Local San Diego: Charles Bernstein

UCSD New Writing Series Presents Charles Bernstein, 3/2/12

I’ll admit it: until a few days ago I had no idea who Charles Bernstein was. I feel about literature the same way I do about film: you’ll never read everything and it’s stupid to try.

Bernstein is apparently kind of famous. This fact was evident to me when I arrived at the reading. It was held in one of the large rooms in the library (not the usual location of the Writing Series) and still they had to pull out more and more chairs. Much the same way as Jaap Blonk, Bernstein doesn’t give you much of an impression of anything until he opens his mouth.

Bernstein started off with a poem in which the first line was, “poets are fakers”. Well. That’s one way to get a roomful of people to sit up and take notice. In another life, I think Bernstein was some sort of riddle master. During the Q&A my friend asked Bernstein what he thought the purpose of poetry was. Bernstein replied, “There is no purpose of poetry; and that is not its purpose”.

In my notebook, I wrote down a brief opinion of Bernstein: a young man in an old man’s body; the flesh declines, but the soul soars.

Bernstein has a very nice and rhythmic reading voice. If you are at all inclined to dozing off, be warned: you could definitely fall asleep to Bernstein reading. Not that his work was boring or uninteresting in any way (at least in my opinion), but because his voice is so melodic. When I was a baby, my mother used to put me to sleep to recording of her voice reading me a children’s book. No surprise that I often fall asleep in classes where the professor just talks and talks. But back to Bernstein.

As a sometimes tutor of writing/literature, I feel that Bernstein would be an ideal poet to teach people about. He’s contemporary, he’s modern, he’s accessible. He speaks with the language and words of our time. His poetry is something even the most reluctant poet’s could aspire to. It’s free verse, not flowery, and vaguely comedic. For all of you teachers out there, particularly high school teachers, check out Bernstein’s work.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite lines from one of Bernstein’s poems he read aloud yesterday:

“To truly appreciate sitting, you have to stand”.

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