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All the Whiskey in Heaven: Selected Poems (Salt Modern Poets) [Hardcover]

Charles Bernstein

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Product Description


This gathering of 30 years’ worth of work by the prominent L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poet and essayist offers a rigorous critique of the art of poetry itself, which means, among other things, a thorough investigation of language and the mind. Varied voices and genres are at play, from a colloquial letter of complaint to the manager of a Manhattan subway station to a fragmentary meditation on the forces that underlie the formation of knowledge. Bernstein's attention to the uncertainty surrounding the self as it purports to exist in poetry—“its virtual (or ventriloquized)/ anonymity—opens fresh pathways toward thinking through Rimbaud's dictum that “I is another.” In addition to philosophical depth—which somehow even lurks beneath statements like “There is nothing/ in this poem/ that is in any/ way difficult/ to understand”—a razor-sharp wit ties the book together: “You can't/ watch ice sports with the lights on!” These exhilarating, challenging poems raise countless essential questions about the form and function of poetry. (Publishers Weekly)

Though Bernstein borrows from other sources, his poems display imagination and great formal variety. There are rambling free-verse prose poems, long poems, songs, political tirades and even aphorisms: “War is nature’s way of saying I told you so.” While much of what’s here is unsettling and even difficult to understand, that’s the way it’s meant to be. This is the culture we’ve made, the one we’ve agreed upon—Bernstein is merely reflecting it back at us. (Craig Morgan Teicher Time Out New York)

Cheers! to poet Charles Bernstein whose All the Whiskey in Heaven is a rousing selection from thirty years of work. “The Ballad of the Girly Man” begins with an elegiac couplet—“The truth is hidden in a veil of tears / The scabs of the mourners grow thick with fear”—before shuffling the sadness offstage and bursting into a wry singson: “So be a girly man / & take a gurly stand.” Bernstein deftly shifts moods and tones, but a sense of urgency and a hard-won clarity are in evidence throughout this volume. (Bookforum)

With “All the Whiskey in Heaven,” his first book not published by a university or independent press, Bernstein takes his place in the mainstream of American poetry, the very “Official Verse Culture” he’s attacked entertainingly for years — a fate awaiting all our best outsiders. Bernstein is identified with the Language poets, who emerged in the 1970s. Interested in the materiality of language, they are politically left, theoretically grounded and deeply suspicious of the lyric “I” that speaks from the heart in traditional poems without examining its own existence in a sociopolitical power structure. Their work is often most subversive when both joining and satirizing that weary old, dreary old genre, poetry about poetry. Early Bernstein can be opaque, annoying those who see difficulty as elitist and who want poetry to be cuddly and educational. But everyone should love the later Bernstein, a writer who is accessible, enormously witty, often joyful — and even more evilly subversive. (Daisy Fried New York Times)

If Ron Silliman exerted authoritarian control over literature, all poetry would be classified according to the two essential poles of that poetic globe: the school of quietude, and the realm of post-avant — and the work of Charles Bernstein would exist as an avant magnetic north. But, while Bernstein is a key figure in nearly all post-avant movements, his work is not hopelessly bound by cold Literary Theory and formal experimentation. All the Whiskey in Heaven, a new selected edition of Berstein’s poems, brings his poetic range to the forefront. (Tom Lewek The Critical Flame)

Bernstein has the advantage over many of his fellow Language Poets of being pretty consistently funny. One of the best bits of the late 1990s series of Yellow Pages TV ads featuring Jon Lovitz as “The Man Who Wrote the Yellow Pages” was an interview with Bernstein as “The Critic,” comparing the Yellow Pages to Homer, Dante, and Pound (“a poem including history”), and leafing through a half-dozen pages beginning “Fence,” – “Amazing, that repetition of Fence!” I get the feeling he was improvising there, at once dead serious and aware of the ludicrousness of the moment – like the best comics. (Mark Scroggins The Rumpus)


All the Whiskey in Heaven is a vast department store of the imagination. (John Ashbery)

About the Author

Charles Bernstein was born in Manhattan in 1950. He has published 27 collections of poetry including With Strings, Republics of Reality: Poems 1975-1984 and Controlling Interests. His essays are included in My Way: Speeches and Poems and Content’s Dream: Essays 1975-1984. Bernstein is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
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