Thursday, January 15, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 18.2 (Charles Bernstein)


Dark City
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Bernstein, Charles
Dark City


This book was a well-meaning-yet-poorly-thought-out gift, well meaning in that as a gift it shows that the person knew something of my tastes in contemporary poetry, yet poorly thought out in the sense that as a book of poems to read it is a used book, and not just any used book, but a book used by the giver of the gift in a graduate poetry seminar, and not just any graduate poetry seminar, but a graduate poetry seminar in which it was important to gain some understanding of the meaning of the poems contained in the book, either through reading the poems closely or by taking careful notes in class, and then to articulate this information back to the teacher of the graduate poetry seminar, either through the answering of questions on an exam or through the writing of a seminar paper, which fact seems to have lead, early and often, to the then-owner of the book having made notations in the margins, and not only in the margins, but in between the lines of the poems themselves, sometimes allowing wild profusions of scrawl to take over the page, some of them written in pen, some in pencil, some in small handwriting, some in large, so that even when reading those rare and precious pages that were given free of the giver's (re)marks, the reader finds him or herself overtaken by a harrowing sense of dread, terrified that those random traces of random thoughts generated by the study of the poems at hand, so chaotic, so distracting, so obvious and banal (no offense meant), are about to appear again, perhaps on the next page, perhaps on the one after that, performing in the place of the author, himself a noted disrupter of syntax, the very task for which he is noted, for which pleasure a reader such as myself would, presumably, open the book in the first place, perhaps in the hope of experiencing the titillation of the disrupted syntactical nerve, but surely not to read the fragmentary thoughts of this gauche commentator, who chose to give this reader the gift of disrupted disrupted syntax which, being as it is a contradiction in terms, cancels itself, along with this reader's pleasure in reading the text at hand, out, a fact which leads this reader to a forced confession, which is that though he has read many of the poems in this book individually in other places, such as the Best American Poetry 1992, he has never been able to read them as they are here collected, because the multiplication of disrupted syntaxes caused by the wanton dissemination of marginal and interlinear notes throughout its pages by the giver of this book to him as a well-intentioned-yet-poorly-thought out gift has proved again and again to be an obstacle he has found himself either unwilling or unable to surmount.

For instance, from the first page of the first poem, marginal notes in "":

                                                                                   "conversation"
There appears to be a receiver off the hook. Not that
you care.                                              "interrupted communication
                                                                                     apathy"
Beside the gloves resided a hat and two
pinky rings, for which no         "nofit"
finger was ever found.                                                


And so on.

1 comment:

Dan Coffey said...

Somebody marked up a copy of a Harryette Mullen book like that in our library. The reader-inserted text overshadowed Mullen's original text by at least a 2:1 ratio. Someone asked me if I thought we should get rid of it and order another copy, and that was my original notion, but I since decided to keep it on the shelf, and ordered another copy of the book to go alongside it.