A Bird’s Eye View of Poems for the Millennium, volume 2

What we knew then, much of it obscured by the anti-modernist turn at the beginning of the decade, was imperative for us to know. What we didn't know - obscured by our own breakthroughs as American poets [pre-Viet Nam] - was how much else was coming into presence then or had emerged, even in this most American of centuries & moments, without our blessings. Over the last few years I've had a chance - working with Pierre Joris - to go over the terrain of the immediate postwar decades (1945 to 1960, the years of the New American Poetry) as the opening wedge for the second volume of Poems for the Millennium, the "global" anthology that's been a central work of ours since 1990. This is in some sense fired by Pierre's nomadism, as well as my own: our sense of a community / a commonality of poets that both of us have known (& continue to know) across whatever boundaries. Being far enough away from the fifties now to have a wider view of the terrain, I see the "new American poetry" that so much defined us as itself a part (a key part, sure, but still a part) of a worldwide series of moves & movements that took the political, visionary, & formal remnants of an earlier modernism & reshaped & reinvented [extended] them in the only time allowed to us on earth. I believe at the same time that such a view is both truer to the facts & provides a richer source & context for later American postmodernisms (that of the Language Poets, say) & for aspects of the experimental American '50s and '60s neglected in both earlier & later versions of The New American Poetry.

I would like to give you, then, a sense of the configuration, the reconfiguration we've attempted - both to see how the New American Poetry fits into that larger frame & how little of it was evident to us then. The first volume - for those who haven't seen it - covered a range of work "from fin-de-siècle to negritude" - from Mallarmé's Coup de dès of 1897 to work appearing in the midst of World War II. The division was into three "galleries" of individual poets & six sections devoted to the movements that typified the time but have been deliberately omitted or reduced to footnotes in most other gatherings of poetry. (These were, in order, Futurism [both Russian & Italian], Expressionism, Dada, Surrealism, the "Objectivists," & Negritude.) In doing this we were not being original (or even "ornery" in some sense) but asserting what for many of us was the actual configuration of that time. We were also setting the stage for the second volume – the present world in which we live & work.

With that second volume - from World War II to the present [& beyond] - there is no completion & the omissions & gaps are overwhelming. Having said that, I would like to go over the disposition of the contents - some portion of them - to give a view of American poetry & poets interspersed with sometimes equally experimental, sometimes more experimental poets from elsewhere. (For this reason, with America as the point of departure, the amount of U.S. poetry is & remains disproportionate.) Over all, the question of inclusion & exclusion, which can never be properly resolved, was less important with regard to individuals & movements - more with regard to the possibilities of poetry now being opened. There are two galleries this time around, the first & earlier consisting largely of poets who were or became active during the 1940s and 1950s - the subject in short of this gathering. And within these we've imbedded a number of groupings - somewhat like the movements of the previous volume, but often more localized or more restricted to moves in poetry rather than across the arts (although that poetry may itself show real amalgams with the plastic arts or music). After I give you a sense of what the juxtapositions here feel like, I'll end it with a reading from those clusters or mini-movements, which are contemporaneous with the New American Poetry or, in several instances, come before it. The point is not to trace influences from group to group or poet to poet (largely absent till the later 1950s/early 1960s) but to set out a range of responses to the postwar (cold war) era and the wars & holocausts that lay behind it.

The first gallery, then, consists of work from some fifty poets - from Marie Luise Kaschnitz born in 1901 to Gary Snyder born in 1930. It follows a section of poems by some of the poets who appeared in the earlier volume but whose postwar poetry - often "maximal" as Olson would have had it) showed a continuity between the century's two halves; namely Stein, Stevens, Joyce, Williams, Pound, H.D., MacDiarmid, Breton, Michaux, Zukofsky, Neruda, Ekelöf, Rukeyser, Césaire. (You will note already the gaps & omissions that any of us could point to.) But it's in the contents of the first gallery as such that the richness of the time begins to show itself - a richness measured in fact by its unboundedness. In sequence, then, the first twenty to appear run like this: Marie Luise Kaschnitz, Vladimir Holan, Samuel Beckett, George Oppen, Yannis Ritsos, Charles Olson, Edmond Jabès, John Cage, Octavio Paz, Bert Schierbeck, Robert Duncan, Yoshioku Minoru, Paul Celan, Mohammed Dib, Amos Tutuola, Helmut Heissenbüttel, Jackson Mac Low, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Vasko Popa, & Denise Levertov. It is a configuration of contemporaries - ours - & of possibilities - ours also - with regard to which the vaunted American dominance (forty years later) seems a wild exaggeration. That we may feel a kinship (& sometimes open friendship) with all those named is a further point worth making.

Along with poets such as these - & there were, clearly, many more – groupings had begun to appear with some resemblance to the pre-war movements. Some were confined to a single place & language or to a set of places, others (the exceptions) to a sweep that cut more boldly than their predecesors across divides of place & nation. Six of the ones we've chosen were already active in the 1950s, two as far back as the later 1940s. The thrust in all was toward a rupture with the past, or a renewal of the interrupted ruptures of the pre-war avant- gardes, now made more urgent by the war & by a sense of dangers & repressions still persisting. As with those predecessors the urgency went back into the poem itself (the way the poem was made) - a point reiterated in those years (again, again) by William Carlos Williams. In America his rage for a new measure dominated - in Olson's sense of a projective verse, in Ginsberg's citation that "when the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake." The openings elsewhere - as among American avantgardists of another stripe [Mac Low & Cage immediate examples] - took different but equally dynamic turns.

As particular groupings - clusters - topoi - take the following.

The Wiener Gruppe [Vienna Group] kicks off in 1953, with the founding by H[ans] C[arl] Artmann of "a basement theater in Vienna (die kleine schaubühne) for 'macabre feasts, poetic acts', and pranks like black masses, an evening 'with illuminated birdcages,' or one 'in memoriam to a crucified glove'." (Rosmarie Waldrop) Early participants in the group were Artmann, along with Gerhard Rühm, Konrad Bayer, Oswald Wiener, and Friederich Achleitner, joined in 1957 by Ernst Jandl and Friederike Mayröcker. The range of work included a renewed exploration of visual and sound poetry and a high degree of vernacular language play, including works in Viennese dialect, "not in order to mimic speech or render local color" - writes Rosmarie Waldrop - "but as a reservoir of sounds and expressions ... that exploit the tension between the spoken immediacy and the outlandish look of the dialect words when spelled out on the page." Writes h.c. artmann in his 1953 eight point proclamation of the poetic act: "there is a premise which is unassailable, namely that one can be a poet even without ever having written or spoken a single word. / however the prerequisite is the more or less felt wish to act poetically. the alogical gesture can itself be performed such that it is raised to an act of outstanding beauty. ineed to poetry. beauty is however a concept which is here allowed a greatly enlarged field of play." And then, as poem, the following in Viennese dialect (translated by me into I don't know what kind of New York thing from childhood):

[reads, ah rosie," page 117]:

Or this [example of "new sentence," say] - in prose from Konrad Bayer:

[reads "The White and the Black Bones," page 126]:

A second grouping, the self-proclaimed "Tammuzi poets," consisted of writers from Lebanon and Syria, who in 1956 came together around the Beirut magazine Shi'r [Poetry] - one of the key instances, in the two decades following World War II, of third-world liberation movements with their well-known cultural/political concommitants: the simultaneous demands for revolution & tradition. As poets of the Arabic language the Tammuzis not only proclaimed a relation to a deep tradition (an ancient order newly rediscovered) but spelled out a further struggle (a second liberation from within the culture & the language) to create "a poetry that establishes another concept of identity - one that is pluralist, open, agnostic, and secular." (Thus: the Syrian poet Adonis [born Ali Ahmed Said] on "poetry & apoetical culture.")

