Thursday, July 6, 2023

Brief Review: The Course by Ted Greenwald and Charles Bernstein


The Course
Ted Greenwald and Charles Bernstein
Roof Books, 2020, 350 pgs.

Bam, pow, wow do I love this book. I can’t immediately think of other books of poetry that embody the concept of the jazz jam session so thoroughly. Two language and musical intelligences bounce ideas and energy off each other in a rapid, varied, and ultimately extended back and forth.

At times it seems like I can recognize this or that line as likely the work of one or the other of the writers: the deadpan, flat, yet somehow full of wonder pop art understatement of Greenwald; the twisting puns and pungent ironies of Bernstein. But mostly what feels created here is a third voice containing both of those approaches and a tone that seems to come from both poets simultaneously. Ultimately, identifying who wrote what hardly matters. As Bernstein says on the back cover, the writers themselves frequently forgot which lines were originally their own.

The focus on language play rather than reference dives occasionally into reference and creates through interaction a pertinent world view in which play and perception and response matter more than defined theme and statement. Development over the course of the book is like the development in music; the mood and tone tell the story. I feel like I’d have to go back to early Clark Coolidge books like Polaroid or The Maintains to get this much non-referential verbal interplay jumping around on the page so pleasantly:

Spit into face

All about


Another nice day

2nd movement

How bout snack

Tangy thirds

Is peligrosso

Means huh?

A what-about-me


In a Dodge

Medical street

Work out for

The Beast

I’m about to stare

(Revenue of the wasted)

(Base relief)

As in

Bad day at

(Welcome to)


From “Succor Punch”

I don’t feel like I read The Course so much as participated in it, feeling the music, letting it do the talking, giving up on explanation and just being alive to what’s present in human involvement. As Bernstein’s note on the back cover also says, the collaboration continued until several days before Greenwald’s death in 2016. This book in relation to that fact is a key reminder of how much life we can live in every day of living it.