Boston Review
Advertisement: Beacon Press

faith in politics: democrats, republicans, and the black church.
capture the moment: the trouble with photojournalism.
the noise of time: a poem by david antin.
the last gentleman: remembering richard yates.
complete contents
new democracy forum
new fiction forum
rave reviews
writers' guidelines
we're hiring
book page
bookstore locator
literary links
email newswire

New Book From BR

Is Inequality Bad for Our Health? by Norman Daniels, Bruce Kennedy, Ichiro Kawachi, and others (Beacon Press)

fung, o'rourke, and sabel lead a debate on international labor standards.
susan sturm and lani guinier lead a debate on the future of affirmative action.
james hynes reveals the philosophical secrets within john crowley's fantasy novels.
dmitri tymoczko listens to the musical ideas of john cage and milton babbitt.
susie linfield wonders whether post-apartheid south africa has traded truth for justice.
and more...

Republics of Reality: 1975–1995
Charles Bernstein
Sun & Moon, $14.95 (paper)

Alternately classical ("Music strays, will's composed / Pleasure strikes when feeling stays"), techno-code ("autonomous explosions / taste as / blocks, circling / like (star), fl…m…n…g…") and gonzo ("Who would have thought Paul McCartney would be / the Perry Como of the 1990s?"), Charles Bernstein builds perfect little units—as if he were updating Elizabeth Bishop's "Monument" or re-casting the condensed jewels that are Vasko Popa's poems for our age. Republics might move readers, then, beyond their initial reaction to his work once they see he has as much to do with Milton as the Language movement: there is not a word that doesn't belong in these tight, crystalline artifacts, in which there are seldom an unoriginal revelation, joke, or philosophic/aesthetic stance made ("Figment / only blinds / when care freezes / & flips / over its own / (homely) / recourse"). Because these poems defy categorization, Bernstein's use of poetry as a political ground continues stronger than ever, but hopefully the breadth of style in Republics will remind many that Bernstein's head has never been buried in the sand—that he's as much a lyric bard, prose poet and Romantic as he is an "experimentalist," a "renegade." —Ethan Paquin

Republics of Reality: 1975–1995
Charles Bernstein
Sun & Moon, $14.95 (paper)

What was Language poetry? A farce, a revolution of banality, a savvy marketing effort? Readers who hold of any of these opinions will find plenty of grist for their respective mills in Charles Bernstein's Republics of Reality: 1975–1995 . The book offers a peculiar overview of Bernstein's career in that it includes poems from eight of the poet's previously published chapbooks and a clutch of previously unpublished new poems. The collection is a dissonant symphony cobbled together from minor scores, and its herky-jerky mix of comedy, philosophy, and lyric is a reminder that Bernstein is an avid experimentalist who strikes out in many directions. Farce: "Take this / split (splint / of sound / mumbling / murky dormer / as in" ("Revolutionary Poem"). A revolution of banality: "here. Forget. / There are simply tones / cloudy, / breezy / birds & so on. / Sit down with it. / It's time now. / There is no more natural sight" ("Poem"). Branding: The jacket copy reminds readers of Bernstein's central role in the Language poetry movement, but it also insists that, "as these poems reveal, Bernstein's allegiance has not been to any one kind of poetry, but to an 'artificed' writing that refuses simple absorption in the society around it." Of course, this begs the question of why society would feel compelled to absorb such writing in the first place, and why such writing consequently finds its only refuge in the university. Bernstein's language, it seems, now has just a lower-case "l". Is he running from success or failure? One thing is certain: Republics of Reality weighs 15.4 ounces. —John Palattella

Republics of Reality: 1975–1995
Charles Bernstein
Sun & Moon, $14.95 (paper)

"I'm not going to change my language," Charles Bernstein writes in "Sentences,"  from his first book, Parsing. But he did—and, more importantly, he  changed ours. Republics of Reality collects eight early books of perhaps  the most public figure in Language poetry and adds a substantial group of newer  poems. Contemplating the rise of Language writing in the twenty-first century may  be, as the title of Bernstein's selection of new poems puts it, "Residual Rubbernecking."  Yet Republics of Reality is valuable both as a record of a movement and as  an account of a singular poetic struggle. Bernstein's mature signature style is  as recognizable as any incontemporary poetry—bob-and-weave, pugilistic punning  through multiple discourses, with syntax and line deployed as an endless series  of (often comic) head fakes. But in early books, such as Parsing, Shade,  and Poetic Justice, we find Bernstein fascinated with the workings of ordinary  language, in poems deeply informed by Bernstein's early training in philosophy.  Elements of Bernstein's later approach appear as early as Shade (in poems  such as "Take, then, these…"), but their later dominance hardly seems inevitable.  Indeed, elements of the early work that were later abandoned seem more intriguing  than the new poems. The philosophical earnestness of these early pieces connect  Bernstein to the total movement of Language writing. By Resistance (1983),  Bernstein has hit his stride, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E magazine has folded, and Language  writing itself has started to become an object of academic attention. Republics  of Reality is a Burgess Shale of a poetic explosion; we see not only what happened,  but what might have and didn't. —David Kellog

Copyright Boston Review, 1993-2000. All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce without permission.

 | home | new democracy forum | fiction, film, poetry | archives | mailing list | masthead | subscribe |

Advertisement: Michigan State University Press