Translation from Japanese by Jerome Rothenberg


What’s right
about this head
that’s cut off from its body?

These fingers cut off from their hands,
these feet cut off from legs,
there’s nothing right about them.

And yet
this scene of legless feet
and handless fingers
wildly strewn across a field

once witnessed by a bird
and fired clear as life upon that tiny inner eye,
the bird falls down,
its eye in ruins,
even then the scene escapes decay.

Wind-scattered fingers
feet and
return at last to where you started
return at last to where you started
(for only then wind-scattered fingers feet and
head will draw the curtain over death)


How painful drawing breath inside this bamboo reed:
Is anything still happening outside its narrow walls,
and if so, where?


Its belly holds a harbor full of guns.


A crescent moon is hanging in the willow branches.
A beautiful young man emerges from the W.C.
His face in profile painted white with lime.


Scars on stone.


Punching tickets at the gate:
Our fingers bleed instead.

[TRANSLATOR’S NOTE. In 1956/57 I spent a year studying Japanese at Columbia University, the exploration of a language distant from my own that opened me to both the differences and the sameness of all human languages. In the course of study I was allowed the possibility of real translation on two occasions: a few pages from Mishima’s Mizu no Oto (Sound of Water) and the poems reprinted here from the radical modernist poet Kitagawa Fuyuhiko. It strikes me in retrospect that Kitagawa – a surrealist and marxist who translated Breton’s first Manifesto in the 1930s and who wrote as well on Japanese and world cinema – was very much alive at the time I was translating him. (He died in 1990 at the age of eighty-nine.) In that sense he was part of a generation of predecessors, many of them still active in what we took to be our time or a time about to be our own. Finding him for me was part of a 1950s (re)awakening from many different directions – not only what we came to call “the new American poetry” but a revived experimentalism and radicalism in Europe and in the Americas north and south, along with which the generation after Kitagawa and Kitasano Katsue (the first Japanese moderns whom I knew or read) was slowly coming into focus. In the intervening years I lost my hold on the language, but what it had given me was as invaluable – by way of translation and close attention – as what would come to us later from contemporaries and poet comrades wherever found. (J.R.)]

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Extracts from “Divagations,” a Work in Progress

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 7:06 AM 0 comments
This is to announce the first online publication from a new book-length work of mine, “Divagations, a Work in Progress,” in the current (fifteenth) number of Michael Rothenberg’s Big Bridge. The poems presented are the first seven in what has become an ongoing series, but the structure, which involves alternative vocabularies inserted in the margins, is beyond my powers to reproduce effectively on Poems and Poetics. The Big Bridge version also includes fanciful drawings by Nancy Victoria Davis that frame and amplify the poems themselves.
     And still another Ebook publication, previewed here previously, is The Jigoku Zoshi Hells: A Book of Variations from The Argotist Online. Both this and Divagations are easily downloadable and welcome to me as an alternative means of publication.
      A version of two of the Divagtions but without appropriate formatting appeared earlier on Poems and Poetics.  (J.R.)

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Timothy Cahill: Two Poems from Exposés

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 6:44 AM 0 comments

Vertigo: an endless series of things
The Residue of History: an inventory of creations
Maps: look like baroque residences
Art: tectonic constants
Personality: signature of vegetal life
Types of Civilisation: pomp, splendour, illusory, security, empire,
commune, adversary, furnishing, liberating,
rejuvenating, cosmic, mythic
Terrorism: our Pompeian subconscious
Morality: does not dream
the collective, clockwork harmony
An austere system of numbers
The Head: a sort of a cockpit
The Cosmos: reveals its living body to the inorganic corpse

Exposés II


Corridors of light from above
The decade of trade,
stocks, merchandise, department stores,
the merchant,
the great poem of commerce
industrial enterprises
the engineer,
a locomotive tempo on iron tracks,
the most elegant empire of technology
The precursor to
a hundred utopias.


I dreamt of the one who will follow
Corresponding with the old images
My consciousness permeated with old images.
Images to transfigure
that antiquated imagination
which is the dream.
In this dream that has already left me,
a thousand machines
enlist human beings
to morality,
a machinery of the passions,
a land of milk and honey
filled with new life.
I saw their metamorphosis –
they became an empire,
an idol
a pedagogue


Painting sought tirelessly to reproduce the daylight,
The pupil of nature.
This silent collaboration
Of individual
(a worker
and at the same time, a
new attitude towards life)
and a political century,
will later announce the
history of technology
and lead to economic reason
Graphic information
Political agitation
Painting determined the history
that would follow.


When all the world will be reborn,
Sheep on the ground, apples from the sky,
A festival of the world –
Commercial enterprise, exchange
recedes into the background.
A person makes this easier while enjoying their luxuries:
The same spirit ends in madness.


Propagate the fantasies
Saturn’s cast iron balcony
The ritual according to the commodity
At the height of its power
An extreme opposition to
The living body,
The living nerve
It presses its manifesto
The phantasmagoria of culture
Of luxury
And irony.


