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, May 24, 2018

A First Anthology/Assemblage of the Poetry & Poetics of the Americas, from Origins to Present: An Announcement & an Appeal

[The following is an early announcement of a work now in progress: a full-blown anthology/assemblage of the poetry of all the Americas (“from origins to present”), co-edited with Heriberto Yépez, that the University of California Press, has just accepted for publication.  As Heriberto & I move into the work, I’m posting our proposal for the book, below, as an indication of what’s in store & in the hope, as with other assemblages of mine, that others will come forward with suggestions for materials relevant as texts & commentaries that fall along the lines of those in my earlier anthologies.  Even more important for a work of this scope, Heriberto & I are looking for others who can assist us in the formidable task of translation: Spanish, Portuguese, French, & the full range of indigenous languages & creoles from the two great American continents.  My email address appears in the right margin of this blog, & I can also be reached, by those so equipped, through my account on Facebook.   We will try to respond as far as we can to all suggestions & to acknowledge in print all those that prove pertinent to the work at hand.  (J.R.)]

Proposal for


Edited by Jerome Rothenberg and Heriberto Yépez

“Britain is Los’ Forge; / America North & South are his baths of living waters.”

William Blake, from Jerusalem

Since 1984 the University of California Press has been the publisher of five large assemblages of poetry as part of a long-term project in which I together with a number of other poets and scholars have attempted a radical and globally decentered revision of American and world poetry.  The key works here are Technicians of the Sacred, just republished in a fiftieth anniversary expanded edition, and four volumes of Poems for the Millennium, along with the critical essays found in Symposium of the Whole: A Range of Discourse Toward an Ethnopoetics.  From the start I and my various co-authors have seen our project as open to growth and change over the passing years, with a belief that every successive work is both a continuation and a new beginning, as changing possibilities present themselves to our consideration.
            What I’m now proposing, along with my co-editor Heriberto Yépez, is an assemblage/anthology of the poetry of the Americas, both north and south and drawn from the diversity of languages on the two great continents.  We aim to approach the project with the same openness that I and my co-authors were able to exercise in the Millennium series, to see this in some way as a particularized extension of Poems for the Millennium. Too often, the idea of America and American poetry and literature is limited to work written in English within the present boundaries of the United States.  While this has been modified in several recent anthologies by the inclusion of some poetry translated from indigenous North American languages, there has never been a full-blown historical anthology of American poetry or literature viewing north and south together in a larger transnational vision of what “America” has meant in the history of our hemisphere and of the world.  Such a vision of another America, deeply rooted in its pre-Conquest past and in the writings of its early European colonizers, comes to us from poets such as the Nicaraguan Rubén Darío, writing circa 1903 of
our America, which has had poets
from the ancient times of Netzahualcoyotl
… the America of the great Moctezuma, of the Inca,
our America smelling of Christopher Columbus,
our Catholic America, our Spanish America.”

Or from José Martí, while feeling the oppression of Cuba’s stronger neighbor to the north, who wrote: “The pressing need of our America is to show itself as it is, one in spirit and intent, swift conquerors of a suffocating past.”  Their Spanish America constitutes a declaration of independence from the other, English America and should be taken as such.
            For the two of us, one a poet from Mexico and the other from the United States, the idea of a still larger America(s), made up of many independent parts, has been a topic of continuing shared interest.  Since there currently exists no single volume of “American” poetry or literature that takes such an expansive view of its subject matter, we find ourselves free to make a new beginning, an experiment through anthologizing to explore what results might follow from a juxtaposition of poets and poetries covering all parts of the Americas and the range of languages within them: European languages such as English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, including creoles and pidgins, as well as a large number of Indigenous languages such as Mapuche, Quechua, Mayan, Mazatec, and Nahuatl.  While our sense of “America” along these lines would extend and amplify the European metaphor of the Americas as a “new world,” we also recognize and embrace the reality of 2000 years or more of (native) American indigenous poetry and writing.  It is precisely such complexities and contradictions, even conflicts, that will engage us here.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Rochelle Owens: Devour Not the Elephant

