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

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Ariel Resnikoff, with Jerome Rothenberg: From an Interview (continued), on Jews & Experimental Modernism, with Notes toward a Poetry of Witness & an Omnipoetics

Jerome Rothenberg, from a production circa 1984 of "That Dada Strain" by Luke Morrison &  the Center for Theater Science & Research, San Diego & Lexington, NY
[The following is a continuation of an interview, the first part of which appeared in Poems and Poetics on December 10, 2014.  The full interview, conducted by Resnikoff over a period of several months, was published later in The Wolf magazine, number 31, edited by James Byrne & Sandeep Parmar.]

AR: I’m curious how the question of a Jewish entry into experimental modernism relates to your interest in the work and character of Tristan Tzara (born Samy Rosenstock, 1896-1963), and in Dada, more generally. “[Y]ou are dead” you write in the third section of Abulafia’s Circles, titled, “The Holy Words of Tristan Tzara”,

& dada life is growing
from your monocle
ignored      exalted
you lead me to my future
making poems together
flames & tongues we write…

Do you see Tzara’s work as functioning within a tradition of secular Jewish experimental art? Do you feel that your own work is in dialogue with his?

JR:  In a conversation the other day a question like this came up – about the presence of Jews in experimental modernism and in Dada more precisely – and it struck me in a flash that except for Tzara and for Marcel Janco as his Romanian-Jewish compatriot, none of the core Dadas I could think of were Jews.  I remembered too Hugo Ball’s curious remark about the two little “oriental” men (Tzara and Janco) who showed up at the Cabaret Voltaire before it opened and, twenty years later, the Nazi intertwining of Jews and entartete kunst, with Dada foremost.  Yet Tzara, as far as I know, never comes forward as a Jew, the ethnic mark as hidden as the ethnic name.  And I remember another incident as well, when I was showing Edouard Roditi A Big Jewish Book, Edouard, who had known Tzara in Paris, laughed at how a Jewish shagetz like Tzara would have responded to seeing himself included in a book like that     .
              Nor do I believe that there’s something specifically Jewish in Dada and other extreme avantgardisms, although I can find analogs in (largely) mystical judaism as in other deep cultures.  As for “a tradition of secular Jewish experimental art,” I can’t imagine that that would have meant anything to Tzara – to separate that in some way from experimental art over all.  The milieu in which he wrote was French and European with a strong interest in the remote and “primitive” (African and Oceanian), as it was then being called, or in ethnopoetics as we would later speak of it.  It’s curious too that the racist and anti-semitic connection the Nazis made between “degenerate art” (like Dada) and presumably Jewish conspiracies, would sometimes overstate the Jewish presence in the experimental and international avant-garde, with figures like Tzara cited as arch-conspirators – elders or juniors of Zion corrupting the Aryan West.  In other words precisely what we take and value as the rehabilitative and cleansing power of the historical avant-garde and the “great negative work of destruction” that Tzara proclaimed was what made it the target of Nazis and others who hated it to start with and found it to their advantage to assert a phony Jewish presence as its defining characteristic.
              In another sense Tzara’s late adolescent Dada fury, which I love and still draw from, was no more Jewish at its core than Rimbaud’s a generation or  two earlier.  The only difference of course was in the blood line – a matter of race (of racism, I almost said) pure and simple.

AR: Is it only a matter of race, then, that connects Tzara to Jacob Frank and Abraham Abulafia in Abulafia’s Circles? How did this dynamic trio come to be?

