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All the Whiskey in Heaven brings together Charles Bernstein’s best work from the past thirty years, an astonishing assortment of different types of poems. Yet despite the distinctive differences from poem to poem, Bernstein’s characteristic explorations of how language both limits and liberates thought are present throughout. Modulating the comic and the dark structural invention with buoyant soundplay, these challenging works give way to poems of lyric excess and striking emotional range. This is poetry for poetry’s sake, as formally radical as it is socially engaged, providing equal measures of aesthetic pleasure, hilarity, and philosophical reflection. Long considered one of America’s most inventive and influential contemporary poets, Bernstein reveals himself to be both trickster and charmer.
‘All the Whiskey in Heaven is a vast department store of the imagination.’ —John Ashbery
‘For more than thirty years, Charles Bernstein has been America’s most ardent literary provocateur. His poems challenge you to think in unaccustomed ways. They address public matters, private matters, poetic matters — in other words, all that matters most. And, good Lord, can they ever make you laugh.’ —Paul Auster
‘Charles Bernstein is our ultimate connoisseur of chaos, the chronicler, in poems of devastating satire, chilling and complex irony, exuberant wit, and, above all, profound passion, of the contradictions and absurdities of everyday life in urban America at the turn of the twenty-first century. Bernstein’s All the Whiskey in Heaven displays a formal range, performative urgency, and verbal dexterity unmatched by other poets of his generation.’ —Marjorie Perloff
‘A perfect introduction to the adventure that is Charles Bernstein’s work. But even for those of us who have known his irrepressible inventiveness and engaged humor from the individual books, it is a boon to see here the full range of his exuberant ingenuity in battling sclerosis of word, mind — and poetry.’ —Rosmarie Waldrop
‘This gathering of 30 years’ worth of work by the prominent L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poet and essayist offers a rigorous critique of the art of poetry itself, which means, among other things, a thorough investigation of language and the mind. Varied voices and genres are at play, from a colloquial letter of complaint to the manager of a Manhattan subway station to a fragmentary meditation on the forces that underlie the formation of knowledge. Bernstein's attention to the uncertainty surrounding the self as it purports to exist in poetry—“its virtual (or ventriloquized)/ anonymity—opens fresh pathways toward thinking through Rimbaud's dictum that “I is another.” In addition to philosophical depth—which somehow even lurks beneath statements like “There is nothing/ in this poem/ that is in any/ way difficult/ to understand”—a razor-sharp wit ties the book together: “You can't/ watch ice sports with the lights on!” These exhilarating, challenging poems raise countless essential questions about the form and function of poetry.’ —Publishers Weekly
‘Though Bernstein borrows from other sources, his poems display imagination and great formal variety. There are rambling free-verse prose poems, long poems, songs, political tirades and even aphorisms: “War is nature’s way of saying I told you so.” While much of what’s here is unsettling and even difficult to understand, that’s the way it’s meant to be. This is the culture we’ve made, the one we’ve agreed upon—Bernstein is merely reflecting it back at us.’ —Craig Morgan Teicher
‘Cheers! to poet Charles Bernstein whose All the Whiskey in Heaven is a rousing selection from thirty years of work. “The Ballad of the Girly Man” begins with an elegiac couplet—“The truth is hidden in a veil of tears / The scabs of the mourners grow thick with fear”—before shuffling the sadness offstage and bursting into a wry singson: “So be a girly man / & take a gurly stand.” Bernstein deftly shifts moods and tones, but a sense of urgency and a hard-won clarity are in evidence throughout this volume.’ —Bookforum
‘With “All the Whiskey in Heaven,” his first book not published by a university or independent press, Bernstein takes his place in the mainstream of American poetry, the very “Official Verse Culture” he’s attacked entertainingly for years — a fate awaiting all our best outsiders. Bernstein is identified with the Language poets, who emerged in the 1970s. Interested in the materiality of language, they are politically left, theoretically grounded and deeply suspicious of the lyric “I” that speaks from the heart in traditional poems without examining its own existence in a sociopolitical power structure. Their work is often most subversive when both joining and satirizing that weary old, dreary old genre, poetry about poetry. Early Bernstein can be opaque, annoying those who see difficulty as elitist and who want poetry to be cuddly and educational. But everyone should love the later Bernstein, a writer who is accessible, enormously witty, often joyful — and even more evilly subversive.’ —Daisy Fried
‘If Ron Silliman exerted authoritarian control over literature, all poetry would be classified according to the two essential poles of that poetic globe: the school of quietude, and the realm of post-avant — and the work of Charles Bernstein would exist as an avant magnetic north. But, while Bernstein is a key figure in nearly all post-avant movements, his work is not hopelessly bound by cold Literary Theory and formal experimentation. All the Whiskey in Heaven, a new selected edition of Berstein’s poems, brings his poetic range to the forefront.’ —Tom Lewek
‘Bernstein has the advantage over many of his fellow Language Poets of being pretty consistently funny. One of the best bits of the late 1990s series of Yellow Pages TV ads featuring Jon Lovitz as “The Man Who Wrote the Yellow Pages” was an interview with Bernstein as “The Critic,” comparing the Yellow Pages to Homer, Dante, and Pound (“a poem including history”), and leafing through a half-dozen pages beginning “Fence,” – “Amazing, that repetition of Fence!” I get the feeling he was improvising there, at once dead serious and aware of the ludicrousness of the moment – like the best comics.’ —Mark Scroggins