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, October 16, 2008

Poetics & Polemics: Pre-Face & Contents

From Jerome Rothenberg, Poetics & Polemics: 1980-2005, a selection of prose writings edited by Steven Clay, published this month in the University of Alabama Press's Modern & Contemporary Poetics series. [See] The following will give a sense of what the book's about.

for Pierre Joris, nomad & fellow traveler


My published work now spans a period of over forty years – nearly a hundred books during that time and a range of other writings and publications. The majority of those books are my own poetry, both those in the original English and a number translated into other languages, including five substantial volumes in French, two in Flemish/Dutch, and four in Spanish. I have also been actively engaged as a translator and as a compiler of anthologies, which I have treated as large assemblages of work from areas of composition and performance that have often been neglected in academic circles while linking in many ways to the major trends of experimental and innovative poetry over the last two centuries. In these anthology-assemblages I first used short prose commentaries to bring out critical points about the poets or the works I was including. These in turn became my opening for the construction of a poetics and, in my own terminology, an equally necessary ethnopoetics, which I also pursued through a series of essays, written talks and interviews, “pre-faces” and introductions to the works of others, and as the editor or co-editor of several magazines (Alcheringa, New Wilderness Letter, and some/thing, among the better known ones). Starting with the publication of my first assemblage, Technicians of the Sacred, in 1968, I have thought of these prose works and related projects as forming a continuum with the poetry – an attempt, that is, to build an image of poetry and an image of the world in which I would always be speaking as a poet.

With the poetics as such I have published a single book of selected writings, Pre-Faces (from New Directions), which gives a sampling of work up to 1980 but leaves uncollected or unsampled the considerably more prolific work of the next quarter of a century. Readers who know my poetics through that or the seven or eight dispersed anthologies will therefore lack a sense of the full range of what I’ve been doing and how that work has developed over several decades. For that reason alone, I believe that this new collection of my essays – particularly focused on the writings after Pre-Faces – can usefully function to put my critical work into perspective. In doing this I have followed a long standing pattern of poets and writers who reach a point where vagrant volumes, whether of poetry or prose, can no longer take the full measure of their thought’s trajectory and its relation to the work of other poets or to “the life of poetry.”

For the first twenty years of my work, then, the reader if interested can look back to Pre-Faces, which still remains in print through New Directions. With its emphases on ethnopoetics and on the poetics of performance, the book served its purpose initially but has obscured the changes in my work over the two decades that followed. Foremost among these changes has been an expansion of my poetics and ethnopoetics toward a more explicit exploration of modernism/avangardism and renewed speculations on the book and writing. (These interests come across most clearly in my more recent anthologies: Poems for the Millennium, The Book, Spiritual Instrument, and A Book of the Book.) At the same time, the last quarter of a century has provided me with increased opportunities for the development and dissemination of my poetics – essays and reviews for journals and magazines, prefaces to books by other poets and artists, and numerous talks and interviews, both spoken and written.

To fill the gap since 1980, the work in Poetics & Polemics has been selected so as to carry along and elaborate my earlier concerns with ethnopoetics and performance, while giving new emphasis to questions of modernism and postmodernism and to the work of poets and movements within that framework. As with Pre-Faces, the writings include selections from essays, talks, interviews, reviews, pre-faces, and a section of capsule commentaries from collections such as Revolution of the Word and Poems for the Millennium. For some of the latter I worked in collaboration with Pierre Joris, as I did with Diane Rothenberg on Symposium of the Whole, although the essays selected here are those for which I was primarily responsible. In the section of Dialogues and Interviews, the sense of collaboration and community, as I understand it, is even more pronounced. And on a number of occasions – including the opening of each of the book’s three sections – I have included a poem or a section of a poem, hoping in that way to show the continuity of the work or to blur the line between poems and poetics.

While I haven’t followed a chronology in any of the sections, it is my hope that the gathering as a whole will still give a sense of both continuities and changes. Looking back on these pages as a reflection of my life and thought, I am aware not only of a gradually evolving series of ideas and practices but of a clash of ideas – with those of others and with my own. In that process I have confirmed – against all self-doubt – that the work of poetry, for myself and many others, goes beyond the writing of poems, to intersect as well with other forms of writing. What follows is, I hope, another aspect of that work – “[to] mix and fuse poetry and prose, inspiration and criticism, the poetry of art and the poetry of nature,” as Friedrich Schlegel had it more than two centuries ago. If I haven’t carried that off to everyone’s satisfaction, I have tried throughout, as David Antin once said in his definition of “the artist,” to be someone “who does the best he can.”


