Poet Power: A Forgotten Manifesto from the 1960s

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 12:06 AM 0 comments

Jointly written by the undersigned and published as a letter to the New York Review of Books in 1968. Reprinted here for the historical record.

To the Editors:

We assembled poets respectable enough to travel across the planet to Stony Brook hereby announce to the public that we are all victims of closed vision, crippled mechanical consciousness, and bad poetry mouthed by all governments and propagandized thru controlled mass media.

That police state military tyranny, sexual repression and laws against expansion of consciousness by joyful music naked dance and high natural herbs threaten further evolution of the race. Joy to all poets' wives and lovers in every country (Herbert).

That no government except the invisible commune of poetry has become conscious that man's usurpation over all nature is an egotism that will destroy human as well as whale kingdoms thru ecological disruption of the planet surface.

That revolutions of consciousness manifested in human society by younger generations present should be protected from armed dinosaur repression and black magic violence perpetrated by the state; that everywhere Stony Brook to Vietnam the state is the cause and source of violence, state violence is preventing peaceful change. Student violence exacerbates some people (Cooperman). Poets fighting on suburban lawns drunk is also real. (Ginsberg).

That Black Power is the active American conscience, the African soul rising within our nation to force the European soul to love and the marriage of races in a new humanity. We must all work for the wedding of Asia and our continent. For Asia sulks in rejection and pride and only begins to roar in pain (Duncan)—that Black Power is an ideal vision of African Divinity resurrected to save the white rational races from suffocating the entire planet in dung colored gas—We ask return to true tribal structure in which men use society rather than be used. (Oppenheimer)—

That the U.S. utopian* war against attempted state* utopias in China and Cuba as well as Vietnam is a bring down for the entire human race—that good old Dr. Spock and friends have made pure poetic statement aiding and abetting younger bodies to avoid War Theater, that the assembled poets commit the same holy deed.—

That the new consciousness articulated by longhair revolutionary student generations Prague New York Paris Madrid Santiago everywhere on earth begins the fulfillment of human anarchy (withering away of state [Guellivic]) and communal utopia prophesized by poets for millenia—Academies should return to wisdom study in tree groves rather than robot study in plastic cells—Bless the Universe!

By Ed Sanders, A.J.M. Smith, Allen Ginsberg, Allen Planz, Ann London, Anselm Hollo, Anthony Hecht, Clayton Eshleman, Czeslaw Milosz, Dan Rowe, Denise Levertov, Donald Hall, Donald Justice, Eduardo de Olivera, G.E. Kimball, George A. Williams, George Hitchcock, George Quasha, Holly Stevens, J.D. Reed, Jerome Rothenberg, Jim Harrison, Joel Oppenheimer, John Logan, Louis Simpson, Jackson MacLow, Milton Kessler, Nicanor Parra, Robert Duncan, Robert Vas Dias, Ron Loweinsohn, Stanley Cooperman, T. Weiss, Tim Reynolds, Tom Gatten, Zbigniew Herbert

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Probably written 1881-83


The Man has a Baby. The Baby is Three weeks Old. Its Mamma Died two Years ago. Poor little Baby! Do you not Feel Sorry for It?


The Mud is in the Street. The Lady has on a pair of Red Stockings. She is Trying to Cross the Street. Let us all give Three cheers for the Mud.


This is a gun. Is the Gun loaded? Really, I do not know. Let us Find out. Put the Gun on the table, and you, Susie, blow down one barrel, while you, Charlie, blow down the other. Bang! Yes, it was loaded. Run quick, Jennie, and pick up Susie's head and Charlie's lower Jaw before the Nasty Blood gets over the New carpet.


Oh, how nice and Black the Coal-Hod is! Run, children, Run quick and put your Little Fat hands in it. Mercy me, your Hands are as Black as the Coal-Hod now! Hark! Mamma is Coming. She will spank you when she Finds your Hands so Dirty. Better go and Rub the Black Dirt off on the Wall Paper before she Comes.


The Rat is Gnawing at the Baby's Ear. The Baby is in the cradle, and is so Little it cannot Help itself. Oh, how Piteously it is Crying! The Rat does not care a Cent, and keeps Eating away at the Baby's Ear. When it gets this Ear eaten off it will Crawl over the Baby's neck and eat the other Ear. Where is the Baby's Mamma? She is Down in the Back Yard Talking over the fence to the neighbors about her New Dress. You must Tell your Mamma never to Leave you Alone in the Cradle, or a Rat may Eat off your Poor little Ears.


The Cat is Asleep on the Rug. Step on her Tail and See if she will Wake up. Oh, no; She will not wake. She is a heavy Sleeper. Perhaps if you Were to saw her Tail off with the Carving knife you might Attract hr attention. Suppose you try.


Oh, what a Bad Mamma to Leave Little Esther allAlone in the Dark Room. No wonder Esther is Crying. She is afraid a Big Bugaboo will come down the Chimney and Eat her up. Bugaboos like to Eat little Children. Did you ever see a Bugaboo with its Big Fire Eyes and Cold Teeth all over Blood? The next Time Mamma leaves you Alone in a Dark room, perhaps One will Come to Eat you.


The Well is very Dark and Deep. There is Nice Cool Water in the Well. If you Lean way Over the Side, maybe you will Fall in the Well and down in the Dear Water. We will Give you some Candy if you will Try. There is a Sweet Little Birdie in the bottom of the Well. Your Mamma would be Surprised to find you in the Well, would she not?


