All the Whiskey in Heaven
This selection of Charles Bernstein's poetry brings together work spanning the past thirty years, starting with the civilian voice of Asylums (1975) and ending with the unflagging determination of Girly Man (2006). Though the work is ordered chronologically, the table of contents is the only place in which the various book titles and publication years are listed; within the collection itself, the poems run together with no breaks between sections, as if all the work is part of one long series. Poems that range in tone from ruminative to ironic to urgent to hilarious to self-referential are bookended by the plights of different generations enduring different wars. This uninterrupted framework justifies itself; the work feels remarkably cohesive. As Paul Auster writes, "This long-needed selection of [Bernstein's] poetry gives us a new perspective on his work...shows us that the many forms he has worked in over the years are in fact a single form, the Bernstein form."
This book review originally appeared in American Poets, fall 2010, issue 39.