To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Jerome Rothenberg: for a Second Book of Retrievals (in progress)

 ATHENS 2008                                                         “Urns & Sarcophagi” 
for Stavros Deligiorgis

The Mourning Women

they pull
their hair
& tears run down
like M’s


A Sorrowing Sailor

abandoned & alone



like dibbiks
the untimely


A Row of Men

a fish in
every hand


Mistress of the Animals (1)

2 wolves
1 bull
2 birds
a serpent
& a fish
between her legs


Mistress of the Animals (2)

a large bird
a jack rabbit
at her back


Medusa Furens

tongue askew
& flashing eyes


White Vases

filled with
the dead


A Small Man

girded round
by eyes



my mind
a butterfly


a man without a face
holds up a cup

a man in a red sweater
sits here too

October/November 2008

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

André Breton & Philippe Soupault: from THE MAGNETIC FIELDS, “Feelings Are Free”

Soupault & Breton, photo by Man Ray, 1925

Translation from French by Charlotte Mandell

Trace smell of sulfur
Public health swamp
Red of criminal lips
Quick-march brine
Whim of monkeys
Day-colored clock


Heat of locomotives in their Sunday best
Overcoats of prostitutes
Marine moon problem
Solid meridians beehive
Calomel of childhoods at the theater
Blue countrysides
There are three inhabitants
Flying fish in love with the stars
Beard of rivers languor
Thousand years compass
Psychologist pharmacists are a public danger
Rage of Chicago factories
Men love the paleness of animals


Red-hot pins
Anxious sleep of family men
Table of sugary values
Fishing for endless arguments is on sale
Police of the sexes
Paper flight bloody handkerchief
Academic occupations the sheep runs through luxury hotels
Bed of mirrors
Stars of the Republic
My animal tongue of the idle rich bourgeoisie
Sighs of happy mothers


Crime of teenagers English salt
River of chapped hands
Palace of celebrations and dawns
Red red the song
Sweet sugar become the color green
Sensations gone pale
Courage virgin blotting paper
A fly strikes fear in old men
They discover a brain there are red ants


Colorless gases are suspended
Two thousand three hundred scruples
Snow of freshwater springs
Smiles are accepted
Don’t give sailors’ promises
The lions of the Poles
The sea the sea the natural sand
The grey parrot of poor parents
Vacation of oceans
7 o’clock in the evening
Night in the country of mad rages
Finances sea salt
We can see nothing now but the beautiful hand of summer
Cigarettes of the dying


Foreign animals and industrial generals are in the same circle
The avenue of kisses
Illness of young people
The paper on the wall beds cages and circuses
Studios of salvations
A dance quick a dance
Delicate chemistry
Throw the dice
A man at sea
A man goes by I want to see him
He’s running blue bluer than my frozen fingers stain of the tracks
Railroads factories
Iron burns
Prison tobacco mother of dreams
A roundabout bar sickly gallantry
Thursday Thursday
Take your hand head in the trees
Calm of suns
Compound salts
Trucks, bring us the results
The shades our girlfriends
A general commands hands
Beautiful watches


Opening of sorrows one two one two
They are toads red flags
Saliva of flowers
Electrolysis beautiful dawn
Ball of suburban smoke
Clumps of earth cone of sand
Dear tolerated child you whisper
Never pursued the mauve light of brothels
The rug is bordered with nests of dead leaves
House-movings followed by village bands
On the walls for festival days they hang eyes toys of the poor
Farewell source of illnesses
All cries, all, and those that remain are liquid
For grownups the red order
Sun house dance forgetting the veils of the fog
Summer moon
The lantern and the little grey tree that bears an exotic name those are the fingers of  
       ataxia sufferers the vines of the fields
Biology teaches love
Weave lucid truths
My head is wrapped in a bandage
Crime or suicide
Acetylene is a white carnation
Dreadful pince-nez


Lottery of ascensions and asters
They’re playing cards the thousand tears of tender youth
Quality of the beloveds
The honey from foreheads passes to distances calculated on a work night
The different ailments of streets the cheerful days of sugary Saturdays
Metal mouth setting sun
Compressed air the shame of it
Who wants to sing the ballad of burns

Pretty blood is a rose
A fan of reflections
The colors of milk repose
At this occident of riches

The most gracious contrivances
And odious peddlers of clothes
Offer to our thoughts of romances
All the vapors of gratitude

There is so much to read in these passages
Our veins burst rockets beautiful rockets
Humidity corrodes our feelings with choice subtleties
Our yellow Sunday hobbies
Register of numbered passions
The matches are excellent and flower non-stop
Long live the cerebellums of mice


