All the Whiskey in Heaven Selected Poems

Charles Bernstein

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

320 Pages



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All the Whiskey in Heaven brings together Charles Bernstein's best work from the past thirty years, an astonishing assortment of different types of poems. Yet despite the distinctive differences from poem to poem, Bernstein’s characteristic explorations of how language both limits and liberates thought are present throughout. Modulating the comic and the dark structural invention with buoyant soundplay, these challenging works give way to poems of lyric excess and striking emotional range. This is poetry for poetry's sake, as formally radical as it is socially engaged, providing equal measures of aesthetic pleasure, hilarity, and philosophical reflection. Long considered one of America’s most inventive and influential contemporary poets, Bernstein reveals himself to be both trickster and charmer.


Praise for All the Whiskey in Heaven

"With All the Whiskey in Heaven . . . Bernstein takes 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. Bernstein is identified with the Language poets, who emerged in the 1970s. Interested in the materiality of language, they are politically left, theoretically grounded and deeply suspicious of the lyric 'I' that speaks from the heart in traditional poems without examining its own existence in a sociopolitical power structure. Their work is often most subversive when both joining and satirizing that weary old, dreary old genre, poetry about poetry. Early Bernstein can be opaque, annoying those who see difficulty as elitist and who want poetry to be cuddly and educational. But everyone should love the later Bernstein, a writer who is accessible, enormously witty, often joyful—and even more evilly subversive.'—Daisy Fried, The New York Times

"Charles Bernstein is not just a theorist of poetry but of language itself. The ideas guiding his creative work might be summarized, albeit reductively, like this: Words are meaningless in themselves, and find significance only when we agree upon a definition. Bernstein’s poetry tends to draw attention to the slipperiness of words, and to reload them with new, and sometimes better, meanings. All the Whiskey in Heaven, his first book from a major publisher and required reading for poetry enthusiasts, selects from the dozens of works the author has written over the past 35 years. Don’t look here for intensely felt personal recollections or anything referencing particular biography. Instead, you’ll find verbal collages in many different forms. One of the foundational figures of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E movement, Bernstein likes to borrow from various sources—political discourse, personal correspondence, mental-health literature and advertising—and see what happens when they bump up against one another. 'I am especially interested in the treatment of depression,' one prose poem opens, but begins shifting drastically a few lines down: 'Nowadays, being a husband, father, homeowner and Jew keeps me both busy and satisfied.' The poet is often quite funny (see, for instance, 'Mao Tse Tung Wore Khakis'). Though Bernstein borrows from other sources, his poems display imagination and great formal variety. There are rambling free-verse prose poems, long poems, songs, political tirades and even aphorisms: 'War is nature’s way of saying I told you so.' While much of what’s here is unsettling and even difficult to understand, that’s the way it’s meant to be. This is the culture we've made, the one we've agreed upon—Bernstein is merely reflecting it back at us."Craig Morgan Teicher, Time Out New York

"For man than thirty years, Charles Bernstein has been America's most ardent literary provocateur. This long-needed selection of his poetry gives us a new perspective on his work, for it shows us that the many forms he has worked in over the years are in fact a single form, the Bernstein form, and it is unique, the product of imagination unlike that of any other contemporary writer. His poems challenge you to think in unaccustomed ways. They address public matters, private matters, poetic matters—in other words, all that matters most. And, good Lord, can they ever make you laugh."—Paul Auster

"Charles Bernstein's poems resemble each other only in being unexpected. Simultaneously mad, tragic, and hilarious, they seem written to illustrate the truth of his lines: 'things are / solid; we stumble, unglue, recombine.' All the Whiskey in Heaven is a vast department store of the imagination."—John Ashbery

"Charles Bernstein is our ultimate connoisseur of chaos, the chronicler, in poems of devastating satire, chilling and complex irony, exuberant wit, and, above all, profound passion, of the contradictions and absurdities of everyday life in urban America at the turn of the twenty-first century. Bernstein's All the Whiskey in Heaven displays a formal range, performative urgency, and verbal dexterity unmatched by other poets of his generation."—Majorie Perloff

"This wonderful book confirms Charles Bernstein's position as the preeminent American poet of mental activity—delineating not simply the mind as it registers stimuli, but the more radical commitment to mind as a machine that constantly invents totally new moves and strategies in the daily battles of perception. All the Whiskey in Heaven captures thirty years of groundbreaking and revelatory work."—Richard Foreman