And this from the Lebanese poet Unsi al-Hajj in Pierre Joris's English version:

[reads "The Charlatan," page 199]:

A still earlier movement - & one which would have a curious repercussion at a later time - was that of the artists & poets who came together, starting as early as 1948, under the coined name COBRA. "The choice of a name whicis not an ism, but that of an animal," said poet-artist Christian Dotremont in retrospect, & added: "We were in fact against all isms, against all that implied a system." The cities in which they worked - & whose opening letters formed their name - were Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam; the participants themselves, mostly younger artists & poets, witnesses to mid-ecntury war & holocaust from which, in 1948, Europe was just emerging. Short-lived as the "movement" was (it would dissolve by 1951), it was to that degree "international," with links - often reiterated - to other postwar groups [Situationism, Lettrism] that sought new ways of life through art. An aspect of their project was therefore political & social - a belief in the transformation of art itself as instrument (in its experimental modes) of even larger transformations. In a move reminiscent of earlier Dadaist disgust, Cobra artists turned from "Western Classical c ulture," not so much to so-called "primitive" art (too often conflated with the "Non-Western") as to the art of children, say, & the "outsider art" of the insane. The result was a commitment to a rawness & openness of form ("we never permit ourselves to finish a poem" - C.Dotremont) & for many of them a further "erasure of the boundaries between the arts" (in the words of a major forerunner, Kurt Schwitters). Artists & poets worked together or crossed into each others' domains, "committed to marrying poetry with the plastic arts" (J.C. Lambert), or from a recognition (thus: Asger Jorn) that "painting and writing are the same."

Along with Jorn & Dotremont, the principal Cobra artists were the Belgian artist-writers Pierre Alechinsky and Hugo Claus & the Dutch experimentalists Lucebert, Constant, Gerrit Kouwenaar, & to a lesser degree Bert Schierbeck. A further connection - largely through the somewhat older Jorn - is to the Internationale Situationiste & to a lesser degree to the Internationale Lettriste of the 1950s/60s. The following is by Pierre Alechinsky, working here as writer/poet.

[reads "Ad Miro," page 245]

What we have here is a language poetry - a poetry of diverse experimental means - two decades or more before a group of American poets would offer up their work as "language poetry" per se. And there is also a push in Cobra toward a coincidence of word & image that was being taken in new directions by the (so-called) Concrete Poets of the 1950s/60s - one of the few movements (like the closely related Fluxus) with a genuinely international standing. That many of its works could readily cross borders was in part a function of their stripped-down (= minimalist) nature: a reduction of the poem to a sign (often in bold typography, sometimes in color) that typically eliminated syntax & even words themselves, thus offered up an image open to interpretation (reading) at a single glance. In a larger sense the same mind-set that produced concrete poetry tied it not only to other (older) forms of visual poetry but – more surprisingly perhaps - to radical forms of sound poetry & textsound performances. Practitioners were also drawn to "process poetry" & to experiments with reduplicating verbal patterns or, as the semiotics of the work developed, to pieces that dispensed with words in favor of a purely visual, often photographic, image.

The following, however divergent from the concrete norm, is by the great American conretist Emmett Williams: a version of The Red Chair (circa 1960) - here set for three voices.

[reads "The Red Chair," page 210]

The last grouping I'll mention is Japanese, & what I'll do here is read the opening paragraph of our introduction to the grouping in Millennium. (The Beats are also included, by the way, but no need to tell you about them; & still other movements are represented by scattered individual poets.)

[reads from "The Arechi Poets & After," page 539, as follows:]

"Against the view - Japanese & Western both - of a traditional Japanese poetry defined by long-established canons of brevity & refinement, the work of post-World War II generations shows an enormity of means & voice that turns the old ways upside down (or seems to), while bringing those ways simultaneously into the present. Less resembling the mode of haiku and tanka (waka) - for those of us who view them from the outside - fthan that of a ghost-ridden poets' theater like the traditional Noh or contemporary Buthoh, their work becomes 'a celebration in darkness which is at once weird and refined, scatalogical and lofty, comic and serious.' (Thus: Yoshioka Minoru, early among the 'postwar' poets.) As with other new poetries, that of Japan's 'postwar' poets moves increasingly toward the demotic (colloquial, everyday), bringing in a range of new - often foreign - vocabularies & imageries, along with a mix of class & gender usages (long separated into discreet social levels) & a 'violation of grammatical norms carried to the point of linguistic rapine' (Roy Andrew Miller). On their literary side - Miller again - the resultant poems display a 'stripping-away of all the customary decorations and embellishments of traditional Japanese poetics' toward a 'naked language' (hadaka no gengo) & 'what may very well be their single most salient structural feature - the great freedom and variety displayed by
the poetic line that they employ.'"

The following are examples, then, of how the Japanese "postwar" could function.

[reads from Takahashi, Shiraishi, et al., pages 541-557]

CONCLUSION. The point of this presentation is retrospective. It is not a point I would have made – or would easily have made - during the period itself. I understood that it was necessary at that time for American poets to make what George Quasha and I called (in our 1970 anthology America a Prophecy) "a declaration of independence" for American poetry. We were speaking then of the ongoing domination & intrusion of British letters and language that had haunted us into the 1950s, but we were aware at the same time that our work if it was to mean, to signify in that special sense, would have to take its place in a "revolution of the word" that had developed as well outside the native shores. We also found - increasingly - that it was possible to join & to make common cause with poets & artists everywhere (not an everywhere which was nowhere but an everywhere made up of many somewheres). If Charles Olson spoke of a "new localism" that would feed our historic & poetic senses, it seems to me now that it is increasingly possible - & necessary - to speak of a new globalism. That this has its own complications is obvious as well, but it also has its own richness & for many of us it has brought a sense of personal & artistic relationships & collaborations that have grown up over the last half century. In light of this it is time (& long past time) to consider the 1950s - the decade of the postwar & the burgeoning cold war – as the time also of a global awakening, & to view (or re-view) the New American Poetry as part of a greater, still more electrifying symposium of the whole.

[The first part of this essay/talk appeared on Poetics & Polemics in the June 5th posting.]

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Victor Hugo, Les Contemplations (1856)


Demain, dès l'aube, à l'heure où blanchit la campagne,
Je partirai. Vois-tu, je sais que tu m'attends.
J'irai par la forêt, j'irai par la montagne.
Je ne puis demeurer loin de toi plus longtemps.

Je marcherai les yeux fixés sur mes pensées,
Sans rien voir au dehors, sans entendre aucun bruit,
Seul, inconnu, le dos courbé, les mains croisées,
Triste, et le jour pour moi sera comme la nuit.

Je ne regarderai ni l'or du soir qui tombe,
Ni les voiles au loin descendant vers Harfleur,
Et quand j'arriverai, je mettrai sur ta tombe
Un bouquet de houx vert et de bruyère en fleur

3 septembre 1847.

Tomorrow, dawn, when the countryside’s almost white
I’ll depart. You see, I know you’re waiting for me.
I will go by the mountains, I’ll go by the woods.
I can’t be faraway from you any more.

I will be walking with my eyes fixed on my thoughts,
Without looking around, without hearing a sound,
Alone and unknown, with back bent, with my hands crossed,
Sad, and the day for me will be like the night.

Then I won’t look at the golden evening, so grave
Nor at the faraway sails veering toward Harfleur
And when I do get there, I will put on your grave
A green holly bouquet and flowering heather.

EDITOR’S NOTE. Bernstein’s translation of Hugo comes in the aftermath of a group reading at the Bowery Poets’ Theater in New York (March 29, 2009), to celebrate the publication of Poems for the Millennium, volume three, as a revisionary mapping of romantic & postromantic poetry. For this Bernstein had selected a striking range of nineteenth-century poems that he dedicated to the memory of his daugher Emma Bee Bernstein: Edward Lear’s limerick “The Old man of Whitehaven”; Baudelaire’s “Be Drunken” (in his own translation); excerpts from Whitman’s ferocious & stunning “Respondez!”; & three poems specifically marked “in memory”: Heine’s “Der Tod, das ist die kühle Nacht” (again in his own translation), the last two stanzas & envoi of Swinburne’s “The Ballad of Burdens,” & William Blake’s “The Sick Rose.”

