[NOTE. Michael McClure and I will be reading together on June 7th (7:00 p.m.) at City Lights Books in San Francisco – an invitation to all who may be in the vicinity. (J.R.)]   

  FLITE TO VICTORIA)))             

FLITE.             SOMEWHERE NEAR CRAGGY, WHITE, VAST
                                    MOUNT BAKER, at 29,00O feet,
                          men dressed in black, fire automatic pistols
                                   from industrial railings at figures
                           below – and one winks at a cute Asian girl.
                             IT IS THE UNDERTOW OF SAMSARA
                                      draining into a white candle
                                         waiting to be blown out
                                                    by the lips
                                              of non-beginning

                                             and never-ending
                                                      AND
                                                    WE’RE
                                                              
                                                   HAPPY
                                               WITH THAT,
                                            
                                            Doctor Marcuse

                                                    never


SESTINA FOR MY LADY

1


I SLEEP WITH YOU but never enough, LOVER,
for your ever-reshaping body is delight
SOFT WARM PRECIOUS SWEET TENDER
in fragments we awake and laugh
and there are RAVEN’S QUARKS AND TRUCKS
WE ARE ALWAYS by a MOUNTAIN.


2
WAR-SCREAMS, screened by the tar mountain
can’t stop me being your lover
our spirits have the power of silver trucks
and from this frisson we wring delight
which can fly about like a child’s laugh.
No matter how brutal the dharmadhatu,
IT IS TENDER.


3
EDGES of forest and moss are tender
and stress and despair will shape a mountain;
there is loveliness in the damage of LAUGHS.
YOU AND I feel the touch of a lover
and each star bank is a synapse of delight,
as rain and flowers are moved by trucks.

4
REST will never be delivered by trucks
and that cruelty lets us know to be tender.
SEEING HUMMINGBIRDS flash through pain is delight,
they are not blocked by a highway or mountain;
the cloud of dark blue rain is a lover
and the dry time to come is a laugh.

5
Your heels move in morning with a laugh
when we think about sun and trucks.
The green odor of basil reminds us of a lover
even tire tracks on a worm are tender
when the huge cruelty of a mountain
is a mask for the physique of delight.


6
WE KNOW the PHYSICS of delight
is dressed with scowls and we laugh
with compassion for universe and mountain,
tiniest capillaries entunnel living trucks.
Even the most hideous background is tender
when I wake for a moment with YOU my LOVER.

envoy
DELIGHT is the least costly gift in the truck
and the laugh of the cliff is tender;
this mountain and bouquet reveal that I am your lover.

A brief commentary on Michael McClure (prepared originally as a blurb for McClure’s Of Indigo and Saffron: New and Selected Poems, but later condensed by the publisher). 
        Electrifying to those of us watching, Michael McClure's work has been a mix throughout of highly charged language (visceral, sexual, what he would later call mammalian) with an often overriding gentleness of tone and gesture. In the measure of his poems – then and now – I hear the voice of someone really speaking, but speaking in – what should we say? – a bard's voice, with a touch, a memory of Blake and Shelley: poets who had moved him deeply in the past. He is – in the best sense – both a latterday Romantic and a sharer in an experimental modernism that has produced our greatest poetry – worldwide – over the last hundred and more years. And beyond the poetry as such, he is a devoted student of a range of knowledge in both the arts and sciences – the biological and anthropological in particular – which feeds the poetry in turn and brings about a genuine and very unique lyricism of bio-particulars (“meat science” as he calls it) and the finest celebration I know of a universe of living forms.

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[Since the late 1970s Juan Gregorio Regino has been a leading figure in the movement – throughout Latin America – aimed at the creation of new literatures using native languages alongside the dominant Spanish. A Mazatec by birth and upbringing, Regino was a co-founder and president of the Comité Directivo de Escritores en Lenguas Indígenas (Association of Indigenous Writers). His poetry and other writings have appeared in his own Mazatec and Spanish versions, and in 1996 he received the Netzahualcóyotl Prize for Indigenous Literature. The remarks that follow were made in response to this award, an example of the continuities between the Mazatec past and a present shared with oral poets like María Sabina. The translations throughout are my own from Regino’s Spanish versions and first appeared in María Sabina Selections, University of California Press, 2004. (J.R.)]

K’e tjien fucho ena.            Up to here my voice can be heard.
K’e tjien fucho ndana.        Up to here my spirit extends.
Kui ndi’ya xi tsja tjik’ien.   In this house that gives shade.
Kui ndi’ya xi tsja isien.       In this house that refreshes.

Our writing was interrupted many years ago, and yet we have learned by means of orality to preserve our memory. From the people of wisdom in my land I have learned to value and to cultivate the word. For my people the word is truth, feeling, memory, symbol of struggle, of resistance, of identity. To possess it and to re-create it is a way of knowledge, a form of communion with the sacred, a pact with nature, a romance with the universe. In the dense vegetation of our mountains, it is not only the poet who speaks; the mountain sings also, the duendes of the ceiba also raise their voices, the duendes of the blue cascades, the duendes of the deep ravines. The countryside is also poetry; woman is also.
        To make indigenous literature is neither folklore nor a passing fashion; it is a dialogue of identities, of civilizations, of languages, of millenarian voices and perennial spirits.
        It is fellowship, it is respect for difference, it is the knowledge of one for the other.
        The indigenous languages are a patrimony of our country that should not go on developing in hiding and subordination. They are living languages whose contact with Spanish brings a mutual enrichment, because there are no pure languages and no superior or inferior ones.
        Our peoples have not remained static, they construct their truth every day; today we can say that we sing in two voices, we whistle in two tongues. We believe in the language of the earth we have cultivated, we believe in the language that arrived from the other side of the ocean, we believe in the universal language of the sun. Languages are our treasures as our identity is the eagle and the serpent, the crowns and the laurels.
        We have survived ethnocide, we have learned to write and to cultivate our minds with foreign books. Today we are recovering the tradition of the tlacuilos, blanketed beneath a single concept: Mexico. Today is a time of unity, of peace and of work.
        I am ending my presentation with a fragment of the words of a great Mazatec woman: María Sabina.

