All the Whiskey in Heaven: Selected Poems
Charles Bernstein, Author . Farrar, Straus & Giroux $26 (300p)
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.
Reviewed on: 02/22/2010