What struck me then -- & I may even have blurted out something about it -- was the power of poetry as a language of crisis, the way it can sometimes function to channel what Wordsworth called "thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears." I was anyway swept away by Charles’s reading & the choice of poems for the occasion. My own version of language poetry (a term that thrilled me when he & others first introduced it) has always tried to keep things like that in mind, whatever else we do when we live in what I used to call "a state of poetry."

Charles’s reading that evening followed an earlier one by Pierre Joris, in a part of which Pierre, before reading from Hugo’s “The Art of Being a Grandfather,” prefaced it by an accounting of his own ongoing struggle with schoolboy memories of Hugo in the classroom. In the wake of that, the following account from Bernstein of the event that led him to Hugo’s elegiac poem, not only “grim,” as Charles later described it, but incredibly gorgeous:

“After my reading at Cambridge University last month, a French student, who was in the audience, but whom I hadn't met, sent me a very touching email with the Hugo poem -- as if it was an extension of what I had read. As you say, poetry comes into its own in the darkest times (‘In darkness lost, the darkness of the grave’), at times of crisis in the sense of psychic breaks or shock, but not as light but as depth (and perhaps better to say depthlessness), which is one sense of the final line of ‘Intimations of Immortality’ that you quote (‘Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears’).”

And further:

”I have been talking a lot to Norman Fischer about things related, but specifically how poems become sites for mourning -- not in fixed ritual repetitions (prescribed liturgy) but as mobile and specific areas for reflection and projection (‘A place of thought where we in waiting lie’), holding areas (to use a psychoanalytic term), ‘havens’ (asylum or sanctuary). Not words received for comfort but works actively discovered in the course of searching.

”Not to ‘get over’ (as a disease) but as a way of ‘living with’ (as a condition)

”At the BPC, I recited (with faulty memory) Lear's majestic limerick about the man from ‘Whitehaven,’ which I [inadvertently] called "Whitechapel" -- & I wondered why, as if in that poem was another:

There once was an Old Man of Whitechapel
Who forgot that Eve ate an apple
He went looking for heaven but found only a haven
So they tarred that Old Man of Whitechapel

A part of the March reading – by Bernstein & others – can be found on PennSound:

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Heriberto Yépez: Ethopoetics, What Is It? (Part One)

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 7:29 AM 0 comments


In the nineties, I-I began translating Jerome Rothenberg’s poetry and prose and, of course, there I-I found that meaningful word that appears constantly in his work and maybe sums it up: ethnopoetics /// The term is not precise—and there’s no reason for it to be precise—it allows its own rethinking /// One afternoon I-I was working on the translation and I-I kept making a mistake—a typo I-I think Americans call that and I-I like writing “typo” by the way /// Instead of writing etnopoética (ethnopoetics) I-I repeatedly wrote etopoética /// The word was odd and at that time I-I didn’t realized it existed, though in a curious way the mistake meant—at least meant something that afternoon and also means something today—and I-I took it as a clue—and it stuck on my mind for a long time—in my journal I-I made a note: “etopoética, ¿qué es?”—Ethopoetics, what is it?

. . . . . . .


Ethnopoetics has been centered on the techniques on how to produce new kinds of poetry. Its own consciousness of that involves, of course, how to transform the poet, thought that hasn’t been its emphasis and I-I think Rothenberg himself would agree on that.

Some time ago, teaching at the university where I-I work—and I-I don’t teach anymore in a text-based traditional way, but more in a way that I-I can only describe as more on the spot, using ‘academic’ subject matters as pre-texts to invite students to work on themselves inside and outside class, to make books come alive, and without being preoccupied with making products such as ‘books’, ‘ideas’ or ‘works’, all of that driven by Mexican and American dreams of success, career, competition, originality, cleverness, reputation, copyright, control, and all the other things we all know are insane but we keep alive in the same degree that we still depend on them to ‘survive’.

I-I was saying, “some time ago, teaching at the university where I-I work”, I-I started using Foucault’s later work as a perfect excuse to invite ‘theory’-driven students—mostly afraid of their own bodies—to really understand the nature (change) of philosophy. And for that purpose I-I used Foucault’ seminars about the hermeneutics of subjectitivy. (I-I could use some other authors, but I-I’ve found Foucault make things easier. They trust Foucault. I-I use him as a fishhook).

I-I use, let’s say, his discussion on how Greeks philosophers—though in his view mostly post-Socratic—which shows how Aristotelian Foucault still was—taught philosophy and how philosophy meant then a series of techniques to transform the individual so he is able to relate himself to the truth. For example—this is not the place to explain in detail Foucault’s late research—how parrhesia was obtained, that is, how to develop a complete freedom of speech, a capacity to “say everything”, based on the work on oneself, the care of oneself (epimeleia) in order to ABANDON SELF-DECEIPT and thus, boldly speak the truth in a world based on lies, that is, fears. (In spite of Foucault own fears of stating his position more clearly, because he was afraid of leaving ‘academia’, ‘philosophy’, ‘university’ and so he said all of this as if it only was what he found out in “scholarly” ways, in “scientific” ways, not what he personally, as a wise man in becoming, believed, no... Foucault in that sense died afraid of abandoning his past identity as a theoretical French-American post-modern academic and writerly figure. He couldn’t take the ridicule of attempting to overcome himself.

But what he unearthed (again) was how to rethink philosophy not a discourse-based discipline but as something else: the re-making of man. A re-making in which parrhesia for us in the poetics community is a key value, which consists in the cleansing of the mind of false idols and then and only then, producing language in unexpected and not always welcomed ways. Or to explain it a very simple way, how to produce spontaneous truth.

I-I’m not innocent of the resonances I-I’m trying to bring here. Not only in Kerouac’s and Ginsberg’s Buddhist sense but also in earlier visions of what poetry meant (surrealism’s attempts to remove everything that blocked—aesthetics, morals and logic—the subject from understanding reality and also, again, in Situationism, which is mostly a spiritual discipline, though I-t don’t think Debord fully realized that). In Foucault’s take on Greek philosophy—not only based on Pierre Hadot incredible research but also, I-I heavily suspect though Foucault tries to hide it, in non-Western shamanism and Buddhism itself and, of very evidently in Marxism (philosophy defined not as ‘theory’ but as ‘the transformation of the world’) and psychoanalysis—In Foucault’s take on Greek philosophy, I-I was saying, philosophy is anthropoeisis, so called it somehow. Anthropoiesis = the making of man.

Of course, Foucault’s late work (less known still today than this earlier books) resonates with what I-I learnt from Matthai and from reading (enjoying, translating) Rothenberg’s work and with my own personal experiences with counter-psychotherapy, that is, not how to ‘normalize’ individuals but how to learn how to liberate oneself from hegemonic “one”self/constructs and also how to get free from society’s methods of control at all levels, with which we get caught up in the same degree we still (mostly in hidden ways) identify with those control-values, even if (or specially if) we believe we “fight” them.

What I-I am saying in these last words is that I-I have found out that writers, artists and intellectuals start as defectors of control but somehow during the way we generally don’t understood we were supposed to center our work on curing all our lies, fears, and then (or during that process) making our work (written or not), because the aesthetics mostly follows Ethics.

Understanding ethics as self-construction.

And so, without curing ourselves, we are now spreading in different ways the same methods of control that we believe we fight against…

Rimbaud couldn’t manage the forces he himself unleashed. He gave up and became himself a slave(rer).

Baudelaire knew he had to jump into the abyss, but the remained in love of hate.

Artaud didn’t cure himself and so he ended destroying all that was profound in him through drugs, lies, ego, foolish frenzy, fantasies, misogyny and even crazy christianism at the end.

Kerouac had the potential to fulfill his dream of becoming a new kind of sage, but he never got rid of his childish Catholic dream of being a perfect saint for mommy and at the same time a big macho American cowboy-Superman, and so he drown out in alcohol, the only situation at the end in which he fantasized he was a free and open-up Western male.

Kathy Acker knew she had to blow up and in many ways she did, but there’s was a final step she didn’t take. She loved violence too much.

Debord knew all but stuck with paranoia and general control, so he projected all his authoritarian spectacle onto the ‘society’ and couldn’t manage to work on himself to really get ride of everything he rightly accused the world.

Foucault knew in public theory everything he ended up unfulfilling in his spiritual self.