JR: Obviously Frank and Abulafia fit into a Jewish context in a different way from Tzara, so the comedy or irony in this involves putting him alongside the other two, which may in some sense be a question of blood line or race if one wants to see it that way.  More immediate for me is that Frank and Abulafia were both self-proclaimed messiahs while Tzara, when he came to Paris from Zurich, was awaited by Breton and the other Paris Dadas as a kind of latterday messiah – or as an “anti-messiah” and “prophet” in the account by Hans Richter, which rings truer though it comes to much the same thing.  The point anyway is that for the project I was then engaged in I needed Tzara to fill out the messianic trio and that his identification with Sammy Rosenstock allowed me to play off that absurdity as a part of my own “Jewish surrealist vaudeville.”  Probably too that would be closer to Richter’s phrasing than to Breton’s tongue-in-cheek remark, but enough to call up the “ghost of Abulafia no ghost” while having him proclaim:

              messiahs are passé
              there is no greater savior
              than this no eye
              so credible

with a sense after the fact that the apocalyptic hopes of his later stalinism have crashed against the reality that doomed Mandelstam and others (that too, if you want, in a kind of Jewish context).  And when the poem ends it’s with a sense of ruination and loss:
            like earth
            the brain
            the passage to other worlds
            passage to something sad
            lost dada
            an old horse rotting in the garden
            maneless waiting
            for the full moon
            someone leaps into the saddle
            rushes after you
            exuding light

Or as I end another poem from that time: “guess I got nothing left to say.”

AR:  In “A Re-Vision of Jerome Rothenberg’s Poetry and Poetics,” Heriberto Yépez tells us that “[i]f after Deep Image came Ethnopoetics — with the former not so much going away as merging in the helix of his total project — after this Deep Ethnopoetics came a poetics of witness.” Tell me about this poetics of witness. In what ways do you see your work serving as testimony? I am especially interested in your most recent book, Eye of Witness, and in what Yépez calls your desire to construct an omnipoetics.

JR: To go back for a moment to the end of the previous answer: when I concluded “Cokboy” with the line about having nothing left to say, I didn’t realize at first how it resembled John Cage’s definition of poetry: “I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry.”  In the poem of course I had invoked the reality of genocide – of both Indians and Jews – and after crying out four times “America disaster,” had turned from it in disgust, but the nothing there, I would like to think in reconsideration, is really poetry as I came to understand it.  That came back to me – the quality of poetry as both nothing & everything – when I write in Khurbn: “After Auschwitz there is only poetry.”  With this there is also an increased determination to let other voices come into the poetry, to take over the saying for me, so that I become a conduit for their speaking or witnessing.  It’s already there in Poland/1931 and in the anthologies; still more explicitly, even painfully, in Khurbn; & it’s picked up in a different way in the title of my first book in the new century,  A Book of Witness, or in my first poem for the millennium that starts: “Voices are dumb until / I speak for them.”  And later on: “I open up / my mouth & hear / a multitude / of voices.”  I think all of that is what Yépez has in mind when he credits me with “a poetics of witness,” as something toward which the earlier work had been heading.  And that leads me finally to think of an omnipoetics: an assemblage and poetics of everything, which is more than I can ever accomplish on my own but seems to me to be the great work that all of us, as poets, have had and still may have in common – a work, as Isidore Ducasse had it, that’s made by all, not one.  It’s a motif anyway that runs through Eye of Witness and that’s the foundation for the new assemblage – of “outside and subterranean poetry” – on which I’d been working for the last few years.

AR: Say more about “outside and subterranean poetry.” I know you and John Bloomberg-Rissman recently finished putting together the book.

JR: The book, then, is a work with a theme or motif – “outside,” “subterranean” – in search of something like a definition.  That anyway is how it started, a sense I had of how much poetry lies outside of poetry as we commonly think of it and how much emerges otherwise from the conditions that Joyce described to us as those of  “silence, exile and cunning.”  Or going at it from a somewhat different direction, there was a fascination with what I described in the Jewish instance as a “world of … mystics, thieves and madmen” – only extended now as far and wide as we could take it.  So the experimental side of the project – the real experiment – was to see what we could find and what would happen if we brought together or juxtaposed a number of outside or subterranean works, however defined, from a wide range of times and places.  Or maybe another way to put it is that we started with the words “outside” and “subterranean” as they might apply to poetry and set out to track and map them with regard to actual poems and poets, but taking poetry not only as a learnèd practice but as the common inheritance of most of us who open up to language and the world around us.  And still the words “outside/outsider” and “subterranean” may have been excessively defined or misdefined before we came at them – like “primitive” and “archaic” in Technicians of the Sacred, where I found myself at the end of the process putting the older notions of “primitive” in doubt.  So as I asserted there that “primitive means complex,” I might assert here that “outside” and “outsider” reside at the very center or heart of the over-all poetry project.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Jerome Rothenberg: At the Hotel Monopol

