To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
.......................................again
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

Friday, October 31, 2014

Hiromi Itō: from Wild Grass on the Riverbank (just published)

Translation from Japanese by Jeffrey Angles

[Two years after the first publication of the following extract in Poems and Poetics, Hiromi Itō’s Wild Grass on the Riverbank has now been published by Action Books in a definitive English translation by Jeffrey Angles.  One of the most important poets of contemporary Japan, her impact has been summarized by fellow poet Kido Shuri as follows: “The appearance of Itō Hiromi, a figure that one might best call a ‘shamaness of poetry’ (shi no miko) was an enormous event in post-postwar poetry.  Her physiological sensitivity and writing style, which cannot be captured within any existing framework, became the igniting force behind the subsequent flourishing of ‘women’s poetry’ (josei shi), just as Hagiwara Sakutarō had revolutionized modern poetry with his morbid sensitivity and colloquial style.”  More on Itō and this important new work follows the excerpt from the work itself. (J.R.)]

Michiyuki

By late summer, everyone on the riverbank was dead,
Not just the once living creatures, but the summer grass, the rusted bicycles, the summer grass,
Cars without doors or windows, the warped porn magazines, the summer grass,
Empty cans with food stuck inside and empty bottles full of muddy water,
Girl’s panties and condoms, the dead body of father, and so much summer grass
The riverbank meant only to control you
The summer grass touched our bodies
The seeds falling down onto our bodies
Recently, on the bank, I noticed a kind of grass that multiplied conspicuously
It is about one meter high and stands like some kind of rice
It has ears
It is everywhere
It glimmers white in the dim evening light
Sticky liquid oozes from the ear
The dogs get sticky
The dogs smell terrible
The dogs agonize and rub their bodies onto the ground
The man from the riverbank appears in the evening
Every evening he appears, sits in an arbor
Completely alone
Aged, unpolished and shabby, pale as a corpse
When his penis rises up
A smell rises like the one from the rice-like grass on the bank
The penis in his hands shines and shines

The flowers of the kudzu also rise up, I notice the arrowroot flowers rising up here and there, one day, we became tangled in the tendrils of the kudzu plants, I heard something slithering along abruptly, no sooner had I heard this when a tendril trapped my heel, it hit me, and knocked me on my back into a bush, there the Sorghum halepense rattled in the wind, an unfamiliar grass shook releasing its scent, then the tendril stretched all the further, crawling onto my body, getting into my panties, and creeping into my vagina, I…  I inhaled and exhaled, I exhaled and the tendril slid in, I inhaled and the tendril slid out, I exhaled again and it slid further in, like the leaves of the kudzu my body was turned this way and that, my body was forced open and closed over and over, and Alexsa watched all of this, Alexsa was watching, watching and smiling, I became angry, so angry, I got up and shoved Alexsa away, she fell down on her back, the tendrils clung to Alexsa too, Alexsa also turned this way and that, the tendril also went inside her vagina, deep inside, and she started to cry

Everyone was dead
Father
Brother
Mother and me

Ahh…I think to myself
Think I'll pack it in
And buy a pick-up
Take it down to L.A.
Find a place
To call my own
Or maybe a hot sprint
One that heals eczema, dermatitis, neuralgia
Menopausal disorders, diabetes, infectious diseases
A hot spring in a hot sprint to fix you up right away
To soak yourself, open your pores, scrub your body, swell up
And then start a brand new day

Hey I’m itchy, so itchy, my younger brother cried, I told him not to scratch, but he did it anyway, the place he scratched soon turned into a blister, I didn’t scratch it that much, only a little, brother cried, but even if he only scratched a little, the place he scratched turned into a blister, all over his body were blisters, after they ruptured, they got inflamed and full of pus
My little brother no longer seemed like himself, he was horribly swollen, he rolled all over the house, mouth open, wheezing, crying,

Crying, 

I want to take him to a hot spring, Mother said I’ve heard of a hot spring good for your skin, if we’re going, why don’t we take our dead father and dead dog along to put in, so just left everything as it was, dirty dishes, old clothes, wet towels just as they were, then we carefully laid my wheezing brother on the rear seat, and we stuffed some other things in the car, my little sister, spare clothes, dead bodies, dogs, plastic bags, pillows, food and drink (even some flowerpots), so much stuff, and then we took off, as I stared at the road from the passenger seat, I asked, how do we get there? Mother replied as she drove the car, it’s over that mountain