The theatre of this century:
The individual stages history while
The ruling class pursues its stock holdings.
The flower is confronted by the
Iron girder.


in the asylum
the Sisyphean character
dreams of a distant, bygone world
in which the everyday
means to leave no traces


Everything allegorical
Is lyric poetry –
The hymn
The homeland
The gaze
The fall
The city
The alienated man
The crowd, the crowd the crowd
The veil
The landscape
The truth
The stage
The patrons
The market
The economic
The political
The professional
The conspirators
The activity
The army
The leaders
The adversary
The end
The rebellious
The sexual


The image of woman in poetry
Is topographic,
The bed is fraught with modern history.
Imagining such an image is no less


My geography:
the journey
the destination
the unknown
the illusory
the reflected
the ever recurrent


The beautiful things:
the ear
the eye
the effect of perspective
the imperialism of space
the counterpart of time
the mysteries
the rootless
the goal of civil war
the role of embellishment


In poetry, there are three (ideological) subjects: poets, poems and readers. A subject is formed in the transition from being constructed and being thought of as natural. For poetry, this means that moment when the poem is thought of as a closed-off object, the reader is passive with their language, and the poet is creator. But this is not post-structuralism, it is Spinoza! The distinction is that to know anything, I must expose the limit of a system from within that system itself: i.e. the moment of transition, where a subject which is constructed is made to appear natural, must be disrupted. What is revealed is a) the limits of a system that makes natural what is constructed b) the individuals (Zukofsky would call them particulars) that are made into subjects. My reference points are Zukofsky, Althusser and Spinoza. In these two poems, written through an original text, the subjects are disrupted in the following ways: poet – these poems are composed from an original text, which imposes and thereby reveals a limit to the poet’s (my) own language; poem – the original text is not set in stone and can be rearranged according to another order; readers – the hard edges and images of the poems prevent easy referential reading and disrupt a naturalised linguistic system.

[Tim Cahill is an Australian poet, currently living in Canberra. His recent book of poems and stories, Exposés, can be downloaded free from]

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(dictated to Joe Byrne)

Any man knows it is possible to swear a lie and if a policeman looses a conviction for the sake of swearing a lie he has broke his oath therefore he is a perjurer either ways. A Policeman is a disgrace to his country, not alone to the mother that suckled him, in the first place he is a rogue in his heart but too cowardly to follow it up without having the force to disguise it. next he is traitor to his country ancestors and religion as they were all catholics before the Saxons and Cranmore yoke held sway since then they were persecuted massacreed thrown into martrydom and tortured beyond the ideas of the present generation

What would people say if they saw a strapping big lump of an Irishman shepherding sheep for fifteen bob a week or tailing turkeys in Tallarook ranges for a smile from Julia or even begging his tucker, they would say he ought to be ashamed of himself and tar-and-feather him. But he would be a king to a policeman who for a lazy loafing cowardly bilit left the ash corner deserted the shamrock, the emblem of true wit and beauty to serve under a flag and nation that has destroyed massacreed and murdered their fore-fathers by the greatest of torture as rolling them down hill in spiked barrels pulling their toe and finger nails and on the wheel. and every torture imaginable.

More was transported to Van Diemand's Land to pine their young lives away in starvation and misery among tyrants worse than the promised hell itself all of true blood bone and beauty, that was not murdered on their own soil, or had fled to America or other countries to bloom again another day, were doomed to Port Mcquarie Toweringabbie norfolk island and Emu plains and in those places of tyrany and condemnation many a blooming Irishman rather than subdue to the Saxon yoke Were flogged to death and bravely died in servile chains but true to the shamrock and a credit to Paddys land.

What would people say if I became a policeman and took an oath to arrest my brothers and sisters & relations and convict them by fair or foul means after the conviction of my mother and the persecutions and insults offered to myself and people Would they say I was a decent gentleman, and yet a police-man is still in worse and guilty of meaner actions than that The Queen must surely be proud of such herioc men as the Police and Irish soldiers as It takes eight or eleven of the biggest mud crushers in Melbourne to take one poor little half starved larrakin to a watch house. I have seen as many as eleven, big & ugly enough to lift Mount Macedon out of a crab hole more like the species of a baboon or Guerilla than a man. actually come into a court house and swear they could not arrest one eight stone larrakin and them armed with battens and neddies without some civilians assistance and some of them going to the hospital from the affects of hits from the fists of the larrakin and the Magistrate would send the poor little Larrakin into a dungeon for being a better man than such a parcel of armed curs.

What would England do if America declared war and hoisted a green flag as its all Irishmen that has got command of her armies forts and batteries even her very life guards and beef tasters are Irish would they not slew around and fight her with their own arms for the sake of the colour they dare not wear for years. and to reinstate it and rise old Erins isle once more, from the pressure and tyrannism of the English yoke, which has kept it in poverty and starvation, and caused them to wear the enemys coats. What else can England expect.

Is there not big fat-necked Unicorns enough paid to torment and drive me to do thing which I dont wish to do, without the public assisting them I have never interefered with any person unless they deserved it, and yet there are civilians who take firearms against me, for what reason I do not know, unless they want me to turn on them and exterminate them without medicine. I shall be compelled to make an example of some of them if they cannot find no other employment If I had robbed and plundered ravished and murdered everything I met young and old rich and poor. the public could not do any more than take firearms and Assisting the police as they have done, but by the light that shines pegged on an ant-bed with their bellies opened their fat taken out rendered and poured down their throat boiling hot will be fool to what pleasure I will give some of them and any person aiding or harbouring or assisting the Police in any way whatever or employing any person whom they know to be a detective or cad or those who would be so deprived as to take blood money will be outlawed and declared unfit to be allowed human buriel their property either consumed or confiscated and them theirs and all belonging to them exterminated off the face of the earth, the enemy I cannot catch myself I shall give a payable reward for.


