Tuesday, December 13, 2005

I read something written by Charles Bernstein called Introjective Verse, which appears in the recent issue of Chain. After quizzically reading it a few times, I made a game out of the process, giving the dictionary quite a few spins, even enjoying his playfulness and academic style, but still found it fairly inaccessible. Who wants to read poetry, and I want more people to read it, when the critical glances it's given are even more difficult to parse than the poems themselves? As a poet, I believe that we cannot ever underestimate our audience, but find myself grasping after wrestling with this.

Now, the article or essay (I'm not sure what it is, exactly) will only be read by a handful of people who are interested in such things, although Bernstein has a decent following which this distraction will hardly affect, in fact, it may do more to disparage my own reputation, but as one of those interested, albeit remotely, it was simply too dense. Perhaps, I just haven't done my homework. I'm too inexperienced. What is introjective verse, which he also refers to as centripetal verse? I don't really know and Bernstein doesn't attempt to define his terms:
...I won't show what introjective or CENTRIPETAL verse is, how it recoils, in its fate as decomposition, how, in distinction to the projective, it is dismayed...
He distinguishes it by comparing it to projective verse, a term equally ambiguous in my mind which doesn't do more to help me understand. He capitalizes all the letters in CENTRIPETAL, which is akin to shouting the word. Is there really a way to create art, in this case with language, besides centripetally? One could work from the center toward the extremities or one could work from the extremities toward the center, applying this term equally to both processes. Is there really any other way to proceed? Finally, assuming we know what it is, that we are comfortable with any definition, how can it be dismayed?

It seems that Bernstein is addressing composition, the creation of poetry, from a strictly sound-oriented direction:
First, some complexities that a person learns, if she works INTROJECTIVELY, or what can be called MISCOMPOSITION BY EAR.
Again, assaulted by the large type. The meaning is clearer here, though. There must be some mistake by proceeding in this fashion, in following the ear, to create poetry. Mustn't sound be considered? And where are the examples of this miscomposition? There weren't any in this bit of writing to serve as example. Is it safe to assume that the current field of poetic dabblers is so rife with examples? Do my own poems fall under this criticism? Perhaps this is what drove me to respond. It's hard to say exactly, but some demonstrations of these accusations would have been useful.

This is hardly a fair assessment of the piece, especially as I only really address the introductory statements. Part of me tried to accept it as a sarcastic rant about process, as it was particularly musical in its choice of language. Consider this:
There is no moment in which the introjective evasion of verse is finished, the form fuels blame. If the beginning and end is the breathlessness of words, sound in that material sense, then the domain of poetry blurs and blurts.
It is musical. It is easy to see the repetition of sound. Certainly, Bernstein could have chosen other less sonorous words to make his point. Knowing that he is also a librettist, that he writes text for musical theater, the arguments seem even more confusing. I may be completely off-the-mark here, but that's OK. It wouldn't be the first time...


Richard Taylor said...

Bernstein and Silliman etal have always written poetics like this (as in the L=A=N=G=A=U=G=E books - which hav some fascinating stuff in them)) - Silliman is more direct so to speak - Bernstein can be very good - for example his "A Poetics" is good stuff and makes interesting points. (He also uses the "ploy" of writing part of it in the form of a kind of poem .)
He is an important writer on the world stage and in the US - difficulty is one of his weapons -that is complexity as opposed to transparency - his entire method which involves writing such essays as the one you wrestled with (you stayed on it longer than I) which are oppositional to the recieved normative translucent essays - and the essay becomes a part of the total deal - poetics is poetry and vica versa -now this is ok but beyond a certain point if there are no refrence points as in the essay quoted - my initial reaction - intitial I emphasise -is to concur with you. In fact while many of Bernstein's essays are illuminating and enteratining (I have reaad some of Barthes -but not many of the (similar family of) French philosphers) and I like his essays as something I ahve enjoyed experientially more than something I have actaully learnt anything (or much) from -mostly) - in this case most writers and readers, most people and those with University education or not, would conclude -if they didn't know of Bernstein's wide achievements -that it was simply a badly written essay and show offy. Others would dismiss it as nonsense or drivel.

But there is some interesting play of language here going on - but do we -who might want to non-learn about INTROJECTIVE verse (!) - want to spend hours parsing Bernstein's essay?

There is a place indeed for what a young friend of mine calls the "poessay" - but I know that some of my friends would consider it - and I mean e.g. my friend Jack Ross (who has a Phd in English and Languages - and has heard Bernstein read and knows a lot about Deridda etc etc) a form of intellectual wanking. he (they)may not -but I rather fear they might! But I will keep my ideas open as - I am interested in the lngauge poets etc and Bernstein can be a marvelous poet.

You had the courage to critique this thing. I will run it past few of my poetry friends to see what they make of it.

Anonymous said...

I ran across this mentioning of "introjective verse" during my researches on charles olson - author of "projective verse"

reading bersteins text with olsons's "projective verse" as background reveils follwing (of course it is more complex and goes deeper than i will go):

olson's text is now a canonized manifest introducing "post-modern" basics to american poetry. berstein's negations if the key term and phrases shows the failing of the oroginal text in being percise and logical coherent, yet both texts create their own dynamic. this dynamic "within" qualifies the olson text as an example of it's own content as well as the berstein text as anit-example of the anti-form (form is never more than...)

the hermetic litotes/irony/parody used by bernstein seems to open olsons "open field" more clear than olson ever could - or marking clearly the dark spots of olsons inherent opacity.

as olson abnegated inherited forms of poetry (i.e. european) berstein negates olsons heritage in order to continue the "tradition of the avant-garde"

if that sounds contradictious it should describe in form and content what berstein and olson did themselves: trying to define how and where the next step of development is taking us in opposition to the last one