And I-I am naming just a few of those more brave than us!

We idolize them so what’s similar in us is idolized by others.

Writers, thinkers, intellectuals, artists, ¡poets! Need to heal themselves (from themselves) in order to become true visionaries.

We haven’t done that—that’s the only task that completely matters right now.

But what is happening now? In Latin America, in Spain, in Europe, in China, in Japan, in America, in Russia, in everyplace the human mind is afraid of being an animal still evolving—and after the big upheaval we are living a return to the old models of poet as man-of-letters, and ‘artists’ as man-of-walls, though by way of post-modern disguises! Deceit yourselves! Or use all your irony or all your critical theory you can to hide from what you deeply know! Poets have to become knowers.

In this time of total warfare against the planet and humanity—which is not something we own but something we create—aren’t we suppose to lead the path into something beyond this cruel order of despair, poverty and neo-totalitarian control?

Arcaic traditions, from shamanism to Eastern religions, were not perfect or worked at all—we are the inheritors of their collective failures—but they knew the end is not to produce things, but to produce subjects.

All the great poets have known poetry resides beyond writing, but in Modern Western cultures such as ours this knowledge is kept bookish, utopical, dream-like, and romantic, so we can play the game that consists in not fully accepting everything we do is really based on the persecution of truth.

And I-I mean it in two ways, because that’s how (for us) it is.

Poets will be considered in the future only the ambivalent forerunners of now unexpected liberated women and men.

They will understand how afraid we were.
I-I’m not saying there’s something fundamentally wrong with poetry, what I-I’m saying is poetry can always be more!
[Heriberto Yépez is a native of Tijuana, Baja California, who teaches philosophy at the Autonomous University of Baja California (AUBC). His poetry, fiction, & translations, as well as his critical & theoretical writings, are not easily confined within generic boundaries, & his collaborations with other artists & academics reveal an intellecutal & creative fluency in multiple artistic languages. Already a prolific & accomplished author of several books in Spanish (most recently El matasellos and A.B.U.R.T.O, both published by Random House-Mondadori-Sudamericana in Mexico), Yépez’s English work has appeared in American journals such as Chain, Tripwire, Shark, & XCP. His Babellebab: Non-Poetry on the End of Translation was published in the U.S. by Duration Press in 2003, & Wars. Threesomes. Drafts. & Mothers. appeared from Factory School in 2007. A second installment of “Ethopoetics, What Is It?” will appear shortly on Poems & Poetics.]

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Uncollected Poems (9): A Reconsideration

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 7:22 AM 0 comments

& cry out “shit”
like children

dropping to the bottom of a well,
trained to fish for eels

to come up breathless
on the other side
where mothers reach out arms to hold them

“holy days” the simple man proclaims,
the shapeless wanderer
not simple only, he is open

this allows the world to look
into his eyes, to see
a depth there, like a hole in space

the farthest probe of all they call
“deep image,” galaxies condensing
in the perfect poem

* “deep image”: a technical term in astronomy for photographs of the outer limits of the visible universe.

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David Antin: Notes for an Ultimate Prosody (2)

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 6:43 AM 0 comments
"Metrical irregularity" is more normal than exceptional throughout the history of blank verse. Shakespeare provides as good examples as Wordsworth because there is no neat single convention of syllable - stress meter in English. The reason for the very complicated set of options available to poets writing in these meters is that from the start there were two conflicting conventions, one of which was an iso-syllabic convention adapted from Romance practice and the other a quantitative convention adapted to English with the substitution of accent for quantity. This conflict is apparent in the first essay on prosody in the English language ~George Gascoigne's Certain Notes of Instruction Concerning the Making of Verse or Rime in English. It is clear that Gascoigne regards the number of syllables as the measure of the verse: "I say, then, remember to hold the same measure wherewith you begin, whether it be in a verse of six syllables, eight, ten, twelve, etc." At the same time he defends Chaucer's "failure" to observe the syllable count on the grounds that Chaucer's lines are isochronic: "Also our father Chaucer hath used the same liberty in feet and measures that the Latinists do use, whosoever do peruse and well consider his works he shall find that, although his lines are not always of the selfsame number of syllables, yet, being read by one that hath understanding, the longest verse and that which hath most syllables in it will fall to the ear correspondent unto that which hath fewest syllables in it; and like wise that which hath fewest syllables shall be found yet to consist of words that have such a natural sound as may seem equal in length to a verse which hath many more syllables of lighter accents."

The earliest English blank verse was, of course, strictly decasyllabic, as was Gascoigne's own The Steel Glass. But with the adaptation of blank verse to the theater there was no possible significance in the purely page oriented, strict syllabics and the poets on grounds of expedience abandoned it and presumably justified the expedience on grounds of a "Classical" practice in which the "long" and "short" syllables of Greek and Latin were identified with the "accented" and "unaccented" syllables of English, Even Milton, whose blank verse in Paradise Lost is clearly decasyllabic, has lines which can only be resolved by some accent-counting convention.[1] The historical situation resulted in a situation of an illusory blank verse metric; whenever one convention acted as a compositional constraint the other convention provided the loophole. The situation with rhymed verse was essentially the same, except that rhyme is audible and the use of terminal rhyme made the line endings distinctly perceivable. This did not establish "the meter," but it did mark off the stretches of language separated by rhyme as equivalence units regardless of how they may have been varied in duration, accentual weight and so on. Consequently rhyme, as far as the sound structure was concerned, was of far greater importance than meter in the history of English syllable-stress poetry.

If we extend the meaning of rhyme to cover alliteration, it has been of far greater importance than meter throughout the entire history of English poetry.[2] The effect of meter seems to be either visual or moral. Either it is a page image of regularity and pattern, something like capital letters at the beginning of verse lines, or else an imaginary sense of constraint that has allowed certain poets to sleep at night. Given its largely fictitious existence one might wonder why poets felt any need to liberate themselves from it. Why free verse? The reason is more or less obvious. The image of meter invariably refers to other poetry. It is a visual framing effect and places whatever language is set within the frame in a context of "literature." It is not a musical device, it's a sentiment. "Metrical poetry" normally comes in a bundle together with syntactical and lexical habits that are much more effective in establishing the presence of the past, but this is not necessary. Whitman is able to embed the sound of a full-blown "folk song" in the free verse of Lilacs without the appearance of metric:

O how shall I warble myself for the dead one there I loved?
And how shall I deck my song for the large sweet soul that has gone?
And what shall my perfume be for the grave of him I love?

Sea winds blown from east and west,
Blown from the Eastern sea and blown from the Western sea, till there on the prairies meeting,
These and with these and the breath of my chant,
I'll perfume the grave of him I love.

O what shall I hang on the chamber walls?
And what shall the pictures be that I hang on the walls
To adorn the burial house of him I love?

And it's possible, like Auden, to come on as Noel Coward till somebody counts the long and short of the syllables and decides "My God, it's in minor Alcaics!" Which is terribly
chic. And poetry that is not at all scannable may still appear metrical if it is sufficiently conventional in its attitudes. Thus Yvor Winters decided that "Gerontion" was written in "Websterian blank verse." This isn't incorrect, it's nonsense. Neither Eliot nor Webster are scannable in any reasonable way, and to say that in Websterian blank verse "the blank verse norm is feeble" is such a grotesque understatement it sounds like a joke. Anyone who scans "Gerontion's" seventy-some lines and finds a handful scannable -- by applying conflicting analyses of the hypothetical pattern -- is not entitled to write "in defense of reason." All that Winters meant to say was that "Gerontion" sounds like Webster, which is neither accurate nor a prosodic statement. Anyone with a perverse sense of humor or a morbid interest in literary criticism can compare Winters' attack on Eliot in In Defense Of Reason with Harvey Gross's defense in Sound and Form in Modern Poetry. What emerges is the conclusion that the briefest suggestion of scannability is a gravitational center around which prosodists cluster like moths around a light. Eliot is, however, partly responsible for this sort of discussion. It is the kind of inanity he made possible by his 1917 essay on free verse: " . . . the ghost of some simple metre should lurk behind the arras in even the freest verse." When Polonius is summoned he always appears.


