Earlier this week we reported the release party for Charles Bernstein’s new volume Recalculating. While I don’t yet have my copy of this volume, we now have video of the night’s proceedings. This seems enough for some initial insights.
I’d like to revisit Kenny Goldsmith’s strangely meaningful blurb for the book: “I was wrong, I apologize, I recant. Originality may be the only course when loss is the mother of invention. These are not my words but I mean them.” Or in my possibly too apt paraphrase, “I was wrong, I recant: one can mean things. This book does it.” Kenny G is clearly being more graceful here in his comments than my poor rendering of him. We see this in the characteristic tip-toeing around meaning and language, especially here where the language employed concerns meaning. Still, though, I’m really interested in the dimensions that I took away from a quick glance—the idea that “one can mean things” and that “this book does it.”
This may be because if I now had to give a quick bit of the book, at least as promised by the reading, it would be my misremembering: “one can mean things. This book does it.” What’s remarkable about Bernstein’s book here is not simply the insight that it—after language poetry, conceptualism and everything else—can mean things, but that it does. This isn’t the book of a young poet looking to unsettle the poetic hegemony under which he was raised. We’ve seen quite a few of those by now, and many have been wonderful volumes. Rather, this is something else, something even more significant.
In Recalculating we see a poet instrumental to both language and conceptualist poetics recalculating the course he has helped chart. That’s kind of a duh. It is, after all, in the title, but the importance of this act really can’t be underscored enough. This isn’t a young buck poet looking to make a dent by throwing his burning volume of poems at the institution. Its a reevaluation, a conversation concerning change from within. Most significant from the interior status of this work, however, lies not its institutional influence, but the poetic ambitions it can achieve.
Recalculating is not a simple return to sincerity as we’ve seen with many my generation’s poets, although it contains some of the most affecting poems I’ve ever heard. Nor is Recalculating a dialectic synthesis of more abstruse, conceptually driven language work with the more overt—because to flatly deny the feeling of language would be a great injustice—force of feeling. Rather—and again as the title more than suggests—Recalculating sets itself in medias res as concerns this process. Of central importance here is that these forces never seem resolved as the book goes on. What we get instead is a continually thinking through, a consistent testing of the ways in which the wildly varying poetic instincts we all feel can inform one another. From my experiences with Recalculating thus far, it seems that in his volume Bernstein makes clear that these are interactions that the more interesting and apt among us will be having—in poems as well as the company of friends—for quite some time.
I’ll end this thoroughly excited pre-review without any further note of context. Watch the video, buy the book and be on the look out for a review proper. This should prove to be a really important volume.