I open the door as I came in,

A pinion favour for to win;

Whether I rise, stand, or fall,

I'll do my duty to please you all.

Room, room, brave gallants;

Room, room, I intend to shew,

See how these pretty actors go,

Acting well, or acting pale.

And if you can't believe me what I say,

Step in, St. Gay, and clear a way.

[Enter ST. GAY.]

St. Gay

Here am I, St. Gay;

St. Gay it is my name;

From England's ground I sprung and came;

I'll search the nations round and round,

If I can but find King George

I'll give thousand pound.


King George is here,

He's ready at hand.

I'll fetch him in at thy command;

And if you can't believe me what I say,

Step in, King George, and clear a way.


King George.

The dew drops from yonder mountains high!

I've been in search of my enemy,

And, now I've found him, my sword shall end his life!

St. Gay.

I'm afraid l am a stranger,

Exposed all in danger,

Two balls from yonder mountain have laid me quite low.

Enter in that noble soldier bold,

Before King George does strike me cold.

{Enter SOLDIER.}


Forbear, King George, a few minutes!

Look down with pity on him;

Thou shalt not wrong him!

King George.

Who art thou?


A noble soldier bold,

And Slasher is my name!

With a sword and buckler by my side

I hope to win this game;

And if this game should do me good,

I'll draw my sword and draw thy blood.

King George.

O thou hasher, thou slasher,

How canst thou talk so hot?

When there's one in this room

Thou little think'st thou hast got,

Who will hash thee and slash thee,

As I told thee once before.


O thou hasher, thou slasher,

How canst thou talk so hot?

My hands are made of iron,

My body's made of steel,

My head is made of beaten-brass;

No man can make me feel.

King George.

Here stands King George,

One of the noble deeds of valour;

In a close escape have I been kept,

And out of that into a prison leapt;

Many a giant I did subdue,

When I run the fiery dragon through.

'Twas me who slew the dragon,

And brought him to the slaughter,

And won the King of Egypt's daughter.


Get on, King George, it shall be so,

The warmest battle that ever was know!

{King George and Soldier fight; Soldier tumbles down and dies.}

{Enter DOCTOR.}



Here am I, doctor so good,

And with my hand I clear his blood;

I carry him some pill

To cure all diseases,

Take my word just as it pleases.

St. Gay.

How far bast thou travelled, noble doctor?


The pie place, the bread and cheese cupboard.

St. Gay.

Any further?


O, yes; through Italy, Pittaly,

And all the towns that you can name,

Now returned to old England again,

To heal this man that here lies lame.

O I have got a little bottle in my waistcoat pocket,

Called hokum smokum clicampane,

Fetch any dead man to life again!

Here, Jack, take a bit of my nip-nap,

Ram it down, hey tip-tap:

Rise up, Jack, and fight again.


O how horrible, cut horrible,

The like was never seen,

A man frighten'd out of seven senses into seventeen,

And out of seventeen into seven score!

The like was never seen, and never done before;

And if you can't believe me what I say,

Step in, Black Prince, and clear away.

{Enter Black Prince.}

Bl. Prince

Here am I, Black Prince,

-Black Prince of Paradise, black Morocco king;

Through all those woods and graves I range through,

I make the earth to ring!

It was me who slew those seven Turks.

Although King George I do not fear,

But from his body to his heart

I'll run my dreadful spear!

I'll jam his giblets full of holes,

And in those holes put pebble stones!

King George.

Thou jam my giblets full of holes,

And in those holes put pebble stones!

Although thou art a champion's squire,I

t does not lie in thy power!

Bl. Prince.

Let me be a champion's squire, or what I will,

I'll do my best thou for to kill!


Get on, Black Prince, it shall be so,

The sorest battle that ever was know;

The clock struck one,

And the hour is gone,

And this sorest battle must go on!


Put up those swords, and be at rest,

Peace and quietness is the best!

And if you can't believe me what I say,

Enter in, owld Beelzebub, and clear a way.

{Enter BEELZEBUB; bell rings all through this part.}


In comes one that never came yet,

A big head and little wit;

Althoagh my wit it is so small,

I've got enough to serve you all.

Ah! ah! funny,

All these fine things and no money.

My name is called owld Beelzebub,

And over my left shoulder I carry a club,

And in my right hand a small dripping-pan,

So I think myself a jolly old man!

A duck-skin hairy budget

Tied fast upon my back;

A snuff-box in my pocket,

As large as you may suppose,

As large as any owld turnip,

All for to view my own nose;

With a rink a tink,

And a sup more drink,

And I'll make your old kettle cry sound!


[Extract from Halliwell's nineteenth-century Preface: "The present piece is a copy of a Christmas play performed by the mummers of Derbyshire, obtained from oral tradition in that county. Numerous versions of this rural drama are used in the north of England, and it were to be wished that they were all collected and published. The present one, although curious, is replete with strange corruptions, King George occupying the place of the Saint, and Guy being introduced as 8t. Gay, an addition to the calendar not noticed elsewhere. Beelzebub is here a genuine descendant of the ancient Vice, and there can be but little doubt that the whole performance, though it has doubtlessly undergone great alteration, is a traditional version of an early mystery."]

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When I first came across Tricky Cad, Jess's ferocious cut-up/collage from the old & very popular Dick Tracy comic strip, I spoke to him about making it a part of of a small (16 page) book that we intended to publish by the cheapest means then available. He called the book O! & filled it with it with mostly Victorian & photo-inspired collages, plus his own handwritten & handtyped poems in the manner, I thought, of Christian Morgenstern, whom he was also then translating. The deconstructed comic strips brought the book into the proto-pop world, of which we were still hardly aware, & served I thought as a perfect centerfold (albeit in black & white) for the book we were planning. When O! was nearly done & ready to pass along to the offset printer, Jess raised the sometimes dicey question of permissions. His secret wish, he said, was to make contact with Dick Tracy's creator Chester Gould, who was one of his longtime heroes, & this would give him a chance to do so. I gave him the go-ahead, only to hear a few weeks later that Gould had not only denied permission but had threatened to sue all of us, if I remember it correctly, for every cent we had. There was a lesson in all of that, but in the face of Gould’s threats, which he could afford better than we could, the only choice we had was to retreat. Jess therefore constructed a marvelous comic-style centerfold, “That Sly Old Gobbler or the Orange,” carrying forward the Victorian imagery, and it took a legal/judicial change in the status of parody & appropriation before Tricky Cad was finally – & safely – published. For myself the present posting presents my first chance to join in celebrating Jess’s masterwork, though a full reproduction of O! (in the non-Tricky Cad version) appears in A Book of the Book, edited a few years ago with Steven Clay. (J.R.)

