don't you know it?, from mother.
If I were Cecco, likes I am 'n' was,
  I'd chase young, pretty fuzz:
  crips and hags I'd leave to you, putz.


for Felipe Cussen

I wouldn't touch it. It's perfect just as is. You capture something; well I have never seen anything like that. Don't let anyone make you change that first line; I mean sure it's a cliché, but I love clichés — and it's offensive — I mean no one calls Jews that anymore. But the important thing is it conveys how you think, even if that's scary. Maybe for the next poem you could increase your vocabulary. I mean great things can be done with just the most common words, but sometimes it adds a bit to go outside that list. I don't mean make yourself neo-Baroque! For God's sake. Also you know you don't need to repeat the same sentiment over and over. I know you're mad and you think no one listens to you. But it's not like everyone you don't agree with is a fascist or racist. You know ... what about the actual fascists and racists? But hey I can see how this really gets over your point of view. And that's what's important. Revising, trying to make the work aesthetically interesting, that's just a lot of elitist nonsense. Say what you hate. That's poetry.

fast it moves in like swift-flowing tide or your love when you turn my way

The Bluebird of Happiness

Lakeside no one mourns About the flow of capital To private vaults just Offshore from the Anthropocenes. Tools In the China cupboard Will repair only so much Damage of the damage.
Lakeside there's no Time for futile regret Or nursing grievances Like the ICU orderly Who forgets to look Back. One day when I Get famous people will Stop saying you're gonna Fall and cry. It will go without saying.

Catachresis My Love

It's not permission I crave, but possibility.

Time's not on our side or anybody's. It just blows and mostly we blow it.

People sometimes say, in exasperation, that you can't be in two places at the same time. But I've learned all too well how to be in two times at the same place.

The ordinary is never more than an extension of the extraordinary. The extraordinary is never more than an extension of the imaginary. The imaginary is never more than an extension of the possible. The possible is never more than an extension of the impossible. The impossible is never more than an extension of the ordinary.

Every wish has two wings, one to move it into the world, the other to bury it deep within the heart.

The exception assumes/subsumes/sublates/averts/acknowledges the rule/standard/norm. It's never either/or nor both/and. Anyway, whose rule, or which rule, and which part of whose rule? Whose on first, like my buddies like to say, or as the superego prefers, who's? That's whose.

I am not as far along as I would have liked, considering tomorrow's already gone.

A tear in the code: the code weeps, for it's been ripped.

Town crier or weeper?

I wonder if such crises show who we really are or some darker side to us. Or is that who we really are?

There are no true colors, just different camouflages.

Language is our companion, steadier than most friends, but failing us, inevitably, when we burden it with unwarranted expectations.

"After drinking, we take a walk through foggy streets, with Mendacious in the lead."

[-Alfred Jarry]

as if the stars became clouds
& our fears the heavens

If you can't stand the kitchen, get out of the heat.

Award season like mint julep on a soccer field. Good luck bound to spill over.

If nothing is possible, then everything happens.

ostranenie, ostranennah, life goes on boys ...

All poems are untranslatable. This is why we translate.

Lots of water under heaps of bridges. Bridges getting wiped out, turned over, and even making paths to places that never existed. Who knew you could live this way or that there was any other way?

A parking lot can also be paradise.

Returning to Buffalo after many years, everything looked familiar, almost just the same; the stage set was unchanged but the play had long ago closed, the actors had moved on to other cities, and the theater was now showing movies. The company present I knew mostly from other places, a pickup group assembled for the week, along with many faces new to me. So a familiar place and with familiar people, but imported from somewhere else. You can't go home again. Or home is where you are now, in the present ever forming before you (not behind you). Home not what we did or done, but what we are doing. Present company included.

We who are not in control must always make do, use the materials at hand as best we can.

My interests, ideological and poetic, are quite different than those of most other poets, so my methods are necessarily particular, a swerve. I do not suggest that such approaches be taken as a general model, which would be a form of tyranny, but that poetic practices be developed-and articulated-to meet the needs of particular and emergent circumstance.

Still water runs only as deep as you can throw it.

The desire to add insult to injury is no greater than the compulsion to add injury to injury or insult to insult.

then there / now here now here / then there

The there there there then is not there now. The there there there now is another there than the there there then.

Omniscient I'm not, just plenty conscious.

[-Mephistopheles, Goethe's Faust]

If e'er I say, stay, this moment so fair

Then take me away, beyond human care

If you were a girl you'd be home now.

Poetry wants to be free or at least available at a discount.

You can only do what you can do and sometimes you can't even do that.

You can only say half of what you think and sometimes even that comes out wrong.

You can only be part of what you'd hope to be and sometimes no part.

A tough road to the end just makes the end tougher.

So this guy tells me he doesn't know what a schlemiel is. What a schmuck!

I am a man of constant second and third thoughts (and I've seen trouble all my days).

