[The following in its original appearance in 1970 was a foundational work for what we were already calling ethnopoetics. Dennis Tedlock and I had met earlier that year, and over the summer, while settled into Santa Fe, New Mexico, and environs, we worked with Barbara Tedlock and Diane Rothenberg on assembling the first issue of what we took to be (and so stated) “the first magazine of the world’s tribal poetries.” What has been done since then and what has failed to be done are of equal interest in looking back at this – at least for me.]


As the first magazine of the world’s tribal poetries, ALCHERINGA will not be a scholarly “journal of ethnopoetics” so much as a place where tribal poetry can appear in English translation & can act (in the oldest & newest of poetic traditions) to change men’s minds & lives. While its sources will be different from other poetry magazines, it will be aiming at the startling & revelatory presentation that has been common to our avant gardes. Along the way we hope

—by exploring the full range of man’s poetries, to enlarge our understanding of what a poem may be

—to provide a ground for experiments in the translation of tribal/oral poetry & a forum to discuss the possibilities & problems of translation from widely divergent cultures

—to encourage poets to participate actively in the translation of tribal/oral poetry

—to encourage ethnologists & linguists to do work increasingly ignored by academic publications in their fields, namely to present the tribal poetries as values in themselves rather than as ethnographic data

—to be a vanguard for the initiation of cooperative projects along these lines between poets, ethnologists, songmen, & others

—to return to complex/”primitive” systems of poetry as (intermedia) performance, etc., & to explore ways of presenting these in translation

—to emphasize by example & commentary the relevance of tribal poetry to where we are today: thus, in Gary Snyder’s words, “to master the archaic & the primitive as models of basic nature-related cultures...knowing that we are the first human beings in history to have all of man’s cultures available to our study, & being free enough of the weight of traditional cultures to seek out a larger identity”

—to assist the free development of ethnic self-awareness among young Indians & others so concerned, by encouraging a knowledgeable, loving respect among them & all people for the world’s tribal past & present —to combat cultural genocide in all its manifestations.


ALCHERINGA...”dream time” of the Arunta...”The Eternal Dream Time”...(or) “The Dreaming”...of a sacred heroic time long long ago when man & nature came to be...a kind of narrative of things that once happened; a kind of charter of things that still happen; & a kind of logos or principle of order transcending everything significant...the act of dreaming, as reality & symbol, (by which)...the artist is inspired to produce a new song...(by which) the mind makes contact with whatever mystery it is that connects The Dreaming & the Here-&-Now.
—W.E.H. Stanner, “The Dreaming”

what the informant told Franz Boas in 1920 (Keresan)

long ago her mother
had to sing this song and so
she had to grind along with it
the corn people have a song too
it is very good
I refuse to tell it
—Armand Schwerner

The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses, calling them by names &adorning them with the properties of woods, rivers, mountains, lakes, cities, nations, & whatever their enlarged & numerous senses could perceive.

And particularly they studied the genius of each city & country, placing it under its mental deity;
Til a system was formed, which some took advantage of, & enslaved the vulgar by attempting to realize or abstract the mental deities from their objects: thus began Priesthood;

Choosing forms of worship from poetic tales.

And at length they pronounc’d that the Gods had order’d such things.

Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast.

—William Blake (1790)

Time flows past the permanent central position ... they live at a place called noon, at the center of the world, the only place where space & time intersect.
—Stanley Diamond, from “Anaguta Cosmography” (Nigeria)

O, they were hot for the world they lived in, these Maya, hot to get it down the way it was—the way it is, my fellow citizens.
—Charles Olson

Sioux Vision Event

Go to a mountain-top & cry for a vision.

It was a vast old religion, greater than anything we know: more starkly & nakedly religious...For the whole lifeeffort of man was to get his life into contact with the elemental life of the cosmos, mountain-life, cloud-life, thunder-life, air-life, earth-life, sun-life. To come into immediate felt contact, without an intermediary or mediator, is the root meaning of religion, & at the sacred races, the runners hurled themselves in a terrible cumulative effort, through the air, to come at last into naked contact with the very life of the air, which is the life of thc clouds, & so of the rain.
—D.H. Lawrence

A Wintu Indian Statement on the Ecological Crisis

The White people never cared for land or deer or bear. When we Indians kill meat, we eat it all up. When we dig roots we make little holes. When we build houses, we make little holes. When we burn grass for grasshoppers, we don’t ruin things. We shake down acorns & pinenuts. We don’t chop down the trees. We only use dead wood. But the White people plow up the ground, pull up the trees, kill everything. The tree says, ‘Don’t. I am sore. Don’t hurt me.’ But they chop it down & cut it up. The spirit of the land hates them. They blast out trees & stir it up to its depths. They saw up the trees. That hurts them. The Indians never hurt
anything, but the White people destroy all. They blast rocks & scatter them on the ground. The rock says, Don’t! You are hurting me.’ But the White people pay no attention. When the Indians use rocks, they take little round ones for their cooking...How can the spirit of the earth like the White man?...Everywhere the White man has touched it, it is sore.
—Old woman speaking to Dorothy Lee “in a prophetic vein”

Zuni Cryptogram

teyalanne / ground
tek’inaye / the ground is wet
te’ananne / footprint
teyacchinne / cultivated field
teky’appowanne / hill
tewutso’ya / the weather is clear
tene’’anaye / a strong wind is blowing
tets’enaye / the weather is cold
tehts’inaye / it is winter
telakwayi / spring
tehya / it is valuable
telhasshianne / shrine
teshkwinne / taboo
tewusu / sacred
tewusukky’a / pray
tenanne / song
tepehanne / pottery drum
telapnanne / story
tesshukw’a / yesterday
tehlhi’a / night is coming
tewani / tomorrow
tewankwin / eastward
teyaye / living
tek’ohannanne / daylight
tek’ohannan aaho’’i / daylight people (mankind)

The American Indian is the vengeful ghost lurking in the back of the troubled American mind. Which is why we lash out with such ferocity & passion, so muddied a heart, at the black-haired young peasants & soldiers who are the “Viet Cong.” That ghost will claim the next generation as its own. When this has happened, citizens of the USA will at last begin to be Americans, truly at home on the continent, in love with their land. The chorus of a Cheyenne Ghost Dance song—”hi-niswa’vita’ki’ni”—”We shall live again.”
—Gary Snyder

He who loses his dreaming is lost.
—Australian Aborigine

[Further excerpts from Alcheringa can be found on Jerrold Shiroma's Duration Press web site.]

