December 19, 2021

Charles Bernstein (USA) 1950

Charles Bernstein (USA)

Charles Bernstein was born April 4, 1950 in New York City. He attended the Bronx High School of Science and Harvard College, from which he graduated in 1972. He is married to the painter, Susan Bee, and has two children: Emma, who died in 2008, and Felix.

From the early 70s to the late 80s, he worked as a writer/editor on healthcare and medical topics, with a break to serve as Associate Director of the CETA Artists Project (the largest postwar American public employment program for artists).

He is the author of 30 books of poetry and libretti, including Girly Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), Shadowtime (Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2005), With Strings (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), and Republics of Reality: 1975-1995 (Los Angeles: Sun and Moon Press, 2000). He has published two books of essays and one essay/poem collection: My Way: Speeches and Poems (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999); A Poetics (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992); Content's Dream: Essays 1975‑1984 (Los Angeles: Sun and Moon Press, 1986, 1994; reprinted by Northwestern University Press, 2001).

He is also the co-author of A Conversation with David Antin (New York: Granary Books, 2002). Bernstein is editor of 99 Poets/1999: An International Poetics Symposium, a special issue of boundary 2; Close Listening: Poetry and the Performed Word (Oxford University Press, 1998), The Politics of Poetic Form: Poetry and Public Policy (New York: Roof Books, 1990), Pitch of Poetry (The University of Chicago Press, 2016), and Live at the Ear (Pittsburgh: Elemenope Productions, 1994), an audio poetry anthology. He has been host and co-producer of LINEbreak, Close Listening, and Studio 111, three radio poetry series. With Bruce Andrews, he edited L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, which has been anthologized as The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1984). With Phillip Foss, Bernstein edited Patterns / Contexts / Time (Tyuonyi, 1990). Bernstein has also edited two other collections of poetry: "Language Sampler" in Paris Review, No. 86 (1982) and 43 Poets (1984) in Boundary 2 (1986). More recently, Bernstein published another collection of critical essays, Attack of the Difficult Poems (2011), Recalculating (2013), Pitch of Poetry (2016), and Topsy-Turvy (2021).

Bernstein is currently Regan Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania. From 1990 to 2003, he was David Gray Professor of Poetry and Letters at the State University of New York at Buffalo and Director of the Poetics Program; in 2002, he was appointed SUNY Distinguished Professor. He has been writer-in-residence or visiting faculty at Columbia University, Princeton University, Brown University, Temple University, Bard College, the New School for Social Research, Queens College, and the University of California at San Diego.

He is the Editor, and co-founder, of The Electronic Poetry Center ( and co-editor, with Al Filreis, of PennSound. He is coeditor, with Hank Lazer, of Modern and Contemporary Poetics, a book series from the University of Alabama Press (1998 - ), has served the Executive Committee of the Poetry Division of MLA, and serves on the board of the Richard Foreman’s Ontological Hysteric Theater, boundary 2, Chain, Sibila ((São Paolo), the Arizona Quarterly Review (Tucson), and the executive committee of the MLA Discussion Group for the Bibliography and Textual Studies.

Bernstein has written five librettos: Blind Witness News, The Subject: A Psychiatric Opera and The Lenny Paschen Show, with composer Ben Yarmolinsky, and Cafe Buffe, now being composed by Dean Drummond. Shadowtime, on the work of Walter Benjamin, was written for composer Brian Ferneyhough and premiered in May 2004 at the Munich Biennale; in 2004 it played at the Fesitival d'Automne in Paris and in 2005 at the Lincoln Center Festival. A CD is forthcoming, and the libretto was published in book form by Green Integer in 2005.

He has collaborated with Richard Tuttle on a poem/sculpture and an essay/poem on Tuttle’s work, and collaborated with Susan Bee on several artists books. In 2002, he curated Poetry Plastique, with Jay Sanders, at the Marianne Boesky gallery and co-edited the catalog.

Since the mid-1970s, Bernstein’s poems have been published in over 350 literary magazines in North America and his essays have been published in over 150 periodicals.. In addition, about 25 interviews have been published in the U.S. and abroad, primarily in periodicals. His work has been widely anthologized.

