cover image Burn Book

Burn Book

Felix Bernstein. Nightboat (UPNE, dist.), $16.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-937658-42-7

Bernstein's debut collection unfurls as an amalgamation of forms that sometimes befuddles with its overt performativity but, at best, entrances with layered emotion. Known professionally as a performance artist, Bernstein eschews the "poet" persona, stuffing his work with conversation transcriptions as well as a libretto. His relationships with his father, poet Charles Bernstein, and sister, the late visual artist Emma Bee Bernstein, also play integral roles, as does Emma's 2008 suicide. The collection is divided into three sections: "Emma," "Justin" (Bieber), and "Eva" (Ionesco). Concurrently, themes progress through Bernstein's "melancholic fixation" on Emma; homoeroticism; and finally a union of youth, sexuality, and family trauma via Eva, a victim of child pornography. The collection never settles on a continuous aesthetic and never coalesces, but that may be intentional, as a speaker called FB remarks: "What is meant to be shocking is rather how the book does not conform to established genre conventions." Whether sincere or a performance, the poems only move beyond theory and shock value when the author unleashes his vulnerability. From that perspective, if one can maneuver around Bieber and hurdle over the confessional sexuality, the most resonant lines of the book rest here: "By the way, this was all just an/ Obstacle course to find my dead sister." (Jan.)