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[This groundbreaking & highly influential essay (including an accompanying selection of poem-songs) was first published in Perspectives USA (1956). It was reprinted in Assays (New Directions, 1961) & again in Ken Knabb’s Bureau of Public Secrets. Rexroth’s selection of Dennsmore’s translations will appear in two subsequent postings. (Copyright © 1961 by Kenneth Rexroth, used courtesy of the Kenneth Rexroth Trust.) I reprint it here as a homage both to Rexroth & to Densmore. - J.R.]

In all the public and academic libraries in America and in most of the principal libraries of the world, off in a corner somewhere or in a seldom entered room, you can find a good many square feet of bookshelves lined with the olive-green publications of the Bureau of American Ethnology, a department of the Smithsonian Institution. There are forty-seven annual reports, from 1881 to 1932, royal octavo volumes lavishly illustrated, averaging around eight hundred pages each. After the forty-seventh report, the ethnological and anthropological material has been published separately. There are about one hundred and fifty bulletins in octavo; these run from thirty-two to one thousand pages, and include the annual anthropological papers — about ten articles to each volume — published each year since the forty-seventh annual report. Besides this there have been a couple of hundred other miscellaneous publications.

This is the largest body of anthropological literature ever published by one institution, private or public. Although it is readily available to every American citizen in his nearby library and at least to every inhabitant of a national capital elsewhere, it is little known and less read — even by anthropologists. This is not due to the quality of its scientific writing. Many of America’s major anthropologists are included, often with their greatest works.

Every aspect of American Indian life and much major archaeological-exploration data can he found somewhere in the publications. Many of the monographs in the annual reports are larger than most books. Many of them treat aspects of Indian life now perished past recall. There are classic treatments of the life and culture of a whole tribe, like Paul Radin’s Winnebago, which takes up all the thirty-seventh annual report, and short essays on Indian crafts and ceremonies and detailed, comprehensively illustrated reports of archeological excavations. For instance, over the years an accumulation of papers on the ethnobotany of various tribes has covered the entire useful native flora of North America. Again, the twenty-first annual report contains sixty-three color plates of Hopi Katchinas, the dance masks and costumes which represent the demigods of Pueblo religion. These were all drawn by native artists just at the end of the nineteenth century. They are the first examples of Pueblo Indian painting and are still the best. Inspired by this first assignment, a whole school of Pueblo Indian painting has grown up and is today very popular in America and is shown periodically in the major art galleries of the country. The modern painting is more sophisticated and superficially more decorative, but none of it compares with the freshness and immediacy of these first examples.

Among the bulletins there are a number of handbooks — American Indians North of Mexico, edited by Frederick Webb Hodge; succeeded by Indian Tribes of North America, edited by J.R. Swanton; American Indian Languages, by Franz Boas; California Indians, by A.L. Kroeber; and now, completed only recently, the monumental Handbook of South American Indians, in six fat volumes, edited by Julian H. Steward. In addition to all this there are a large number of texts and translations of Indian oral literature — myths, legends, lengthy ceremonies and songs.
Most of the songs, both text and music, have been recorded by Frances Densmore, who has been working in this field for forty-five years, and whose collections of Indian music number more than fifteen volumes (three of which have been published elsewhere), each of the fifteen devoted to a different tribe. Besides the printed text and music, she has usually taken phonograph records as well, and these are part of the immense collection of Indian songs, folk songs, folk tales, and other oral literature held by the Smithsonian Institution and the Library of Congress.
To the best of my knowledge, there does not exist any comparable collection of primitive lyric and music made by one person. I am well aware of the criticisms that have been made of Miss Densmore’s work by musicologists. It is of course true that primitive music can only be approximated by our Western notation, but at least she has approximated it, and in most cases with surprising accuracy. Any comparison of her notation with the phonograph records which I have ever made has never shown any serious error, once the validity of using our system of notation is granted. One can make a closer approximation by using special notation, but this too of course is still only approximation.

Over and above its musical interest, Miss Densmore’s work is also possibly the largest body of primitive lyric poetry in the original language and in translation in existence. As such, it is of tremendous importance to the student of literary origins, to the aesthetician or critic, and especially to the practicing poet. In spite of this her work is almost completely unknown among literary people, and only one American poet of any importance — Yvor Winters — has ever mentioned her in print or shown any sign of her work’s influence.

Although any work done with American Indians in the twentieth century can hardly be called early, Miss Densmore was not too late to catch many primitive customs before they became corrupted or forgotten. For instance, a substantial number of the songs in her first book, Chippewa Music (1910), are chants in the ritual of the Mide-wiwin Society (the Great Medicine Lodge) — what in our own civilized world would be called a religious and fraternal organization somewhat resembling Freemasonry, possibly originally the organization of the tribe’s medicine men. Societies of this sort are now dying out, and in much of the North American Indian world being replaced by the peyote cult. At one time they flourished; many were intertribal, sometimes over a wide area. Less disturbing than the apocalyptic movements like the Ghost Dance religion, they served the same purpose without getting the Indian into so much trouble. That is, they provided cohesion and consolation, and protected and sustained the Indian in his struggle to adjust to the gradually all-enveloping white civilization. Since Miss Densmore always roots each song in its social context, much of the Chippewa study is also one of the best studies of a nonaggressive intratribal cult society.

In 1915, when she visited the Teton Sioux, the Plains Indians, although defeated and broken, still kept much of their culture intact. There were still plenty of men who remembered the days of the buffalo hunt, and many of the great war chiefs were still alive. The memory of the bitter resistance to the white conquest of the Plains was a living thing to every member of the tribe. Furthermore, the Sun Dance religion, an intertribal movement which the Indian Bureau was attempting, unsuccessfully, to suppress, was still flourishing. It is extraordinary that Miss Densmore, a white woman visiting the tribe under the auspices of the government, was able to collect so much material. Not only was she able to gather some thirty-two Sun Dance songs, but she presents them in a context which is still one of the best studies of the Sun Dance religion. She also gives many songs of the dream societies, of the Sacred Bundles, of personal dreams, which, taken together — song and context — probably give more of the significance of these aspects of Plains Indian culture than anything else ever written on the subject.

Not all of her studies are of still flourishing tribes. She has also sought out tribes represented by two or three families of aged people who still treasured a few fragments of melody which they no longer understood.