[The following was pieced together from entries elsewhere on the world wide web.]

Ned Kelly, the Australian bushranger, carried out a series of daring robberies with his gang in Victoria and New South Wales from 1878 to 1880, after which he was captured and hanged.

Only two original documents by Ned Kelly are known to have survived. The most significant of these is the Jerilderie Letter, dictated by Ned Kelly to fellow gang member Joe Byrne in 1879. It is a direct link to the Kelly Gang and the events with which they were associated. This lengthy letter has been described as Ned Kelly's “manifesto,” and brings his distinctive voice to life. The Jerilderie Letter provides a detailed account of Ned Kelly's troubled relations with the police. The passionate tone of the letter makes plain the intensity of Kelly's antagonism towards the police, and his sense of injustice about the treatment that his family had received at the hands of the law.

The letter was written immediately before the Kelly Gang's raid on the Riverina town of Jerilderie in February 1879. In that raid, the gang held up the Bank of New South Wales and escaped with more than £2000. While the gang controlled the town, Kelly sought to give the letter to Samuel Gill, editor of the Jerilderie and Urana Gazette, with the specific demand that it be published. However, to Kelly's anger, he discovered that Gill had already escaped from the town after becoming aware of the gang's presence.

To pacify Kelly, the bank's accountant, Edwin Living, offered to take the letter and to pass it to Gill. Kelly gave it to him—his clear purpose in seeking to have the letter printed was to provide an explanation for his situation, and an accurate record of what had passed between the Kelly family and the police. Edwin Living lent the letter to the police in Melbourne and a copy of it was made. The original document was eventually returned to Living. It seems that at no stage did Living ever take steps to have the letter printed.

Originally penned in 1879 by Joe Byrne as dictated to him by Ned Kelly, this letter was first published in the 1948 edition of Max Brown’s novel Australian Son, which was based on it. Introducing it, Max Brown said, “Following is an 8,300 word statement I have called The Jerilderie Letter This is the document Kelly handed to Living. The text is from a copy of the original letter made in 1879 or 1880 by a government clerk, and is printed here with such spelling, punctuation, etc, as the clerk or Kelly and Byrne, or all three possessed. Nevertheless, it is one of the most powerful and extraordinary of Australian historical documents, and represents over half of Kelly’s extant writings and by far his best single written statement.”

Not poetry as such, it possesses a quality of writing outside the box of literature that has more than passing interest.

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Alvaro Estrada: Shamanistic Songs of Román Estrada

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 6:31 AM 0 comments
Recording & translation from Mazatec into Spanish by Alvaro Estrada
Translation into English by Henry Munn

[As a comparison to the chants of María Sabina, found elsewhere on this site, Román Estrada's shamanistic songs open to the language of a contemporary Mazatec male shaman. They also give some indication of the differences from singer to singer, poet to poet, within a specific indigenous culture.  For examples -- written and audio -- of María Sabina's chanting, check the following:  (J.R.)]

Medicinal herb, remedial herb
Cold herb, Lord Christ
Free this person from his sickness
Where is his spirit trapped?
Is it trapped in the mountain?
Is it enchanted in some gully?
Is it trapped in some waterfall?
I will look for and find the lost spirit

Ave María!

I will follow its tracks
I am the important man
I am the man who gets up early
I am he who makes the mountains resound
I am he who makes their slopes resound
I am he who makes the spirit resound

I make my paws resound
I make my claws resound
Christ Our Lord
Lord Saint Martin is present
The Lord of Dry Tree is present
The Lord of the Lake is present
Santa María Zoquiapan
I am the dawn
I am he who speaks with the mountains
I am he who speaks with the echo
There in the atmosphere
There amid the vegetation
I will make my sound felt
Father Saint John the Evangelist
We see how the dolls and eagles already play in the air, already play on the mountains, already play between the clouds
Whoever curses us won't do us any harm
Because I am the spirit, the image-day of the person
I am Christ the Lord
I am the spirit
There is the serpent, coiled up, alive
(It is coiled up
It is alive )
I alleviate, I give life
(I give life )
I am the tall and handsome one
I am Jesus Christ
I am Lord Saint Martin
I am Lord Saint Mark
In whose dominion there are tigers
Whoever curses us has no influence on us
I give strength to the sick
I am the medicine, I am the fresh herb
Come back lost spirit, I will whistle to lead you back (he whistles), come back
May there come with you
Thirteen deer
Thirteen eagles
Thirteen white horses
Thirteen rainbows
Your steps move thirteen mountains
The big clown is calling you
The master clown is calling you
I will make the mountains sound
I will make their abysses sound
I will make the dawn sound
I will make the day sound
I will make Jar Mountain sound
I will make Mount Rabon sound
I will make Stone Mountain sound
I will make the Father Mountain sound
I am the big man
The man who alleviates
The man of the day
It is time for the sick one to get well
It is time for the miracle to happen
The miracle of the Holy Trinity
Like the miracle of creation
Like the miracle of the moonlight
The miracle of the starlight
Of the Morning Star
Of the Cross Star
The dawn is coming
The horizon is already reddening
There is no evil outside
Because I am he who alleviates
I am he who gives the dawn
Santa María Ixtepec speaks
Santa María Ixcatlan speaks
There where it is dry and thorny

Of course this is only a fraction of the long chant of the wise man, who told us that on the day his initiation ended – Román said this in Spanish – he received a diploma from the hands of the Principal Ones. (Román died the fifth of August 1986. Reader of cards, magician and excellent hunter, in his veladas he imitated a pack of dogs after the quarry, usually a deer.)

