English 111
Experimental Writing Seminar / Charles Bernstein
Spring 2011

colllaborations were done by passing around a yellow pad during the seminar. each participant then edited the text.

Chain poem

full set of unedited collaborations here.

unedited source text

This embroidered ephemeral plateau,


The cherry exit foible,

with Gratitude and gouda horse.




Meanwhile, our hero thought, “nobody is really all that bad”

Learn to love the questions themselves.

She said she hates it when I order Chinese food.

I’ve been listening to Cat Stevens again.

Being pretentious is overrated.

Stasis in darkness.

The sun’s not yellow, it’s chicken.

Even the heaviest elephant will float in his mother’s womb.

Radiate warmth, unguarded and generous.

The space surrounding air started to murmur and hiss.

You are a horse running alone, and he tries to tame you.





You are a horse running alone, and he tries to tame you.

Radiate warmth, unguarded and generous –

being pretentious is overrated. Embroidered.

I’ve been listening to Cat Stevens again, and then

the space surrounding air started to murmur and hiss.

She said she hates it when I order Chinese food, but

The sun’s not yellow, it’s chicken. And

Even the heaviest elephant will float in his mother’s womb.


exit. Learn to love the questions themselves.

Stasis in darkness.

Meanwhile, our hero thought, nobody is really all that bad.


unedited source text



Sometimes Much, Round Words


Words do not belong to us—

So much depends upon

Words and not spaces.

Sometimes input is just data,

A relationship of non-sense.

Sometimes there is nothing to say.

But I’m not asking for much,

Just a couple

of pages will do

and you’ve said much more with your silence.


No one makes me feel young anymore

But the smell of spring

And the ferris wheel

Moving round and round in the hollow

Of my chest.

I sound pretentious.


I’d like to float

Over the many squares,

The insides of your mind.

You are your own secret, and

You seem to have forgotten the moments in your blue box car.


Maybe I’m out in left field.

I tied my worries

Into a bundle of old letters

You mend me, because you know I am worth your time.

I wonder if I knew everything back then.


unedited source text



You know

The years go in reverse-

The hands on a clock are always running

Who uses clocks?

Because you know

Hollow spaces

Will have the last say.


I feel relieved that nothing lasts forever.

Without restriction

I’ve been complaining.

The words aren’t coming easily

Language failure

Words aloud are real


Hello advertising


Can’t be here.

The people are

On paper.

Remembering thoughts would require



We pretend to know

The earth beneath our feet.

Grapes of wrath and dust

Seem like agony.

It’s good to be home.


click on image for full size
unedited source text

unedited source text

Epics I have yet to see


Time doesn’t belong on a wrist.

Is memory eternal a real thing?

What’s the opposite of fleeting,


What does that feel like?


…was I born to speak?

Writing in this manner

Is so freeing right?

What does that feel like?


Who knows what we really want?

LOVE, HATE, this is what moves us?

Or is it something in the middle?


Protected. What does that mean?


Who knows what we really want?

What does that feel like?

Who knows what we really want?

What does that mean?

Who knows what we really want?

Time doesn’t belong on a wrist.


unedited source text

When Disaster Shook the World

Portrait in X parts



There was an apocalyptic trifecta:

earthquake, meltdown, tsunami,

and people died.

I don’t know what to do,

shake, melt or swim.

I’m sorry, I really am.



The rainbow is wrinkling in the rain.

There is a giant crack in the Earth.

The Gods found a new spectrum

playing baseball with the planets.

We got hit the hardest.

What’s the prize of a home run?



I dream of explosions and overflowsions,

shake and quake between snooze buttons

heavy with my broken heart,

my empty heart.

It hurts.

What would have happened if I had told you I loved you earlier?

I miss you, that’s all.



She is lonely.

She cries every time an answer makes more questions,

She spends too much of her life looking for a single answer.   

She asks

“What’s the point?”

“What am I paying for?”

“Do we ever stop paying?”

“When we’re done, aren’t we dead?”



The answer is always




I want to give her an imaginary world

with imaginary friends

and imaginary lives.

She is an only child

It explains a lot.



Circle the appropriate answer:


A. $2.00 for coffee creamer

B. $10.00 for the shuttle

C. A penance for negative thoughts

D. My life as a mastercard commercial

E.                  All of the above


(Answer E makes me doubt myself, but

maybe doubt is good when choosing all of the above)



I am not whole

But I am not broken

Everyone has a someone,

but my someone and I never belonged to each other in the first place.