Don't revise. Rethink.

The courage to be wrong even when right is a fool's paradise and wisdom's delight.

"Don't tell me not to tell you what not to do."

All good things come to a beginning.

I feel like a screen door without a screen.

I don't know if I am anxious because I'm depressed or depressed because I am anxious.

You know what they say: What doesn't kill you brings you to your knees. What doesn't kill you mortally wounds you.

One man's religion is another man's hell. One woman's freedom is another woman's manacles. One boy's fantasy is another boy's nightmare. One girl's reason is another girl's superstition.

The tyranny of reflection is the gateway to liberation. The road to freedom is paved with unanswerable questions.

This the Lord has not taught and has not blessed, so that whatever truth it may come to have would not be destroyed at the outset.

"I prefer her sincerity to his irony." —I prefer her insincerity to his duplicity.

Irony is as close to truth as language allows.

What's the market close on African grief today? Asian grief? South American grief?

— What you don't understand is that we've got to make a profit to have the wherewithal to develop these drugs. Your altruism doesn't save lives, it just makes you feel good about yourself.

— As if the cure for capitalism is more capitalism; the cure for theft, more theft; the cure for misery, more misery.

Capitalism is all about the process. Not accumulation of wealth but the acquisition of wealth.

In truth, there is no truth: no truth but this (no truth but that). In reality, the truth lies under.

I'd follow you to the ends of the earth, even if I had a choice.

Like a haystack in a needle, to see the whole mind in a grain of thought.

"Even you, Rick, wish you were on that plane."

Sometimes when we touch, the dishonesty's too much.

Better a rude awakening than insidious deception.

Because we love him, because he's our son, we don't care if he is black or brown, gay or straight, smart or dull, animal or human. He could be a zebra and we would love him just the same.

Common sense is the consistent foolishness of hobgoblins.

too many crooks roil the spoils too many flukes spoil the rule too many kooks soil the truth

Nature's promise: we'll destroy you.

you see blue and I see blue too, just not the same blue as you

I have no more quivers in my arrow.

the ear hears / what the eye elides

saying light when there is no light tremble when everything shakes

Judaism is the record of God's vexed struggle to have a juridical relation with Jews.

The rapture did come. It always does. This is what it looks like.


cherry blossoms all of a sudden gone

Otherwise He'd Be Dead

And I'd be in Mexico instead of looking at rabbits or reading the signs in the pictures (or is it the picture in the signs, I always get confused?). She said to —I can't remember the exact words —try to read this, the book of life or something, as if I knew what any of it meant, the cups, the inscrutable hope in the enigmatic figure, maybe not cups but a toast or just the echo of the toast, hand gliding from foreground to background (just the way I feel a lot of the time). Maybe abstraction is what writing is and all the rest is just phantoms, fantasies. It all links or loops together, that's for sure, but how? The book is a platter (patter, clatter) of endless possibilities, except they end here, right at the bottom edge.


Excerpted from "Near/Miss"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Charles Bernstein.
Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Thank You for Saying You’re Welcome
In Utopia
High Tide at Race Point
Don’t Tell Me about the Tide . . .
Grief Haunts the Spoken
Nowhere Is Just around the Corner
S’i’ fosse
The Bluebird of Happiness
Catachresis My Love
Otherwise He’d Be Dead
This Poem Is a Hostage
The Lie of Art
Why I Am Not a Hippie
Apoplexy / Apoplexie
Truly Unexceptional
All Poetry Is Loco
I Used to Be a Plastic Bottle
Why I Am Not an Atheist
The Island of Lost Song
Confederate Battle Flag
Sacred Hate
Me and My Pharaoh . . .
Catullus 70
Where My Bread Is Buttered
He Said He Was a Professor
Autobiography of an Ex-
Why I Am Not a Buddhist
Ballad Laid Bare by Its Devices (Even)
Also Rises the Sun
Concentration (An Elegy)
How I Became Prehuman
Pinky’s Rule
My Mommy Is Lost
Better Off Dead
Water Under the Bridge . . .
Unconstrained Writing
Ugly Duckling
Beyond Compare
The Pond Off Pamet Road
The Nun’s Story
Our United Fates
To Gonzalo Rojas
I Don’t Remember
Contact Western Union Very Urgent
Her Ecstasy Is Abstract
At Sunset, after the Plum Blossoms Begin to Fall . . .
Each Separate Dying Ember
Don’t Say I Passed When I Die
Ring Song
God’s Silence
Doggone Sane
Wild Turning
This Poem Is a Decoy
My Luck
Mystic Brokerage
Seldom Splendor
Song of the Wandering Poet
In the Meantime
Before Time
What Makes a Poem a Poem?
There’s a Hole in My Pocket
Song Dynasty
Lacrimae Rerum
Fare Thee Well

Notes and Acknowledgments

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