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

Monday, August 24, 2015

Jonathan C. Stalling: Yíngēlìshī [Sinophonic English] & a New Global Poetics

[What follows is a taste of Jonathan Stalling’s Yíngēlìshī (Counterpath Press), an amazing instance of experimental “translation” or othering (here between or as a blending of Chinese & English) that may have been overlooked at the time of its original publication.  What I wrote of it then I think still holds, viz: “The magic in these poems is in the incredibly generative force that Stalling derives from the juxtaposition of sounds between his two target languages, English & Chinese.  The overlap & mix, while it may resemble other procedures in contemporary experimental poetry, is in other ways unprecedented – drawing from the experience of bilingual speakers & a deep understanding of underlying strains in the poetry of both languages, with the result, even for those of us limited to the written or spoken English words, of a ravishingly beautiful series of poems both spoken & sung.  I have now been going through these from a number of different directions, reading & listening, finding satisfactions, like those of all real poetry, that grow deeper & richer from one immersion to the next.  Yíngēlìshi, once entered, has enough pleasures to last a reader’s lifetime.”
          A fuller sounding of the “opera” derived from this can be found at (J.R.)]

I. Prologue
Years ago now
I spent a morning in a small park
at the center of Beijing Normal University.
Hunched over in benches,
or pacing back and forth,
students are reading English aloud from textbooks.
I can’t recall what anyone was saying;
I had not attended to the frequency of meaning,
but to the frequencies of sound—
the strange opening of Chinese vibrations
beneath the surface of each English word.

They spoke Chinese syllables
rearranged into English syntax and diction;
and Chinese made a home in English,
had become English
without having stopped being Chinese.

Turn you head slightly to the left,
and you hear English,

slightly to the right,

straight ahead, neither,

We were all foreigners here.
In this fusion of Chinese and English
we all have a choice to make.
We can pull back the curtain of sound
to peek through the windows
or just rest a while in our dark rooms.

For years I immersed myself
in this Yíngēlìshī
and its chanted songs, its beautiful poetry
have changed everything
I thought I knew about our languages

II. Introducing Yíngēlìshī

I call this fusion of my two languages, Sinophonic English, or, Yíngēlìshī 吟歌丽诗 (spelled in Sinophonic English). I have chosen these characters to oppose popular ideas of  “Chinglish” as “bad English.” Instead, I want to bring awareness to its eerie poetic beauty, its haunting music, and to the absolutely singular poetry it is capable of generating. Of course, “Sinophonic English” is not particular to the students in the park, but is fast becoming a dominant global dialect of English. A fusion of the two primary languages of globalization: Chinese and English, variations of this Sinophonic English is being spoken by more people than there are Americans alive (over 350 million), and has already begun to transform the language of the global marketplace. English purists everywhere will no doubt begin to clamor toward “rescuing” English from this Sinophonic dialect, but I am more interested in experimenting with this new global language. Since 1997 I have been experimenting with this linguistic fusion and working toward a transpacific imagination where a Chinese-English poetry, poetics, philosophy, and ethics might be born in a language that belongs to both Chinese and English speakers, and yet neither as well. But in the end, I have simply fallen in love with both the poetry generated between these languages and the translingual voices that emanate from them.

To bring this dream of Yíngēlìshī 吟歌丽诗 into the world, I have rewritten a large portion of a totally ordinary English phrasebook that you can pick up in most any Chinese bookstore, which teaches English through transliteration. In a sense, this book is not unlike Duchamp’s “urinal” insofar as both are “found art.” But I have totally rewritten this book by changing all the original’s simple Chinese characters (chosen to “pronounce” common English phrases) into complex Chinese poetic phrases and “poems.” I have recomposed the Chinese in mixture of modern and Classical characters to suggest passages resonating with Confucian meanings like the Sinophonic fusion of the characters     gū dé mào níng which can be translated as “Even alone, the Moral one appears peaceful” but is heard by the English speaker as “Good Morning.” So the Sinophonic poems that make up the first half of this book exist as short Chinese character stanzas, but like the phrase book, they are sandwiched within Chinese and English to reveal to all readers what is taking place both aurally and semantically in the poem. Take for example this more Buddhist leaning stanza:

Please Forgive me
pǔ lì sī , fó gěi fú mí
vast private profits,
Buddha offers impermanent mysteries

Here only the line “普利私,佛给浮谜” is truly Sinophonic English poetry, but the other lines are there to let both Chinese and English readers know what the line means in both Chinese and English.

So on one level this is a book of experimental Chinese poetry that blends classical allusions and contemporary vernacular to be read as “stand-alone” Chinese poems, yet to the English speaker, the very same characters resonate accented English phrases that tell the story of a Chinese speaker who uses his/her limited English to negotiate the trials of traveling to and becoming lost in America. For as it turns out, the phrases of this handbook end up constructing a narrative, a tragedy in fact since the “protagonist” is robbed soon after arriving in America and is left alone in an alien language and land with no friends, no money, no passport and no way to understand the English language which appears to have swallowed her/him whole. When I first read this simple phrase book, I felt so moved, not because of its melodramatic tenor that capitalizes on the commonly exaggerated danger of traveling abroad, but because of the accented voice that never really becomes English because it never really stops being Chinese. If the vulnerable voice of the protagonist is the tragic “chanted song” of this book, then the poems that take shape within the phonetic architecture of this simple story are its beautiful poetry.

