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Girly Man

After 9/11, postmodernism and irony were declared dead. Charles Bernstein here proves them alive and well in poems elegiac, defiant, and resilient to the point of approaching song. Heir to the democratic and poetic sensibilities of Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg, Bernstein has always crafted verse that responds to its historical moment, but no previous collection of his poems so specifically addresses the events of its time as Girly Man, whichfeatures works written on the evening of September 11, 2001, and in response to the war in Iraq. Here, Bernstein speaks out, combining self-deprecating humor with incisive philosophical and political thinking.

Composed of works of very different forms and moods—etchings from moments of acute crisis, comic excursions, formal excavations, confrontations with the cultural illogics of contemporary political consciousness—the poems work as an ensemble, each part contributing something necessary to an unrealizable and unrepresentable whole. Indeed, representation—and related claims to truth and moral certainty—is an active concern throughout the book. The poems of Girly Man may be oblique, satiric, or elusive, but their sense is emphatic. Indeed, Bernstein’s poetry performsits ideas so that they can be experienced as well as understood. 

A passionate defense of contingency, resistance, and multiplicity, Girly Man is a provocative and aesthetically challenging collection of radical verse from one of America’s most controversial poets.

160 pages | 1 halftone | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2006



“Charles Bernstein may be our most inspired formalist. He dares to look at all the things that poetry historically is not in order to fashion what it might become. In his brilliant new collection, Bernstein continues his genuinely unreasonable assault on the gentle reading public. Long live the girly man!”

Peter Gizzi

DIRECTIONS: For each pair of sentences, circle the letter, a or b, that best expresses your viewpoint.
a. Girly Man’s meanings are largely organized by luck or chance.
b. Charles Bernstein’s intentions determine what these poems mean.
a. Girly Man is indifferent to human needs.
b. Girly Man has some purpose, even if obscure.
a.  Poetry like this brings the greatest happiness.
b.  Poetry like this is illusory and its pleasures, transient.
a.  Overall, Charles Bernstein has been harmful to American culture.
b.  Overall, Charles Bernstein has been beneficial to American culture.
(This written endorsement of Girly Man should be removed for inspection and verification.)
Jerome McGann

Jerome McGann

"Charles Bernstein’s pairs of jingles of ‘public discourse’ are ’simultaneous double narrative / the space between’s the other narrative/as if they’re opposite.’ In the space between, outside representation but in the ‘presence’ of it, we are provoked to laugh. Bernstein alters our language to open a double range that’s public and mind at once and inseparable, that is ’Poetry is patterned thought in search of unpatterned mind.’ Girly Man is doing it."

Leslie Scalapino

“When we thought we had Bernstein pegged or that his work had possibly reached its limits, he emerges in Girly Man as a poet at the top of his form, capable still of the greatest modernist & postmodernist swervings, & for whom no form of expression is now entirely foreign. As with other poets of his rank (& that rank is very high), he has the ability to make categories dissolve & for himself, as poet, to become happily unclassifiable.  From the comic to the archromantic, the avant-garde to the avant-pop, the formally constructed to the deceptively lawless, the personally political to the impersonally poetical, the poems in Girly Man are an example of what poetry can be in the hands of a supercharged & superrestless poet.  Charles Bernstein is now more clearly what he has always been—a major poet for our time—& then some."

Jerome Rothenberg

“Improvisational volatility, wordplay, near rhyme possibilities, frolic arguments, standup skepticism, loopy affirmation, accurate wit, restless ethical inquiry: I can’t think of a better way for a reader to experience Charles Bernstein’s fierce commitment to poetry as a necessary calling than to read this, his latest and perhaps most accessible collection. In this restless world we live in, Bernstein is one of our most radical and resilient voices.”

