Skip to main content
Charles Bernstein Portrait

Charles Bernstein was born in New York City and educated at Harvard. He teaches at the University of Pennsylvania. In 2010, he observed about his work, "It’s true that, on the one hand, I mock and destabilize the foundation of a commitment to lyric poetry as an address toward truth or toward sincerity. But, on the other hand, if you’re interested in theory as a stable expository mode of knowledge production or critique moving toward truth, again, I should be banned from your republic. (I’ve already been banned from mine.) My vacillating poetics of poems and essays is a serial practice, a play of voices." His poetry, as others have said, “combines the language of politics, popular culture, advertising, literary jargon, corporate-speak, and myriad others to show the ways in which language and culture are mutually constructive and interdependent.” Bernstein puts it at once more playfully and more aggressively: “I want to engage the materials of the culture, derange them as they have deranged me, sound them out, as they sound me out.” He has long stood against what he calls “official verse culture,” with its “restricted vocabulary, neutral and univocal tone in the guise of voice or persona, grammar-book syntax, received conceits, static and unitary form.”  All this has been designed to enhance “the priestly function of the poet.” Instead he offers “the comic and bathetic, the awkward and railing: to be grounded horizontally in he social and not vertically in the ethers.” His characteristic intermixing of threat and humor is evident in all the poems here.