Lists made in the mystical magical manifold of my mind seem to slip away fast. There is so much to do and so much will never be done. I want to get from “to-do” to “done.” Maybe I should start dreaming and stop asking why. Take the time to remember to do the things I don’t understand. Maybe over-standing is easier. I overstate that I’m underwhelmed and undermine that I oversee the upside. Mindful of my misgivings, I prefer to imagine life experience to experience, memory to memory. Scattered attention makes us feel like we’re getting more things done. But really we’re just doing more things badly. When I lose a memory, do I pay for it the next morning? or long after? I’d rather be overcomplicated and look for more things to ask. A good question is most of the answer. Sometimes the universe and all beyond does not let us understand. This “theory of everything” can be summed up in a point. The point is that “I don’t know #life.” 



The last moments of our lives are tragic, stunning, intimate.

We have all returned, but our thoughts are still on their way.

Hopefully when they arrive, they come slowly. 

That’s when the magic happens.


unedited source text

You throw around heavy words

like you were the world’s strongest man

I, your boulder


She’s small but she’s strong too

maybe stronger than you


You must be delusional

to think that I’ll wait for you


You never wanted to know me before

The one over there

I’d take my chances with her


Right now I feel like Poland, 1939

Trampled and tired

But the sun burns bright

and my room its warm

I want to

Take you through my telescope

so we can see only what

I want to be

I see HER between us


And rather than compile a list of reasons

why I love you-I

will dwell on the fact

that your list belongs

to her


Why do I put more weight

in your sweet nothings

that in her most naked confessions?


It’s easier to make not sense than make sense

There will be no answers, though.


my right ear won’t stop pounding

I’m experiencing an auditory heart attack

soon my eyes will cease to breathe


Deaf and blind, dumb and willfully ignorant

we marinate in the futility of seeking answers


She has a network of capillaries in her

oozing with tree sap

You insist upon reading

the roadmap of veins

drawn on my arm, but

you already know where

they lead


We play these games

like we both know the

ending of the story, but

don’t want to ruin it for the



It would be easier to tell you

“I told you,

She told you,

we told you,”


you think she’s an open book,

but you don’t know what page to turn to,

do you?

so maybe we should close our eyes then?

That might make this easier.



You see your girlfriend this weekend

and whisper nice things

that will make your lives easier

I don’t want to be reminded of that


unedited source text


Word Cloud Randomization



Poor, royal Draper,

just looking mean, going scared,

told Walt, "I hope William follows."

Forget Nobody continues,

abominable, makes turnpikes, fails haiku

(still writing Linen lines), living

just short of protest.

Probably thinking anything

living jaws might say,

not-versed-in-British-boredom Walt guesses,

"It's probably bright. Forget William.

Like think we got anything we want. Just make

careful thoughts." Going shorter,

Draper slouches. "I do enjoy some capitalism.

Just thought I might need you, Walt,

especially when it might be redemption:

just living through wrinkles,

in the open, like a king."





guess is GIVE,

threads big funeral.

Oh from begone the bubbles, Follow

page is helmet

Slouching (go) of be beverage

it say spoon or....?”

The swirling not.

Abbreviate minds for but me

especially the good or 3 lives carlos “tomorrow.”

We went me day

don't MAKE comedic your chance chair,

a went might bowls.

dead Special line verse or....?”

to The GODDAMN inevitable.

The to myself I gap down the tired can

to for when declare, but is

wow... Purple, knew stillness

The fair so hues.

We there nobody a that might walt

2 DIE, UP and hunger,

and I'm in it threads

me need beside bright shocked YOU

and have is puns and off my thought

destroy two in here bowls.

saying I

box of short lines;

binding makes snag from looking to

I'll and abominable turnpikes?

Snapping but Santa know

saying I shocked you

say does hot Fasten miserably.

Fallen in friendly

Special always make think conscious

New it's below be belt

Mind Dick LOVE of our straining write

there hate in page

He anything May?

But it In write the box of say not looking.

Stanza try what that for say capitalism.

I when trying elaborate, beg it's I stillness

The say to bowls to that be

have to for me bowls yet we live

and to between but about to

scared in word pills heard here

new Fe? Mrs. to place minds for capitalism.

I sometimes especially harsh I

art box of I've begone page

He they really likes hard a messages—

we was I've in pills

Look but suits looking swirling GIVE sometimes inevitable.

The is between of British B, Berry.