[From Alvaro Estrada, La Vida de María Sabina, Siglo Veintiuno editores, México 1977]

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Again the nightingale


I have come, without realizing it, to think of Hafez more and more as a dramatist rather than a poet, in the sense that he stands somewhere behind his work, deploying his tropes and themes, elusive (but commanding) to the end.

Muslims     once I had a heart
which I consulted when difficulties arose

whose counsel helped me to regain the shore
when I fell into the whirlpool of sorrows.

who shared my pain     was a wise friend to me
and gave support to all the community of the heart
but which I lost in the street of my beloved

      O what a tugging of heart-strings there was then

art brings with it the dishonour of privation
but what thinking person was ever more deprived than me

be kind to this lost soul
for once it possessed consummate skill
after love had instructed me how to speak
my words were the talking-point of every circle

      but who now can speak of Hafez’ artistry
      for it has become clear to all and sundry
      he no longer cares about his poetry


Your musky curls make the violet twist with envy
your enticing smile tears the veil of the rosebud off

O sweet-scented rose      do not compel your nightingale
to burn himself out
for he prays for you faithfully night after night

I who would weary of the speech of angels
put up with the chatter of this world because of you

love of your countenance is my true nature
the dust at your gate     my paradise

passion for you is my destiny
in your happiness I find my repose

a beggar’s coat may have treasures up its sleeve
but whoever begs from you becomes a king

my eyes are the throne upon which your image sits
O liege of mine
I pray that you never leave your rightful place

of the ferment of love’s wine
my mind will not be free
till my lustful head is dust at your palace gate

      your cheek my cool meadow      in the springtime of beauty
      the eloquent Hafez      songbird of your house


See how one poem
traverses space and time

how this child of one night
accomplishes a year’s journey


For some time now
I have been of service in the tavern
in my humble attire
attending to those more fortunate than myself

I lie in ambush waiting for the chance
to catch some strutting pheasant in my snare

       he public preacher does not have
       even a whiff of the truth
       mark my words
       for I say them to his face       not behind his back

like the wind         fitfully
I make my way towards the street of my companion
asking my fellow-travellers
to help me realize my great endeavour

no longer will the dust of your alleyway
have to put up with my importuning
for you have shown me so many kindnesses
my love       that I will stop whining

the beloved’s hair
lies like a snare across our path
and that glance is shot like a bolt of calamity

remember       O heart        how often I warned you of this

O you who in your mercy        veils our faults
hide from the gaze of those who wish me ill
these audacious thoughts I have when I am alone

in public a divine
a drunkard in our private gatherings

my effrontery       observe
the artifice with which I fool the populace


O sovereign beauty       adress my loneliness
without you my heart begins to fail      come back

the garden rose does not stay fresh forever
while you have the power     help those who stand in need

last night I complained to the wind about your hair
it said you are wrong       dismiss that sombre thought

a hundred zephyrs play in the strands of those tresses
O foolish heart       these are your companions
do not pretend that you are some airy steed

separation from you has so weakened me
that I have little endurance left to draw on now

       O Lord to whom might I make the point
       that in this world
       that beauty which is all around       shows its face to none

without your face the rose-beds lack all colour
bring back the grace of the tree-top to the garden

the pain you cause me is my medicine
in my lonely bed
your memory my companion in my solitude

        in the compass of fate we stand at the axis of submission
        subject to what you in your wisdom decide

        true liberation is liberation from the self
        self-regard is apostasy in our religion

these blue enamel heavens have seared my soul
bring me wine so that I may
dissolve these problems in an enamelled bowl

        Hafez the night of separation is over
        the sweet scent of union here

        blessed be your joy       O my demented lover

pardē: a curtain, not covering a window but dividing two spaces, the inner and outer, demarcating the difference between the private, intimate, hidden world and the open, public realm; implying inclusion, exclusion

TRANSLATOR’S NOTE. Hafez is perhaps the best-loved but also most problematic of the great Persian poets. His Divan (collection) was not assembled until well after his death in about 1390 and textual variants abound. These translations are based on nos 249, 211, 403, 218, 344 and 484 in the Khanlari edition, which contains 486 ghazals in all. Persian editions are organised alphabetically but I have grouped my translations in a number of thematic sections to help bring out the various facets of the original; however, Hafez does not compartmentalise easily. While strict in form, his ghazals can seem disjunctive to the modern western reader, and there are arguments about whether one should treat the constituent couplet or the poem as the basic unit. I have tried to address this problem by translating a mix of both and also through layout i.e. spacing and indentation. The poems are also widely regarded as ambiguous or polysemous, allowing both a courtly reading and a spiritual interpretation; scholars still differ sharply on this issue. The writing itself is beautifully turned and highly stylized, employing a well-established repertoire of tropes and images. It is also densely allusive with an evident pleasure in play on words. I have added a layer of annotation (in italics) in the text as a way of bridging the inevitable distances of time and place, and also creating a more prosaic counterpoint to the richness of the verse. It is worth noting finally that by far the most frequent noun in the Divan is ‘heart’.

