It would be impossible to overstate the wonders of this masterpiece of radical humanism. Expansive erudition, fundamental sensitivity, passionate intelligence, concern, adventurousness, and love inform this volume's structure and its substance. Rothenberg and Robinson have dedicated this project to an intensification and expansion of the vital and vivacious contexts of the ongoing project of human thought. They present us not with the fixity of a canon but with the unfixity of our world. The brooding of Romanticism will continue to burst around us. This wide-ranging, decentering, global panoply is a work of genius - the editors' and ours. -- Lyn Hejinian, poet, author of The Language of Inquiry

The Romantic vision is, above all, one of extension, extension of the imaginative faculty, extension of the essential poetic conversation beyond national and cultural boundaries, and, finally, extension and renewal of poetry’s signifying capacity in both the immediate, human realm and that of the spirit. This provocative third volume of Poems for the Millennium is itself an instance of that Romantic vision, definitively reframing and expanding our understanding of the movement. I believe its influence will resonate for generations to come. -- Michael Palmer, poet, author of Company of Moths and Active Boundaries

Modernism rejected Romanticism in the way that one political party rejects another—not because it is so different but because it wishes to win the same audience. This book demonstrates that the crucial thing that happened in Modernism was that a door opened onto still another aspect of the immense cultural experiment that Romanticism was—or as Rothenberg and Robinson might insist, that Romanticisms were (are). To know the work so carefully, lovingly and brilliantly assembled in this book is to know ourselves in a new and newly conscious way. As Robert Creeley remarked in Echoes, “Whatsoever [is] Rome [is] home.” Thanks to Messrs. Rothenberg and Robinson for demonstrating how right Creeley was.
-- Jack Foley, poet and critic, author of O Powerful Western Star

Compendious, capacious, global in scope, this third volume of Poems for the Millennium is a feast, a treasure, its commentaries a severe delight. Perhaps the two most unique features of Poems for the Millennium, volume 3, are its unapologetic formalism and its unabashed teleology: commentary after commentary draws fine, sometimes bold, lines of relation from these romantic and postromantic poems to modern and postmodern poetry, to avant-garde movements, between poetry and prose, and across national boundaries. There is no other anthology that undertakes what this book undertakes: to refresh and reorient us to nineteenth-century poetry, internationally conceived. -- Esther Schor, Princeton University, editor of The Cambridge Companion to Mary Shelley

This volume of Poems for the Millennium is every bit as challenging, unsettling, and surprising as its predecessors. It provokes us to take a fresh look at the achievements of ninetenth-century poets and of modernists often assumed to have defined themselves mainly by refusing and rejecting what came before. We have much to learn from this book about the diversity of ways in which poetry has found forms for responding to the world of which it is a part.-- William Keach, Brown University, author of Arbitrary Power: Romanticism, Language, Politics

[Poems for the Millennium, volume 3: The University of California Book of Romatnic & Postromantic Poetry, edited by me & Jeffrey Robinson, will be published in January 2009. Further information available at the following URL:]

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Pictures at Nara: Kofuku-ji Temple

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 9:40 PM 0 comments
Buddha Riding

on a lion’s back.


Jizo’s Vow

“no hope for me
(the bald man says)
“before the others


The Guardian

his head bent,
fingers twisted


The Guardian (II)

in his arms
about to


The Young Guardian

a cobra
on his head


A Protector Against Poisons

like a rain god
& his face
a hawk’s


Ashura (I)

4 faces
& 6 arms


Ashura (II)

a lamp atop
his head
a snake around
his neck

eyes staring out


Ashura (III)

horned head
& screaming
set to heave
his lamp


A Buddha

as the day when he
was born


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English translation: Odile Cisneros


(Guesa, having traversed the West Indies, believes himself rid of the Xeques and penetrates the New-York-Stock-Exchange; the Voice, from the wilderness:)

– Orpheus, Dante, Aeneas, to hell
Descended; the Inca shall ascend
= Ogni sp’ranza lasciate,
Che entrate…
– Swedenborg, does fate new worlds portend?


(Smiling Xeques appear disguised as Railroad-managers, Stockjobbers, Pimpbrokers, etc., etc., crying out:)

– Harlem! Erie! Central! Pennsylvania!
= Million! Hundred million!! Billions!! Pelf!!!
– Young is Grant! Jackson,
Vanderbilts, Jay Goulds like elves!


(The Voice, poorly heard amidst the commotion:)

– Fulton’s Folly, Codezo’s Forgery
…Fraud cries the nation’s bedlam
They grasp no odes
Wall Street’s parallel to Chatham…


(Brokers going on:)

– Pygmies, Brown Brothers! Bennett! Stewart!
Rothschild and that Astor with red hair!!
= Giants, slaves
If only nails gave
Out streams of light, if they would end despair!..