That hot spring is
A hot spring that fixes you up right away
Soak yourself, open your pores, scrub your body, swell up
And fix your eczema, blisters
Skin infections, ringworm
Dermatitis, infectious diseases
Atopy, allergic diseases
Dead bodies, death, dying, and having died
Try to fix you up and
And start a brand new day
Anyway
Let’s go over that mountain, Mother said
The back seat was full, no space left
As for space, the car was old and rickety from the start
But still we stuffed it full with
Things, garbage, food
People, dogs, dead bodies
So there was no space
The dogs stunk
The dead bodies stunk
My brother was wheezing in the back seat
My sister sometimes cried out as if she’d just remembered
She’d left something back at home
Please go back, I forgot something
No, we never go back
We just go further
Beyond that forked road
Isn’t that Toroku?
Isn’t that Kurokami?
Isn’t that Kokai?
The Jyogyoji crossing
Through Uchi-tsuboi
Up Setozaka slope
Shouldn’t we go
All the way over there?
I know the way to the big tree
Where the samurai-turned-monk used to live
At his big tree, we turn right at the three-way intersection
We see the huge treetop of his big tree
From here, it looks so huge
If you go under and look up, it blocks out the whole world
There’s a path only for tractors and pick-ups
Turn right at the three-way intersection
There’s a small stone bridge, we cross it
Then another three-way intersection
Go straight
Go straight
Go up the road
Go through mandarin orange orchards on both sides
And when we come out
We come to mountainous roads
Where it’s dark even during the day
The road meanders through a forest with shining leaves
The road meanders
Comes close to a cliff
Then separates from it
Ahh… I think to myself
Think I'll pack it in, and buy a pick-up, take it down to L.A.
Mother started to sing in a key way too high for her
Ahh… Think I’ll…
A tangle of karasuuri flowers and fruits
Ahh, Think I’ll…
A flourishing bunch of worm-eaten leaves
A scarlet flower is blooming
It must be a garden species that escaped somebody’s terrace
In the shade of the plants, a large white flower is blooming
A flower pale and white
That can’t be a garden species
It’s so pale because it’s in the shade
Another car comes
We pass each other
That car must be coming back from the hot spring
All fixed up, the driver must have fixed his skin trouble
And come back, thinking this, I try to get a good look
But it disappeared into the distance in a flash
Much further and we’ll be at the seashore
The seashore facing west
Doesn’t look like there is a hot spring
Beyond this is the pure land, Mother said
The dog noticed the smell of the sea
It stuck its nose out the window, howling for the sea
We should’ve crossed a large bridge, Mother said
I forgot the name, but it’s a large bridge
There were big floods there late in the nineteenth century
And again in the mid-twentieth century
Lots of earth, sand, and drowned bodies caught on the bridge
‘Cause of that bridge, the floods downstream were even worse
We screwed up when we missed that bridge
All the water we’ve seen has just been small streams
We’ve definitely gone the wrong way, Mother said
We’ll never get there if we keep going like this, Mother said
The dog howling for the sea rose up in the rear seat
And walked across my little brother
Alexsa shouted
We’d better start all over, Mother said
She must have given up
My brother let up a sharp cry
You can’t give up
Is that the only option?
Shut up, Alexsa shouted
I told you, I told you, my little sister wept
The dog barked
Lots of dogs barked
Alexsa shouted, I can’t take it anymore, I can’t, I can’t
No one ever listens to me, she said
She sunk her face into her thighs, curled up, started to sob
Her voice grew louder, more childish than brother’s
More infantile than sister’s
Cried on and on, on and on
Nothing else
On and on
On and on
We should have turned around
But if we did, we’d just get more lost, mother said
Let’s keep going down the hill to the sea
Then go home round the cape
So that’s how we got back home
Nothing fixed
Nothing found
Nothing
We failed
It’s no good
It’s all over

note.  The 140-page narrative poem Wild Grass on the Riverbank (Kawara arekusa) represents Hiromi Itō’s dramatic return to poetry after several years of writing primarily prose works.  First serialized in the prominent Japanese poetry journal Handbook of Modern Poetry (Gendai shi techō) in 2004 and 2005, Wild Grass was published in book form in 2005. ... The critic Tochigi Nobuaki has said that in Wild Grass, “We, Ito's readers, are witnessing the advent of a new poetic language that modern Japanese has never seen.”                                                                                                       
                Wild Grass explores the experience of migrancy and alienation through the eyes of an eleven-year old girl who narrates the long poem. In the work, the girl travels with her mother back and forth between a dry landscape known in the poem as the “wasteland,” a place that resembles the dry landscape of southwestern California [where Itō now lives], and a lush, overgrown place known as the “riverbank,” which resembles Kumamoto, a city in southern Japan where Itō’s children grew up and where Itō still spends several weeks each year.

note on the subtitle. Michiyuki are lyric compositions that feature prominently in bunraku and   
kabuki dramas of the early modern era.  Typically, they describe the scenery that characters   
encounter while traveling—sometimes while eloping or traveling to a site where they will commit  
suicide.  For this reason, michiyuki typically come at the climactic moment of a drama.  In Itō’s
poem, however, the michiyuki sequence is profoundly anticlimactic as the characters travel and
travel in search of a place they cannot find.  This chapter contains quotes and passages loosely
based upon the lyrics of Neil Young’s song “Harvest” from 1972.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Pierre Joris: From "Barzakh" (Poems 2000-2012)