1. The idea of a blind man composing poems in a purely page oriented syllabic measure is so unlikely that alternatives ought to be suggested. Either Milton’s blindness was mythical, which doesn’t seem likely, or he was not responsible for the final page arrangement of the poem he dictated, in which case the metric of Paradise Lost was largely due to the editors. This may explain why the irregular lines were never corrected.

2. I am aware that there are a number of very elaborate and ingenious theories of old English versification. but the only one that can count as reasonably "metrical" requires the hypothesis of either musical accompaniment or some special recitation technique which would allow for isochrony, and the evidence for this is slight. The more commonly accepted Five Type Foot Theory worked out by Sievers and subsequently rejected by him may describe fairly accurately the phrasal rhythms of Beowulf, but it is hard to see what that has to do with metrics. As a compositional constraint the theory supposes an immense variety of options. There are really six types of "foot" and numerous loopholes that constitute subspecies. It is not really clear what is excluded by this theory and, if significant Old English phrasal rhythms are excluded by it, and whether this is due to the rhetorical habits of the Beowulf poet or Old English poetry in general. (It is worth pointing out that an observer of chess games might wait a very long time before ever seeing White open by moving his king pawn to king three; it is nevertheless quite legal. Moreover the Sievers theory depends upon the existence of "lines," and there are no lines in Beowulf that were not established by editors. And the lines established by the editors are not satisfactory and require the assumption of numerous "hypermetric lines," which then require still more explanation. It would seem much more economical to assume that there is no "metric" and there are no "lines," that there is a continuum of language punctuated by alliteration, a habit of bipartite phrasing, and perhaps a consistency in placement of the caesura. If we accept the oral formulaic theory of composition for Beowulf there is even less reason to suppose a metric, especially a metric so laughably complicated as Sievers'. It seems extremely unlikely that the theory of Old English meter is based on anything more solid than nineteenth-century expectations.

[Originally published in Stony Brook, number one, December 1968. The first half of this essay appeared in a posting on May 28, 2009.]

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The following poems represent some first thoughts toward a global gathering of works outside the usual literary nexus. I’ll be developing the project – as far as I can take it – with a sense that the term “outsider poetry” can cover a wide range of sources & possibilities, from art brut & mystical/religious poems & offerings to folk & working class poetry, sermons & rants, glossolalia & glossographia, dialect & “nation language” (K. Brathwaite), & so on – works in short both written & oral. Glimmerings of this sort have already appeared in both Technicians of the Sacred & the three volumes (so far) of Poems for the Millennium. For which see also the entry on this blog for August 16, 2008. [J.R.]

recalled by Susan Gray Young (née Barnett), born in Bolton, England, on 1st Feb 1914

As I wur goin down Threakle Street,
To gerra pound o' treacle.
Who does think I met?
Why, none other than me owd pal Mickey Thump.
He sed, "Is tha goin' t' wakes t'neet?
"Well, I thout a bit,
An' I thout a bit,
An' I sed, "I d'n' mind.
"So I went.

Eee, an' it wur a grand wakes,
It wur a grand wakes!
Well, six a clock cum,
And seven a clock cum,
And eight a clock cum.
But no Mickey Thump cum.
So I went whom.

Well, I'd' n' sooner getten me neet shirt on
Wen there wur a reet bangin' at frunt dwur
It wur Mickey's sister, an' she sed
Mickey wur ill, an' wud I cum t' see im.
Well, I thout a bit,
An' I thout a bit,
An' I sed, "I d'n' mind."
So I went.

Eee an' he wur ill,
Eee he wur reet ill.
He looked at me an' sed,
"If I dee, will tha cum t' me funeral?"
Well, I thout a bit,
An' I thout a bit,
An' I sed, "I d'n' mind."
So I went.

An' it wur a funeral,
It wur a grand funeral,
Thur wur sum what laff'd o'er his grave
And sum wot danced o'er his grave,
But I scriked me eyes out o'er grave
Of me owd pal Mickey Thump.

English versions by Anselm Hollo

it’s you puts the green sprig in my hatband
if you should ever leave me
my hat would be a dirty old thing
my heart empty, eyes full of tears
i’d look for green leaves in the woods
but they are the wilting kind
they wouldn’t stay green on my hat
where could i find as good a woman
a wife, as beautiful
i’d burn my caravan, cut off my hair
& trot off to the darkest part of the woods
to sleep there in my black sorrow
weep & sleep, until the white dos comes
to take me back to you

my little stalk of alfalfa
i used to like to laugh a lot
with everyone i met
laugh & play with them
take them by the hand &
pull their little earlobes
then go to the tavern with them
run up some ridiculous tab
until i got bored with the booze
& felt the farts & hiccups coming on

moon shines on the valley
grass sleeps by river
now why don’t you come
sit down with me
& love me a little
as i love you


i’ll rig up a little hammock in the plumtree
for you to swing in, little boy
rain will fall, to wash you
leaves will fall, & cover you
wind will rock you to sleep
goat will come, give you suck
sleep, my boy, my little duck
listen to mama, don’t cry


sleep, baby, your mother’s out reading palms
come night, she’ll be back &
you’ll drink her milk
sleep, little child, sleep
i am your mother’s old mother
& as you now love her friendly nipples
she once loved mine

Versions by Anselm Hollo based on translations made from the original Romany by Katerina Taikon (Sweden) and Leo Tiainen (Finland). With minor revisions by AH, Sept, 1999.



I don't care if you're married, I'll still get you,
I'll get you yet.

I don't care if you're married sixteen times,
I'll get you yet.

When the dance is over, sweetheart,
I will take you home in my one-eyed Ford.


If you really love me honey, hey-yah.
If you really love me honey, hey-yah.
Come back, come back if you really love me honey.

I'm from Oklahoma, far away from my home,
Down here looking for you.
If you'll be my honey, I will be your sugarpie.

I'm from Carnegie, so far away from my home,
Down here looking for you.
If you'll be my snag, I'll be your snag-a-roo.


You know that I love you, sweetheart,
But every time I come around
You always say you got another one.
You know damn good and well that I love you.

To heck with your ole man.
Come up and see me sometime.


She said she don't love me anymore because I drink whiskey,
I don't care, I got a better one.

A popular form of contemporary Indian lyric, "49" songs show up throughout the States "at powwows and other social gatherings, usually late in the evening after other types of dances and songs are completed." The origin of the name has been various explained, in Alan R. Velie's version, as derived from a burlesque show of the 1920s that toured Kiowa country with a California gold rush theme & the repeated refrain, "See the girls of '49, see the '49 girls." Applied to Kiowa women who were singing semitraditional "war-journey songs" with transformed lyrics, the name (so they say) stuck & passed into the pan-Indian culture. "In singing '49' songs" – writes Velie – "the singers chant a nonverbal refrain to an accompanying drum beat. After an extended period of chanting, they sing the short lyric once, either in Kiowa or in English." The words of the present versions are the original English – a good example of how a feeling for the "luminous detail" & for the ironies of language & behavior can be brought into an altered context.

[Kiowa Songs and commentary as published in JR’s Shaking the Pumpkin. Source for the texts: Alan R. Velie, American Indian Literature: An Anthology, University of Oklahoma Press, 1979.]

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Translated by Eliot Weinberger

[From “Poetry and Modernity,” the Tanner Lecture on Human Values, University of Utah, October 18-20, 1989. The complete lecture is available at http://www.tannerlectures.utah.edu/lectures/Paz98.pdf]

The subject I would like to explore — poetry and modernity — is composed of two terms whose relationship to each other is far from clear. The poetry of this fin de siècle is simultaneously a beneficiary of the poetic movements of modernity, from romanticism to the avant-garde, and a repudiation of them. Nor is it obvious what we mean by the word modernity. Its meanings are elusive and changing: the modern is, by its nature, transitory; “contemporary” is a quality that vanishes as soon as we name it.

