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, 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.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Marthe Reed: from Ark Hive (forthcoming), printed here as a memorial & tribute

[editor’s note.  In the wake of Marthe Reed’s sudden and unexpected death earlier this month, I am opening Poems and Poetics to a commemoration of her work and spirit through the posting of an excerpt from a new book now awaiting publication.  I had known Marthe Reed first as my student at UCSD San Diego and later as a dear friend and greatly admired poet.  I would surely have published the following work (“Here and Not”), so expressive of her poetics and her project as a whole, under any circumstances, but coming so soon after her death, the sense of loss colors whatever reading I now give it.  A fragment comes to mind from one of the poems in Ark Hive called “Threnody” [lament], also in this volume:

twist into light

warm water’s
melancholy weather
like an afterimage of rain

where I find myself
bruised awake
giving way

Writes Amish Trivedi, assistant editor of this page and fellow poet, by way of introduction & tribute:

“The text presented here is from Marthe’s Reed’s Ark Hive, forthcoming posthumously from The Operating System. A poetic approach to life in south Louisiana, it’s no wonder that Reed quotes poet C.D. Wright at the start of the work as Wright’s work covering south Louisiana could no doubt be seen as a necessary prerequisite to Reed’s own project. In the opening pages, Reed approaches her predicament as if she were a researcher placed in a foreign land, situating herself among her surroundings, in the midst of a condition of place that is both physically distant and so very different from the places she had previously lived. From there, she leans into language, the language of water, of floods and earth reclaimed, only to be lost again as the seasons change in places that are far away, the words occasionally scattered across the pages like the silt that drives the Mississippi water to the Gulf of Mexico.

Ark Hive is the memoir of a person but it is also the narrative of a place, how it came to exist in the time that Reed was living there. We traverse the geography as we traverse the culture, one affected deeply by Hurricane Katrina and also the governmental response to that disaster. Here the language is erased, something that nearly happened somewhere between the storm and the individuals in charge of helping those caught in the middle. The book ends in another crisis — one for her as ‘nomadic wanderer’ and for the Louisiana coast, changed by the oil spewing from the bottom of the ocean that no one could seemingly stop.

“While south Louisiana went through change, so did Marthe, this project tying those changes together, through her own choices of form and thought and language to a kind of self-identification through place, through shared traumas. This was a place once foreign that by the end is reflective of the journey of an individual poet among many who witnessed along with her.

“Marthe Reed passed away on April 10th with Ark Hive scheduled as part of The Operating System’s 2019 “cohort,” a word choice Marthe would no doubt have loved for its sense of comradery among writers and those who publish them, something she embodied for the rest of us.”]

Here and Not

However briefly I find myself in a strange place, I am intent on locating myself; where I came from at this point is portable; I carry it with me. C.D. Wright                                                                                                                                                                                                
I was not there, yet I was there. —Ernest Gaines, A Lesson Before Dying

“Hub City,” center of Acadiana and straddling the Vermillion River, Lafayette lies almost due west of New Orleans across the Atchafalaya Basin. The basin, formed by the Mississippi as it laid down successive depositional lobes—Sale-Cypremort, Teche, and Lafourche—the great river switching back and forth finding the shortest route to the Gulf, giving rise to the whole of south Louisiana along the way. If not for the Army Corps of Engineers, its locks and levees, the Mississippi would now enter the Gulf by way of the Atchafalaya Basin and River.

My own route to Lafayette took the long way around: from Western Australia by way of Indiana, by way of San Diego, by way of Providence, Rhode Island, by way of San Diego earlier on, by way of Central California farm, an almond orchard in the countryside near Escalon.  Neither here nor there, though here nonetheless: eleven years in Lafayette. When the jet landed in New Orleans, July 2002, stepping outside our eye-glasses immediately fogged up, as when in winter elsewhere we had come in from the cold. Summer humidity in Louisiana does not rest, the evenings no less unrelenting than midday. Tomato plants give up come July, the heat of mid-morning through most of the night sapping their resilience. Wake up, stand outside in the shade, sweat. Summer teaches us to slow down, have a sno-cone: plan to exercise come winter. Here in the wet, green tangles everywhere in summer. Up telephone poles and along the wires, across bridges, through gaps in the asphalt and cracks in the sidewalk (where there are sidewalks, sometimes), wherever earth gathers unbidden in human spaces. No rooting it out. Green. Green verges beside roads and highways, ferns profligate across oaks branches, moss over wood railings, over brick and rendered walls. Green rice fields, green bottomland forest, green coastal seas, green marsh grass—prairie tremblant—shifting in the wet.