Musical form can weather amazingly well the social vicissitudes to which it may be exposed and may survive relatively intact in a fundamentally different cultural setting, or from a bygone age, charged with new life and meaning. Music is one of the most persistent culture elements to be found in primitive societies and the most resistant to change. By and large, Western European music shows far more influence stemming from the American Indian (slight in bulk as that actually is) than his music has accepted from us. Not only is music, song — and with it of course, but sometimes to a lesser degree, the words of the lyric, the poetry — unusually persistent and resistant, but of all cultural intangibles it lends itself most to fairly exact record and quantitative analysis and comparison. However fragmentary, nothing else can give us comparable insight into alien and past modes of life. For instance, nothing gives a sense of historical presence like the words and music, surviving from over half a millennium in the Appalachian Mountain communities, of the ballads of their medieval Scottish ancestors.

The important thing about this half century of careful field work is that Miss Densmore has revealed as clearly as anyone ever has the sources of song in the religious and secular experience of primitive society. A great deal of theory has been written on this subject, but outside of work done by or under the inspiration of Erich Maria von Hornbostel in Germany, too little has been done in the field. No one has accumulated so much living data — the actual substance of song itself — from which it is possible to draw theoretical conclusions and also watch many practical conclusions draw themselves. I should add that Miss Densmore’s work is incomparably better than the collections of Natalie Curtis Burlin, Theodore Baker, and others which greatly influenced composers like Busoni and MacDowell in the early years of this century.

I think the easiest way to sum up Miss Densmore’s conclusions is to say that songs, like other things which we call works of art, occupy in American Indian society a position somewhat like the sacraments and sacramentals of the so-called higher religions. That is, the Indian poet is not only a prophet. Poetry or song does not only play a vatic role in the society, but is itself a numinous thing. The work of art is holy, in Rudolf Otto’s sense — an object of supernatural awe, and as such an important instrument in the control of reality on the highest plane. This, of course, is not an uncommon aesthetic theory, but it is something else again to see it concretely demonstrated by an immense mass of evidence gathered in the field.

Of course, there are those who would not choose, on aprioristic or temperamental grounds, to accept such an extreme conclusion from the evidence. Even so, the crucial importance of song, and hence of the work of art, as the very link of significant life itself, of the individual to his society, of the individual to his human and nonhuman environment, is certainly patent.
It is very significant that the texts of almost all these songs are not only extremely simple, but that most of them are pure poems of sensibility resembling nothing so much as classical Japanese poetry or Mallarmé and certain other modern French and American poets, notably some of the Imagists at their best. It is possible, of course, to say that Miss Densmore greatly simplifies the poem by cutting out repetitions and nonsense vocables. But the Japanese poetry which we think of as so extremely compact on the printed page is similarly sung in extended fashion. Certainly the Indian singer does not feel that he is dulling the poignancy of the transcendental awareness of reality which he is communicating by musical elaboration, but rather the reverse. And, if the song is sung, or the record is available, it is immediately apparent that this elaboration is insistence, not diffusion.

The resemblance to Japanese poetry is indeed startling, particularly in the Chippewa songs. This is not due to the influence of Amy Lowell and other free-verse translators on Miss Densmore. On the contrary, she worked with the Chippewa many years before such Japanese translations and their imitations in modern American verse came into existence. As the years have gone by she has moved on to tribes which do not show the same kind of resemblances either in music or in lyric, for instance the Papago, and this is made sufficiently obvious in the translations. Still, certain things remain. She has analyzed exhaustively the musical constants and variants of Indian song. Each new work in an appendix sums up and compares all past collections with the one at hand.

Are there similar constants in the lyric? I think there are. Western European man characteristically regards himself not only as an independent entity in a fundamentally hostile environment but as the relatively permanent factor in a perishing world and the sole source in it of value. Most Western European poetry is, even in its erotic lyric — “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may” — concerned with the tragedy of the waste of value in a world of fact. There is nothing of this in American Indian poetry. The intense aesthetic realization which precedes the poem is a realization of identity with a beneficent environment. Often this is focused in a dream or vision, waking or sleeping, after long lonely fast and vigil in the forest or desert. An aspect of the environment, an animal or a natural object or force, appears to the Indian, waiting in a trance state, and gives him the song, which remains his most precious possession and the pivot of his life forever after. As such, however simple, these songs always express mutual acceptance and approval of the self and the other, focused but also generalized, amounting to identification. In other words, the holy is not the Judeo-Protestant “utterly other” — a term of Otto’s — but the utterly same. They also express the accompanying emotional state — a feeling of extraordinarily intense hyperesthesia, concentration of all faculties in one realization, and the emotional tone of the realization itself — what we call transfiguration and transcendence — the kind of general sacramentalism we identify with St. Francis’s Canticles and certain poems of Wordsworth or Francis Jammes.

It is apparent that the creation of song or poetry, “the creative act,” as we say today, occupies a place in American Indian culture similar to what may be called, roughly, yogi practices of concentration and nervous-system gymnastics in the cultures of India and the Far East. This is the identifying link. The brief poems of Hitomaro or Basho, or the lengthy reveries of Su Tung P’o, as a matter of fact, share the same attitude toward the creative process and produce a product essentially similar.

It is possible to hold that this is a saner and more civilized approach to life than that commonly exercised by Western man. At least, American Indian song operates, at its best, on the highest possible cultural level: it “enhances life values” at least to the degree attempted by our own most ambitious works of art. In a period when life values of all sorts are seriously threatened, it is not profitable to ignore it.

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Uncollected Poems (11): Airplane Poems 1980-1992

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 7:12 AM 0 comments
(first set)

circles on the earth
– somewhere in Kansas –
what do they mean?
I take the circular form to mark
the coming of Messiah
day by day

– but not in Kansas

I am so crazy for you
Captain Star
your talk is like my radio
you listen
We walk under the lightning
& strike it
rich & crazy
This song will bring you to the top

he struggles with a song
he can’t dislodge
– or can he? –
“I was alive & stupid
“like your eyes
“sweet angel
“rock my boat
“this is the long road to

the earth of Kansas
is America’s
enduring work of art

(2nd set)


with whom I speak
high in the DC-10
& waiting at the door of
Men’s Room
– you from Brooklyn
– yeah
– how many Jews in San Diego
I dunno
can’t count them
lots of Jews

he pulls the words from me
my grandfather
a hasid at the court in Radzymin
not Rizhyn
& he knows
the smile acknowledges the fact
– the fact is senseless –
o Belz of Kafka
Belz of Jiri Langer
golden nights

now the plane is over Iowa
it blurs
the oranges of California
like the stars in Belz

(3rd set)

Airplane Voices

they stopped us
in spanish
“we’re not tourists
“we’re not here to get drunk”
we stayed in mexico
things happened
it was mexican territory
yours or mine

they speak more german than us
they speak german with everybody
he doesn’t speak at all
he mixes all languages
he speaks german with the kids
so many languages
be careful!