(Norris, Attorney; Codezo, inventor; Young, Esq., manager; Atkinsonagent; Armstrong, agent; Rhodes, agent; P. Offman & Voldo, agents; hubbub, mirage; in the middle, Guesa:)

– Two! Three! Five thousand! If you play
Five million, Sir, will you receive
= He won! Hah! Haah!! Haaah!!!
– Hurrah! Ah!…
– They vanished… Were they thieves?..


(J. Miller atop the roofs of the Tammany wigwam unfurling the Garibaldian mantle:)

Bloodthirsties! Sioux! Oh Modocs!
To the White House! Save the Nation,
From the Jews! From the hazardous
Goth’s Exodus!
From immoral conflagration!


with Jeffrey C. Robinson

Someone told me I would only be read 50 years from now. I grew sad. The disillusion of one who wrote 50 years too soon. ([Joaquim de] Sousândrade, from Preface to the first edition of Guesa Errante, as quoted by Augusto de Campos)

The great Brazilian poet Sousândrade, nearly forgotten after his own time, was brought back through the enthusiasm of Haroldo & Augusto de Campos, to become, in Latin American terms at least, the epitome of a late experimental romanticism & a prefigurer of new poetries to come. “In 1877” – thus the Cuban novelist Severo Sarduy in summary – “this contemporary of Baudelaire, who lived in the United States for ten years, wrote what Haroldo de Campos regards as the foundation stone of concretude [concrete poetry]: a long poem entitled O guesa errante [The Wandering Guesa], which culminates in an astonishing sequence – ‘The Wall Street Inferno’ – that might be described as textual marquetry or polyphony, in which layout, neologisms, verbal montage, and sudden changes in tone evoke the newspapers of that period and the hectic world of the stock market. It is a typographical explosion in a pre-Poundian expanding universe.” Or Haroldo de Campos himself, of Sousândrade as part of a Brazilian “tradition of rupture”: “Our poet, the one who made the great Romantic poetry in our language, was Sousândrade. Especially when he wrote O Guesa, he led the models of the time to total disorder and was not understood by his contemporaries. It’s clear that if we didn’t have the standards of modern poetry, we wouldn’t have the standards to evaluate Sousândrade”

In an unfinished sequence of thirteen cantos, then, Sousândrade engages in what Augusto de Campos calls “a trans-American periplum (with interludes in Europe, Africa) from Brazil (Maranhão) to Columbia, Venezuela, Peru … Central America, the Antilles, and to the USA.” At the journey’s center is the Guesa, a legendary figure of the Muisca Indians of Colombia, destined from childhood for ritual immolation. To escape the xeques or priests who would carry out the sacrifice, the Guesa (or Sousândrade speaking for him), makes his own pilgrimage, “to end sacrificed in Wall Street, surrounded by stockbrokers’ cries.” To bring this across, Sousândrade invents & re-invents within a framework of decasyllabics & alternative rhymed lines of four to eight syllables: “montage and collage techniques that include ‘faits divers’ from NY press (THE SUN, THE NEW YORK HERALD), especially political news, quotations from several languages, cacaphonic sounds, neologisms … [that] make the poem incredibly new, a forerunner of EP’s Cantos and of many other modern poets.” (A. de C.)

[Odille Cisneros’s translation from Wall Street Inferno appeared in a lengthier selection in Regis Bonvicino’s Brazilian-based magazine, Sibila. A long excerpt from Robert E. Brown’s alternative version will be included with this commentary in Poems for the Millennium, Volume 3: The University of California Book of Romantic & Postromantic Poetry, edited by myself & Jeffrey Robinson. Other prviews of poems and commentaries from Volume 3 have appeared in Poems and Poetics on June 11, June 18, June 24, July 6, July 13, July 21, July 29, August 7. August 16, September 7, September 22, October 3, & October 9.]

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Poetics & Polemics: Pre-Face & Contents

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 9:15 AM 0 comments
From Jerome Rothenberg, Poetics & Polemics: 1980-2005, a selection of prose writings edited by Steven Clay, published this month in the University of Alabama Press's Modern & Contemporary Poetics series. [See] The following will give a sense of what the book's about.

for Pierre Joris, nomad & fellow traveler


My published work now spans a period of over forty years – nearly a hundred books during that time and a range of other writings and publications. The majority of those books are my own poetry, both those in the original English and a number translated into other languages, including five substantial volumes in French, two in Flemish/Dutch, and four in Spanish. I have also been actively engaged as a translator and as a compiler of anthologies, which I have treated as large assemblages of work from areas of composition and performance that have often been neglected in academic circles while linking in many ways to the major trends of experimental and innovative poetry over the last two centuries. In these anthology-assemblages I first used short prose commentaries to bring out critical points about the poets or the works I was including. These in turn became my opening for the construction of a poetics and, in my own terminology, an equally necessary ethnopoetics, which I also pursued through a series of essays, written talks and interviews, “pre-faces” and introductions to the works of others, and as the editor or co-editor of several magazines (Alcheringa, New Wilderness Letter, and some/thing, among the better known ones). Starting with the publication of my first assemblage, Technicians of the Sacred, in 1968, I have thought of these prose works and related projects as forming a continuum with the poetry – an attempt, that is, to build an image of poetry and an image of the world in which I would always be speaking as a poet.

