My Way: Speeches and Poems
Charles Bernstein

University of Chicago Press,

Paper $30.00 ISBN: 9780226044101 Published February 1999
E-book $7.00 (for 30 days), $30.00 ISBN: 9780226044866 Published March 2010
Kindle: $11.95 (as of 8/11)
cover image by Susan Bee

On My Way:
Paul Quinn in TLS
Geoff Ward in Boston Review
Brian Henry in L A G N I A P P E
Timothy Gray in American Literature

Publisher's catalog information:

"Verse is born free but everywhere in chains. It has been my project to rattle the chains." (from "The Revenge of the Poet-Critic")

In My Way, (in)famous language poet and critic Charles Bernstein deploys a wide variety of interlinked forms--speeches and poems, interviews and essays--to explore the place of poetry in American culture and in the university. Sometimes comic, sometimes dark, Bernstein's writing is irreverent but always relevant, "not structurally challenged, but structurally challenging.

Addressing many interrelated issues, Bernstein moves from the role of the public intellectual to the poetics of scholarly prose, from vernacular modernism to idiosyncratic postmodernism, from identity politics to the resurgence of the aesthetic, from cultural studies to poetry as a performance art, from the small press movement to the Web. Along the way he provides "close listening" to such poets as Charles Reznikoff, Laura Riding, Susan Howe, Ezra Pound, Allen Ginsberg, and Gertrude Stein, as well as a fresh perspective on L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, the magazine he coedited that became a fulcrum for a new wave of North American writing.

In his passionate defense of an activist, innovative poetry, Bernstein never departs from the culturally engaged, linguistically complex, yet often very funny writing that has characterized his unique approach to poetry for over twenty years. Offering some of his most daring work yet--essays in poetic lines, prose with poetic motifs, interviews miming speech, speeches veering into song--Charles Bernstein's My Way illuminates the newest developments in contemporary poetry with its own contributions to them.

Full texts on-line from My Way:

•Autobiographical Interview, with pictures, with Loss Pequeño Glazier
Beyond Emaciation (RIF/T 1.1)
•Close Listening: Poetry and the Performed Word
•"Dear Mr. Fanelli ..."
•"A Defence of Poetry" sound file at PennSound (text at Google preview of book)
Frame Lock
•Gertrude and Ludwig's Bogus Adventure
Hinge, Picture (on George Oppen)
•I Don't Take Voice Mail
•Introjective Verse (Chain)
•Poetics of the Americas (this version corrects several errors in the printed text)
•Provisional Institutions: Alternative Presses and Poetic Innovation
(essay oringally published in a different version in The Baffler in 1994)
excertps from "Revenge of the Poet-Critic" (Michigan Quarterly Review)
•"Reznikoff's Nearness" (Blackfold Maninfold 15, 2015)
"Riding's Reason"
•A Test of Poetry (on translation) & tr. into 5 languages (Karawa. net)
•"Thelonious Monk and the Performance of Poetry"

•Unrepresentative Verse (on Ginsberg and Eliot) (Poetry and the Public Sphere, Rutgers)
•The Value of Sulfur
(Jacket no. 5)
•Warning Poetry Area: Publics Under Construction
•Water Images of the The New Yorker, Harper's, 1989

from Kirkus Reviews:
An imaginative mensch fruitfully complicates poetry. Bernstein ... is one of the most sophisticated readers and writers we have. And he's also a wag, but seriously. His alternative perspective can only rejuvenate, partly because he's both a teacher (SUNY-Buffalo) and a student (by temperament), both the critic and the criticized, earnestly engaged with and yet also helpfully detached from poetry and its ongoing politics. Combining commentary on general intellectual issues (e.g., multiculturalisms move into the academy) and criticism (of Ezra Pound, Charles Reznikoff, et al.) with interviews and even poems, which here tend to double as philosophical or aesthetic credos, this excellent collection could serve well either as an introduction for newcomers or as the latest installment, for familiars, of a continuing conversation with the author. For, more than is true of most literary thinkers, Bernstein remains a committed personalist (without downsizing the scale of his investigations): You hear his voice as though he were sitting beside you, offering an amazingly mixed bag of wise asides and sensibly contrarian discussions.... Bernstein's pluralism, favoring the goal of finding the possibilities for articulation of meanings that are too often denied or repressed, is in fact anything but politically correct; as a founder of language poetry, he has always chosen to side with outsiderhood. Its remarkable how much more persuasive his renegade stance now seems than that of the poetic mainstream. For, as Bernstein so eloquently shows and tells us, ``Language, along with outer space, is the last wilderness.'' (12/15/98)

from Rosmarie Waldrop:
This is froehliche Wissenschaft indeed. Turbulent, open-ended thought mounts a much-needed attack on sclerosis of word and mind--and will have you in stitches as it pits PC ('personal cappuccino') against the 'ideopigical,' sound poetry against unsound poetry, and the 'refractory insouciance of the intractable' against tone lock, frame freeze, and mediocracy.

from Marjorie Perloff:
My Way is, quite simply, one of the most brilliant, exciting literary books to be published in the nineties. It is unique in its imagination, its bite, and above all, its deadpan and dazzling wit.

from Booklist:
One of the leaders of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E school of poetry, Bernstein is a poetic gadly, uncompromising in his questioning of what language is, why we use it as we do, and what values are conveyed with our linguistic choices. Bernstein will make few readers comfortable; there is something here to irritate almost everyone, beginning with Bernstein's radical vision of language ... American poetry needs Bernstein to keep it radcially honest, and he is, playfully and annoyingly, delighted to meet that need. (--Patricia Monaghan, 12/15/98)

from Peter Straub:
My Way is an entirely apt, allusive, and irreverent name for the latest of Charles Bernstein's demonstrations that the persistent application of a freely responsive and inventive intelligence to the idea of the text and its manifold uses enlarges both literature and those who read it.

from Rob Wilson (via
"My Way" offers a contrarian and Emersonian shakeup (and shakedown) of US poetics and its normative liberal pieties. I find these mixed-genre essays to be stimulating,energizing, dismantling, inventive, taking the grounds of "a poetics" into a newfoundland of play, risk, and stylistic mixture. By this, I mean that the prior senses of voice and forms of genre, not to mention the stabilities of "poetic diction," are taken into stranger post-ego areas of language risk, secular conversion, and fun. Sinatra did it "my way," and Charles Bernstein (like a zanier Bob Dylan watching a Marx Brothers movie while reading Deleuze and composing the Greenwich Village Joe Hill Blues on a used mouth harp) did it his, and "official verse culture" in the United States will never be the smug same old poesy again. Not for those whose version of pastoral is still made of petunia flowers, tylanol, and sheep.