Charles Bernstein EPC author page

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the poetry waters ...

Attack of the Difficult Poems
Essays and Inventions
University of Chicago Press

"A superb poet and great inventor of poetry, Charles Bernstein dazzlingly invents the essay for poetry: professing in a gorilla suit and white tuxedo.”—George Lakoff

 “This is a smart and invigorating book that triumphantly demonstrates Charles Bernstein’s goals and values. Those who want satire, those who want earnest discussion, those who want information, those who want to get a sense of personality, those who want theory, those who want entertainment, even those who wish to be confirmed in their beliefs and those who wish to nurse their resentments, will all find something here.”—Daisy Fried

 “I regret to inform you that Charles Bernstein’s Attack of the Difficult Poems is highly unsuitable (not suitable) for National Poetry Month. Not suitable for acceptance by the publications of the Modern Language Association or its affiliate, the Annual Convention. Not suitable for readers under the age of five. Not suitable for endorsement by the Paris Review. Not suitable for your average television sitcom. Not suitable for tenure. Not suitable for free distribution. Not suitable for variations in the ontological condition. Not suitable for readers of generic poetry. Not suitable for the MFA. For everyone else: priceless.”—Tan Lin 

Charles Bernstein is our postmodern jester of American poesy, equal parts surveyor of democratic vistas and scholar of avant-garde sensibilities. In a career spanning thirty-five years and forty books, he has provoked us with writing that is unafraid of the tensions between ordinary and poetic language, and between everyday life and its adversaries. Attack of the Difficult Poems, his latest collection of essays, gathers some of his most memorably irreverent work while addressing seriously and comprehensively the state of contemporary humanities, the teaching of unconventional forms, fresh approaches to translation, the history of language media, and the connections between poetry and visual art. 

Applying an array of essayistic styles, Attack of the Difficult Poems ardently engages with the promise of its title. Bernstein introduces his key theme of the difficulty of poems and defends, often in comedic ways, not just difficult poetry but poetry itself. Bernstein never loses his ingenious ability to argue or his consummate attention to detail. Along the way, he offers a wide-ranging critique of literature’s place in the academy, taking on the vexed role of innovation and approaching it from the perspective of both teacher and practitioner.

From blues artists to Tin Pan Alley song lyricists to Second Wave modernist poets, The Attack of the Difficult Poems sounds both a battle cry and a lament for the task of the language maker and the fate of invention. 

ISBN-13: 978-0-226-04477-4
 ISBN-10: 0-226-04477-7
May Day, 2011
Cover design by Isaac Tobin

Brooklyn Rail interview
with Adam Fitzgerald
(June, 2011)


Jared Demick,
The Jivin' Ladybug
April 2011

Joel Brouwer
"In Praise of Promiscuous Thinking"
Poetry Foundation
June 2011

Chris Jones
Times Higher Education
June 23, 2011

Douglas Messerli
Los Angeles Review of Books
July 28, 2011

Thomas Fink
press 1
Fall, 2011

Norbert Hirschhorn
Sept. 21, 2011

Michael Hennessey
Attention Span
Sept. 2011

Scott Wilkerson
Word for Word
Feb. 2012

Rachel Abramowitz
"The Importance of Being Difficult:
Charles Bernstein’s Attack of the Difficul Poems
The Kenyon Review
Winter 2012

Rosemary Winslow
"A Poetics of Social Acts"

American Book Review

Volume 33, Number 2
January/February 2012

Stephen Ross
March 2, 2012

Gerald Bruns
"Anarchic inventions: On making poetry present"
July 2012

Václav Paris
"Poetry in the Age of Digital Reproduction: Marjorie Perloff’s Unoriginal Genius, and Charles Bernstein’s Attack of the Difficult Poems"
Jourrnal of Modern Literature
35:3 (2012)

Joshua Weiner
"A Hazard of New Fortunes"
Los Angeles Review of Books
(Sept. 19, 2012)

Gary Thomas Morse
"Text in the City: Difficult Language"
Nov. 7, 2012

Adelaide Morris
American Literature
85:4 (2013)


Norman Fischer, everyday zen
April/May, 2011

Toronto Globe and Mail, April 23, 2011
Bernstein, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a remarkably prolific author, essayist and critic, not only defends difficult poems in this collection of essays, but also poetry in general, both as a reader and as a practitioner. In prose that is unconventional and often very funny, he comments as well on the state of the humanities, teaching, translation, the history of language media and the connections between poetry and visual art.

Todd Swift, Eyewear
April 27, 2011
This book ... is a must-have, must-read, for every practicing poet in Britain and Ireland.

C. O. Aptowicz, Amazon
April 29, 2011

TLS's J.C. on
"Against National Poetry Month as Such"

April 2011

"Genius poet of our time."
–Jerry Salz
June 12, 2011


 I. Professing Poetics
    The Difficult Poem
    A Blow Is Like an Instrument: The Poetic Imaginary and Curricular Practices
    Against National Poetry Month as Such
    Invention Follies
    Creative Wreading & Aesthetic Judgment
    Wreading, Writing, Wresponding
    Anything Goes
    Our Americas: New Worlds Still in Progress
    The Practice of Poetics

II. The Art of Immemorability
    Every Which Way but Loose
    The Art of Immemorability
    Making Audio Visible: Poetry’s Coming Digital Presence
    The Bound Listener
    Hearing Voices
    Objectivist Blues: Scoring Speech in Second Wave Modernist Poetry and Lyrics

III. The Fate of the Aesthetic
    McGann Agonist
    Poetry and/or the Sacred
    The Art and Practice of the Ordinary
    Electronic Pies in the Poetry Skies
    Poetry Plastique: A Verbal Explosion in the Art Factory (with Jay Sanders)
    Speed the Movie or Speed the Brand Name or Aren’t You the Kind That Tells
    Breaking the Translation Curtain: The Homophonic Sublime
    Fraud’s Phantoms: A Brief Yet Unreliable Account of Fighting Fraud with Fraud
    Fulcrum Interview
    Radical Jewish Culture / Secular Jewish Practice
    Poetry Scene Investigation: A Conversation with Marjorie Perloff
    Is Art Criticism Fifty Years Behind Poetry?
    Poetry Bailout Will Restore Confidence of Readers

IV. Recantorium
    Recantorium (a bachelor machine, after Duchamp after Kafka)



Attack of the Difficult Poems launch
A.I.R. Gallery, 6-11-11

Install the Flash plugin to watch this video.


Ten essays from Attack of the Difficult Poems
(all essays revised for book publication):

"Against National Poetry Month as Such"; listen to excerpt on NPR

"Our Americas: New Worlds Still in Progress"
Rothenberg's Poems and Poetics
part one, part two

"The Art and Practice of the Ordinary" (Poetry Daily)

"Is Art Criticism 50 Years Behind Poetry?
" (Parkett, 2009)
(book version has a second part not included here)

Objectivist Blues: Scoring Speech in Second-Wave Modernist Poetry and Lyrics (American Literary History, 2008)

"Poetry Bailout" (Harper's, 2008)

"Anything Goes" on Al Filreis's Counter Revolution of the Word, Boston Review 33:4 (July/Aug 2008)

Speed the Movie or Speed the Brand Name or Aren't You the Kind that Tells: My Sentimental Journey through Future Shock and Present Static Electricity. Version 19.84 (EBR, 2007; Shark, 1999)

"McGann Agonist" — on Jerome McGann

Electronic Pies in the Poetry Skies - from The Politics of Information, ed. Marc Bousquet and Katherine Wills (Electronic Book Review); hypertext version via Coach House Press.

Recantorium – trilingual e-book from Gammm: English, Italian, French