16 Poems for the Pound Project

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 3:05 AM 0 comments
for Francesco Conz

Swollen-eyed, rested,
lids sinking, darkness unconscious
And before hell mouth; dry plain
and two mountains


head down,
screwed into the swill

I am led into a home
where no one
– not a dog or cat –
drops by.

The body of a
tortured child
sticks out
& spooks me.

Warriors & creatures
blind my eyes.


A lady asks me.
I speak in season.

With my old
suburban voice
my prejudice
grows ripe.

I am not empty
but without a taste
for differences
I atrophy.

The dance gets harder
as the mud gets high.


I mate with my free kind
upon the crags.

I neither wait for you
nor need you,
feel the pressure of your tongue
that calls me down.

I know extremis
better than than the cackling
of my fellows,
gaunt & green with pain.

In my hand a flower
blosssoms, does it not?


I let down the crystal curtain
& watch the moon.

Men & animals surround me,
I am led by these
into a hole, brown-colored
like my arm.

I wait for words the night
once brought me,
luminous, the sky a changing
field of light.

While here below,
their sightless eyes
confound me.


Nor can I shift my pains
to other.

Much less my words – like yours
that face me down
high on my wall – an afterthought
to careless speech.

We teach forgiveness
to the idle only.
For the rest the suffering
leaves its own mark.

I back away from yours,
old face like mine.


I am the help of the aged;
I pay men to talk peace.

With my hands I raise
a sagging body. I am keen
& run before you,
meaning to escape.

I pay a price for
bounty. Deaf
I hear a call
to war.

Somewhere within me
armies clash.


singing: O sweet and lovely
o Lady be good

the song is traveling
from my time into yours,
like Ella’s song, is

hear me sing it see me
dance on water
I coast down the street
the while my eyes

like everyman’s eyes
fill with blood of apparitions
a dead bullock


Blown around the feet of
the God,

the landscape hides from us,
the little castle
shows its face at night
and shamans walk the streets

communing with the dead
the terror of the folk
in agony the cries
of those who fled to open water

gathered into caves
who took their lives.

Okinawa 1945/2000


Where the dead walked
And the living were made of cardboard

their shadows disappeared.

I lost track of eternity
that makes things new.

Nothing here improves
while time is lost.

Clean as any whistle
I come forth.

But still I can't shake off
the memory of mud.

In meiner heimat.


"I am noman,
my name is noman"

I wait where road
crosses road,
where hunters fly from
their quarry.

Not me but those
that I point to!
Not those but the dead
fed with blood!

Their hands rise in fury.
They hammer us down.


I have weathered the storm,
I have beaten out my exile.

I have made a pact with someone
& have botched it. Freed from time
my fingers have grown frail,
my pen lies helpless on the floor.

I have desires that my flesh
still harbors. Little help or gratitude
will come from those
my turnings have betrayed.

I watch the dead file by
& feel a stirring.


The yidd is a stimulant
and the goyim are cattle

and the words once written
stay writ all his words
bounding back to the speaker
laying him flat.

What a downfall I had
& what havens I reached for
too late. None remained
to embrace me, but

jews, real jews, not shades
in my mind but avengers.


First must thou go
the road to hell

must see the millions
thou hast smitten
with thy thoughts must cry
the cry of killers

if thy hands are clean
as mine are
why then the swelling in thy throat
the smells of vomit

blinded as the dead are blind
the kings of hell


Time is the evil.

Is what is always lost,
what takes me by the throat
& leaves me, shrunken
begging with the other thieves

then drops me in the pit
called bolgia, where a silly
rhyme I can’t erase
repeats forever.

For others other pits
shadow their lives.


the soil living pus, full of vermin,
dead maggots begetting live maggots

fascists at banquets,
pandars to authority,
& skinheads with iron teeth

sucking hard at our flesh,
shoving old men
like books in their fires,
images of shit

too raw for feeling, where the flux
inside the corpse
changes to stone


And I am not a demigod,
I cannot make it cohere.

Nor bring it, at a dare,
into my focus,
where the sunlight even now
turns ashen,

heavy with burnt matter,
stinking, where the century
has turned a corner,
like a swollen foetus

it has pulled you down,
old vanity
has pulled you down.

[Commissioned by Francesco Conz in cooperation with Mary Rachewiltz & the Pound estate at Castle Brunneburg in the Italian Tyrol, these 16 poems were part of a larger project in commemoration of Ezra Pound's life & work. My original was printed on colored stock & pasted onto 16 paper boards beneath a xeroxed & degraded photograph of Pound. In an attempt to fuse (or to con-fuse) our two voices, alive & dead, each numbered section begins with two lines of his, & what follows lies ambiguously in the void between us. -- JR]

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English version by Howard Norman, after Jacob Nibenegenesabe

One time I wanted two moons
in the sky.
But I needed someone to look up and see
those two moons
because I wanted to hear him
try and convince the others in the village
of what he saw.
I knew it would be funny.
So, I did it.
I wished another moon up!
There it was, across the sky from the old moon.
Along came a man.
Of course I wished him down that open path.
He looked up in the sky.
He had to see that other moon!
One moon for each of his eyes!
He stood looking
up in the sky
a long time.
Then he suspected me, I think.
He looked into the trees
where he thought I might be.
But he could not see me
since I was disguised as the whole night itself!
I wished myself into looking like the whole day,
but this time
I was dressed like the whole night.
Then he said,
“There is something strange
in the sky tonight.”
He said it out loud.
I heard it clearly.
Then he hurried home
and I followed him.
He told the others, “You will not believe this,
but there are ONLY two moons
in the sky tonight.”
He had a funny look on his face.
Then all the others began looking into the woods.
Looking for me, no doubt!
“Only two moons, ha! Who can believe you?
We won’t fall for that!” they all said to him.
They were trying to send the trick back at me!
That was clear to me!
So, I quickly wished a third moon up there
in the sky.
They looked up and saw three moons.
They had to see them!
Then one man
said out loud, “Ah, there, look up!
up there!
There is only one moon!
Well, let’s go sleep on this
and in the morning
we will try and figure it out.”
They all agreed, and went in their houses
to sleep.
I was left standing there
with three moons shining on me.
There were three . . . I was sure of it.