in Breslau
PROEM [1988].   It was raining when we got to Wroclaw [Breslau], the miles from Auschwitz bringing back the memories of what had happened there.  Traveling with our son we had made reservations for a single suite at the Hotel Monopol, but when we pulled in, the hotel could only come up with two separate rooms.  After a while, though, the desk clerk said that they had found a suite for us that was free.  An elderly bellhop carried our bags up the central flight of stairs, threw the big doors open, put our bags down on the floor, and asked me with a little smile, “And do you know who slept here?” Then he answered his own question: “Hitler!—And he made a speech from that balcony.”  After which  he turned and closed the doors behind him, leaving us to think again about our fate and theirs.

in the room
where Hitler slept
dreams didn’t come
but sounds
broke from the walls

& cracked
then crackled
made us stare down
past our feet
the dance beginning

while over our heads
the lights would flicker
brought to life
we stepped out

on his balcony
& hailed the crowds
hard faces
theirs like ours

our fingers flat
above our lips
looking like hairs
bunched up
touched by his tongue

the rain falls
from iron boxes
the dead outside the ring
surround us

cousins fallen
where the rain
like tiny knives
opens their wounds

children & rain
the redfaced killers
reach up to the man
the victims without faces
broken underfoot

I hadn’t been there
where the lines of gymnasts
march to the sounds
of open flesh

for them his face
is golden
old as time & echoing
the cry of what can never
be reborn

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Anne Blonstein: from “worked on screen” (some notarikon poems with a note on notarikon)

[Anne Blonstein died much too soon on April 19, 2011.  She had by then created a remarkable series of works in which she employed & 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 & various poets of Oulipo and Fluxus, among others, while the devotion & precision that she shows throughout are clearly & powerfully her own.   The following, published several months before her death in the blogger version of Poems and Poetics, is available also at, along with five more of her poems; & an essay by Charles Lock on her life & work was posted in Poems and Poetics on May 15, 2011. The complete worked on screen was published as a book by Poetry Salzburg in 2005(J.R.)]


Jewess undresses
........noun garments
...............round an uncircumscribed parenthesis

...............the room assumes exile
...until mouths
— eyestormed nightboats —



Keeping ontological masks
kaleidoscoping epistemological rhythms


.....Pandora encounters ruth
seeding enchancements
under stones.

.....................(Danced exilically rosed

...............Words infiltrate the zonedself

her and this

.........unlessened each becoming
each recombines

dreams ash sentences

....Limited expressions incorporate

gifted exspellent soritude
.......i exones
.....gene terminations.)


................Water excels in bonding


...................Thirst intimately excells responsability


Kissing odontological margins
keeps epidermally resonating


.........or how ends never delete's semiosis

.........unopened palatial


...Democrat anarchist situationist

...........Keyworker or notepadder
.......zeitmassed experiments


...Pariahs and refugees
.tune ectopolitical instruments

(Lead is both
exhausted radioactivity
and lettoral insulator
softly mysnomering)


noncooperatively educated
............I should know
............I knew
............I was playing with fire
............I ran the risk
............I would still do the same
............I wanted to avoid violence
............I want to avoid violence
............I had either to submit
............I do not ask for mercy
............I am here

(Before a line drawn
exigent indigent shantied)