Poaching scene 
crime scene  carcasses of
dead rhinos and Savannah elephants 

Precious the ivory tusks and horns 
cut off  severed

Two from a bull
raw and bleeding holes gouged
into Jumbo’s face

Swollen  infected the wounds
every day bears the data

Data of body 
feces  hair and nails  yellowish-white
bones push to the surface

In the green of leaves  Earth 
Air  Fire  Water


What is property?
property is the body  Ears  Trunk 

The face half-severed  precious
the ivory tusks and horns 

Property is the body 
mutilated  burned  Ears  Trunk 

Ears like human fingerprints 
none are the same 

Flapping their ears
blood circulates in the head 
ears the shape of Africa

Two long pointed teeth stick out
of the mouth 

The trunk is like a human arm
or the fingers of a hand
picking berries

Elephant corpses found drifting
In a creek  yellowish-white bones

Push to the surface 
In the green of leaves Earth
Air  Fire  Water

What is property?  property
is the body  a human arm or hand

My mother was sold
from me \when I could
but crawl


Among the stalls 
piles of ivory trinkets  bangles
and beads

Rows of Ivory carvings 
of maidens  monks  and birds

Carcasses of dead rhinos
and Savannah Elephants  carcasses
stripped of their skin

Burned  mutilated  saleable parts
hacked off

Ears  Trunk  Feet   
the horns and tusks ground up 
my body the bread  my blood the wine 


Disturbingly informative
an elephant savaged by poachers

Poison in the rivers 
poison in the arrow heads  following
the dying animal around

Following the dying animal around
every day bears the data

Data of body  body of data
property is the body mutilated  burned 

In the green of leaves  Earth 
Air  Fire  Water

[N.B. To which she adds, in correspondence: “The elephant is a non-predatory mammal, a sensate being.  The poem intersects body and spirit -- elephant desire, with the function of marketing, production, distribution and exchange of elephant and rhino body parts by human predators.”]

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Jerome Rothenberg: from Daichidoron, 32 Ways of Looking at the Buddha, a re-posting for Hiromi Ito, in celebration

(1) When the Buddha walks. his feet are so close to the ground that there is not even a hair's space between his soles & the earth;

(2)  the imprint of a wheel appears on the soles of the Buddha's feet;

(3)  the Buddha's fingers are exceptionally long & slender;

(4)  the Buddha's heels are broad, round & smooth;

(5)  the Buddha has a web-like membrane between his fingers & toes;

(6)  the skin of the Buddha’s hands & feet is soft & smooth;

(7)  the Buddha’s feet have unusually high insteps;

(8)  the Buddha's calves are rounded & firm like those of a stag;

(9)  exceptionally long arms, when standing, the Buddha's hands reach his knees;

(10) the Buddha’s genitals are hidden inside the body;

(11) the Buddha's body height is equal to his armspread, considered to give a classically proportioned body;

(12) the Buddha's body hair grows in an upward direction;

(13) one hair grows from each pore on the Buddha’s skin;

(14) the Buddha's body gleams with a golden light;

(15) the Buddha emits a halo of light which frames his body & extends outward about three metres;

(16) the Buddha’s skin is extremely smooth;

(17) seven regions of the Buddha's two feet, shoulders, & neck are full & rounded;

(18) the sides of the Buddha’s body under the Buddha’s arms are full, not hollow as on an ordinary person;

(19) the upper part of the Buddha's body is majestic, like a lion;

(20) the Buddha's posture is firm & perfectly erect;

(21) the Buddha’s shoulders are full & rounded;

(22) the Buddha has forty teeth, as white as snow;

(23) the Buddha’s teeth are straight, without gaps, & equal in size;

(24) the Buddha also has 4 canine teeth which are larger, whiter, & sharper than the rest;

(25) the Buddha’s cheeks are full & firm like those of a lion;

(26) the Buddha's saliva imparts a delicious taste to everything he eats;

(27) the Buddha’s tongue is long & flexible, when extended it reaches to the Buddha’s hairline;

(28) the Buddha's voice is pure, strong & deep, has an exceptional ability to communicate to the listener, & can be heard from a long distance;

(29) the pupils of the Buddha’s eyes are a deep blue color, like the blue lotus flower;

(30) the Buddha’s eyelashes are long & regular;

(31) the Buddha has a protuberance on the top of his head, representing wisdom;

(32) the Buddha has a light emitting clockwise curls of hair on his forehead.

NOTE.  The lead to the poem came, like much else, from conversations with Hiromi Ito, herself a major figure in contemporary Japanese poetry & for over twenty years a neighbor & close friend in southern California.  I had recently written & published a series of poems, The Treasures of Dunhuang, many of which were my own takes on images of the Buddha from the great painted caves of Dunhuang in western China.  My first sighting of those was in an exhibit of that name at the Metropolitan Art Museum, Tokyo, in 1996, reenforced by a visit to Dunhuang in 2002.  What struck me then was the surprising twist given to images that we thought of as familiar – much like images of Jesus when one sees them in out-of-the-way regions of the Christian world.  I had long had in mind, & more so recently, perceptions about the nature of poetry enunciated by poets like Novalis – “The art of estranging in a given way, making a subject strange and yet familiar and alluring, this is romantic poetics” – & referential too, I thought, to how we come at poetry today.        