See the Wasp. He has pretty yellow Stripes around his Body, and a Darning Needle in his Tail. If you Will Pat the Wasp upon the Tail, we will Give You a Nice Picture Book.


This is an Hired girl. She has Something in her Hand. It is a Can, and there is Coal Oil inside. The Hired Girl is going to Light a Fire in the Kitchen Stove. She has been Disappointed in Love, and Desires to Die. She will Put some of the Oil in the Stove, and Light it with a Match. In about half a Minute she will be Twanging a Gold Harp among the Elect in Heaven.


Who is this Creature with Long Hair and a Wild Eye? He is a poet. He writes Poems on Spring and Women's Eyes and Strange, unreal Things of that Kind. He is always Wishing he was Dead, but he wouldn't Let anybody Kill him if he could Get away. A mighty good Sausage Stuffer was Spoiled when the Man became a Poet. He would Look well Standing under a Descending Pile Driver.


Here is a Sewing Machine. It was Made for little Children to Play with. Put your Feet on the Treadle and Make the Wheels go round Fast.See how the Thread unwinds and the Needle bobs up and down! This is Lots of Fun. Do not Deny baby the privilege of Putting his Fat little Finger under the Needle. It will Make pretty holes in the Finger and give Baby something to occupy his Attention for a Long time.


Here lies the body of Mary Ann,
Who rests in the bosom of Abraham.
It's all very nice for Mary Ann,
But it's mighty tough on Abraham.

EDITOR’S NOTE. Passed along to me by Alan Sondheim, together with other nineteenth-century possibilities. If I wasn’t able to use Field in Poems for the Millennium, volume three, Sondheim’s appraisal still sticks with me: “There is - and you must know this - Eugene Field as well, at the end of the 19th century - an odd anti-romantic. I've retyped several pieces and sent them to Poetics a while ago. They're from The Complete Tribune Primer, Boston, 1901 - the work is gathered from columns for the Denver Tribune around 1881. He wrote Winkyn, Blinkyn, and Nod. This work deserves a much wider audience.” Sondheim’s appraisal too with relation to the better known non/sense writings of Edward Lear: “Lear is everywhere - Field isn't and has much more of an edge.” (J.R.)

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Dear Jerry,

I've been reading w/ great continued & expanded interest your blog postings, practically on a daily basis-- & as significant as I've found them in the past, some of the recent additions have seemed even more resonant, provocative, & inspirational to me. I was particularly impressed, specifically, by the amazing & marvelous design recordings of the Shaker Poems or "vision gifts" as they are referred to, but also more generally by the powerfully insightful connections you make between & amongst such a wide range of visionary, politico-discursive, & innovative practices of poetics & performance. & it has seemed to me that your blog is a sort of Anthology of Anthologies, taking that term in its very best sense, a gathering of flowers, & the languages of flowers. Or perhaps, corroborating with the etymology in a different direction, an Anthrology of Anthrologies-- a human, meaning universal, poetics that is at once a rigorous logos & an enthralling mythos expounding upon what it is to seek, construct, & constitute meaning.

Although in large part I’m responding here to the “Outsider Anthrology,” I am also referring to the way that you’ve situated it among so many other sorts of gatherings, & to how these multiple gathering create a music of harmony & dissonance as they are sounded together.

One of the things that I've been thinking about as I read these pieces & your framing of them here is this sense I have of a movement from ideas of form & structure & other sorts of "object-metaphors" toward & into a discourse of practices & processes, of borrowings & exchanges, participations, movements, becomings, & passages where the dialectics of form-dissipation, structure-randomness, pattern-improvisation, & order-chaos constitute no more or less than energies which compel trajectories of venture, opening, & toward... &...

I find this movement particularly engaging for a number of reasons-- reasons that converge at those intersections of art & life, thought & action, memory & making.

Between 1999 & 2005, while I was "performing my madness" on the streets of New York & beyond, I generally had a preconceived sense of form, theme, & question--a potential discovery-- as I began a piece; yet the actions & work that resulted from these sets of inquiry, both the successes & failures of realized & unanticipated "happenings," were almost entirely the result of improvisation-- w/ other individuals, w/ social institutions, w/ manmade & natural environments-- always also working w/in & at (perhaps sometimes slightly beyond) the edge of laws & codes of social engagement, at the limit of my own fears, doubts, insecurities, inhibitions, anxieties, impulses. So profoundly, w/in this particular period of discovery, my focus was on process & engagement & communication (touching its resonance w/ community & communion) rather than aesthetics or craft.

& I think it has remained so-- though perhaps in curious ways-- as I've attempted to return to that period-- to become its witness & recorder.

I've just begun rereading Roger Caillois's The Necessity of Mind-- & I've found myself focusing on his formulation of the ideogram as common denominator, one could say structuring & organizing theme w/in automatic or lyrical thinking-- the idea that an overdetermined syntax of symbolic connections binds together even the most apparently disparate & arbitrary free association of ideas. In Caillois's description, as I read it, this theme-structure, this organizing order, the ideogram, however unconscious or opaque it may seem, acts as a sort of energy source-- gravity, propeller, vortex, furnace, or whatnot-- for the constellation of memories, disparate images, twists & turns, & apparent non sequiturs which congeal purposefully in the flow & movement of thought. Caillois's point is to demonstrate the mechanism of overdetermination w/in this apparently random flux, but I've been considering his thesis in reverse, so to speak. How in beginning w/ these common denominators of form, order, theme, & structure, one is lead into the play of indeterminacy, chance, randomness, happenstance, unpredictability, abandonment to the unknown, the unfinished, the delicate mystery that both holds the organization of thought together & scatters its pieces to the wind.