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Hiromi Itō: Coyote

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 6:59 AM 0 comments
Translation with commentary by Jeffrey Angles

[On the occasion of the publication of Hiromi Ito’s Killing Kanoko: Selected Poems, her first major collection of poems translated into English, published by Action Books in Notre Dame, Indiana. Ito’s poem, “The Matreatment of Meaning,” was posted on Poems and Poetics on January 7, 2009, with commentary and biographical note.]

My grandmother was a medium
My mother was a magician
My mother’s older sister was a geisha
My mother’s younger sister had tuberculosis
My mother’s other younger sister was barren
All were wonderfully beautiful
The spells mother taught me
All required saké, rice, and salt
We were afraid of snakes, water, and the east

My daughter began speaking baby talk at two months
When the coyote speaks to her
She smiles and always responds
The coyote: A dry plain, plain, plain
My daughter: Plain, plain, plain
The coyote: No lying
My daughter: No lying, no lying, no lying
The coyote: Hungry, hungry
My daughter: Hungry too
Coyote: Hah, hah, hah
My daughter: Haaaaaaaa-ohh
My daughter’s father, my father: I wanted to concentrate just on the coyote I wanted to isolate myself, insulate myself, see nothing other than the coyote
And I wanted to trade places with him

The milk flows from my breast bountifully
To fatten my daughter it flows in overabundance, much too much
My grandmother’s milk also flowed bountifully
With it she fattened her four girls and two boys
My mother’s older sister’s milk also flowed bountifully
With it she fattened her three boys
My mother’s milk also flowed bountifully
With it she fattened just me, and the leftover milk flowed out
My mother’s younger sister’s milk also flowed bountifully
With it she fattened her two boys
My mother’s other younger sister nursed and nursed her adopted child
With her milkless breasts until eventually
The milk began to flow from her body
There is so much rain
Everything and anything gets soaked
Inside a damp frame, grandmother’s beautiful smiling face with no eyebrows or teeth
My mother’s older sister’s beautiful face with no chin, teeth, or hair but with large lips
My mother’s younger sister’s beautiful face with fleshy, hairless lashes and no teeth
My mother’s younger sister’s beautiful face with spots and no teeth
My mother’s beautiful face with sagging cheeks, crow’s feet, and no armpit hair nor teeth
But all of them do have breasts that sag

The women all enjoy fondling the babies in the family
My daughter
Is the only female grandchild
Is the only female niece

The words of the women who fondle the babies in the family
Slowly turn to baby talk before our eyes
The women from age ninety to fifty gather
(The ninety year-old has been dead for a decade)
The women sit together and
Begin to speak in baby talk

My grandmother was a medium
My mother was a magician
My mother’s older sister was a geisha
My mother’s younger sister had tuberculosis
My mother’s other younger sister was barren
My grandfather was a paralytic
My mother’s older brother died young
My mother’s younger brother did not speak at all
My father was related to none of them
My mother’s husband and my husband
Vanished right before
I gave birth to my daughter

Coyote: Gyaatei
My daughter: Gyaatei
Coyote: Haaraagyaatei
My daughter: Haraharagyaatei
Coyote: Gyaagyaagyaatei
My daughter: Haragyaatei

The precipitation and humidity this time of year
My mother chants her magical spells
Cursing the humidity
Saké and rain
Rice and rain
Salt and rain
Ordering the water
To flow to the east
Forgive us, oh honorable snake

Saké and rain
Rice and rain
Salt and rain

NOTE ON "COYOTE": In the 1980s, Itō became fascinated with the poetic traditions of Native Americans which she read in the modern, colloquial translations of Kanaseki Hisao. She was struck by the combination of ancient myth and contemporary language, and soon afterward, she tried her own hand at using contemporary spoken language to write in a semi-mythological mode. This poem is one result of that interest.

Shamanism and magic remained an important part of everyday life in the remote regions of Japan until relatively recently. Itō’s grandmother was a shamaness who claimed to speak to the dead, and Itō’s mother claimed to have magical powers and taught her children her spells. This poem explores the mystical connection between Itō and the various generations of women in her family.

The second paragraph of “Coyote” derives its inspiration from the German performance artist Joseph Beuys. In 1974, he came to New York and immediately installed himself in a gallery, where he remained in a small room with a coyote for three days. Beuys later explained his piece, “I wanted to isolate myself, insulate myself, see nothing of America other than the coyote.” Through forging a spiritual connection with this animal, which Native Americans had believed to be divine, Beuys hoped to come to start the process of making amends for the destruction waged upon the culture and environment of the Native Americans.

The exchange between the coyote and the daughter contains a bastardized quote from the Heart Sutra (Hanya shingyō), a short Buddhist sutra which some sects believe to express the essential concepts of the religion. The sutra concludes with a mantra, which if read in Japanese, states “Gyatei Gyatei Haragyatei Harasogyatei Boji Sowaka” (Gone, gone, to the other shore, gone, reach, accomplish enlightenment). In the poem, the coyote and the daughter do not repeat the excerpt from the Heart Sutra accurately. If anything, it becomes a symbol of a sort of mysterious, mystical exchange between them.

