cover image My Way: Speeches and Poems

My Way: Speeches and Poems

Charles Bernstein. University of Chicago Press, $30 (329pp) ISBN 978-0-226-04410-1

One of the key theorists of the workshop-busting Language poets, the charismatic Bernstein (A Poetics; Dark City, Rough Trades) continues to expand his purview past the formal concerns of that group. His latest critico-poetic salvo takes in issues of multiculuralism; ""standard"" vs. ""non-standard"" forms of language usage; the ossified conservative agenda of literary institutions in the United States; poetry in performance--both on the page and on stage; and graduate-level pedagogical practices (""Frame Lock""). Eclectic both in its forms of expression (scholarly essays; interviews; generous explications of poets like Charles Reznikoff, Larry Eigner, Hannah Weiner and Susan Howe; quirky poems; and forms that are hybrids of all of these) and in its range of interests, My Way also grants us peeks beneath the surface of Bernstein's sometimes strategically difficult discourse, as in a long autobiographical interview with Loss Glazier, or deceptively accessible poems like ""A Test of Poetry,"" which documents the traumas of his translators. ""Water Images of The New Yorker"" is a fine little investigative piece, discovering that 86% of the poems over a 16 week period contained images of water, while ""Dear Mr. Fanelli,"" a poem in skinny Schuyleresque lines, takes the language of a subway administrator's ""request for comments"" literally, highlighting how even bureaucratic language is vexed with double-meanings. ""Poetics of the Americas"" creates an important bridge between the ethnically marginalized practices of poets like Claude McKay and Paul Lawrence Dunbar and more self-consciously ""avant-garde"" writers like Louis Zukofsky, Basil Bunting and the Language poets themselves. This book, for all of its centrifugal activity, is a singular yet globally relevant perspective on the literary arts and their institutions, offered in good faith, yet cranky and poignant enough to not be easily ignored. (Feb.)