Poetry Project Newsletter, April-June 2007 (#211, pp. 25-26)
UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS I 2006
REVIEW BY CHUCK STEBELTON
Charles Bernstein's new volume Girly Man, richly furnished in hard-
cover with a gorgeously rendered Susan Bee dust jacket, cites the
original chapbook publication of two chapters as pamphlets rather
than chaps. By calling them pamphlets, which call to mind slogans,
Bernstein suggests that he intended to affect an immediate outcome
beyond a beautiful book object or a cannonball in the gift economy.
The individual poems take on necessarily different resonances than
when read against the primary context in which they first appeared.
Some take on multiple registers, others seem more muted here.
Many, thankfully, find complement elsewhere in a growing number
of sound files and critical responses on the author's EPC page and
at Penn Sound.
Girly Man’s opening chapter appeared with Chax in 2003, lovingly
hand sewn with a spiffy little woodcut figure thinking a speech bal-
loon that says, "Let's Just Say." The book-ending of first and final
pieces allow each of the four poems here to make fullest use of the
smaller format. Both the opening poem "In Particular" and the final
untitled poem "every lake has a house" proceeds as a list of impos-
sibly shifting positions, each ending on an inversion of the opening
line. In the case of "In Particular," "A black man waiting at a bus stop
/ A white woman sitting on a stool" cap a four page litany of
impolitic characters and caricatures. “A Wiccan matron swimming in
glue. A balding brownnoser in tutu.” The poem comes into its own
the moment it returns to what' it first meant to dodge: " A white man
sitting on stooll A black woman waiting at bus stop."
The short untitled poem "every lake has a house" frames the same
trick in the shorter space of a single page. Bernstein inverts its title
line by closing on "& every house has a lake." In the process he pro-
ceeds to zoom in on that house and every house to a level of improb-
able and even impossible detail: "& every face has a thought / &
every thought has a trap." Given four poems in a single package, this
bracketing by inversion is a send up at the level of the poem and on
the level of sequence. At the opening of this larger collection, the
tone leading chapter "Let'sJust Say" wants to contain each impulse
the rest of the collection's poems will follow or else slyly resist.
One of the impulses in Girly Man is to have fun at the expense of
facts that aren't logically necessary. The two part "Language, Truth,
and Logic" is a hoot, insisting as always that there's no need to be
too precious. Longer poems that resist this same impulse, take
"Likeness" with its "The repetition is like the repetition," a real
groaner, can come off as mere scores.
The most topical section is "Some Of These Daze," composed oflet-
ters and notes from late 2001. There's a strong sense of family and
neighbor. Mostly comInitment and aftermath:
"It's a bit ominous," a friend writes, "the way the politicos are
speaking about talking with one voice."
--I am just trying to get by talking with no voice."
Other sections strike a bemused, comic
tone and document the sense of a poet very
much of his own time. "He's So Heavy,
He's My Soka1l" is a wry performance in
itself: "I'm laughing so hard I could sigh."
Throughout Girly Man Bemstein is at play
with thinking and this leads him to coin
what could immediately become a new slo-
gan: "War is the extension of prose by other
Chuck Stebelton is the author of Circulation
Flowers (Tougher Disguises) and works as
Literary Program Manager at Woodland
Pattern in Milwaukee.