Introduction by Hank Lazer

Pre-Face by Jerome Rothenberg

Poetics & Polemics
The Times Are Never Right (poem)
The Poetics of the Sacred: A Range of Topics for a Keynote Speech
The Anthology as a Manifesto & as an Epic Including History
Symposium of the Whole: A Pre-Face
The Poet As Native: An Aspect of Contemporary Poetry & Art
Poets & Tricksters: Innovation & Disruption in Ritual & Myth
The Poetics & Ethnopoetics of the Book & Writing
“Secular Jewish Culture / Radical Poetic Practice”
Harold Bloom: The Critic as Exterminating Angel
Poems for the Millennium: Two Pre-Faces
Three Modernist Movements: Dadaism, Futurism, Surrealism
A History/Pre-history of the Poetry Project
A Secret Location on the Lower East Side
How We Came Into Performance: A Personal Accounting
Ethnopoetics & (Human) Poetics

A Gallery of Poets
I Come into the New World (poem)
A Range of Commentaries (from Poems for the Millennium and Revolution of the Word)
William Blake’s Visionary Forms Dramatic
Friedrich Hölderlin’s Palimpsests
Walt Whitman’s New Line & Lineage
Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Inscapes
Gertrude Stein’s Cubism
Rainer Maria Rilke’s In-Seeing
Marcel Duchamp’s Ready-Mades
Mina Loy’s Futurism
Ezra Pound’s Vortices
William Carlos Williams’ New Measure
Federico García Lorca’s Duende
Laura Riding’s Breaking of the Spell
Edmond Jabès’s Return to the Book
John Cage’s Silence & Nothing
Pablo Picasso: A Pre-Face
Kurt Schwitters: A Pre-Face
María Sabina: A Pre-Face
Vitezslav Nezval: A Post-Face
Louis Zukofsky: A Reminiscence
Robert Duncan: A Memorial
Reading Celan: 1959, 1995
Jackson Mac Low: A Pre-Face
A Pre-Face for Paul Blackburn
Gary Snyder: The Poet Was Always Foremost
David Antin: The Works Before Talking
David Meltzer: A Pre-Face
Alison Knowles’s Footnotes: A Pre-Face
Carolee Schneemann: A Tribute
Ian & Me – A Collaboration

Dialogues & Interviews
In the Way Words Rhyme (poem)
Performance Artists Talking: Ritual/Death (with Linda Montano)
The Samizdat Interview (with Robert Archambeau)
The Medusa Interview (with Rodrigo Garcia Lopes)
The Sibila Interview (with Charles Bernstein, Regis Bonvicino, Marjorie Perloff, Cecilia


Unknown said...

Congratulations, a wonderful survey of poets.
Best regards,

Anonymous said...

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WAS said...

I haven't even finished PftM2 or the contents of this site yet, but I had to order this - the titles alone forced my hand.

FYI- the link to order is broken. I found it at

Inspiring stuff!

WAS said...

I just received my copy of Poetics & Polemics and I have to say it is perhaps the best book on poetry I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a few). By way of appreciation, permit me to try my hand at a “gallery” for you (at least as far as this – still half-finished – book goes):

Jerome Rothenberg’s Perpetual Revolution Machine
“but face / back of the mask / is fathomless / the jews march through the night / clack-clack their sticks / speak for them … like dagger points / & voiceless” – J.R., from Yaqui 1982

In the beginning was the word. But what if there was no beginning? What can origins mean in our “increasingly abstract relation to what was once a living universe”? “Language [is] a place of exile,” a blind man’s stick that seeks the “dream that came before the book.” For Jerome Rothenberg, this is the opening, for “CREATION-poesis writ large.” “There is a primal book as there is a primal voice,” he writes, “and it is the task of our poetry and art to recover it.” “To give a room a name would open it,” he says as he waves the door free, but his true genius, his true fearlessness, is in keeping it open. For he knows the darkness that must be embraced, the excluded that must be accepted, the erasures and revisions by the scribes of what Winston Churchill called “the high cabal” that must be stared down as part of any effort at recovery. And he knows too, without having to acknowledge it directly, that the individual can no longer pretend that the story of another person/authority/tradition will lead him finally home, such a destination is only found by facing mystically and honestly “the web of ancient and modern possibilities” at the “point [at which] everything stands in the open.” And what possibilities he ponders! The Buddhist roots of Dada, the connection between shamans and Keats, Mina Loy’s Anglo-Mongols and the Rose as a seminal modernist poem, Picasso as a poet as much as a painter, Harold Bloom as Joseph Mengele, Ezra Pound as a secular Jew. He views his role as transgressive, “renewing or challenging the worlds and selves we think we know or creating new worlds beyond our former knowing.” He’s a true Blakean in this endeavor, especially as he reminds us that the divine is motion, and that we cannot move without embracing contradictions. What Rothenberg seeks, in “the most generous of vortexes,” is no less than the creation of Mallarme’s Livre, where “everything exists in order to be put in the book” (Mallarme). It’s an impossible endeavor but, in his inclusive anthologies, his embrace of the most distant cultures, his profoundly anti-academic academic criticism, his generous poems, it’s clear Rothenberg views the impossible as the only thing worth seeking. As a poet, reader, translator, critic and entrepreneur the only person he can possibly be compared to would be Kenneth Rexroth, in that vast encyclopedias must be deployed to clear away the city lights for a fresh view of the stars. All we see in the end is how every one of them is precious.

Uh, what I really mean to say is this:
יר ג 'רי