One time
all the noises met.
All the noises in the world
met in one place
and I was there
because they met in my house.
My wife said, “Who sent them?”
I said, “Fox or Rabbit,
yes one of those two.
They’re both out for tricking me back today.
Both of them
are mad at me.
Rabbit is mad because I pulled
his brother’s ear
and held him up that way.
then I ate him.
And Fox is mad because he wanted
to do those things first.”

“Yes, it had to be one of them,”
my wife said.

So, all the noises
were there.
These things happen.
Falling-tree noise was there.
Falling-rock noise was there.
Otter-mud-sliding noise was there.
All those noises, and more,
in my house.

“How long do you expect to stay?”
my wife asked them. “We need some sleep!”

They all answered at once!

That’s how my wife and I
sometimes can’t hear well!
I should have wished them all away
first thing.


Trickster stories go far back in Cree culture (as elsewhere), but the figure here is the invention, specifically, of Jacob Nibenegenesabe, “who lived for some ninety-four years northeast of Lake Winnipeg, Canada.” Nibenegenesabe was also a teller (= achimoo) of older trickster narratives, the continuity between old & new never being in question. But the move in the Wishing Bone series is toward a rapidity of plot development & changes, plus a switch into first-person narration as a form of enactment. In the frame for these stories, the trickster figure “has found a wishbone of a snow goose who has wandered into the Swampy Cree region and been killed by a lynx. This person now has a wand of metamorphosis allowing him to wish anything into existence, himself into any situation.” Howard Norman’s method of translation, in turn, involves “first listening to the narratives over & over in the source language, then re-creating them in the same context, story, etc., if notable, ultimately to get a translation word for word.”

[Originally printed in Shaking the Pumpkin: Traditional Poetry of the Indian North Americas. The book, first published by Doubleday in 1972 & last by University of New Mexico Press in 1986 & 1992, has now been out of print for several years. The full gathering of Howard Norman’s Swampy Cree translations, The Wishing Bone Cycle: Narrative Poems from the Swampy Cree Indians, was published by Ross-Erikson Publishing, Santa Barbara, & went out of print with the demise of that press.]

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Translations from Japanese by Hiroaki Sato


May is a fancy month, a flower month,
The month of buds, the month of scents, the month of colors,
The month of poplars, marrons, plantanes,
Azaleas, tree peonies, wisteria, redbud,
Lilacs, tulips, poppies,
The month women’s cloths turn
Light and thin, the month of love,
The festival month Kyoto residents
In twirled crowns, arrows on their backs,
Compete in horse races,
The month girls in the City of Paris
Choose for the Flower Festival
A beautiful, noble queen;
If I may speak of myself,
It’s the month I crossed Siberia, crossed Germany,
Longing for my love,
And arrived in that distant Paris,
The month to celebrate our fourth son,
Auguste, born last year,
With irises, swords, and streamers,
The breezy month, the month of
The blue moon, of platinum-colored clouds,
When the bright sky and the hemp palm
Outside the window of my small study
Remind me of a Malay island,
The month of honeybees, the month of butterflies,
The month of birth when ants turn into moths
And canaries hatch their eggs,
The sensual month, the month of flesh
That somehow incites you,
The month of Vous voulez wine, of perfumes,
Of dances, of music, and of songs,
The month of the sun when
Myriad things inside me
Hold one another tight, become entangled,
Moan, kiss, and sweat, the month
Of the blue sea, of the forest, of the park, of the fountains,
Of the garden, of the terrace, of the gazebo,
So here comes May
To toss at us a giddiness
Sweet as the lemonade you suck with a straw
From a thin, skinny glass.


My lovely two-year-old Auguste,
I write this down for you:
Today, for the first time,
you struck your mother on the cheek.
It was the power of your life
that wanted to win —
the genuine power for conquest
took on the form of anger
and a spastic fit
and flashed like lightning.
You must have been conscious of nothing,
must have forgotten it at once.
But your mother was shocked,
was also deeply happy.
You can, some day, as a man,
be on your own defiantly,
you can be on your own purely, resolutely,
also can love man and nature decisively
(The core of conquest is love),
also you can conquer suspicion, pain, death,
jealousy, cowardice, derision,
oppression, crooked learning, conventions,
filthy wealth, and social ranks.
Yes, that genuine strike,
that’s the totality of your life.
Such were the premonitions I felt that made me happy
under the pain of the sharp blow
you struck with your palm
as a lion cub might.
At the same time I felt the same power
lurking in myself
and even the cheek you didn’t strike
became hot like the cheek you did.
You must have been conscious of nothing.
must have forgotten it at once.
But when you’ve become an adult,
take this out and read it,
when you think, when you work,
when you love someone, when you fight.
My lovely two-year-old Auguste,
I write this down for you:
Today, for the first time,
you struck your mother on the cheek.
My still more lovely Auguste,
You, in my womb,
walked through Europe, sightseeing.
As you grow up,
your wisdom will remember
the memories of those travels with your mother.
What Michelangelo and Rodin did,
what Napoleon and Pasteur did,
yes, it was that genuine strike,
that ferocious, blissful strike.


with Jeffrey C. Robinson

The day when mountains move has come. / Though I say this, nobody believes me. / Mountains sleep only for a little while / that once have been active in flames. / But even if you forgot it, / just believe, people, / that all the women who slept / now awake and move. (Y.O., a “new-style” poem, translated by Kenneth Rexroth)