(4th set)

collar into knot
knot into back of throat
& up through eye

by which to tie you into portions
killing what was left
& what was left of you

ATTENTION do not move the zone
from here to there!

each time we strike the cloud
the cloud strikes back

we do the tumble down
& feel our stomachs sliding

softly, into our throats

The Return

trucks move past planes
& planes past trucks
men stand in orange jackets
stare off into space

inside the cabin
rows of sailor hats & coats

another journey home
to san diego

[These poems were recovered, along with numerous others, for a volume of Uncollected Poems to be published by Mark Weiss and Junction Press.]

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[The following is an earlier version of a manifesto that can be found in extended form in Joris’s groundbreaking collection, A Nomad Poetics: Essays, published by & still readily available from Wesleyan University Press. Its relevance to our ongoing project on “outsider poetry” should be apparent.]

"nomads-by-choice in the welfare of settled rings"
Allen Fisher, Dispossession & Cure

The days of anything static - form, content, state - are over. The past century has shown that anything not involved in continuous transformation hardens and dies. All revolutions have done just that: those that tried to deal with the state as much as those that tried to deal with the state of poetry.
. A nomadic poetics is a war machine, always on the move, always changing, morphing,moving through languages, cultures, terrains, times without stopping. Refuelling halts are called poases, they last a night or a day, the time of a poem, & then move on. The sufi poets spoke of mawqif - we will come back to this.
. A nomadic poetics needs mindfulness. In & of the drift (dérive) there is no at-home-ness here but only an ever more displaced drifting. The fallacy would be to think of language as at-home-ness while "all else" drifts, because for language to be accurate to the condition of nomadicty, it too has to be drifting, to be "on the way" as Celan puts it.

[Think through Heidegger's Abgeschiedenheit, apartness as the free domain or land where such nomadic drifting takes place. But that domain is always here & not somewhere else. It is the smooth space in D&G that deterritorializes all striated spaces.]

nomadics: the poet as comet. See Hölderlin's "In lovely blue" & thus to escape the metaphor of sun, center, etc.

10/25/94 If the mind is only the body's invisibility (Merleau-Ponty) then the poem is merely the unreadability, the non-transparency, the opaqueness of that mind. An opacity grounded in the materiality of language as much / if not more than in the viscosity of psyche. A turbulent opacity -not a monumental, laminary , marble-or-granite opaqueness.

Robin Blaser: "The muse requires a politics
where the tongue meets
In the thick of it
the sour sweat." [Cups, 1960]

If Empedoklean terms or reveries may be taken as valid, then the two major modes of poesis would also involve love (eros) & strife (nike). To see the poetics of the century thus would divide them between, say, Pound/nike and Duncan/eros. But somewhere else - here, now, later & beyond this fin-de-siècle identikit - eros & nike are both less & more than self-sufficient modes, are both simply that tiny deviation from equilibrium, stasis that makes movement, i.e. life, i.e. poetry, possible: they are the clinamen, thus in a poem from the early eighties:

One moment earlier
something had deviated
This is local fortuity
the clinamen exactly
& more exactly
deviation from equilibrium
the incline
______the streak of lightning
bars the clouds
immediately a shape happens
roughly (&) circular no need for more
a little hole around which people gather like bees
a dead body at center
a world where accident is rule

& now these five points:

1) that language has always to do with the other, in fact, for the writer (l'écrivant) is the other.

2) that there is no single other, there are only a multitude of them - plurality; even multitudes of different multitudes - hetero-pluralities.

3) language others itself always again -> nomadic writing is always "the practice of outside"; writing as nomadic practice -on the move from one other to another other.

[3a: the critic/theorist: the dog that barks as the caravan passes]

4) poetry is always, then, "on the way" -- yes, on the road, as Kerouac has it here in these States where, as Sun Ra has it, "space is the place." It is also unterwegs, (underway) as Celan writes, where I hear the unter also as under the Weg, the way. (& pace, the Schwarzwalder's Holzwege!),



under the way

a between-ness as essential nomadic condition, thus always a moving forward, a reaching, a tending. (I hear the need for both tension & tenderness). & an absence of rest, always a becoming, a line-of-flight [as against Being, which is always a veing-toward-death, stillness].

[4a: insert here a critique of Buddhism, of any spiritualism as quietism -- certainly Euro-Am adaptations of Buddhism are transcendental -- while only a truly immanent spirituality is viable. cf Janus]

5: Celan: "Reality is not. It has to be searched for and won." Replace "reality" with "poetry" or "millennium."

That is the fin mot, last words, toward the fin-de-siècle, or a poetics thereof. (Celan's phrase is the quest, as it includes the critique of the "society of the spectacle" -- & of the whole specular natures of our mis-takes on the real.)

We can still use notions such as Burroughs "astronaut of inner space," or Dorn's "inside real and outsidereal," though we must be aware that for the nomad-poet, the NOET, even those distinctions have to be abolished. There is no difference between inside & outside at the poem's warp speed. We can still use Olson's statement that the need is to move, instanter, on -- but no Interzone for us, no Idaho, in or out, no Gloucester hankering for a more perfect past.

NOET: NO stands for play, for no-saying & guerrilla war techniques, for gNOsis & NOetics. ET stands for etcetera, the always ongoing process, the no closure: it stands for ExtraTerritorial, for the continuous state of being outside (not a margin that would be always definable as the margin of something called the real (territory). ET stands for Electronic Terrain, where the poem composes, recomposes, decomposes before your eyes, de- & re-territorializing at will or chance -- without there being the ability to tell which of those two determinants it is.

(The WE here is not-I, or if you prefer, the Wild East)

As far as moral or social values are concerned, total miscegenation is the only goal we believe in. Purity is the root of all evil.

We will make good use use Nate Mackey's sense of a DISCREPANT ENGAGEMENT.

From Pound we will retain that a poem has to include history. And we will add that a poem and its poet are included in history, which he forgot.

We will keep all of Valère Novarina's theatre for its ludic nomadology of names that dissolves character into a fluidity...

We will keep Robert Kelly's notion of "ta'wil of the first line," the poem as nomadic/ rhizomatic extension of some given or found beginning, but a ta'wil reduced to immanence, to a "writing through." As he tells it otherwise in A MY NAME (RA 185) "This chant was my first news of the Great Trade Route along which scarce and isolate merchant-poet-nomads carried goods from tribe to tribe, over the mountains and under the sun, bringing the only news."

We will reread Melvin Tolson's The Harlem Gallery & ponder it's "bifacial" multiphasic poet Hideho Heights & ponder Tolson's statement on the poet's place, a statement which still startles: "The most violent revolution in the world is taking place -- not in Russia, not in China, but in American poetry."

We will remain breathless before Gertrude Stein’s nomadic syntax, an endless trace multistepping through this century’s desert geography of anybody.
We will meditate on Henri Michaux's drawing-poems, scribe of the post- semantic nomadic condition which is ours.

