Charles Bernstein is a major crossing point for poetry and poetics. His art and discussion of poetry exploit and develop the vernaculars of language as they echo across time and international borders and national languages.
The kind of poetry I want gums up the works.—Charles Bernstein, Pitch of Poetry
And yet, Charles Bernstein is a node, a switching station, of poetic experiment. Something about gum makes so that he can slow things down, especially the regular machine, and yet make things flow through and across staying on the rails as they touch crossing or parallel, sometimes stopping and often moving on—holding together. For this issue of boundary 2, Charles made over to us a gift of lots of words, mostly from beyond the US, from which I tried to make a constellation that shows not only the way people talk about what he does but how he talks back and across, making new stresses and things from the interviews and conversations. When you read the Cento in this collection, you'll see the cyclonic effect. Questions give him a chance to play, measure, and invent, but those questions have often come from, have had their own start in other words he's set in motion or offered. He's given his hearers words in a momentary rest, a base for interrogation or a tentative assertion by a friend of the work; it's the thought. A truth tested and measured by a response that will take its own direction.
The switching node of Bernstein's art and manner is on display. The art lies in the freeing up of words, in the getting them ungummed so they move in the writing, or so they are reset to show their movement. The unsettled, unsettling, and pleasing thing about words is that they are never alone. When the poet sets out the entanglement of words and their measures, voiced and counted in varying song styles and inherited forms, then new lines, new meanings, new forms for old emotions, new truths for new emotions—all this becomes possible. All this rests upon language available, shaped already, sometimes loosened, sometimes coagulated, sometimes keeping irregular time—but potential for poiesis wherever the chance allows art to make the connections.
Charles has a name for this art: “Echopoetics is the nonlinear resonance of one motif bouncing off another within an aesthetics of constellation. Even more, it's the sensation of allusion in the absence of allusion. In other words, the echo I'm after is a blank: a shadow of an absent source” (Bernstein 2016: 2). And this happens within not only one natural language (one national language) or within one pitch of high or low speech but across and within all the uses of words that come into view or hearing. As a network node for language as itself the echo of an absent source, this poetry and poet don't stop at political or language family borders. This volume shows the movement across so that the echoes resound softly and elusively not only with other poets’ arts but in the ears, eyes, and memories of readers who, as in the essays added to this volume, make the faraway echoing come to the fore as the potential for this art to suture even shadows along its way. Yet, this is not an art of redemption. It keeps going in time. It is bricolage in its learning, in its consumption of poetic lines, advertising, comic routines, family speech, subway vernacular, and the high cultures of classical writing and its inheritors. This poetry is “a network of stopgaps,” for which we are thankful.
Charles Bernstein has been part of the boundary 2 project for decades. His work belongs to a tradition of journal projects that began with writing on and by Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, David Antin, Robert Duncan, up to recent inventions curated by Dawn Lundy Martin and many other poets, often brought to the journal through Bernstein's care. As the journal closes round on fifty years of engagement with a major tradition of experimental American poetics in relation to international poetic achievement, as with the recent issue on Cavafy, this work by, on, and for Bernstein is an internal marker as well as a gift to poetry readers.