It was Hiromi’s sense of other images, other places, though, that led me to the Daichidoron - the Mahaprajnaparamita Sastra, discourses on the-Great Wisdom Scriptures, attributed to the Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna (circa 150-250 a.d.).  The 32 lines, as they appear here, are a found poem that in some sense completes the work for me.  (For which see also China Notes & The Treasures of Dunhuang, published by Ahadada Books in 2006.  Hiromi Ito’s transcreation of the Buddhist Heart Sutra, published previously on Poems and Poetics, would be of similar interest here.) The present re-posting celebrates Hiromi’s new position as Professor of Letters, Arts & Sciences at Waseda University in Tokyo

Friday, May 4, 2018

Mikhl Likht: from “Procession: VI” (an excerpt)

Translation from Yiddish by Ariel Resnikoff & Stephen Ross

[A further installment of Likht’s Yiddish “Objectivists” poem, contemporary with or forerunner to Pound’s Cantos and Zukofsky’s “A”.  Earlier segments appear here & here on Poems and Poetics.]

And I also will sing war when this matter of a girl is exhausted.
 --Ezra Pound: “Homage to Sextus Propertius”, V. 1.

My genius is no more than a girl.
    --ibid., V. 2.

    [  S I R V E N T E  1 9 2 4 ]

Revolutions lie in wait for princesses;
for swans, where by waterbanks, hunters.
So summon your swan-princess manners
Contributions poeticized by me
From a respected wonder-resolution
Oh you, my kind-hearted person ot-ot, kateyger;(1)
Human-sympathy, woman-love gentle carrier:
Your joy —  is enjoyment, your suffering —  my execution!

With intent to mock all strange attributes
Of the concept in chivalric sirventes
Beg to indicate nothing but reminders to oneself
With swan-princesses fitting statutes:
We (knight —  I and you —  princess-swan)
Are (how sophisticated) wife and husband.

[Song of Harmoniousness]

My heart is not a slanderous instrument, no, not a
Tiring, interminable babbler; yet, yet it persuades,
Stimulates my lips without letting them seek yours.

And shyly, my heart, when it finds itself unpoor, then
My poverty’s cost commissions yet again
Ecstatic contiguity with yours.

It withdrew like a beautiful-word-pusher, and
See how my tongue gets incited with pure passion by
A flame you’re in the middle of, like you’re asbestos.

In an unassuming dumbstruckness my heart functions
Right through the stunning pain, trouble-distracted by your
Bringing no dissonances into the contiguity.

[On the Way to Stories]

Let’s be prudent, look ourselves over on the corner,
I with my rhythms, you with your colors
Against the Hispano-Suiza put put.
We should thus be prudent about dying
Like how right zeyde(2) was, often saying:
“People are conspicuous as moths on chamois leather.”

Soon we’ll be hearing horns, space-and-glory resonance
Accompanying piccolo, clarinet, bugler;
Ascent to the paradise of hearing, breath-hell
On the moulding of the dreamt ladder —
See how faces overcome themselves all over
The purification, the squall, in that redemption.

I, a moth, that sits myself right here next to you?
You, a mothess matured in a womanhood-antechamber?
We — to live we eat room and board like shnur un eydem?(3)
Let’s paint (whether death competes animatedly
To stamp us with jaundiced-earth color)
As if sharp-rhythmically our first pleasure.

Listen up and I’ll conjure you a song,
“Once there was an emperor and his empress. . .
Euphony also came along to caress from the limbs...
Her eyes beam; his eyes shimmer . . .
“My dear, it seems to me you are tired in every limb . . .”
“You, my dear, appear even more tired than I.”

To look around oneself on the corner, to be extra-prudent, leave
Static-art to such a person whom it has corrupted
A breath without exhalation, an ear without hearing:
I with my rhythms, you with your colors
Must resist that aggressive time-sclerosis,
The Hispano-Suiza rim-like crouch.

[Song of Midday]

Last evening in my room the life of a spirit,
A short-lived one, revealed itself to us —
Why and when? — like a flower in early spring
Shoots sunbound in petal-fold bouquet.

    Days-end, as the faded blossom.
    Spiritcycle, as the short-breath duration.

We strolled out of the revelation-cave,
not entirely inappropriately, onto an agon-path of philosophy.

