From The Times Literary Supplement
December 3, 2010

Books of the Year

Marjorie Perloff

Charles Bernstein's name has been so closely linked to the Language Movement he helped to found in the late 1970s, that the poetry itself has too often been neglected in favour of his theoretical pronouncements, provocations and noted pedagogical experiments. Farrar Straus's generous and elegant Selected Poems, titled All the Whiskey in Heaven, is thus especially welcome.

A master of satire and parody, Bernstein has, in recent years, also produced emotionally charged lyrical ballads like the title poem or "Doggy Bag". His is an uncanny eye and ear for our historic moment: surely "Report from Liberty Street" and "War Stories" are the most memorable - and subtle - poems produced in the wake of 9/11 and the Iraq war. In their exuberant wordplay and polylingualism, these poems recall another parodic anti-war poem, Ezra Pound's "Homage to Sextus Propertius", included for the first time in the enlarged New Selected Poems and Translations (New Directions). Richard Sieburth has produced by far the best such selection to date, one that includes a wide sampling of Cantos, carefully annotated, along with translations from Confucius to Rimbaud, a detailed publishing history, and an appendix containing both T. S. Eliot's introduction to the first Selected (1928), as well as John Berryman's (1949), which was solicited for New Directions by James Laughlin, only to be rejected by Pound. "A lot of damn argument mostly with 2ndrate critics", he complained, and surely "NOT whetting anyone's appetite for the text". Readers can now judge for themselves.