Being in, though not of this place, by what permission do I write about it, here where I live(d)?  After school, I listen to the men cutting hair at Ike’s Barber Shop, my child sitting high in the red chair listening also. Their talk flows around me, unfathomable, a French I can neither parse nor piece together, though it holds me still listening, as to the sound of water tumbling over root and rock. I overhear folk chatting in Poupart’s Bakery, cups clinking against saucers, while I order epi or baguette, the beignets and hand pies calling from the counter. Français cadien. Old world French, 17th Century and code-switching French, ‘Cadien. Mixed. Chatoui. Rat du bois.  Bequine, plaquemine, rodee. Suce-fleur. Up the bayou. Make the bahdin. Five million nutra rats eating up the coast. 

A friend invites us to dinner, her home a circle of rooms leading one into the next. No center, only the circuit: kitchen to living room to bedroom to bedroom to back room to kitchen. Did you miss me? The porch ceiling, painted “haint” blue, hints at sky warding off spirits who cannot cross water—Gullah knowledge carried across the south. Blue ceilings guard against insects also, mosquitos plying the air, owning the evening.

I walk the woods spying for raccoon tracks (chatoui, cat yes), armadillo burrows, passerine fliers stopping over. Phoebes, flycatchers, nuthatches, sparrows. I purchase guidebooks for native trees and plants, native birds. In my neighbor’s yard, bottle-brush hosts brown thrashers and ruby-throated hummingbirds; I once spotted a Baltimore Oriole, orange-and- black-bodied, among it brushes. Magnolia and live oak line the median of our street. In spring, the astonishing scent and size of magnolia blossoms, their sprawling, creamy tepals circling the green and gold “woman house” (gynoecium) and spikey yellow “man house” (andoceum). Seed-making and germination. Coming to know this place by means of books and my feet, listening: Atchafalaya pronounced uh-CHAF- uh-lie- uh not ATCH-uh- fuh-lie- uh. Puh-CAHN not PEE-can. Sound of squirrel scolds rain from the oak trees, cher become sha.

Lafayette is Catholic country, a tradition familiar and not, my mother’s Episcopalian faith never rooted in me, nor Judaism in my husband. At school, our children navigate the shoals of piety among the faithful, vegetarianism among the carnivorous. Kin-less also, we orbit the edges of extended families upon which community takes form here. Outsiders-in- the-midst. Mike digs in, devouring mounds of boiled crawfish or trays of oysters half-shelled, drenched in garlic and tabasco, washed down with a bottle of LA 31. Oysterloaf in New Orleans, rabbit plate-lunch in Lafayette, hot boudin at the roadside stop. Praising their grandmothers’ rice and gravy, dirty rice, or corn maque choux and shrimp, my students gape in disbelief when they discover I do not eat meat or seafood: “But what do you eat?” they wonder, amazed. Often Lebanese food, heritage of waves of Maronite immigrants from what would eventually be known as Lebanon.  Local eggs, mirlitons, Cajun Country Rice™, roasted chilies and grilled okra, cornbread, collards, Creole tomatoes, muscadines. Sweet corn, sweet corn, sweet corn and peaches. Pickled okra, cheese grits or Zea’s sweet corn grits with roasted red pepper coulis. Wild blackberries and pick-your- own blueberries in summer, oranges, Meyer lemons, satsumas in winter.

Writing Louisiana, outsider-inside, poles of affection and alienation push and pull against me. An astonishing and richly diverse region, both culturally and ecologically, its inhabitants have sold paradise for oil and gas money, ignored the most vulnerable, allowed schools, hospitals, and the poor to bear the burden of economic crises, crises often manufactured through tax-giveaways to the affluent and corporations, spending one-time monies as if they would last forever. Paradise is poverty-stricken, imprisoning its citizens at the highest rate in the country: 816/100,000 – far greater than even Russia’s 492. Its waters, polluted and poisoned, its coastlines washing away at perilous rates – 2000 square miles in just 80 years. By 2050, if global temperatures rise just two degrees, erosion combined with Antarctic ice melt will reduce New Orleans to an island tied to land by a bridge-cum- highway, the state’s coastline a series of slender fingers in the sea: New Iberia, Morgan City, Thibodeaux perched upon the flood.

