the late 1970s to the present, Charles Bernstein has helped develop the poetry and poetics of the language school. He is the key figure behind this literary movement, which includes a diverse range of poets who challenge the customary use of language. Language poetry questions conventional "vocabulary, grammar, process, shape, syntax, program, or subject matter" (Andrews ix). It answers to the earlier modernists, such as Ezra pound and Gertrude stein, who were known for their unconventional use of language. It is also influenced by postructuralist theories about the rupture between language and meaning and by Marxist notions about the class inequality embedded in language. By using language differently, Language poetry changes standard poetic forms, encourages multiple interpretations, and contests social and economic disparities. Bernstein continues to develop this poetry of innovation by reinventing it in different media: textual, acoustic, operatic, and electronic. By continually rein venting Language poetry, he sustains its aesthetic and political cantankerousness. He revels in its popular failure as a sign of its disruption of the status quo. He views Language poetry as an intimate "conversation" about the process of generating meaning rather than as a "particular style" (qtd. in Wood 3) driven by "generational and marketing products" (4). Continuing this conversation with other poet-scholars like himself, such as Steve McCaffrey, he participates in creating "a poetry of and for the present" that opposes the commercialization and simplification of poetry and culture in late 20th-century America (3).
Bernstein was born on April 4th, 1950, in New York City. The author of more than 25 collections of books and essays, he is best known for L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, a magazine on experimental poetics that he edited with Bruce andrews from 1978 to 1981. He has taught at the State University of New York (Buffalo) and the University of Pennsylvania. He was awarded the Roy Harvey Pearce/Archive for New Poetry Prize of the University of California at San Diego in 1999 for a lifetime contribution to poetry and scholarship.
Bernstein's poetry is characteristic for its intellectual rigor belied by its pedestrian language. His poetry repudiates narrative, logic, image, and tradition so that it is at once nonsensical and evocative. His 1999 poem, "Don't Be So Sure (Don't Be Saussure)," for example, is lyrical nonsense, but it suggests an alternative stream-of-consciousness coherence. Contesting Saussure's notion that the word is not the thing, he shows that the word may not be a reliable conduit for meaning but is nonetheless an expressive one. Beginning with a cup, the poem progresses through rhyme and association (from "cap" to "slap" to "pap") to "Get me a drink." This nonsensical exploration of sense is the hallmark of this poet-scholar, who continues to promote his oppositional poetics against linguistic platitudes and social power.
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