It's seat but want Scottish, the path,

Rahm though, to messages— we

they'll after shorter, my of and hunger,

and between I thoughts Draper

Careful all me I find wise

Does short lines; seems probably already never in

be no hasn't thought in tried write my OK.

I going the a about makes self-fulfilling

hey it's to on itself is and all so Fe?

Mrs. month hey prophecy I fair

so our Look is yoghurt,

how down the wide prophecy I

straining that hues.

We protest always brag belie hustle

We and bottle I box of yet,

but declare, but me looking.

Stanza about let the bestow yet we

I've consumer write the consumer

many for the the elaborate,

the that UP continues what ordered continues

lives not heater one air coffee try does on B, that.

And on THIS is about good binding.

unedited source text

20 Questions.

Why is there always doubt in my stomach?

Is google mocking me?

Why do I care about someone
I shouldn’t care about?

 but what about myself? rarely

Is there a connection?

What do we do with it?

If I ask a question about asking a question, does that make
me post-modern?

Why does light improve my mood when outside & upset
me in doors?

Why did he have to say “Dream Weaver”?

Will we keep this up forever?

Is this the 11th question?
Was that rhetorical?

how can I stop myself from fucking
it up again?

 I used to be mortally afraid of the
number 13. Is this the 13th question?

 I don’t get why hotels skip the
13th floor – if you’re on the 14th
what floor are you really on?

But why would
we want to remain unknown?

I wonder if any one can see the ink
spilling from my belly button?
is it something I keep in my bedroom,
hidden safely under my bed?

Number 18
Does this count as annoying?


Am I too obsessed with questions?
Well, that’s number 20.

does the choice actually exist?
Question 21. Sorry.

why does everything always fail to
live up to expectations?



Chain Poem
composed in email replacement rounds


We were squeezing sweat through malleable bones—

sinews lying in tatters under the sieve.

A twitch;

and as we push deeper and deeper into the salt,

I don't care enough anymore



We roll through the bodies' blood belches, its

Cartilage pock-marked with jealousy, craters

that incinerate bridges,

furrowing backwards through memory;

I won’t care enough anymore


So she placed a pile of tendons on her father's back

and felt the vibration of death on decay

she inhaled

sounding like someone who knew how to breathe

who could smell the timeless struggle

I can’t care enough anyways


They watered a mound of her brother’s skin

And watched it sprout, writhe, engorge

He ached

climbing like someone who could no longer feel

who could  no longer hear eternal whims

I shouldn’t care enough anyways




We were verb-ing noun through adjective noun—

sinews lying in tatters under the sieve.

A noun;

and as we push deeper and deeper into the salt,

I don't care enough anymore



We verb through the noun adjective noun, its

Cartilage pock-marked with jealousy, craters

that verb noun,

furrowing backwards through memory;

I won’t verb enough anymore



So she placed a pile of tendons on her father's back

and verb the noun of noun on noun

she inhaled

verb-ing like someone who verb how to noun

who could smell the timeless struggle

I can’t verb enough anyways


They watered a mound of her brother’s skin

And verb-ed it verb, verb, verb

He ached

Verb-ing like noun who could no longer verb

who could  no longer hear eternal whims

I shouldn’t verb enough anyways




He put on the accumulated skin of his brother

Assisted by Action, Action, Action, Action.


Who describes action verbs?

I did not hear the eternal Spirit

I have not much action



We all scanned the room for our proverbial twin

someone who could look us straight in the face

without flinching their features canned and sealed

and stacked in the basement like frozen fire flies

I had to blink twice before I cared



I care about too many things

Backed together with our backs to each other

We are all clones of each other.

Not who we are, but who we intend to be.



I can't not care about everything

But I can look both backward and forward

Immense perspective, the objectivity impales the looking glass -

trying at least.

In truth even a clone won't understand its other.

And we keep trying to be who we pretend to be.


when you decided to be nothing

I peeled back the appleskin of minutes

to find your flesh there, softly, being again,

kneading the compost's rank love

into my hair claiming that it moisturizes

but forgetting to rinse.


And if I care to be everything

I’ll roll back and forth in time,

staining skin with what once was and once will,

feeling the looking glass’ burn

And I’ll meet clones that understand each other

who know why anything can be



If I even dare to care if I can be all that you want

I'll jump through time, back then, now then

Carving into my skin the lines that tell of what we had and what we will

(I sense the burning gaze in the mirror)

I will see clones that claim to have some profound knowledge

Of life. Who. Why? To be.



I’ve cared too much

Cloned too much

Said too much

All I intend to be