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

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Alcheringa Manifesto: As an Act (2009) of Retrospection

[The following in its original appearance in 1970 was a foundational work for what we were already calling ethnopoetics. Dennis Tedlock and I had met earlier that year, and over the summer, while settled into Santa Fe, New Mexico, and environs, we worked with Barbara Tedlock and Diane Rothenberg on assembling the first issue of what we took to be (and so stated) “the first magazine of the world’s tribal poetries.” What has been done since then and what has failed to be done are of equal interest in looking back at this – at least for me.]


As the first magazine of the world’s tribal poetries, ALCHERINGA will not be a scholarly “journal of ethnopoetics” so much as a place where tribal poetry can appear in English translation & can act (in the oldest & newest of poetic traditions) to change men’s minds & lives. While its sources will be different from other poetry magazines, it will be aiming at the startling & revelatory presentation that has been common to our avant gardes. Along the way we hope

—by exploring the full range of man’s poetries, to enlarge our understanding of what a poem may be

—to provide a ground for experiments in the translation of tribal/oral poetry & a forum to discuss the possibilities & problems of translation from widely divergent cultures

—to encourage poets to participate actively in the translation of tribal/oral poetry

—to encourage ethnologists & linguists to do work increasingly ignored by academic publications in their fields, namely to present the tribal poetries as values in themselves rather than as ethnographic data

—to be a vanguard for the initiation of cooperative projects along these lines between poets, ethnologists, songmen, & others

—to return to complex/”primitive” systems of poetry as (intermedia) performance, etc., & to explore ways of presenting these in translation

—to emphasize by example & commentary the relevance of tribal poetry to where we are today: thus, in Gary Snyder’s words, “to master the archaic & the primitive as models of basic nature-related cultures...knowing that we are the first human beings in history to have all of man’s cultures available to our study, & being free enough of the weight of traditional cultures to seek out a larger identity”

—to assist the free development of ethnic self-awareness among young Indians & others so concerned, by encouraging a knowledgeable, loving respect among them & all people for the world’s tribal past & present —to combat cultural genocide in all its manifestations.


ALCHERINGA...”dream time” of the Arunta...”The Eternal Dream Time”...(or) “The Dreaming”...of a sacred heroic time long long ago when man & nature came to be...a kind of narrative of things that once happened; a kind of charter of things that still happen; & a kind of logos or principle of order transcending everything significant...the act of dreaming, as reality & symbol, (by which)...the artist is inspired to produce a new song...(by which) the mind makes contact with whatever mystery it is that connects The Dreaming & the Here-&-Now.
—W.E.H. Stanner, “The Dreaming”

what the informant told Franz Boas in 1920 (Keresan)

long ago her mother
had to sing this song and so
she had to grind along with it
the corn people have a song too
it is very good
I refuse to tell it
—Armand Schwerner

The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses, calling them by names &adorning them with the properties of woods, rivers, mountains, lakes, cities, nations, & whatever their enlarged & numerous senses could perceive.

And particularly they studied the genius of each city & country, placing it under its mental deity;
Til a system was formed, which some took advantage of, & enslaved the vulgar by attempting to realize or abstract the mental deities from their objects: thus began Priesthood;

Choosing forms of worship from poetic tales.

And at length they pronounc’d that the Gods had order’d such things.

Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast.

—William Blake (1790)

Time flows past the permanent central position ... they live at a place called noon, at the center of the world, the only place where space & time intersect.
—Stanley Diamond, from “Anaguta Cosmography” (Nigeria)

O, they were hot for the world they lived in, these Maya, hot to get it down the way it was—the way it is, my fellow citizens.
—Charles Olson

Sioux Vision Event

Go to a mountain-top & cry for a vision.

It was a vast old religion, greater than anything we know: more starkly & nakedly religious...For the whole lifeeffort of man was to get his life into contact with the elemental life of the cosmos, mountain-life, cloud-life, thunder-life, air-life, earth-life, sun-life. To come into immediate felt contact, without an intermediary or mediator, is the root meaning of religion, & at the sacred races, the runners hurled themselves in a terrible cumulative effort, through the air, to come at last into naked contact with the very life of the air, which is the life of thc clouds, & so of the rain.
—D.H. Lawrence

A Wintu Indian Statement on the Ecological Crisis

The White people never cared for land or deer or bear. When we Indians kill meat, we eat it all up. When we dig roots we make little holes. When we build houses, we make little holes. When we burn grass for grasshoppers, we don’t ruin things. We shake down acorns & pinenuts. We don’t chop down the trees. We only use dead wood. But the White people plow up the ground, pull up the trees, kill everything. The tree says, ‘Don’t. I am sore. Don’t hurt me.’ But they chop it down & cut it up. The spirit of the land hates them. They blast out trees & stir it up to its depths. They saw up the trees. That hurts them. The Indians never hurt
anything, but the White people destroy all. They blast rocks & scatter them on the ground. The rock says, Don’t! You are hurting me.’ But the White people pay no attention. When the Indians use rocks, they take little round ones for their cooking...How can the spirit of the earth like the White man?...Everywhere the White man has touched it, it is sore.
—Old woman speaking to Dorothy Lee “in a prophetic vein”

Zuni Cryptogram

teyalanne / ground
tek’inaye / the ground is wet
te’ananne / footprint
teyacchinne / cultivated field
teky’appowanne / hill
tewutso’ya / the weather is clear
tene’’anaye / a strong wind is blowing
tets’enaye / the weather is cold
tehts’inaye / it is winter
telakwayi / spring
tehya / it is valuable
telhasshianne / shrine
teshkwinne / taboo
tewusu / sacred
tewusukky’a / pray
tenanne / song
tepehanne / pottery drum
telapnanne / story
tesshukw’a / yesterday
tehlhi’a / night is coming
tewani / tomorrow
tewankwin / eastward
teyaye / living
tek’ohannanne / daylight
tek’ohannan aaho’’i / daylight people (mankind)

The American Indian is the vengeful ghost lurking in the back of the troubled American mind. Which is why we lash out with such ferocity & passion, so muddied a heart, at the black-haired young peasants & soldiers who are the “Viet Cong.” That ghost will claim the next generation as its own. When this has happened, citizens of the USA will at last begin to be Americans, truly at home on the continent, in love with their land. The chorus of a Cheyenne Ghost Dance song—”hi-niswa’vita’ki’ni”—”We shall live again.”
—Gary Snyder

He who loses his dreaming is lost.
—Australian Aborigine

[Further excerpts from Alcheringa can be found on Jerrold Shiroma's Duration Press web site.]

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