With the poetics as such I have published a single book of selected writings, Pre-Faces (from New Directions), which gives a sampling of work up to 1980 but leaves uncollected or unsampled the considerably more prolific work of the next quarter of a century. Readers who know my poetics through that or the seven or eight dispersed anthologies will therefore lack a sense of the full range of what I’ve been doing and how that work has developed over several decades. For that reason alone, I believe that this new collection of my essays – particularly focused on the writings after Pre-Faces – can usefully function to put my critical work into perspective. In doing this I have followed a long standing pattern of poets and writers who reach a point where vagrant volumes, whether of poetry or prose, can no longer take the full measure of their thought’s trajectory and its relation to the work of other poets or to “the life of poetry.”

For the first twenty years of my work, then, the reader if interested can look back to Pre-Faces, which still remains in print through New Directions. With its emphases on ethnopoetics and on the poetics of performance, the book served its purpose initially but has obscured the changes in my work over the two decades that followed. Foremost among these changes has been an expansion of my poetics and ethnopoetics toward a more explicit exploration of modernism/avangardism and renewed speculations on the book and writing. (These interests come across most clearly in my more recent anthologies: Poems for the Millennium, The Book, Spiritual Instrument, and A Book of the Book.) At the same time, the last quarter of a century has provided me with increased opportunities for the development and dissemination of my poetics – essays and reviews for journals and magazines, prefaces to books by other poets and artists, and numerous talks and interviews, both spoken and written.

To fill the gap since 1980, the work in Poetics & Polemics has been selected so as to carry along and elaborate my earlier concerns with ethnopoetics and performance, while giving new emphasis to questions of modernism and postmodernism and to the work of poets and movements within that framework. As with Pre-Faces, the writings include selections from essays, talks, interviews, reviews, pre-faces, and a section of capsule commentaries from collections such as Revolution of the Word and Poems for the Millennium. For some of the latter I worked in collaboration with Pierre Joris, as I did with Diane Rothenberg on Symposium of the Whole, although the essays selected here are those for which I was primarily responsible. In the section of Dialogues and Interviews, the sense of collaboration and community, as I understand it, is even more pronounced. And on a number of occasions – including the opening of each of the book’s three sections – I have included a poem or a section of a poem, hoping in that way to show the continuity of the work or to blur the line between poems and poetics.

While I haven’t followed a chronology in any of the sections, it is my hope that the gathering as a whole will still give a sense of both continuities and changes. Looking back on these pages as a reflection of my life and thought, I am aware not only of a gradually evolving series of ideas and practices but of a clash of ideas – with those of others and with my own. In that process I have confirmed – against all self-doubt – that the work of poetry, for myself and many others, goes beyond the writing of poems, to intersect as well with other forms of writing. What follows is, I hope, another aspect of that work – “[to] mix and fuse poetry and prose, inspiration and criticism, the poetry of art and the poetry of nature,” as Friedrich Schlegel had it more than two centuries ago. If I haven’t carried that off to everyone’s satisfaction, I have tried throughout, as David Antin once said in his definition of “the artist,” to be someone “who does the best he can.”


Introduction by Hank Lazer

Pre-Face by Jerome Rothenberg

Poetics & Polemics
The Times Are Never Right (poem)
The Poetics of the Sacred: A Range of Topics for a Keynote Speech
The Anthology as a Manifesto & as an Epic Including History
Symposium of the Whole: A Pre-Face
The Poet As Native: An Aspect of Contemporary Poetry & Art
Poets & Tricksters: Innovation & Disruption in Ritual & Myth
The Poetics & Ethnopoetics of the Book & Writing
“Secular Jewish Culture / Radical Poetic Practice”
Harold Bloom: The Critic as Exterminating Angel
Poems for the Millennium: Two Pre-Faces
Three Modernist Movements: Dadaism, Futurism, Surrealism
A History/Pre-history of the Poetry Project
A Secret Location on the Lower East Side
How We Came Into Performance: A Personal Accounting
Ethnopoetics & (Human) Poetics