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Jesus at a wedding
waits for us

monkeys with chains around their legs
surround him

dishes of squabs on table

the strangers come to wash his feet,
tra la they sing

a boy perched at a window
blows a trumpet

cherries & pears along the floor

a single fly

a skull rests at his feet,
a bird over his head

A VISION OF THE GODDESS, after cranach

sage & holy
she is sharpening a long stick

while on a swing
a babe sails by

the sky fills up with
warriors on goats & boars

a sleeping dog

a dish of fruit

a castled landscape


a man called john,
much like the others,
stands barefoot near a lake
with swans & boats

I turn away from him
& wait,
another year inside my head,
another cycle

then see him, crying
from his cauldron,
sad turks surround him,
warts on their noses

pouring water on his head


the priest’s hand underneath
the bishop’s robe

against the rump, the flesh
envelops him & hides

whatever floats around the dancing
twitching jesus

on his altar: heads & hands
tacked onto space

a hand holding a switch
a hand that points

a head propped on a pedestal
a head in mid-air

separated from the crown,
the spear, the rattling dice

under the dancer’s feet
a robe in flames


[These poems -- ekphrastic in nature -- were recovered, along with numerous others, for a volume of Uncollected Poems to be published in 2010 by Mark Weiss & Junction Press. Additional selections have appeared in earlier postings.]

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Eleni Sikelianos: For a Panel on Poetry & the Environment

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 6:31 AM 0 comments

[Notes for a panel on Poetry and the Environment, 2008. The panel description states: "Global warming, genetic engineering, and extinction are terms heard frequently but how is it that poets are responding to a universe clearly and often detrimentally changing? How might writing about the environment affect a writer's conception of form, process, and the imagination?"]

Whatever the problem is, I am always a part of it.

My cell phone, my jeans, my salmon, my cotton sheets, the dyes to color them green, my car, my commute, my coffee, my hair color, my soap, my book, my lamp light, my laundry, my groceries and my grocery bag, my president, my money, my daughter, my daughter’s diapers, her blocks, her magnets, her dolls — every thing I do or use or touch seems to connect me in turn to a web of destruction. That is the crushing truth of our current existence on this planet.

Our household laws, our eco-nomy are in disorder.
Our household thinking, our eco-logos is bewitched.
We have not yet learned how to embody a new order.

What is my poem’s carbon footprint?

The poem, also, is concerned with webs, and can detonate in an emotional explosion. But the poem, unlike me, is a stealth worker, and can slip through the world undetected. In the wake of the poem, I crash through the world breaking everything the poem has stitched together.

Our great contribution to the exploration of the human psyche, the total investigation of self as center, has now reached the end of plausibility, of possibility. In the new age of biology and weather, we will adapt or we will not. At that point that we no longer adapt we become a closed system. As far as I can tell, closed systems are not living systems.

Another meaning of ecology’s logos: the telling of our tales, our speech, our talk, bringing a deepened sense of reality. For centuries, poems and art have been teaching us how to be in the room(s) of the world and listen. The poet’s ecosystem is one in which we THINK-SEE, where we learn the only way to get it close to “right,” in reading or writing, is to look, and look again. Poems help me move in the distance between the theoretical and the real.

A tree bends, gravity
pursues it, a hound
after its rabbit, the body
takes flight, physics
gives chase

The deep looking the poem requires, the way it questions habits of seeing and of mind, makes me more attentive to relationship and pattern, around and within me. Thus, any poem is an eco-prod.
Any poem is web-work, with world as prey.
Out there is a radial symmetry that the poem reflects.
The poem says, nothing is lateral.
It says, nothing is bilateral.
What catch have you there, web of words?

The lineal confines of language, its pure morphology, moving in straight lines from left to right, forward to back, or right to left, suggest we were hoping to fix a kind of logic/logos there — to understand and express our words in no uncertain terms. Syntax pushes us ahead in the assumption that meaning adds up, as we thrust through time in the arrow’s forward motion. This allows sequential progression, and allows us to strip the economy (household rules) without looking too far forward or back. Numbers tell many stories, but they don’t tell all the stories. Not everything adds up. The simple acts of metaphor or simile pierce the closed system, and suggest simultaneity. We look through the poem’s microscope and see that a cell nucleus resembles a sea urchin. A minute resembles a mitochondria, and it’s our mother’s. These images — of endoplasmic reticulation, of ribosomes and golgi, have always sent me swooning. At first I thought it was because I was destined to be a microbiologist. Early in the math requirements, I discovered that it was the differently arduous path of poetry.

In the economy of the poem, a cardinal is a flying tulip.

In the poem, economy and ecology adhere.

I have never been one for logic, or even Plato, when possibility seems to swarm at every corner, and I cannot see my way to closing the system; but I have been one for naming and systems of naming, for nets of belonging where word may slip from thing to thing but the aim is: no possible thing is ever lost.

Words are, language is, despite our demands upon it, its own ecosystem, its own wild collection of species and mutations. It growls, it pounces, it purrs, it grovels, its populations rely on each other, they die out, they explode. Language comes from the world, the human and animal and planetary household which birthed it. Each possible word, even our ofs and our ands, is itself webbed to the world, and this is its further and perhaps its ideal logic. This evolutionary symbiosis of the word stuns me.

