Great Moments in Taches Blanches by Charles Bernstein











“Freedom is never free”

[One July, it was 1997, a small group, convened by Emmanuel Hoquard, met at the Centre de Poésie & Traductions at Fondation Royaumont, near Paris, to play the “blank spots” game (le gam taches blanches). If the game of blank spots were a betting game it would go like this: “I’ll see your nothing and raise you nothing.” Parent figure: “I didn’t raise you to say things like that.” Parent figure: “Leave them alone & they’ll come home, wagging their tales behind them.” I present here one of my contributions to the Royaumont meeting.]

1. Jimmy Stewart is Tache Blanc in Blank Check, un film de Jean-Jacques Lecercle.

2. “I have lost my notes but maybe I will find them during my nap.”

3. Staedtler “Mars Plastic” Eraser (Cf.: Rauschenberg¹s erased DeKooning, c. 1954).

4. Lascaux sans image.

5. THE GLARE OF THE BLANK (the tear of the … )

6. Don’t blink.

7. Blink.

8. She shot me point blank.

She shot me at point blank range.

I got shot at point blank range.

9. Johnny must have slipped me a Mickey because the next thing I knew everything started to go blank and I found myself on the floor next to the coach and she was saying to me: “[Quote removed by Tom Raworth for further study]”

10. ( )

11. (

12. ).

13. There’s no blank like the present.

14. .







15. Blank Stare.

16. The anoriginal space between versions (translation & source, text & performance, cup & lip) is the grace of blankness.

17. This section intentionally left blank.

18. “Never give a sucker an even blank.”

19. “Don’t blank on it.”

20. “Don’t blank out on me. Not now.”

20a. Her glance pierced me like blanks firing on an icy precipice.

21. Goffmann¹s “disattend track” (Frame Analysis).

22. In the blank of an eye.

23. Drawing a blank (II):

24. “The gap I mean.”


26. The gap in agape.

27. “Rob sees red when Laura goes blond.”

28. The savage wilderness of the desert.

29. All problems of language are problems of translation.

30. “Running on empty.”

31. Arakawa/Gins: “Forming Blank” (tube / twisted tube / . . . . . . . ).

31. Fill in the blank: ______, ________, _______.

31. Blanched but not bowed.

31. Waldrop’s paradox : The only one who can judge the translation knows both languages and so can¹t judge it.

31. “DU CALME:

Poetry makes nothing happen”

(Rogélio Lopez Cuenca).

31. Poetry fakes nothing actually.





In Charles Bernstein’s “Great Moments in Taches Blanches” a reader finds many blank spots. Commands are redacted and assertions refused. Parentheses are split open. Blank space is given some physical shape, at least the shape of a “tache rectangle,” and then paradoxically (and honestly) said to be no longer blanked, and at last, numbered sections of the poem are left waiting, succumbing to the luster of words that haven’t arrived, words that have been left blank.

“Taches Blanches” literally translates to “white spots,” and also as Bernstein employs it, “blank checks.” Much like a blank check, the poem’s purpose is never fulfilled, never cashed, and never depleted. Moreover, the poem itself is a giant blank spot constantly shifting, the eye of a storm that pushes the reader from its words back into the world they question.

Was Jimmy Stewart ever in a movie directed by the author Jean-Jacque Lecercle? If he was, I can’t find it. Did the artist Robert Rauschenberg actually erase that “important” DeKooning drawing with a Staedtler “Mars Plastic” Eraser? I watched the video like eight times, and I can’t tell. Who said, “I have lost my notes but maybe I will find them during my nap”? I’m only three numbered sections into these great moments, and I can admit without reservation that I’m not feeling so great.

What’s more, throughout the poem blankness goes on to “glare,” “draw,” “stare,” and “form”. This characterization of the great blank, the blank page, the blank heavens, and the—can it even be named?—has me drawing a blankety blank. And that’s exactly the effect Bernstein has designed into this poem. Each time, and particularly each first time a reader grasps at this poem, we are meant to stumble over words and sentences we claim to possess, sensations and meanings we assume have been domesticated, to wonder if form and function are synonymous. That’s one of this poem’s grand accomplishments: It leads a reader to the point that the reader is no longer following, the point of contradiction at which we are freed of the burden of knowing, but also the point at which we are dogged by the knowledge that “Freedom is never free”.

Charles Bernstein is often referred to as a L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poet. This generally means that his poetics consider words and sentences and ideas living creatures, ones that have a tendency to defy tidiness. In his poem’s words, this means that language is “the gap in agape,” a pun directing our attention to an open mouth, to the Greek word for “love”, and no doubt to much more besides.

To my mind, Bernstein’s poetics are especially tuned to our moment, to our difficulties of focus and our inabilities of knowing even when culture and intelligence are saturated with data. What’s more, his poetry is compassionate to our attempts to manage and overcome our ignorance, reveling in our flights of fancy and the diversions that enable us to salvage hope and dignity when the odds are stacked against us. He is an information poet, a poet of referent, who quixotically and systematically defies reference. Perhaps what I mean is that his work and this poem are simply astounding.

You can find out more about Charles Bernstein and his poetry here, here, and here.