There are as many modernities and antiquities as there are epochs and societies: the Aztecs were moderns compared to the Olmecs, as Alexander was to Amenophis IV. The “modernist” poetry of Rubén Darío was an antique for the ultraists, and futurism now strikes us more as a relic than an aesthetic. The modern age cannot help but be tomorrow’s antiquity, But for the moment we have to resign ourselves and accept that we live in the modern age, conscious of the fact that the label is both ambivalent and provisional. What does this word modernity mean? When did it begin?

Some believe that it began with the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the discovery of the Americas; others claim that it began with the birth of the nation-states and the institution of banking, the rise of mercantile capitalism, and the creation of the bourgeoisie; others emphasize the scientific and philosophical revolutions of the seventeenth century, without which we would have neither our technology nor our industries. Each of these opinions is partially correct; taken together they form a coherent explanation. For that reason, perhaps, most cultural historians tend to favor the eighteenth century: not only did it inherit these changes and innovations, it also consciously recognized many of those characteristics that we now claim as ours. Was that age a prefiguration of the one we live in today? Yes and no. It would be more precise to say that ours has been the era of the mutilation of the ideas and projects of that great century.

Modernity began as a critique of religion, philosophy, morality, law, history, economics, and politics. Criticism was its most distinctive feature, its birthmark. All that has been the modern age has been the work of criticism, which I take to mean a method of investigation, creation, and action. The principal concepts and ideas of the modern age — progress, evolution, revolution, freedom, democracy, science, technology — were born from that criticism.

In the eighteenth century reason shaped the criticism of the world and of itself, thereby radically transforming classical rationalism and its timeless geometries. A criticism of itself: reason renounced those grandiose constructions called being, good, and truth; it ceased to be the mansion of ideas and became instead a road, a means of exploration. A criticism of metaphysics and of its truths that were impermeable to change: Hume and Kant. A criticism of the world, of the past and present; a criticism of certainties and traditional values; a criticism of institutions and beliefs, the throne and the altar; a criticism of mores, a reflection on passion, sensibility, and sexuality: Jean- Jacques Rousseau, Denis Diderot, Pierre Laclos, the Marquis de Sade; the historical criticism of Edward Gibbon and Montesquieu; the discovery of the other: Chinese, Persians, American Indians; the changes of perspective in astronomy, geography, physics, biology. In the end, a criticism that was incarnated in history: the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the independence movements of the Spanish and Portuguese colonies. (For reasons I have discussed in other writings, the revolutions for independence in Spanish and Portuguese America failed both politically and socially. Our modernity is incomplete or, more exactly, is a historical hybrid.)

It is no accident that these great revolutions, the roots of modern history, were inspired by eighteenth-century thought. It was an age rich with utopias and projects for social reform. It has been said that those utopias are the most disastrous aspect of that legacy. Yet we can neither ignore nor condemn them: although many horrors have been committed in their name, we owe them nearly all the humanitarian acts and dreams of the modern age. The utopias of the eighteenth century were the great ferment that set in motion the history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Utopia is the other face of criticism, and only a critical age could be the inventor of utopias. The empty spaces created by the demolitions of the critical spirit are almost always filled by utopian constructions. Utopias are the dreams of reason. Active dreams that turn into revolutions and reforms. The preeminence of utopias is another characteristic feature of the modern age. Each era may be identified by its vision of time, and in ours the continual presence of revolutionary utopias testifies to the exaggerated regard we have for the future. The past was no better than the present: perfection is not behind us but ahead; it is not an abandoned paradise but a territory we will someday colonize, a city that remains to be built.

Christianity replaced the cyclical vision of time of Greco-Roman antiquity with a time that was linear, successive, and irreversible; one with a beginning and an end, from the Fall of Adam and Eve to the Final Judgment. Alongside this mortal and historical time there was another, supernatural time, invulnerable to death and change: eternity. Thus the only truly decisive moment of terrestrial history was the Redemption: the descent and sacrifice of Christ represents the intersection of eternity and temporality, the successive and moral time of man and the time of the beyond, which neither changes nor moves in succession, forever identical to itself. The modern age began with the criticism of Christian eternity and the appearance of yet another time. On the one hand, the finite time of Christianity, with its beginning and end, became the nearly infinite time of nature’s evolution and of history that remained open to the future. On the other, modernity devalued eternity: perfection was transported to a future that was not in the other world but in this one. In the famous image of G. W. F. Hegel, the rose of reason was crucified in the present. History, he said, is a calvary: the transformation of the Christian mystery into historical action. The road to the absolute passes through time; it is time. Perfection resides in the future and is forever ahead of us. Changes and revolutions are incarnations of the human drive toward the future and its paradises.

The relation between romanticism and modernity is both filial and contentious. Romanticism was the child of the age of criticism, and change prompted its conception and birth and was its distinguishing feature. It was the great change not only in the arts and letters, but also in imagination, sensibility, taste, and ideas. It was a morality, an eroticism, a politics, a way of dressing and a way of loving, a way of living and of dying. A rebellious child, romanticism was a criticism of rational criticism; it replaced successive historical time with a time of origin, before history, and the utopian future with the instantaneous present of the passions, love and the flesh. Romanticism was the great negation of modernity as it had been conceived in the eighteenth century by critical, utopian, and revolutionary reason. But it was a negation that remained within modernity. Only an age of criticism could have produced such a total negation.

Romanticism coexisted with modernity, time after time merging with it only in order to transgress it. These transgressions assumed many forms but only two modes: analogy and irony. I take the first to mean “the vision of the universe as a system of correspondences and the vision of language as a double of the universe." It is a very ancient tradition, reelaborated and transmitted by Renaissance Neoplatonism through various hermetic traditions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Having nourished the philosophical and libertine sects of the eighteenth century, it was recognized by the romantics and their followers through to our own era. It is the central, albeit underground, tradition of modern poetry, from the first romantics to William Butler Yeats, Rainer Maria Rilke, and the surrealists. Simultaneous to this vision of universal correspondence, its enemy-twin appeared: irony. It was the rip in the fabric of analogies, the exception that ruptured the correspondences. If analogy may be conceived as a fan which, unfolded, displays the resemblances between this and that, microcosm and macrocosm, stars, men, and worms, then irony tears the fan to pieces. Irony is the dissonance that disrupts the concert of the correspondences, turning it into cacophony. Irony has many names: it is the anomaly, the deviation, the bizarre, as Baudelaire called it. In a word, it is that great accident: death.

Analogy steeps itself in myth; its essence is rhythm, the cyclical time of appearances and disappearances, deaths and resurrections. Irony is the coming of criticism to the kingdom of imagination and sensibility; its essence is linear time which leads to death — the death of both man and the gods. Twin transgressions: analogy replaces the linear time of history and the canonization of the utopian future with the cyclical time of myth; irony, in turn, sheds mythic time in order to affirm the lapses in contingency, the plurality of gods and myths, the death of God and his creatures. The twin ambiguities of romantic poetry: it was revolutionary, but it occurred alongside, not as part of, the revolutions of the century; at the same time, its spirituality was a transgression of the Christian denominations. The history of modern poetry, from romanticism to symbolism, is the history of various manifestations of the two principles by which it has been composed since its birth: analogy and irony.

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Seymour Faust: Two Poems Recovered

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 7:15 AM 0 comments

[In a conversation the other day with David Antin, the name of Seymour Faust came up, as it often does for us. In the distant days when we were all students at City College in New York, Faust was among our few poet companions – a friendship & close association that lasted till some time around 1960, when he & I broke off for personal reasons that now seem trivial in retrospect. He was certainly present at the time that Antin and I founded Hawk’s Well Press in 1958 & published his Lovely Quarry as the first of a small number of books that I was to continue to publish over the next several years. David kept up some contact, now broken off, but as far as I can remember, I saw Sy only once after that, some time in the late 1960s or early 1970s.

[I was aware however of his later appearance in Cid Corman’s Origin and in Ron Silliman’s Tottels Miscellany (both in the 1970s), but if there was other publication over the intervening years, it went completely past me. It was only in 2004 or 2005 that Silliman cited him on his blog as one of a number of disappeared poets from the 1960s, describing him (wrongly) as “a Brooklyn poet” (he was actually like me from the Bronx) & suggesting (also wrongly) that “Cid [Corman] and I may have been the only people ever to publish him.” There was also some talk about his self-imposed isolation after being scorned by fellow poets as “a hawk on Vietnam,” but I have a feeling that there was far less to that than meets the eye.

