The World Behind The World

Tiepolo rock-candy mountains and flossy
Sugar-spun clouds bubble beneath cherubim
Delineating a cosmos we can bear to inhabit. . . .
     from “Cloud Ekphrastics” 

What I’ve been thinking, from a Hindu scholar:
“Let come what comes, let go what goes. Study what remains.”
I like “study,” the word suggesting what life has taught me
already, that almost nothing is so terrible it cannot
also be of interest. . . .
     from “Like Jonah”

“…The best ear in the business.  She harmonizes the raucous and the classic, the songful and the wry, the courtly and the quick.”
—Wayne Koestenbaum

“Few contemporary poets are so articulate about our primitive urges or possess the daring to leap from the top rung of their intellect’s ladder.”
—Brian McKenna, The Rumpus

Publication Date: March 14, 2023. W.W. Norton

Brawl & Jag

…while most died and other lost legs
some of us are only vaguely queasy
at least for now
and of course mad conveniently mad
necessarily mad because
“tis late to ask” for pardon and
we were so carefully schooled
in false hope schooled
like the parrot who crooks her tongue
like a dirty finger
repeating what her flat bright eyes deny.
     from “Tis Late”

The anarchists across the way wear only corduroy
and have taught their pet marmoset to doff his hat and bow—
Mocking gesture to a world that’s gone flat as a dead pond.
From the bad air the columns are pocked like saltine crackers—
Let them crumble away to dust,
so the past can fill out lungs with cement.
     from “Not from the Italian”

“April Bernard brings as deep, as concentrated and imaginative, an attention as it is possible to bring to reality, history, the self, and their triple intersection in our living language.  This is a miraculously balanced, refreshing, and startling book.”
–Vijay Seshradi

“It is as if the poet set fire to her earlier work and wrote new poems in the light of those flames.”
–Mark Wunderlich


Love breaks me like a corn cake
in a boy’s mouth.
I am eating my own heart but would like to wash it first,
raccoon-like, in the Rhine.
     from “Sonnenwendenlieder (Solstice Songs)”

Greedy Thing,
we called the dingo bitch who hung around the camp,
mustard brown with black streaks and filmy eyes.
At night she ate the chicken, feet and heads.
Her ruff rose spiky when she menaced the children
until they gave her their sandwiches.
We threw stones,
which she always liked, once or twice, in case.

“In her latest volume, Bernard behaves like the unreliable narrators more familiar from fiction (or, at best, fiction-poetry hybrids like Nabokov’s Pale Fire). It’s tempting to dub her… a pirate among poets. Given Bernard’s emotional candor, the label wouldn’t be quite accurate, but then Romanticism is a masterpiece of strategic, surprising inaccuracies.”
–Abigail Deutsch, n+1

“In these engulfing poems, April Bernard offers riffs on Romanticism as a puzzling, sometimes absurd, way of being.”
–Dan Hofstadter

Swan Electric

See It Does Rise

See it does rise, and will not be stalled
by the dew point, how murky the aura, nor
by the sight of the face that has been my face
wry-turned on the shelf.
Where does it go to? It goes to the sky 
which is also the sea, salted and horse-tailed
and urging toward autumn with its talent to gel
and turn all runny edges to smooth gem-cut sheen.
Straight from my sun the light shoots up,
through my hair, ecstatic, and on to the place
of iced light and sharp cider, the taste of apples
pressed free, done with the bark and the bees
and the barrels, the clear golden blood you can pour
on your tongue or on the ground, it has risen past care.

“Virtuosity joined to a sense of delirium—a delirium not only of the senses, but of ideals….This stylish book is skeptical of mere style: ‘no gorgeous diction can get you out of it.’  Bernard has written a gorgeous, tough, haunting book.”
      –Frank Bidart


In this volume, the poet uses the psalm form—a public voice speaking of private spiritual matters—in honor of both the Biblical psalms and of Brecht’s re-imagined 20th century psalms.  The collection is also an account of the ravages of the AIDS crisis in New York City in the 1980s and 90s, and an elegy for those who died.

Psalm: It Must Be the Medication

So the hip rises, oh so slightly, in its golden socket
and music continues despite the dawn

The lion threw his head back and sang two notes like a veery
Everywhere doubling: two acid drops on sugar, 

two boiling drops on ice, close your eyes
And memory sound as a wooden bucket, more sound

Why fuss with innuendo, when
gold and russet fruit lie across the forest floor?

Here, the loon’s vocal cascade, absolute,
for the moment without remove, write, “I can’t stop laughing.”


“April Bernard’s voice is the voice of one crying in the wilderness, but the wilderness is our populated, all too familiar one, and her psalms are striped with modern despair, loving, and knowing.”
–John Ashbery

“Both witty and passionate, ironic and apocalyptic, these poems reclaim for the art an entire continent lost during our latter-day academic retrenchment. Bernard is already an important American poet.”
–Mac Wellman

Named one of the 25 Best Books of the Year by The Village Voice

Blackbird Bye Bye

     …the secret that moves within,
                   like water,
filling and storing up to the top,
up to the surface where it turns into something else again.
Confounding physics: How anything that large
can hide, like a jinn, in the curly woodland of the brain—
or on the soul’s capacious dunes…

Yet without consulting a glowing ball,
or rushing sans telescope into the ghastly blackness of the stars,
dragging lines between them and claiming them as kin—
Without holding a finger in the air and inquiring, whereto?
No, not that either: calling the cows home in the rain,
biting a frostbite off at the tip,
no, nor ever asking that these endless days

When the bird lays her eggs upon the flat water,
rocking and bobbing there—

It is not necessary to ask. It is sweet, and it is
closed to conversation.

    from “Blackbird Bye Bye”

Winner of the Walt Whitman Prize from the Academy of American Poets

“The wit here is corrosive, the ear faultless, the raised voice one to which we cannot but listen”
–Judge Amy Clampitt’s citation

“Bernard writes with daring and wit, anger and elegance and authority…She is a poet of obvious gifts and power and ambition, unsparing and brilliant, already inventing out of our inherited syllables a distinct language of her own.”
—W.S. Merwin