This rich collection is far more than an important work of criticism by an extraordinary poet; it is a poetic intervention into criticism. “Artifice of Absorption,” a key essay, is written in verse, and its structures and rhythms initiate the reader into the strength and complexity of the argument. In a wild variety of topics, polemic, and styles, Charles Bernstein surveys the current poetry scene and addresses many of the hot issues of poststructuralist literary theory. “Poetics is the continuation of poetry by other means,” he writes. What role should poetics play in contemporary culture? Bernstein finds the answer in dissent, not merely in argument but in form—a poetic language that resists being easily absorbed into the conventions of our culture.
Insisting on the vital need for radical innovation, Bernstein traces the traditions of modern poetry back to Stein and Wilde, taking issue with those critics who see in the “postmodern” a loss of political and aesthetic relevance. Sometimes playful, often hortatory, always intense, he joins in the debate on cultural diversity and the definition of modernism. We encounter Swinburne and Morris as surprising precursors, along with considerations of Wittgenstein, Khlebnikov, Adorno, Jameson, and Pac-Man. A Poetics is both criticism and poetry, both tract and song, with no dull moments.