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, January 17, 2019

Jerome Rothenberg: A Gematria Sampler

[In response to questions about my use of traditional gematria as a means of poetic composition, the following sampler draws poems from two books of mine previously published & still, I believe, in circulation: Gematria, Sun & Moon Press, 1994, and Gematria Complete, Marick Press, 2009.  That the works were part of an ongoing dialogue between myself & Jackson Mac Low may also be worth noting.]

Gematria – a form of traditional Jewish numerology – plays off the fact that every letter of the Hebrew alphabet (see above) is also a number, and that words or phrases the sums of whose letters are equal are at some level meaningfully connected.  In the course of compiling A Big Jewish Book, I came across a number of traditional combinations of words associated (usually in pairs) through gematria, and I juxtaposed one of the words with the other so as to form miniature poems.  A few years later I came across Gutman G. Locks’s The Spice of Torah – Gematria, which offers easy access to the numerical value of every word in the first five books of the Hebrew Bible.  With its more than three hundred pages of Hebrew word lists translated into English words and phrases, I began to construct new poems based on combinations that I discovered or that I calculated on my own.  Unlike the traditionalists of gematria, I have seen these coincidences / synchronicities not as hermeneutic substantiations for religious and ethical doctrines, but as an entry into the kinds of correspondences / constellations that have been central to modernist and “post”modernist poetry experiments over the last century and a half.  I have proceeded in these works in several different ways: by using one word or word-phrase as title and others (numerically equivalent) as poem; by using the gematria number as a title and constructing poems of single lines and/or stanzas of two or several lines that fall under or add up to that number; and occasionally by using a freer selection of words brought to my attention by gematria, but combining and adding to them with considerably more freedom of choice.  To the degree that all such works are substantially aleatory, they are full of surprises that have added greatly to my own excitement in the act of writing.
            Of the poems presented here, only the final one diverges significantly from the stricter mode of composition.

A Gematria for Jackson Mac Low


made it happen.

Chance = 310.

Fourth Gematria                                                                                                                                               "In the Shadow”

 Gematria 372

A Week.


My Heart (1)                            My Heart (2)

Flaming.                                   Blood


The Sign

I see
a word / spoken.


In the Shadow (1)                     In the Shadow (2)

A womb                                   I am
he devours.                              nothing.


                        for Charles Reznikoff

The light.
The terror.



Your beautiful

at the entry.


A Fountain (1)                          A Fountain (2)

An eye.                                     Shall I hide?


A Window

& forward.


Colors (1)                                Colors (2)

Yellow                                     His red
stars                                         throne.            


The Candlestick / The Fire

The yellow
like a god.


A Vision (1)                              A Vision (2)

Beat it                                      God
with power.                              is crushed.



& a double.


The City




Flesh (1)                                  Flesh (2)

An ark                                      Before
& a worm.                                & bitter.


The Rock



A Curse

Your father
shall live.


A Cloud (1)                              A Cloud (2)

In wood.                                  Forever.


or enough.


Cities, Cities

& speckled.

A tree
fallen down.


My country
a fire




The Voice (1)                            The Voice (2)

will answer.                              A voice.

From More Gematrias  1 - 100

His red
& water.
The adam, the man,
& bloody.                                                         [50]

the old man,

brought us up,
a living substance

in your sight,
like sheep

he has upheld
your flock --

out of the thousands
-- & has brought

a sprig of calamus
& wormwood

in your eye

& birds
& from his people

in the tree
an unjust gain

they rose up,
they shall rise up                                              [161, 162]

Gematria 444

& cakes
& a cake of

Gematria 456

You will become unclean
You will become unclean

You will defile yourselves
in uncleanness

You will go
You will die

You will die
in uncleanness

And she went
And he died

And he died
And it ended

Gematria 519
“Around Midnight”

so he drove out
& was silent

& she took it
& when it rose

the song

at their door
around midnight

Your Loins

The thighs
he stripped naked.                                             [560]

Sad Gematria

I am old
& I fell down.                                                   [567]

Gematria 780

He made you.

From my book.

In the ashes.



Gematria 988

I know
his dreams.




bruised testicles.


Almond blossoms.


And the open

Chains (1)                                Chains (2)

Your six                                   False
gates.                                       eagles.                          [1200]

From Beyond Gematria

Gematria One

Laughter.  Of their blood into his nostrils.  Numbed.  And the window numbed as well.  We ate the children.  We will eat their gods.  We ate and we will eat.  His desire will be ransomed.  May my angel eat?  He may.  He will.  He will heave a bone against you.  A sodomite & angel.  The confusion arising from two kinds -- of bones? of angels?  When the water rises into waters.  As when the water rises into seas.