–Franklin Winslow


One thing I think is interesting is how Bernstein plays with the idea of naming the unnamable, so to speak. He points out that “drawing the blank” makes it no longer blank, but naming it has the same effect. For example, “Don’t blank on it,” has a very different effect than “Don’t….on it,” even though they’re essentially the same thing. Bernstein plays with this idea by using both the word “blank” and actual blank spaces, underscores, and ellipses.

Comment by RachelJespersen — November 6, 2012 @ 8:04 am

5 thoughts on “Great Moments in Taches Blanches by Charles Bernstein”

  1. One thing I think is interesting is how Bernstein plays with the idea of naming the unnamable, so to speak. He points out that “drawing the blank” makes it no longer blank, but naming it has the same effect. For example, “Don’t blank on it,” has a very different effect than “Don’t….on it,” even though they’re essentially the same thing. Bernstein plays with this idea by using both the word “blank” and actual blank spaces, underscores, and ellipses.

  2. I love the word play within this poem. It reminds me a little of a book I read in my childhood, “The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster. I refer to this, because that connection lends this sort of nostalgic feeling within the poem for me. The repetition of certain words, although often in very different contexts and with very different connotations, also adds to this nostalgia as it brings to mind this almost nursery school pattern of thought, where things are repeated so that we can learn their meanings, yet here it emphasized the myriad of meanings that these words can contain. The different meanings of the words that are explored here, as mentioned in the previous comment, speaks to the idea of word association and meaning. This poem seems to explore what Derrida and the Deconstructionists were exploring in their work, what value does a words have, and how does that value change in context to society and the values that we emphasize? Is it even possible to find or define the true meaning of a word? As Bernstein says though, “29. All problems of language are problems of translation.” We can’t translate what we don’t truly understand, and language may well be that leviathan that cannot ever comprehend.

  3. I think it is very interesting for me in the poem is the idea that blank cannot be drawn or written.
    In “14. Drawing a blank,” although we see that someone made an attempt to draw a blank. But the next sentence “it’s no longer blank” makes us realized that blank is not soemthing that you can draw.
    In “17. This section intentionally left blank,” although the sentence tells us that the section is blank, but because the sentence is there, the section is not blank.
    Then I came up with the idea maybe just leave the space empty is the real blank. Then I saw last “31.”
    This also leaves me with questions such as what is the real blank? or is there even a real blank?

  4. I love the conversation happening here. I agree with everyone, especially concerning the playfulness generated by repetition and the paradoxical nature of blankness in the poem. In fact, after his reading on Wednesday Mr. Bernstein alluded to the idea that people can never be blank because they always have language. He claims, and I tend to agree, that a word is always present, if often suppressed. This concept seems to be an important aspect of the blank sections at the end of “Tache Blanches”. Maybe I’m incorrect when I write that “words…haven’t arrived.” Maybe words are there even if we can’t see or read them. Perhaps words are there even if we don’t want them to be. This would also mean that words are there when we need them.

    These ideas are comforting and provide a super useful application of the poem to my personal life. Even when I can’t find the word to describe a situation or feeling, or when I’m scrambling to meet a deadline and it seems the words just won’t come, when I’m lost in my long silences, I know that words are out there waiting to find me.

  5. “Great Moments in Taches Blanches” is a difficult poem. Its author, Charles Bernstein, makes no pretention about this fact or its accessibility to his readers. In fact, I think he has taken great care to craft a body of work that is meant to both confound and challenge those who take the time to read his work.

    “Great Moments” begins by saying, ‘this is not really a poem but some notes from a game I played with other literati in Paris some years ago.” So the first challenge he presents is the question: what is a poem? “Taches Blanches” answers this question firmly because at its core the piece is a translation of one of his experiences into another literary form that serves as a metaphor for an idea he is trying to convey to his readers – and that, by definition, is a poem.

    In this work, Bernstein’s centers the theme around ‘blankness,’ by replacing some common expressions with a word that should mean ‘nothing’ but in his context has the opposite affect – for Bernstein, ‘blank’ carries all the meaning in the world and it can be substituted in any situation with equal effectiveness.

    There is great art writing a difficult poem – there is a craftsmanship in constructing opacity. A poet like Bernstein must first master the deep history of poetry, its many formats, its theory and criticism, then, and only with skill culled from experience and practice, is he able to create something that can at the same time both alienate and enhance a reader.

    Bernstein himself addresses the approach to difficult poetry in an essay he wrote called, The Difficult Poem. In it, he asks the following questions that I have answered below in relation to my reading of “Taches Blanches.”

    1. Do you find the poem hard to appreciate? – Yes… yes, I do.

    2. Do you find the poem’s vocabulary and syntax hard to understand? – If you call an uneven quadrilateral ‘vocabulary’ then yes, I find it hard to read a shape.

    3. Are you often struggling with the poem? – I think I’ve made that clear.

    4. Does the poem make you feel inadequate or stupid as a reader? – Inadequate? Stupid? No, not quite. But I do feel a little like one does right before they find out they have been pranked.

    His essay, these questions and the poem, “Taches Blanches” all come from an artist who understands his skill and has earned his right to push himself and his readers to the breaking point. The rewards of this sort of risk taking are difficult to achieve in an age where everything has already been bent, broken, mended and shocked. I think Bernstein is a masterful poet who has little left to prove as an artist and now amuses himself with making readers like me squirm uncomfortably at his ‘blank’ verse.

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