The appearance of her first book, Tangled Hair (Midaregami), in 1901, created a scandal, not only for its explicit female sexuality but for its complexity & presumed unintelligibility within the framework of the traditional tanka form. As a by now acknowledged masterwork of “Japanese romanticism,” already influenced by symbolist & other fin-de-siècle European writing but drawing as well from older Japanese & Chinese sources, it provided a vehicle for women’s liberation – a “battleground poetry,” in Janine Beichman’s phrase, not as a form of rant, but as Yosano described it, writing of her own “first poems,” “I realized that if women didn’t really exert themselves they would never mix with men on an equal footing. That was the first time I made a poem.” The resulting innovations – both in tanka (five-line closed verse) & in “new-style” poetry – went beyond most poets of her time: a use of multiple voices (male as well as female); an unprecedented focus on the naked body derived, it was said, from European painting & from the erotic side of the ukiyo-e (floating world) tradition of print-making; & a sense of mystery & ambiguity, created by formal means (“asymmetry, ellipses, and numerous allusions”), that she called shinpi & that Beichman delivers further as “the palimpsestic effect.” Her work, as it moved into the new century, was voluminous; by Kenneth Rexroth’s count, “she wrote more than 17,000 tanka, nearly five hundred shintaishi (free verse [poems]), published seventy-five books, including translations of classical literature, and had eleven children.” She was also an active pacifist & a socialist sympathizer, who openly opposed Japan’s military adventures in the twentieth century, as in a fiercely anti-war poem addressed to her brother (1904), which brought denunciation as “a traitor, a rebel, a criminal who ought to be subjected to national punishment.” (In the light of her radical independence, her relation with her poet husband, Yosano Hiroshi [a.k.a. Tekkan], assumes far less significance for her work than it’s usually given.) Writes Rexroth further: “She is one of the world’s greatest women poets, comparable to Christina Rossetti, Gaspara Stampa, Louise Labe, and Li Ching Chao. She is certainly one of the very greatest poets of her time – the most perfect expression of the ‘Art Nouveau’ sensibility – like Debussy, who should have set her poems to music.”

[From Poems for the Millennium, Volume 3:The University of California Book of Romantic & Postromantic Poetry, copies now available & scheduled for formal 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, October 3, October 9, October 20, November 27, & December 11. The full table of contents for volume 3 can be found at http://www.ucpress.edu/books/pages/10540/toc.pdf]

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Poems for the Millennium, volume 3, reading & launch

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 7:21 AM 0 comments

On December 29 at 7:00 p.m. Books Inc. – Opera Plaza in San Francisco will be hosting a launch and reading for Poems for the Millennium, volume 3: The University of California Book of Romantic and Postromantic Poetry, edited by Jerome Rothenberg and Jeffrey C. Robinson. Like its two twentieth-century predecessors, Poems for the Millennium, volumes 1 and 2, this gathering sets forth a globally decentered approach to the poetry of the preceding century from a radically experimental and visionary perspective. Joining Rothenberg and Robinson in the reading and performance are major Bay Area poets Michael McClure, Diane di Prima, Michael Palmer, Bill Berkson, Leslie Scalapino, and Jack Foley (performing with Adelle Foley). Introducing the reading will be Katherine Hastings, founder of the WordTemple Poetry Series and host of WordTemple on KRCB 91.1 FM, Santa Rosa's NPR affiliate. The Books Inc. location is at Opera Plaza, 601 Van Ness Avenue, tel. 415.776.1111.

The following is from the University of California Press announcement:

The previous two volumes of this acclaimed anthology set forth a globally decentered revision of twentieth-century poetry from the perspective of its many avant-gardes. Now editors Jerome Rothenberg and Jeffrey C. Robinson bring a radically new interpretation to the poetry of the preceding century, viewing the work of the romantic and post-romantic poets as an international, collective, often utopian enterprise that became the foundation of experimental modernism. Global in its range, volume three gathers selections from the poetry and manifestos of canonical poets, as well as the work of lesser-known but equally radical poets. Defining romanticism as experimental and visionary, Rothenberg and Robinson feature prose poetry, verbal-visual experiments, and sound poetry, along with more familiar forms seen here as if for the first time. The anthology also explores romanticism outside the European orbit and includes ethnopoetic and archaeological works outside the literary mainstream. The range of volume three and its skewing of the traditional canon illuminate the process by which romantics and post- romantics challenged nineteenth-century orthodoxies and propelled poetry to the experiments of a later modernism and avant-gardism.

The full University of California Press announcement can be found at http://www.ucpress.edu/books/pages/10540.php, including a complete copy of the book's table of contents.
Also now available: Poetics & Polemics 1980-2005 [prose writings], in University of Alabama Press's Modern & Contemporary Poetics series, for which see http://www.uapress.ua.edu/NewSearch4.cfm?id=134796

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Eleanor Antin: from “Conversations with Stalin”

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 4:47 AM 0 comments


I was what was called in the days of the old left, a red diaper baby. My mother was a Stalinist and though I had a father nobody ever listened to him because he was just a socialist and everybody knew they were wimps. It was hard in those days, senator McCarthy was putting people in jail, people were losing their jobs. but we were strong because we always knew what was right. Comrade Stalin told us. Or he would have told us if he wasn't so far away. But there were always other comrades one could turn to. Important comrades who wrote for his newspapers and were bigwigs in the party. Sometimes they would travel to the Soviet Union and they always came back with glowing reports. The workers were dancing in the streets. There was a chicken in every pot. Everybody had a job. Not like here, they spat. No breadlines. No prejudice against colored people. Unions flourished. Jews danced and sang in their own special state in Birobidzhan. A paradise set apart for the jews so they could sing Jewish songs and dance horas and till the land and grow big and strong. I had a cousin who was a psychiatrist who was invited to visit Soviet hospitals. He was amazed at the fine treatment the sick at heart received. Not like America where his poor patients had to pay him thousands of dollars a year to ease the pain of their unfortunate lives. But I also knew an artist who had spent a long life, he was already an old man, doing political cartoons for the Stalinist magazine "New Masses". One night, his best friend, a Yiddish poet, just back from a visit to the Soviet Union, told him in an agonized whisper, that all the beloved Russian Yiddish writers they loved so well had either been killed by Stalin or sent to the gulag to die. The old man went home quietly, didn't say a word to his family, went into his bedroom, had a heart attack and died. He seemed like his usual self that night everybody said, except that instead of taking the subway home as he always did, he took a cab. Now he was a very frugal man of the old fashioned sort. If he ever took cabs at all, it would only be for a very special occasion like a wedding or a funeral.

Through the years, I too lost Stalin. It wasn't easy. Even when I knew better, it was difficult. I would look guiltily over my shoulder when I said something bad about the Soviet Union. As if my mother were listening. How could she be, she had Alzheimers. She didn't know Comrade Stalin any more, she didn’t even know me



I fall in love with ancient Greece.

