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  • Community and the Individual Talent
  • Charles Bernstein (bio)


Liftjar Agate

1 “I hate that you blame me For 2 the things I do wrong” A pear 3 would go to heaven As easily as 4 a blade of grass Would sing your 5 song. But the notice, she is given 6 The Sway outlasts the throng In the 7 nabbing there’s More to pay Than circuits 8 in a barn. You know that time, 9 years ago If chance allots recall, The 10 bluff fell down You fussed, I frowned

11 But where those yesterdays In the 12 musty torpors of Tomorrows? Green glides 13 the fence Red knows the door 14 A switch is heavier When the 15 bolting soars. A foxy boy a 16 fool becomes When manner glides & 17 Furor’s none. Forsake the swaddle, curdle 18 the door You’ll still be a 19 version When yearnings link In thrall.


Community and the Individual Talent

[The new interactive spaces of the Internet suggest possibilities for community that are particularly suggestive for poetry as a social practice. Under the direction of Loss Pequeño Glazier, we established the Electronic Center as part of the Poetics Program at the University at Buffalo ( In January 1994, I started a private e-mail discussion group, Poetics, using the listserve program on one of the university’s mainframe computers. The program allows any message sent to “Poetics” to be automatically distributed to all participants. One of the first, and most sustained, discussions on “Poetics” was on the subject of poetry communities, particularly in the context of other discussions on the internet of the “virtual” communities possible in “cyberspace.” I was slow to join the conversation, so my post on the subject also served as a reply to several specific comments made earlier. For information about “Poetics,” [End Page 176] or to continue the conversation in this essay, you can contact me at]

I had a number of thoughts, over these past weeks of posts, about community, but I’ve misplaced them.

Every time I hear the words literary community I reach for my bivalent autocad simulation card emulator.

Poetry is (or can be) an aversion of community in pursuit of new constellations of relationship.

In other words, community is as much what I am trying to get away from—reform—as form.

So there are a spectrum of communities, from the closed community modeled on the family, to communities fixed by location (what might otherwise be called, for example, neighborhoods) or civic identification (the community bounding a literal and figurative commons or commonplace) or political ideology, to utopian communities that have either sought to form a new place or to remain open by refusing to be grounded by a place.

Literary communities have often been understood in terms of place—the “local”—as Michael Davidson writes about the emergence of a literary community on the West Coast in his book on the San Francisco Renaissance, or in terms of scene (a local hub within a place) or group. Black Mountain remains crucial because it forged an arts community from writers and artists from many places. Most recently, the connections of writers within ethnic, gender, or racial groups have been designated as communities. Schools or movements have not usually been called communities, although Ron Silliman, among others, has wanted to insist that a shared aesthetic project among writers in different locations can best be understood on this model of community. It’s possible to speak of the “poetry community” in the sense of the “poetry world” (in the sense of the “art world”)—but such a formulation immediately suggests that arts funding agencies are nearby (more commonly, one speaks of the “small press community”). I would say “poetry communities” but this begs the questions even as it suggests relief. Many poets that I know experience poetry communities, say scenes, as places of their initial exclusion from publication, readings, recognition. Being inside, a part of, is often far less striking than being left out, apart.

Communities, defined by what they have in common—a place, an ideal, a practice, a heritage...