Still, who am I to rebuke or challenge, to call into question? Is this my place, too, outsider-inside? I lived in south Louisiana eleven years, eleven years in love and in despair. Do those years cede me ground to write? No Cajun, no Creole, no Louisianan by birth or adoption? By what permission? Only love, heart broken open again and again.

Sky over New Orleans, that endless expanse of blue and cloud, high and wide as all the earth, or so it seems. Walker Percy had the way of it, “a sketch of cloud in the mild blue sky and the high thin piping of waxwings comes from everywhere.” The soft mutterings of the Gulf, water lapping sand or mud, Kate Chopin’s “voice of the sea whispering through the reeds that [grow] in the salt water pools,” “white clouds suspended idly over the horizon.”

The mass of vegetation composing a swamp: Lake Martin’s bald cypress, water tupelo, and live oaks draped in Spanish Moss, seeds afloat on the water. Elm, ash, pecan, buttonbush, palmetto.  Blue-eyed grass and red buckeye. Invasive bladderwort, water hyacinth, fanwort, coontail, duckweed, and hydrilla tangle the water where native lotus, yellow and blue flag iris, red iris and water hyssop thrive also. Powdery thalia. Sedges all along the lake’s margin. The extraordinary population of birds inhabiting the lake: White Ibises, Anhingas, Neotropic Cormorants, Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Green Herons, Great Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, Tricolored Herons, Cattle Egrets, Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, Black-crowned Night-Herons, and Great Blue Herons. Common Moorhen and American Coots, Belted Kingfishers. Along the levee trail: Pine and Yellow-throated Warblers, Northern Parula, White-eyed Vireos, and Indigo Buntings; flycatchers, woodpeckers, nuthatches, wrens. In the air and in the woods, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, Broad-winged Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, Barn Owls, Eastern Screech-Owls, Great Horned Owls, Barred Owls, Common Nighthawks. All these species and myriad others, the swamp a-thrum with life.

At Jefferson and East Main Streets, sunset rises over Pat’s Diner, saffron and orange tumult of clouds towering. Cajun shaved ice stands: watermelon, raspberry, orange, and pink lemonade—or wedding cake, guava, piña colada. Drive-through daiquiri stands where, with a quick bit of tape on the lid, you’re good to go. Fishing camps at the coast, hunting camps in the woods.  Back yard gardens, back yard chickens: agriculture given way to oil field support. Last Borden’s Ice Cream store in the nation. Dance the two-step at Blue Moon Saloon to Feufollet and Lost Bayou Ramblers. Krewes and courirs of Mardi Gras, beads stranded in the limbs of oak trees all year long. Kayak Lake Chicot, Lake Martin, Lake Fausse Pointe. Segregated city, de facto segregated schools: poor and black northside, affluent and white along the river. Meet in the middle? Festivals Acadiens et Créoles, Festival International. In the city, two public access points to the Vermillion, its winding swath obscured by private estates.  Eluding silence, I write amid fragments, from journals, photographs, memory, archives—time capsule of a disintegrating world. A place and an idea impossible to reconstruct, it falls apart inmy hands, its multitudes. What are these fragments, this narrative? I build a box of loose pages, maps, stray keys, and seeds. Memento mori. What to keep, what to give away? What will not come with me, or might? Here and not here, what to make of this place called home?

An archive is an act of memory and affection, of loss: adrift upon a skim of oil, a scud of cloud, fragments on the floating Gulf.

[N.B. Other poems by Marthe Reed appear here and here on Poems and Poetics.]

Friday, April 13, 2018

Jerome Rothenberg in Conversation with Irakli Qolbaia, on the Origins of Ethnopoetics, Deep Image, Gematria, & Other Matters

                                 Reading at Morden Tower, Newcastle, circa 1967, with Tony Harrison (left)

[This conversation was carried on between Tbilisi, Georgia & Encinitas, California in late 2017.  Other work by Irakli Qolbaia can be found here & here on Poems and Poetics.]