What happened in my room last evening
Is a coda rhythm
Quieter than the sound of strings beneath a sordine:

    Preludes, interludes in our moods
    Blinding us in overfold to the sunbound

Our halfday … beams stream down vertical
Distanced from sunrise and set.

Your words sunk deep into my midnight stroll
And aroused my curiosity with amusing speculations
pruv? — the word striking as a relief,
A flat note escaping a magical flaneur’s lips.

Pruv? — What proof? Who needs proof?
So who’s dealing in credit? So who’s dangling with false klinging?
So take and give already not the same who from us on God’s own?
What luck carries out one more war, less awarding?

No. It rained. A lazy vey
of wind. Conversational relation in a commune. . .the last
“repellant” swindle for a reason
which is no reason at all . . . pruv?

Nor have your lips whispered the word
For found in an encyclopedia of stately reckoning:
Nor have my ears heard

The word’s shuddering combinative symbol.

[The preceding is a continuation of the ongoing translation by Resnikoff & Ross of Processions,  the great epic work by Mikhl Likht (1893–1953), which, while written in Yiddish, can be seen now as an integral part of the New York-centered American “Objectivists” moment, along with contemporaneous works by Pound, Zukofsky, Williams, & others.  Earlier translations from Likht have appeared on Poems and Poetics, along with several discussions by Ariel Resnikoff of the relation between Likht & Zukofsky, et al, both literary & personal.  In the meantime the work of translation continues, as does the search for publishers & for magazines & journals in which to publish further installments.  Writes Resnikoff: “We invite all interested parties to be in touch.” (J.R.)]


[1] Yiddish: lit. prosecutor; prosecuting angel.

[2] Yiddish: lit. Grandfather.

[3] Yiddish: lit. son- and daughter-in-law; referring to the tradition of a newly married couple moving back into the women’s parents’ house after the wedding.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Ricardo Cázares: a fragment from a poem in progress,, with a note by the author

Translation from Spanish by Joshua Edwards

And likewise they contend that animals / Wander about head downwards and cannot fall / Off from the earth into the sky below / Any more than our bodies of themselves can fly / Upwards into the regions of the sky; / That when they see the sun, the stars of night / Are what we see, and that they share the hours / Of the wide heavens alternately with us, / And pass nights corresponding to our days.

(...)__That suddenly the ramparts of the world / Would burst asunder and like flying flames / Rush headlong scattered through the empty void, / And in like manner all the rest would follow, / The thundering realms of sky rush down from above, / Earth suddenly withdraw beneath our feet, / And the whole world, its atoms all dissolved, / Amid the confused ruin of heaven and earth / Would vanish through the void of the abyss, / And in a moment not one scrap be left / But desert space and atoms invisible, / For at whatever point you first allow / Matter to fail, there stands the gate of death
                                                           Lucretius, On The Nature of Things


and was good
         in its way
              that light

                        sliding from gray
to the pure blue of young moss

            the eye was ours
to see
and we bled it

            we mixed the liquid with warm grease
and scented herbs
that mask sulfur’s stench

the light was good
            and we touched the golden edge
that shone

                        a sheet of particles and waves

                  intact in all things


            they came for stones
            for eating from woman
            for killing animals

            but the earth was ours
and we sank our arrows into moss
stirring that poisoned dust
in the plant’s vulva

            we shot
                                    and the wound made their gums blue
and their fingernails

                              at the first spring’s end
the strangers went mad

            scratching at their own faces with their fingernails
            tearing skin
            and sinking fingers
            into sores

the earth was ours

            and again we’d touch stone and salt
                                 coppery skin of pears
      the downy hair of thighs

            we touched without fear

                                    without thinking

there were few things in existence that
surprised us

our face could feel
every gesture and
reflection of light
and open a black groove in silhouettes

they were ours the shape
            the stuff of abundance

although we have renounced

the little tenderness that remains for us
is now a matter of atoms
and charges and valences


                                    here came things
                        that changed our form

                        “deeper than thought
                                                            much deeper”
and vaster than the sky

         still the world was good
            and it was cruel

                                                it was better to be a bird a
                                    crane once there was
                        once a harsh wind
            like the wind it was bitter
to be a crane once

                                                within reach

                                    but the air bit me half to death
                        and I mooed
                                             I mooed like cows moo
                                    to see if it was the sound it was the light
                                    that changed

I spread the mix on my body
to see if madness would subside

but then things got worse

            then truly
air and sun took bites

                                    eating our corneas
like moss
so everything was blue and mild and bland
            and ordered our shadow to roll
into spheres

