The pataquerical imperative

Here Charles Bernstein is pitching poetry, pitching for poetry, and describing both the acoustic and visual pitch of poetry, and the field, the pitch, of poetry. He’s at once a shill, a carney, a huckster, a used-poem salesperson, a showman, a shaman, a promoter, a master of ceremonies, a promoter, a provocateur, a pitch-man – but only occasionally an apologist. The likes of Sophocles, Longinus, and Sydney all beat him to it, but it’s never too late to pitch again for poetry. A relief pitcher. Plato and his followers have kept hitting dingers. Bernstein is and wants to be the reason the poets were expelled from the Republic. He reads askance the ‘official verse’ poets who have tried not be expelled.

In one possible reading this book is 350 pages of Whitman saying “Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” For Bernstein, Poetry contains multitudes. He spurns poetry that is orthodox, normal, conventional, predictable, standard. “I can’t bear standards,” he writes, “or, rather, I want to lay them bare” (28). He describes the magazine L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E that he co-founded with fellow poet Bruce Andrews in 1978 as having “pursued a poetry aversive to convention, standardization, and received forms, often prizing eccentricity, oddness, abrupt shifts of tone, peculiarity, error, and the abnormal – poetry that begins in disability…. This is what I call the pataquerical imperative (a syncretic term suggesting weirdness, wildness, and precarious querulousness by combining inquiry with ’pataphysics…)” (76-77). / Frank Davey, London poetry open mic

Pitch of Poetry, by Charles Bernstein. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2016. 350 pp. $34.44.

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