 
[It is astonishing to me how Pierre Joris, whom I’ve known going back into his jeunesse (& almost into mine) has emerged as an exemplar of a total poetics, at the heart of which is that nomadic poetics which he’s been delivering to us over the last three or four decades with such singular force.  As with many of us who have tried to define ourselves as poets & sentient beings, it is the poetry itself that precedes and determines what we later say about it.  The wonder, then, in Joris’s twenty-first-century book, Barzakh: Poems 2000-2012 (Black Widow Press), is how that poetry has continued to stake out new territory & to demonstrate over & again his ability to seed his work with a wide & meaningful range of times & places, yet with an awareness, never faltering, of the immediate world around him.  In announcing Barzakh on Poems and Poetics, I’ve chosen to excerpt from a longer poem in which a form of traditional alphabetic mysticism (a key source of poetry outside of the normative poetry nexus) is the principal subtext for the work as a whole.  Here in its Arabic/Islamic form it resembles what I’ve pursued as Hebraic gematria in other contexts.  (J.R.)]

from AN ALIF BAA

preamble to an alphabet

letters arose
says Abu al-Abbas Ahmed al-Bhuni
letters arose
from the light of the pen
inscribed the Grand Destiny
on the Sacred Table

after wandering through the universe
the light transformed
into the letter alif,
source of all the others.

another arrangement of letters
into words and words
into stories has it
that Allah created the angels
according to the name & number
of the letters so that they should
glorify him with an infinite
recitation of themselves as arranged
in the words of the Quran.

and the letters prostrated themselves
and the first to do so was the alif
for which Allah appointed the alif to be
the first letter of His name & of the
alphabet.

آ

[alif]

Adam is said to have written a number of books three centuries before his death. After the Flood each people discovered the Book that was destined for it. The legend describes a dialogue between the Prophet Muhammad and one of his followers, who asked: ‘By what sign is a prophet distinguished?
   ‘By a revealed book,replied the Prophet.
   ‘O Prophet, what book was revealed to Adam?
   ‘A, b… ‘ And the Prophet recited the alphabet.
   ‘How many letters?
   Twenty-nine letters/
   ‘But, oh Prophet, you have counted only twenty-eight.
Muhammad grew angry and his eyes became red.
   ‘O Prophet does this number include the letter alif and the letter lam?
   Lam-alif is a single letter…. he who shall not believe in the number of twenty-nine letters shall be cast into hell for all eternity.

1.

and Alif has many seats
under which he is silent
though you cannot call it suffering
suffering rhymes with zero
at least initially
a sweet round perfection
as we like to draw it
doodling one into the other

(newspaper margins of the b&w middle fifties
at Mme Cavaiottis  where I wrote
or learned to daily at 5 p.m. whose husband
told me that in the last war (which wasnt
the last at all) he had been
forced to drink his piss from his boot
in the desert of Libya, his wife linking
zeroes, rounds, in the margins of the daily
Wort,” making, making writing

a chain of nothingness
that is something
and that is our fate und Fluch:
           
that we have to do something
            even to achieve the nothing
            even if only we doodle
ourselves through life
            while talking on the phone
            to someone doodling elsewhere
            while all we mumble are
            sweet nothings chains
            of linked zeroes
                                                        yet
step back &       focus shifts
                                                           
                          a shape emerges             from the space created
                                               
                                      by the two     circles
                                               
intersections,

                        mandorla,
                                    wherein stands
            the shape of Celans eye, of the fruit
of the almond tree,
            there stood, maybe,
the names of the six kings
of Madyan, make up the letters
of the Arabic
alphabet.

            The nothing, where does it stand?
It stands outside the almond,
it stands in the shells
of the sufferun
the zero-crescents
above & below

(“Human curl, youll not turn gray,
Empty almond, royal-blue”)

fall away
as the almond looms,
yet remain as links
of a chain,
isthmus-claws
sew mandorla to
mandorla


2.        

What a place that must be,
a something at least, to be in
and if that nothingness
was the hamza
a sort of zag without a zig
a future breath half taken now
with always something more
solid, important coming right
behind it.
a kind of fishing hook.

which puts an odd occasion
on this table:
a fishing hook
equals
a future breath
here lie the roots of another
surrealism yet to come
when we find the zig goes with
the orphaned zag.