Ngat’e xujun Né,                         Because they are the papers of the judge,
K’ui xujun kjuakjintakun,           It is the book of your law,
K’ui xujun xtitjun.                       It is the book of your government.
Ngat’e mana chjajo ‘an jaa.       Because I can speak with your eagle.
Ngaté béjne ngasundie.               Because the world knows us.
Ngat’e béjne Néna.                      Because God knows us.

[This last citation from María Sabina also serves as the epigraph for the following poem.]

THE SONG BEGINS

I

In the light of the candle
in the essence of sweet basil
In the spirit called forth by the incense
my life’s book is laid out.

Open is my thought before the judge
The gears of time stop short
So that Limbo may pull back a pace
So that the sun and moon dress up
Because the images take on a face

II
What does the smoke of the incense say as it accompanies
the words that initiate their journey to the heavens.
What is the message of the maize your palms propel
that seeks for truth there in the mystery.
In what place, what path
and on what pretext does the guardian of the earth
possess my spirit.
Today reveal it, master
before my person,
before the eyes of God,
before the witnesses

III
You who know the sacred
who lead us on the pathway sown with songs.
Open the sky to me, show me the world,
start me on the path to wisdom.
Let me drink from the children who spring forth,
teach me to speak and read the language of the Wise Ones,
flood me with the power of the Gods,
inscribe my name there in the Sacred Place.
I am clean, my wings are free.
Dew will cause new words to sprout,
rain will nourish wisdom.
I am star that shines beneath the stone,
sea that dances in the blue of sky,
light that travels in raw weather.
I am sun’s vein, I am song.
I am dance and chant that heals.

IV
The spirit of evil lies in wait,
the song begins.
May the words arise that open up the heavens,
the prayers that cut across the profane world.
So may the candles of white light be lit
and drip envenomed blood.
It is a mortal struggle in the Sacred Place,
it is the ransom for my spirit.
For my life these fresh leaves will go forth,
these knowing words,
these colored feathers,
these songs for this initiation.

V
Here my basil is at daybreak,
clean like the horizon:
my medicine is fresh,
my medicine is white.

In its leaves the gentle word
that opens up the heavens:
the word that gives us peace,
the word that gives us breath.

My basil will arrive where sins are purged
will fly off clean to where dawn grows bright.
My pleas will reach into the book of records,
will free my soul from poisons that can kill me..

VI
My incense will reach the place
where it communes with life.
It will reach the house of those
who are the guardians of the earth.
It will be heard out in the place of images,
will plead its case there in the bosom of the night.

However many mouths they have,
however many tongues they may possess,
those who have knowledge of the heavens,
those conversing with the codices
and speaking with the Gods.

VII
Here is my spirit,
my oak, my cedar.
Here in my heart the prayer is born
is with it in its journey to the heavens.

From the house of purity,
the table of the dawn.
I am asking for strength.
I am seeking justice.

The sacred book will open,
the darkness will grow bright.
In the house of writings.
In the house of the stelae.

VIII
Down to the soles of my feet.
Down to the palms of my hands.
At the apex of my thought.
At the core of my extremities.

My spirit has feet,
my soul has hands,
my veins leave tracks,
pulses of time and the way.

I can talk with the dawn,
can submerge myself in turbid waters of torrential rivers,
barefoot can walk up the incline,
can hurl my song against the wind.

IX
I arrive with God the Father, God the Mother,
I have crossed seven winds,
seven levels of the heavens.
I have defied seven faces of the World Below.

Because I have eyes for looking at the night,
light enough to plumb the mystery.
Because I am a messenger who guarantees his word,
a singer who can track the soul.

In the house of purity
I come to put my calling to the test,
come to awaken secrets.
I come to seek the word,
the fresh and clean path.

I am a bird that prophesies the sacred,
morning star that opens the horizon,
cicada that whispers to the moon,
mist that cures the mountain.

X
Here the fiesta ends,
the road is closed, the song is over.
Lucidity is lingering in the copal,
kernels of corn close up their pages,
standing guard over the journey’s secrets.

A mystery is disappearing,
new ways emerging, ways to fathom life.
The birds trace paths, the earth is fasting.
The moon confides her troubles to the sun
and dawn shakes loose on the horizon..

Here the fiesta ends,
the song rests in the morning’s arms.
The children who spring forth open the world’s heart,
nature is sending signals.

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ETHNOPOETICS
Jerome Rothenberg

(1) A comparative approach to poetry and related arts, with a characteristic but not exclusive emphasis on stateless, low-technology cultures and on oral and nonliterate [nonliteral] forms of verbal expression. (2) The poetry and ideas about poetry in the cultures so observed or studied. (3) A movement or tendency in contemporary poetry, literature, and social science (anthropology in particular) devoted to such interests.

The history of such an ethnopoetics covers at least the last 200 years, during which time it has functioned as a questioning of the culturally bounded poetics and poetry of "high European culture." While the designation "ethnopoetics" is a much later coinage, the interrogation has been carried forward in sometimes separated, sometimes interlocking discourses among philosophers, scholars, poets, and artists. It is clearly linked with impulses toward primitivism in both romanticism and modernism and with avant-garde tendencies to explore new and alternative forms of poetry and to subvert normative views of traditional values and the claims of "civilization" to hegemony over other forms of culture. Yet for all its avant-gardism, the principal ethnopoetic concern has been with classical, even hieratic forms, with fully realized, often long preserved traditions.

The emergence in the later 20th century of ethnopoetics as both a poetry movement and a field of scholarly study was the culmination of projects that arose within modernism itself. In that sense, ethnopoetics clearly paralleled the ethnoaesthetic concerns in the visual and performative arts with their well-documented influence on the form and content of contemporary art both in the West and in third-world cultures under European domination. In turn, the growing restiveness of the Western avant-garde allowed a contemporary viewing of culturally distant forms that revealed both those that resembled familiar Western forms and others drawn from previously unrecognized areas of visual and verbal art. The interests of poets — both formal and ideological — were accompanied or bolstered by scholarly investigations of the contexts and linguistic properties of the traditional works, including the nature of oral poetics and the particularities of translation from oral sources.