............& sentimental & longing
....& skin & loneliness
.......& stinking & lyrical
.& streets & liberty
& solitary & largely
..................& specifically & literally
...........& story & lost
....& spirits & labours
........& struggle & luck
............& silent & laughing
...............& sometimes & lucid
..............& survival & love
.....& suffering & lament
....& states & locates
............& situation & leaving
.........& schemes & lust
.....& stillness & lessons
..& stranger & listeners

On notarikon and "worked on screen"

Like gematria originally a rabbinical hermeneutical method employed to interpret the Hebrew scriptures, notarikon offers an intimate procedure for writing poetry that draws on existing texts. There are several categories of notarikon. The form that I apply might be regarded as the unfolding of acronyms. Each letter of a word is perceived as the initial letter of another word, such that the original word, letter by letter, fans out into a phrase. A four-letter name gives a four-word phrase : And notarikon never ends …

In some of my sequences, notarikon provides just a part of the poetic structure, in others it dominates.

All my notarikon-based projects since I began writing them about a decade ago have used source texts in languages other than English. While for my most recent sequences I have worked with texts in French, Spanish and Hebrew, my first two sequences drew on (and in) German. The source texts for "correspondence with nobody," written in 2001, were Paul Celan's translations of 21 sonnets by Shakespeare. I wrote "worked on screen" the following year.

The impetus for these poems was an exhibition held at the Basel Kunstmuseum, "Paul Klee — Works on Paper." There is one poem for each of the 108 pictures in the exhibition, which showed drawings and prints (and the occasional painting) from nearly every year from 1903 to that of the artist's death in 1940. Klee's titles (often themselves micropoems) for each picture provided the letters for the notarikon. To begin with, as in the poems 1–7 here, I used the notarikon quite stringently, but as the sequence progressed, I experimented with a variety of ways of composing the poems with and around the basic notarikon method.

The poems are ekphrastic to varying degrees, and their spatialization occasionally echoes features of the Klee pictures, though in most poems it is independent. Because social and political contexts — Klee's and mine — are thematic threads etched through the sequence, in my book I give the date for each artwork (and of the poem's composition). Poem 53 refers to a quite well-known picture (easily viewed online) painted in 1922. The year of the so-called "Great Trial" of Gandhi, as well as the first publication of a rather famous poem …

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Jerome Rothenberg: Previewing “A Field on Mars”: Two Poems & a Coda from “A Further Witness”

[The excerpts that follow are from a work in progress, A Field on Mars: Poems 2000-2015, scheduled for publication next year by Presses Universitaires de Rouen et du Havre in simultaneous English & French editions. The note below explains whatever else needs explanation.  (J.R.)]


I is
in another

a swollen
of who
he is

one day
will fall apart
& leave him

his words
on glass
& air

or looking
at the sky
he reads
your face

the eyes
like shards
of ice

a god
his mouth

the word
is formidable                                [form-i-dabley]
in another

the words
down the path
inside my ears

& come to rest
how you spoke
& wrote

& comrades
ages gone


the presence
of the dead
in every
opens now
into a space
of names
& faces
that escape
from time

the lonely dead
stare out at us
they learn
to play
a game
& teach us
how to read
the times
& after

in our minds
a faceless
of the departed
for as far
as we can see
the streets
of Paris
as they were

the names
of friends
we share
between us
on the flight
to berlin
other faces
with pale
& grey hair                     (Amirgen White Knee)
a world
of strangers

across from us
they sit
& stare out
at the frozen
of change
the living
& the dead

take my hand
in yours
& we will find
a passage
to a world
the mind
& the heart
can share
the resolution
that the dead man
saves for us
absent a face

for Diane

writing something
to leave behind
is yet another kind of dream
when I awake I know
there will be no one left
to read it.

in light
the final
seals him
his body
into a moving
the future
& the past
blown apart