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[In 2006, while helping to prepare a collection of my essays, Etnopoesia do Milênio, for Sergio Cohn’s Azougue Editorial in Rio, I was asked to compose a chronology of my life as a poet, intended for inclusion in the book in a Portuguese translation. I had never indulged in anything resembling a real memoir, though poems & essays of mine are – like those of other poets – riddled with references to who I am & where I come from. The following, while it focuses on what might be called my life-in-poetry, is as close as I come to it in any systematic way. Looking at it from this distance I notice a few missing items & many missing persons, but the general trajectory of the piece seems clear enough for now. This is of course its first & only publication in English. (J.R.)]

Born 1931 in New York City, the son of Jewish immigrant parents who made their New World journey, from Poland to America, ten years before, I grew up in Brooklyn first and then the Bronx, at a time of depression, war, and holocaust. My education, from early years through university, was in the New York public schools, and sometime around my sixteenth year I set out to be a poet. That determination, I later thought, was a response to the debasement of language in the world at large and a desire to change or renew that language by any means at my disposal. For that I thought the language that I sought was ineluctably connected with poetry – both what the past had given us and what we had to fashion on our own. Along the way I suffered setbacks from the conservative poetics and politics that had come to dominate the 1940s and early 1950s, and I was further waylaid by two years of army time in the near aftermath of the Korean War. Because of that, however, I spent eighteen months in Germany (in 1954 and 1955), during which time I struggled to write poetry and began to divert myself with the pleasures of translation. I also had the chance to discover Europe in the company of Diane Brodatz, whom I had married in 1952 and who has remained my dearest friend and companion to the present time.

When I returned to New York in 1955, there was already a group of poets waiting for me: David Antin, who had been with me at City College and through and with whom I met a number of others: Robert Kelly, Armand Schwerner, George Economou, and later Paul Blackburn, Jackson Mac Low, Rochelle Owens, and Diane Wakoski. Our interests – looking back at them – were centered on the reinvigoration of a full panoply of avant-garde strategies that had been disrupted by the “new criticism” and the mainstream poetics of the immediately preceding generation. My own first shibboleth was what I named “deep image” and saw as a kind of neo-surrealism with roots in a range of traditional and still neglected poetries and visionary practices that informed my subsequent move into the exploration of a genuine and, I thought, a necessary ethnopoetics. My approach to poetry, then and after, was deliberately intercultural and global, and in the process it led me to alliances with other poets and still other groupings of poets – Beats, Black Mountain, Concrete, Fluxus, Textsound – that I saw increasingly as part of a great collective effort “to bring back totality through poetry” (in the words of the Japanese poet Ooka Makoto).

By the end of the 1950s I began to publish and increasingly to perform my own poetry. My first book-length publication was an anthology of translations, New Young German Poets, that Lawrence Ferlinghetti had commissioned for City Lights Books in 1958. I had also, like many other poets of my generation, begun a press of my own, Hawk’s Well Press, which served as a vehicle for some of those closest to me at the time and for my own first book of poems, White Sun Black Sun (1960). My second small book, The Seven Hells of the Jigoku Zoshi (1962), was with Trobar, a press and magazine published by Kelly and Economou; my third, Sightings (1964), was again with Hawk’s Well Press and printed in the same volume as Kelly’s Lunes; and my fourth, The Gorky Poems (1966), was published in a bilingual (English and Spanish) edition by El Corno Emplumado, which Margaret Randall and Sergio Mondragón were publishing out of Mexico. A selection of poems, Between: Poems 1960-1963, was published in 1968 by Fulcrum Press in London; another selection, Poems 1964-1967, was published by Black Sparrow Press in 1968; and a larger selected poems, Poems for the Game of Silence, was published by Dial Press in 1971 and reprinted by New Directions in 1974.

During the 1960s I also began to assemble examples of tribal and oral poetry from Africa, America, Asia, and Oceania that would form the basis of my first large anthology, Technicians of the Sacred, published in its initial version in 1968. (An expanded edition, incorporating additional poetry from Europe, appeared in 1985 and remains in print from University of California Press.) This marked the beginning of a series of large anthological assemblages devoted both to ethnopoetics and to an exploration of experimental and avant-garde poetry and poetics: Shaking the Pumpkin: Traditional Poetry of the Indian North Americas (1972), America a Prophecy: A New Reading of American Poetry from Pre-Columbian Times to the Present (with George Quasha, 1973), Revolution of the Word: A New Gathering of American Avant- Garde Poetry 1914-1945 (1974), A Big Jewish Book: Poems and Other Visions of the Jews from Tribal Times to the Present (a.k.a. Exiled in the Word, 1977), Symposium of the Whole: A Range of Discourse Toward an Ethnopoetics (with Diane Rothenberg, 1983), Poems for the Millennium: The University of California Book of Modern & Postmodern Poetry in two volumes (with Pierre Joris, 1995 and 1998), and A Book of the Book: Some Works and Projections About the Book and Writing (with Steven Clay, 1999). I also joined the anthropologist Dennis Tedlock in founding and editing Alcheringa (1970-1977) as “the world’s first magazine of ethnopoetics,” collaborated with David Antin on some/thing, a magazine of new poetry and art, and followed those on my own with New Wilderness Letter, a magazine of poetics and ethnopoetics across the arts.