Like much modern and postmodern poetry and art, these investigations involved a necessarily intermedial point of view, calling genre boundaries into question.

[From J.R., entry on "ethnopoetics" in The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, 1993]

 ETHNOPOETICS
Dennis Tedlock

Ethnopoetics is a decentered poetics, an attempt to hear and read the poetries of distant others, outside the Western tradition as we know it now. To have any hope of getting outside we must set aside any notion we may have that these poetries will necessarily come from a distant time, or from present-day peoples who are somehow living in the past, or that they will necessarily resemble Homer, or that they will be less complex than Western or metropolitan poetries, or that they will have been produced in some kind of isolation from other languages or cultures. Ethnopoetics does not merely contrast the poetics of "ethnics" with just plain poetics, but implies that any poetics is always an ethnopoetics. Our main interest will indeed be the poetries of people who are ethnically distant from ourselves, but it is precisely by the effort to reach into distances that we bring our own ethnicity, and the poetics that goes with it, into fuller consciousness. Ethnopoetics originated among poets with an interest in anthropology and linguistics and among anthropologists and linguists with an interest in poetry, such as David Antin, Stanley Diamond, Dell Hymes, Jerome Rothenberg, Gary Snyder, Nathaniel Tarn (E. Michael Mendelson), and myself. The emphasis has been on performances in which the speaking, chanting, or singing voice gives shape to proverbs, riddles, curses, laments, praises, prayers, prophecies, public announcements, and narratives. Practitioners of ethnopoetics treat the relationship between performances and texts as a field for experimentation. Texts that were taken down in the era of handwritten dictation and published as prose are reformatted and/or retranslated in order to reveal their poetic features. In the case of sound recordings, transcripts and translations serve not only as listening guides but also as scripts or scores for further performances. An ethnopoetic score not only takes account of the words but silences, changes in loudness and tone of voice, the production of sound effects, and the use of gestures and props. Whatever a score may encompass, the notion of a definitive text has no place in ethnopoetics. Linguists and folklorists tend to narrow their attention to the normative side of performance, recognizing only such features as can be accounted for by general rules. Ethnopoetics remains open to the creative side of performance, valuing features that may be rare or even unique to a particular artist or occasion.

NOTE.  Fuller archived versions of Alcheringa, the first journal of ethnopoetics, edited by me and Dennis Tedlock from 1970 to 1980, can now be found at the Jacket 2 site and in abbreviated form through the Duration Press site, a remarkable and valued gift in either instance. (J.R.)

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THE JINX

Above the dumbfounded human herd
the brilliant, savage manes of blue-
starved beggars leapt, their feet already in our way.

A black wind deployed as banner over their march
whipped it with cold so far into the flesh
that it hollowed irritable furrows.

Always in hope of arriving at the sea,
they voyaged without bread, or sticks, or urns,
biting the golden lemon of the bitter ideal.

Most grieved their last gasp in the night parades,
drunk on the joy of seeing their own blood flow,
O Death the only kiss for speechless mouths!

Their unmaking is in the hands of a potent angel,
his naked sword erect on the horizon:
a purple clot occludes the grateful breast.

They suck on pain as once they milked the dream:
when they give rhythmic form to carnal tears,
the people kneel down and their mother rises.

These ones are comforted, secure, majestic;
but a hundred jeered-at brothers dog their steps,
ignoble martyrs to contorted chance.

The same salt tears erode their cheeks,
they eat of ashes with the same devotion,
but the fate that guys them is vulgar or comic.

They too had power to excite, like drums,
the servile pity of a dull-voiced race,
peers of Prometheus without the vulture!

No, base and confined to deserts without cisterns,
they run beneath the scourge of a fractious monarch,
The Jinx, whose unheard-of laughter knocks them flat.

He leaps at lover’s backs, to share the ride!
The torrent crossed, he dumps you in a pond,
leaving the two white swimmers blocked in mud.

Thanks to him, if someone blows a trumpet,
children will crack us up in wilful laughter
when, fist to arse, they ape its fanfare.

Thanks to him, if another, none too soon, should deck
a withered breast with a nubile rose, reviving it,
some spit will shine upon its damned bouquet.

And this dwarf skeleton, topped with a feathered hat,
in boots, whose armpit has real worms for hair,
is for them the infinity of vast bitterness.

Provoked, will they not prick at the pervert:
their creaking rapier follows the rays of moonlight
that snow into its corpse and pass on through.

Lacking the pride that glorifies bad fortune
and sad to avenge the pecking at their bones,
they covet hate, instead of nursing grudges.

They are the laughing stock of fiddle-scrapers,
of urchins, whores and of the eternal brood
of ragamuffins dancing when the bottle’s dry.

The poets, always up for alms or vengeance,
not knowing these erased gods are sick,
say they are boring and without intelligence.

“They can run away, having had enough excitement,
as a virgin horse refuses foam and tempest
rather than galloping forth in armour.

We’ll get the festal champion drunk on incense:
but they, why don’t we make these minstrels take
to scarlet rags, howling for us to stop!”

When everyone has spat scorn in their faces,
these heroes, overtired by playful sickness,
annulled men, praying for thunder in swallowed words

go hang themselves from the street lamp, laughably.


THE WINDOWS

Sick of the hospice, sick of fetid incense
rising from vapid whiteness in the curtains
towards the tall crucifix, bored of the empty wall,
the dying and sly man sets an old back upright

and drags it, less to warm his rottenness
than to see sunlight on the stones, to press
white hairs and the bones of his thin face
to the windows a beautiful bright ray would suntan.

And the mouth, feverish, as avid of azure blue
as when, in youth, it went to breathe its treasure,
a virgin skin, long gone! befouls
the lukewarm golden panes with a long bitter kiss.