Monday, October 20, 2014

For Kader El-Janabi: “The French Connection”



[The following short essay & poem were commissioned a decade ago for publication in Kader El-Janabi’s short-lived magazine, Arapoetica de la Poésie Internationale, but with that magazine’s demise or suspension, were never actually published.  The issue for which they were intended was to focus on the connection between American & French poetry over the preceding century.  In its original English version the concluding  poem (“Three Paris Elegies”) had appeared earlier in my book, A Paradise of Poets (New Directions, 1999). Baghdad-born & long exiled in Paris, El-Janabi was for me an exemplary Parisian, a late Surrealist & a fighter against all forms of political & religious despotism – concerns at the center of his poetry & art.  The events since 2003 in his native Iraq & elsewhere have brought a further tragic dimension to his world & ours, in the course of which his presence is no longer felt as it once was.  Largely out of touch with him since then, I miss him deeply & offer what follows as a kind of belated tribute & remembrance. (J.R.)]


For myself, writing and living in late-twentieth-century America, there was a sense that all of us, as poets, shared a past and future with forerunners and contemporaries across a startling range of times and places.  This came at a time when we were discovering ourselves also as American poets with a new language in which to write and a new perspective – a series of new perspectives – that we could write from.  If the thrill of the moment led some into an easy jingoism or a more interesting localism, for others it opened the possibility of an experience of poetry and life that could truly push against the boundaries of languages and cultures. 

For those of us who meant to proceed by new means, modern means – to be “absolutely modern” in Rimbaud’s phrase – the memory and presence of Paris and France loomed large.  Never mind that at the same time we were discovering America or that we were determined dwellers in our own cities (New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago).  Paris as city and vortex (Pound’s word) was with us in our imagination as poets – even for those of us who had never set foot there.  There were exceptions of course – poets who felt themselves to be more exclusively American or were themselves distanced from the great cities of America and Europe; Snyder and Olson, say, among the really good ones.  But for myself again, Paris, once I had found it, was a place I could inhabit, not the physical city so much as the the world of experimental and radical modernism that the city had once come to represent.  Post-modernism, for myself and my companions, was no more than the transfer – often contentious – of the older modernist impulse into a new terrain and time. 

I have lived almost my whole life on the two coasts of North America – New York first and California later.  From both of these Europe was less than a single day’s travel, and because that travel became increasingly possible (starting for me in the late 1960s), I came to think of myself as inhabiting two continents.  In 1997 I spent four months in Paris, and there have been several other extended visits since then.  At the time of the 1997 trip I had initiated, with Pierre Joris, a translation project that would extend over the next few years.  What we had chosen to do was to translate the collected poetry of Picasso into English, Pierre to focus on the French and I on the Spanish.  So I brought Picasso with me to Paris, or in another sense, I found him there: Picasso and other ghosts in a Paris that had long since dissolved into history and myth, leaving their names on houses and streets or, for some, etched onto tombstones in the city’s great cemeteries. 

I began in fact to think of Paris as a cemetery city, a city filled with ghosts – both its ghosts and ours.  The presence of the dead was then particularly strong for me, because of the number of friends who had died over the preceding year.  These mingled with the ghosts of that early avant-garde whose place had been here and whose work we had been determined – some of us – to reach and to surpass.  But more than that of course, there was the actual city as it existed in the summer and autumn of 1997 – an evidently threatened economy that made for an increased number of beggars, some curiously well-dressed I thought, in the streets where we were living.  That was in a space between La République and the Canal, where in the square itself one afternoon we saw what seemed to be a large soup kitchen for the unemployed.  And whatever I saw there fused quite naturally with Picasso’s words as we had brought them over into English:  

the blockhead who stretching out his hand asks them for a little alms sitting alone on the ground in the middle of the plaza 

and again: 

over the beggar’s hand
only adorned with blossoms

alms collected through those worlds
he pulls along 

All this to form another continuity. 

The poem that follows, translated here by Jean Portante, is not only a lament for the dead and  the living, but a celebration of my own French connection as it appeared to me in 1997.  The first of the three elegies is derived from Picasso’s favored form, a block of prose absent all punctuation, and the second is the account of an event, a minor existential crisis, in the Pyrenees.  It is in the third, however, that the fusion takes place – of past and present, dream and waking life – and leads me to the realization of a world in which time loses its meaning in a simultaneous present which isn’t time at all.  If this can travel from my own place and language into yours, then it’s likely that another connection will have taken place. 