What emerges on the pages
is a figment of a transpacific imagination,
a dimly remembered dream of translingual consciousness
born in the strange half-light of cross-linguistic procreation.

Regardless of whether you are an English Speaker
a Chinese speaker (or both),
it is my hope that you will wake up
from this dream of reading
with the dim memory of having spoken in another’s language.

III. “Evolving from Embryo and Changing the Bones: Translating the Sonorous”

The second half of this book offers a variation on the dream of Yíngēlìshī 吟歌丽诗. What would it be like to translate sound itself? What if we could translate not only the meanings of poems, but their songs? The poems in this section arise from such an attempt by invoking Huang Tingjian’s (黃庭堅 1045-1105) notion of 夺胎 换骨or “evolving from embryo and changing the bones” which instructs poets to create their own poetry by either mimicking the content or the form of earlier poetry. An exquisite poet of the first order, Huang Tingjian, raised mimicry to the level of high art and philosophy by revealing that every act of mimicry results in an act of transformation. My translations follow both of Huang’s directives to mimic both the content (all translation does this) and the form by following all the basic aural constraints of Classical Chinese poetic forms (number of syllables, rhyme schemes, and tonal prosody).


           shè    qīng     qīng                  lin          xīn 
guèst     ìnn    greēn    greēn      wil            lòw   sheēn

Yet these poems are also only figments of transpacific imagination: for even the same sounds (untranslated) are not the same sounds to those who hear them. There is no single, original song because everyone who hears it, feels it differently (especially those from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds). So why try… Ezra Pound would argue that one should “Fill [your] mind with the finest cadences [you] can discover, preferably in a foreign language.”  But I am not sure we need to reduce these poems to such “usefulness”; instead in my earliest publication of Sinophonic English I wrote that “I write Chinese in English and English in Chinese, which, in its simultaneous success and failure, offers not a translation but a space for the translingual to be imagined.” (Chain, 2003, 109)

[author’s addendum. This excerpt from my collection of poems Yingelishi was published on the Poems and Poetics blog in 2009, a full year before the work was performed as an Opera at Yunnan University and two years before it was published by Counterpath Press in its current book form ( In the years since, I have continued to explore the interlingual and transgraphic spaces between Chinese and English leading to my latest work “Mirrored Resonance: The English Rime Tables,” a recreation of a 12th century Chinese “rime table” (an ancient pronunciation dictionary that uses Chinese characters to represent sounds rather than meanings) where I am replicating every formal aspect of the original (a slow process as I am constructing a movable woodblock printing press to do so). While it may look like a Chinese text, it is not. Instead the work is an embodiment of a totally new system of transcribing English into Chinese Characters which functions with the same or greater phonetic precision as the Latin alphabet.  The whole English language now lives in this script (over 130,000 words though the rime tables only use a representative sample). Until the rime tables are complete, the work primarily takes the form of lectures and demonstrations. The first was a TEDx talk (delivered to a general audience with a focus on the “origin story” and “applicability/utility” rather than poetics) and the second was delivered at Penn State in March 2015 where I discuss this work in relation to a set of theoretical concepts I have tagged as “graphonic drifting”, “phonotaxis,” and “heterographia,” and in relation to notions of “the sacred” as it relates to sound especially across and between languages.]

Monday, August 17, 2015

Symposium of the Whole To Be Reissued: An Announcement & Pre-Face

[In advance of the expanded third edition of Technicians of the Sacred on which I’m now working, University of California Press is planning to reissue the long out-of-print Symposium of the Whole: A Range of Discourse Toward an Ethnopoetics, edited by Diane Rothenberg & me in 1983.  In Symposium, as a kind of natural companion volume to Technicians, we’ve followed the idea of an ethnopoetics from predecessors such as Vico, Blake, Thoreau, & Tzara to more recent essays & manifestos by poets & social thinkers such as Olson, Eliade, Snyder, Turner, & Baraka.  The themes range widely,  from the divergence of oral & written cultures to the shaman as proto-poet & the reemergence of suppressed & rejected forms & images: the goddess, the trickster, & the “human universe” among others The book’s three ethnographic sections (“Workings,” “Meanings” & “Doings”) demonstrate how various poetries are structured & composed, how they reflect meaning & worldview, & how they are performed in cultures where all art may be thought of as art-in-motion.  “The cumulative effect,” as the book’s old cover has it, “is a new reading of the poetic past and present, in the editors’ words ‘a changed paradigm of what poetry was or now could come to be.’” 
           What follows here is the opening of the Pre-face to the 1983 edition. (J.R.)] 

