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This review is taken from PN Review 178, Volume 34 Number 2, November - December 2007.

FORCED LAUGHTER CHARLES BERNSTEIN, Girly Man (The University of Chicago Press) $24.00

Charles Bernstein's Girly Man is a poetry book manufactured out of broken prose and some scattered reactions to the events of 9/11 in the form of journal entries and random jottings. Bernstein's attempt to organise his thoughts about 9/11 never coheres because the way that he writes rejects coherence let alone explanation. Like many contemporary, especially male, American writers, Bernstein is not 'comfortable' - a word for our times - with conclusions or even broken narratives. As a result, when faced with great tragedy he can only be sentimental: 'We are all getting back to normal here in New York... The problem is: I never felt normal before.' Hazed over by a misplaced self-perception that he is marginal, Bernstein can't figure out what's going on. He repeats the tiresome chestnut: 'I may be paranoid but there really are people out to get me.' Bernstein has cut the ground out from under himself since the point of his poetry is to show us the inadequacy of language and description. His problem is that his use of language comes to demonstrate just that inadequacy of thought and style; he is his own best example of the failure he wants to explicate! His seven-page poem 'Likeness' reads, from the top:

the heart is like the heart
the head is like the head
the motion is like the motion
the lips are like the lips
the ocean is like the ocean
that fate ...


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