Jerome Rothenberg
Paris/Encinitas
November 2002
October 2014 

* 

Trois  élégies parisiennes 


1 

dans mon sombre dimanche à moi la lumière s’approche comme la lune à travers des plumes ce qui à peine vue sombre coulée par l’aveuglement & la pensée que tout le monde est mort autour d’une ville sur le point de disparaître tout comme elle l’a fait auparavant engloutie dans une poche vide et démesurée & avec  une odeur de terre les lumineux aventuriers de 1910 dont c’étaient les rues partageaient une tombe commune avec ceux qui ont suivi atteignant même l’endroit où toi et moi attendons en compagnie des amis partis un à un comme des cybersinges s’envolant dans l’espace insouciant
2 

au-dessus d’une gorge nous pendions
& oscillions
les montagnes étaient vivantes de chaque côté
témoins de pierre
l’air était immobile rien qu’un lointain souffle de vent
nous étions assis suspendus par un câble d’acier
sans voix
personne à qui parler dans le monde
sauf toi et moi
cette révélation
je crois que c’est son vide que je prise le plus
et même maintenant arrivé à paris
je suis assis seul
& je le sens éclater de ma poitrine
électrique
final
ruée de pas dévalant une rue vide 


3 


               pourquoi un homme bien habillé s’approche-t-il de moi & me demande-t-il l’aumône?
(c’est un rêve, me dis-je, cela ne peut pas être vrai)

pourquoi une mère souriante habillée pour la messe tend-elle une main pour me toucher des nuages tout autour d’elle assise par terre
pourquoi demande-t-elle de l’aide
& pourquoi est-ce que je continue de marcher  la laissant derrière moi
où il n’y a ni rue ni soleil
même à paris en ce jour le plus chaud de l’été
quel est le bruit qui vient vers nous du coin de la rue bruit d’une vague suspendue dans l’air de ruches d’abeilles de mains qui applaudissent dans le noir
qui est l’homme qui porte une fleur dans son oreille une chemise avec  beaucoup de plis un gilet une barbe les boutons qui brillent comme des étincelles électriques
à mesure que je scrute ses traits je peux voir que ses lèvres sont parties sa langue est lourde & pend d’un côté & forme des mots  qui ne m’atteignent jamais que l’obscurité couvre
tous les gens de cette rue sont assis contre un mur les uns les yeux ouverts d’autres enfoncés dans un sommeil profond
tous sont bien habillés
les hommes portent des costumes d’affaires & des blazers un gilet un veston croisé un smoking & queue-de-pie mais n’ont ni manteaux ni chapeaux
leurs chaussures sont simples toujours d’un brun obscur ou noires avec des traces de sable de promenades dans les jardins parisiens lacets défaits parfois sans chaussettes
& les femmes bien habillées aussi même si la chevelure de l’une est avachie alors qu’une autre l’a clairsemée et laisse entrevoir son crâne une troisième porte les traces d’une barbe une grande tache humide sous une aisselle
on n’a qu’à les regarder & déjà ils se mettent à parler
comme parlent les oiseaux
plumes que le vent fait tourbilloner à travers le square
nous sommes assis au paradis & nous nous repassons un ballon
bouts de papiers à nos pieds
puis c’est l’heure de partir & nous tournons à l’angle de la rue montons par le petit escalier & les entendons suivre
une bouffée de musique d’un temps lointain une voix de femme devenant régulière les mots qui émergent  bas & hauts implacables ouvertures processions
& c’est picasso en tête un petit homme aux épaules poilues il s’est mis en short de course comme frank o’hara tous les deux maintenant des étoiles du collège mineola tous les deux déclarant maintenant leur amour du mal
            et apollinaire qui est également là sa tête pas plus grande que l’ongle d’un pouce flanqué de gertrude stein yeux comme ceux d’une poupée folle & quelqu’un qui ressemble à mon père max jacob enveloppé dans un habit brun de moine dans lequel son corps disparaît
ici dans un monde où il n’y a que des petites gens des fantômes où le ciel n’est pas un ciel la terre rétrécit quotidiennement sous du plastique argenté disparait glisse entre mes mains comme des billes dans un salle de pachinko les yeux  tourbillonnant comme des lumières rouges
pour finir ici à la république avec  tous les autres morts les fantômes affamés sous nos fenêtres soupe populaire pour les morts ceux qui courent ceux qui s’accroupissent maintenant dans l’herbe
ils disent notre faiblesse la déchéance incorporée à la vie décomposition chaos anarchie confusion d’autant plus confondue saleté pêle mêle
hors coup & hors usage hors gonds hors argent hors temps hors jeu hors haleine hors boulot hors espoir hors pouvoir
parce que les hommes qui viennent vers nous bien que morts sont exactement comme nous & nous fixent comme des princes déchus
soyez les bienvenus dans la mort disent-ils leurs regards nous divisent en deux
les nombres dansent à nouveau derrière nos yeux
les cercles se brisent
l’homme portant une horloge à son oreille comptera le silence
chaque jour est été
ce qui était naguère vivant est parti
& ce qui n’a pas encore été vivant
est parti aussi
Paris
août/septembre 1997 
Translated into French by Jean Portante

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Heriberto Yépez: Ethopoetics, What Is It?