I play hookey from school and get to the museum early so I'm the only one in the Greek rooms. Except for the guard, of course. The guard's a killjoy. But when he isn't looking I can go up to a youth on a pedestal and stroke his cool white thigh, if I can reach it. I'm pretty short for my age. But I can peek under his tunic. I wish I could slip my hand under there and feel his balls but I'm chicken. I can't tell if he's attracted to me. He looks down at me with blind eyes. Ancient Greeks don't have eyeballs. I pull my hand away before the guard sees me and gets all uptight. But my heart breaks at the loneliness of marble. The poor thing has only one arm, the other one must be on a pedestal in London or in a bank vault in Japan. Cripples every one of them. They're cemented together, you can see the seams. Some don't have heads and only half of their chests. I want to comfort them, even though I know that some of them aren't Greeks. They're Romans, Romans aren't as good as Greeks. But what the hell! They're all in the same boat now. Sometimes the guard catches me feeling them up and throws me out of the museum. But I change my hair style and sneak back.

One day, Comrade Stalin says the ancient Greeks were bad. They didn't let everybody vote and they looked down their noses at foreigners. "They were stuck up, little Elly. Aristocrats. Their slaves ploughed the fields and baked the bread and sewed those sheets together to cover their naked flesh. Without slaves they would never have invented philosophy." I think of those great blank eyes staring down at me. It's clear now what they're thinking. Send her around to the back. She's a foreigner, a daughter of Abraham. Out! I'm heartbroken. Tears burn my eyes. "So the museum is off limits, comrade?" "Of course not, little Elly. Culture elevates the soul and makes it sing. Consider the ancient Egyptians. They were working people. Their artists carved bakeries and factories and warehouses and granaries and markets. They valued the labour of the common man."

So I did, but it wasn't the same. Knowledge is hard and strewn with bodies. The next time I played hookey I went to the movies



I am into petitions. Every week I have a new one. That's because every week they are electrocuting a different black man in Mississippi or Georgia or Carolina. Sometimes several black men in one night. Rape is a big thing in those states. I feel so sorry for the electrocuted men that I have no sympathy for the women. They're always white, those women. Their little rodent faces look nervously out from the grainy black and white pictures in the newspapers. They're always escorted by big sheriffs in dark sun glasses. I look at them scornfully. Such floozies. Who would rape them? And if they were raped it must have been by somebody else. What if the sheriff did it and he's covering his tracks. I read "The Scarlet Letter", I know perfidy when I see it. 'course I have no proof. It 's just that electrocuting 7 black men in Martinsville, Georgia for the rape of one white woman is kind of overkill. I take my new petition for the Martinsville seven around school. The same few people who always sign my petitions sign this one too. I try to sneak past Pat Pimboy in the cafeteria but she sees me and pokes her friends. "Who are you saving today, Missy?" she calls out. "The guy who cut up Susan Dengan and shoved her pieces into a garbage can?" Her friends look superior and laugh. They smirk at my clothes. So I don't wear pleated skirts and angora sweaters. So my mother isn't rich. So she gets up at 5 oclock in the morning to open the restaurant for breakfast. She's a manager isn't she? That's better than a waitress. Just because their mothers sit around and play mah jong all day, doesn't make them so swell. I'd be embarrassed to have such a useless mother, anyway. What do they care about the rights of man? That gets me going, again. Who the hell do those bitches think they are with their parasite mothers? " No," I answer in a fake sweet voice. "I don't carry petitions for murderers." That stops me for a minute. What if a guy murders somebody in self defense? What if the sheriff of Martinsville is just about to electrocute the prisoners when progressive forces attack the jail and the sheriff is killed by accident? Actually, that's what I hope will happen. But it never does. "There's murder and murder," I say in a hoity toity voice, "the world isn't black and white. Its filled with shades of grey." But it is black and white. That's what my petition is about. "So the world is a mess of ambiguities," I finish lamely. "So there!"

A week later the Martinsville sheriff electrocutes the 7 men. One after the other. I sit at the kitchen table in the west Bronx nursing a glass of chocolate milk but I'm really far away in Martinsville. At 7 oclock he comes for the first one. Which one was that? The papers never distinguished them. They were never single people like Ray or Bob. They were always 7. Like the 7 dwarfs. Who can remember the names of the 7 dwarfs? I did'nt know how long it took to electrocute somebody but I figured it for a few minutes. Later it turned out that it took longer. People don't die so fast.

It took Ethel Rosenberg almost 20 minutes. They kept pulling their switches and she jerked around and wouldn't die. Lucky for me I didn't know about this until I saw the papers the next day. It was bad enouph as it was. It was a warm summer night and I was in Dr. Honig's car going upstate to mother's hotel. I sat by myself in the back seat imagining the Rosenbergs dying. For his last meal, he ordered flanken and potato pancakes but she was higher class and asked for filet mignon with asparagus. I heard their tender farewells,. "Courage," she whispers. "our time will come. We will be vindicated. We shall have the last laugh." "You're braver than I am, Ethel," he moans. He went first, I learned later they hoped she would give in and confess to save him. I got so agitated I had to vomit and Dr. Honig stopped the car so I could walk it off. He sympathized with me but he still laughed and chatted with his wife in Hungarian. She was very pretty but not too smart. Before she caught him, I used to give her culture lessons for 2 bucks an hour so when they went to a concert together she knew who Shostakovitch was. I told her funny stories about Mozart to regale him in the intermissions. He admired her for those stories. He had never heard them before. Naturally. I made them up. They must have worked because they got married. My mother glared at my father and said Dr. Honig was a good husband. But I think she was a good wife too. But I didn't tell my mother that. She knew justice didn't exist.

Later I told Comrade Stalin about my petitions. How I never saved anyone.