Early on, I loved leafing through biology and oceanography books, magnetized by the richness of language and forms found there. These pages were haunted by Linnaeus, the father of taxonomy, and his invention of naming, ranking and classifying organisms — a system that has completely permeated our worldview. According to Canadian anthropologist Hugh Brody, most hunter-gatherer languages don’t have categorical words, like fish or tree; they have specific words, like trout, salmon, perch, elm, maple, aspen, but not the broad-stroke word under which all these words fall. (Whence comes the cliché that the Inuit language has a hundred words for “snow”; in fact, it has no word for snow; instead it has many specific words for types of snow.) Apparently ours (i.e., this English) is no longer a hunter-gatherer language. What does that mean in terms of consciousness, how we approach the world? As I was working on The California Poem, a long aggregate that wallows in the excesses and losses of my home state, it began to occur to me that our basic bilateral symmetry might have led us to thinking about language and the world in a bilateral way. As you know, we’re based on a mirror plan (except for the heart and mistakes), and language, too, is a mirror plan, enantiomorphically reflecting the world. That is, like the body in a mirror, they do no match up, tree and word, when superimposed. I began to wonder what kind of language the ocean animals I’ve always loved— an animal of pentamerous radial symmetry like the cnidaria (which include the jellyfish), or echinoderms (starfish, urchins) — would make, given that their symmetry is radial — a kind of infinite and round possibility, when you can be sliced in any direction and still have more or less matching halves. (Some animals, too, like certain scallops and sea hares, have what you might call radial sexuality.) How would a radial language change the world? Does bilateral language lead us to in/out, dark/light, tyger/lamb? I’ve often heard language described as a technology, but it could more aptly be described as a living, protean organism, not unrelated to other zoological forms or ecosystems. How dependent is the one on the other?

The dancer Martha Graham once claimed that her time as a child amidst Santa Barbara, California’s lush flora had a profound impact on her method of dance. Growing up in that same town, the authority of the Pacific Ocean (a few blocks away) held powerful sway, shaping my sense of sound, language, mystery and beauty.

The sea is like God’s big eye, where the edges of our own eyes bleed into the ocean, in saline ratio and roundness.

It expresses an indifferent monotony that might resemble what really happens in anyone’s day. Alongside the quotidian, it also experiences event and catastrophe, the other major forms of meaning-making in our lives.

The animals and processes and elements around us show us how to work within the altogether different-from-them media of language and thought. Whereas air might represent the silence and breezes in a poem, and light might travel in some of the same telemetrics as syntax, the sea shows how meaning accretes in rhythm and sound; beads of language repeat, resifted again and again to articulate pattern, cycle, recurrence. (The sea’s thought is not unlike the imagination of the poem.)

I first came to poetry as a sound, a music that is neither the melody of speech nor the melody of what we generally call music, but its own song that shifts and hovers needle-like between the sounds of the human world and the various noises out there, like the hissing in outer space that is the aftermath of the big bang. Language, when it pushes toward a poem, gathers around frictions and rhythms in syllables. While we read the poem silently to ourselves, an orchestra crashes around inside the skull bones as k’s and t’s cacophonize and d’s and e’s euphonize. I feel intuitively certain that human language developed along the lines of the surrounding soundscape. “From the snapping of twigs, we learned k’s and t’s.” The poet Louis Zukofsky points out that Shakespeare hears the birds in lines like “Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang” (Sonnet 73).

“To float the ear in beauty” listen to the sea.

The musical horizon of poetry, which depends on the human voice “permits anybody”…”to ‘tune in’ to the human tradition, to its voice which has developed among the sounds of natural things, and thus escape the confines of time and place” (Zukofsky, Prepositions, 20). So says Zukofsky in “A Statement for Poetry.” They say you can hear the sea crashing in Homer’s Greek. You can most certainly hear it in Whitman’s English:

Soothe! soothe! soothe!
Close on its wave soothes the wave behind,
And again another behind embracing and lapping, every one close
But my love soothes not me, not me.

I’m not the first to suggest Whitman learned form, the shape of his strophe, from the long breath of the sea, and the line’s variation from the raggedy tides. In Whitman, language, like water, is loving each rock and syllable as it comes in. Syncopation might be offered by a Roseate Tern (a bird almost wiped out in the 1880’s for millinery supplies), whose cries conjoint with the waves’ might be comparable to the strange protuberances in a line’s rhythm. Like a wave, a line can come in quietly, or a line can screech, “like some old crone rocking the cradle…” At the edges of this continent, we hear Whitman’s push and recession of sound. Hush and roar, hush and roar.

Poetry, according to Zukofsky, is “precise information on existence out of which it grows, and information of its own existence, that is the movement (and tone) of words. Rhythm, pulse, keeping time with existence, is the distinction of its technique.”

How do we keep time with existence in a human era that seems to be bent on wiping most life forms, and even a number of elementary forces, out?

We come back to the poem, to the world, to these complex adaptive systems.

Systems that adapt to change, despite the absence of central control.

Marked by non-linearity.

Let us consider how the blood vessels in a wolf’s paw pads are specialized to increase circulation so a wolf may walk on the ice without freezing her feet. Then let us consider the rest of the wolf — her leg, her belly, her muzzle, her caribou, her world, her winter, her field mouse, her fox.

We quickly see that each point on the body, each point on earth or in space, each point in the poem can be infinitely expanded in thought and study, proliferating information and meaning.

And we see that we cannot see the wolf as the caribou sees her or even as a human standing on the ground 100 feet away sees her. We have not a consistent light, system, set of conditions. So, the poem. So, the world.

Like consciousness
the whole never equals the parts

And here is the poem. A thing I will never fully understand, its adaptive syntax, grammar, its submerged intentions, and here is how I love it — darkened not by mind or by time, but darkened and brightened, like extra control knobs on the TV screen, by complexity and mystery.

Open systems loop into each other. No ocean, no poem, no black-footed ferret population is a closed system.

Poetry inhabits both the foreground “reality” as well as all the dark creases and folds of possibility between (linguistic and other) realities. It is a parallel universe (universes), although one that doesn’t require mathematical formulae … and I can misapprehend the science in my apprehension of language and the world. Like science, it is both theoretical and real, and perhaps unlike some forms of science, is not so concerned with the division between these states — actually, poetry collapses the border between the theoretical and the real.

Language is the only place we have some animals left.
(Act, actor.)