Gematria Two

Perhaps they do,
millennial & white --
a kingdom talks to me     your bread
is taken for a treasure
--even more the lice --
stars shine in his mouth
beneath his gums
a yellow angel rises, swelling
like a bat
a great star, fair as days
& beautiful as waters,
as her sweet mouth haunts
the man who sees
& knows a window,
if an angel by himself
becomes a cup, also a little owl,
my heart condenses to an emerald,
water that our hearts are,
eyes, a basket from the sea,
the face his mouth took for a king’s
& saved although the face
kept murmuring, the sea
drove globulets onto the land,
his bone against her, wailing,
a star is in your mouth,
your yellow god is sucking
like a dog.

Gematria Five

The darkness
gushes against a second

blesst & scalded,
redder than the lamb the demons
bring, evil shepherds

who surround you,
turtledoves above & lamps
like stars, like lights

all over
the night sky,

as an oven fills with darkness,
the jews inside their cities
lost in sleep.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Rochelle Owens: Beloved the Aardvark, Part Two

[Rochelle Owens has been working over the last several decades on a corpus of poems in-series, while her later work, however refined, has maintained the unique power & pitch ascribed to her earlier poetry by Marjorie Perloff, among others; ‘Rochelle Owens’ writing ... is sui generis. She is, in many ways, a proto-language poet, her marked ellipses, syntactic oddities, and dense and clashing verbal surfaces recalling the long poems of Bruce Andrews and Ron Silliman. But Owens is angrier, more energetic, and more assertive than most of her Language counterparts, male and female, and she presents herself as curiously non-introspective.”  Part One of Beloved the Aardvark can be found here on Poems and Poetics. (J.R.)]

Next to a wall
of concrete stands a man
covered with tattoos 

orange  yellow  green
astrological signs etched into
his skin  

tendons and nerves
drink color  his hand balled
into a fist

a fringe of drool
and blood circles the mouth
his lips move 

a secret tribal language

then he counts
the months in a year  his thumb
and forefinger moving

back and forth along a wall

‘who eat up my people as they
eat bread’


Morning to evening 
evening to morning  audible 

the rhythm  the rhythm
of spontaneous changes  sunlight/

blinking in and out

piles of sand appear 
disappear  audible  inaudible
the sound of digging

digging deeper
precise  methodical  searching
always the Aardvark

moves in circles  moves in circles
in the here and now

swaying side to side 

piles of sand appear 
disappear  work is a binding

suffer the Aardvark children        


Out of an ant hill
a waft of air  lovely the ant hill
curved like an embrace 


Rays of sunlight
penetrate the roof of your skull
warming  your back

warming your hands
and fingers holding a piece
of charcoal

drawing zigzags of
black lines  tendons  nerves 

spirals of veins pulsate 
blood in  blood out


On a concrete wall
lit up by fluorescent light
vibrating particles

shape the contours of an animal

the face of the Aardvark
is its parts  the eyes  nose
and mouth 

the cylindrical tongue

the long ears
heating to the temperature
of human skin


Pale and red
the mouth of a child eating
an apple

a montage of bite marks

your hand balled into a fist 


Press button to hear
morning to evening  evening
to morning

a  s o u n d s c a p e

of everlasting duration
evening to morning  morning
to evening

out of the digital age

a course of events
the scientific explosive realm

the twenty-first century

Press button
to hear a musical interval
in the afternoon

sipping Umbrian wine 

tearing off the wing
of a roast pigeon  a musical

evoking the rhythm 
the rhythm of spontaneous changes
Louis Armstrong’s 

“Black and Blue” 
a Bach cantata  Native American flutes
Buddhist chants  singing dolphins

Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” 


You turn in
the direction of a voice
spelling out a word  
A m f a t t e h r

a voice repeating
an unknown word  motionless
the Aardvark

stands listening
a voice repeating  spelling
out a word

A m f a t t e h r

made of the letters
of a noun  drawing zigzags
of black lines


a piece of charcoal
held with fingers and thumb
body of data

data of body
an animal from Africa
a member

of the mammalian order


Mounds of sand
appear  disappear  massive
the claws digging 

long ago  an hour ago 
only a minute

the universe contracts  e x p a n d s

disease  famine  torture  war

rhythmic a flow
of hormonal forces  blood in 
blood out 

disease  famine  torture  war

the Aardvark
comes out in daylight to lie
in the sun