We will meditate on Henri Michaux's drawing-poems, scribe of the post-semantic nomadic condition, which is ours.

We will always again read & learn from Kateb Yacine’s multiple life-long text Nedjma, his Nedjma metamorphosed into poems proses plays, and meditate on that major Maghrebian figure Kateb brought back into the people’s consciousness — La Kahina, the Berber nomad warrior queen who fought the first post-Roman wave of imperialist invaders, the Islamic armies of Sidi Oqba.

Of Rothenberg's work we will keep everything, because his immigrant/emigrant nomadology of translation, poetry-making, anthologizing is an exemplary process at this end of the century.

We will attend to Don Byrd's Nomad Encyclopedia, he'll lead us through what he calls the "mesocosm -- the dense locale of the common, that is absorbed by the exaggeration of symbolism, on the one hand, and by mere biology, on the other."

We will reread Maurice Blanchot again and again & think through, among other things, the following of his reflections on the idea of exile and exodus as a legitimate movement: "If Judaism is destined to take on meaning for us, it is indeed by showing that, at whatever time, one must be ready to set out, because to go out (to step outside) is the exigency from which one cannot escape if one wants to maintain the possibility of a just relation. The exigency of uprooting; the affirmation of nomadic truth. In this Judaism stands in contrast to paganism (all paganism.) To be pagan is to be fixed, to plant oneself in the earth, as it were, to establish oneself through a pact with the permanence that authorizes sojourn and is certified by certainty in the land. Nomadism answers to a relation that possession cannot satisfy."

Right here 78 pages of commentaries on the century have been deleted to be summed up now:

From the 20C we will retain everything -- in memory. We will forget nothing and we will forgive nothing.

We will also remember that the twentieth century was the tail wagged by the nineteenth century dog.

[to be continued]

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Nicole Brossard: Why Do You Write in French?

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 4:18 AM 0 comments
[This essay was read in April 2000 at a conference organized by the Department of French and the Center for French and Francophone Studies at Columbia University in New York. “The Chosen Tongue: Language and Construction of the Self in French and Francophone Literature” featured roundtables on the subject of French language and literature. Brossard participated in a roundtable entitled “Pourquoi écrivez-vous en français?” moderated by Maryse Condé. The other panelists were Mongo Beti, Raphaël Confiant, Nancy Huston, Vâclav Jamek, Daniel Maximin, and AbdourahmanWeberi. As the only panelist from Quebec, Brossard addresses the challenges of having been born a francophone in North America for whom French both is and is not her mothertongue. As a feminist, Brossard speaks of the need to escape the misogynist conventions perpetuated by all languages.]

All the love we can have for a language will never be ideological.
—France Théoret, Entre raison et déraison

To tell you the truth, I have never asked myself that question. Belonging to the only group of Francophones issuing from the French colonies who can really claim an infamous “Gallic ancestry,” being part of a people for whom the French language is an obsession, a favorite pastime, a source of anguish and pride, having inebriated myself very early on with French literature as though it were mine in hopes of one day, to paraphrase France Théoret, talking like we write, it seems to be completely honest if a bit simplistic to answer today’s question by saying that I write in French because French is my mothertongue.

This in spite of the fact that the language spoken around me throughout my childhood was imbibed with English words as though to force us to position ourselves within the dailiness of North-American reality. Here a char with son windshield, son bumper, ses tires; here a bar with its floor bien shiné, ses waitresses, ses hot-dog toastés, ses beans, ses smoke meats, ses sundaes. Hence, a seventeenth-century pronunciation with our moé pis toé against which my mother warned me, here many curse words, church words,where anger, pleasure, appreciation, amazement, and deception are all expressed by the name of God in one form or another. The superlative is a curse, each emotion has its curse.

That said, I think a mothertongue is oral and that written language holds nothing maternal. In this sense, French is not my mothertongue. While a mothertongue and reality flow together, gasping, full of holes, stammering, with dangerous liaisons and surprising constructions, written language is initiation, lesson, mistake, and castigation, a taught language with its rules to obey and its exceptions, a deliberate and conformist language strong in gender discrimination and outlawed meanings, a language of great taboos and a selective memory. The vivacity and vitality of written language finally depends on the adventurous ones, the dreamers, the audacious, and the amazons who take the time to write a book or to live a lifetime in the form of a book.

So I write and, while I admit that for me the French language is nobly aggravating, it is also madly pleasurable, because it puts at my disposal dazzling delirium, exemplary transgressions, and honorable delusions of grandeur. Written French is very obviously the language of Louise Labé, Molière, Madame de Clèves, Marcel Proust, Jean Genet, Colette, Camus, Monique Wittig, Beckett, Nathalie Sarraute, Cioran, Eugène Ionesco, Romain Gary, Nancy Huston, Anne Hébert, Réjean Ducharme, and of Michel Tremblay; of Maryse Condé, Raphaël Confiant, and Patrick Chamoiseau. But it is also the language of Alfred Jarry, Antonin Artaud, Claude Gauvreau, and Raymond Queneau. It’s a nit-picking, picnicking language. It’s all so beautiful and complicated, I can also say I write in French because of the joy and pleasure of reading Laurence Stern, Lewis Carroll, James Joyce, and Gertrude Stein in translation.

From our very first written words, we learn to exist differently. To play. To polish. To perfect our joys and our misfortunes, to displace the horizon. And above all, we try to have a pure heart about words as we examine them under every angle: in front, behind, a lado de, dessous, dessous, and over the shadows.

If there are childhood faces furrowing the mothertongue and keeping us emotionally enraptured, there are others that, working in written language, ignite the passion for elsewhere, risk, and the unsaid. Despite having nothing to do with one another, written language burns to appease the needs of mothertongue, and childhood memories almost always make for touching books. For my part, I have only rarely used my mothertongue to write, maybe in a novel that came out in 1974, called French Kiss. A novel whose story (which has nothing to do with childhood) unfolds through word play crossing Montréal, Sherbrooke Street, with time to stop for a lingering kiss where the tongues, filled with stories and a future, happily intermingle. As for the rest of my writing, I write French, I mean to say with the verb “to be” and some surrounding words which, in my case, try to escape from the conventional, the everyday, and quite obviously from a grammar that can in one fell swoop make any trace of the thinking female and the feminine

