“This Adjective” after Charles Bernstein’s “This Line”

“This Adjective” after Charles Bernstein’s “This Line”

This adjective is stripped of attributes.

This adjective is no more than a

blank void of your own

subconscious. This adjective is bereft

of description. This adjective

has no distinguishable reference apart

from its context in relativity,

referentiality. This adjective

only describes itself.

This adjective does not distinguish:

its meaning made up by you, its 

independency demanding. This adjective

relates not to itself or to 

anyone else— it is autonomous,,

a lone-wolf, self-reliant, sovereign.

This adjective is flexible, requiring,

to understand it, years of stretching

and practicing flexibility, reaching

for new meaning relative

to the possibility of new topics.

This adjective refuses conformity. 

I found Charles Bernstein’s poem “This Line” to feel so satisfying (honestly all of his poetry was satisfying and so was Michael Palmer’s and Ron Silliman’s poetry).

I really enjoyed the usage of saying what the line was not in order to say what the line was in Bernstein’s poem “The Line.” Bernstein begins the poem saying that the line is stripped before describing what it is not, in the end one can use the context of the poem to deduce what the line represents. In this way the poem is paradoxical and playful. I felt the paradox was an extension from Formalism but the use of free verse and manipulation of language definitely speaks to the new era of Language (L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E) Poetry.

I wrote my poems about adjectives. It describes how an adjectives do not describe anything and fights people’s want to conform it into a definition, in the end, the poem contextualizes and defines the word adjective, thus conforming it and causing a playful paradox.


The line is blank and apathetic. The line is nothing more significant than what European illustration has made it to be, it does not have a subject, it is not contextualized, it relies on itself. The line does not contain meaning as the words are made up and the sounds cannot be heard. The line is apathetic towards all, it is not personal though it seems “indifferent, / impersonal, cold, uninviting” (Bernstein). To understand the concept of the line, despite the fact it does not exist outside of what definitions one gives it power to, it takes years of studying mysticism and inaccessible topics. The line is outside of the imagination.


I decided to include a second poem! I wrote this on a whim inspired by Charles Bernstein, Michael Palmer, and Ron Silliman. I specifically enjoyed Bernstein’s poem “Self Help,” Palmer’s “Notes for Echo Lake 4,” and Silliman’s “Sunset Debris.” A lot of this playfulness and manipulation of language reminded me of Irish poetry. My dad always says that the Irish are able to write poetry so beautifully and manipulate English so well because English was a language thrown upon them, one they did not respect and therefore felt a right to playfulness. I also like to think the Irish really don’t take too much seriously, choosing love of life in the face of adversity– something that is probably necessary when living somewhere with such gloomy winters — which is probably why they don’t want to take the definitions of language seriously.

A lot of language poetry also reminded me of learning a new language or simply learning to speak, read, and write as a child for the first time. There’s a lot of connections you make initially when doing these activities that go away as more definitions and context is implemented. Because of these ideas I wrote this second little poem that’s kind of silly and definitely still in workshop mode but it’s my first whack at this sort of manipulation so here goes:

Who’s on the Phone? It’s Venus, I’ve been Waiting. 

Who did the sea call to

Did she tickle breezes

And navigate taste buds through somersaults— summer salt?


Did buds see the taste 

Blooming despite the salt

Or was light found and made refreshing [shit] drink— Bud Light?


Did light years cause

All flowers to wither

And beers to fall flat with returns of the sea beckoning?


Does the tongue grow tired of sweet tea, sweetie?

Too big for the mouth or even another’s?

Sloppily, lazily searching? For what? More petals?

Love? Don’t be a fool, it’s lust or bust.

Maybe your tongue is perfect for lapping warm sea foam.

Gross Foam Washing Up in Australia May Be Full of Sea Snakes - Nerdist.

A photo of sea foam from Global News, December 2020

The Birth of Venus, Alexandre Cabanel (French, Montpellier 1823–1889 Paris), Oil on canvas

Alexandre Cabanel’s “Birth of Venus” 1863

One Response to “This Adjective” after Charles Bernstein’s “This Line”

  1. Prof VZ October 12, 2022 at 7:51 pm #

    One think I love about language poetry is its capacity for self-critique, whether serious or playful (obviously playful in Bernstein’s poetry). You capture that energy very well here. I often read Bernstein’s poem here as a self-critique, taking language poetry’s ubiquitous opacity to task–this idea that its political critique is too abstract, too esoteric. But then that last line enters with a certain seriousness: what does it mean for a poem to resist reality? “Reality” for the language poets often presents as a transparent state that they work to render as a finely constructed entity–for better or worse. The poem’s attention to its own constructedness (indeed, the poem is pure construction, almost like its a gloss on a poem that’s not present) signals to the reader that we should read the messages in the world, and what we accept as realty, as also constructed in this way. What lies beyond this constructed illusions is not the “real real,” but just language and play removed from power and constraint.

    I find your second poem to be really funny as it stretches for those puns and double-meanings and follows the play of language itself!

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