A Gallery of Poets
I Come into the New World (poem)
A Range of Commentaries (from Poems for the Millennium and Revolution of the Word)
William Blake’s Visionary Forms Dramatic
Friedrich Hölderlin’s Palimpsests
Walt Whitman’s New Line & Lineage
Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Inscapes
Gertrude Stein’s Cubism
Rainer Maria Rilke’s In-Seeing
Marcel Duchamp’s Ready-Mades
Mina Loy’s Futurism
Ezra Pound’s Vortices
William Carlos Williams’ New Measure
Federico García Lorca’s Duende
Laura Riding’s Breaking of the Spell
Edmond Jabès’s Return to the Book
John Cage’s Silence & Nothing
Pablo Picasso: A Pre-Face
Kurt Schwitters: A Pre-Face
María Sabina: A Pre-Face
Vitezslav Nezval: A Post-Face
Louis Zukofsky: A Reminiscence
Robert Duncan: A Memorial
Reading Celan: 1959, 1995
Jackson Mac Low: A Pre-Face
A Pre-Face for Paul Blackburn
Gary Snyder: The Poet Was Always Foremost
David Antin: The Works Before Talking
David Meltzer: A Pre-Face
Alison Knowles’s Footnotes: A Pre-Face
Carolee Schneemann: A Tribute
Ian & Me – A Collaboration

Dialogues & Interviews
In the Way Words Rhyme (poem)
Performance Artists Talking: Ritual/Death (with Linda Montano)
The Samizdat Interview (with Robert Archambeau)
The Medusa Interview (with Rodrigo Garcia Lopes)
The Sibila Interview (with Charles Bernstein, Regis Bonvicino, Marjorie Perloff, Cecilia

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Isaac Bashevis Singer: A Reminiscence

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 9:32 AM 0 comments

It was through Isaac Bashevis Singer that I first saw an opening to what came to be, for a number of years at least, a central focus of my work as a poet. I met him only once, a year or so after the American publication of Satan in Goray in 1957, and it took me at least a decade to absorb that book and the books that followed into my own system of writing and thinking. Our meeting was arranged by Cecil Hemley, who was Singer’s editor at Noonday Books, with the mistaken idea that I might know enough Yiddish to take on some of the translation for what was coming to be a major Noonday project. Singer was only just getting to be known – outside of Yiddish circles anyway – but my own reading of Satan in Goray and the Gimpel the Fool stories was already working on my imagination with a sense of something new that might find a way into the poetry I was then learning to compose.

Two things stand out in my memory. The first was Singer’s reaction to a recent review in the Times – Irving Howe writing on Satan or on Gimpel, or possibly on both. Hemley brought this up over lunch, in particular a comment by Howe that Singer was a “cruel” writer, and asked him what he thought about that. Singer shrugged it off with a comment that stuck with me and that I often repeated: “Since when has cruelty been a crime?” (Or maybe he said “a sin”; I’ve told it differently at different times.) I was still a young poet at the time, and a statement like that had a real frisson for me.

The other thing I remember was that I asked him whether there were any Yiddish poets who did anything comparable to what he was doing in his fictions. We talked about what that comparable thing, that quality, might be, and in the end he came up with a blank and an indication, I thought, that the matter was of no great concern to him. It was to me, however, and it began to confront me with a question to which I still had no answer – if there were such a Yiddish poetry, a poetry of cruelty in Artaud’s sense (or Singer’s for that matter), what form would that poetry take?

In 1967, as I was completing work on Technicians of the Sacred and mapping tribal and oral poetries on a global scale, I decided to explore “ancestral sources of my own in a world of Jewish mystics, thieves, & madmen.” The initial thrust came from a concurrent reading of Singer and Gertrude Stein – two very different artists but both of them crucial for what I meant to undertake. In a 12-part poem of Stein’s called “Dates,” I came across what I took to be Stein’s “Jewish poem” – the words “pass” and “over” repeated a number of times: “Pass over / Pass over / Pass / Pass / Pass / Pass / Pass pass,” to which I added a final line: “Pass water.” I then went over the other parts of her poem, referring constantly to Satan in Goray and substituting words of Singer’s for words of Stein’s while retaining her pattern of syllables and rhymings. Thus, where Stein’s first numbered section read “Fish. / Bequeath fish. / Able to state papers. / Fish. / Bequeath fish,” mine read “Sect. / Avert sect. / Avert to wash bellies. / Sect. / Avert sect.” I called the resultant poem “Satan in Goray” and subtitled it “A Homage to Isaac Bashevis Singer.”

For me the work that followed was a booklength poem or poem-series called Poland/1931. While most of the poems in Poland departed sharply from the opening Stein imitation, Singer’s books remained part of the body of largely documentary materials from which I drew toward the construction of an imagined (I stress imagined) Jewish Poland. That work was my own attempt at a fiction of some dimension or what fellow poet Ed Sanders included in another context as an “investigative poetry” made up of “radiant data clusters.” For this, Singer was one of my guides into that Jewish underworld toward which my poetry was tentatively reaching.

