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.]

0 Response to 'Poetry In The 1950s As A Global Awakening: A Recollection & Reconstruction, Part One: My Life in America'

Post a Comment

Tattoos Picture Page 1 Tattoos Picture Page 2 Tattoos Picture Page 3 Tattoos Picture Page 4 Tattoos Picture Page 5 Tattoos Picture Page 6 Tattoos Picture Page 7 Tattoos Picture Page 8 Tattoos Picture Page 9 Tattoos Picture Page 10 Tattoos Picture Page 11 Tattoos Picture Page 12 Tattoos Picture Page 13 Tattoos Picture Page 14 Tattoos Picture Page 15 Tattoos Picture Page 16 Tattoos Picture Page 17 Tattoos Picture Page 18 Tattoos Picture Page 19 Tattoos Picture Page 20 Tattoos Picture Page 21 Tattoos Picture Page 22 Tattoos Picture Page 23 Tattoos Picture Page 24 Tattoos Picture Page 25 Tattoos Picture Page 26 Tattoos Picture Page 27 Tattoos Picture Page 28 Tattoos Picture Page 29 Tattoos Picture Page 30 Tattoos Picture Page 31 Tattoos Picture Page 32 Tattoos Picture Page 33 Tattoos Picture Page 34 Tattoos Picture Page 35 Tattoos Picture Page 36 Tattoos Picture Page 37 Tattoos Picture Page 38 Tattoos Picture Page 39 Tattoos Picture Page 40 Tattoos Picture Page 41 Tattoos Picture Page 42 Tattoos Picture Page 43 Tattoos Picture Page 44 Tattoos Picture Page 45 Tattoos Picture Page 46 Tattoos Picture Page 47 Tattoos Picture Page 48 Tattoos Picture Page 49 Tattoos Picture Page 50 Tattoos Picture Page 51 Tattoos Picture Page 52 Tattoos Picture Page 53 Tattoos Picture Page 54 Tattoos Picture Page 55 Tattoos Picture Page 56 Tattoos Picture Page 57 Tattoos Picture Page 58 Tattoos Picture Page 59 Tattoos Picture Page 60 Tattoos Picture Page 61 Tattoos Picture Page 62 Tattoos Picture Page 63 Tattoos Picture Page 64 Tattoos Picture Page 65 Tattoos Picture Page 66 Tattoos Picture Page 67 Tattoos Picture Page 68 Tattoos Picture Page 69 Tattoos Picture Page 70 Tattoos Picture Page 71 Tattoos Picture Page 72 Tattoos Picture Page 73 Tattoos Picture Page 74 Tattoos Picture Page 75 Tattoos Picture Page 76 Tattoos Picture Page 77 Tattoos Picture Page 78 Tattoos Picture Page 79 Tattoos Picture Page 80 Tattoos Picture Page 81 Tattoos Picture Page 82 Tattoos Picture Page 83 Tattoos Picture Page 84 Tattoos Picture Page 85 Tattoos Picture Page 86 Tattoos Picture Page 87 Tattoos Picture Page 88 Tattoos Picture Page 89 Tattoos Picture Page 90 Tattoos Picture Page 91 Tattoos Picture Page 92 Tattoos Picture Page 93 Tattoos Picture Page 94 Tattoos Picture Page 95 Tattoos Picture Page 96 Tattoos Picture Page 97 Tattoos Picture Page 98 Tattoos Picture Page 99 Tattoos Picture Page 100 Tattoos Picture Page 101 Tattoos Picture Page 102 Tattoos Picture Page 103 Tattoos Picture Page 104 Tattoos Picture Page 105 Tattoos Picture Page 106 Tattoos Picture Page 107 Tattoos Picture Page 108 Tattoos Picture Page 109 Tattoos Picture Page 110 Tattoos Picture Page 111 Tattoos Picture Page 112 Tattoos Picture Page 113 Tattoos Picture Page 114 Tattoos Picture Page 115 Tattoos Picture Page 116 Tattoos Picture Page 117 Tattoos Picture Page 118 Tattoos Picture Page 119 Tattoos Picture Page 120 Luxury Villa and Home Page 1 Luxury Villa and Home Page 2 Luxury Villa and Home Page 3 Luxury Villa and Home Page 4 Luxury Villa and Home Page 5 Luxury Villa and Home Page 6 Luxury Villa and Home Page 7 Luxury Villa and Home Page 8 Luxury Villa and Home Page 9 Luxury Villa and Home Page 10 Luxury Villa and Home Page 11 Luxury Villa and Home Page 12 Luxury Villa and Home Page 13 Luxury Villa and Home Page 14 Luxury Villa and Home Page 15 Luxury Villa and Home Page 16 Luxury Villa and Home Page 17 Luxury Villa and Home Page 18 Luxury Villa and Home Page 19 Luxury Villa and Home Page 20 Luxury Villa and Home Page 21 Luxury Villa and Home Page 22 Luxury Villa and Home Page 23 Luxury Villa and Home Page 24 Luxury Villa and Home Page 25 Luxury Villa and Home Page 26 Luxury Villa and Home Page 27 Luxury Villa and Home Page 28 Luxury Villa and Home Page 29 Luxury Villa and Home Page 30 Luxury Villa and Home Page 31 Luxury Villa and Home Page 32 Luxury Villa and Home Page 33 Luxury Villa and Home Page 34 Luxury Villa and Home Page 35 Luxury Villa and Home Page 36 Luxury Villa and Home Page 37 Luxury Villa and Home Page 38 Luxury Villa and Home Page 39 Luxury Villa and Home Page 40 Luxury Villa and Home Page 41 Luxury Villa and Home Page 42 Luxury Villa