Irakli Qolbaia. At the first page of the new and expanded Technicians of the Sacred, one can read Diane Wakoski saying: “I will always like best those poets like Ginsberg and Rothenberg who write about serious, passionate, often doleful concerns” (goes on). Which is lovely but made me wonder, could one not say with equal justice: “. . . poets like Rothenberg, in whom even doleful and serious should be married to playful, even joyful – the act of creation itself”?  What would you make of this? I know how doleful it can get: you are one of the most important poets who came to the age of poetic creation after the World War II and whose reality was underscored by Holocaust (or rather Khurbn) and Hiroshima, and what’s more, you especially decided to take these as some of your prime concerns. You, along with some others, seem to have decided to (quoting Olson) “put your hand down to these dead.” Meaning, witnessing and experiencing the world, in the fullest sense of these words, as one of the responsibilities of the poem.

Jerome Rothenberg. It’s my memory that Wakoski was commenting here on Poland/1931 and possibly a somewhat later work like A Seneca Journal, and that she went on to specify what she meant as “a poetry which has historical and archetypal themes, which can be described as representing a culture and which tries to present, through a prescribed set of imagery and stylized vocabulary, a whole mode of perception.” And all of that could fairly be said to be an aspect of what I was pursuing then, and maybe in different ways later, including very much the big anthologies and assemblages like Technicians of the Sacred and Shaking the Pumpkin.  Yet “doleful” alone, or even when augmented by “serious” and “passionate,” would seem to pin me down, to limit me or Ginsberg or any other poet to a portion of our writing, something Wakoski recognized as well when she expanded the range of her description.  And I can think of another aspect of my work (several aspects in fact) with which this necessarily elides – the more experimental and playful, even the more rhythmic and performative, if it comes to that.
                In saying that of course I don’t at all deny “the doleful” or the responsibility – to call it that, as you do – to let the poem witness, by every means possible, the horrors we grew up with and that continue to confront us into the present.  I feel that as an underlying presence in whatever I do as a poet, even as I search for new means and procedures, including those in which I can bring other voices and presences into the poem. Maybe an antidote too to self-indulgent self-expression, by making the poem into a conduit for the hapless dead and others rather than an instrument of self-expression: a gathering of other voices, other times.

IQ.  So, I am inquiring, I guess, this double nature of your poetry, of “serious/doleful” and “playful/humorous”. I know such has always been the part of the thing, but I think more about you more than Allen in the sense that in your work I see that sense of joyfulness and playfulness on the level of creation, very fundamentally, that is, in the procedures themselves, as if the joy and playfulness were at the core of the poetic activity. I am reminded also of the Jesus Christ words you love to quote: “if thou wouldst understand that which is me, know this: all that I have said I have uttered playfully – and I was by no means ashamed of it” (Acts of St. John)
JR. I think there are two – at least two – impulses at work here: an ironic and skeptical view of the world-at-large and an element of play that seems present to me in all poetry as a highly developed form of language art.  It’s with these in mind, it seems to me, that Plato drives the poets from his authoritarian republic, with an awareness perhaps of the sources of poetry in the transgressive narratives and comic performances of sacred clowns and tricksters, but touching on Athenian tragedy and comedy as well.  In place of those what remains of poetry, as Plato would have it, are “hymns to the gods and the praises of famous men.”  For myself, by contrast, I find the calling-into-question of gods and men a sign of social and spiritual health deeply imbedded in the human psyche – not all that poetry can give us, but lacking which, poetry becomes a largely empty vessel.  I would also point out that the quote from Jesus is apocryphal, even heretical, and reflects the relevance of outsider or outsided texts, one of the areas of greatest interest to me in the mapping or remapping of poetry and poetics over new/old areas of space and time.
Then, the other aspect of poetry’s playfulness, has to do with its ongoing attention to formal experimentation and constraint as a kind of lyrical game theory, an element of play in all poetry, as a matter of fancy as well as imagination (to use the old-fashioned Romanticist terms) – “in the procedures themselves,” as you say.  For me, once freed from traditional rhymes and meters, the concern with procedures continues in multiple ways, often enough as a strategy to preclude too much expressionism and subjectivity in the process of composition.  In that mode, for example, I turned some years ago to a traditional form of Jewish numerology – gematria – that played off the fact that all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet were also numbers, so that all words were thereby sums of numbers.  This allowed the pairing or equating of similarly numbered words and phrases, traditionally for the confirming of orthodoxies, but open for myself and those like me to surprising new turns and twists: “an entry” (as I wrote) “into the kinds of correspondences / constellations that have been central to modernist and ‘post’modernist poetry experiments over the last century and a half.”  So, the following, for example, somewhere between orthodoxy and transgression:

Without God

Without terror.

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

A womb                                             I am
he devours.                                        nothing.

A Vision (1)                                       A Vision (2)

Beat it                                                God
with power.                                       is crushed.

A Curse

Your father
shall live.


or enough.

In the end, too, when I was commissioned later for a series of poems about the Jewish holocaust I turned again to gematria, playing off the Hebrew spellings of the World War2 extermination camps and drawing from the biblical vocabulary that this provided me. Thus:

now the serpent:

I will bring back
their taskmasters
crazy & mad

will meet them
deep in the valley
& be subdued

separated in life
uncircumcised, needy
shoes stowed away

how naked they come
my fathers
my fathers

angry & trembling
the serpents
you have destroyed

their faces remembered
small in your eyes,
shut down, soiled

see a light
take shape in the pit,
someone killed

torn in pieces
a terror, a god,
go down deeper

It was my contention here, as with other such formal procedures, “that this small degree of objective chance would not so much mask feeling or meaning as allow it to emerge.”
All of which brings me, I suppose, to the final term in your question: the sense of “joy” or “joyfulness” as it enters into or emerges from the work at hand – an antidote perhaps to the doleful and serious side that you or Wakoski were calling to attention.  It’s a quality – an experience really – that I sometimes find it hard to get at but that I think emerges in the willingness to endure and when the energy of the effort builds up and allows me to persist.  And I think I feel it most – sometimes at least – in performance, even at the end of a serious and doleful work like Khurbn: a relief and a release, to have gotten it said: something very visceral after all the mind-work.  And in other works of course the dolefulness may not even be present.

IQ: I find it, then, appropriate if we move now to the territory I could not help invoking. I mean the period and place around which you emerged as a poet. I recall Jacques Roubaud calling it ‘the explosion of poetry in America’ and that’s how many of us still feel, fascinated and overwhelmed by it, distanced as we may be, both geographically and temporally, from that initial explosion. So please, do give us your personal insight into that time, that moment of ‘big bang’.  Asking this, what I have in mind is that for many of us, the Don Allen anthology and your later assemblages and gatherings served as vital historical documents, and an invitation to enter and participate.
     “There has been a break somewhere,” informs us, joyously, Williams, of his own time. What was the break you experienced? “Poetry is the only news,” wrote, I recall, Robert Kelly. What was the news you felt you were bringing?                                                                                              
     And lastly, please tell us who were some people, present then, for you, as teachers and companions? I know of your closeness with David Antin, Robert Kelly and others, among the young poets of your age, from early sixties on, but also of your fruitful exchanges, with the older poets, like Paul Blackburn, Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan. Was this an apprenticeship? And what were some of the things that you learned?