Such an underworld – and its sexual side in particular – was a block, I later found, for many of Singer’s Yiddish readers. In my own family, Singer’s brother [I.J. Singer] and other Yiddish novelists were cited as his superiors, for reasons that I felt and still feel were spurious. But for other readers of hisYiddish and for those of us who were reading him in English, his work was an incitement and a path to those “Jewish mysteries that one confronts in a place no less dangerous or real than that abyss of the Aztecs: … a difficult, a dangerous place, a deathly place: it is dark, it is light …” Or so I wrote in the pre-face to A Big JewishBook (a.k.a. Exiled in the Word), my revisionist anthology of Jewish poetry “from tribal times to the present.” Of course I included Singer in that one among the many “cruel poets” (old and new) for whom he was, I thought, an always present, always necessary, ally.

[The preceding short essay appeared as the terminal piece in the Library of America’s A Singer Album, 2004]

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"Repent, or I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight thee with the sword of my mouth."— Revelation ii. 16.

ASHKELON is not cut off with the remnant of a valley.
Baldness dwells not upon Gaza.The field of the valley is mine, and it is clothed in verdure.
The steepness of Baal-perazim is mine;
And the Philistines spread themselves in the valley of Rephaim.
They shall yet be delivered into my hands.
For the God of Battles has gone before me!
The sword of the mouth shall smite them to dust.
I have slept in the darkness—
But the seventh angel woke me, and giving me a sword of time, points to the blood-ribbed cloud, that lifts his reeking head above the mountain.Thus am I the prophet.I see the dawn that heralds to my waiting soul the advent of power.
Power that will unseal the thunders!
Power that will give voice to graves!
Graves of the living;
Graves of the dying;
Graves of the sinning;Graves of the loving;
Graves of despairing;
And oh! graves of the deserted!
These shall speak, each as their voices shall be loosed.
And the day is dawning.

Stand back, ye Philistines!
Practice what ye preach to me;
I heed ye not, for I know ye all.
Ye are living burning lies, and profanation to the garments which with stately steps ye sweep your marble palaces.
Your palaces of Sin, around which the damning evidence of guilt hangs like a reeking vapor.
Stand back!
I would pass up the golden road of the world.
A place in the ranks awaits me.
I know that ye are hedged on the borders of my path,
Lie and tremble, for ye well know that I hold with iron grasp the battle axe.
Creep back to your dark tents in the valley.
Slouch back to your haunts of crime.
Ye do not know me, neither do ye see me.
But the sword of the mouth is unsealed, and ye coil yourselves in slime and bitterness at my feet.
I mix your jeweled heads, and your gleaming eyes, and your hissing tongues with the dust.
My garments shall bear no mark of ye.
When I shall return this sword to the angel, your foul blood will not stain its edge.
It will glimmer with the light of truth, and the strong arm shall rest.

Stand back!
I am no Magdalene waiting to kiss the hem of your garment.
It is mid-day.
See ye not what is written on my forehead?
I am Judith!
I wait for the head of my Holofernes!
Ere the last tremble of the conscious death-agony shall have shuddered, I will show it to ye with the long black hair clinging to the glazed eyes, and the great mouth opened in search of voice, and the strong throat all hot and reeking with blood, that will thrill me with wild unspeakable joy as it courses down my bare body and dabbles my cold feet!
My sensuous soul will quake with the burden of so much bliss.
Oh, what wild passionate kisses will I draw up from that bleeding mouth!
I will strangle this pallid throat of mine on the sweet blood!
I will revel in my passion.
At midnight I will feast on it in the darkness.
For it was that which thrilled its crimson tides of reckless passion through the blue veins of my life, and made them leap up in the wild sweetness of Love and agony of Revenge!
I am starving for this feast.
Oh forget not that I am Judith!
And I know where sleeps Holofernes.

with Jeffrey C. Robinson

I have written these wild soul-poems in the stillness of midnight, and when waking to the world the next day, they were to me the deepest mystery. I could not understand them; did not know but what I ought to laugh at them; feared to publish them, and often submitted them privately to literary friends to tell me if they could see a meaning in their wild intensity. (A.I.M., from Notes on My Life, 1868)

For Menken, probably born as Adelaide McCord in Milneburg, Louisiana, or possibly Philomène Croi Théodore or Dolores Adios Los Fiertes in New Orleans, there was an ongoing play of identities: multiple versions of her birth, her parentage, her ethnicity. Her ongoing art work in that sense was an elaborate self-construction – assertively Jewish in her earlier writings, militantly feminist later on. As such the work developed a rare female violence & eroticism: “wild soul-poems” in the writing but mirrored as well in her stage presence, an actress who famously played the young male lead in an adaptation of Byron’s poem Mazeppa -- transgendered & shockingly nude (or appearing to be so in flesh-colored tights) as she made her exit from the stage, helpless & strapped astride a “fiery untamed steed.” (Thus Mark Twain’s 1863 account of it, while quoting Byron.) This was her principal & very real celebrity, which carried her across America (New York first, then San Francisco) & established her soon thereafter in London & Paris.