He lives a drunk, forgetting the horror of holy oils,
tisanes, the clock and the inflicted bed,
the cough; and when evening bleeds among the tiles,
his eye, on the horizon gorged with light,

sees golden galleys, beautiful as swans,
asleep on a fragrant, purple river,
rocking the wildcat lightning of their lines
in a grand indifference charged with memory!

So, seized by disgust for the man of obdurate soul
sprawled in happiness, where his appetites only
are fed, who persists in searching this filth
to offer it to the woman nursing his little ones,

I flee, and I cling to all cross-panes
where a man can show life the cold shoulder, and, blessed
in their glass, washed by eternal dews,
gilded by the chaste morning of the Infinite

in their mirror I see myself an angel! and I die, I love
— if the windowpane be art, or the mystical —
to be reborn, wearing my dream for a diadem,
in a prior sky where Beauty flourishes!

But here-below is master: its obsessive fear
comes even in this safe house to make me sick,
and the impure vomit of Stupidity
compels me to hold my nose before the blue.

Is there a means, o Self well-versed in bitterness,
to smash the crystal insulted by the monster
and to fly, with my two wings featherless
— at the risk of falling till the end of eternity?


ON (TRANSLATING) THE POÉSIES OF STÉPHANE MALLARMÉ

I retain a distinct and powerful physical impression, a muscle-memory, of repeatedly trying and failing to actually find the Poésies in the old Pléiade edition of Mallarmé’s works: they occupy forty-eight pages of bible paper, out of the book’s total of seventeen hundred, and I have fat fingers. I first tried to translate a Mallarmé poem in 1992, and hope to publish a complete version of the Poésies in 2012: not twenty years’ work by any means (almost all of the translations have been made since 2004), but a project that has carried me through endless insomniac nights and remained, for all its obvious impossibility, possible, even when little else has seemed so.
     Others have found the “critical poetry” of Divagations or the open-field (open fold) eschatology of ‘Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard’ a more inviting way-in to Mallarmé’s work, but I’ve kept faith with the Poésies. Staring at and sounding out all those French alexandrine lines, the twelve-syllable line which looks so much like an English pentameter but isn’t, has completely changed – and massively expanded – my sense of how a line of English poetry might be shaped. There’s something magical about French verse, the way in which a sequence of words like these from Mallarmé’s ‘Le Tombeau de Charles Baudelaire’:
      Contre le marbre vainement de Baudelaire
might be counted as eight syllables of prose, or twelve of verse (where the ‘e muet’, the silent or elided e, is artificially given full syllabic force). This feeling for verse as something which has been breathed into, inflated or made effervescent by the sighing of the mute e, lies behind the famous opening line of the Poésies,
      Rien, cette écume, vierge vers
      (Nothing, this foam, a virgin verse),
and, remembering that the only thing which makes a poet a poet (in Plato’s Ion) is that she has been breathed into by the gods, the line of French verse comes to seem remarkably poet-like, more human than material. In ‘Don du poème’, Mallarmé emerges from one of his own insomniac nights with a helpless newborn poem which he invites his wife to breast-feed. In any event, it means that a line of French verse is a remarkably chimerical thing, with a semantic yield more variable than any fixed English line could hope to match. I’ve played it mostly by ear, hoping to make my English lines as short as they can be and as long as they need to be, while trying as far as possible to keep the integrity of the line as a sub-unit of the whole. I didn’t even consider using rhyme: I know that rhyme is an essential feature of Mallarmé’s verse, but that is only true of his rhymes. Mine would not be essential, and I didn’t want to distract.
      Though the Poésies were written over a period of thirty-five years, there’s a remarkable density of echoes sounding from poem to poem and back across the decades. Late Mallarmé doesn’t sound much like early Mallarmé, but similar turns of phrase and repeated gestures of piercing, hollowing, digging, drowning, languor, flight, sterility, balancing, burgeoning, fanning, unrolling, contempt, exaltation, fragmenting, hairdressing, mirroring, struggling, frolicking, consecrating, silencing, sailing, enlacing, gestating, extending, stifling, foaming and negation lend the book the almost (but not quite) consistent structure of a flawed crystal. And this structure extends out as far as you care to explore in Mallarmé’s other work (‘Un coup de dés’ sometimes reads to me like a cento constructed from the exploded remains of the Poésies; it also works the other way round).
      Mallarmé had a remarkably twentieth-century intuition of language as a system in which significance was a property of the relations among the elements of which it was constructed, rather than a property of the elements themselves. At the age of twenty-four, he wrote in a letter to François Coppée, “What we must aim for above all is that, in a poem, the words – which are already sufficiently themselves not to receive any imprint from outside – should each reflect upon the others, to the point of appearing no longer to have their own colour, but to be only the transitions of a scale”. Thirty years later, the work has become Indra’s net: “The pure work implies the disappearance of the poet as speaker, who cedes the initiative to words, through the clash of their mobilised inequalities; they light one another up by reciprocal reflections like a virtual trail of fire upon precious stones, replacing the respiration perceptible in the old lyric breath or the impassioned personal steering of the sentence”. I still think it breathes.

[Note. Peter Manson is a contemporary Scottish poet, whose books include Between Cup and Lip (Miami University Press, 2008), For the Good of Liars (Barque Press 2006), Adjunct: an Undigest (Edinburgh Review 2005), and most notably for present purposes, Before and After Mallarmé (Survivors' Press 2005). Between 1994 and 1997, he co-edited (with Robin Purves) eight issues of the experimental/modernist poetry journal Object Permanence, which led in turn to a later series of innovative poetry pamphlets under that logo. In his current Mallarmé project, he restores a sense of poetic power and dis-ease often missing in other works of translation -- a reminder too of Mallarmé’s central place among the poètes maudits of the later nineteenth century. (J.R.)]