[Eleni Sikelianos is the author of The Monster Lives of Boys & Girls (for which she recieved the National Poetry Series Award), Earliest Worlds, The Book of Tendons, The Lover's Numbers, To Speak While Dreaming, The California Poem, and The Book of Jon. Her most recent book is Body Clock (Coffee House Press, 2008).]

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Poets in Society: A Reconsideration

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 7:14 AM 0 comments

Written for the People’s Poetry Gathering, New York, 2003,
& previously unpublished

Artists and poets are inextricably in society. This is both our opportunity and our doom. And even when we think of ourselves as in the margins or on the fringes or alienated or outsiders, these are all social terms and we are all of us social creatures. We are also, as poets, sharers of a common language, in the shaping and reshaping of which we put ourselves forward as hyperconscious players/actors/agents. That there are other agents, with more power over the means of dissemination, may be our misfortune, but we seem to persevere in spite of that. By doing what we do we call their language (& their world) into question, and this forms the basis of what we think of, hopefully or foolishly, as our counterpoetics.

I have never written a poem that wasn’t a response or a comment on the world in which I live and the language that I (and we) use in that living. I have never written a poem without a politics at center. At the same time I have recognized myself as a poor purveyor of what’s called “political poetry.” By this I mean poetry that purports to act as a rallying cry – not to convince the unconvinced but to affirm the convinced in their conviction. I have lived through enough bad times to have tried my hand & voice at this among other forms of composition, and I’ve conceded that others (poets and near-poets) do it far better than I do.

In a recent interview, the following question was asked of me:

It is frequent to hear claims about the impossibility of an avant-garde today, as well as complaints about the scarcity & poorness of contemporary poetical production. I feel that "Millenium" brings a more positive stance, emphasizing the possibilities, the "revolutions of the word" still to come, not their closure. Thinking specifically of the international experimental traditions you gather in "Millenium", do you see that poe(lit)ical movements are possible or desirable today? If they exist, where would they be occurring?

My response follows.

It’s my belief that those “revolutions” are inherent to poetry as we’ve made it & will continue to be so into the foreseeable future -- as long, at least, as ideas of freedom & transformation (change) remain a part of our outlook over all. I don’t say that with any certainty, however, because revolutions are an area in which authority – the wisdom or the will to get it done – is, unlike some other things, a matter for the very young. So while I feel, as ever, ready for those kinds of revolution, it’s not for me to say.

Revolution – if that’s still the going word – is something more than a change of style or fashion. So when you’re playing with the words & come up with a portmanteau like poe(lit)ical, you’re hitting on the dual characteristics (poetical & political) of what was once the avant-garde & certainly the avant-garde of art & poetry that formed itself as movements. For those in the early days of experimental modernism – Futurists & Surrealists & Dadas – the ambition was to transform society & consciousness together, & it was only when the social transformation was separated from the poetic one (under the pressures of communism on the left & fascism on the right) that the avant-garde project put itself in question. In the post-World War II time, the poets of the avant-garde – whatever avant-garde there was – were no longer so quick to place their art, as the Surrealists once had it, “at the service of the revolution.” The general tone, as in words from the Cobra poet Christian Dotremont that we cite in Poems for the Millennium, was “against all isms, against all that implied a system.” This meant – for many – a politics against a politics, but with a leftward tilt & keeping, over all, a freedom of occasion – where & when to act. And the occasions included a widespread opposition to war & to resurgent forms of nationalism & racism, but also a reawakened sense of the poet as a spokesperson for peoples & species under siege.

The result by the 1960s was the appearance of a new “dialectics of liberation,” political & personal & marked by a sense of resistance, of breaking free (in word & act, mind & body), while retaining a more-than-formalist conception of the poem as vehicle-for-transformation. As Allen Ginsberg wrote, drawing from an older source: “When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake.” And the Japanese “postwar poets” (in a “demand” voiced by Ooka Makoto): “Bring back totality through poetry.”

That anyway was where I found poetry – in the days in particular of the postwar & the cold war. Even in a movement, say, like that of the American “language poets” – the emphasis falling on that key word “language” – the underlying issues remained political & existential. Indeed, as Charles Bernstein put it, “In order to fully develop the meaning of a formal rupture or extension, we need a synoptic, multilevel, interactive response that accounts, in hopefully unconventional antiauthoritative ways, for sexual, class, local-historical, biographical, & structural dimesnions of a poem.” Or, in Ron Silliman’s words, which still ring true to me: “[A] critique of reference and normative syntax ... situated within the larger question of what, in the last part of the twentieth century, it means to be human.”

Other movements, like those grouped around ethnic & gender identity, were & remain more overtly agenda-driven & sometimes, from my perspective at least, lose the sense of how a “revolution of the word” relates to those other revolutions. But even here, as I’ve stated above, there are language questions at issue – black voices / white voices, female voices / male voices, dialects & dialectics, written word & shouted word. Such language issues – the whole slew of them & more – are still the heart of our poetics, though what the future holds is never amenable to easy guessing or glib prophecy. Certainly, as I see it, the work is far from done, & the challenge of a poetry & a counterpoetics is as much needed as ever. That in the end it may be a largely losing proposition is also possible, but I can only act as if it isn’t.

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Project: Compatibility & Mutual Relevance, Anthropology/Literature.
Co-ordinated project: Amerindian Poetry.
Previous Ref.: 4/12-13/1970, Notre Dame Literary Festival: File UK101GS
Loc.: 30 Jefferson Road, Princeton, N.J. 4/12/1971, 19h.-24. 30 h.

(From discussion on “Young America” & its greening, or not,
(File UK101GS), into:)

GS: Don’t let’s call it an interview, make it a conversation.

(Intention to write an article; providential visit of Informant: “Well, it is an interview…in a sense it’s anthropology….” Pause, Kherdian on his concern with Amerindians in early teens. Did he ever meet any?)

