Monday, January 19, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 18.6 (Charles Bernstein)

Bernstein, Charles
Republics of Reality: Poems 1975-1995

Purchased in Buffalo, most likely at Talking Leaves...Books. The cover image, To The Lighthouse II, by Susan Bee, hung in Charles' office/seminar room the entire time I was in graduate school. Also on the wall were all the posters for the Wednesdays at 4 Plus readings series that Charles curated. The posters were always all text, no images, with a single color ink that changed with each season. Usually they were printed on bright white paper, though sometimes on off-white as well. I arrived about half-way through CB's tenure in the poetics program, so there were quite a few in the wall by the time I got there, and quite a few more by the time I left.

Most of the rear walls, the "office" part of the room, were covered by bookshelves filled with, you guessed it, BOOKS! I think Charles stored all the books he couldn't fit in his apartment in NY in his office in Buffalo, so there were tons of them.

In the center of the room, in front of the desk, there was a loveseat and a couple of chairs, a kind of lounge (maybe there were two facing love seats? I think they were light blue and were made of blocky, dorm-furniture wood). I often sat there instead of at the seminar table during lectures by visiting poets.

I am trying to remember some of the other items on the walls. I remember their was a Creeley poster, with a poem and a picture of Creeley from the 60's. I think there was an Oppen poster or a a poster for an Oppen conference. One wall was all windows that looked out on the music library, the center for the arts, and the large pond adorned with a post-modern-neo-classical sculpture, whose maker I don't recall. There were usually books piled near the windows. At one time there was a stack of copies of Common Sense by Ted Greenwald. Charles often had extra copies of books from friends or presses or whatever that he would give away as we came into class. In between windows, in the center of the wall there was a little table that had a coffee maker (maybe it was a little fridge with a coffee maker on top?)

There was a poster about a Canadian poetry festival that had a hockey mask with the Canadian flag emblazoned across it. I think there was also a broadside of a short poem by Charles on the wall somewhere. In the front of the room were a couple of seminar tables, around which the classes would convene to discuss what we were reading or to listen to the many visiting poets that came through town, and whose visits made the experience of the poetics program uniquely what it was.

During one class that I recall, students were making their various presentations, one of which was a live video presentation by Anya Lewin. She brought a video camera with her and had it hooked directly into a television set behind Charles. I don't remember her presentation, but I do remember that at one point, while Charles was talking, she turned on the camera and aimed it under the table at his leg, which was always bouncing around maniacally when he spoke. We sat there for several minutes trying to listen to Charles speak while the image of his fidgety leg was projected on the screen behind him.

Here's an early poem of Charles that I have always liked, reprinted in ROR from the chapbook, Senses of Responsibility:

As If The Trees By Their Very Roots Had Hold Of Us

Strange to remember a visit, really not so
Long ago, which now seems, finally, past. Always, it's a
Kind of obvious thing I guess, amazed by that
Cycle: that first you anticipate a thing & it seems
Far off, the distance has a weight you can feel
Hanging on you, & then it's there -- that
Point -- whatever -- which, now, while
It's happening seems to be constantly slipping away,
"Like the sand through your fingers in an old movie," until
You can only look back on it, & yet you're still there, staring
At your thoughts in the window of the fire you find yourself before.
We've gone over this a thousand times: & here again, combing that
Same section of beach or inseam for that -- I'm no
Longer sure when or exactly where -- "& yet" the peering,
Unrewarding as it is, in terms of tangible results,
Seems so necessary.

Hope, which is, after all, no more than a splint of thought
Projected outward, "looking to catch" somewhere --
What can I say here -- that the ease or
Difficulty of such memories doesn't preclude
"That harsher necessity" of going on always in
A new place, under different circumstances:
& yet we don't seem to have changed, it's
As if the years that have gone by are
All a matter of record, "but if the real
Facts were known" we were still reeling from
What seems to have just happened, but which,
"By the accountant's keeping" occurred years
Ago. Years ago. It hardly seems possible,
So little, really, has happened.

We shore ourselves hour by hour
In anticipation that soon there will be
Nothing to do. "Pack a sandwich
& let's eat later." And of course
The anticipation is quite appropriate, accounting,
For the most part, for whatever activity
We do manage. Eternally buzzing over the time,
Unable to live in it....

"Maybe if we go upaways we can get a better
View." But, of course, in that sense, views don't
Improve. "In the present moment" (If we could only see
It, which is to say, to begin with, stop looking with
Such anticipation) what is enfolding before us puts to
Rest any necessity for "progression."

So, more of these tracings, as if by some magic
Of the phonetic properties of these squiggles.... Or
Does that only mystify the "power" of "presence" which
Is, as well, a sort of postponement.

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