By DOUGLAS MESSERLI [L.A. Review of Books] – I published the essay [Marjorie] Perloff refers to in Content’s Dream (Sun & Moon Press). On the occasion of William Carlos Williams’ 100th birthday celebration, [Charles] Bernstein not only chastised the academy for embracing Williams while ignoring his ideas and more radical poetic contributions, but righteously objected to the kind of poetic reviewing that so often appeared (and still does) in the New York Times, wherein the critic, in this case Richard Tillinghast, praised the poet for “appealing to the senses in order to create convincing illusions of reality” that created a world wherein “all is comfort and contentment…Good wine and well-prepared food are frequently at hand.”
For Bernstein, Tillinghast’s comments merely celebrated the “middle class, middle brow lifestyle” represented in so much of contemporary poetry as opposed to a “continuation of those literary and humanist traditions that have something more at stake,” in short, writing and thinking like Williams’s. Speaking out against what he perceived as a dominance of this “official verse culture,” Bernstein drew a line in the sand that put him in strong opposition to many of the most revered publishers and advocates of poetry:
Let me be specific as to what I mean by “official verse culture”—I am referring to the poetry publishing and reviewing practices of The New York Times, The Nation, American Poetry Review, The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, Poetry (Chicago), Antaeus, Parnassus, Atheneum Press, all the major trade publishers, the poetry series of almost all of the major university publishers (the University of California Press being a significant exception at present).
To that he added all the award-giving organizations and academic poetry guides such as The Harvard Guide to Contemporary American Writing.