Week 4: Closer Look at Bernstein’s Recalculating

To start, it is important to note this is the title poem of the collection Recalculating. In his book, it seems like he spends most of his time working through his ideas on the world of poetry–how it is written, packaged, received, manipulated, regurgitated. This poem falls in line with that, intersecting his language with quotes from writers. His poem is about the fluid nature of a poem. That “Every poem is a model of a possible world that only comes into being when reading is active, activated.”

He weaves the mythos and details of other literary texts, mention of Emma and Coleridge’s albatross and other older works to create a commentary about looking back at the poems in congruence with the way we look back at our own life.

I live not with foreknowledge but consequences; wishing I had foreknowledge, suffering the consequences of not.

… how poems become sites for mourning—not in fixed ritual repetitions (prescribed liturgy) but as mobile and specific areas for reflection and projection, holding areas, havens. Not words received for comfort but works actively discovered in the course of searching.

Bernstein discusses the platform of a poem–how it functions for us, but what it can do for us and suddenly I shift my lens again. Emma appears a second time and is more visceral. “Right after Emma died I could not stand to look at the photos of her—and there are lots, because she made so many self-portraits. I felt each photo was a lie—flaunting her presence in the face of her being gone. Now I see that the photographs are what she left me—that she is present to me in the way these haunted and haunting works are present.”

Emma Bee Bernstein was the daughter Bernstein had with artist Susan Bee who tragically committed suicide at age 23. This changes the entire feel and text of the poem. It is a poem of grief and reflection, as well as a text that prompts one to truly think about their craft and the legacy that it creates as well as the power it has.

“A true poem can never be written or heard” he writes, because of our inadequate ability to write it true. Understand another human.

Bernstein melds his researching projects, literary mind and grieving spirit together beautifully to reflect the way one is still a writer, still a poet, still part of the capitalistic grind, still part of a religion, a parent, and a body.

In closing, he writes “We live facing the blinding sun of the not-yet born, in the shade of the dead.” He lives in a space where he creates whilst failing to be fully in the present, staring into the shade of the past of his daughter. “For now, I go hour to hour…”


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