Monday, August 10, 2009

12 or 20 questions: with Charles Bernstein

Charles Bernstein is the author of 40 books, ranging from large-scale collections of poetry and essays to pamphlets, libretti, translations, and collaborations. All the Whiskey in Heaven: Selected Poems is due March 2010 from Farrar, Straus, Giroux. Recent full-lengtht works of poetry include Girly Man (University of Chicago Press, 2006), With Strings (University of Chicago Press, 2001), and Republics of Reality: 1975-1995 (Sun & Moon Press, 2000). He has published two books of essays and one essay/poem collection: My Way: Speeches and Poems (University of Chicago Press, 1999); A Poetics (Harvard University Press, 1992); Content's Dream: Essays 1975-1984 (Sun & Moon Press, 1986, 1994; reprinted by Northwestern University Press, 2001). Shadowtime (Green Integer, 2005) is the libretto he wrote for Brian Ferneyhough's opera and Blind Witness (Factory School, 2008) collects the libretti he wrote for Ben Yarmolinsky.

1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

Hard to say.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

Poetry is non-fiction.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing intitially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

It takes forever to start a work and even longer to finish. Initially the work comes very quickly, perhaps instantly, but I am too slow to process it. My work is copious notes.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you?

Poems begin for me somewhere in the middle of the middle (the poet is perpetually assigned the “it” role in a kind of aesthetic monkey-in-the-middle game, trying to catch things from competing and irreconcilable interests and desires).

4A. Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?


5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

I feel performance corrupts the true inner life of a poem. I eschew both performances of my own work and those of other poets. Poetry should be silent, unread, invisible, inconceivable. The true poem can never be written or heard.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

Not ideas but the idea of ideas; not questions but the inadequacies of answers; not currency but against the tides.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

Better a weak jaw than an iron fist.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

I am too involved working with my inside editor; anyway, there is no way to get rid of that, hard as I’ve tried.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

This answer intentionally left blank

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?

I find it impossible not to. Not appeal, necessity.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I don’t sleep as well as I once did.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

Stalling is my inspiration.

13 - What fairy tale character do you resonate with most?

Oscar Wilde.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?


15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

I keep Mr. Emerson by my bedside.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

It’s what I’d like to undo that keeps me up at night.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

Night warden.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

What else?

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

Ah, yes, I remember it well.

20 - What are you currently working on?


1 comment:

John MacDonald said...

my favourite interview thus far.