I sign
the final
the others are
to me
the corners
of my mind
are dark
like the universe

from my hand
the book
is not
a ball
of light
the pain
I feel
in leaving
cannot be
your pain
another kind
of dream
invades me

loving you
the way
the far side
of a wall
newly built
a further
in the name
of love
as powerful
as this

the present
is all
we have
I count
the days
with you
our fingers
& come apart
we live
on borrowed

left behind
the book
inside my dream
too bright
for those
to whom
we write
or speak
& know                                                                                                                                       
when we awake
there will be
no one left
to read it

NOTE.  The poems in “A Further Witness” began as a tribute to Anselm Hollo while he was going through his final days & ended, or seemed to then, with his death on January 29th, 2013.  I had known him going back to first meetings in London in 1961 or 62 & our friendship lasted over the half century since then.  I suppose that the mysteries of death & life hang over all of us & that the pain of separation is what it is & can hardly be avoided, but with it too there’s a sense of the preciousness of what we can give to each other in the little time that we’re afforded.  With all of that I’m reminded too of what survives, both in his own works & in the lives of those who were a part of his life & thought, & mine as well.  To all of which bits & fragments enter from the big book of outside & subterranean poetry that I was assembling at that time, & the poem itself including the Coda for Diane continues up to the almost present.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Jerome Rothenberg: Three Poems after Images by Nancy Tobin

[As I approach the seven-year mark of Poems and Poetics, I thought it appropriate to re-post the initial offering in the series, first posted herein on June 7, 2008.  Published later that year as a small book from a resuscitated Hawk's Well Press, two of the images appear here and here on the internet,  and copies of the whole can still be ordered from Small Press Distribution. My own brief comments on our collaboration & Tobin’s more extensive description of her aims & working process follow the poems, below. (J.R.)]
Waiting for Seurat

waiting for seurat
is not so bad is not

what everybody thinks of
standing in a fish tank

arms akimbo legs too
when the bathers fail to make

the morning’s exercise
forsaken all awash

as I am too
but now

the final holiday draws nigh
some sunday afternoon

the chime has chimed
the branches overhang

the crowd of watchers
& it’s time

to coax the children
back into the car

to leave the dishes
& the soap behind

the other little friends
so soon departed

still we wait for them
we are the walkers

in the park
& if we fall into the lake

a second time
the acrobats will scoop us out

will whisk us home
like children

neither lost nor found
our bodies & our thoughts

like tiny flecks
& little reckoning

the time it takes
to sink or swim

still bug eyed
half alive

the big bowl broken
waiting for seurat

Dystopia Parkway

how far he dives
into a sandbox
lights erupting flicker

down a parkway
riding to the Star Hotel
a place to watch

the stars on carpets
sidewalks stitched into a
pure dystopia

as one by one
we dance
for all the children

in the world
my temper will ignite
feed you my flames

a red confusion
opens to the right of us
we raise white fingers

stubby arms
a forest of computer
screens alight

the parkway filled with
phantom windows mothers
can stare out from

their dystopias
more like a fact of life
seeing that nothing

can cohere however
solid are the walls
however bright

soap bubbles floating
over broken glass
the perch deserted where

birds seldom sang
the parkway packed into
a sun box flat

I carry underneath
my coat the memory of where
we all will live

a family of artists
each one with a simple story
resolved to bring it home

The Best Thing
About Sunday

is the color
& the next best
how the little folk
find here a place to fly

balloons & kites
rummage among the broken
mother boards

how pink & paper thin
the world appears
to be a field of pinwheels
driven by the wind