"And until they pulled the switch, I kept on hoping," I confessed. "Until the last minute, I dreamed that the rescuers disguised themselves as undertakers. They knocked out the sheriff and stuffed him into a coffin. They had plenty of room for all his deputies. There were 7 coffins. It was harder to disguise the prisoners. They had dark faces. But they gave them black suits and they cried and wailed and acted like relatives of the deceased. And they all walked out of that place and nobody knew what hit them until everybody asked where the prisoners were. The electric chair was juiced up and there were no prisoners. It was in all the papers. They only found one prisoner, that was years later, and only because he came back from Barbados to visit his mother on her death bed. But by then, the case was dismissed. It had been a rigged jury. People were bribed." I buried my face in Comrade Stalin's warm, strong shoulder. "But Robin Hood never came, Papa Stalin. There were no merry men. It wasn't Nottingham. It was only a nasty, little town in Georgia with a lot of heartless goyim."

He said that was because I was barking up a wrong tree. An experienced revolutionary takes on only those fights he knows he can win. "Then you will never lose," he explains. "You will be invincible. People will follow you wherever you go."

"But causes are like measles. They pop up all over ."

"So don't scratch. Turn the other cheek. Keep your eye on the future. That is where we must lead. We must not be distracted by lost causes. As a rival said once, "He who has shall be given and he who has not, even that little bit shall be taken away."

So I tore up my petitions and became Pat Pimboy's campaign manager in her race for school president. I wrote her great speeches and much to my chagrin she won.

[Widely acclaimed as a performance artist, filmmaker, photographer & installation artist, Eleanor Antin is also a writer of many years standing, whose verbal compositions show a range of ironies & self-creations not unlike those in her visual workings. Her previous books include Being Antinova, Eleanora Antinova Plays, 100 Boots, Man Without a World: a Screenplay, & Historical Takes (her three-part series of quasi-historical photoworks: Roman Allegories, Last Days of Pompeii, & Helen’s Odyssey).]

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Steve Clay’s Granary Books: A Tribute

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 12:41 PM 0 comments
[The following was originally printed in the catalogue for an exhibition, Too Much Bliss, a twenty-year retrospective of Granary Books & its founder, mounted at the Smith College Museum of Art in 2006.]

The history of poetry in our time has also been a history of those who provide conduits & vehicles, containers & wrappers, for the physical presentation of poetry: publishers, typographers, printers, designers, or those artists-as-such who are often the collaborators in making poetry a visible, even a visual, art. For this the book has remained the principal vehicle – the material book, like the material poem, still active in the age of virtuality. In the true history of American poetry, which I have long threatened to write & never will, Granary Books, as a press & resource, is exemplary of how poets & related artists in the post-World War Two era were able to establish shadow institutions that operated, nearly successfully, outside the frame of any & all self-proclaimed poetic mainstreams.

There is by now a history of poet’s books as there is of artist’s books, & the convergence of these two interests is more the norm than the exception. From Blake’s illuminations through the craftsman-artists of the later nineteenth century & the livre d’art collaborations of high modernism, the book emerged as both a physical object & itself a work-of-art conceived anew or re-created through the art of those who make it. Still closer to the present moment, poets & artists with new & often democratized technologies at their disposal, have been papering the American landscape with books & paper works at an unprecedented rate. That development began to pick up speed by the middle 1950s & was central to movements of that time with generalized names like the New American Poetry as one pole or pivot & Fluxus as another. Their accomplishments have been chronicled elsewhere, & there are still others outside those frames to further “thicken the plot” – as John Cage said in another context.

If Steve Clay & Granary Books were not the first participants in this history, they have played a major role in it, both as makers of books & as chroniclers of poets’ & artists’ books – their own & others’. For Clay the beginnings of the work go back to 1986 – not a book but a card-sized poem by Jonathan Williams, wrapped in a printed envelope inside a second printed envelope. But there is already a clear sense of predecessors – Williams’ Jargon Society publications, Cid Corman’s Origin, Dick Higgins’ Fluxus-connected Something Else Press, Simon Cutts’s Coracle Press in London, & Charles Alexander’s Chax Press, with which an early collaboration was also possible. The start was slow – an occasional book but mostly cards & broadsides – until the 1991 publication of Nods, Barbara Fahrner’s drawings which illuminate texts derived, using chance operations, from John Cage’s published writings. From that point on, something like 120 publications followed – mostly books – that brought together a diverse range of poets, artists, printers & craftsmen: David Antin, Susan Bee, Charles Bernstein, bill bissett, Paul Celan, Emilie Clark, Robert Creeley, Tennessee Dixon, Toni Dove, Henrik Drescher, Johanna Drucker, Timothy C. Ely, Ed Epping, Philip Gallo, Max Gimblett, Mimi Gross, Julie Harrison, Lyn Hejinian, Yvonne Jacquette, Daniel Kelm, Alison Knowles, Ligorano/Reese, Emily McVarish, Maureen Owen, Ron Padgett, Archie Rand, George Schneeman, Carolee Schneemann, Buzz Spector, Anne Waldman, Lewis Warsh, Trevor Winkfield, John Yau, & myself, among others.

What’s on view in this exhibition is a display of works by many of these artists, working alone or, typically, in collaboration. The books as such come in different shapes & sizes, & the production methods involved vary as well – from standard letterpress & offset to incredibly fine printing & graphics, plus a degree of handwork in the more limited editions. The flood of work links both to what had come before & what continued to be conceived & realized contemporaneously. This linkage shows up as well in a series of bigger books – anthologies & histories – that made Granary the principal purveyor – both artistic & critical – of what was a virtual renaissance of American poetry & book making. Of such works two by Johanna Drucker set the standard for a historicizing of this movement in the arts: The Century of Artists’ Books and Figuring the Word: Essays on Books, Writing and Visual Poetics. These were followed by Renée & Judd Hubert’s The Cutting Edge of Reading: Artists’ Books, & my own attempts by way of anthology, The Book, Spiritual Instrument and A Book of the Book, the latter in collaboration with Steve Clay. And Granary & Clay, at his most ambitious, began to produce large collections of works by individuals or groups of artists – The Angel Hair Anthology of the pivotal magazine of that name, or Jackson Mac Low’s Doings: Assorted Performance Pieces 1955–2002, or A Secret Location on the Lower East Side as a heavily illustrated history & compendium, circa 1950-1980, of underground literary activity in New York & elsewhere, among other examples.

