Friday, May 10, 2013



Recalculating by Charles Bernstein
(University of Chicago Press, Chicago & London, 2013)

Recalculating is Bernstein’s first full-length collection of new poetry in seven years and the first since his adult daughter Emma died.

The range of invention in Recalculating is impressive: translations and adaptations (Baudelaire, Cole Porter, Mandelstam, Celan, Wordsworth,  Plath, and Nerval, just to name a few), aphoristic poem-essays (including the title poem), doggerel, list poems, joke-poems (“The Twelve Tribes of Doctor Lacan,” for example), elegies, hay(na)ku, and more.  The collection has a richness which will not be exhausted by multiple readings.  It demands to be read over and over again—not for reasons of exegesis, but for pure pleasure. 

Bernstein is part vaudevillian, part philosopher, part grieving parent, part enraged citizen and wholly engaging:

“Poetics and innovation are the Scylla and Charbydis, or possibly Mutt and Jeff, or then again dog and bone, or possibly singer and song, or is it doctor and patient, or inner and outer, or hook, line, and sinker?, of the politics of poetic form.”
(“The Truth in Pudding,” 8)

“Language is an event of the world, just as, for language users, the world is an event of language.  Even the world is a word.”
(“The Truth in Pudding”, 11)

“I think of Emma climbing the icy rocks of our imagined world and taking a fatal misstep, one that in the past she could have easily managed, then tumbling, tumbling; in my mind she is yet still in free fall, but I know all too well she hit the ground hard.”
(“Recalculating,” 172)

“Strike because complacency’s a waste of time.
Strike because while doing something is a pain in the ass, doing
nothing is a pain in the soul.
Strike because a shadow of a doubt is the hipster’s swan song.
Strike because you didn’t when you could and now it’s too late.
Strike because it’s noisy.
Strike because it’s bluesy.
Strike because there’s not enough poetry in your life or it’s the
wrong kind of poetry.”
(“Strike!,” 168)

And, of course, there are some very funny pieces.  “The Twelve Tribes of Dr. Lacan” comes to mind.  In this piece, he offers 11 riffs on Lacanians.  Here are some examples:

“LAKE-anians: the unconscious is structured like a lake

LACK-anians focus on the “the ache of lack” and the desire to fill this
void with ultimately unsatisfying and imaginary objects

La-CAN-ians: the can-do, pragmatic strain

La-CAN’T-ians: a form of negative dialectics

La-CUNT-ians: by far the most radical followers of Lacan, who believe the unconscious is structured like the female genital organ”
(“The Twelve Tribes of Dr. Lacan,” 52)

I can’t help but think that it’s no accident that there are only eleven stanzas in “The Twelve Tribes.”  Years ago, Charles told me he couldn’t decide if I was laconic or Lacanic.  He had a good point.  He usually does.

I can’t do this book justice.  I can tell you that I love it and hope that it finds a large audience. 


Tom Beckett is currently at work on a project called Appearances: A Novel In 365 Fragments.

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