After 9/11, postmodernism and irony were declared dead. Charles Bernstein here proves them alive and well in poems elegiac, defiant, and resilient to the point of approaching song. Heir to the democratic and poetic sensibilities of Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg, Bernstein has always crafted verse that responds to its historical moment, but no previous collection of his poems so specifically addresses the events of its time as Girly Man, which features works written on the evening of September 11, 2001, and in response to the war in Iraq. Here, Bernstein speaks out, combining self-deprecating humor with incisive philosophical and political thinking.
Composed of works of very different forms and moods—etchings from moments of acute crisis, comic excursions, formal excavations, confrontations with the cultural illogics of contemporary political consciousness—the poems work as an ensemble, each part contributing something necessary to an unrealizable and unrepresentable whole. Indeed, representation—and related claims to truth and moral certainty—is an active concern throughout the book. The poems of Girly Man may be oblique, satiric, or elusive, but their sense is emphatic. Indeed, Bernstein’s poetry performs its ideas so that they can be experienced as well as understood.
A passionate defense of contingency, resistance, and multiplicity, Girly Man is a provocative and aesthetically challenging collection of radical verse from one of America’s most controversial poets.
a. Girly Man’s meanings are largely organized by luck or chance.
b. Charles Bernstein’s intentions determine what these poems mean.
a. Girly Man is indifferent to human needs.
b. Girly Man has some purpose, even if obscure.
a. Poetry like this brings the greatest happiness.
b. Poetry like this is illusory and its pleasures, transient.
a. Overall, Charles Bernstein has been harmful to American culture.
b. Overall, Charles Bernstein has been beneficial to American culture.
(This written endorsement of Girly Man should be removed for inspection and verification.)
“Cofounder of the journal L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, from which language poetry takes its name, as well as the online poetics list and the audio poetry archive PENNsound, Bernstein is also a prolific critic and a consummate poet, as he shows again in this collection of seven discrete chapbooklike works. After the invocational four-poem opening of ‘Let’s Just Say,’ the book moves to ‘Some of These Daze,’ Bernstein’s prose dispatches in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, and on to the acerbic intimacies of ‘World on Fire,’ which critiques clichés like ‘what are we fighting for?’ 'In Parts’ takes up the serial form Bernstein perfected in the classic Islets/ Irritations (1983) to examine the pieces of ‘a world in which there are no narratives in which to believe// simultaneous double negative// flop flip.’ A fascination with the sloganlike rhetoric of Tin Pan Alley runs through the collection, culminating in the title poem: ‘So be a girly man/ & sing this gurly song/ Sissies & proud/ That we would never lie our way to war.’”