[In a recent announcement, which seemed strange even to those of us who thought we knew him well, our friend & companion in poetry Heriberto Yépez announced recently that “the writing project that was Heriberto Yépez” had now come to an end and that “Heriberto Yépez’s oeuvre has concluded.” Since Heriberto had only turned forty this year, it seemed a little premature & reminiscent, to me at least, of the “poets of the no” (the great refuseniks) in Enrique Vila-Matas's masterful Bartleby & Co. It was also enough to set off a new barrage of ad hominem attacks from a “gruppo” of American poets who had been on Yépez's case since publication in 2012 of his Empire of Neomemory, where he focuses critically, even negatively, on Charles Olson's northamericanist perspective (a part of Olson's “special view of history”), taking him seriously enough to place him on a par with Whitman, Melville & Lawrence, among notable others. I have no sense that the retirement of Heriberto Yépez as Heriberto Yépez has anything to do with those attacks, but the two events coming together encourages me to reconsider the value of Heriberto Yépez and what his work has meant to me over the fifteen years or more I've known him. The essay that follows is the first work of his that I published in Poems and Poetics & was an early & tentative expansion of what I had been calling ethnopoetics into what he began to redesignate as ethopoetics. That seemed fair enough to me as a way to keep the discourse rolling, & I reprint it now as an appreciation of what can open up by not taking for granted or as gospel the work that comes before our own. I look forward at the same time to whatever comes next in Heriberto's work, by whatever name we get to call him – even perhaps the project we had planned together of a new assemblage that would bring the poetry of all the Americas together in a single large anthology or “grand collage.” (J.R.)]

(A Pre-Face)

In the nineties, I-I began translating Jerome Rothenberg’s poetry and prose and, of course, there I-I found that meaningful word that appears constantly in his work and maybe sums it up: ethnopoetics /// The term is not precise—and there’s no reason for it to be precise—it allows its own rethinking /// One afternoon I-I was working on the translation and I-I kept making a mistake—a typo I-I think Americans call that and I-I like writing “typo” by the way /// Instead of writing etnopoética (ethnopoetics) I-I repeatedly wrote etopoética /// The word was odd and at that time I-I didn’t realized it existed, though in a curious way the mistake meant—at least meant something that afternoon and also means something today—and I-I took it as a clue—and it stuck on my mind for a long time—in my journal I-I made a note: “etopoética, ¿qué es?”—Ethopoetics, what is it?

. . . . . . .

(Ethopoetics Not Just a Lapsus)

Ethnopoetics has been centered on the techniques on how to produce new kinds of poetry. Its own consciousness of that involves, of course, how to transform the poet, thought that hasn’t been its emphasis and I-I think Rothenberg himself would agree on that.

Some time ago, teaching at the university where I-I work—and I-I don’t teach anymore in a text-based traditional way, but more in a way that I-I can only describe as more on the spot, using ‘academic’ subject matters as pre-texts to invite students to work on themselves inside and outside class, to make books come alive, and without being preoccupied with making products such as ‘books’, ‘ideas’ or ‘works’, all of that driven by Mexican and American dreams of success, career, competition, originality, cleverness, reputation, copyright, control, and all the other things we all know are insane but we keep alive in the same degree that we still depend on them to ‘survive’.

I-I was saying, “some time ago, teaching at the university where I-I work”, I-I started using Foucault’s later work as a perfect excuse to invite ‘theory’-driven students—mostly afraid of their own bodies—to really understand the nature (change) of philosophy. And for that purpose I-I used Foucault’ seminars about the hermeneutics of subjectitivy. (I-I could use some other authors, but I-I’ve found Foucault make things easier. They trust Foucault. I-I use him as a fishhook).

I-I use, let’s say, his discussion on how Greek philosophers—though in his view mostly post-Socratic—which shows how Aristotelian Foucault still was—taught philosophy and how philosophy meant then a series of techniques to transform the individual so he is able to relate himself to the truth. For example—this is not the place to explain in detail Foucault’s late research—how parrhesia was obtained, that is, how to develop a complete freedom of speech, a capacity to “say everything”, based on the work on oneself, the care of oneself (epimeleia) in order to ABANDON SELF-DECEIPT and thus, boldly speak the truth in a world based on lies, that is, fears. (In spite of Foucault own fears of stating his position more clearly, because he was afraid of leaving ‘academia’, ‘philosophy’, ‘university’ and so he said all of this as if it only was what he found out in “scholarly” ways, in “scientific” ways, not what he personally, as a wise man in becoming, believed, no... Foucault in that sense died afraid of abandoning his past identity as a theoretical post-modern academic and writerly figure. He couldn’t take the ridicule of attempting to overcome himself.

But what he unearthed (again) was how to rethink philosophy not as a discourse-based discipline but as something else: the re-making of man. A re-making in which parrhesia for us in the poetics community is a key value, which consists in the cleansing of the mind of false idols and then and only then, producing language in unexpected and not always welcomed ways. Or to explain it a very simple way, how to produce spontaneous truth.

