Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 18 (Charles Bernstein)

Bernstein, Charles
Controlling Interests

This is the first of 10 books by Charles Bernstein on my shelf, so this part (18) might take a few days. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I discovered Charles Bernstein's poetry in the Best American Poetry 1992. 

My introduction to Charles Bernstein the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poet came several years later. A friend from college, Stephen Mounkhall, was volunteering once a week to help James Sherry put together an archive at the Segue Foundation. The archive was to consist of all the books Segue had distributed prior to losing their NEA money and going out of business as a distributor of small press poetry books. 

Stephen had to give up the position and offered it to me. He took me down into the basement offices and showed me the archive, which was basically a wall full of avant-garde poetry books from the last 30 years, and enticed me by saying that Dan Machlin managed the place and was there about 10 hours a week and Henry Hills edited his films in there in the evenings, but that the rest of the time it was empty and I could have this basement full of books to myself. It didn't take much convincing.

Of the many books I remember reading down there, the one I recall most clearly is Robert Grenier's "Sentences." The original is a box that unfolds on five sides until it lays flat on the table. All the "sentences" are typed on index cards stacked on the center panel. To close the book, you fold up the sides of the box around the cards and clasp it at the top. It was great fun to flip through the cards and read the sentences aloud.

Roof Books was also housed down there, so I had access to all of the books that they had published up until that time, Controlling Interests being one of them. This was the first book of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry I read cover to cover, and for that reason it is one of my favorites. Some of the poems in here -- "Matters of Policy," "Sentences My Father Used" and "Island Life" -- I would rate as "classics."  At the very least, they would make it into Mike's Anthology of American Poetry Very Important To Him (MAAPVITH), which I may publish someday.

I once tried to write a poem by trying to write the opposite of each sentence in "Matters of Policy."  It's didn't really work. Anyhow, the poems in this book are too long to quote (read "type out") here, but luckily there's a great recording of Charles reading "Matters of Policy" on PennSound:

Matters of Policy (13:37) from reading at Penn on April 11, 2006.

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