& so I've been turning this over, considering how it relates to my own praxis of re-membering, restoring what has been lost, reconstituting what can't be said, known, or comprehended. It seems to me that as I set up a constraint or method for a piece, or impose yet another organizing structure upon those already set into motion, that my intention is to scatter thought rather than hold, shape, or form it-- more like bits of bread for the clever ravens than as a trail leading out of the dark & mysterious forest. So that in enlisting many of the methods I'm using in this impossible work-- impossible methods-- or at least barely possible to me to realize completely-- plans, patterns of organization, forms, structures, & themes revolving around this or that content-- the only purpose that really matters to me, I am beginning to understand, is to elude, through exhaustion & exasperation, what I seem to already grasp & comprehend. Or perhaps not quite this-- perhaps rather to pass through that state of exhaustion into that which hasn't yet presented itself-- whatever is left in the still too difficult to say & think-- as one might pass through inferno or psychosis into second, more essential self.

& so from the material of that "impossible experience"-- those hundreds & hundreds of acts, performances, thoughts, & perceptions-- which I still can't even begin to approach rationally, analytically, objectively-- which at one time I took extraordinary effort to expel, excoriate, eviscerate, & erase-- I relive & reassemble them toward... & toward... again & again... from unexpected angles... always unsatisfied w/ the result.

The need to bear witness to even that experience is less a grasping & holding onto, a safeguarding of order, than it is a pushing forward into the still unknown, undiscovered, unnamable. Hence always this sense of pushing toward & into w/in the returning. In that way my continued dissatisfaction w/ my inability to capture & record experience is the necessary complement of that sense that something happened-- something that must & cannot be spoken. Dissatisfaction compels me to continue toward it, however further the experience itself recedes in doing so.

& I get a sense that your orchestration of the blog is somewhat similar, configuring these particular ways of working into unexpected clusters which produce new relations, new questions, new directions, new uncertainties, & new unknowns rather than than working from more familiar patterns of the catalogue-- the static & barren citation of the "new discovery."

In both cases we touch upon the need to bare witness to the lost, forgotten, excluded-- either to that which is most unique & personal w/in us, or that which belongs to all of us-- as companions & strangers, xenoi & barbaroi, to ourselves & the world-- to language itself.

I wanted to remark on that... that beyond my interest in the pieces you've been putting up, I've been even more engaged w/ the way that this Anthrology moves forward... ever into & toward the still unknown... ever transformative in its returns, rememberings, recollections... re-newing & re-membering what has already become the Book... what still may become of the mystery of the unfolding of the BOOK of BOOKS, the book of the memory of the book, the book of the not yet, the book of the distilled & thwarted return, the book of residuum & et cetera.

[An online version of Bruce Stater’s book-length poem Labyrinth of Vision was published by Ahadada Books at http://www.ahadadabooks.com/content/view/119/41/. Excerpts appeared in Poems and Poetics on February 15, 2009 & an earlier letter in response to that posting on February 17.]

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Jerome Rothenberg: Victor Hugo - A Portrait

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 12:43 AM 0 comments

making art out of his morning coffee grounds, ashes and matchsticks


A black & white world, more beautiful than any scorched by color. But the beauty here is finite – immediately an act of the imagination, not as we see (in color) but transformed, by subtraction, into a foreign world.

I am aware of it -- & you – but you, I dare to think, are far from it – out of the picture, cut from sight. This is another subtraction – the person who should be there but who is missing – truly. For this I bite my hand & I return to sleep.

Scarce & so received
as to be harmless,
his hands held open,
gilded, like a saint.
Who is this cavalier?
I hesitate
to name him – one
without a name.

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Pierre Joris: Notes Towards a Nomadics Manifesto (Part Two)

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 12:15 AM 0 comments
04/05/96 a nomadic poetics' method will be rhyzomatic: which is different from that core 20C technique, collage, i.e. a rhyzomatics is not an aesthetics of the fragment, which aesthetic has dominated poetics since the Jena romantics even as transmogrified by modernism, high & low, & more recently retooled in the neo- classical form of the citation -- ironic &/or decorative -- throughout what is called "post-modernism."

& remember that the romantic is the anti-nomadic par excellence, i.e. Wordsworth's "emotion recollected in tranquility."

A nomadic poetics will cross languages, not just translate, but write in all or any of them. If Pound, Joyce & others have shown the way, it is essential now to push this matter further, again, not as "collage" but as a material flux of language matter, moving in & out of semantic & non-semantic spaces, moving around & through the features accreting as poem, a lingo-cubism that is no longer an "explosante fixe" as Breton defined the poem, but an "explosante mouvante."

Useful in this context too is Charles Bernstein thinking about idiolects: "English languages, set adrift from the sight/sound sensorium of the concrete experiences of the English people, are at their hearts uprooted and translated: nomadic in origin, absolutely particular in practice. Invention in this context is not a matter of choice: it is as necessary as the ground we walk on." Replace "English" here with "all" or "any" & you have a nomadic idiolectal stance.

Not the end of man, pace the French twisted desire for disappearnce, but, possibly the end of the alphabet needs to be envisaged as a millennial scenario. As Don Byrd speculates:

The great poetry of the 1960's was created in resistance to the alphabet as a medium that had become dangerously fluent. By the 1970's, no one could resist. For the time being poiesis is in abeyance.

