cover image Pitch of Poetry

Pitch of Poetry

Charles Bernstein. Univ. of Chicago, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-0-226-33208-6

At the center of this collection from Bernstein (Recalculating), poet, translator, librettist, and guiding spirit of the Language school of poetry, is the question, “What does it mean to be a poet in our time—in the North American society?” The first section, titled Language, after the magazine Bernstein co-edited, delves right into the link between politics and poetry, with reflections on Occupy Wall Street, Holocaust memorials, and Chinese poetry. The next section, the Pitch, assays the work of 17 poets, including Gertrude Stein, Paul Celan, and John Ashbery. The third, Echopoetics, consists of interviews and conversations with Bernstein, focused largely upon Language’s 1978–81 run and the associated movement in poetry. Bernstein concludes with a brand new work: “The Pataquerical Imagination: Midrashic Antinomianism and the Promise of Bent Studies,” a fantastical drama with walk-on roles for the likes of William Blake, Emily Dickinson, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. In the opening essay, Bernstein describes a climb up China’s Wudang Mountains, before which a sign reads “Curve continuously”—a statement that could be taken as the epigraph for this book’s circuitous intellectual journey. “Language poetry does not exist, and that may be its greatest virtue,” he writes at one point. Often elliptical, argumentative, and personal, this is a radical work about the nature of poetry and of language itself. (Mar.)