FS: A couple of weeks ago, I overheard Bernadette Mayer say something to the effect of "We should ALL have our own anthologies." Do you agree? To what extent is the collaborative/communal act of anthologizing informed or limited by personal aesthetic decisions?
JR: I think, in my case, yes: a lot of those personal aesthetic decisions do come into play. Although I should point out that when you're actually doing a complicated anthology, there are lots of other factors that come into it. There are limitations of space and the question of how much space is needed. In the mind, as a mental construct,we can incorporate an endless amount of material. In a book, even a big book, you're limited to often 400 or 500 pages. My next big anthology is 900 pages, but that's to cover a whole century and with as much of a global dimension as we can manage.The internet may promise something entirely different. Maybe, if one isn’t forced to mimic the way things are arranged or positioned in anthologies and books. I once made a joke in an interview with Chris Funkhouser, when Poems for the Millennium first came out, that there should be an Anthology of Everything. Maybe the internet will make that possible. Maybe the internet IS that anthology.
FS: In the nearly 50 years since Allen's New American Poetry was first released, it seems that the anthology (and perhaps poetry itself) as a form has become increasingly specialized and niche-based. Could you talk a little bit about the difficulties and delights of putting together a 'global anthology' such as Technicians of the Sacred or The Millennium series?
JR: I began it of course with Technicians of the Sacred, which already assumed the presence of poetry in cultures everywhere, so that made for a kind of global outlook from the very start. ... It gets very complicated trying to do things on a global basis, and maybe that’s part of the pleasure. To begin with, questions of translation immediately come into the picture. Anthologies have tended to be "niche" in nature, in the sense that from an American perspective, say, there are many more anthologies of American poetry or English poetry in circulation here than there are of European or Asian poetry, or poetry incorporating different languages, or anything approaching world poetry. And if there is something global like that, there’s usually some kind of thematic justification: political or feminist or gay or ecological -- some kind of limiting term or subject matter within that “world” designation. This can be useful too where certain kinds of experience or certain subjects haven‘t been brought to light.
FS: What are the ethno-poetic demands and/or ramifications of preserving such 'global poetries' in English?
JR: Ethnopoetics is a complicated question and sometimes involves what seems to me to be an unease about looking at or exhibiting cultural artifacts from cultures that have been violated and exploited. Usually those violations came through the West, but sometimes from other directions – the domination of vulnerable peoples by local rather than foreign overlords. There is a resultant demand to stay away, to keep silent about what one knows, and we try to respond to that – up to a point – and to get it right.On the other hand I can say that what I’m looking for – part discovered and part made up – are multiple forms of poetry, all the different possibilities of poetry, poetry that we make on our own and poetry that has been made in different forms in other times and places. It doesn't matter to me, the accuracy of what we bring to light, as long as it ADDS to and shows the dimensions of things we hadn't imagined before.
But then there is, maybe as with all translation, that other question that gets raised, maybe too often, and to which I don't have a final answer: about the problem of translating works from threatened cultures and by doing so bringing them into imperial contexts, thereby breaking the sense of the sacred and esoteric that certain people, certain cultures, hold dear. Such an attitude, precautionary and protective, is a matter, in no trivial sense, of maintaining boundaries, whereas my own goal in translation, which includes ethnopoetic translation, is the breaking down of boundaries. (I will however never be absolutely certain on this point.)
There are also, let me say, various forms of ethnopoetics. I worked for a number of years with Dennis Tedlock. Dennis was a good poet ... is a good poet. He is also a trained linguist and anthropologist and went through the material that he was translating with a much greater sense of detail and accuracy than I could conceivably have given it, since I was working, in most cases, from outside the language in question. What someone like Dennis does is very serious work, and I'm not really sure the poet's work can ever be serious in exactly that way. There's just so much of an impulse to play!
FS: Whereas Allen's anthology posits its contents AS "The New," your most recent collections present themselves as being FOR "The [New] Millennium". What do you see as the importance of this distinction?
JR: Poems for the millennium, not for the NEW Millennium. These could be poems for the millennium we’ve just left or for the one we're going into. Maybe there's a more ominous sense in that, since “millennium'” in religious terms is also moving toward the Day of Judgment – you know, the End of Things. So these poems are for that as well.In general, I haven't tried to so much anthologize "The New" as to, in Ezra Pound's terms, find ways of “making it new.” I've dealt a lot with things that happened in the past; even Poems For The Millennium is largely a compendium of what's already happened. (So was Donald Allen's New American Poetry for that matter – things that had recently happened.) Poems for the Millennium, Volume One, deals with what happened during the first fifty or sixty years of the twentieth century, close to a hundred years and more before we put the book together. And the new one that we're doing – the romantics and postromantics and early modernists – is going back two hundred years and maybe more than that.
I think I set out very early to explore the old. I don't know if that remains important for people now, the way it was for my generation, coming out of poets like Pound who were very much concerned with things that happened a long time ago in order, as the Chinese characters on the emperor’s bathtub put it, to make it new.
FS: Jerome, finally I'd like to thank you for joining me today and ask: With Volume III of Poems for the Millennium forthcoming, what's next on your itinerary? Can we expect a Volume IV?
JR: I ... don't .... know. When Pierre Joris and I finished Volume Two, I didn’t think there was going to be a Volume Three. Then Jeffrey Robinson showed up and talked to me about doing an anthology of Romanticism along the lines of Poems for the Millennium. And finally Pierre Joris may also, as a sort of Volume Four, do something like an anthology of North African/Mediterranean poetry covering a span of something like 2000 years.
Then too, a book of my own, Triptych, just came out from New Directions, and it pulls together two older books, Poland/1931 and Khurbn, along with a new series of poems, The Burning Babe. I've also got enough material now for another New Directions book, but they can't any longer do one every year or so, so you may not see that next one until two, maybe three years down the road.
FS: Jerome, again: Thank You.
[For part one of the interview check the posting for September 19, 2011.]
[For part one of the interview check the posting for September 19, 2011.]