The air-waves of miracles and deeds
Divine calculation of palaces
Mercy for all those members
A solid rug a sword-cane and the glory of the exiled
The numbers of horizons scarlet tongue inclinations
Why bow your noble or struggling head
The days pass through your hands
Little flame for those born blind
Demonstration of laughs brown school in the back of the village blue smoke of      
      coalminers and alpine foresters
A rainbow shepherd magician
The light comes like a freshwater spring
Physics is nothing anymore
Those long threads and telegrams are the flowers of our rosy civilizations
We must take care of the neighbors smells of nights and morrows
The school window draped with ivy
The galloping of camels
Lost harbor
The train station is on the right Café de la Gare Bifur It’s fear
Oceanic prefectures
I hide inside a historic painting
So green it’s about to blossom
The leaves are tender sighs
Quickly cut down your escaped three-masted desires crazy dancers
The sea has no more color come look at the sea of algae
The gillyflower mappa mundi or shark
The poor giraffe is on the right
The seal groans
The inspectors have obscurities and kingfishers in their hands a graphometer animal of    
       dry cities
For you, lost stamens Headquarters
of cold eternities


Bottles of flames are sweet so sweet
Suburban pirates have eyes lined with black
Green brightness adoration of landscapes
Polished shoes
Industrial company without credentials Chemical Association of Pendulums
Slackness of eyeless rodents
Bulimias of pale brooders
Mauve naivety of sellers of swift, brutally hollowed-out shutters
Under the eye of adopted acids lighthouses give courage
Green water for women
Newspapers from the day before yesterday grandmothers ramble on the sky is blue the
       sea is blue eyes are blue
Musical light beams quadrupeds indolent saber
The torn-apart wasps are mute they are weeping tarantulas The bag of cities under the
       sea pigeons are present lights cut walls and brains
There are always alarm clocks
The basilica of terrified seconds
The importance of barometers flatfish
Basil and reseda
Spanish dances cliff of deeds scaffold of waterfalls
A sphere destroys everything

translator’s note.  I first started translating THE MAGNETIC FIELDS at the request of the young poet Tamás Panitz.  He had been going to Gloucester to visit the poet Gerrit Lansing, a dear friend of my husband, the poet Robert Kelly.  Gerrit would recommend various poetry books he thought were worth reading to Tamás, and Tamás would faithfully follow his advice.  Except in this case:  there was no translation available of THE MAGNETIC FIELDS; the Gascoyne/ Atlas edition had gone out of print and was prohibitively expensive.  So I thought, why not just do the first chapter?  Except after the first chapter, I was hooked — there was no way I could stop after experiencing the thrill of translating such an outlandish, enticing, absorbing text.  I began to feel I was a part of the pioneering automatic writing process, and had to go on to the end.  And so I went on, and on, until I had finished translating the whole book.  This was back in 2016, I think.  When I was done I compared my translation with the Gascoyne and thought, Maybe this is worth publishing after all.  Then by a wonderful coincidence (through the deus ex machina of my friend and fellow translator Jeffrey Zuckerman) I met Edwin Frank, editor in chief at NYRB Classics, and thought on a whim I’d send him the manuscript.  To my delight, he liked my translation, and to my greater delight, he said they would publish it in 2020 — exactly a century after its first publication.  For this, I would like to thank the gods of poetry, whose wonders never cease; the angel Gerrit Lansing, who set all this in motion (and who alas died recently, in 2018); Tamás, for his (frequent) prompting; Robert, for his invaluable help in editing this translation; and all the wonderful people at NYRB Classics, to whom I am truly grateful, but Edwin Frank especially, for recognizing something in this text that might be worth reading.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Jerome Rothenberg: For Michael McClure, A Reminiscence & Tribute

First written as introduction to a reading 15.iv.2000 at D.G. Wills Books in La Jolla, CA

.              I think that Michael McClure and I first came together when he helped me to see - in
               1968 or 1969 - the implications of what I had worked out on my own in Technicians
               of the Sacred. I had for years before that been gathering materials and texts that
               involved (specifically) outcroppings of poetry in areas and cultures outside the accepted
               literary mainstreams. From Michael - and from others like Gary Snyder - I became
               aware of how many shared interests that involved and of how many transformations had
               already taken place, beyond the page (so to speak) and into the wide world outside. I
               knew Michael McClure's poetry before that and had inserted poems of his into
               Technicians (the Ghost Tantras that he wrote in "beast language") as parallels to
               kindred ancient works from aboriginal & mantric sources (& to the sound poems as
               well of early modernists like Hugo Ball and Kurt Schwitters). His work throughout was
               electrifying to those of us watching - with great joy in the discovery - the poetry that
               was arising then among our own contemporaries. The "beat surface" - which he, like
               others, "scratched" - was an important part of this, but there were other surfaces and
               other depths as well. In McClure's case there was from the beginning a mix of highly
               charged language (visceral, sexual, what he would later call mammalian) with an often
               overriding gentleness of tone and gesture. In the voice of those poems I heard the voice
               of someone really speaking, but speaking in - what should we say? - a bard's voice,
               with a touch, a memory of Blake & Shelley: poets who had moved him in the past. This
               sense of voice & body (but really body-mind as one) led him also into an amazing
               series of theatrical works, like the often acclaimed & often banned The Beard, and on
               its musical side, to interactions with the likes of Bob Dylan and The Doors (and to his
               later collaborations over the years with keyboardist Ray Manzarek). Now, all this might
               mask, as it too often does with others, the full sweep of McClure's work. He is both a
               latterday Romantic - in the best sense - & a sharer in an experimental modernism that
               has produced our greatest poetry - worldwide - over the last hundred & more years.
               His grasp of poetry - and art as well - goes back to high school days and first
               discoveries of surrealists and dadaists who came before him, but also to the work of
               contemporaries who shared with him a front place in the heyday of the San Francisco
               Renaissance. 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 & brings about a genuine & very unique
               lyricism of bio-particulars (meat science as he calls it) & the finest celebration that I
               know of a universe of living forms.