GS: Yes, on this farm about 20 miles north of Seattle, when I was about 12. An old Indian came around in a truck selling smoked salmon. We also saw many Indians at the Farmers’ Market in Seattle. No, I don’t remember talking to them. But I do remember clearly realizing at the age of 5 or 6 that these were prior people. My parents said the old salmon-seller was here before them. I saw few other children and spent most of my time in the woods. When I asked questions about the landscape, plants, birds, etc. my parents couldn’t answer. I thought perhaps they hadn’t been there long enough. Then there were the Indian villages along Puget Sound. I became very conscious of the history of the American Continent, the shortness of occupation-time: the State of Washington was wild before 1860 or so. My sense of the Indian became very intense with this reading and the sense of what the White man had done to the land and to the Indians both came together very soon and aroused a sense of outrage.

(Realization that I sd. have had a tape-recorder. “You realize, I’ve got to reconstitute this conversation, er, interview, I’ve got to write Snyder.” Feverish note-taking: hand no longer used to it. “What did your parents contribute to this orientation?”)

GS: My father was a N.W. man, working on ships before he met my mother: as a coal-passer, then a purser. My mother had come up with her mother from Texas. She was working her way through College writing classes. She wrote a lot, got into journalism. She was the literary one, but they both provided a background of political radicalism and non-conformism, sharpened by the Depression. A sense of detachment and a critical eye for your own culture may help you towards Anthropology.

(“There’s going to be mile on mile of interpretation by and by. I think it’s best to add the facts. Who taught you Anthropology? What excited you most about the courses and why?”)

GS: I was onto this wilderness and Anthropology thing very early. As a teenager, I subscribed to the journal of the Wilderness Society: “the Living Wilderness”. I’d write Congressmen about danger from timber companies on public lands; danger from bounties on coyotes. I saw the treatment of Indians and this land exploitation as the same old rip-off. My parents made the identification with Capitalism. My parents broke up when I was about 12, 13 and somehow I was left alone in the City. Yes, Portland. I made a bunch of city-urchin adaptations to a wildlife. I kept my freedom by looking after myself, paying my own rent and so on. Worked as a copy boy on a newspaper from 4 to midnight: my mother had helped me. The newspaper men liked me and showed me the insides of the City: the courts, the jails, the city government: a nitty-gritty kind of education. Yes, a kind of sociology already. I’d gotten into High School and I knew I wanted to stay with it whatever else happened. Out of this tumultuous career, there were poems - a teacher showed them to a College friend; I got into Reed on my poetry alone. My first I was a bad student. After that it was o.k.

(Anthropology at Reed?)

GS: A one-man Department: David French. He’s still at Reed. He eventually became an ethnobotanist mainly and editor of the American Journal of Ethnobotany. His interest was in the Wasco and Wishram Indians on the Warm Springs reservation east of Mt. Hood. Took several courses over 4 years: Intro. to Ethnological Theory; Culture & Personality; Introduction to Linguistics; Physical Anthropology; Far Eastern Ethnology; Amerindian Ethnology. I enjoyed them.

(Remembering my own plethora of teachers and places, but had gone into it for religion, myth, weltanschauung: systems/what made them tick: from Griaule, Levy and Levi-Strauss in Paris to Redfield in Chicago. “What was your main interest?”)

GS: Mythology-folklore-linguistics. I did a tutorial reading course with French on this; he didn’t teach it formally. Went through the Scandinavian classical material thoroughly, the Stith Thompson stuff on folklore classification, some Jessup North Pacific Expedition material, Boas on Tsmishian Mythology, Swanton....No, not much Mesoamerican: I had a strong sense of the North West.

(Any conflict at this stage between Anthropological and Literary studies? cf.: easy to talk poetry and anthro. at Chicago in the same breath but back among the British Socio. Anths.: wow!)

GS: No: mythology and literature get along well. No conflict.

(Thesis? Is it available; has any one seen it?)

GS: Reed requires a B.A. thesis. Mine’s called “Dimensions of a Myth”. I like it: it’s indicative of much of what happens in my poetry later whatever it’s worth or not as anthropology. One Ph.D. candidate is looking at it. I have to give you a permit.

(Writes out permit on spot. “Did you ever do any field work?”)

GS: No, never formally. But I hung out a lot on the Warm Springs reservation collecting folktales pretty formally: noting, taping, typing. In the summers of 51 and 54. I also did some winter seasons as a student but didn’t use the material in the thesis. Then I worked as a logger (in 54) and got more information - it went in the “Berry Feast” piece. I hitched around and hung around and got onto very intimate terms with Indians.

(Powerful reminiscences of a great time. Smile. We agree to cool some of the talk. O.K. self-censorship. “Why did you put some of those Reviews into Earth House Hold? They strike me as Juvenilia, perhaps not worth reprinting?”)

GS: Well, Juvenilia yes, but they’re not as superficial as they might appear. They were done while I was studying Chinese: no credits involved. For “Midwest Folklore”. The Clark piece is a put-down of course. I’ve never seen any bad reviews of it and yet it’s a bad book. I really wanted to suggest that unexpurgated texts are needed rather than bowdlerized ones. But the Jaime do Angulo: well no one in Anthropology wrote a serious piece about A. But Jaime de Angulo you must realize was a great culture hero on the West Coast. He was a Spaniard with a Paris M.D., came to the South West, quit the army to live with Indians, moved to California. Self-taught linguist, a good one. He never had a regular appointment, he was just too wild. Burned a house down one night when drunk, rode about naked on a horse at Big Sur, member of the Native American Church, great friend of Jeffers - the only man Jeffers ever allowed to visit him day or night. No: I never met him or Jeffers. So: at the end of World War II, Jaime de Angulo was one of the few people alive to jazz up California. These reviews have more meaning than you think in terms of literary culture.

(Have to cool a wee bit more about J. de A’s exploits. Ah the secret within the secret within the secret! “Well, this is bringing us to Indiana...”)