But her formal innovation as a poet, like that of Walt Whitman, whom she knew from the New York café scene of the early 1860s, was in the open/projective/free verse line of her later poetry. In this she need no longer be viewed as an imitator of Walt but as someone drawing like him from the Bible and Ossian (which, in her version, she makes contemporary & erotic) while driven by a very different sense of mind & body. Nor was she a recluse or an isolate – like Dickinson – but a public person moving in the company of still more public figures – Charles Dickens, to whom her first & only book was dedicated, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Algernon Charles Swinburne, George Sand, & Alexandre Dumas, with the last three of whom she was rumored to have had sexual encounters as well as friendships. Her book of largely free-verse poems, Infelicia, published shortly after her early death, caused astonishment & bewilderment, & only now may appear as what it surely was: the emergence of an unfettered woman artist & poet. In that regard her best known poem, “Judith,” covers a theme celebrated today in painters like Artemisia Gentileschi, Lavinia Fontana. & Elisabetta Sirani but seldom if ever among pre-modern women poets. Menken’s own cry of independence:

O horrible sail!
O seal of blood!
Give back my Eros!

Or in a feminist essay called Self Defence: “A woman can be strong and free only as men and nations obtain their freedom, viz.: that of showing herself capable of obtaining and holding it. He who cut the Gordian knot told the whole secret of human success – if the knot will not be unraveled, cut it!”

From Poems for the Millennium, Volume 3:The University of California Book of Romantic & Postromantic Poetry, scheduled for publication in January 2009. Earlier excerpts from Volume 3 appeared on June 11, June 18, June 24, July 6, July 13, July 21, July 29, August 7, August 16, September 7, September 22, and October 3. The bulk of her surviving work appears in Infelicia and Other Writings (Broadview Literary Texts, 2002).]

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Translated by A.S. Bessa




Silver birds, the Poem

draws theory from its own flight.

Philomel of metamorphosed blue,

measured geometrician

the Poem thinks itself

as a circle thinks its center

as the radii think the circle

crystalline fulcrum of the movement.


A bird imitates itself at each flight

zenith of ivory where a ruffled

anxiety is arbiter

over the vectorial lines of the movement.

A bird becomes itself in its flight

mirror of the self, mature


timing over Time.


Equanimous, the Poem ignores itself.

Leopard pondering itself in a leap,

what becomes of the prey, plume of sound,


gazelle of the senses?

The Poem proposes itself: system

of rancorous premises

evolution of figures against the wind

star chess. Salamander of arsons

that provokes, unhurt endures,

Sun set in its center.


And how is it done? What theory

rules the spaces of its flight?

What last retains it? What load

curves the tension of its breath?

Sitar of the tongue, how does one hear?

Cut out of gold, as such we see it,

proportioned to it—the Thought.


See: broke in half

the airy fuse of the movement

the ballerina rests. Acrobat,

being of easy flight,

plenilunium princess of a kingdom

of eolian veils: Air.

Wherefrom the impulse that propels her,

proud, to the fleeting commitment?

Unlike the bird

according to nature

but as a god

contra naturam flies.


Such is the poem. In the fields of eolian

equilibrium that it aspires

sustained by its dexterity.

Winged agile athlete

aims at the trapeze of the venture.

Birds do not imagine themselves.

The Poem pre-meditates.

They run the cusp of infinite

astronomy of which they are plumed Orions.

It, arbiter and vindicator of itself,

Lusbel leaps over the abyss,


in front of a greater king

a king lesser great.



in this re / verse of the ego

I see you

more plus than myself

plusquamfuture minuspoet


and in the trobar clus

of this hour (ours)


incestuous sister

prima pura impura

in which

ourselves (Siamese-same)






a poem begins

where it ends:

the margin of doubt

a sudden incision of geraniums

commands its destiny

and yet it begins

(where it ends) and the head

ashen (white top or albino

cucurbit laboring signs) curves it-

self under lucifer’s gift —

dome of signs: and the poem begins

quiet cancerous madness

that demands these lines from the white

(where it ends)


Translated by Jon Tolman

In order to bring to focus a willfully "drastic selection" in the pragmatic-utilitarian terms of Poundian theory, one could name the works of Mallarmé ("Un Coup de Dés"), Joyce, Pound and Cummings as the radial axes that generate the vectorial field of contemporary poetry. From the convergence of these axes and depending on the development of the productive process, certain results, some predictable, some not, will emerge.