But is the question not how the French language, in its literary form, inflectsmy vision of the world and my attitude towards life, love, death, reality, and fiction? Summarily, toward which ideas, which ethic, am I oriented by the French language, in whose arms does she push me, about what does she want me to think? Before which beauty does she want me to pause? Does she make me more rational and logical than I would be without her, more friendly, more arrogant? Does she incline me to uselessly turning pirouettes and somersaults, does she draw me to the hidden-phrase, mirror-phase of armchair psychoanalysis? The dear French language who always travels by train and lingers on the terrace all day long, does she have what it takes to stay in gear through the daily grind across the Americas, from sea to sea, is she equipped in verve and verb to translate the depths of women’s thoughts on life, Man, and the little boys he transforms into soldiers who have remained remarkably identical for centuries? In fact, I have long asked myself whether the French language had what it takes to venture into Quebec’s great north, to pick blueberries and observe themoose on the lakeshores, to transform the collectively repressed into the lucid and beautifully risked, to surf for a time on the idea that we may not die after all, to go out all night and blow off steam before stopping dead in your tracks at the idea that yes after all we will disappear one day. I belong to a generation that has had its doubts about what the French language could do for us, specifically if she would allow us to enter into what in French we called modernity, while anglophones were already postmodern. Could we, in proper French, enter into a contemporary world where space and time would be completely modified, where speed would fracture memory and identity, where strong sensations would replace the emotion that requires a real book-slowness to be born? Could we, in proper French, invent it, remake it, desire it, start it over, and release this new world of genetic modification, the virtual, and the internet. Good old French, speak to me of science and ethics, speak to me of women in Algeria, Zaïre, Haiti, Romania, and around the passenger stations, speak to me of Paul Celan and of Walter Benjamin walking in Paris, speak to me of my next book in translation.

[The preceding essay/talk is excerpted from Nicole Brossard Selections, to appear this November in the University of California Press’s Poets for the Millennium series. At the start of her remarkable introduction to Brossard’s remarkable book, Jennifer Moxley writes: “Pleasure. This is the word that first comes to mind at the mention of Nicole Brossard’s poetry.There are otherwords, of course, words with historical and political resonance — Québécoise, avant-garde, feminist, lesbian — words which cannot be uttered casually, words which cause some to stop listening and others to lean in and listen more closely. Brossard puts such words at risk, for under her pen they magically change. Heavy words become light yet still maintain their gravitas, their restrictive weight (‘labels’ as some dismissively call them) becoming expansive, utopian, inspiring. Specific historical moments turn into universals, personal desire into the condition we all share of being incorporated — in our bodies and in the body of language. Like a mystic’s vision, turning the arduous climb to enlightenment into a flash of brightest intensity, Brossard’s pen lifts these heavy words into an ether of lightest thought. The result is pleasure, the pleasure of thinking, of reading, of having a body, of being in love, of being alive.”]

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[from J. Rothenberg and G. Quasha, America a Prophecy: A New Reading of American Poetry from Pre-Columbian Times to the Present, 1974]

LOGOGENESIS: Presented below are eight of ninety new words coined & defined by a “chronic schizophrenic.” Psychiatrist David V. Forrest who compiled them labelled the process of mind “poesis” & defined it by such characteristics as a tendency to concrete thinking, a use of self-created symbols “which have no consensual validation,” a logic of punning, metaphor, and “transient resemblances” to establish relations between things in the real world. Unlike related processes among “primitiives,” surrealists, etc., this poesis is said to be without a cultural context, dooming the patient (it would seem) to greater isolation & lack of communal outlet. The patient himself, “when asked at what age he began to coin words … replied: ‘Age 20, when I developed a sense of humor.’”

Schizophrenic Definitions

Py’ro.im’pe.tra’tion: Firestarting. From pyro meaning fire, im meaning in, and petration, a form of rock, peter meaning rock. Fire and rocks. Grass burns in connection with rocks. Rocks can burn.

Pho’to.chro.nog’ra.phy: Study of time by light with a timepiece.

Hor’o.lo.ga’tion: Horology and separation; to keep apart in time. On April 28, 1964, I was alone with my clocks and jewelry – clocks, watches and diamond rings, sometimes pearls – watching TV, having a good time, talking with my parents, keeping away from bad company, with my clocks standing far apart, separating those that work and didn’t. All people are like clocks with a heart ticking inside.

Pho’to.sec’tion.al’i.ty: Sectioning by light, of oranges and other fruits into quarters, eights, and sixteens.

Cir’clin.gol’o.gy: Study of a rolling circle. A fruit can in the form of a cylinder rolling. Rollers of presses.

Ster’e.o.trans.la’tion: Solid change of language, solid changing of interpretation, word of overidolization. The most cherished word of English. Respected, cherished, lovable words, solid, hard. Solid understanding. Cherishing, begetting. One word begets another, with a similar meaning and opposite.

Os’te.o.pho’to.car’di.ol’o.gy: Bones, lights and hearts. Bones to begin with. Light in the form of scintillation, illuminating, lighting up. One of the most brilliant words, because of “photo.” Like superillumination.

Sem’i.cen’ti.os’te.o.pho’to.seis’mo.phys’i.o.ple’o.pol’y.com’pu.ta’tion: The longest word, having 50 letters. The act of boning up to count up to 50, a counting done by light, on earth, by nature (from natural resources), more than 25, many.

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Translated from Spanish by Molly Weigel


I play
I play pores
coves I play
on subjects of nerves
weavings that play upon me
tropical bowels I play
only only
heavy breathing
I play and moreplay
and nothing

Prefigures of absence
inconsistent tropes
what a you
what a what
what a flute
what loot
what hollows
what masks
what empty lonely reaches
what a yes what a no
what a yesno fate putting me out of tune
what reflexes reflect
what deeps
what wizard material
what keys
what nocturnal ingredients
what frozen shutters that do not open
what a nothing I play


Guinea pig
livid fetus I say of the plateau
enpipes the air
and in uniplaint islates its puffy I from the telluric sphere

I high altitude guinea pig

Ugly mug
bitty bogeyman of all
but inorbital amazement
elbowed to the edge of its caries of nothing

With tedium and killed time I cogitabound exhume
livid tibias oboes libidos invertebrates idlings
remains perhaps of the dream of daydreaming sleep up late
followorlding I say

Beyond retracing the night without a star custodian
grows in sure relief the intimate return to a quiescent thirst
but though it forgets the muddy agonized beast of burden
its most wasted lodger fades my signal
and I can’t find my key

Sipid adult hollow craving its own echo
perchance overhung by invisible thermic hypertense threads
on my much hair and over-the-edge pit
flutters the silence of my wide crow hat
though I’m alive

I think
By such a minimal spider also hung from the invisible
in the abject time of why where when
with translucent mobile gris-gris of the twinkling of an eye
and steadiness of pendulum
so solitarily accompanied
and friend of night

Not the other or the other
nor the same in the other or in the other
the other
not the other
not her