& spinning
line on line
& circle into circle
strings cut free

these are the gifts
they bring us these
are what we throw
into the air & see them

flying by
the children’s room
a little brighter
walking cockeyed looking

for the wind to stop
then we can find
the best thing about sunday
eggs & eyes

adornments cars that run
on spirits wheels
too precious for the road
a pig that squeals

note. The initiatory act here follows from Tobin's quasi-abstract images and her assessment of the mysteries and revelations that her art provides her: “I construct both my paintings and works on paper as a dialogue between the representational and ornamental; which party gets the last word remains a mystery until the composition is complete. I start with painted or drawn images, then literally cut them down to size with scissors before reassembling the components on painted panels or into ‘quilted’ paper compositions that I treat with successive layers of paint, ink and polymer. This break-‘em-down-to-build-‘em-up methodology is my way of capturing moments in an expanding universe. Representation is as powerful as it futile. Any tableau is illusory; even mountains are in constant flux. Particles decay, light bends, and perceptions alter with each recollection. My technique in turn encourages the viewer to approach each work with a forensic eye: to examine the constituent parts and try to reconstruct their pedigree, then step in and take in the totality of color and form. The layers I create fade into opacity, however firmly each is fixed in memory. Try to peel them back with your eyes, and you'll reach a new level each time.”

Monday, May 11, 2015

Inrasara: from The Purification Festival in April, with translation from Cham/Vietnamese & note by Alec Schachner

[from Inrasara, the purification festival in april, The Culture & Literature Publishing House, Vietnam, 2015]

                                                Cham (Vietnam & Cambodia)

Not a few friends have scolded me for wasting time on Cham poetry
is there even a trifling scarcity of readers? Will there be anyone to
yet I want to squander my entire life on it
though there may only be around a quarter dozen people
though there may only be one person
or even if there’s not a single living soul. 

One line of proverb – one verse of folk song
half a child’s lullaby – one page of ancient poetry
I search and gather
like a child seeking a tiny pebble
(pebbles that adults carelessly step past)
to build a castle for only myself to live in
a castle one day they’ll use for shelter from the rain – it’s certain!


Sunshine begins to warm the hills of April
starting earlier than many centuries past
when the ocean had yet to awake
earlier than all the memory of the elder ceremony priests. 

Earlier. The sun opened its warming rays
bright astride the ka-ing dancing master’s rattan rod
rousing the baranung drums still lying dust-covered in the attic
awake the crows of a pair of roosters waiting through the last
        night before their sacrificial offering. 

Faster. I see the sun breaking
athwart the footsteps of the shaman hurrying down the hill
even faster. I see the sunlight spilling across
no time for the dewdrops to linger in sleep
sunshine encircling the hair of a crowd of girls headed down to
        the river to get water, the columns of trees, the flat landscape,
        the multicolored garments, the sweeping calls to return to the
to build the ceremonial kajang

the sunlight falls catching at the folds of the old dancer’s mutham
flying across 365 days coated in the impurity of this world. 

The purification festival is beginning. 

On this same day this same month for everlasting millennia past
the same anxieties, infatuations, this uneasy waiting
only the repetition is present
the same sacred texts, hymns of worship are unfurled. 

Fire blazes red
red pomegranate flowers bought at yesterday’s market red Royal
        Poinciana flowers freshly plucked red summer sun
red garb red He
fire burned red into the labyrinthine skeins of every waiting soul
candles lit aflame many sticks alight glinting in the midday
before the door of the kajang there fire blazes red. 

He sees
He raises his rod up high, high above the old centuries
He flogs two feet, two feet taciturn since the dynasty past
feet that for 365 days only know to follow the plow’s furrows
feet that yesterday danced sluggishly to the rhythms of Cei Dalim,
        Cei Tathun
feet hardened by acidity. 

The Purification Festival is beginning
sound of the rite-master’s chants rumbling devotion the beating
        baranung booms
still not yet enough – the scriptural orisons recited
not enough for His contentment. 

Our storehouse is brimming with words - words worn and dull
full of words/ still not a single phoneme to praise delight
one word strives to soar up level atop the flames’ shoulders
level atop the purification festival. 