It is not necessary here to enter deeply into the multiple problems which the mere mention of these names together provokes on the threshold of contemporary experiments in poetry. Instead it will be sufficient to merely give some hints of the morpho-cultural catalysis caused by their works.

The Mallarméan constellation‑poem has as its base a concept of multi-divisions or capillary structure. This concept liquidates the notion of linear development divided into beginning‑middle‑end. It substitutes in its place a circular organization of poetic material that abolishes any rhythmic clockwork based on the "rule of thumb" of metrification. Silence emerges from that truly verbal rosette, "Un Coup de Dés," as the primordial element of rhythmic organization. As Sartre has said: "Silence itself is defined by its relationship with words, just as the pause in music receives its meaning from the group of notes which surround it. This silence is a moment of language." This permits us to apply to poetry what Pierre Boulez affirmed of music: "It is one of those truths so difficult to demonstrate that music is not only 'the art of sounds,' but that it is better defined as a counterpoint of sound and silence."

The Joycean universe also evolved from a linear development of time toward space‑time or the infusion of the whole in the part ("allspace in a notshall"), adopting as the organogram of Finnegans Wake the Vico‑vicious circle. Joyce's technique evolved pari passu with his own work and under the influence of Bergson's concept of "durée."

Mallarmé developed a visual notion of graphic space, served by the prismatic notation of poetic imagination in ebbs and flows which are dislocated like the elements of a mobile, utilizing silence in the way that Calder used air. Joyce, on the other hand, holds to the materialization of a "polydimensional limitless flow"—the "durée réelle," the riverrun of "élan vital"—which obliges him to undertake a true atomization of language, where each "verbi‑voco‑visual" unit is at the same time the continent‑content of the whole work and instantly "myriad-minded."

Mallarmé practices the phenomenological reduction of the poetic object. The eidos—"Un coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le hasard"—is attained by means of the ellipsis of peripheral themes to the "thing in itself" of the poem. In the structure of the work, however, what Husserl notes with relation to his method also occurs: "Said with an image: that which is placed between parentheses is not erased from the phenomenological table, but simply placed between parentheses and affected by an index. But with this index it enters again into the major theme of investigation."

Joyce is led to the microscopic world by the macroscopic, emphasizing detail—panorama/panaroma—to the point where a whole metaphoric cosmos is contained in a single word. This is why it can be said of Finnegans Wake that it retains the properties of a circle--the equal distance of all its points to its center. The work is porous to the reader, accessible from any of the places one chooses to approach it.

For Cummings the word is fissile. His poems have as their fundamental element the "letter." The syllable is, for his needs, already a complex material. The "tactical modesty" of that poetic attitude is similar to that of Webern: interested in the word on the phonemic level, he orients himself toward an open poetic form, in spite of the danger of exhausting himself in the one‑minute poem, as he faces the hindrances of a still experimental syntax. As Fano has said with respect to Webern's early works, they are: "Short organizations materializing a 'possible' and concluding on the eventuality of new transformations. A catalytic procedure in which certain base elements determine the disintegration and clustering of a substance which is transformed, without themselves being affected."

Ezra Pound’s The Cantos, in particular "The Pisan Cantos," also offer the reader an open structure. They are organized by the ideogramic method, permitting a perpetual interaction of blocs of ideas which affect each other reciprocally, producing a poetic sum whose principle of composition is gestaltian, as James Blish has observed in "Rituals on Ezra Pound."

The contemporary poet—having at his disposal a lexicon which encompasses acquisitions from the symbolists to the surrealists, and in a reciprocal way, Pound’s "precise definition" (the poetic word comprehended in the fight of an art of "gist and piths"), and also having before him a structural syntax, whose revolutionary perspectives have only been faintly glimpsed—cannot allow himself to be enveloped by the Byzantine nostalgia for a fallen Constantinople, nor can he, polyp‑like, stagnate at the margins of the morpho-cultural process which beckons him toward creative adventure.

Pierre Boulez, in a conversation with Décio Pignatari, manifested his lack of interest in the "perfect" or "classic" work of art, in the sense of the diamond, and stated his concept of the open work of art as a kind of modern baroque.

Perhaps the idea of a neo‑baroque, which might correspond intrinsically to the morphological necessities of contemporary artistic language, terrifies by its mere evocation those slack spirits who love the stability of conventional formulas.

But this is not a cultural reason for failing to enlist in the crew of Argos. It is, on the contrary, a prompting to do so.