               The recognition of this central aspect of his work has nowhere been better explained
               than by Francis Crick, our fellow San Diegan and a longtime admirer of McClure's,
               who said about him: "What appeals to me most about Michael's poems is the fury and
               the imagery of them. I love the vividness of his reactions and the very personal turns and
               swirls of the lines. The worlds in which I myself live, the private world of personal
               through the poems), the world of the atom and molecule, the stars and the galaxies, are
               all there; and in between, above and below, stands man, the howling mammal, contrived
               out of 'meat' by chance and necessity. If I were a poet I would write like Michael
               McClure - if only I had his talent."

               As a poet myself I can't go quite that far, though I would have been pleased to be the
               one who once proclaimed "I am a mammal patriot," or with a voice akin to Blake &
               Dickinson (& in a beautifully shaped series of elegantly centered lines, to top it off):
                                           See the hop-
                                            ping flight
                                          a cricket makes
                                           Nature loves
                                          the absence of

               or best of all to be the poet who spoke to (and through) the raging beast and said:

                                 GOOOOOOR! GOOOOOOOOOO!
                                    GRAHHHI GRAHH! GRAHH!
                              GRAHHRR! RAHHR! GRAGHHRR! RAHR!
                             RAHR! RAHHR! GRAHHHR! GAHHR! Hrahr!
                                  BE NOT SUGAR BUT BE LOVE
                                         looking for sugar!

               And the following, as my own tribute to him, written as our century – the twentieth –                         was slowly fading out:
for Michael McClure
. . . . . . .
Poet man walks between dreams
He is alive, he is breathing freely
thru a soft tube like a hookah.
Ashes fall around him as he walks
singing above them.
Oh how green
the sun is where it marks
the ocean.
Feathers drift atop the hills
down which the poet man
keeps walking, walking
a step ahead of what he fears,
of what he loves.

. . . . . . .

Why has the poet failed us?
Why have we waited, waited for the word to come again?
Why did we remember what the name means
only to now forget it?
If the poet's name is god how dark the day is
how heavy the burden is he carries with him.
All poets are jews, said Tsvetayeva.
The god of the jews is jewish, said a jew.
It was white around him & his voice
was heavy,
like a poet's voice in winter,
old & heavy,
remembering frozen oceans in a summer clime,
how contrary he felt
how harsh the suffering was in him,
let it go!
The poet is dreaming about a poet
& calls out.
Soon he will have forgotten who he is.
. . . . . . .

Speak to the poet's mother,
she is dead now.
So many years ago she left her father's clime.
His father too.
The tale of wandering is still untold,
untrue. The tale of who you are,
the tale of where the poem can take us,
of where it stops
& where the voice stops.
The poem is an argument with death.
The poem is priceless.
Those who are brought into the poem can never leave it.
In a silver tux the poet in the poem by Lorca
walks down the hall to greet the poet's bride.
The poet sees her breasts shine in the mirror.
Apples as white as boobs,
says Lorca.
He is fed the milk of paradise,
the dream of every poet man
of every poet bride.
The band plays up
the day unstops & rushes out to greet
another night.

. . . . . . .

Is the black poet
And is the creation of his hands & throat
a black creation?
Yes, says the poet man
who wears three rings,
the poet man who seeks the precious light,
passes the day beside a broken door
no one can enter. Hold it shut,
the god cries & the jew rolls over
in his endless sleep.
Gods like little wheels glide past him
down the mountain road where cats live
in a cemetery guarded by his father's star,
a poet & a bride entangled in the grass,
his hands are black
his eyes the whitest white
& rimmed with scarlet.
Hear the drumbeat,
The blacks have landed on the western shore
the long lost past of poetry revives.

. . . . . . .

Our fingers fail us.

Then tear them off! the poet cries
not for the first time.
The dead are too often seen filling our streets,
who hasn't seen them?
A tremor across the lower body,
always the image of a horse's head
& sandflies.
A woman's breast & honey.
She in whose mouth the murderers stuffed gravel
who will no longer speak.
The poet is the only witness to that death,
writes every line
as though the only witness.