The Granary project has been not only useful but essential, an incomparable gathering when laid end to end, as it is here. Those who have collaborated with Steve Clay know him as a facilitator for the work of others, with a sense of detail & finish that allows those works to find the form & texture needed for their realization. In this pursuit, whether it’s the bigger books or the small works where craft & artistry are at the forefront, the Granary collaborations aren’t limited to the poets & artists whose names appear on covers & title pages, but Clay calls also on the skills of typographers, printers, designers, & binders – an ensemble that he brings together with the skills of a consummate director or producer. The process is therefore active & marked by an interdependence & coordination that has, for those of us participating, the feel of a nearly communal project – a work, even a working through, in common. The results – speaking here as a poet & writer – go beyond & above what lackluster print can do by itself, so that each work is a new work & every part illuminates or transforms every other.

The current exhibition, then, is a celebration of Granary as a collective entity & a tribute beyond that to Steve Clay as a publisher who raises publishing to an art in itself. I am reminded here of David Antin’s definition of an artist as “someone who does his best,” & yet it seems to me that Steve Clay & company, like David, do something even more. I don’t know what that does to David’s definition but maybe points to something we less often get to, something that may be “more than art.”

Jerome Rothenberg, Encinitas, California, August 2005

[For further & more recent information on Granary Books, check its web site at http://www.granarybooks.com/]

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Reconfiguring Romanticism (21): Some Orientalisms

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 12:01 PM 0 comments
with Jeffrey C. Robinson

One must not turn one’s back on the mysterious and the unknown. The rare moments when myth consents to grab you by the throat . . . to seek entry among the everyday facts of life . . . ; the hallucinated minutes that can nonetheless be measured with a watch, whose ticking then resounds over the years: none of this ought to be neglected” (V. Segalen).

The subversive gap in the nineteenth-century colonialist drive for control over non-European peoples appeared in the domain of culture, & particularly of poetry. That is, “orientalism” had a double inflection: the colonization of peoples mostly from the Middle East, North Africa, & India but including China & the Far East, & the objectivizing of the exotic Other. Yet the sheer acknowledgement of the Other instilled a vision of what Victor Segalen, writing from the 1870s onward, called “le divers” & produced in readers the capacity to revel in these multiple differences. At the end of the eighteenth century the plethora of new information about the East “put into doubt the basic legitimacy of the Christian state and cut to the heart of anxieties about European power and identity” (Nigel Leask). If governments thought of the outcome of colonialism as appropriation of other cultures & economies, poets, often inventing or emulating the Other’s voice, would typically seize the “orientalist” occasion as the horizon beyond the familiar, the locus, in Emily Dickinson’s phrase, of the “unreportable place,” unknown myths, unknown subjectivities.

The East not only represented diversity, it also—in the hands of Sir William Jones, Gottfried Herder, Friedrich & August Schlegel, Arthur Schopenhauer, & others—contained “the sources” of religion & language in the West: for example, Friedrich Schlegel, Germany’s first competent Sanskritist, looked to India for the origin of European languages, & his brother August saw Indian religion as the likely source underlying all religions. Goethe’s interest in Islam & Emerson’s in Hinduism are further instances of the pervasive attraction of western poets to eastern spirituality. Nowhere, exclaimed the Indic encyclopedist Friedrich Majer, has the “eternal, infinite, self-sustaining Being” (here called Brahma) been described “in more beautiful truth and splendour than in those bewitching countries that in all probability were the cradle of humanity and the first workshop of God on earth.” This turn toward origins fed the Romantic drive for the recovery of basic human energies, the sources of life made inaccessible through centuries of kings & through modern bourgeois society. In this regard orientalism joined with the resurgence of interest in Grecoroman & Hebraic myths & images (included here is Byron’s Hebrew Melodies—a culture & people then often viewed as oriental), with a notable stress on myths of passion & the erotic. Drawing on sources from Indian religion, Friedrich Schlegel launched (at times in the spirit of Blake, whose figure of Asia in The Book of Los, is here included) a compelling account of visionary Romantic poetics. The Indian “doctrine of Emanation” Schlegel wrote, includes “the eternal progressive development of the Divinity, and of universal spiritual animation.” And he continued: “True [modern] poetry [emerges] when art has annexed so much to the original germ, becomes so only when it breathes a kindred spirit with those old heathen fictions, or because it springs from them.” Such poetry “contemplate[s] the inner life of that mythology.”

The section that follows this prologue includes the following works:

William Blake
From The Book of Los: Asia

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Arabian Ballad

George Gordon, Lord Byron
From The Giaour: Leila As Gazelle
From Hebrew Melodies Ancient & Modern: The Wild Gazelle

Victor Hugo
From Les Orientales: Bounaberdi

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Walt Whitman
From Passage to India

Charles Baudelaire
L’Invitation au Voyage

Victor Segalen
From Stelae: Roadside Stelae

[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, October 3, October 9, October 20, & November 27. The full table of contents for volume 3 can be found at http://www.ucpress.edu/books/pages/10540/toc.pdf]

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Speak to a configuration of stains
even a silk shirt of the man from Marrakech
even a configuration of stains will be
made to speak sublime yellow-green
smears of avocado pulp the man from
Marrakech enemies at his feet the son
of a Macedonian his peach porcelain chin
its cleft pierced by a thorn pierced
is the man from Marrakech the son of a
Macedonian he crouches over a vanity sink
dappled with mother-of-pearl bearing
the weight of a nightmare a nightmare
about iron stairs about a long row
of embryos luminous organs fibrous pits
Narcissus purging
jabbing his two-inch pinky nail evil it feels
into the cleft of his chin
a levantine hook on a rampage
from out of Ur into the hotel his private
quarters red hot mosaic tiles hooks for
every hang-up made by master craftsmen
the man from Marakech
eyes of pale gray-green pale gray-green eyes
son of a Macedonian
mummified is his code of honor

In ancient Phoenicia
a woman holds a sublime yellow-green
fabric smeared with avocado pulp
years later her unmarried hump-backed
son will unfold the cloth
Even a configuration of stains
will be made to speak

An urge for rhythms of Marrakech
gilded the row of upper teeth of the school master
listening to American jazz smiling at a man
from Sudan an engineer wearing a necklace
and a diamond stud in his ear
The man from Marrakech rises from the
Greek revival chair feeling the rays of the sun
resurrecting the dead