Now we gather the resources of modernism for the new medium as the poets of the sixteenth century gathered the resources of the classical tradition. Digital speech, musical sound, and image all merge in one grammar. The alphabet will continue in this mix for some time, but, in popular discourse, this obsolete mnemonic is even now largely decorative. It remains to be found out if IBM, Microsoft, and the Turner Boardcasting Corporation have already coopted the renaissance.

The alphabet thus done & over with. "We'll keep it for the sake of a one-day classicism." It belongs to a brief 2000-year history of parcellisation, hierarchization. It's most useful fringe, its last binge being the Mac Low/ Cage investigatory methods. The suggestion here is that our space rather than being visual is much more profoundly "haptic," sonorous.

The visual thus a special case only & to be revisited as such: The nomad eye of cubism (& dada/surrealism) as against the sedentary perception of perspective. As James J. Gibson (The Ecological approach to Vision Perception) suggests, motion is the natural mode of human and animal vision: "We must perceive in order to move, but we must also move in order to perceive."

Thus the usefulness of writing in painting, Cy Twombly, etc. Or for me right now, the work of Nicole Peyrafitte, her ink drawings, those shapes & figures crossing & recrossing animal & vegetal, human & non-human, combining in a wild metonymic grammar of desire, & through that pictorial space, these thin lines of near-microscopic writing, in red or black ink, traversing, circumventing, circumscribing, separating, piercing, splicing, connecting the figural volumes & the smooth space of the paper. The attraction of language, the desire to read the lines, pushes the onlooker to move in, to close in on the drawing in order to decypher the text. Her haptic performance of the drawings she calls "Riding the Line." The lines move freely & the reader cranes her neck, twist herself around in order to follow the contour of the lines of writing, then steps back to grasp a figure, moves in again to read -- & while reading can no longer "see" the organised, striated space of the figural volumes which themselves now dissolve into lines-of-flight. This constant destabilisation of view-point, this continuous eye-&-body-act of de- & re-territorialising the spaces of the drawing keep the viewer from ever being able to find that fictional single static point, that center outside the painting/drawing that would organize a fixed, rectilinear, thus hierarchical world & gaze, as was the aim of Renaissance perspective.

The nomad poet, the NOET, gives allegiance to INDRA the warrior god as that is the point of entry to break open the unholy trinity that, so Dumezil, has ruled the Indo-European organisations, from Asian days to Xtian America. If Varuna and Mitra, king and priest, constitute the double points of power they need Indra to consolidate the static state (of everything) -- but Indra always escapes, exceeds. Write D/G: "Indra, the warrior god is in opposition to Varuna no less than to Mitra. He can no more be reduced to one or the other than he can constitute a third of their kind. Rather, he is like a pure and immeasurable multiplicity, a pack, and irruption of the ephemeral and the power of metamorphosis. He unites the bond just as he betrays the pact. He brings a furor to bear against sovereignty, a celerity against gravity, secrecy against the public, a power (puissance) against sovereignty, a machine against the apparatus."

One of the new machines of a nomadic poetry -- & we are not afraid of technology, all poetry has been techno-bonded from the beginning -- one of the new machines is the computer. Interestingly enough, one of those investigating cyberpoetics -- one incarnation of nomadic poetics -- is John Cayley whose ongoing work is called INDRA'S NET. Here is what Cayley has to say concerning his project:

"Indra's Net pieces employ generative algorithms and semi-aleatory processes and the composition of the algorithm is seen as an integral if normally invisible part of the composition of the piece. One of the unique facilities offered by the computer in this context is the ability to set up a feed-back loop. 'Experimental' texts can be generated and the results reviewed quickly and painlessly enough to allow the processes to be modified and improved. Once distributed, the pieces 'run' and generate text for a reader. The reader can interact but does not choose pathways between words directly in the way that she might choose a pathway through the spaces of hypertext fiction. However in my most recent distributed piece, readers can alter the work itself (irreversibly), collecting generated lines or phrases for themselves and adding them to the hidden given text so that eventually their selections come to dominate the generative process. The reader's copy may then reach a state of chaotic stability, strangely attracted to one particular modulated reading of its original seed text. [NB] Work in progress is towards a series of '(Plastic) Literary Objects' which will be both generative and responsive, triggered by as many as possible of the program- and user-generated events which are accessible using a standard computer system. This latest object will be a far cry from the average web page."

THE NOET AS INDRA AND INDRA AS PACK, AS MULTITUDE or multiplicty, lays to rest another fundamental misconception recently inherited from France. Barthes' doleful sense that "the author is dead." Were it so, that would only tanscendentalize him or her, for who else is god but the dead author, deus absconditus? The binary on-off logic of Descartian discourse haunts even the most sensible of the French to this day. No, what has happened is that the author has multiplied, has lost its his her identity as singular subject. Rimbaud accurately said, way back towards another fin-de-siecle, "I is another." We now have to say: "I is many others".

A nomadic poetics will thus explore ways in which to make -- & think about -- a poetry that takes into account not only the manifold of languages & locations but also of selves each one of us is constantly becoming. The nomadic poem as ongoing & open-ended chart of the turbulent fluxes the dispersive nature of our realities make inevitable.