The work in ethnopoetics and on the attendant assemblages was a catalyst as well for my own poetry. I began to put a greater emphasis on performance, a part of that tied in with procedures for the translation and subsequent performance of oral and ritual poetry that I called “total translation.” At the same time I began to work collaboratively with musicians and composers – Charlie Morrow and Bertram Turetzky most notably, but on other occasions with Philip Corner, Pauline Oliveros, George Lewis, and the klezmer group calling itself The Klezmatics. There were also theatricalizations in the 1980s of Poland/1931 by the Living Theater and That Dada Strain by Luke Theodore Morrison's Center for Theater Science and Research, a Living Theater offshoot. I engaged in poetry readings throughout this time – twenty or more in an average year, both in the United States and overseas – and wrote and lectured on performance, also teaching workshops on poetry and performance at universities and other venues. (I had written the Broadway version of Rolf Hochhuth’s play, The Deputy [Der Stellvertreter], in 1964, but that was a very different matter.)

For two years – 1972 to 1974 – I lived with my wife and our son Matthew at a Seneca Indian (Iroquois) reservation in western New York state, where I worked on the completion of the American Indian anthology, Shaking the Pumpkin, but also my own book of poems, A Seneca Journal (1978). At the same time I continued a very different but curiously related project – or so I thought – “to explore ancestral sources of my own in a world of Jewish mystics, thieves, and madmen.” The immediate results were Poland/1931 (poems, 1974) and A Big Jewish Book (1977, later revised as Exiled in the Word). The principal publisher for my poetry by then was New Directions, and in the following two and a half decades they published a string of poetry books: Vienna Blood (1980), That Dada Strain (1983), New Selected Poems (1986), Khurbn and Other Poems (1989), The Lorca Variations (1993), Seedings and Other Poems (1996), A Paradise of Poets (1999), and A Book of Witness (2003), as well as a collection of essays, Pre-Faces (1981). Other books during that time came from a number of smaller publishers, as well as a range of books in translation – into many languages, but principally French and Spanish. At the same time I was actively engaged in translation from a number of languages – sometimes on my own, sometimes in collaboration with others – and in the 1990s and the first decade of this century I published books of translation from Lorca, Schwitters, Picasso, and Vitezslav Nezval, as well as a book of my selected translations, Writing Through: Translations and Variations (2004).

Present and future projects follow the same trajectory as those that came before. My big project at the moment (2006) is a third installment of Poems for the Millennium, this one in collaboration with Jeffrey Robinson – a radical reassemblage of nineteenth-century poetry, tracing a line of experimental romanticism and postromanticism as it underlies our present workings. My next book for New Directions, Triptych, will bring together Poland/1931 and Khurbn (poems deriving from the Holocaust) with a new series of poems, The Burning Babe, and another, nearly complete book of poems, still unnamed, will be ready for publication in 2009 or 2010. I find with all of this that the work has been cumulative, that it has permitted me to change while not losing track of, rather incorporating, most of what came before. I hope that someday this will be seen as a whole, the way I try to see it now, but that it has even come this far is more than I could have imagined.

ADDENDUM. In the several years since I wrote this chronology, the books mentioned in the final paragraph have come into print – plus several others: Poems for the Millennium, volume 3, in 2008; Triptych in 2007; Gematria Complete (Marick Press) in 2009; Concealments and Caprichos (Black Widow Press) in 2010; Retrievals: Uncollected and New Poems (Junction Press) in 2011; and a second book of essays, Poetics and Polemics (University of Alabama Press) in 2008. Among recent books translated into French was Techniciens du Sacré (Jose Corti, 2008), and recent books in Spanish include Siembras [Seedings complete] (Baile del Sol, 2010) & Ojo del Testimonio [prose writings] (Editorial Aldus, 2010). I also began this blog, Poems and Poetics, in 2008.

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If I'd as much money as I could spend,
I never would cry old chairs to mend;
Old chairs to mend, old chairs to mend;
I never would cry old chairs to mend.

If I'd as much money as I could tell,
I never would cry old clothes to sell;
Old clothes to sell, old clothes to sell;
I never would cry old clothes to sell.


A carrion crow sat on an oak,
Fol de riddle, lol de riddle, hi ding do,
Watching a tailor shape his cloak;
Sing heigh-ho, the carrion crow,
Fol de riddle, lol de riddle, hi ding do!

Wife, bring me my old bent bow,
Fol de riddle, lol de riddle, hi ding do,
That I may shoot yon carrion crow;
Sing heigh-ho, the carrion crow,
Fol de riddle, lol de riddle, hi ding do!

The tailor he shot, and missed his mark,
Fol de riddle, lol de riddle, hi ding do!
And shot his own sow quite through the heart;
Sing heigh-ho, the carrion crow,
Fol de riddle, lol de riddle, hi ding do!

Wife! bring brandy in a spoon,
Fol de riddle, lol de riddle, hi ding do!
For our old sow is in a swoon;
Sing heigh-ho, the carrion crow,
Fol de riddle, lol de riddle, hi ding do!


See-saw, Margery Daw,
Sold her bed and lay upon straw.


There was an old woman, as I've heard tell,
She went to market her eggs for to sell;
She went to market all on a market-day,
And she fell asleep on the King's highway.

There came by a pedlar whose name was Stout,
He cut her petticoats all round about;
He cut her petticoats up to the knees,
Which made the old woman to shiver and freeze.

When the little old woman first did wake,
She began to shiver and she began to shake;
She began to wonder and she began to cry,
"Lauk a mercy on me, this can't be I!