GS: I wanted to go to Indiana to develop the study of oral literature, to study oral literature as style, as raconteur technique - yes, o.k., narrative technique. In summer 51 I’d been on the reservation. Then in the fall of 51 I had this fellowship. I only stayed one semester.

(Where was everybody at certain times? NT at Chicago working up to the Maya. When was Charles Olson at Yucatan? And Black Mountain...I think Black Mountain starting just about when NT leaving for the Maya. Why was I never told? “Who did you work with at Indiana?”)

GS: Well, Charles Vogelin, Thomas Sebeok, Fred Householder and a fine ethnomusicologist George Herzog.

And Dell Hymes...

Strong reaction. Ha! Saw DH at Sussex ASA about 2-3 years ago. Conference on Linguistics: I’d already quit. Asked DH about whom to contact to get material on the secret history of the anthropoets and he was full of suggestions. GS pleased about conference.)

GS: Dell was at Reed, one year ahead of me and, or course, at Indiana one year ahead. He helped to get me to Indiana. He was my roommate for that semester. This putting of people in touch with each other: About 4 or 5 years ago, I put Stanley Diamond in touch with Jerry Rothenberg (I’d been corresponding with Jerry for about 10 years) and it was Dell who had put Stanley in touch with me. And now we’re altogether on the editorial board of Alcheringa ...

(“This reminds me that in 51 there was this great Wenner Gren thing in N.Y. Levi-Strauss was so surprised to see me in the corridors - I’d worked with him three years but we’d hardly exchanged as many words - that he took me for a drink along with Roman Jakobson. Do you remember about this?)

GS: No, but come to think of it I remember Sebeok talking to us about the great Anthrolinguists conference at Indiana. That must have come before it?

(Up and down the East Coast after Yale and before Chicago: Kardiner in N.Y., Stirling at the Smithsonian, Stewart and Kroeber at Columbia (Kroeber: “Young man, if you’re going to Chicago, you’ll need a thick scarf ”) ... back in Yale: Murdock and Linton who could not help me get on out from under Jefferson and American Democracy: Orientation! “O.K., we’re getting to the crunch: why did you quit?” We already both know this part by heart, I guess. ..)

GS: I decided to quit because it became evident that the things I wanted to do would be better done in poetrythan in scholarship. The economic reasons for a scholarly career weren’t incentive enough. At the magicsuperstitious level, let’s say the Muse is jealous. She won’t tolerate you having several mistresses. A commitment is required. On the practical level - Dell and I talked about this a lot, Dell was going through the same kind of thing - well if you’re going to do a good job it’s got to be whole time. I believe in scholarship if that’s what you want but it has to be well done. A Ph.D. in Anthropology is demanding. I did think about getting the Ph.D. and then quitting, but it seemed to me that the kind of effort one put into getting a Ph.D. was essentially repetitive...like proving some sort of point, almost like showing off. It wasn’t an easy decision. And I’m not sure I’ve found anyone to do what it was I wanted to do ...

[The interview by Tarn was structured by him into something more than an interview, a dialogue in which either participant might be the one who made the transition “from anthropologist to informant.” The work in this form appeared originally in Alcheringa, the journal of ethnopoetics edited by myself and Dennis Tedlock, from which further excerpts can be found at the Duration Press web site. The second part of the conversation will appear in a later posting on Poems and Poetics. (J.R.)]

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Nakahara Chuya: Three Poems Newly Englished

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 7:37 AM 0 comments

Translations from Japanese by Jerome Rothenberg & Yasuhiro Yotsumoto


Look at this, it’s my bone,
a tip of bone torn from its flesh,
filthy, filled up with woes,
it’s the days of our lives
sticking out, a blunt bone
bleached by the rain.

There’s no shine to it,
innocent, stupidly white,
absorbing the rain,
blown back by the wind,
just barely
reflecting the sky.

Funny imagining, seeing
this bone on a chair
in a restaurant
packed to the gills, & eating
mitsuba leafy & boiled,
a bone but alive.

Look at this, it’s my bone,
& is that me staring
& wondering: Strange,
was my soul left behind
& has it come back
where its bone is,
daring to look?

On the half dead grass
on the bank of a brook
in my home town, standing
& looking – who’s there?
Is it me? A bone
sticking out
a bone stupidly white
& high as a billboard.



The field until yesterday
was burning now
it stretches under clouds
& sky unmindful.
And they say the rain
each time it comes
brings autumn that much
closer even more so
autumn borne cicadas
sing out everywhere,
nesting sometimes in a tree
awash in grass.

I smoke a cigarette,
smoke spiraling
through stale air,
I try & try
to stare
at the horizon.
Can’t be done,
The ghosts of heat
& haze
stand up or flop down.
And I find myself alone there,

A cloudy sky
dark golden light
plays off now
as it always was,
so high I can’t help
looking down.
I tell you that I live
resigned to ennui,
drawing from my cigarette
three different tastes.
Death may no longer be
so far away.


“He did, he said so long & then
he walked away, he walked out from that door,
the weird smile that he wore, shiney like brass,
his smile that didn’t look like someone living.

His eyes like water in a pond the color when it clears,
or something. He talked like someone somewhere else.
Would cut his speech up into little pieces.
He used to think of little things that didn’t matter.”

“Yes, just like that. I wonder if he knew that he was dying.
He would laugh and tell you that the stars became him
when he stared at them. And that was just a while ago.


A while ago. Swore that the clogs that he was wearing weren’t his.”


The grass was absolutely still,
and over it a butterfly was flying.
He took it all in from the veranda,
stood there dressed in his yukata.
And I, you know, would watch him
from this angle. Staring after it,
that yellow butterfly. I can remember now
the whistles of the tofu vendors
back and forth, the telephone pole
clear against the evening sky.
Then he turned back to me and said “I ...
yesterday, I flipped a stone over that weighed
maybe a hundred pounds.” And so I asked
“how come? and where was that?”
Then you know what? He kept on staring at me,
straight into my eyes, like he was getting mad,
or something … That’s when I got scared.