This French Trouble, which has colonized English departments in the American University, needs further & ongoing critique from the NPLF, the Nomadic Poetic Liberation Front. Here's how, in a forthcoming book of essays, Don Byrd & Jed Rasula deal with, and "détournent" (to use that tactical situationist word), among many other things, just such a sacred cow -- the Lacanian axiom according to which "the unconscious is structured like a language:" "Lacan's attempt to make the unconscious homologous with language is a bid for escaping the vicious circle of representation by affirming a principle of unconscious as all surface. Where Lacan says, 'the unconscious is like a language' we might well substitute: the unconscious likes language. The libidinal hunger, the drive or Trieb that Freud finds lurking as a primal disposition of the unconscious, thus assumes an amatory/predatory relation to the constitutive grounds of consciousness as such." This opens up the possibility of thinking the unconscious as a nomadic war-machine. Freud's hyper-cathexed erotico- thanatosian one-way "drives" have been refirgured as what D/G call "affects." These represent the ability to affect & be affected rather than a personal feeling. An affect is "a prepersonal intensity corresponding to the passage from one experiential state of the body to another and implying an augmentation or diminution in that body's capacity to act." "It is the active discharge of emotion, whereas feeling is an always displaced, retarded, resisting emotion." Amatory/predatory affects are nomadic lines of intensity having to do with ways of moving between different strata such as consciousness/ unconsciousness, etc.

The NOET learns & then writes in foreign languages (real or made-up ones) in order to come to the realization that all languages are foreign. Do away with the prison-house of the mother-tongue, or, as I have written elsewhere:" … why does one have to write in the papa-maman, the mummy/daddy language, why should that oedipal choice be the only possible or legitimate one, why should it not be my own sexual choice, that moment of one's discovery of the other, that moment when it is our sex that speaks and not that of our progenitors. So now the mother-tongue will have lost the m and have become the other tongue but that other will also now lose it's hairy, impronouncable, "the" & gain a lamda & a little victory- sign and become the lover's-tongue. As if the vowels somehow stood steadfast while the consonants, like my continents, kept on drifting. The lover's tongue then." A nomadic language of affects, of free lines of erotic flight, that break the triangular (the strongest of shapes, as Bucky Fuller has shown us) strictures of the Freudian scène de famille. Which also brings to mind an unfinished project -- I'm offering it here to anyone who wants to pick it up -- I had concocted in the late seventies with my sadly departed old friend, the Swiss-Italian poet Franco Beltrametti (another true noet): an anthology to be called BLOWS AGAINST THE MOTHER-TONGUE & which would gather the work of poets who had written nomadically in a language that was not their mother-tongue: from Ovid, say, to Anselm Hollo.

Jerome Rothenberg & I have over the last six years put together a large work called POEMS FOR THE MILLENNIUM. Talking about it in Chicago some months ago I said: "Sometimes I say I. Sometimes I say we: Jerry may or may not agree. We are two authors but already an anthology in ourselves. To quote Deleuze & Guattari at the opening of A THOUSAND PLATEAUS: 'The two of us wrote Anti-Oedipus together. Since each of us were several, there was already quite a crowd.'" The authors are, pace Blake, both in eternity & in time. And that vast assemblage we called POEMS FOR THE MILLENNIUM, & which on the face of it looks like an anthology edited by two poets, should maybe better be seen as a nomadology in action, an event authored by us, which means the two multitudes that Jerry & I are, plus the multiplicities the poets in the book are.

But if it is all flux, all nomad wandering, when & how to write. How not to stop & yet do the poem? At the beginning of this text I had referred to the poem as a poasis, an poem-oasis, i.e. a stop in the moving along the nomad line-of-flight. Recently the Tunisian poet Abdelwahab Meddeb brought my attention to a term used by the 10C Sufi poet Niffari who introduced the concept of "mawqif" into his poetics in order to define what the poem is: The mawqif is the pause, the stop-over, the rest, the stay of the wanderer between two moments of movement, two runs, two sites, two places, two states. Writes Meddeb: "It enjoys a rest, raises itself upright; between two durations it scrutinizes briefly the instant when from its heighth it confronts the vision or the word exteriorising itself."

Of course this notion of the stop-over, of the resting place or moment of the weary nomadic traveller between two travels or travails gets hypostasized in Christianity as the stations of the Cross and in the medieval imperial church reduced from a nomadic line-of-flight to a circular, domesticated movement -- the procession -- inside or around the church or cathedral. (Just as in official, imperial Islam the nomadic line of flight gets domesticated into the circular movement, the circumambulation of the Ka'aba). Fascinating to note that one of the early text of modern poetry, along the noetic line-of-flight of blasphemy & comedy, of universal convertibility of all principles, goes straight for that corralled hypostasis of the christian stations of the cross, liberating its movement in a belly-laugh of the blasphemous & absurd. I am of course referring to Alfred Jarry's THE PASSION OF JESUS CONSIDERED AS AN UPHILL BYCICLE RACE.

The mawqif has to be conceived as a tension, a movement of a peculiar kind, & not as some static resting point -- not Wordsworth's tranquility-- it is a momentary, moving placement on a smooth space, metonymic in relation to before & after, and not a resting place, metaphor for the final resting place, that transcendental parking lot, above or below. It is a (momentary) stance in relation to & with space, the horizonal, thus active, in motion, even if of a different motion than that before or after. A whirling motion, making for the connection (rhizomatic) between today's & tomorrow's nomadic moves, whirling dervish, or that dance/stance, as Charles Olson once put it: "How to dance / sitting down."

This "mawqif," or station or"poasis," this moment of movement- in-rest, of movement on another plane or plateau, between today's & tomorrow's lines of flight. Niffari, in the 10th century, worked this one out, be it in relation to something called "god."