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[Anne Blonstein died much too soon on April 19, 2011. She had by then created a remarkable series of works in which she employed and transformed traditional numerological and hermeneutic procedures (gematria, notarikon) in the composition of radically new experimental poems. Too little known, her oeuvre, as I would read it, is in a line that goes from Abulafia to Mallarmé and Mac Low and various poets of Oulipo and Fluxus, among others, while the devotion and precision that she shows throughout is clearly and powerfully her own. The following, published before her death and reprinted here from Salt Magazine, issue 2, is available at http://www.saltpublishing.com/saltmagazine/issues/02/text/Blonstein_Anne.htm, along with five of her poems. A previous posting of poems appeared, February 18, 2011, on Poems and Poetics, and a further exploration of her work and life can be found by clicking here. (J.R.)]

Anne Blonstein’s poetry has developed a deep and integral sense of encryption, which may be to say that, in her work, poetry extends its propensity to code, its hospitality to the cryptic. All poetry is coded, in the sense that it observes conventions, of metre or rhyme or whatever. To read poetry one must come to terms with those codes; the reader is prepared to negotiate language that is true not to what a speaker wishes to say, but is true to the codes of its writing. Experienced readers of poetry look for complexities and refinements of the code. In what we know as avant-garde or experimental verse (since Mallarmé and Pound), those codes have shifted markedly from the phonetic to the graphic. Typographical possibilities now extend beyond the shape of the stanza; Pound’s ‘In a Station of the Metro’ (1913) may be the earliest poem to use a typewriter’s double space within a line of printed verse. Modern poetry, its development of free verse and open forms, has given shape to print, and has made a significant space of the page, most obviously in what we know as concrete poetry.

Graphic experimentation puts the emphasis on space; by contrast, phonetic experimentation, such as we find throughout the history of poetry, not least in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, has designs on time. Rhythmical variation in Tennyson, consonant clusters in Browning, the sprung rhythm of Hopkins, the lexical isolates of Hardy, all use the codes of metre, including the conventional pauses at line-endings and middles, to disrupt expectation and to force the reader to renegotiate the ratio between language and time. Pound and Eliot remain primarily concerned with phonetic effects, that is to say with designs on time, not least on the reader’s time, and sense of timing. Poetry that foregrounds graphic experimentation solicits the eye to take cognizance of shape, of visual patterns. In doing so, time is suspended, or deemed irrelevant: there is no chronic measure by which to order the experience of a painting or a sculpture. In Anne Blonstein’s use of notariqon, notably in worked on screen (Salzburg 2005), the reader must pick up the initial letter of each word in order to compose a new word or ‘hypogram’. Such spatially distributed words keep the eye busy, but they leave the ear somewhat frustrated.

A challenge for the contemporary poet is to reconcile space and time, to realize the compounded or compacted power of words both spoken and written, whether arranged in sequence for the voice or disposed as pattern for the eye. This is, of course, no merely poetic challenge, nor is it a whimsical indulgence. Our sense of time has been largely constituted by the rhythms of spoken language, as our sense of space is given by the activity of reading, whether what’s read be a situation or a page. There is nothing fanciful or obsolete in Shelley’s claim that poets are the unacknowledged legislators; the less acknowledged they have become in modernity, the more powerful their legislation.

The poems in this issue of Salt are from and my smile will be yellow, a sequence of 66 poems written through the Hebrew year 5766 (spanning October 2005 to September 2006 in the Gregorian calendar). There is one book in the Hebrew scriptures that has just sixty-six chapters and each of the sixty-six poems in Blonstein’s sequence is thus coordinated with one of the chapters of Isaiah. Each poem encrypts time, not rhythmically but calendrically. The number of lines in the second section (stanza, verse paragraph) varies from one to twelve, and discloses the month of the Hebrew calendar. The number of words in the poem’s title indicates the day of the week, running from Sunday the first day to Saturday the seventh. The number of words in italic in the entire poem is not the day of the month, though it gives us a clue.

What has all this to do with poetry? There is nothing Kabbalistic or hermetic in Anne Blonstein’s practice: there is no idea of a secret message being buried deep within these poems, to be extracted only by the most determined reader. Encryption to serious purpose masks itself behind or within the banal. Here is nothing banal. This poetry celebrates the joy and inventiveness of encryption for its own sake. The aesthetic aspects of encryption have a value quite apart from any message or information that might be therein encoded. What matters is the life that a cryptic device methodically applied gives to words: ‘lying on an acquired bed of latin'. Naive readers, those who are resistant to poetry, will always protest that if something needs to be said, it can and ought to be said plainly. Those who enjoy poetry are in on the open secret: that in a poem, any poem, it is the code, not the message, that matters. The art of poetry, the trajectory of its newnesses and renewings, is to be plotted along the line of shifting and sophisticating codes and encryptions. The only ‘real’ secret embedded in these poems is the date of each one’s composition. Hardly a state secret; yet it is a trade secret, or a craft secret: in the history of poetry there has never to our knowledge been a sequence of poems each of which embodies the date of its own making.

Thus these poems, spaced and shaped in ways that are hardly amenable to fluent articulation, yet conceal a temporal aspect. And it is a temporality that searches far beyond the poetic line. Language in its graphic emphasis makes for words embedded and embodied, not to be dissolved in the ephemera of voicing. Anne Blonstein’s sequence suggests that if the embodiment of words is not to be a slack and vapid figure, words (and phrases, and poems) must be reckoned within time, as organisms that come into being on particular dates. A poetic sequence is a conventional term, slightly technical; however, now that computing and genetics have made of the root a verb and a gerund — sequencing — we are brought to realize how close, how all but inseparable, might be the cultural and the natural, the physical and the mental, the organic and the inorganic, the word and the thing. These constitutive distinctions of all western thinking are rendered vulnerable by what we are learning about our selves. And when we think of DNA and genetic sequencing, we will also attend phrasally to the encryption of genetic information. Such information includes the marking of time; and of course every transaction on the internet is chronically encrypted. Anne Blonstein’s poetry, of sequence and encryption, offers us a model of how we are.

[Charles Lock was educated at Oxford, and received his D.Phil. for a dissertation on John Cowper Powys; he is the editor of the Powys Journal. After teaching for many years at the University of Toronto he was appointed in 1996 as Professor English Literature at the University of Copenhagen.  He has published extensively on contemporary poetry (Geoffrey Hill, Les Murray, Derek Walcott, Roy Fisher, Tabish Khair) as well as in literary theory (Bakhtin, Jakobson) and on texts ranging from The Cloud of Unknowing to Ken Saro-Wiwa's Sozaboy: A Novel in Rotten English. For the past fifteen years he has been studying and admiring the work of Anne Blonstein.]