[More to the point though was Silliman’s short account of Faust’s actual value as a poet: “The mix between rhetoric & vocabulary here is unique to my experience, yet I don’t believe he ever published a book. … What I have of his … is an echo I can hear in my head to this day, utterly articulate, completely unlike anything – or anyone – else. I’ll never be able to thank [him] enough for all I was given.” To which I can only add my assent and republish as a personal tribute & recollection the following two poems as they appeared in Tottels Miscellany.]


old books
words polished for a hundred years
and put away a thousand
stories polished for a thousand years
odyssey, logia of jesus,, and of kung
how you have been true to us, and false

in this century
how you have been false
how the airplanes have made liars of you
the nuclear piles in the pressure hulls
electromagnetic waves
how you are undercut by the spectroheliograph
the cardiogram
guidance systems and gunnery
how advertising puts you down
and the unions and the powerful
the whole radio audience knows better than him
whom you mislead

how your paradoxes pall
your parables and fables
your modular stories
how your symbols fail
techniques of dialog
points of view

better anything than you
better to strain your eyes on protoplasm
s it flows indistinctly in bright or darkened field
under the lenses of the turret
in the utter silence of concentration
at your cosmic distance
close at hand
to trace the rockflows of the maria
the traces of devastation that radiate
from the circular maria
or film the solar prominences in hydrogen light

better the doctors lifetime
the lifetime of the assyriologist
the searcher of beach terraces of the north
at Denbigh or Krusenstern
or Onion Portage
disinterring flints and cores
already seeing man as something over
or one at work
on the improbable future
the designer of high speed high altitude aircraft
the meteorologist
tracer of clouds
or at opposite poles
the observer at Byrd Station


One real rose
in a glass vase
a cup of concave petals
filled level
to the vermillion ruffle of its surface
the stem makes angles in the water column
the long teardrop shaped

* * *

from the Cairo geniza
from the past
800 different poems
like the stones of a temple scattered
you sing of fields and flocks
the fields clothed in sheep and blades in dew
the farmers and the herdsmans world
as in those days they did
you were
you do emerge
from the empty spaces
the blank areas of the past
what shall we learn
what was going on
what shall we know of you

* * *

it changes lane
on the interstate
citybound on the right
southbound therefore
over 60
lights on
on its new suspension
reflections on the chrome wch frames its lights
or traveling
across its curving windshield glass
as good
and no better
as it has to be
as is desirable lets say
(all things considered)
in such things

* * *

names of categories
thin orange and fine orange wares
a series going back to crude beginnings
diversified diachronically
vessels with rattles in their feet
or figures moulded on them
with whistles and pictures
or portrait vases
or vessels for the interment of a child

* * *

or read Su
or anyone
and translated thru the mists
see the past emerge
the trees and plants take place
on the space of earth
the rounded boulders
the office-holder
riding thru snow
is seen by the suffering of the villagers
he offers what he can

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Paper delivered at "American Poetry in the 1950s": University of Maine, Orono June 1996

MY FIRST PUBLISHED BOOK came in 1959 - on the cusp between the 1950s and the 1960s - & took me (almost by surprise) into the center of what had by then emerged as the New American Poetry (a year before its being named that in the great Don Allen anthology of 1960). That book of mine was called New Young German Poets and was a work of translation; the publisher was City Lights (thru Lawrence Ferlinghetti) and the imprint was as number 11 in the Pocket Poets Series, of which Ferlinghetti's Pictures of the Gone World was number one & Allen Ginsberg's Howl & Other Poems was number four. (That Kenneth Rexroth's Thirty Spanish Poems of Love & Exile was number two and Ferlinghetti's translation of Jacques Prévert's Paroles was number nine should also be remembered toward the narrative that follows.)

That decade for me - for most of us, I imagine - had started out differently. In 1950 I was still a student, with David Antin & others, in New York's City College, and it was from there that I watched the war return to us in Korea, & with it the early repressions of the Cold War in its McCarthyite manifestations. I had declared myself a poet a few years before that - a kid's reaction or assertion of some degree of otherness against the years of war (world war) & holocaust that accompanied the early childhood. What I found most thrilling – most needed – at the start was the work / the language of those poets who could lead me into acts of othering. Stein came early in that sense - as did Joyce & Cummings; or on another level, Dalí (in his writings too) and the rumored Dadaists, whose works we wouldn't read for another year or two but who we heard had written poems that did away with words. Williams and Pound came about the same time & carried Whitman in their wake. And we also read The Waste Land. What college did - but not to me alone - was to inculcate the sense that most of that was dead. That was the going wisdom then, & largely in the name of Eliot, whom Williams called - & rightly in that sense - "the great disaster to our letters." The result - postmodern, after modern in the worst sense - was to throw us into a condition of what [my first poetry teacher] Delmore Schwartz then called "picking up again the meters" and continuing "the revolution in poetic taste which was inspired by the criticism of T.S. Eliot," or elsewhere: "the poetic idiom and literary taste of the generation of Pound and Eliot." As an example of that "revolution" he cited the following from W.D. Snodgrass:

The green catalpa tree has turned
All white; the cherrry blooms once more.
In one whole year I haven't learned
A blessed thing they pay you for

- at which David Antin looked back (circa 1972) and commented: "The comparison of this updated version of A Shropshire Lad ... and the poetry of the Cantos and The Waste Land seems so aberrant as to verge on the pathological."

It was this, then, or something roughly equivalent to this that was being hammered home to us in our late teens & early twenties, & it followed me in 1952 when I went to the University of Michigan for a year of graduate study & draft evasion, most notably in the intelligent "new criticism" of Austin Warren & others that nearly spun my head around. I found myself there - curiously - as a lone defender of Walt Whitman, watching as Warren tried and failed to cope with both Whitman's monumental verse lines & his equally monumental stance-toward-reality. Against which the principal relief - along with Pound & Williams and a few of the other American rejects we still knew (Stein & Cummings certainly) – came through the works (translated or not) of a number of European poets and near- avantgardists: Rimbaud, Lorca, Mayakovsky, Rilke, Apollinaire [& so on] early in the decade, others (along with other American forerunners) as the decade swung around. It was at Michigan too that I came to my own discovery of Blake and Christopher Smart (I wrote my master's thesis on Smart's rhyming "hymns" while loving most his Jubilate Agno), & it was there that I discovered - in library stacks divorced from literature or poetry - the poetries of Africa & the Indian Americas that would reemerge for me well into the 1960s.

What I was unaware of - what we were unaware of where I roamed - was the widespread unrest within our generation & the ways in which the turnaround was getting under way - both in the States & elsewhere. My own way then went through two years in the army - most of it spent in (dreaded) Germany - & a return to New York & a company of friends (Antin, Kelly, Schwerner, others by the later 1950s), with whom it was possible to shape a mutual deliverance. The breakthrough, when it came, was a return at first to the ideas of poetry that the early years had nearly driven out of us. For me this had the sense of a renaissance, the rebirth or reawakening of a radical modernism that was not only rooted in the U.S. (out of Whitman) but had gone still further elsewhere - into shapes & forms (of mind as well as measure) that were the starters for a work that we would carry forward.

What finally brought me over the edge - along with the sense of an ever increasing company of poets & others in a circle-of- companions - was the work on New Young German Poets. (I had also, with Robert Kelly chiefly, coined the term & elaborated the practice of "deep image," a term that would later be associated with the considerably different practice of Robert Bly, another companion from that time.) The offer from Ferlinghetti to look into the "new" postwar German poets followed on what was in fact my first publication: a set of rhymed translations from the 1920s poet and novelist (cabaret poet, as I made him out to be) Erich Kästner, one of which (for the record) ran like this:



For those who weren't born, it's all the same.
They perch upon some tree in Space and smile.
Myself, I never thought of it, I came,
A nine-months child.

I spent the best part of my life in school,
Cramming my brain till I forgot each word.
I grew into a highly polished, model fool.
How did it happen? I really never heard.