Just such a nomadic poetics is profoundly at work in the great Beduin poetries -- the pre-islamic mu'allaqat or odes -- that are so often described as stilted, overdetermined, static poems because of their presumedly predetermined closed structures and monorhymes. In fact, these poems can be seen exactly as nomadic dérives, or as rhizomatic structures.

There are 10 -- in some more restricted canons only 7 -- poems, mu'allaqat, or odes that make up the established, examplary corpus of pre-islamic poetry. Of greatly varying length, the odes usually start in the same place (the atla'l, or meditation on the traces of an old camp the poet comes across in his wanderings), then goes on to a hymn of his camel (a moment of stasis & then precipitous movement) after which it will often laud the poet's lady, then his weapons & exploits in the manner of the praise poem, & go on to tell of the tribe's great feats. What is fascinating is the rhizomatic way in which the poem, inside that set structure, proceeds via series of images, moving from realm to realm, human - animal - vegatable - mineral, & back up, away & around & through, horizontal & vertical, taproots, transfers. Writes Jacques Berque: "This process, where one or the other series alternate, does not worry about coherency. Its most moving aspect, I mean its most mobilizing aspect, is the heteroclite richness of its calls [appels], much more so than their respective compatibility or their mutual cohesion. What is important for this process is, literally, to transfer. It takes the trope seriously, or at leats has not yet had the time to reduce it exclusively to a rhetoric. And that rhetoric is also present in some of these poems, permitting the outrageous, the ironic and the precious to come through, as well as the reflexive from the instinctive, the factive from the originary, -- it is that dérive, no, that perpetual hunt from realm to realm, from stadium to stadium, from genre to genre, that could appear as specifically Arabic."

The monorhyme scheme (something obviously impossible to reproduce or use in English -- though some dubb poetry tries something similar but with great constricting, limiting results) is interesting however for nomad thought. It is pure repetition & not pattern. One of these, & maybe my favorite, is Ibn Tarafa's Mu'allaqat, on which I worked with an Iraqi friend in the late seventies, & which has been much on my mind again lately. He is the most modern, rebel of the nomad poets, an early Rimbaud. And an examplary political poet, in Tarafah we witness the clash of the nomadic war-machine, its poetic line of flight & attack in this case, with the hierachical sedentary orders of king & governor, arbitrary law & executioner. Vide his VIDA (to borrow nomadically from the bio-form of later wandering-poets, the troubadours).

[The preceding is part of 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. (The first part was posted October 17, 2009 on Poems & Poetics.) Its relevance to our ongoing project on “outsider poetry” should be apparent.]

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Frances Densmore: American Indian Songs (Part One)

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 6:21 AM 0 comments

Translations selected by Kenneth Rexroth


Mide Songs

In form like a bird,
It appears.


The ground trembles
As I am about to enter.
My heart fails me
As I am about to enter
The spirit lodge.


The sound of flowing waters
Comes toward my home.


Now and then there will arise,
Out of the waters,
My Mide brothers,
The otters.


Beautiful as a star,
Hanging in the sky,
Is our Mide lodge.


What are you saying to me?
I am arrayed like the roses,
And beautiful as they.


The sound is fading away.
It is of five sounds.
The sound is fading away.
It is of five sounds.

Dream Song of Thunders

I go about pitying
While I am carried by the wind
Across the sky.

Dream Song

From the half
Of the sky
That which lives there
Is coming, and makes a noise.

Dream Song

The heavens
Go with me.

My Love Has Departed

A loon,
I thought it was.
But it was
My love’s
Splashing oar.

Love Song

Do not weep.
I am not going to die.

Love Song

He must be very sorrowful,
Since he so deceived
And forsook me,
During My young days.

Love Song

I will go and talk with
My sweetheart
The widow.
I love My sweetheart
The widow.

Love Song

You desire vainly
That I seek you.
The reason is,
I come
To see your younger sister.

Love Song

I am thinking,
I am thinking,
I have found
My lover!
I think it is so!

Dance Song

Strike you
Our land
With curved horns.

Death Song

The odor of death,
I discern the odor of death
In front of my body.

War Song

The noise of passing feet
On the prairie.
They are playing a game
As they come,
These men.

Song of the Butterfly

In the coming heat
Of the day
I stood there.

Begging Dance Song

Maple sugar
Is the only thing
That satisfies me.

Dream Song

As my eyes
Search the prairie,
I feel the summer in the spring.
Whenever I pause
The noise Of the village.


Dance Song

On a mountain,
The noise of the wind.


Love Song

A certain maiden
To the garden goes.
Lonely, She walks.

[Kenneth Rexroth’s introduction to Densmore’s translations of American Indian song-poems appeared earlier on Poems & Poetics, & the second part of his selection from her work will be posted later. Additional Densmore works are available as free PDF scans at http://www.archive.org/search.php?query=densmore%20AND%20mediatype%3Atexts%20AND%20subject%3A%22Indians%20of%20North%20America%20--%20Music%22]

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David Antin: From “Words to the Wise” (2 poems, 2009)