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[From a longer selection scheduled for publication, with accompanying commentaries, in Poetry International, San Diego State University, for which further information will be available at http://poetryinternational.sdsu.edu/.
Additional excerpts from Shaking the Pumpkin have appeared earlier on Poems and Poetics.]

Pre-Face

In the aftermath of Technicians of the Sacred (1968) the next step I took toward the construction of an experimental ethnopoetics was an assemblage of traditional works and commentaries thereon focused entirely on one of the world’s still surviving and incredibly diverse “deep cultures.” The resultant work, Shaking the Pumpkin: Traditional Poetry of the Indian North Americas, was published by Doubleday Anchor in 1972 and in revised versions by Alfred van der Marck Editions (1986) and the University of New Mexico Press (1991). As with Technicians I drew from a wide range of previously published materials, supplemented in this instance by direct translations of my own and by those of later and very significant translators such as Dennis Tedlock and Howard Norman. I also continued to be freed by the opening of poetry among us to expand the range of what we saw as poetry elsewhere including sound works, visual works, and event and performance pieces on the model of contemporary happenings and performance art. My own translations – “total” and otherwise – from Seneca (with songmaker and ritual performer Richard Johnny John) and from Navajo (through the good offices of ethnomusicologist David McAllester) were also first presented here, and the commentaries, much like those in Technicians, provided analogues to other primal cultures and to the work of contemporary avantgardists. In the process I made no pretense about my own connection to the Indian nations in question, though for a period of a decade and more it was far from trivial, and my next ethnopoetic assemblage, A Big Jewish Book (later republished as Exiled in the Word) was in fact an exploration of ancestral sources of my own “in a world of Jewish mystics, thieves, and madmen.”

After three decades in print the life of Shaking the Pumpkin came to a natural closure several years ago, though a revised and expanded version has remained a tempting possibility since then. The following excerpts, no longer easily accessible, will give some sense of the range of work in this and other of our ethnopoetic gatherings – part of a process of composition that I’ve spoken of elsewhere as “othering” and that the great Brazilian avantgardist Haroldo de Campos has aptly termed “transcreation.” Such approaches, as we view them, have appeared to us not as a distortion or falsification of the original work but as the most poetic – and therefore the most honest way – to bring it forward. (J.R.)

Uitoto Indian (Colombia)
Genesis I

1.

In the beginning the word gave origin to the father.

2.

A phantasm, nothing else existed in the beginning: the Father touched an illusion, he grasped something mysterious. Nothing existed. Through the agency of a dream our Father Nai-mu-ena kept the mirage to his body, and he pondered long and thought deeply.

Nothing existed, not even a stick to support the vision: our Father attached the illusion to the thread of a dream and kept it by the aid of his breath. He sounded to reach the bottom of the appearance, but there was nothing. Nothing existed.

Then the Father again investigated the bottom of the mystery. He tied the empty illusion to the dream thread and pressed the magical substance upon it. Then by the aid of his dream he held it like a wisp of raw cotton.

Then he seized the mirage bottom and stamped upon it repeatedly, sitting down at last on his dreamed earth.

The earth phantasm was his now, and he spat out saliva repeatedly so that the forests might grow. Then he lay down on his earth and covered it with the roof of heaven. As he was the owner of the earth he placed above it the blue and the white sky.

Thereupon Rafu-emas, the man-who-has-the-narratives, sitting at the base of the sky, pondered and he created this story so that we might listen to it here upon earth.

Translation after K.T. Preuss, Die Religion und Mythologie der Uitoto (1921)

Omaha
Sweat-House Ritual No.1

listen old man listen
you rock listen
old man listen
listen didn't i teach all their children
to follow me listen
listen
listen unmoving time-without-end listen
you old man sitting there listen
on the roads where all the winds come rushing
at the heart of the winds where you're sitting listen
old man listen
listen there's short grasses growing all over you listen
you're sitting there living inside them listen
listen i mean you're sitting there covered with birdshit listen
head’s rimmed with soft feathers of birds listen
old man listen
you standing there next in command listen
listen you water listen
you water that keeps on flowing
from time out of mind listen
listen the children have fed off you
no one’s come on our secret
the children go mad for your touch listen
listen standing like somebody's house listen
just like somewhere to live listen
you great animal listen
listen you making a covering over us listen
saying let the thoughts of those children live with me
and let them love me listen
listen you tent-frame listen
you standing with back bent you over us
stooping your shoulders you bending over us
you really standing
you saying thus shall my little ones speak of me
you brushing the hair back from your forehead listen
the hair of your head
the grass growing over you
you with your hair turning white listen
the hair growing over your head listen
o you roads the children will be walking on listen
all the ways they'll run to be safe listen
they'll escape their shoulders bending with age where they walk
walking where others have walked
their hands shading their brows
while they walk and are old listen
because they're wanting to share in your strength listen
the children want to be close by your side listen
walking listen
be very old and listen

 English working by Jerome Rothenberg, from Alice Fletcher and Francis LaFlesche
 
Luiseño (California)
Before They Made Things Be Alive They Spoke
by Lucario Cuevish
 
Earth woman lying flat her feet were to the north her head was to the South sky brother sitting on her right hand side he said Yes sister you must Tell me who you are she answered I am Tomaiyowit she asked him Who Are you? He answered I am Tukmit. Then she said:

I stretch out flat to the Horizon.
I shake I make a noise like thunder.
I am Earthquake.
I am round and roll around.
I vanish and return.

Then Tukmit said:

I arch above you like a lid.
I deck you like a hat.
I go up high and higher.
I am death I gulp it in one bite.
I grab men from the east andscatter them.
My name is Death.

Then they made things be alive.