How strange we are before we die …



World’s end, the sunlight that fell down to earth was warm, a warm wind blowing through the flowers.

On a wooden bridge, the dust that morning silent, a mailbox red & shining all day long, a solitary baby carriage on the street, a lonely pinwheel.

No one around who lived there, not a soul, no children playing there, & I with no one near or dear to me, no obligation but to watch the color of the sky above a weathervane.

Not that I was bored. The taste of honey in the air, nothing substantial but enough to eat & live from.

I was smoking cigarettes, but only to enjoy their fragrance. And weirdly I could only smoke them out of doors.

For now my worldly goods consisted of a single towel. I didn’t own a pillow, much less a futon mattress. True I still had a tooth brush, but the only book I owned had nothing but blank pages. Still I enjoyed the heft of it when I would hold it in my hands from time to time.

Women were lovely objects but not once did I try to go with one. It was enough to dream about them.

Something unspeakable would urge me on, & then my heart, although my life was purposeless, started pounding with a kind of hope.


In the woods was a very strange park, where women, children & men would stroll by smiling wildly. They spoke a language I didn’t understand & showed emotions I couldn’t unravel.

Looking up at the sky, I saw a spider web, silver & shining.

[Over a short lifetime, Nakahara Chuya (1907-1937) was a major innovator along lines originally shaped by Dada and other, earlier forms of European, largely French, experimental poetry. In 1997, as part of an annual poetry festival in his home prefecture of Yamaguchi, I came to his grave along with a group of Japanese poet-companions, to celebrate the 60th year of his death and the 90th of his birth. The poem marking that time, “At the Grave of Nakahara Chuya,” appeared a few years later in A Paradise of Poets and included a fake “translation” in what I took to be his style, or one of them, that brought some of his work into the domain of popular Japanese music. The three poems presented above are from a more recent attempt at actual translation, but a part of the earlier poem-song can also appear here as a further homage:

As sportscoats are to toothpaste
as the boa is to scales
as black teeth are to playful ghosts
as seasons are to smiles

As telephones are to toasters
as angels are to air
as wagon wheels are to ups & downs
as horses are to fire

As Buddha is to Buddha
as a toenail is to glass
as the way we make love is tight like that
as ascensions are to cash

As harbors are to hairpins
as napoleons are to joy
as bicycles are to icicles
bones are to a dada boy]

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Frances Densmore: American Indian Songs (Part Two)

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 4:23 AM 0 comments
Translations selected by Kenneth Rexroth


Buffalo Dance Song

He said, Unreal the buffalo is standing.
These are his sayings.
Unreal the buffalo is standing,
Unreal he stands in the open space.
Unreal he is standing.

Spring Song

Spring is opening.
I can smell the different perfumes
Of the white weeds used in the dance.

Dream Song

Beloved, it is good,
He is saying quietly,
The thunder, it is good.

Ghost Dance Song

The yellow star has noticed me.
Furthermore, it gave me
A standing yellow feather,
That yellow star.


Dream Song

In the heavens
A noise,
Like the rustling of the trees.

Love Song

I will keep on Courting
Until morning.


Steam Lodge Song of the Sun Dance Ceremony

A voice,
I will send.
Hear me!
The land
All over,
A voice
I am sending!
Hear me!
I will live!

War Song

A wolf
I considered myself.
But I have eaten nothing,
From standing
I am tired out.
A wolf
I considered myself
But The owls
Are hooting,
I fear the night.

Song on Applying War Paint

At the center of the earth
I stand,
Behold me!
At the wind center
I stand,
Behold me!
A root of medicine
Therefore I stand,
At the wind center
I stand.

Song after Battle

The old men say
The earth only
You spoke truly,
You are right.

Song after Battle

As the young men went by
I was looking for him.
It surprises me anew
That he has gone.
It is something
To which I cannot be reconciled.
Owls hoot at me.
Owls hoot at me.
That is what I hear
In my life.
Wolves howl at me.
Wolves howl at me.
That is what I hear
In my life.


Downy white feathers
Are moving beneath
The sunset
And along the edge of the world.

The morning star is up.
I cross the mountains
Into the light of the sea.

A white mountain is far at the west.
It stands beautiful.
It has brilliant white arches of light
Bending down towards the earth.

Healing Song

The sun is rising.
At either side a bow is lying.
Beside the bows are lion babies.
The sky is pink.
That is all.

The moon is setting.
At either side are bamboos for arrow making.
Beside the bamboos are wildcat babies.
They walk uncertainly.
That is all.

The sun is slowly departing.
It is slower in its setting.
lack bats will be swooping
When the sun is gone.
That is all.

The spirit children are beneath.
They are moving back and forth.
They roll in play
Among tufts of white eagle down.
That is all.

In the great night my heart will go out.
Toward me the darkness comes rattling.
In the great night my heart will go out.

Song of an Old Woman in the Cold

No talking, no talking.
The snow is falling.
And the wind seems to be blowing backward.

Song for the Puberty Rite of a Girl Named Cowaka

A poor man takes the songs in his hand
And drops them near the place where the sun sets.
See, Cowaka, run to them and take them in your hand,
And place them under the sunset.


The water bug is drawing
The shadows of the evening
Toward him on the water.


In Cocori is a young girl
Whose name is Hesucita.
She is a pretty girl.
Her eyes look like stars.
Her pretty eyes are like stars moving.


The owl was requested
To do as much as he knew how.
He only hooted and told of the morning star.
And hooted again and told of the dawn.


The bush Is sitting
Under a tree And singing.


The deer
Looks at a flower.

[Kenneth Rexroth’s introduction to Densmore’s translations of American Indian song-poems appeared earlier on Poems & Poetics, and the first part of his selection from her work was posted on November 9, 2009.]

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