With translations, imitations, and homages, and with poems of poetry’s motion, and manifestos of politics and poetics, Bernstein has gone beyond a personal anthology of poetics to write a book I struggle to categorize. If you could remove all the term’s negative connotations, all the personal and cultural associations with boredom and restriction, if you could extract the term from the worst of academics and education, you could call Recalculating a textbook. It is the syllabus, the required reading, the example, the supplemental critical exploration, and the challenge. It is a shiv tearing at the fabric of poetry for a glimpse of the poetic future. It is the wall, the empty cans of spray paint, and the graffiti. It is the schematics for every part of the bomb but the fuse; the reader is the fuse. But as explosive as Recalculating is, the image of a bomb isn’t right, for, ultimately Bernstein is not a destroyer but a motivator. At the end of Recalculating, Bernstein wants you to believe poetry has not met its potential.
The “recalculating” moment happens when we go off course, miss a turn, take a wrong turn, or misinterpret a direction. “Recalculating” is the GPS both following your lead and keeping you on track. It’s a strange kind of modern freedom; no matter how many “wrong” turns you take, no matter how much you wander from the ideal course, the GPS will always lead you to your destination. It’s an odd titular image for a poet defined by defiance, who celebrates what the mainstream rejects, who challenges when others acquiesce, who values difficulty, obscurity, and actual break-a-sweat intellectual poetic engagement when most are content to see poems as postcards. You’d expect Bernstein to throw the GPS out the window. But all the defiance and revolution, all the polemics and pontifications, all the shouting and laughter, come from the same core source; Bernstein’s profound love of poetry. All the wrong turns, all the deviations, all the explorations, all the escapes, they all return to one fundamental idea; poetry is beautiful and poetry is important. And so is Recalculating.
Recalculating is Charles Bernstein’s first full-length collection of poems in seven years. Read more here.