"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)CONTENTSFrom Asylums (1975)AsylumFrom Shade (1978)“Take then, these . . .”DodgemFrom Sense of Responsibility (1979)As If the Trees by Their Very Roots Had Hold of UsResistanceFrom Poetic Justice (1979)PalukavilleAzoot D’PuundLift OffFrom Controlling Interests (1980)Matters of PolicyThe Italian Border of the AlpsStanding TargetFor Love Has Such a Spirit That If It Is Portrayed It DiesFrom Stigma (1981)MarchStove’s OutFrom Resistance (1983)YouAmbient DetonationFrom Islets/Irritations (1983)Islets/IrritationsContradiction Turns to RivalryThe Klupzy GirlThe MeasureSubstance AbuseFrom The SophistThe SimplyThe Voyage of LifeThe Years as SwatchesDysraphismAmblyopiafrom Foreign Body Sensationfrom A Person Is Not an Entity Symbolic but the Divine IncarnateThe Harbor of IllusionFrom The Absent Father in Dumbo (1990)Autonomy Is JeopardyFrom Rough Trades (1991)The Kiwi Bird in the Kiwi TreeWhose LanguageVerdi and PostmodernismRiddle of the Fat Faced ManOf Time and the LineFrom Dark City (1994)The Lives of the Toll TakersVirtual RealityReveal CodesThe Influence of Kinship Patterns upon Perfection of an Ambiguous StimulusDark CityFrom My Way: Speeches and Poems (1999)A Defence of Poetry“Dear Mr. Fannelli,”Solidarity Is the Name We Give to What We Cannot HoldGertrude and Ludwig’s Bogus AdventureA Test of PoetryThis LineRiddleFrom Residual Rubbernecking (2000)Mao Tse Tung Wore KhakisLiftjar AgateMall at NightAfter CampionSunset SailRivulets of the Dead JewFrom With Strings (2001)Doggy BagThe Boy SopranoJohnny Cake HollowThis Poem Intentionally Left BlankMemoriesfrom Today’s Not Opposite DayFrom Let’s Just Say (2001 / Published 2003)In ParticularThank You for Saying Thank YouLet’s Just Say“every lake . . .”From Some of These Daze (2001 / Published 2005)Report from Liberty StreetFrom World On Fire (2002 / Published 2004)Didn’t WeIn a Restless World Like This IsBroken EnglishLost in Drowned BlissSunset at Quaquaversal PointA Flame in Your HeartFrom Girly Man (2006)Castor OilThe Bricklayer’s ArmsWherever Angels GoWar StoriesThe Ballad of the Girly ManEnvoi: All the Whiskey in HeavenAcknowledgements and Notes
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.
At The Renaissance Society in Chicago, IL.