No more words to name. He roars out. The words fold their
       wings and slip away
only His roar floods the empty world 

A... U... M...
He roars out
the roar echoes to a buffalo herd grazing on a faraway hill
        straining to listen

wronged ghosts forgotten for a thousand years sit up from
        ashes and coals
flocks of birds startled rise up circling hastily and returning
as if afraid of vying lost within the wellspring of joyous

He has seen
the door of the heavens open like the embrace of his wife
        of previous lifetimes open
the fleets of monsoon clouds returning like a lock of his future
        son’s hair flying back
He spreads His arms
He steps forward, treading to match the mud-drenched feet
        of yesterdays

heedless the fires crackling along with the sounds of hands
        clapping ahei crackling
heedless of the ginang drums beating urgently pursuing
        chasing off fear
He transforms into fire He dances with fire He is fire
clean the final time, clean numberless thousands of more times
for the world a single time cleaned. Such it is. 

Swift. Swifter
smoke rises into clouds, human faces flock through clouds, hair a
        thousand strands of cloud, all space dimly pillared
        into titanic columns of rainclouds.
they are crumbling, crashing apart and about to toss down floods
        of rain. 

The Purification Festival in April has ruptured. He feels
the earth fracture, sound of the eulogies
shattering the jubilation of anticipating secrets hidden deep. 

Life no longer hesitates, no more wavering
swift, swifter
but slow too slow as if no possible way to be slower. He feels the
language of the hymns spill into millions of millions of cells
        living or dead
overflow and stir them awake never to let them sleep again all
the millions and millions of sprouts are stretching their shoulders
        to raise their heads. 

Steps stomping more sturdily. I see – more firmly
the world fragmented and rejoined by an urgent breath
the fire at its last gasp. 

He is cast out freed from the flames – his body covered with wounds
all the world wounded – only the smile untouched
            the bliss untouched
millions of millions of water drops fly down to extinguish a surviving
            spark straining to flicker one last time
extinguish misery, hopelessness on the faces. I see. 

On the far side of elation
Resilience untouched they begin to take root once again. 

Bis bis wok wok
once more people move
once more once more life moves. 

translator’s note. This collection represents a broad range of Inrasara’s poetic oeuvre to date, tracing his diverse journeys through storytelling, his forays into a varying array of narrative modes and transitions through lyric and narrative verse. Like all great storytellers, Inrasara pulls from a wide network of experience, weaving together the past and the present into a tapestry of the personal and collective, blending the real and the mythical. Wandering across history, literature, folklore, music, philosophy, Hinduism, Buddhism, pop culture, myth, war, peace, harvest, community, tradition, dream, language, ritual, epic and the everyday, Inrasara’s poems sing not only the song of the Cham people in modern Vietnam, but also of all human experience – of our imagining of self and of the myriad innermost emotional lives of globalization and modernity.  Deeply rooted in his readings of the Cham epics, Inrasara’s verse somehow also resonates with the flowing lines of Whitman and Hughes, a montage of human experience and insight, capturing essences both singular and universal. 

Inrasara’s use of the Vietnamese language is highly complex and philosophical, and naturally impossible to translate into English to its full extent. All Cham language terms have been italicized and left in the original, with an index of notes provided at the back of this book. This collection meanders through the languages of the classic Cham and Vietnamese epics, colloquial Cham, modern Vietnamese, Sino-Vietnamese, Sanskrit, classical Chinese, Zen philosophy, folksong, physics, ecology and beyond.  Through use of linguistic elements which do not exist in English, such as bound morphemes and a complex pronoun address system, Vietnamese contains a multitude of subtleties which are essentially untranslatable. I have attempted to retain the original flow of the language wherever feasible, translating on a line-to-line basis when able and often retaining the Vietnamese order of information, to stay as true to the original narrative architecture as possible. I hope that the reader will find this bilingual edition not only a guidebook to Cham culture, tradition and daily life, but also a useful tool to engage with the depths of the modern Vietnamese language. Inrasara’s epical lingual explorations wander through lyric verse to freeform, short odes to long narratives, across the geography of native land and soul, inviting the reader into a world both known and unknown, foreign and familiar, ordinary and wondrous.