I-I’m not innocent of the resonances I-I’m trying to bring here. Not only in Kerouac’s and Ginsberg’s Buddhist sense but also in earlier visions of what poetry meant (surrealism’s attempts to remove everything that blocked—aesthetics, morals and logic—the subject from understanding reality and also, again, in Situationism, which is mostly a spiritual discipline, though I-t don’t think Debord fully realized that). In Foucault’s take on Greek philosophy—not only based on Pierre Hadot incredible research but also, I-I heavily suspect though Foucault tries to hide it, in non-Western shamanism and Buddhism itself and, of very evidently in Marxism (philosophy defined not as ‘theory’ but as ‘the transformation of the world’) and psychoanalysis—In Foucault’s take on Greek philosophy, I-I was saying, philosophy is anthropoeisis, so called it somehow. Anthropoiesis = the making of man.

Of course, Foucault’s late work (less known still today than this earlier books) resonates with what I-I learnt from Matthai and from reading (enjoying, translating) Rothenberg’s work and with my own personal experiences with counter-psychotherapy, that is, not how to ‘normalize’ individuals but how to learn how to liberate oneself from hegemonic “one”self/constructs and also how to get free from society’s methods of control at all levels, with which we get caught up in the same degree we still (mostly in hidden ways) identify with those control-values, even if (or specially if) we believe we “fight” them.

What I-I am saying in these last words is that I-I have found out that writers, artists and intellectuals start as defectors of control but somehow during the way we generally don’t understood we were supposed to center our work on curing all our lies, fears, and then (or during that process) making our work (written or not), because the aesthetics mostly follows Ethics.

Understanding ethics as self-construction.

And so, without curing ourselves, we are now spreading in different ways the same methods of control that we believe we fight against…

Rimbaud couldn’t manage the forces he himself unleashed. He gave up and became himself a slave(rer).

Baudelaire knew he had to jump into the abyss, but remained in love of hate.

Artaud didn’t cure himself and so he ended destroying all that was profound in him through drugs, lies, ego, foolish frenzy, fantasies, misogyny and even crazy christianism at the end.

Kerouac had the potential to fulfill his dream of becoming a new kind of sage, but he never got rid of his childish Catholic dream of being a perfect saint for mommy and at the same time a big macho American cowboy-Superman, and so he drowned out in alcohol, the only situation at the end in which he fantasized he was a free and opened-up Western male.

Kathy Acker knew she had to blow up and in many ways she did, but there was a final step she didn’t take. She loved violence too much.

Debord knew all but stuck with paranoia and general control, so he projected all his authoritarian spectacle onto the ‘society’ and couldn’t manage to work on himself to really get ride of everything he rightly accused the world.

Foucault knew in public theory everything he ended up unfulfilling in his spiritual self.

And I-I am naming just a few of those more brave than us!

We idolize them so what’s similar in us is idolized by others.

Writers, thinkers, intellectuals, artists, ¡poets! Need to heal themselves (from themselves) in order to become true visionaries.

We haven’t done that—that’s the only task that completely matters right now.

But what is happening now? In Latin America, in Spain, in Europe, in China, in Japan, in America, in Russia, in everyplace the human mind is afraid of being an animal still evolving—and after the big upheaval we are living a return to the old models of poet as man-of-letters, and ‘artists’ as man-of-walls, though by way of post-modern disguises! Deceit yourselves! Or use all your irony or all your critical theory you can to hide from what you deeply know! Poets have to become knowers.

In this time of total warfare against the planet and humanity—which is not something we own but something we create—aren’t we suppose to lead the path into something beyond this cruel order of despair, poverty and neo-totalitarian control?

Archaic traditions, from shamanism to Eastern religions, were not perfect or worked at all—we are the inheritors of their collective failures—but they knew the end is not to produce things, but to produce subjects.

All the great poets have known poetry resides beyond writing, but in Modern Western cultures such as ours this knowledge is kept bookish, utopical, dream-like, and romantic, so we can play the game that consists in not fully accepting that everything we do is really based on the persecution of truth.

And I-I mean it in two ways, because that’s how (for us) it is.

Poets will be considered in the future only the ambivalent forerunners of now unexpected liberated women and men.

They will understand how afraid we were.

I-I’m not saying there’s something fundamentally wrong with poetry, what I-I’m saying is poetry can always be more!


(Ethopoetics. What Is It?)

Etopoética, no longer an accident. At one point I-I even found it to be a word in Plutarch. It means “the poetics of ethos”, that is, the making of ways-of-being. And ethos meaning there not just one way of being but a more healthier, open, developed, complex way of being, which is described by the different schools of ancient philosophy, and where writing is considered part of epimeleia.

