The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Live Acts” is a twenty-line poem in free verse. The title suggests a sign on a marquee outside a strip joint, one that would read in full, “Live Sex Acts.” There is little in the poem, however, to bear out that legend; rather, the title resonates with the suggestions of something simulated—either the act itself or the passion of those engaged in it, as in a staged sex show. This resonance is often encountered in Charles Bernstein’s poetry, in which the poet examines the question of sincerity and falseness in language and poetry.

Although the pronoun “I” is twice employed, it would not be accurate to characterize this poem as a first-person poem. The issue of the credibility of a poem (or of any statement) involves for Bernstein a questioning also of what it means to be a person. Bernstein tends to view the person as a social construct rather than as a natural fact, and whatever has been put together by human agency can be dismantled by that same agency. Bernstein’s poetry operates from multiple viewpoints in order to demonstrate his thesis and to embody it for a reader.

While personal experience is involved at one level in “Live Acts” (the experience of a number of persons), the reader is never allowed to forget that a poem’s meanings are primarily generated by its language rather than by the experience to which that language points. Hence, no “scene” is offered—the sentences and phrases do not even lead from one...

(The entire section is 478 words.)