"But if I be I, as I hope it be,
I've a little dog at home, and he'll know me;
If it be I, he'll wag his little tail,
And if it be not I, he'll loudly bark and wail."

Home went the little woman all in the dark;
Up got the little dog, and he began to bark;
He began to bark, so she began to cry,
"Lauk a mercy on me, this is none of I!"


Hark, hark! the dogs do bark!
Beggars are coming to town:
Some in jags, and some in rags
And some in velvet gown


There was an old woman had three sons,
Jerry and James and John,
Jerry was hanged, James was drowned,
John was lost and never was found;
And there was an end of her three sons,
Jerry and James and John!


"You owe me five shillings,"
Say the bells of St. Helen's.
"When will you pay me?"
Say the bells of Old Bailey.
"When I grow rich,"
Say the bells of Shoreditch.
"When will that be?"
Say the bells of Stepney.
"I do not know,"
Says the great Bell of Bow.
"Two sticks in an apple,"
Ring the bells of Whitechapel.
"Halfpence and farthings,"
Say the bells of St. Martin's.
"Kettles and pans,"
Say the bells of St. Ann's.
"Brickbats and tiles,"
Say the bells of St. Giles.
"Old shoes and slippers,"
Say the bells of St. Peter's.
"Pokers and tongs,"
Say the bells of St. John's.


There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children she didn't know what to do.
She gave them some broth without any bread.
She whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.


There was an old woman
And nothing she had,
And so this old woman
Was said to be mad.
She’d nothing to eat,
She’d nothing to wear,
She’d nothing to lose,
She’d nothing to fear,
She’d nothing to ask,
She’d nothing to give,
And when she did die
She’d nothing to leave.


For every evil under the sun
There is a remedy or there is none.
If there be one, seek till you find it;
If there be none, never mind it.


Embedded within the repertory of British Mother Goose rhymes is a stratum of outsider or folk poetry that displays a sharp sense of the everyday desperation of a significant part of the population from which the poems derive. The rhymes, some of which carry the full charge of an actual poetry, have their counterparts in European tales of mère l'oye compiled since the 17th century by Charles Perrault & others. If later versions show a marked bowdlerization & infantilizing, it may be possible to note a more significant continuity in Blake’s Songs of Innocence & Experience:

When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue
Could scarcely cry 'weep! 'weep! 'weep! 'weep!
So your chimneys I sweep, and in soot I sleep.

or by something of a stretch in Edward Lear’s equally remarkable limericks (“surrealist in nonsense” – A. Breton):

There was an Old Man of Whitehaven,
Who danced a quadrille with a raven;
But they said, “It's absurd
To encourage this bird!”
So they smashed that Old Man of Whitehaven.

Writes Robert Darnton in summary: “All is not jollity in Mother Goose. The older rhymes belong to an older world of poverty, despair, and death.” (From “Peasants Tell Tales: The Meaning of Mother Goose,” in The Great Cat Massacre (Basic Books, Inc., 1984.)

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Assistance & Counsel Needed: An Urgent Plea

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 6:25 AM 0 comments

For the moment we seem to have resolved the problem described below by switching to the updated version of the Blogger editing function.  We're leaving the earlier posting, however, with paragraphs inserted in the normal manner and with many thanks to those who came to us with assistance.  Just for the record. (J.R.)

Dear Readers --

We have  been having some very serious issues with creating posts for the blog. As many of you know, many of the posts require specific line breaks, paragraphing and other formatting. For some reason, Blogger has been erasing all formatting and turning certain posts into large blocks of text. This occurs when we publish the post and have it scheduled for later date. When we return to check, the formatting is gone and attempting to correct is has proved futile: when we return hours later, the formatting is still gone.

It was suggested I try a different browser, but that has not helped. Has anyone had this problem? We are becoming desperate as it is hard to keep up with the blog while on the road and the constant correction of posts is incredibly frustrating as the changes do not remain.

If you have any suggestions or can point us in the right direction, please email to jrothenberg [at] cox [dot] net or to my assistant Amish Trivedi at amishius [at] gmail [dot] com.

Thank you for your help and for reading the blog!


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A paper presented at a conference about translation held in Dongguk University, Seoul, November 29, 2008. Continued from previous posting.

It remains true that non-Koreans will never be able, and should not be expected, to experience the same immediate, intense response to Korean poetry as Korean readers do, no matter how ‘well’ it is translated. Non-Koreans cannot share the Korean sense of ‘we-ness,’ the specifically Korean self-identification with the spaces, persons, events and feelings evoked by Korean poets. The literature of Korea, once translated, will always be read and received in other national, cultural spaces on radically different terms, with radically different criteria of quality and interest, to those it encountered in its country of origin. Exactly the same problem exists in reverse; contemporary British or American poets or novelists are for the most part unknown in Korea, their works are not translated and published, for to ordinary Korean readers they seem utterly opaque and unappealing, too intensely ‘foreign.’

Likewise, we all know how few literary works from other continents are published in the English-speaking world. The publishers claim it is because there is no demand for it. They are right, in that narrow insularity is a hallmark of many English-speaking societies. Few people in the UK or the US make the effort to look beyond the familiar literary landscapes of home. Until that changes, we are obliged to set our translations of Korean poetry adrift on the waves as best we can, like the bottled letters of shipwrecked sailors. Just occasionally, from far away, we hear someone exclaim, ‘How beautiful! How truly human!’ Then we know that a Korean poem has spoken in a new space in its new language, has been heard as a living voice, and has been understood. Translators can probably hope for no greater reward, or happiness.

