New article in “Tablet” about Charles Bernstein
An article published in Tablet magazine about Charles Bernstein mentions PennSound, Jacket2, and the Kelly Writers House—and Penn:
But my bond with Charles also formed around the University of Pennsylvania. I told him I had graduated from Penn in 1991, where I’d studied early American lit with Dr. Elisa New, which was the spark that got me writing poetry. By beer four or five, I was on a regrettable roll—I brought up Bob Perelman, one of Charles’ oldest colleagues from the early days when Charles founded and edited the legendary poetry journal L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E with Bruce Andrews. Bob was teaching in the English department, and Dr. New had urged him to read my earliest poems, thinking there may have been a bit of Hart Crane in there somewhere. Months later, the batch of poems was returned to me with wimpy little checkmarks at the top of maybe five of the 30 poems and not a single comment. Not his “bag” apparently.
As Charles and William and I exited the train and rode up the escalator to the terminal, Charles was still conversationally hitting his stride, explaining that Penn had always been home to modern literature. Back in the day, he mused, it was less the school to get into and more the school to drop out of—which was certainly the case with Ezra Pound, who left abruptly without a degree to embark on writing The Spirit of Romance, which began as a tour through the South of France in search of the lyrics sung by the first medieval troubadours. It was Pound’s obsession to pin down the allusive source of poetry’s courtly oral tradition that preceded the dawn of the industrialized written page and the age of print.
Charles, on the other hand, IS, or should I say WAS (now he is retired) a very distinguished professor! He was the Donald T. Regan professor of English and comparative literature, and he had joined forces with another Penn prof named Al Filreis to create an online archive called PennSounds, which effectively proliferated and consolidated language poetry—a movement precariously spawned by Charles and Bruce’s journal in the ’70s. There was also the emergence of an internet blog called Jacket2 (founded by John Tranter back in 1997 but hosted by Penn after 2010), that scrolls down and down, seemingly forever, with breaking news about the all-stars of the language school and its many discursive tentacles. Filreis was also instrumental in transforming an old Victorian frat house centrally located on Penn’s tree-lined Locust Walk into a perky clubhouse for creative writing and scholarly debate called the Kelly Writers House.
Together, Filreis—an indefatigable Boy Wonder deeply committed to pedagogy—and Batman Bernstein became the Dynamic Duo that transformed Penn’s lit program into an online rhizome of readings, seminars, lectures, podcasts, conferences, panels, conversations, essays, editorials, obituaries, and Zooms—as well as a carefully curated database of audio and video files documenting historic recordings and interviews given by important poets and other significant artistic and literary figures.
Charles’ reputation was now growing exponentially. Not just from the impact of his published books and lectures around the world, but also because of his position on the flowchart of a newly developing information age of poetic discourse, which was no longer only dominated by scholarly articles written by Ph.D.s and either published by university presses or stockpiled on and confined to JSTOR. You might say that Charles held the algorithmic key to the new web-based kingdom. Seemingly all Google searches, on subjects as broad as Mina Loy to Jackson Mac Low to Harryette Mullen to Leslie Scalapino to Robert Grenier to Larry Eigner to Susan Howe to Laura Riding Jackson to Hannah Weiner to George Kuchar and Charles’ own son, Felix Bernstein, led almost magically to Penn’s hub. And while this was leading to tremendous up-to-the-minute scholarship, many were beginning to feel disenfranchised and to see the language coterie as a language corporation, or worse, a language conglomerate.