Books for the News

Charles Bernstein, Mainstream Poet

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T.S. Eliot may have been the first to call April the “cruelest month.” But Charles Bernstein made the famous line even more memorable when he wrote “April is the cruelest month for poetry.” That’s the first line of his classic screed, “Against National Poetry Month,” in which the seminal Language poet argues that in making poetry accessible, NPM “reinforces the idea that poetry is culturally irrelevant and has done a disservice not only to poetry deemed too controversial or difficult to promote but also to the poetry it puts forward in this way.”
Presciently (the essay was written in 1999), Bernstein writes, “I also note this year that The New York Times is a major sponsor of National Poetry Month; but if the Times would take seriously the task of reviewing poetry books and readings, it would be doing a far greater service to poetry than advertising its support for National Poetry Month.” Well, it may have taken eleven years, but the Times, at long last, heeded Bernstein’s call when they published a review yesterday of his new book of selected poems All the Whiskey in Heaven. As the piece notes, this is his “first book not published by a university or independent press,” and though we did not publish it, the book draws from the collections he’s put out with the University of Chicago Press, including, most recently, Girly Man, the volume in which the poems “Report From Liberty Street” and “Thank You for Saying Thank You”—singled out by the reviewer Daisy Fried in the Times piece—originally appeared.
For those looking for more from this poet who has now taken “his place in the mainstream of American poetry, the very ‘Official Verse Culture’ he’s attacked entertainingly for years—a fate awaiting all our best outsiders,” be sure to check out all of his publications with Chicago.