 -- English working by Jerome Rothenberg, after Constance G. DuBois

Navajo
A Song from Red Ant Way

The red young men under the ground
decorated with red wheels
and decorated with red feathers
at the center of the cone-shaped house
I gave them a beautiful red stone—
when someone does the same for me
I'll walk the earth

The black young women under the ground
decorated with black wheels
and decorated with black feathers
at the center of the flat-topped house
I gave them an abalone shell—
when someone does the same for me
I'll walk the earth

From deep under the earth they're starting off
the old men under the earth are starting off
they're decorated with red wheels and starting off
at the center of the cone-shaped house they're starting off
because I gave them a beautiful red stone they're starting off
when someone does the same for me I'll walk the earth like them
     and starting off

On the red road and on the road they're starting off
The black old women under the earth are starting off
they're decorated with black wheels and starting off
decorated with black feathers and starting off
at the center of the flat-topped house they're starting off
because I gave them an abalone shell they're starting off
when someone does the same for me I'll walk the earth like them
     and starting off
from deep under the earth they're starting off

—English working by Jerome Rothenberg, after Harry Hoijer

Yaqui
From Flower World Variations: Song of a Dead Man

I do not want these flowers
        moving
                  but the flowers
want to move
        I do not want these flowers
                 moving
but the flowers
        want to move
                I do not want these flowers
moving
        but the flowers
                want to move
out in the flower world
        the dawn
                 over a road of flowers
I do not want these flowers
        moving
                but the flowers
want to move
        I do not want these flowers
                moving
but the flowers
        the flowers
                want to move

—English version by Jerome Rothenberg

Tule/Cuna
Spyglass Conversations

(A girl looking through a spyglass says)
You cannot see mountains and valleys in the clouds,
I see the clouds as big as trees.
When I look far away I see the clouds like cliffs of high, gray rocks.
I see a cloud that looks like a coconut tree.
The clouds come up and come up in different shapes.
There are clouds that look like breakers,
You don't see the colors and shapes of the clouds,
I see them like people moving and bending, they come up just like people.
There are clouds like many people walking.
I see them every time I look out to sea with the glass.
Sometimes a cloud comes up like a ghost, and sometimes like a ship.
I look far off through the glass and see everything.
I see a cloud that looks like a sea horse, a wild sea horse that lives in the
     water.
I see a cloud like a deer with branching horns.

(The boy beside her says)
You don't see that at all.

(But the girl says)
From the time I was a child I didn't think I would see such things as
     these.
If I don't look through the glass I can't see them.
Now I find out the different things the clouds make.
Do you want to see them too?

(The boy says)
All right. I want to see them too. (He looks through the glass.)
Now I see funny things.

(The girl says)
Now you see all those funny things.

(Then the boy says to a younger girl)
You want to see them too?

(But she says)
I'm too young.

(The boy says to the older girl)
Look down into the water with the glass.

(The older girl says)
Now I see strange things under the water.
I see things moving around as though they were live animals.
I see things there that look like little bugs – many strange animals under the sea.

Translation by Frances Densmore

Navajo
Navajo Animal Songs

1.

Chipmunk can't drag it along
can't drag it along

Chipmunk holds back his ears

2.

Chipmunk was standing
jerking his feet
with stripes
he's a very short chipmunk

3.

Mole makes his pole redhot
Says: I'll shove it up your ass
Says: feel how it shakes your belly

4.

Wildcat was walking
He ran down here
He got his feet in the water
He farted
Wow, wow! says Wildcat

5.

A turkey is dancing near the rocks
shoves out his pelvis
woops-a-daisy we all go crazy

6.

Big Rabbit goes to see his baby
pisses
pissing all around him

7.

Pinionjay shits pebbles
now he's empty

English versions by Jerome Rothenberg, after David McAllester

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A Round of Rattles, by and with Robert Kelly

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 6:23 AM 0 comments
[Robert Kelly was a poet essential to my own formative years as a poet, a time of transformations now several decades in the past. With him there was a brief time in which we struggled together with the dimensions of “deep image” as a strategy of composition developed by us along with a cohort of contemporaries in New York and elsewhere. In my own case this was the forerunner to that ethnopoetics to which I came on my own by the end of the 1960s, but looking back now I feel sure that it was Robert who was an early one and possibly the first to point me in that direction. With something of that in mind he wrote to me recently to recount a memory he had of readings of mine in which I used a Seneca Indian horn rattle to drive home my spoken performances. He enclosed with that a poem that spoke to those occasions, and I answered with a short group of prose poems that used his nouns in the manner of what Jackson Mac Low, another member of our cohort, called nuclei – a form of composition that I had used earlier in The Lorca Variations and other poems. I was aware too that today, May 7, 2011, there would be a celebration of Robert’s 75th birthday and his 50th year as a professor of poetry at Bard College. What follows, then, is Robert’s rattle poem, along with my poems in response to it. My admiration for his life and work is no less now than it was those many years ago, and my gratitude is even greater. (J.R.)]

JERRY’S RATTLE

wakes the dead.

It quacks.

I translate rocks
he said, I say pebbles,
I know ground
I know leather things
because they say.

When the eagle comes by itself
let it settle or fly off
who know what it carries in its beak
my business is to watch

watch with my rattle
watch with my mouth

with the rattle of my rattle I see everything

and when it flaps away
leaves one feather after it
I try to pick it up
but it’s only the eagle’s shadow
I try to pick its shadow up
and it turns into my shadow

and this makes me fly.

My teachers said
Fly on your shadow only
leave the machines alone
fly on your shadow
it will never fall.

Who were the dead I was waking
and why were they dead
and what were they doing
packing their valises
and tying their colorful bundles
on the day 13-Death
the only day in the year they could go

where do they go
I don’t have to know
I have to wake them
I have to let them go,
they’re waiting for me
to rattle my rattle,

go, I murmur in my ordinary
language, go home
lovely spooks,
find your way home,
ride the ringing of my rattle all the way

a sound carries

the dead ride our music
the dead ride sounds
the way I ride shadows

nothing else counts
but making sounds
and finding the way home.

home is always somewhere else

that’s why all the music we need
that’s why I rattle my rattle

when I was little boy
the radio used to say every week
only the shadow knows

only a shadow is always at home

the sun thinking its way through the clouds
makes it happen
the firelight makes it happen

we invented fire
so we could have shadows at night

the sun is a rattle that sings shadows
I belong to everything when I make noise.