This level of eqivalence is what Ricoeur in the final essay of his book (‘A ‘passage’: translating the untranslatable’) calls ‘the comparable.’ The translation is not perfect, since not identical with the original, but some degree of appropriation has been sanctioned and the result has been found effective and acceptable, judged by a partial retranslation made by others able to move between the two languages. Yet Ricoeur leaves us with a further challenge, which I will paraphrase. A poem that is offered as a translation of a poem may come very close, at least acceptably close, to giving a comparable meaning to the original. But that does not mean that it is ‘the same poem’, for it does not bridge the divide, since the original poem is a singularity of sound and sense. Language, we should realize, and not only poetic language, is not a Platonic duality where an eternal, essential meaning is temporarily imprisoned in a flesh of words, grammar, rhythms, sounds. Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), Ricoeur reminds us, treated Ausdruck (expression) as the provisional, external clothing of Bedeutung (meaning). Translating, then, we might say, like philosophy for Socrates/Plato, would be ‘the practice of dying,’ an approximation of detachment from the matter of sound and language for the poem’s eternal sense which is claimed to be its ‘true meaning’ or its essence, its ‘soul.’

We who translate mostly act as though a poem’s sense, its meaning, can indeed be carried over into a new language devoid of and without consideration for its original sounds, because otherwise the translator’s work becomes impossibly challenging. Yet Ricoeur reminds us that ‘excellent translators, modelled on Hölderlin, on Paul Celan and, in the biblical domain, on Meschonnic, [have] fought a campaign against the isolated meaning, the meaning without the letter. They gave up the comfortable shelter of the equivalence of meaning, and ventured into hazardous areas where there would be some talk of tone, of savour, of rhythm, of spacing, of silence between the words, of metrics and of rhyme. Undoubtedly, the vast majority of translators rush to oppose this, without recognizing that translating the isolated meaning means repudiating an achievement of contemporay semiotics, the unity of meaning and sound, of the signified and the signifier.’

Rosenzweig’s ‘serving two masters’ mentioned at the beginning evokes memories of the source of the phrase in the Gospel (Matthew 6:24), where Jesus himself says, ‘No man can serve two masters.’ Alas, then, for the translator, placed in a situation that even Jesus admits is impossible! Certainly, Ricoeur’s essay moves constantly around the Janus-like qualities of the translator, turned simultaneously toward the reticent, opaque source text and the expectant target reader. It would be important, in considering this ‘interface’ within the translator, to mention the topic of ‘preferential options.’ Caught between the impossible ‘perfect, total translation’ and the ‘verbose expansion-paraphrase / approximate equivalent’ not every translator has the same preferences. Those who are truly bilingual often spontaneously, without reflection, give preference to the target reader and language; they readily paraphrase, omit or transform the original in order to facilitate readability. They may even eliminate what they consider ‘redundancies’ in the original work. Those who are less than fluent in the source language, often more strongly aware of the untranslatability of many aspects of the original, may struggle more to retain them, their preference lies with the foreignness of the original. The less-than-fully-bilingual translator whose native tongue is the target language has the advantage of conscious limitations. I know that I need to check, or at least think twice about, the sense of almost every word, and I know that is standard practice among professional translators. The Korean culture of impatience encourages speed above precision in almost every domain, alas, and in translation this is fatal.

For the translator of Korean literature into English, obliged to move between two languages and cultures that are extremely foreign to one another, the implications are daunting. Already we face a great challenge in what seems to be an increasing opposition among Korean readers (evaluators) of our translations to what they see as excessive domestication. The substitution of American (or British) oaths and idioms in dialogue is only the tip of the iceberg. Where Koreans address one another using many relationship markers, , 언니, 엄마, 선생님 . . . we in English do not, so we tend simply to omit them as we translate. Should we? In the interests of readability we have little choice but to simplify or assign to glossaries much of the vocabulary of food, traditional culture, clothing. The day may come when a Korean Nabokov or Brodsky, the enemies of excessively British translations of Russian classics, will arise to demand a return to pure, honest Konglish in translation. This is said at a lower stylistic level than the high philosophy of Ricoeur, yet it is the same question. Who, in the end, is authorized to judge whether a translator has achieved an ‘acceptable equivalence’ for the Korean original? The reader who says ‘this is so enjoyable’? Or the reader who says ‘this is so [un]like the original.’? They will always both be correct.

In conclusion, let us remember something that Ricoeur also points out: translation is the process by which any human person ‘understands’ any other human person. We are all of us translators, from the day of our birth, learning to read between one another’s lines, grasp the meaning of the everyday unsaid, sense the implications of ironic or other tones. Ricoeur rightly says that, strictly speaking, the diversity between languages is such that, in theory, translation is not possible at all, there being no definable community of structure or vocabulary between one language and the next. The answer to that is that translation happens, and has always happened, even when there were no dictionaries. People can understand each other very well when they want to, or need to, and dealing with margins of misunderstanding is a standard part of everyone’s life. It is always vexing for a translator of any language to be accused of ‘getting it wrong,’ because we are so aware of the impossibility of getting it right that we would rather be congratulated on getting it much less wrong than we might have done. We are the first to know that there can be no perfect translations. We remember, and we mourn. We are human.

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