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 1:02 AM 0 comments


the wave betrays the wind
thirst teaches you the value of water
if you have nothing you’ve got nothing to lose
the squash calls the melon a cucumber
a small hole can sink a big ship
the road from the peak can only lead to the valley
its easier for a lake to become a swamp than for a swamp to become a lake
you can soften steel but it takes a lot of heat
experience may be a good teacher but its not a governess
when the river overflows, the last raindrop thinks it caused the flood
the sea swallows the wise as well as the fool
hope has distinguished relatives
if you’re looking for a lasting peace try a cemetery
a man with bad luck can drown in a teaspoon of water
looking at a broken pot won’t put it together again
what good is a loaf of bread when thousands are starving
the great volga began as a little stream
don’t become a violin if you don’t want to be stroked
what you tell the volga today the volga will tell the caspian tomorrow
its not the net that counts, it’s the fish
its easier for a dog to learn to howl than for a wolf to learn to bark
most cavalry songs are sung by infantrymen
a wolf without teeth is still a wolf
anyone can die without special training


If the ground under your feet is wet, the sky is to blame.
before you buy shoes, make sure you measure your feet
if you doubt what you hear, you can’t believe what you see
it’s as difficult to recover the past as to pick up spilled water
every needle has a point
if there’s a car ahead of you in a fog, you can follow its lights, but not too closely
no matter how tall you are, your legs still touch the ground
if you’re always in a hurry, you’ll never arrive on time
a person who walks in a straight line and a person who walks in a curved line
will never arrive at the same place
you can tell it on the mountain, but whisper it in the valley
if the morning is sunny, the evening can still bring clouds
a festival for some people is a traffic problem for others
time is a hallway we never get out of, except at the end
a question may be an answer to a question as an answer maybe a question to
an answer
a system of values may be nothing more than an accountant’s dream
it’s hard to be a bystander in a storm
the country is where the food is, but the city is where the money is
the fool will not believe you because your story is too complicated,
the educated man will not believe you because your story is too simple
there is no fact as unlikely as a giraffe
when you’re caught in the rain you’ll remember you forgot your umbrella
don’t climb a tree to look for fish
when you’re climbing a mountain don’t step back
if you’re holding a tool in your hand, it’s also holding you by the hand
you can’t use paint to cover a hole in the wall
there are two sides to every wall
if you don’t drink, the price of wine doesn’t matter
if you stand on a mountain top nothing is likely to fall on your head
if you go underground you may not have enough light
until you get in the water you don’t know what it’s like to swim

September, 2009

[David Antin’s most recent book of talk-poems, i never knew what time it was, was published by the University of California Press & is still easily available. Other pieces by Antin on the present site were posted on June 19, 2008 and on May 28 and June 17, 2009. Radical Coherency, his major collection of essays, will be published by the University of Chicago Press in 2010.]

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Matters concerning speech and writing are genuinely strange; proper conversation is a mere play of words. We can only marvel at the laughable error people make--believing that they speak about things. No one knows precisely what is peculiar to language, that it concerns itself merely with itself. For that reason, it is a wonderful and fertile mystery--that when someone speaks merely in order to speak, one precisely then expresses the most splendid and most original truths. Yet if one wishes to speak of something determinate, then temperamental language has them say the most laughable and perverse things. That is the reason too for the hatred that so many earnest people have toward language. They recognize their own willfulness, but do not observe that contemptible chatter is the infinitely earnest side of language. If only one could make people grasp that the case of language is similar to the case of mathematical formulae--they constitute a world for themselves-- they play with themselves alone, express nothing other than their wonderful nature, and precisely for that reason they are so expressive--precisely for that reason they mirror in themselves the curious play of relations in things. Only by way of freedom are they members of nature and only in their free movements does the world soul give utterance, making them a delicate standard of measure and blueprint for things. Thus it is with language too--whoever has a subtle sense of its application, its cadence, its musical spirit, whoever perceives in oneself the delicate effects of its inner nature, and moves one’s tongue and hand in accordance with it will be a prophet; in contrast, whoever knows it but does not have sufficient ear and sensibility for language, writes truths such as these, will be held hostage by language itself and will be mocked by human beings, as was Cassandra among the Trojans. If I believe I have hereby declared most precisely the essence and office of poesy, I know nonetheless that no human being can understand it, and that I have said something quite foolish, for the mere reason that I wanted to say it, so that no poesy comes to be. Yet what would happen if I had to talk? and if this linguistic drive to speak were the characteristic of inspiration of language, and of the efficacy of language in me? and if my will only willed precisely everything that I had to will--then in the end this could be without my knowledge or belief poesy and could make a mystery of language comprehensible? and thus I would be a writer by vocation, inasmuch as a writer is only an enthusiast of language?--

[Translation by Ferit Güven, from Novalis, The Philosophical and Theoretical Works]

FRIEDRICH SCHLEGEL, “ON INCOMPREHENSIBILITY” [Über die Unverständlichkeit] (1800)

[…] Of all things that have to do with communicating ideas, what ould be more fascinating than the question of whether such communication is actually possible? […]

Common sense […] probably did not have a difficult time in arriving at the conclusion that the basis of the incomprehensible is to be found in incomprehension. Now, it is a peculiarity of mine that I absolutely detest incomprehension, not only the incomprehension of the uncomprehending but even more the incomprehension of the comprehending. For this reason, I made a resolution quite some time ago to have a talk about this matter with my reader […]. I wanted for once to be really thorough and go through the whole series of my essays, admit their frequent lack of success with complete frankness, and so gradually lead the reader to being similarly frank and straightforward with himself. I wanted to show that all incomprehension is relative […]. I wanted to demonstrate that words often understand themselves better than do those who use them […]. I wanted to show that the purest and most genuine incomprehension emanates precisely from science and the arts—which by their very nature aim at comprehension and at making comprehensible—and from philosophy and philology; and so that the whole business shouldn’t turn around in too palpable a circle I had made a firm resolve really to be comprehensible, at least this time. […]