VARIATIONS ON A ROUND OF RATTLES

for Robert Kelly

1

The noise of pebbles in the mouth of someone dead is next to nothing. Underneath the sun a boy is wrestling with his shadow, and his shadow with another shadow. Home is always somewhere else, a rattle and an eagle feather all that’s left. Daylight nearly over. Firelight foreshadowing the night.

2

Everything the night conceals from us is yet alive. Even the rocks are when they’re stuffed into a rattle and the sound they make surrounds us as the shadow of a cloud might on the way to night. Here in our final home machines like living things cast shadows also, and the year ends with a lonely rattle sound. Spooks bearing bundles run from everything like shadows where we wait and dream.

3

The business of the dead is spinning shadows, banging leather rattles, faking a language not their own. How good to spend a week away from home, valises packed and ready for a day out in the sun. A rattle makes a sound we love to hear, another rattle leads us where the shadows beckon, and the shadows form a single shadow under which we hide.

4

13-Death calls out to us. His is a music darker than a radio, so far from home, so fraught with sounds the dead might make, our fallen teachers, eagles screaming through their beaks, who make the ground shake, where we sit around a fire. Is it a rattle or a distant ringing, or a rattle that the dead can hear and join us, shadows overhead and with a lonely rattle far from home?

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Cecilia Vicuña: Word & Thread

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 6:50 AM 0 comments
translated from Spanish by Rosa Alcalá

Word is thread and the thread is language.
Non-linear body.
A line associated to other lines.
A word once written risks becoming linear,
but word and thread exist on another dimensional
     plane.
Vibratory forms in space and in time.
Acts of union and separation.

*

The word is silence and sound.
The thread, fullness and emptiness.

*

The weaver sees her fiber as the poet sees her word.
The thread feels the hand, as the word feels the tongue.
Structures of feeling in the double sense
of sensing and signifying,
the word and the thread feel our passing.

*
Is the word the conducting thread, or does thread
     conduct the word-making?
Both lead to the centre of memory, a way of uniting
     and connecting.
A word carries another word as thread searches for
    thread.
A word is pregnant with other words and a thread
     contains
other threads within its interior.
Metaphors in tension, the word and the thread
     carry us beyond
threading and speaking, to what unites us, the
     immortal fiber.

*

To speak is to thread and the thread weaves the
     world.

*

In the Andes, the language itself, Quechua, is a
     cord of twisted straw,
two people making love, different fibers united.
To weave a design is pallay, to raise the fibers,
     to pick them up.
To read in Latin is legere, to pick up.
The weaver is both weaving and writing a text
that the community can read.
An ancient textile is an alphabet of knots, colors
     and directions
that we can no longer read.
Today the weaving no only "represent," they
     themselves are
one of the being of the Andean cosmogony. (E. Zorn)

*

Ponchos, llijllas, aksus, winchas, chuspas and
     chumpis are beings who feel
and every being who feels walks covered in signs.
"The body given entirely to the function of signi-
     fying."
René Daumal
A textile is "in the state of being textile": awaska.
And one word, acnanacuna designates the clothing,
     the language
and the instruments for sacrifice (for signifying,
     I would say).

*

And the energy of the movement has a name and
     a direction: lluq'i,
to the left, paña, to the right.
A direction is a meaning and the twisting of the
     thread
transmits knowledge and information.
The last two movements of a fiber should be in
     opposition:
a fiber is made of two strands lluq'i and paña.
A word is both root and suffix : two antithetical
     meanings in one.
The word and the thread behave as processes
     in the cosmos.

The process is a language and a woven design
     is a process re-
presenting itself.
"An axis of reflection," says Mary Frame:
"the serpentine
attributes are images of the fabric structure,"
The twisted strands become serpents
and the crossing of darkness and light, a
     diamond star.
"Sprang is a weftless technique, a reciprocal
action whereby the interworking of adjacent
elements with the fingers duplicates itself
above and below the working area."

The fingers entering the weave produce in
     the fibres
a mirror image of its movement, a symmetry
     that reiterates "the concept
of complementarity that imbues Andean
     thought."

*

The thread dies when it is released, but comes
     alive in the loom:
the tension gives it a heart.
Soncco is heart and guts, stomach and conscience,
     memory,
judgement and reason, the wood's core, the stem's
     central fiber.
The word and the thread are the heart of the
     community.
In order to dream, the diviner sleeps on fabric
     made of wik'uña.

A Note on Cecilia Vicuña: An artist/poet of multiple means, she has worked with films, installations, and performance pieces, and has moved between her native Chile and New York City over more than two decades. In this work she draws not only from modern and postmodern contemporaries but from (principally Andean) shamanism, oral traditions, mythology, and herbal lore ("ancient and modern texts which help me to understand what I had seen"). The unraveling and weaving that (in her own description of it) characterizes both her written and visual work draws from an almost limitless range of sources, mixing her words with those of others (old and new) in an assemblage or weave of words conceived (like "the sacred Quechua language," she tells us) as knots and threads (quipu in the old terminology, quipoems in hers). If this is a central metaphor for her, the sources for her words are given also as acts of vision in which (she writes) "individual words opened to reveal their inner associations, allowing ancient and newborn metaphors to come to light." And further: "To approach words from poetry is a form of asking questions. // To ask questions is to fathom, to drop a hook to the bottom of the sea. // The first questions appeared as a vision: I saw in the air words that contained, at the same time, both a question and an answer. // I called them ‘divinations.’ And the words said: the word is the divination; to divine is to ascertain the divine."

And quoting therein our brother poet Octavio Paz: I don’t see with my eyes: words are my eyes.

[Note adapted from J. Rothenberg and P. Joris, Poems for the Millennium, volume 2]

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