Susan Howe

“Cofounder of the journal L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, from which language poetry takes its name, as well as the online poetics list and the audio poetry archive PENNsound, Bernstein is also a prolific critic and a consummate poet, as he shows again in this collection of seven discrete chapbooklike works. After the invocational four-poem opening of ‘Let’s Just Say,’ the book moves to ‘Some of These Daze,’ Bernstein’s prose dispatches in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, and on to the acerbic intimacies of ‘World on Fire,’ which critiques clichés like ‘what are we fighting for?’ ’In Parts’ takes up the serial form Bernstein perfected in the classic Islets/ Irritations (1983) to examine the pieces of ‘a world in which there are no narratives in which to believe// simultaneous double negative// flop flip.’ A fascination with the sloganlike rhetoric of Tin Pan Alley runs through the collection, culminating in the title poem: ‘So be a girly man/ & sing this gurly song/ Sissies & proud/ That we would never lie our way to war.’”

Publishers Weekly

"[Bernstein] has rattled the chains in close to 30 books of poetry and three spirited and quite wonderful books of essays. At the same time, and almost coincidentally, Bernstein has come up with a bracing way of being both a very political and a distinctly Jewish writer.Girly Man is perhaps Bernstein’s most approachable and focused collection. As a rule, his poems do not aspire to recount some experience that lies tantalizingly out of the reach of language. They have nothing to do with the tasteful matching of situation and epiphany...Bernstein’s poems insist on their unsettled surfaces, on the way they patch together incompatible levels of our everyday speech, from the most vapid self-affirmations to the densest inanities of professional jargon. The basic unit of Bernstein’s poetry is the exploded cliché or the dislocated fragment of conventional unwisdom....Bernstein has made a habit (and a career) out of questioning modern American poetry’s love affair with personal experience and ’voice.’ Now that his critique is something of an institution, it makes perfect sense that this poetic kochleffel should double back and try a cockeyed version of it himself. In Girly Man Bernstein is stirring it up again and — he would love this scrambled metaphor — adding something new to the mix."

David Kaufmann | Forward

"[Bernstein] hammers his way into your consciousness as he describes the ways of the post-9/11 world."


"Girly Man, Charles Bernstein’s latest assault on contemporary life, is poetry to be read for pleasure and solace in our rather sobering timne."

Corinne Robbins | Talisman

Table of Contents

Let’s Just Say

In Particular

Thank You for Saying Thank You

Let’s Just Say

“every lake . . .”

Some of These Daze

It’s 8:23 in New York

Today is the next day of the rest of your life


Report from Liberty Street

Letter from New York

World on Fire

Didn’t We

The Folks Who Live on the Hill

One More for the Road

In a Restless World Like This Is

Ghost of a Chance

Choo Choo Ch’Boogie

Stranger in Paradise

Broken English

Lost in Drowned Bliss

Sunset at Quaquaversal Point

A Flame in Your Heart



Fantasy on Nightmare on Elm Street Theme

“Cum ipse . . .”

He’s So Heavy, He’s My Sokal

Why I Don’t Meditate


Language, Truth, and Logic

from Canti Antichi

Slap Me Five, Cleo, Mark’s History

In Parts

Reading Red


In Parts


Photo Opportunity


Castor Oil


Jacobs’s Ladder

Don’t Get Me Wrong

Interim Standoff

Should We Let Patients Write Down Their Own Dreams?

Bridges Freeze Before Roads

Pocket in the Hole

Evening Sail with Prawns

Secrets of a Clear Hand

Rain Is Local

Set Free (Knot)

If You Lived Here You’d Be Home Now

The Warble of the Ammonia-Bellied Barkeep

“And if then . . .”

Comforting Thoughts

Further Color Notes


Girly Man

War Stories

There’s Beauty in the Sound of the Rushing Brook as It Forks & Bends in the Moonlight

Sign Under Test

A Poem Is Not a Weapon

Emma’s Nursery Rimes

Wherever Angels Go

Death Fugue (Echo)

The Beauty of Useless Things: A Kantian Tale


The Bricklayer’s Arms

The Ballad of the Girly Man

Notes and Acknowledgments

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