The false door of lust opens
frustrates and disappoints
famous the false door of lust
slamming the head breaking the nose
cracking the jaw splitting the gums ejecting
the gilded row of upper teeth teeth
of Cavafy Donatello Passolini Versace
small dark solid men mavericks
with spleens of hot lava
orbiting the mediterranean sun

A djellaba is a djellaba is a robe a robe of roses
sings the man from Marrakech
letting fall around his ankles purple roses
the djellaba its distinct parts is like a fluid
a fluid of roses is a chemical analysis—proof
le bien et le mal
drop by drop its sound distinct
le bien et le mal
And he sings to pierced nipples nipples
on the sculptured torso—a man from Sudan
And when he sings the words
the words are pigment cells vegetal to vegetal
cooling the skin the words are hairs
pushing through layers pushing through
layers of skin scalp armpit bones in a sac
words of a song from out of Ur from out of Ur
from out of the throat of the man
from Marrakech

The children always crawl to golden coins
golden coins draw the children
whispers the man from Marrakech
And he grants wishes to a man from Sudan
and desire breaks its molten outer core
then drawing upon his economic advantage
whispers I am the Alpha and Omega
world without end

In the picturesque Medina
two old men are trading photos
cruise ships voyaging to America
Inside a galaxy a cloud of dust and gas
gas and dust inside a galaxy
Two old men are smoking water pipes
in the picturesque Medina
two old men are playing cards talking politics
sipping coffee
hearing the call to prayer
the man from Sudan an engineer
wearing a necklace
and a diamond stud in his ear
the man from Marrakech
eyes of pale gray-green pale gray-green eyes
son of a Macedonian
an athlete whose stamina was tested
with javelin hammer and discus
smiling and remembering a silk shirt
smeared with avocado pulp
hammer and discus are thrown
and the weight of the athlete
spirals in as dense as a star

Come see what has been called
the poignant picture--a father bearing
twin sons in his arms—poignant the chanting
aramaic words and they were born
from frozen embryos
Forced deeper the weight of a dream
about a gold ostrich egg and shining through
the shell the form that you should put
your money into—a two-headed child
two pairs of pale gray-green eyes
colors and patterns of the iris painted
with a fine sable brush
And dread is a light transparent veil
over the eyes of the man from Marrakech
smoking a water pipe eating sleeping reading
playing computer games
then feeling for his wallet for the accordian-fold
interior, credit cards, driver’s license, bills
receipts , coins and photos
of the winged cherubim their halos
glittering circling red orange yellow
the young always crawl to golden coins
then chanting in aramaic a prayer
‘And they are the winged cherubim
with the faces of children’

[Originally published in The New Verse News, November 10, 2008, http://newversenews.blogspot.com/2008/11/song-from-out-of-ur.html]


with Pierre Joris

I dreamed of a birdwoman. A fantastic creature with a human body and the head of a bird. She fed her young with chunks of flesh that she savagely tore out of her body with her beak. Always the flesh grew quickly back so that there was no loss or end of herself. (R.O.)

There is a voice in Owens' work that seemed to some of us — when first heard — like a fierce & unrelenting force of nature or like that, more aptly, of some biblical Isaiah or Devorah, or of some other cracked (but real) Prophet mockingly come back to life. "Beauty will be convulsive or it will not be," André Breton had written in setting the Surrealist agenda, by which he meant (or we do) not beauty so much as poetry, with regard to which beauty is but one half (at best) of what we put into our workings. And Owens — while she proclaimed herself, New York style, as "simply a poor working girl [from Brooklyn] who was not even a graduate of Brooklyn College or C.C.N.Y." — spoke a language even in her first poems ("Hunger / It is luck too. Hullabaloo Vishnu") that called forth voices (Ball or Khlebnikov or Tzara) from a recent past that she & we were newly claiming, making into our present. With her base in poetry, she came to a first public recognition through a series of plays (Futz, Beclch, He Wants Shih, The Karl Marx Play, others), to create what one of us would call "her theater of impulse" & to make her for a time "perhaps the most profound tragic playwright in the American theater" (Ross Wetzteon, The Village Voice). What she had tapped into in herself were the sources of tragedy in ancient "goat-song" (pace Aristotle): a deliberate but disruptive mode of poetry, moving from what Toby Olson describes as "the grating nature of the inappropriate" to what he & Jackson Mac Low both speak of as "controlled hysteria." Writing further of the intelligence — as well as passion — that drives her work, Mac Low says: "I mean ... by 'controlled hysteria' ... that the speaker, whether the poet, a persona, or a blend of both, while often incredibly vehement, threatens to cross over the line from vehemence to uncontrollable emotional outburst, but never actually crosses that line. This arouses a feeling of suspense even in those who do not realize whence that feeling arises: a very 'theatrical' experience." That it also arouses — in us — a feeling of uncontrollable laughter is the further, maybe deeper secret of her art.

[Commentary from Poems for the Millennium: The University of California Book of Modern & Postmodern Poetry, volume 2, 1998.]

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Diane Rothenberg: Corn Soup & Fry Bread: A Reminiscence

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 5:50 AM 0 comments
For several years before and for two inclusive years from 1972 to 1974, we lived on the Allegany Seneca Reservation in Salamanca, New York. Food was among the first things we exchanged – poetry only later and never really fully. From our end the items served were dishes such as sukiyaki or pumpernickel rye; from theirs the common foods of rural America and two specially prepared dishes that indicated that a uniquely Native American festivity was underway. One of those dishes was "corn soup" (more specifically "hulled corn soup" [hominy], because there are other ways of using corn in soups), and the other one was "fry bread." During the years that we lived in Salamanca, we encountered both of these dishes many times and in variant versions. Different people whom we knew approached their preparation in individualized ways – congruent always with their own tastes, their interest in food preparation, and their concern (or lack of it) with "authenticity." When we reproduce those dishes now for special occasions of our own, these same considerations inform our sense of how to go about it. As a reflection on the issue of "authenticity" in the preparation of traditional foods – as well as the contribution of a couple of good recipes to the present volume – I offer up the following.