São Paulo, 1955, 1965

[The basic book for Haroldo de Campos in English is Novas: Selected Writings, edited by Antonio Sergio Bessa, Odile Cisneros, & Roland Greene, published by Northwestern University Press in 2007. De Campos and his brother Augusto remain two of the major poets of the last hundred years bringing poetry & poetics together.]

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after Mikhail Lermontov

how many times encircled by
a motley crowd
in front of me
as in a dream

cacophonies of dance
& music
speeches learned by heart
in phatic whispers

mixing with shapes of people
absent a mind or soul
grimacing masks
yet so fastidious

much as they touch
my cold hands
with uncaring boldness
beauties of the town

hands spared a tremor
over lengths of time
outwardly absorbed by
gauds & vanitas

I cherish in my soul
an ancient wistfulness
for sacred sounds
of years long gone

& if in any way
it comes to me
that bird-like I dissove
in flight remembering

the shallow past
myself a child surrounded
by familiar places
high manor house & orchard

bower left in ruins
a green net of grasses
as a cover
for the sleeping pond

& out beyond it
hidden in haze like smoke
a distant village
fog across the fields

I’ll walk here, here I’ll enter
a dark passage
through these bushes
where this evening light peers

& the sere leaves
crackle under foot
my every step demurring
& in my chest

already wistful, strange
a squeezing sound
the more I think of her
desiring & weeping

how I love this creature
of my dreams
eyes full of azure fire
& rosy little smile

like early morn
past hedgerows
shows a fresh
demise of color

like a magic kingdom’s
mighty lord
I pine here through long hours
lonely days

under a storm, a heavy load
of doubts & passions
like a new-risen isle
an innocent in midst of oceans

blooming in that briny wilderness
& having recognized
myself I recognize
my own delusions

hear the crowd of humans
with its noises
scattering my dreams
an uninvited guest

how I would like to blast
their gayety
their feast day
hold them in contempt

& blind them
with my iron verses
bursting with bitterness
& rage .

[Translation from Russian by Jerome Rothenberg & Milos Sovak. Originally published in 6x6, issue no. 15, Ugly Duckling Press, Spring 2008.]

with Jeffrey C. Robinson

Will you awaken again, ridiculed prophet! / Or never, to the voice of revenge, / Will you not withdraw from its gold sheath your blade, / Covered with the rust of contempt? (M.L., from “The Poet”)

But it is just this note of contempt, as in his “iron verses / bursting with bitterness / & rage,” above, that marks him as a poet who displays, as Nietzsche wrote of Heine, “that divine malice without which I cannot conceive perfection.” Awakening into a world of absolute autocracy & the abortive military revolt by the “Decembrists” (1825) & having himself enlisted in the Tsar’s army, he wrote a characteristically “romantic,” “alienated” response to this repressive political climate. His best known poem of outrage, “The Death of the Poet,” describing the tragic/pathetic results of the duel into which Pushkin had been fatally drawn (like Lermontov himself several years later), railed against the repressions of Tsar Nicholas I & his implied culpability in Pushkin’s death. Sent into exile in the Caucasus, Lermontov, both in his poems & in his groundbreaking novel, A Hero of Our Time, often elaborated that wild, mountainous region as the national (Russian) version of the Orient, with all of its exoticism, violence, & eroticism. Along with a romanticized view of those like the Chechens against whom he fought (“Freedom is their god, and war their law”), Lermontov drew on the ethnicity of this region, easily incorporating elements of Chechen, Circassian & Daghestani folklore into his poetry. Writing a preface to a selection of Lermontov’s poetry in 1920, Boris Pasternak was warned by the Soviet censors not to say that Lermontov was more important for his dreams than for his role as an “agent of progress.” Pasternak, however, dedicated his book Sister My Life to Lermontov, opening with a poem about Lermontov’s ever-popular demon (“[The demon] swore by the ice of the peaks: / ‘Beloved sleep! I will return with the avalanche!’”) & linking the Russian Romantic with two other potent influences of visionary imagination, Byron & Poe. On his formal side too, Lermontov, while writing in the wake of Pushkin & Pushkin’s generation of the 1820s & early 1830s, responded not by breaking from their prosodic constraints but by practicing a montage poetry of quotation from recent Russian poets & from foreign ones (Goethe, Byron, Hugo, Lamartine, among others). In doing so, wrote the Russian formalist critic Boris Eikhenbaum, Lermontov exhibited in his constructions “a freshness that does not and could not exist in the verse creations of a later period.”

[From Poems for the Millennium, Volume 3:The University of California Book of Romantic & Postromantic Poetry, scheduled for publication in January 2009. For further information check the following URL: Earlier excerpts from Volume 3 appeared on June 11, June 18, June 24, July 6, July 13, July 21, July 29, August 7, August 16, September 7, & September 22.]

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