His poetry and essays have appeared in translation well over one hundred anthologies and periodicals in Mexico, Argentina, Cuba, Brazil, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Serbia, Montenegro, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Russia, China, Korea, and Japan.

Over 400 essays and reviews on the work have been published in TLS, PN Review, Critical Inquiry, The Nation, The American Book Review, The American Poetry Review, The Michigan Quarterly, Contemporary Literature, The Missouri Review, American Poetry, Jacket, MLN, Poetics Today, Harvard Book Review, and numerous other journals and books.

He has given over 250 featured readings and over 200 lectures/talks over the past 30 years, throughout the world, including France, Finland, Denmark, Italy, Portugal, The Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, Serbia, Spain, Canada, Cuba, Brazil, England, New Zealand, and the U.S.

In 2002, Bernstein was appointed State University of New York Distinguished Professor, the University’s highest rank. At Penn, he received the Dean's Award for Innovation in Teaching in 2005.

Prizes include: The 1999 Roy Harvey Pearce / Archive for New Poetry Prize of the University of California, San Diego (established in 1995, the Pearce Prize is awarded biennially to an American poet-scholar in recognition of his or her distinguished lifetime contributions to poetry and literary scholarship). Fellowships include: New York Foundation for the Arts Poetry Fellowship in 1995 and 1990, University of Auckland Foundation Fellowship (1986), the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship (1985), the National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship (1980), and the William Lyon McKenzie King Fellowship (at Simon Fraser University) (1973). In 2015 Bernstein was awarded both the German Münster Prize for International Poetry and the Hungarian-based Janus Pannonius Grand Prize for Poetry.


Asylums (New York: Asylum’s Press, 1975); Parsing (New York: Asylum’s Press, 1976); Shade (College Park, Maryland: Sun and Moon Press, 1978); Senses of Responsibility (Berkeley: Tuumba Press, 1979/Providence, Rhode Island: Paradigm Press, 1989); Poetry Justice (Baltimore: Pod Books, 1979); LEGEND [with Bruce Andrews, Steve McCaffery, Ron Silliman, and Ray DiPalma] (New York: L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E/Segue, 1980); Controlling Interests (New York: Roof Books, 1980); Disfrutes (Boston: Potes and Poets Press, 1981); Stigma (Barrytown, New York: Station Hill Press, 1981); Resistance (Windsor, Vermont: Awede Press, 1983); Islets/Irritations (New York: Jordan Davies, 1983/New York: Roof Books, 1992); Veil (Madison, Wisconsin: Xexoxial Editions, 1987); The Sophist (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1987/Cambridge, England: Salt Publications, 2004); Four Poems (Tucson, Arizona: Chax Press, 1988); The Absent Father in Dumbo (Canary Islands: Zasterle, 1990); Rough Trades (Los Angeles: Sun and Moon Press, 1991); Dark City (Los Angeles: Sun and Moon Press, 1994); My Way: Speeches and Poems (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999); Republics of Reality: 1975-1995 (Los Angeles: Sun and Moon Press, 2000); With Strings (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001); Let’s Just Say (Tucson, Arizona: Chax Press, 2003); World on Fire (Vancouver, Canada: Nomados, 2004); Warrant (New Delhi: Aark Arts/Contemporary World Poetry, 2005); Shadowtime (opera libretto) (Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2005); Girly Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006); All the Whiskey in Heaven: Selected Poems (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2010); Attack of the Difficult Poems (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011); Recalculating (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013); Pitch of Poetry (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016); Near / Miss (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018); Topsy-Turvy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2021)

[You may purchase a copy of Shadowtime by clicking here.]
[Purchase a copy of Republics of Reality by click here.]