JR.  The past, for some of us, doesn’t seem so far past, though we know it is. For me and many of us, the news by the late 1950s was both new and had a trace of the past about it – a conviction that an earlier experimental and transformational modernism, assigned to the ash-heap of history by an intervening generation, was still alive and ready for us to transform it further, as our own time demanded.  Like today that time was marked by an upswing of authoritarianism from all directions – different from the second world war but coloring our lives in postwar America – to which the reaction on the literary side came first in a counterpoetics against those who would block the experimental and new.  For all of us, I think, there was the accompanying excitement about the emergence of a “new American poetry,” but for some of us there was the recognition of a similar uprising throughout the world and a recognition that our key forerunners were not only Williams and Pound, for most of us, and Stein and Cummings for others, but also that we were drawing heavily as well from the near European past.  Along with that of course we were beginning or continuing an exploration of ancient, sometimes occulted sources from throughout the world.  So my own early explorations of ethnopoetics fit into that – a continuation also from poets like Tzara and Cendrars, the Surrealists, and many others. Also I would point out that Technicians of the Sacred, as a starter, came from and connected with what Kelly and I were calling “deep image,” but much more than that, as I sometimes tried to show.  At the same time too, most of the poets I knew were moving headlong into performance – a new orality and a linkage also, too often ignored or too often exaggerated, with contemporary jazz and an emerging rock n roll.
So, it was by the late 1950s or early 1960s that the poetry world, as I knew it, began rapidly expanding, and what had started with my own cadre of poets in New York – Antin, Kelly, Schwerner, Economou, Owens, and Wakoski – brought an equally close connection with Blackburn, Eshleman, and Mac Low, among many many others.  Even more notably I began to make contact with poets outside of my zone of comfort: Duncan and Snyder on the west coast, Creeley in New Mexico and later in Buffalo, Zukofsky and Oppen among older American poets, Hollo and Tarn in England and later in the U.S., Enzensberger in Germany, Roubaud and Jean-Pierre Faye in France, Fluxus poets and artists everywhere, and on and on.  What can I say about that but that the times were right, then and in the years that followed, and led me to feel more and more a part of a far-flung company of poets.  That was the “big bang” for me, at least the poetry part of it, because it stopped me from being too narrowly focused but opening to a whole range of possibilities for poetry and what a French friend, Michel Giroud, described to me later as “an avant-garde that cannot be defeated.”
The turmoil and changes in the larger world were also increasing, as they always do, and by the end of the decade we were all caught up in the dynamics of resistance.

IQ. Deep Image, Ethnopoetics, Total Translation, Omnipoetics... These are only a few of the concepts / practices that you have contributed in modern poetry or poesis. All your books - whether the books of your own poems or your gatherings and anthologies - have contributed to these, and of course these have contributed to one another. I wish you'd talk just a bit about what some of these practices meant (as, for now, they may be vaguer for a Georgian reader). But especially I have been interested by the turn these workings and insights have recently taken: the poetry of Outside and Subterranean.
Such has involved all poetries that, without having necessarily been qualified as such, have, throughout the ages involved and invoked something in extremis, something "barbaric, vast and wild"; and, has involved the writings of the so-called "Primitive" people, of shamans, of the Jewish “mystics, thieves and madmen,” of the voices long suppressed, of those victimized by oppression, of the heretical, blasphemous, of the "mentally ill", but this, it is worth noting, along with the people considered generally as poets, those who have uncontestably belonged to the "Paradise of Poets".
          So can you tell us about this? Your personal "symposium of the whole", now for so long in the making? And, further, what is still to be contributed in this area? How can future poets (or not) further extend this terrain?

JR. Now that I’ve reached an age when I can look back so far, I’m amazed at what a fifty or sixty-year span looks like.  For me, to pick up on the terms you mention, the involvement in the early 1960s with “deep image” now appears as an attempt to extend some of the concerns of our Surrealist predecessors and by doing that to revitalize simultaneously the imagism and objectivism of an earlier American avant-garde.  A few years into that and prodded by conversations with Kelly and Duncan among others, I saw the depth in deep image as connected also to a deeper past, and that in turn would lead me, by research and translation, to what I came to call ethnopoetics.  I had been fascinated from early on by translation and by writing in part or in whole through the work of others – the anthologies as one way to do that and translation as another.  My contribution here was the idea of “total translation” (translating sound and event as well as meaning) but also still other forms of what Haroldo de Campos called “transcreation” and I called “othering.”  I also felt impelled to open the field further – as far as I could take it – to include previously excluded, even despised voices, “outside & subterranean,” where I felt the language of poetry speaking through them.  There was in that something like what Duncan had called “a symposium of the whole” and that I’ve recently been speaking of as an omnipoetics.
So, much of what I’m saying here is directed today against the renewed forms of racism and ethnicism that we see rising around us – a call now, as it was fifty years ago – to welcome the diversity of poetries and lives that our own writing and gathering can help to advance.  This is a continuing process, as I see it, and not restricted at all to the smaller field of poetry.  That field however is where I chose to test my powers and to help construct (who knows?) a kind of model for the world at large.