"AUTHENTIC" HULLED CORN SOUP a la Archie Johnson, who knows how to do many things the "old way"

1 quart dry corn
1 pint clean hardwood ashes
Water to cover

Place in cast iron kettle, and bring to a boil. Boil until the hulls slip off the kernels (about 20 minutes). Place in corn basket, and rinse in cold water until clean. Reboil corn in water until suds form, and rinse again in basket. Repeat once more.

3/4 lb. salt pork cut up
1/4 lb. dried red kidney beans (pre-soaked)
Prepared corn (hominy) from first step

Boil all together in kettle for 3 or 4 hours. Makes about 4 quarts of soup.

"CONVENIENT" HULLED CORN SOUP a la Richard Johnny John, who loves it but, for all kinds of reasons, takes short cuts

3 large cans of hominy (undrained)
1 can of red beans (undrained)
1 lb. pork (or maybe more if using spareribs)

Water enough to create a thick soup. Cook everything together until the pork is done.

"ROTHENBERG" HULLED CORN SOUP, being a variation of Dick Johnny John's recipe, but accommodating to non-Seneca expectations

2 lbs. of pork with bones
1 carrot
Couple of handfuls of celery and celery tops
1 onion
Salt and pepper to taste
Water to cover

Cook until pork is separating from bones. Drain through a strainer, and save the pieces of meat.

3 large cans of hominy (undrained)
1 can of red beans (undrained)

Combine broth, pork, and canned ingredients, and cook together for a few minutes. Season to taste.

FRY BREAD is known among the Senecas as "Ghost Bread," because it is always included in the feast that follows the ten days of mourning after a death. A look at the ingredients suggests immediately that even the "authentic" version depends entirely on store-bought ingredients; yet fry bread, with minor variations in shape and ingredients, is emblematically "Indian" all through North America.

2 cups white flour
3 tsp. baking powder
2 tblsp. sugar
Pinch salt
1 cup water

Knead together, and let stand for 15 minutes. Break off golf-ball sized pieces, and roll each out, using flour to prevent sticking. Stab with a fork twice through the center of each. Fry in deep fat until brown on both sides. Eat hot.

FRY BREAD a la Thelma Shane, one of the best cooks around

Same as above but add along with other ingredients:

2 tblsp. oil
1/2 small can crushed pineapple.

Proceed as above. Roll out 1/2 inch thick, and fry until brown. (Thelma usually serves these with margarine and preserves, accompanied regularly by coffee.)

"FAST FRY BREAD," which is what you usually get at our feasts. This recipe was revealed to us at an Indian Foods Dinner – a tourist-oriented feast offered, as a fund-raiser, around Thanksgiving, i.e. harvest time. One or another Seneca organization is allowed to prepare the dinner each year, at which time they serve hundreds of diners, both white and Indian, who have reserved well in advance, eager for the opportunity to taste the variety and abundance of "authentic" Seneca food. The Senecas with whom we ate would snicker a little when fry bread was presented in the following way:

Open a tube of store-bought prepared biscuits (not the sourdough type, but it hardly matters). Separate the biscuits, and flatten each using a little flour to prevent sticking. Pierce with the tines of a fork, and fry in deep fat. They rise and brown very quickly, so keep watching. Drain and serve.

With a genuine taste for the inauthentic (as much as for its counterpart), we have made this recipe our own.

[Reprinted from Diane Rothenberg’s The Mothers of the Nation & Other Essays, Ta’wil Books & Documents, 1992. An active player in the emerging discourse around an ethnopoetics, she is also the co-editor of Symposium of the Whole: A Range of Discourse Toward an Ethnopoetics (University of California Press, 1983) and the author of Friends Like These: An Ethnohistorical Analysis (University Microfilms International, 1976). Writes Nathaniel Tarn in summation: “Biographically, Diane Rothenberg’s essays are witness to the history of ethnopoetics. They continually approach art without ever leaving unattended the disciplined language of anthropological investigations. Their continuity of concern with women’s matters, from Seneca Indian nineteenth-century adaptations to those of a populist woman artist of today, bring a feminine viewpoint to ethnopoetics perhaps more powerfully than ever before. Here is the voice of a woman who is herself becoming a ‘mother of the nation.’” Copies of Mothers of the Nation are available through Ta’wil Books, joris@albany.edu.]

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it is hanging
in the edge of sunshine
it is a pig I see
with its double hoofs
it is a very fat pig
the people who live in a hollow tree
are fighting
they are fighting bloodily
he is rich
he will carry a pack toward the great water


track is it like?
(he means the beaver!)
if it’s like his track
if it is
follow it on
the man came to a wigwam
with worn-out feet
with a wriggled bag
up high
lay a big fat
young buffalo calf
with a soft belly-button
crumbling sticks
crab shells
have a dance
knocked his eye out

[translations by Frances Densmore]


The “game of silence” consisted of keeping still as long as possible in the face of songs whose non-sequential & far-out expressions were meant to cause laughter. Here directed at children, the mind’s activity reflects the same energy present in more serious tribal poems: for the pleasure of the game, say, or as a simple exercise for developing & keeping those faculties alive.

A sacred version of the above follows.

Lummi (Salish)

1. A comedian’s mask is painted red on one side, black on the other; the mouth is twisted, the hair in disarray. For a costume he wears a blanket or a strip of fur which leaves his right hand free. He dances along with the other performers, often dances out-of-time to attract attention, & repeatedly annoys the dancers by quizzically scrutinizing their masks, poking at their eyes, looking at their noses, picking their teeth, etc. Sometimes the dancers whip the comedian vigorously with cedar boughs to drive him away, keeping time with the drums as they do so. When not annoying the dancers, the comedian goes around the room pretending to take lice from the singers’ hair. He sometimes goes to a very old woman or a very pretty girl to do this, using it as a pretext to caress her.

2. The audience refrains from laughing.

[Originally printed in Shaking the Pumpkin: Traditional Poetry of the Indian North Americas. The book, first published by Doubleday in 1972 & last by University of New Mexico Press in 1986 & 1992, has now been out of print for several years. The title Poems for the Game of Silence was also appropriated for my first book of selected poems, first published in 1972 and still in print. – J.R.]

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