and Home Page 43 Luxury Villa and Home Page 44 Luxury Villa and Home Page 45 Luxury Villa and Home Page 46 Luxury Villa and Home Page 47 Luxury Villa and Home Page 48 Luxury Villa and Home Page 49 Luxury Villa and Home Page 50 Luxury Villa and Home Page 51 Luxury Villa and Home Page 52 Luxury Villa and Home Page 53 Luxury Villa and Home Page 54 Luxury Villa and Home Page 55 Luxury Villa and Home Page 56 Luxury Villa and Home Page 57 Luxury Villa and Home Page 58 Luxury Villa and Home Page 59 Luxury Villa and Home Page 60 Luxury Villa and Home Page 61 Luxury Villa and Home Page 62 Luxury Villa and Home Page 63 Luxury Villa and Home Page 64 Luxury Villa and Home Page 65 Luxury Villa and Home Page 66 Luxury Villa and Home Page 67 Luxury Villa and Home Page 68 Luxury Villa and Home Page 69 Luxury Villa and Home Page 70 Luxury Villa and Home Page 71 Luxury Villa and Home Page 72 Luxury Villa and Home Page 73 Luxury Villa and Home Page 74 Luxury Villa and Home Page 75 Luxury Villa and Home Page 76 Luxury Villa and Home Page 77 Luxury Villa and Home Page 78 Luxury Villa and Home Page 79 Luxury Villa and Home Page 80 Luxury Villa and Home Page 81 Luxury Villa and Home Page 82 Luxury Villa and Home Page 83 Luxury Villa and Home Page 84 Luxury Villa and Home Page 85 Luxury Villa and Home Page 86 Luxury Villa and Home Page 87 Luxury Villa and Home Page 88 Luxury Villa and Home Page 89 Luxury Villa and Home Page 90 Luxury Villa and Home Page 91 Luxury Villa and Home Page 92 Luxury Villa and Home Page 93 Luxury Villa and Home Page 94 Luxury Villa and Home Page 95 Luxury Villa and Home Page 96 Luxury Villa and Home Page 97 Luxury Villa and Home Page 98 Luxury Villa and Home Page 99 Famous People Page 1 Famous People Page 2 Famous People Page 3 Famous People Page 4 Famous People Page 5 Famous People Page 6 Famous People Page 7 Famous People Page 8 Famous People Page 9 Famous People Page 10 Famous People Page 11 Famous People Page 12 Famous People Page 13 Famous People Page 14 Famous People Page 15 Famous People Page 16 Famous People Page 17 Famous People Page 18 Famous People Page 19 Famous People Page 20 Famous People Page 21 Famous People Page 22 Famous People Page 23 Famous People Page 24 Famous People Page 25 Famous People Page 26 Famous People Page 27 Famous People Page 28 Famous People Page 29 Famous People Page 30 Famous People Page 31 Famous People Page 32 Famous People Page 33 Famous People Page 34 Famous People Page 35 Famous People Page 36 Famous People Page 37 Famous People Page 38 Famous People Page 39 Famous People Page 40 Famous People Page 41 Famous People Page 42 Famous People Page 43 Famous People Page 44 Famous People Page 45 Famous People Page 46 Famous People Page 47 Famous People Page 48 Famous People Page 49 Famous People Page 50 Famous People Page 51 Famous People Page 52 Famous People Page 53 Famous People Page 54 Famous People Page 55 Famous People Page 56 Famous People Page 57 Famous People Page 58 Famous People Page 59 Famous People Page 60 Famous People Page 61 Famous People Page 62 Famous People Page 63 Famous People Page 64 Famous People Page 65 Famous People Page 66 Famous People Page 67 Famous People Page 68 Famous People Page 69 Famous People Page 70 Famous People Page 71 Famous People Page 72 Famous People Page 73 Famous People Page 74 Famous People Page 75 Famous People Page 76 Famous People Page 77 Famous People Page 78 Famous People Page 79 Famous People Page 80 Famous People Page 81 Famous People Page 82 Famous People Page 83 Famous People Page 84 Famous People Page 85 Famous People Page 86 Famous People Page 87 Famous People Page 88 Famous People Page 89 Famous People Page 90 Famous People Page 91 Famous People Page 92 Famous People Page 93 Famous People Page 94 Famous People Page 95 Famous People Page 96 Famous People Page 97 Famous People Page 98 Famous People Page 99 Famous People Page 100 Famous People Page 101 Famous People Page 102 Famous People Page 103 Famous People Page 104 Famous People Page 105 Famous People Page 106 Famous People Page 107 Famous People Page 108 Famous People Page 109 Famous People Page 110 Famous People Page 111 Famous People Page 112 Famous People Page 113 Famous People Page 114 Famous People Page 115 Famous People Page 116 Famous People Page 117 Famous People Page 118 Famous People Page 119 Famous People Page 120