Winner of the PIP Gertrude Stein Awards for Innovative Poetry in English

The Bricklayer’s Arms

The bricklayer's arms are folded
into a knot. They crest across
a soft, rumpled body. The bricklayer's
arms -- stolid and serene -- are
out of joint with the quizzical
expression on the bricklayer's
face. The bricklayer's arms are
heavy and slump into a wingback
chair or threadbare sofa or
petulant carousel or dithyrambic
telescope. The bricklayer's arms
are molten, molded, mottled, mirrored,
mired in unclaimed histories
of insufficient estimation. The
bricklayer's arms float into
suspended air; glow, from an
inner right, in cascades of
slate, beacons of broken guile.
They are patched, poked, pummeled,
pent; averse to what has been,
oblivious to what will come.
The bricklayer's arms disappear
behind a cloud, then return
soft-focus, dusk-lit, gauzy,
tipped. The bricklayer's
arms refuse to tell the secret
of the bricklayer's house.
The bricklayer's arms abjure
exposure, encapsulate the brokered
seams of a riven dream, permissible
to a few, particular to none.
The bricklayer's arms court
detachment, reflect closure.
The bricklayer's arms arm themselves
against denial, parry promise, absorb
abjection. In the torn
time between never
and however, they dissolve
into the formaldehyde
of the heart's lost longing.
The bricklayer's arms found
a moment in the quicksilver
of immaterial solids:
perception as flight against charter,
ballast, cynosure. Falling into
shadow, the bricklayer's arms,
knees, neck, mouth, scalp,
shins, stomach, eyes
blend into storm, cloud,
sand, crystal, fork, bend,
bay, sag, sigh, coast.
The bricklayer's arms are
charms of a parallel coexistence,
emblem of fused incalculability.
They lie low in
gummed silhouette, fly when
floored, sing in phrases to
the apparent drumbeat of incurious
imbrication. Solo flight marked of
bygones, tattered torrents, embers
of desuetude, the bricklayer's
arms peal a dull and somber tune.
The bricklayer's arms break
the silence of the bricklayer's
heart. The bricklayer's arms
are every bit as dense as the vague
mist that obscures the furnished
hold of the bricklayer's sight.
The bricklayer's arms
are the imperfect extension
of the bricklayer's thoughts.
No sea contains them, no
forest is as deep or sky as
boundless as the bounded
continent of the bricklayer's
arms. The bricklayer's arms
signify nothing, but never cease
to mean. Even the smallest
grain of sand tunes itself
to their contours. The bricklayer's
arms are empirical evidence of
the existence of the bricklayer's
soul. The bricklayer's arms are lost
in reverie's pale, sad, lush illusions;
snap back from the blind eye
or the quick retort to sail into
helplessness's velour paradise.
The bricklayer's arms are a figment
of the imagination of the bricklayer's
shoulders. Buoyed by incapacity,
sufficient to expectation, they are
the final destination of helpless
promises and muted aspirations.
The bricklayer's arms are blanched
in disavowal. Without preparation,
the bricklayer's arms enfold
the beached drives and mercurial
generosity the age remands.
Atlas of the forsaken mall
of final detours, harbinger
of ill-timed hums and oft-lorn
wings, the bricklayer's arms are
stamped by the artifice of token
and projection. The bricklayer's arms
cradle the soul of the lost world.

Reprinted from Cricket (2005). Copyright ©2005 by Charles Bernstein.

Winner of the PIP Gertrude Stein Awards for Innovative Poetry in English

The Duck Hunters
for Ernesto Livon-Grossman
"I remember beautiful rivers
but not the boat to take you there."

The shots ring across Plaza de Mayo
16 June 1955. Even
the duck hunters shudder at blood-splattered
column of Cristoforo Colombo,
rising up upon the shoulders of those
now. "Those who use violence against their
enemies will, turning, use violence
against themselves, even their own people."
Dulce de leche but memory
slashes. Go back, daylight too hard to bear,
night soaks in despair. No moment exists
save this one, doubling over heave & mar
& spill, in still more furious repair.

Buenos Aires, 16 June 2005

On June 16, 1955, Argentine navy planes bombed the government and cultural center of Buenos Aires in an attempt to kill the elected president, Juan Peron. The Pope had excommunicated Peron on the same day. After 300 unarmed civilians died in the attack, a crowd torched the nearby Buenos Aires cathedral. The epigraph is from a comment by María Elena Qués. The quotation adapts a line from Judith Malina's 1967 translation of Brecht's 1948 version of Hölderlin's 1804 translation of Sophocles's Antigone.

Reprinted from Hambone, No. 18 (2006). Copyright ©2006 by Charles Bernstein.

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