            (so that the conjurer may speak

                        will bite into the sun

                                          will bite skin and stone
in thatthirstrisingsedimenttherehere

             until it would clearly sing the plain that/ divide by birth prairies and barren wastelands/ whitewashed with quicklime on earthly eyelids dissolving so the light/ white face on its horizon of burnt silhouettes/ its boiling pot heat snatching the

distance between its feet and/
                                                the fantasy of sand that empties the living form
of its body/                  of its journey/
basilisk for he who goes forth with a staff/ pursuing without hunting the few remaining beasts

                        (and they
that branches and roots
would detach
                        and the trees begin to     f  l  o  a  t

            like boats toward the sky
            like hills dragging the shell
until it sinks into the universal tide)


                        which is to say

we filled our head with vapors
of elusive heat
that do not seep through skin
like moss
or fig sap

but you must not believe that things
change so
that I can’t touch you

            still the world is good
            in its way

                                 good when biting with its millstone
                                                            if alarmed
                                                if spitting a stalk
                                                      battered onto stone

                        good are stones that bite
                                                            and lime
                                    the entire surface of the earth
melting with waves
like the sun
      because the pulp wants sea
                        wants to bathe
            so that the mouthful
doesn’t choke you

                        the clouds biting

                                    the sky spreads its legs
            to piss
                                    so that burnt poplars may drink
                                    that their bark thunders

                                    the earth spreads its legs
                                    because its depths thunder

                        “there planted is the dead”, says the lightning
            and the earth like fire
or tar
                     eats carbon
                                                eats alone

            and bites the beast the herded wind
                                    the weaning calf
that was molting
                        and now’s a woman’s mooing
            as ants dance about on its tongue as on a saint’s

                        bit the world

                                    and so you wouldn’t lose your realm

                                                I opened all of myself
            and passed a day in labor

arms open wide
and legs planted on the earth

            there was already
no difference
between the two

                        but still I pushed

                                                I bit my hair like crazy
            in order to hang on and so the air
                                    and earth would calm

                                                            so the roof of your house
                                             would not be battered by stars

                        I pushed to touch you

                                                I bit branches and roots
                                                and my fingers
                                                and toes
                                                until my teeth were gone

                                                until birth came into view
                                                a little moss and clay between my legs

and so the lump wouldn’t dry out
I got at it purely with tongue

and with my mouth printed
your body’s form
onto mine


the world is still good

            although cruel
                        although wounded the world
remains good
is good
            is good
                        is very good RE: <>

I began writing the long poem I call <> in 2008. To this date the first two volumes (roughly 500 pages) of the work have been published in Mexico. The poem has slowly taken shape as it’s been written. That is, the different strata that emerge (personal, historical, mythological, scientific, etc) are a direct result of a push towards an uncertain archeological and mythological consciousness which has slowly revealed itself among the long prose passages, compressed word segments, graphics, etc that seem to negotiate a space for themselves among what a reader might otherwise recognise as “verse”. The later sections of the poem delve deeper into this area, digging into the still ambiguous meaning of the two primitive masculine and feminine symbols that make up the title, and which I initially placed in contrast to each other by mere intuition. My hope is that by revealing the process of its writing, the poem will lay bare a particular movement within the fragments, , in which there is both a sense of transformation, and of a struggle to reveal something which can only be exposed through the writing itself.

I have been translating poetry into Spanish for 17 years, and think of myself not only as a poet but as a translator. However, translating one’s own work is a different thing. I don’t think one can ever feel satisfied with the end result, simply because one is perhaps too attached to a certain syntax and rhythm which underscores the original mental and verbal impulse of the writing. There are very few passages which I’ve felt capable of working out in English.  For the present fragment I purposely avoided a literal translation, as I felt that some of the sounds and nuances that one finds in these "clusters" only develop at a very basic, syllable-oriented level. I consider it a sort of "writing over" the surface of the Spanish originals which obviously breathe differently.

                                                                                    RC, June 2017

Ricardo Cázares (Mexico City, 1978) is the author of several collections of poetry including Drivethru, Es un decir, and the long poem simply titled <>. His work as a translator includes the first complete Spanish translation of Charles Olson’s The Maximus Poems, Maleza de luz, Selected Poems of Ronald Johnson, Robert Creeley’s Pieces, John Taggart’s Peace On Earth, Truong Tran’s dust and conscience, James Laughlin’s Remembering William Carlos Williams, and a comprehensive anthology of the British Poetry Revival. He is an editor and founding member of Mangos de Hacha Press, and the editor for the poetry and arts journal Mula Blanca.