The war came next (it cut off our vacation).
I trotted with the field artillery now.
We bled the world to ease its circulation.
I kept on living. Please don't ask me how.

Inflation then, and Leipzig, and a whirl
Of Kant and Gothic and Bureaucracy,
Of art and politics and pretty girls,
And Sundays it was raining steadily.

At present I am roughly 31
And run a little poem factory.
Alas, the greying of my hair's begun.
My friends are growing fat remorselessly.

I plop between two chairs, if that's appealing,
Or else I saw the bough on which we sit.
I wander down the garden-walks of feeling
(When feelings die) and plant them with my wit.

I drag my bags around despite the pain.
The bags expand. My shoulders grow unsure.
In retrospect, permit me to explain:
That I was born. And came. And still endure.

The work was printed under my full name - Jerome Dennis Rothenberg - in the winter 1957 issue of The Hudson Review (!) & brought a letter shortly thereafter from Ferlinghetti, asking if I wanted to take a crack at a German postwar project, about which he (like me!) knew very little. The search that followed coincided with the reclaiming of my own work & life after the actual working on the Kästner poems in 1955 and '56.

New Young German Poets allowed me to be the first to publish a number of poems by Paul Celan in English versions, as well as the (probably) first English translations of poets like Günter Grass, Helmut Heissenbüttel, Ingeborg Bachmann, and Hans Magnus Enzensberger. (I also translated but didn't include two poems by Rainer Maria Gerhardt, the young poet to whom Olson dedicated - as "funeral poem" - "The Death of Europe.") In the act of translating I came to discover the existence of writings - of modes of poetry - that opened possibilities that were both like and different from the new poetry & poetics emerging in the U.S. (That every move I made added to my own resources as a writer was - how could it not be? - the still greater bonus.) Of the poets I then translated, Celan (early Celan, let me point out) was the most overwhelming, with the more "experimental" Heissenbuttel (for me, then) almost as important for the sense he gave me of new ways of form and language. Here, because I can't resist, are two examples:

[reads "Shibboleth" (Celan) and "Combination II" (Heissenbuttel)]

With the postwar German poets as my particular way in, the 1950s (as I came to them) were otherwise a time in which I got to know (& reassess by knowing) the work of both the earlier experimental modernists & those who were, like those I knew at home, opening (to use a World War II expression) a second front for modernism. Robert Motherwell's Dada Painters & Poets, which had been there since 1951, was in its way as important for me - for us - as the Allen anthology might be a few years later. So too was the pervasive presence - in New York surely – of already visible and active avant-gardes in painting and music (both jazz and "new"), which created a viable alternative before the Beats & others made it still clearer in their acts of poetry. It was with this as a backdrop that Don Allen, when he came to make his statement for the "new American poetry" of the 1950s, placed it side by side as a revitalized form of modernism with "abstract expressionism" and jazz In doing this he made what was a wonderful & far-reaching assertion of a new American hegemony in the arts, saying of it on its poetry side: "This anthology makes the ... claim [that] the new American poetry [is] now becoming the dominant movement in the second phase of our twentieth-century literature and already exerting strong influence abroad." (That it was the Beat poets who were the leading wedge in this - rather than some others we might more have favored - is a point worth noting.)

My own take on these matters was different then & came to be still more different over the intervening years. While recognizing & participating in what was a crucial American moment, I saw what was happening in American poetry as part of a larger global manifestation, some of it (as I came to know later) occuring before or certainly apart from the American influence as such. It was for these reasons (& from an over-emphasis of my role as a translator) that Donald Allen, in what may have been our only correspondence at the time, pinpointed me as a proponent of what he called, if I remember it correctly, the international style of poetry. In this, but in a way far different from how that term has since been used, I would like to think that he was absolutely right.

[The second part of this presentation -- as a kind of bird's eye view of volume 2 of Poems for the Millennium will appear a few postings from now.]

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I’m reprinting the poem that follows in celebration of the birthday of the great Japanese novelist & activist Makoto Oda (June 2, 1932 - July 30, 2007). In 2002 I was invited, along with many others, to celebrate his “koki” or 70th birthday, a traditional event in Japanese culture. He had been known to me as a tireless fighter for human rights & against all forms of cruelty & repression perpetrated in the service of nation & creed. We met often & performed together on a number of occasions, & in 2004 he commissioned me to write a poem for a special issue of the magazine Subaru that he was editing as a commemoration of Japanese culpability in the Nanking massacre of 1937. My response appeared later in my own China Notes, published in Japan & Canada by Ahadada Books, but I want to post it here as well, along with a part of my birthday greeting from 2002 & from a later letter dated May 12, 2007, while he was still pursuing the cause of universal freedom (more specifically in this instance: a tribunal condemning autocratic repressions in the Philipines) after announcing his own impending death.

for Makoto Oda

an army on the prowl:
reality that never ceases
opening to sights of war
& murder
not the distant flowers
but the sword brought down
a thousand times a thousand
muscle against muscle
flesh pressed onto flesh
pressed onto steel
the eyes of those who watch
turning aside
cars driving over bodies
of the dead
nailed onto school doors
wooden boards
stripped naked
tiny needles scribing letters
on their skin
burned corpses left along
the Yangtze’s banks
fierce competition
of the junior officers
to see who kills
the most - the schoolgirl
turning from the soldier
pressing into her
the women raped & murdered
changed to pigs
their breasts cut off
a dark brown hole
remaining - wooden splinters
shoved up
all their orifices
children’s bodies
bayoneted - turns them into
dolls not babes
before the fire reaches them
the fire leaps across
the eyes bear witness
fix the dead in place
the morning’s headlines
nailed like teeth
into the open wound
the burnt flesh oozing light
the blood turned into
ash & amber
histories we sit & read
in outrage at the god
of tortures -pleasures
born from pain
the witness sees the bodies
heaped up
on the Chinese street
& years beyond
the memories are growing dim
(she writes)
but never lost
for those who watched it
saw the young girls die
& unextinguished
blinded -puts a gun
into her mouth
a stark reminder
trades her life
for theirs
. . . . . . .


Dear Makoto –

It is a great pleasure to have you join us in this curious age into which Diane and I entered a few months ago. This makes us almost onaidoshi [ceremonial age-mates] – a word that Ito Hiromi just taught us – Diane born in 1932 like you, and I at the end of 1931. In the last ten years we have come to consider you among our true good friends. More than that we think of you as one of the poets who has put his writings and his language at the service of all who dream and work for peace and freedom in a world of wars and cruel repressions. I remember most vividly standing with you in a field in Vermont and reading poems in memory of the double holocausts of Auschwitz and Hiroshima. I embraced you then and will embrace you every time we meet.

. . . . . . .

FOR ODA MAKOTO (May 12, 2007)

Dear friend Makoto ---

I received -- yesterday -- a packet of writings from Nara [Oda’s daughter], and once again I have to thank you for opening my eyes and ears to matters in the world of which I was hardly aware before this. Knowing about it now I will try, as far as I can, to inform others, in the hope that something may yet be done to bring these injustices to an end. (I have also checked out the tribunal proceedings on the internet and can make use of what I found there.) My comrade-in-arms Pierre Joris will get some of it onto his Nomadics blog and I will try to find some other openings as well.

But you know of course that I'm writing you mostly in response to the other part of your letter. I had already heard something about it a few days ago, when Hiromi Ito told me that she had read it in one of the Japanese newspapers. Her report to us was only about your grave illness, not about your strong statement (once again) in the defense of human rights and against the tyranny of the powerful and privileged (and immeasurably cruel). Reading it now as a whole I felt again the great respect and even the love I've had for you, from as far back as our first meetings. I can accept with great sadness your assessment that your days are numbered while hoping that the numbers may be larger than what you indicate and that you'll be able to continue the work that you alone can do.

Diane shares all of this with me and joins me in reaching out to you and to Sune and Nara as well. Your words give us courage, to believe that it is possible to live a good life down to the end -- "to stay well," as you write, and to do well "as long as we are alive."

With love to you,
to all of you,
from both of us,


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