Between the rest of the remainder
and my progeny of zeros on the left
solely the solitude
of this homeland of nobody nobody
keeps me company

I wanted it all in my maw
wanted more and more
now hungry pariah all alone
vain ravening remains and so on

Steppe-ing I follow
the bands of dunes
my camel yawns
open in my sand


The palpable the morbid
the conch bold bed the sodregs
the taut deep probes the ebbs waves of the flesh
its nubile contractile pistils
and its annexed nests
the fervid languiforms innumerable subsubornings of touch
its naked blue must
each lode
each vein of blood’s echo’s dream
somniloquent nights of high celestial croaking that animaplunge us vertigo
how much it sticks without coasts to the flow the pulse to the red cosmogone
its emptied faces
and its channels
even biting the earth
terra incognita notorious pickaxe eyes for sore sight the bony the impacts of
awe of more slack
any being on the sore spot
the gifts given gone where orbits sobs of euphoria fog among themselves
whichever vigil attentively veiled expected skeleton spouse
daft barren wake
the microchance of germ motive encounter
already fugitive thens
selfsearching for free
the fantaseeds
even ingesting the earth
any porous way
the sole wide well of the pit immersed inside
sectarian thirst for thirst finite embraces
each mouth
therefore the sum
such stubborn love
hightide loving the brimming lovepandemic totem sprout of love of love breaking out
the pockmark
new gorgon love medium olavacobraniagara erect entire swoon
that ululululululates and arpeggiosipiderscratches the ego breath core
even exhaling the earth
with its trine astroids its species and names multiflames mires and excrecredences
its lassos buzzards love nests of complex incests among loose bones currents without
its neighboring corpses of memory
its light of naked crop
its axillas of nap
and its gyre in dough not less less than other related cogyrators
even the feeble weaning
even the neuter untempting
even dying her

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1891, Oliverio Girondo … belonged to the Argentine ultraist vanguard, which also included Jorge Luis Borges and for which he wrote the manifesto. … [The poems presented here] are from En la masmédula (In the Moremarrow) [1954], which culminates Girondo’s career of poetic engagement with the vanguard; his lifelong rejection of academic authority and search for new forms of poetic articulation find their last and best expression here. With this last volume, according to Trinidad Barrera, Girondo puts a period to the Latin American modernism begun in the 1920s, of which he was a central figure, and provides a model and a jumping off point for contemporary Latin American poetry’s concern with the nature of referentiality. … Like Vallejo’s Trilce and Huidobro’s Altazor, with which it is frequently compared, In the Moremarrow forges from the Spanish language a new poetic language with its own psychic vocabulary and syntax, constituting a journey into the uncharted space of whatever “more” the marrow of language may or may not hold. … With seemingly unlimited combinatory properties and multivalence, Girondo’s language, or “pure impure mix” … communicates desire and disgust, moves fluidly between ironic distance and unguarded sadness or wonder at the limits and possibilities of signification. According to Argentine poet and critic Enrique Molina, each line of En la masmédula is “a verbal galaxy,” an alchemy of the word in which “the language is rushing into a state of eruption.” Traveling widely in Europe for a large part of his life, Girondo died in Buenos Aires in 1967. [M.W.]

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Gematria Complete: A New Publication

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 7:35 AM 0 comments

Publisher: Marick Press
Paperback Publication Date: 2009
170 Pages
ISBN 10: 1934851086
ISBN 13: 9781934851081

USD $14.95

Gematria Complete brings together all of Jerome Rothenberg's poems composed by quasi-aleatory numerical methods, from first experiments in his earlier book, Gematria (Sun & Moon Press, 1994), through 14 Stations, a terminal series derived from the Hebrew/Yiddish spellings of the names of fourteen World War Two extermination camps.

"Based on traditional Jewish numerology, gematria is grounded on the principle that every letter of the Hebrew alphabet stands for a specific number, thus connecting specific words and phrases the sum of whose letters are equal and endowing them with special meaning and significance. Unlike his forebears, however, Rothenberg sees these synhcronicities not as hermeneutic stand-ins for religious doctrines, but as an entry into the sort of aleatory or chance-derived correspondences central to much modernist and contemporary poetry. Several poems in Gematria Complete are dedicated to contemporary and predecessor poets, since they invoke connections to these writers' poetics. But over all, these poems belong to Rothenberg alone, straddling as they do an ancient metaphysics and contemporary poetry and aesthetics." [From Douglas Messerli's cover notes for the original Gematria]

“Rothenberg’s poetics of sacred names and numbers is a 'poetics of the sacred.' It intends to re-empower poetry by taking it back to its (presumed) origins. The 'charming' character of his poetry and his 'poetics of the sacred' questions the validity of deconstructionist assumptions in regard to poetry. Alternatively, Rothenberg presents us with a kind of poetry that does not discount the possibility of finding healing and meaning through language."
--Christine Meilicke

"In the gematrias culiminating in his '14 Stations', the pathos of Rothenberg’s earlier Khurbn, that was based on the interaction between the subject and other voices, is replaced by the tragedy of procedural composition, enforcing the systematicity of a mathematical and linguistic link between the name of a place and the words that try to approximate the horror that was committed there. The oscillations of gematria writing locate the horror in language itself, in the words as they function both in the triviality of daily speech and in the sacredness of the Biblical text."
--Hélène Aji

"Without doubt, Rothenberg's gematrias formalize the tension between the poet's voice and the voices of others. As this tension unfolds itself in the notion of "othering," it also resonates with the myth of dibbuks: in the same way as the restless souls of those who died too early return to inhabit the poet's body, the restless words of the dead return to haunt the poem, inscribing the memories tearing apart the bodies of the survivors in the body of the Hebrew letter, between radical absence and unbearable presence. … With his gematrias, Jerome Rothenberg performs the literalization of something we already knew, if only vaguely: a word never stands alone, but always in a paradigm, and the legend of the dibbuk, of this voice of the dead that speaks through the body of the living against their will and obsesses them with its repetitions, is a legend of language."
-- Hélène Aji

“Rule-generated poems are nothing new, Isidore Isou (Lettrism), George Perec, John Cage, Jackson Mac Low or Lyn Hejinian are practitioners in an ancient tradition of permutations. Nor is a concern with numbers new to poets who learned their trade in meter and metrics. What is specific to Jerome Rothenberg is that his use of Gematria contributes to defamiliarize the thought process by blocking referential and metaphorical readings. This is why the device becomes a particular 'stance toward reality.’”
-- Geneviève Cohen-Cheminet

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Bei Dao: Four Poems, Newly Translated

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 7:17 AM 0 comments
Translation from Chinese by Clayton Eshleman & Lucas Klein


Contempt is the passport of the contemptible,
Gravitas is the epitaph of the grave.
See, in this aureate sky,
the bent, floating reflections of the dead.

