Author(s): Charles Bernstein
Charles Bernstein's first full-length collection of new poems in seven years, "Recalculating" takes readers on a journey through the history and poetics of the decades since the end of the Cold War as seen through the lens of social and personal turbulence and tragedy. The collection's title, the now-familiar GPS expression, suggests a change in direction due to a mistaken or unexpected turn. For Bernstein, formal invention is a necessary swerve in the midst of difficulty. As in all his work since the 1970s, he makes palpable the idea that radically new structures, appropriated forms, an aversion to received ideas and conventions, political engagement, and syntactic novelty will open the doors of perception to exuberance and resonance, from giddiness to pleasure to grief. But at the same time he cautions, with typical deflationary ardor, "The pen is tinier than the sword." In these poems, Bernstein makes good on his claim that "the poetry is not in speaking to the dead but listening to the dead."
In doing so, "Recalculating" incorporates translations and adaptations of Baudelaire, Cole Porter, Mandelstam, and Paul Celan, as well as several tributes to writers crucial to Bernstein's work and a set of epigrammatic verse essays that combine poetics with wry observation, caustic satire, and aesthetic slapstick. Formally stunning and emotionally charged, "Recalculating" makes the familiar strange-and in a startling way, makes the strange familiar. Into these poems, brimming with sonic and rhythmic intensity, philosophical wit, and multiple personae, life events intrude, breaking down any easy distinction between artifice and the real. With works that range from elegy to comedy, conceptual to metrical, expressionist to ambient, uproarious to procedural, aphoristic to lyric, Bernstein has created a journey through the dark striated by bolts of imaginative invention and pure delight.
"The English word 'calculate' has a double life: in standard English it means to 'reckon' or 'intend' and in dialect it means 'to guess.' These contrary, wayward definitions-the first so full of certainty, the second so full of ironic doubt-shimmer and clash on every page of Charles Bernstein's obsessive, brilliant new book of poems, Recalculating. Through responses, translations, adaptations, and occasional pieces, through little hymns and tragic litanies, Bernstein measures and dreams a circle: a community of readers and writers who spin within a world built from the living history of words." -Susan Stewart"
Charles Bernstein lives in New York and is the Donald T. Regan Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania, as well as coeditor of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, the Electronic Poetry Center, and PennSound, and cofounder of the SUNY-Buffalo Poetics Program. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Among his many publications are four books also published by the University of Chicago Press: Girly Man, With Strings, Attack of the Difficult Poems, and My Way: Speeches and Poems.