All the Whiskey in Heaven
Selected Poems of
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
•David O'Neill, Bookforum: Feb./March 2010: "... a rousing selection from thirty years of work ... Bernstein deftly shifts moods and tones, but a sense of urgency and a hard-won clarity are in evidence throughout this volume."
•Publisher's Weekly ,2/20/10, starred review: 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. (Mar.)
•Ken Tucker, Entertainment Weekly, (April 16, 2010): “A solid selection of 30 years of Bernstein’s lyrical, thickly layered poetry. Bernstein has, on occasion, been criticized as “difficult.” But Whiskey does the great service of showing how consistently he has explored the true, richly emotional meanings of what we’re trying to express when we speak or write in halting phrases or with nervous repetition and hesistation. Or as Bernstein puts it: “Poetry is like a swoon, with its difference / it brings you to your senses.”
•David Kaufman, "Sensible Swoons," Tablet Magaizne (Feb., 2010)
All the Whiskey in Heaven brings together some of Charles Bernstein’s best work from the past thirty years, an astonishing assortment of different types of poems. Yet, despite the distinctive differences from poem to poem, Bernstein’s characteristic explorations of how language both limits and liberates thought are present throughout. Modulating the comic and the dark, structural invention with buoyant sound play, these challenging works give way to poems of lyric excess and striking emotional range. This is poetry for poetry’s sake, as formally radical as it is socially engaged, providing equal measures of aesthetic pleasure, hilarity, and philosophical reflection. Long considered one of America’s most inventive and influential contemporary poets, Bernstein reveals himself to be both trickster and charmer.
“Charles Bernstein’s poems resemble each other only in being unexpected. Simultaneously mad, tragic and hilarious, they seem written to illustrate the truth of his lines: ‘things are / solid; we stumble, unglue, recombine.’ All the Whiskey in Heaven is a vast department store of the imagination.” —John Ashbery
“Charles Bernstein uses words as a surgeon uses a scalpel. He strips away the skin and cuts to the bone to reveal reality and—ultimately—to heal. This essential collection from 30 years of cutting edge work will confirm Bernstein as our true poet laureate—the voice of a new generation.” —John Zorn
“For more than thirty years Charles Bernstein has been America’s most ardent literary provocateur. This long-needed selection of his poetry gives us a new perspective on his work, for it shows us that the many forms he has worked in over the years are in fact a single form, the Bernstein form, and it is unique, the product of an imagination unlike that of any other contemporary writer. His poems challenge you to think in unaccustomed ways. They address public matters, private matters, poetic matters—in other words, all that matters most. And, good Lord, can they ever make you laugh” —Paul Auster
“Charles Bernstein is our ultimate connoisseur of chaos, the chronicler, in poems of devastating satire, chilling and complex irony, exuberant wit, and, above all, profound passion, of the contradictions and absurdities of everyday life in urban America at the turn of the twenty-first century. From such early underground classics as “The Klupzy Girl,” to the mordant verbal play of “The Lives of the Toll Takers,” to the great meditation on 9/11 called “Report from Liberty Street” and the deeply personal ballads and elegies of recent years, Bernstein’s much awaited Selected Poems displays a formal range, performative urgency, and verbal dexterity unmatched by other poets of his generation.” —Marjorie Perloff
“A perfect introduction to the adventure that is Charles Bernstein’s work. But even for those of us who have known his irrepressible inventiveness and engaged humor from the individual books it is a boon to see here the full range of his exuberant ingenuity in battling sclerosis of word, mind—and poetry.” —Rosmarie Waldrop
“This wonderful book confirms Charles Bernstein’s position as the pre-eminent American poet of mental activity—delineating not simply the mind as it registers stimuli, but the more radical commitment to mind as a machine that constantly invents totally new moves and strategies in the daily battles of perception. All the Whiskey in Heaven captures 30 years of ground breaking and revelatory work.” —Richard Foreman
author photo at top: © Cecilia Gronberg 2011