They say that the glacial era has passed,
why then is ice everywhere?
The Cape of Good Hope has been sighted,
why do a thousand ships still clash on the Dead Sea?

I have come into this world,
bringing only paper, cord, and shadow,
to defend before the trial
those voices that have been judged:

I tell you, world,
Be there a thousand challenges underfoot,
count me as number one thousand and one.

I do not believe the sky is blue;
I do not believe the thunder’s echoes;
I do not believe that dreams falsify;
I do not believe in death without retribution.

If the sea is doomed to smash the embankments,
let all the brack dump into my heart;
if dry land is doomed to rise,
let all humanity claim a new summit.

A new turn for the better with twinkling stars
is being stitched into the unbarricaded sky—
it is an ideogram from five thousand years ago,
the staring eyes of the people of tomorrow.


A bottled up storm commands the sea advancing
beyond the dock, on a night afloat with insomnia
lovers embracing link up chains of power
beyond the painting’s frame, classically smiling plaster statues
use a single day’s shadows to speak
beyond belief, stallions have caught up with death
relentlessly the moon stamps its seal on black events
beyond the story, a plastic tree flaps in the breeze
this dismal grain is the excuse for our existence


The sea’s prayer ritual
one bad weather bending down

in vain stubborn rock guards May
resisting the green contagion

the four seasons take turns axing the tree
many stars are identifying the road

with his balancing skills the drunkard
breaks the inner siege of time

a bullet pierces an apple
life has been put on loan


Hearts leant to honor, the earth darkens
we read the light in the Book of
Cement, read the truth

The golden bomb blows up
we are willing to turn into victims
and to display our wounds to others

On some photo-negative an archeologist
will discover the spirit of the times
which a child grabs onto, saying no,

it is history that prevents us from flying
birds that prevent us from walking
legs that prevent us from dreaming

we who give birth to ourselves
who are birth

by Clayton Eshleman & Lucas Klein

Bei Dao’s interaction with Clayton Eshleman and his wife Caryl begins in 1992, when Eliot Weinberger wrote to ask if he would nominate Bei Dao for the semester-long MacAndless Chair in the Humanities at Eastern Michigan University. Bei Dao had been living in Scandinavia since his exile from China in 1989—when democracy and workers’ rights activists shouted his poems at the Tiananmen Square demonstrations—and was unhappy there, so Weinberger wanted to help him try the US. Clayton nominated him for the Chair, and he was offered the position to come in the fall of 1993. After his arrival, Clayton helped him settle in at the house of a friend, while Caryl worked with the head of EMU’s English Department to sort his immigration papers and apply for a Green Card. In 1994 Bei Dao moved from Ypsilanti to share an apartment with a Chinese friend in Ann Arbor, staying on for a couple years before moving to California, where he had accepted a one-year position in East Asian Languages & Cultures at UC Davis.

Reading Bei Dao’s poetry in translation from the 1980s and ’90s, Clayton’s first reactions were of puzzlement. At times the writing struck him as imaginative and acute, while at other times it seemed flat, presented in something approximating pidgin English. After reading Bei Dao’s Unlock (New Directions, 2000), translated by Eliot Weinberger and Iona Man-Cheong, which he liked very much, Clayton realized that his limited response to such books as Forms of Distance and Landscape Over Zero (both published by New Directions in 1994 and 1996) probably had to do with the translations by David Hinton (and, in the latter book, Yanbing Chen).

A long review of these three poetry collections, along with a book of Bei Dao’s essays titled Blue House (translated by Ted Huters and Feng-ying Ming, Zephyr, 2000), was Lucas Klein’s first publication. While the review was positive, Lucas’s first feelings reading Bei Dao echo Clayton’s ambivalence. Both drawn to and thwarted by the hermeticism of Bei Dao’s lines, Lucas wrote, “While many readers will find themselves sliding across his poetry, when his poetry catches them his hold is strong,” which seems like a generalization of his personal frustration and desire in the face of the lyrics.

Lucas first met Bei Dao on Halloween, 2003, in a hotel in Manhattan’s Chinatown, following a public conversation between Bei Dao and Eliot Weinberger at Poets House the night before. Bei Dao’s soft-spoken sincerity and unassuming manner—nearly the opposite of how some have caricatured him, as a careerist writing for international glory—pressed against Lucas’s earlier reading of his poems, and he guessed that his poetic mysteriousness might come from a personal shyness. Clayton and Caryl were also present at that meeting—the first time Lucas had met them—and Lucas was able to glean some of what Bei Dao had written about them in Blue House.

Lucas’s research in the years since has mostly focused on medieval Chinese, but modern and contemporary Chinese poetry has also maintained its hold. Coming upon trajectories and techniques written under, or at times against, Bei Dao’s influence—which has stayed strong despite the difficulty, for much of the past twenty years, of finding Bei Dao’s writing in China—Lucas still found Bei Dao’s style opaque, even obscure. When Clayton contacted him for help in looking into Bei Dao’s poetry in advance of his introduction to his Naropa reading this summer, Lucas took the opportunity to look into the writing at a level deeper than he’d allowed himself previously. He came to feel that his sense of Bei Dao had too often been obscured by his hasty readings of the Chinese and, like Clayton, on an over-reliance on the English translations—too often, Lucas felt, he had read the available translations with the aim of checking for mistakes, rather than to comprehend their interpretation of Bei Dao’s poetic vision. Working on the new translations with Clayton, with the necessary result of looking closely at Bei Dao’s Chinese, has shown Lucas that, for instance, by avoiding punctuation and playing with enjambment, lineation, and phrase-pacing, Bei Dao often creates splits in his meaning. Trying to recreate some of that ambiguity, David Hinton’s translations generally treat each line as its own clause; the result, Lucas says, is overly disjunctive poetry, and that when the stanza, rather than the line, can be heard as Bei Dao’s usual unit of poetic composition, the ambiguity but also the fluidity can emerge more fully through English translation.

The point, for neither Clayton nor for Lucas, is to supplant, or replace, earlier translations. Rather, since each translation enacts its own reading, these translations present an alternative to Hinton’s vision, and to his performance of that vision. As their long history with Bei Dao can attest, Clayton and Lucas see manifold meanings in Bei Dao’s writing, and believe that he deserves to be read as often, and as deeply, as possible.

The four poems presented here can also be found in the following collections: “The Reply,” Bei Dao’s most famous poem, is from The August Sleepwalker (New Directions, 1990, tr. by Bonnie S. McDougall, English version only); the other three poems are from Forms of Distance (New Directions, 1994, tr. by David Hinton, a bilingual presentation).

CE / LK, September 2009

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