Poetry? Does it affect anybody? Well, yes, the poet foremost.

Experimentalism means there to experiment with news ways of life, in which language techniques play a central role in the transformation of reality.

We can define poetry as a series of techniques to construct—or if you prefer, deconstructthe subject through concrete and various methods that involve voice, body, book, theory, therapy, vision, tradition and writing.

Understanding “voice” as the ways in which mind and body materialized, the patterns in which change interplays with memory.

Understanding “body” as not just physical body but that other body that Blake refer to, and also Whitman—and romanticism and avant-gardes in general—and from my angle Pre-Hispanic thought through notions such a “nawal”, co-body (co-cuerpo)—that is, that other body (animal, plant, object, world) that through chant, writing, love, ritual, mind, vision, ordinary life and developed spiritualism is allowed to re-unite with our recognizable (already stable) physical body. Poetics means how to increase/accept more ‘body’.

Understanding “book” as a being existing not only in materiality (that which holds ‘pages’ or can be ‘read’) but also as a symbol of a ‘book’ inside the mind, that crypto-genetic information (form-giving) that we inherit and construct through out our lives.

Understanding “theory” as the intellectual capacity to see what’s separate—from ‘ordinary world’—the vision of teos, from theoin, the divine and, of course, theos, god(s)). Only later theory was degraded as mere ‘seeing’, ‘thinking’ (rationally), ‘spectacle’ (not only in the Greek sense but also in Debord’s). Here theory is understood as the vision of the sacred.

Understanding “therapy” as just as what it means “substitute ritual”, that is, ways of channeling individuals unto their next stage of development, and doing that inside societies that lost the ritual methods of helping in that process or inside societies that surpassed the levels of consciousness that collective ritual could provide.

Understanding “vision” as the emergence of uponoia, images made autonomously by the mysterious functioning of the ‘mind’, which is two (‘female’ and ‘male’ plus ‘one’ (The ‘I-I’)).

Understanding “tradition” through its missing n, “trans-dition”, trans-dare, trans-giving, that is not only the handing down of something that involves movement, but also the giving-of-how-to-change.

Understanding “writing” as psyche-making (psychopoetics), as the intervention on the mind-as-received, psyche-as-given, the modification of “one-self” (into other-selves) through all kinds of techniques. Understanding ‘writing’ as a open process of reinventing its identity, and understanding ‘identity’ in general not as a fixed list of attributes of something/something, but identity as a series of patterns and methods of changing one-another.

Poetry then means the new-making of oneself.

Poetry as the practical—not just ‘verbal’ or utopian—invention of wholeness/otherness. Poet as technicians of the (sacred) self.

And poets as proto-poets.

Ethopoetics as a rewriting not only of ethnopoetics but everything that poetry has discovered and everything we can find out outside writing. Ethopoetics as a mutation, an accident after the big accident of the 20th Century. Ethopoetics as a rewriting of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. Ethopoetics as a rewriting of religions and philosophy and social sciences. Ethopoetics as a way out of the university and the humanities, all of them part of control, part of ‘discourse’. Ethopoetics as the rewriting of the Human animal.

And if writing as literary craft still is in your mind right now—it still is in mine—just remember that’s how poetry changes: when the self modifies itself or is abruptly or slowly modified by some ‘external’ force, the page also mutates.

We need not to look for ways to (just) ‘change’ the page—the main goal of the literary world, avant-garde or not—but ways of changing ourselves and then, the page, along with other structures, will emerge in otherness.

And poetics then will be understood as the techniques to help others that are seeking/desiring to transform themselves and have a strong relation to writing.

(And if somebody has a strong relation to writing, I-I have discovered that means s(he) wants to rewrite her/himself).

(And if poetry conceives itself as a way of changing others, that's a definition that I-I would consider authoritarian—to do something to somebody else, without their open, free and clear willingness to do it (for) themselves).

And, yes, this brings politics into place. Politics understood as the production of well-being inside gatherings, not just “cities” but everywhere the plural (polis) exists.

So by “poetry” I-I just don mean “verse” but the construction (poiesis) of oneself.

And how trans-constructing oneself transforms ‘individual’ & ‘world’.

That is what ethopoetics is. A life-time project. A new science.

I-I conceived not a new literary style, school of philosophy or a combination of disciplines, but something beyond all of that, and maybe, far less recognizable, process-guided, site-specific, culturally-based, diverse, whose meaning can only be understood at its end. That’s how I-I see that which through accidents I-I got to un-cover and dis-cover.

And that’s how I-I see too the future of poetics as it is today.

I-I see fear will still dominate the last stage of this pre-human order. But I-I also see something else, I-I see a higher animal becoming visible. A general rewriting. A future radical ethopoetics brought by a collapse, a great unseen accident.


Tijuana / 2009