"A perfect introduction to the adventure that is Charles Bernstein's work. But even for those of us who have know his irrepressible inventiveness and engaged humor from the individual books, it is a boon to see here the full range of his exuberant ingenuity in battling sclerosis of word, mind—and poetry."—Rosmarie Waldrop

"This gathering of 30 years worth of work by the prominent L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poet and essayist offers a rigorous critique of the art of poetry itself, which means, among other things, a thorough investigation of language and the mind. Varied voices and genres are at play, from a colloquial letter of complaint to the manager of a Manhattan subway station to a fragmentary meditation on the forces that underlie the formation of knowledge. Bernstein's attention to the uncertainty surrounding the self as it purports to exist in poetry—'its virtual (or ventriloquized)/ anonymity—opens fresh pathways toward thinking through Rimbaud's dictum that 'I is another.' In addition to philosophical depth—which somehow even lurks beneath statements like 'There is nothing/ in this poem/ that is in any/ way difficult/ to understand'—a razor-sharp wit ties the book together: 'You can't/ watch ice sports with the lights on!' These exhilarating, challenging poems raise countless essential questions about the form and function of poetry."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)


From Asylums (1975)

From Shade (1978)
“Take then, these . . .”

From Sense of Responsibility (1979)
As If the Trees by Their Very Roots Had Hold of Us

From Poetic Justice (1979)
Azoot D’Puund
Lift Off

From Controlling Interests (1980)
Matters of Policy
The Italian Border of the Alps
Standing Target
For Love Has Such a Spirit That If It Is Portrayed It Dies

From Stigma (1981)
Stove’s Out

From Resistance (1983)
Ambient Detonation

From Islets/Irritations (1983)
Contradiction Turns to Rivalry
The Klupzy Girl
The Measure
Substance Abuse

From The Sophist
The Simply
The Voyage of Life
The Years as Swatches
from Foreign Body Sensation
from A Person Is Not an Entity Symbolic but the Divine Incarnate
The Harbor of Illusion

From The Absent Father in Dumbo (1990)
Autonomy Is Jeopardy

From Rough Trades (1991)
The Kiwi Bird in the Kiwi Tree
Whose Language
Verdi and Postmodernism
Riddle of the Fat Faced Man
Of Time and the Line

From Dark City (1994)

The Lives of the Toll Takers
Virtual Reality
Reveal Codes
The Influence of Kinship Patterns upon Perfection of an Ambiguous Stimulus
Dark City

From My Way: Speeches and Poems (1999)

A Defence of Poetry
“Dear Mr. Fannelli,”
Solidarity Is the Name We Give to What We Cannot Hold
Gertrude and Ludwig’s Bogus Adventure
A Test of Poetry
This Line

From Residual Rubbernecking (2000)

Mao Tse Tung Wore Khakis
Liftjar Agate
Mall at Night
After Campion
Sunset Sail
Rivulets of the Dead Jew

From With Strings (2001)

Doggy Bag
The Boy Soprano
Johnny Cake Hollow
This Poem Intentionally Left Blank
from Today’s Not Opposite Day

From Let’s Just Say (2001 / Published 2003)

In Particular
Thank You for Saying Thank You
Let’s Just Say
“every lake . . .”

From Some of These Daze (2001 / Published 2005)

Report from Liberty Street

From World On Fire (2002 / Published 2004)

Didn’t We
In a Restless World Like This Is
Broken English
Lost in Drowned Bliss
Sunset at Quaquaversal Point
A Flame in Your Heart

From Girly Man (2006)

Castor Oil
The Bricklayer’s Arms
Wherever Angels Go
War Stories
The Ballad of the Girly Man

Envoi: All the Whiskey in Heaven

Acknowledgements and Notes

In the Press

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

CHARLES BERNSTEIN is the author of forty books, ranging from large-scale collections of poetry and essays to libretti. He is the Donald T. Regan Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania.
Read the full excerpt



  • Charles Bernstein reads from All the Whiskey in Heaven

    At The Renaissance Society in Chicago, IL.



  • Charles Bernstein

  • Charles Bernstein is the author of forty books, ranging from large-scale collections of poetry and essays to libretti. He is the Donald T. Regan Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Charles Bernstein © Jemimah-Kuhfeld