A great part of the incomprehensibility of the Athenaeum [Schlegel’s magazine, 1798-1800] is unquestionably due to the irony that to a greater or lesser extent is to be found everywhere in it. […] In order to facilitate a survey of the whole system of irony, we would like to mention here a few of the choicest kinds. The first and most distinguished of all is coarse irony. It is to be found in the real nature of things and is one of the most widespread of substances […]. Next there is fine or delicate irony; then extra-fine. Scaramouche employs the last type when he seems to be talking amicably and earnestly with someone when really he is only waiting for the chance to give him—while preserving the social amenities—a kick in the behind. This kind of irony is also to be found in poets, as well as straightforward irony, a type that flourishes most purely and originally in old gardens where wonderfully lovely grottoes lure the sensitive friend of nature into their cool wombs only to be-splash him plentifully from all sides with water and thereby wipe him clean of delicacy. Further, dramatic irony; that is, when an author has written three acts, then unexpectedly turns into another man and now has to write the last two acts. Double irony, when two lines of irony run parallel side-by-side without disturbing each other: one for the gallery, another for the boxes, though a few little sparks may also manage to get behind the scenes. Finally, there is the irony of irony. Generally speaking, the most fundamental irony of irony probably is that even it becomes tiresome if we are always being confronted with it. But what we want this irony to mean in the first place is something that happens in more ways than one. For example, if one speaks of irony without using it, as I have just done; if one speaks of irony ironically without in the process being aware of having fallen into a far more noticeable irony; if one can’t disentangle oneself from irony anymore, as seems to be happening in this essay on incomprehensibility; if irony turns into a mannerism and becomes, as it were, ironical about the author; […] and if irony runs wild and can’t be controlled any longer.

What gods will rescue us from all these ironies? The only solution is to find an irony that might be able to swallow up all these big and little ironies and leave no trace of them at all. I must confess that at precisely this moment I feel that mine has a real urge to do just that. But even this would only be a short-term solution. I fear that if I understand correctly what destiny seems to be hinting at, then soon there will arise a new generation of little ironies: for truly the stars augur the fantastic. And even if it should happen that everything were to be peaceful for a long period of time, one still would not be able to put any faith in this seeming calm. Irony is something one simply cannot play games with. It can have incredibly long-lasting effects. I have a suspicion that some of the most conscious artists of earlier times are still carrying on ironically, hundreds of years after their deaths, with their most faithful followers and admirers. […]
I’ve already been forced to admit indirectly that the Athenaeum is incomprehensible, and because it happened in the heat of irony, I can hardly take it back without in the process doing violence to that irony.

But is incomprehensibility really something so unmitigatedly contemptible and evil? Methinks the salvation of families and nations rests upon it. […] Yes, even man’s most precious possession, his own inner happiness, depends in the last analysis, as anybody can easily verify, on some such point of strength that must be left in the dark, but that nonetheless shores up and supports the whole burden and would crumble the moment one subjected it to rational analysis. Verily, it would fare badly with you if, as you demand, the whole world were ever to become wholly comprehensible in earnest. And isn’t this entire, unending world constructed by the understanding out of incomprehensibility or chaos? […]

[Translation by Peter Firchow, from Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde and the Fragments, University of Minnesota Press, 1971]


Romantic poetry is a progressive, universal poetry. Its aim isn't merely to reunite all the separate species of poetry and put poetry in touch with philosophy and rhetoric. It tries to and should mix and fuse poetry and prose, inspiration and criticism, the poetry of art and the poetry of nature; and make poetry lively and sociable, and life and society poetical; poeticize wit and fill and saturate the forms of art with every kind of good, solid matter for instruction, and animate them with the pulsations of humor. It embraces everything that is purely poetic, from the greatest systems of art, containing within themselves still further systems, to the sigh, the kiss that the poetizing child breathes forth in artless song. It can so lose itself in what it describes that one might believe it exists only to characterize poetical individuals of all sorts; and yet there still is no form so fit for expressing the entire spirit of an author: so that many artists who started out to write only a novel ended up by providing us with a portrait of themselves. It alone can become, like the epic, a mirror of the whole circumambient world, an image of the age. And it can also – more than any other form – hover at the midpoint between the portrayed and the portrayer, free of all real and ideal self-interest, on tbe wings of poetic reflection, and can raise that reflection again and again to a higher power, can multiply it in an endless succession of mirrors. It is capable of the highest and most variegated refinement, not only from within outwards, but also from without inwards; capable in that it organizes – for everything that seeks a wholeness in its effects – the parts along similar lines, so that it opens up a perspective upon an infinitely increasing classicism. Romantic poetry is in the arts what wit is in philosophy, and what society and sociability, friendship and love are in life. Other kinds of poetry are finished and are now capable of being fully analyzed. The romantic kind of poetry is still in the state of becoming; that, in fact, is its real essence: that it should forever be becoming and never be perfected. It can be exhausted by no theory and only a divinatory criticism would dare try to characterize its ideal. It alone is infinite, just as it alone is free; and it recognizes as its first commandment that the will of the poet can tolerate no law above itself. The romantic kind of poetry is the only one that is more than a kind, that it is, as it were, poetry itself: for in a certain sense all poetry is or should be romantic.

[Translation by Peter Firchow, from Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde and the Fragments, University of Minnesota Press, 1971]

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