Charles Bernstein Returns for "UB Poetics at Two Decades"

By R. D. Pohl | The Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY), April 2, 2012 | Go to article overview

Charles Bernstein Returns for "UB Poetics at Two Decades"


R. D. Pohl, The Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)


Three pieces in Charles Bernstein's "Attack of the Difficult Poems" (University of Chicago Press, 2011) bear immediate relevance to this (Friday) evening's "UB Poetics at Two Decades" Roundtable Discussion and Poetry Reading at 7:30 p.m. at the Western New York Book Arts Center, 468 Washington St. (at Mohawk St.) in Buffalo. The event is free and open to the public.

In "Poetry Scene Investigation," a 2002 conversation with critic Marjorie Perloff, Bernstein responds to a question about the formation and first decade of the program by pointing out that it was a particular response to the situation poetry found itself in during the late 1980's and early 1990's: ignored and dismissed (except as a curiosity) by the mainstream print media, self- marginalized by what Bernstein had already famously derided as "the Official Verse Culture," and segregated into separate poetry reading and poetry writing curriculums and cultures at most colleges and universities.

"Poetry is too important to be be left to its own devices," he observes in the interview, and pointedly adds, "Maybe close reading [i.e., reading that demands the full attention of the reader, but does not presume the hegemonic authority of the text] would get a better rap if we called it PSI: Poetry Scene Investigation. Of course, that would mean treating the poem as crime, but maybe it is: a crime against mass culture."

In his essay "A Blow Is Like an Instrument: The Poetic Imaginary and Curricular Practices," Bernstein points out that the roots of the Poetics Program can be traced back to UB English Department of the 1960's , where then chairman Al Cook hired Leslie Fiedler, Robert Creeley, Charles Olson and a list of other literary artists too long and illustrious to be included here, not primarily to teach creative writing courses, but rather to teach literature classes, and, in particular, literary classes in a Ph.D. program.

After Bernstein and Susan Howe--who had been scheduled to participate this evening's 20th anniversary event, but had to withdraw due to illness--joined Robert Creeley on the UB English Department faculty in 1989, they sought to formalize the creation of a Ph.D. program in Poetics that did not force students to chose between becoming either poets or scholars (however much of a professional double bind that may imply), but rather, suggested as Bernstein writes, "that the one activity may enhance the other, for those so inclined. …

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