When the industrial West began to discover – and plunder – “new” and “old” worlds beyond its boundaries, an extraordinary countermovement came into being in the West itself.  Alongside the official ideologies that shoved European man to the apex of the human pyramid, there were some thinkers and artists who found ways of doing and knowing among other peoples as complex as any in Europe and often virtually erased from European consciousness. Cultures described as “primitive” and “savage” – a stage below “barbarian” – were simultaneously the models for political and social experiments, religious and visionary revivals, and forms of art and poetry so different from European norms as to seem revolutionary from a later Western perspective.  It was almost, looking back at it, as if every radical innovation in the West were revealing a counterpart – or series of counterparts – somewhere in the traditional worlds the West was savaging.
The present gathering will center on the poetics of the matter and will map, from the perspective of the editors, a discourse on poetics (really a range of such discourses) that has been a vital aspect of twentieth-century poetry and art – with precedents going back two centuries and more. The poetics in question, which we will speak of as an “ethnopoetics,” reemerged after World War II (with its rampant and murderous racism) and the dislocations of the European colonial system during the postwar period.  Whenever it has appeared—and some version of it may be as old as human consciousness itself – it has taken the form of what the anthropologist Stanley Diamond, in a recently renewed “critique of civilization,” calls “the search for the primitive” or, more precisely, the “attempt to define a primary human potential.” The search as such is by no means confined to the “modern” world (though our concern with it will be just there) but is felt as well, say, in the words of ancient Heraclites often cited by Charles Olson: “Man is estranged from that with which he is most familiar.” And it is present too in the thought of those the West had cast as ultimate “primitives,” as when the Delaware Indians tell us in their Walum Olum: 

in the beginning of the world
all men had knowledge cheerfully
all had leisure
all thoughts were pleasant 

at that time all creatures were friends . . . 

The past is what it is – or was – but it is also something we discover and create through a desire to know what it is to be human, anywhere.
Some of the results of that search and its attendant yearnings are obvious by now – so much so that a principal defense against their power to transform us involves an attack on a primitivism debased by the attackers and abstracted thereby from its revolutionary potential.  Such a primitivism is not in any case the stance of this collection.  Nor is our interest directed backward toward a past viewed with feelings of decontextualized nostalgia.  It is our contention, in fact, that the most experimental and future-directed side of Romantic and modern poetry, both in the Western world and increasingly outside it, has been the most significantly connected with the attempt to define an ethnopoetics.
There is a politics in all of this, and an importance, clearly, beyond the work of poets and artists. The old “primitive” models in particular – of small and integrated, stateless and classless societies – reflect a concern over the last two centuries with new communalistic and anti-authoritarian forms of social life and with alternatives to the environmental disasters accompanying an increasingly abstract relation to what was once a living universe. Our belief in this regard is that a re-viewing of “primitive” ideas of the “sacred” represents an attempt – by poets and others – to preserve and enhance primary human values against a mindless mechanization that has run past any uses it may once have had.  (This, rather than the advocacy of some particular system, seems to us the contribution of the “primitive” to whatever world we may yet hope to bring about.) As a matter of history, we would place the model in question both in the surviving, still rapidly vanishing stateless cultures and in a long subterranean tradition of resistance to the twin authorities of state and organized religion.
What we’re involved with here is a complex redefinition of cultural and intellectual values: a new reading of the poetic past and present which Robert Duncan speaks of as “a symposium of the whole.” In such a new “totality,” he writes, “all the old excluded orders must be included. The female, the proletariat, the foreign; the animal and vegetative; the unconscious and the unknown; the criminal and failure – all that has been outcast and vagabond must return to be admitted in the creation of what we consider we are.”  If that or some variant thereof is taken as the larger picture, it can provide the context in which to see most clearly the searches and discoveries in what we call “the arts.”  In painting and sculpture, say, the results of those searches are by now so well known that there’s little surprise left in marking the change from Ruskin’s late nineteenth-century comment, “There is no art in the whole of Africa, Asia, and America,” to Picasso’s exclamation on his first sighting of an African sculpture, “It is more beautiful than the Venus de Milo.” Yet the obviousness of the change is itself deceptive. The “human” concerns demanded by the Dada poet Tristan Tzara—for an art that “lives first of all for the functions of dance, religion, music, and work”—remain largely submerged in the “aesthetic”; and it’s a long way too from Picasso’s classicizing admiration of the static art object to the reality of a tribal/oral “art in motion” (Robert Farris Thompson’s term) that brings all our scattered arts together.
This dream of a total art—and of a life made whole—has meant different things and been given different names throughout this century. “lntermedia” was a word for it in its 1960s manifestation – also “total theater” and “happenings” – behind which was the sense of what the nineteenth-century Wagnerian consciousness had called Gesamtkunstwerk and had placed – prefigured – at the imagined beginnings of the human enterprise. The difference in our own time was to smash that imperial and swollen mold, to shift the primary scene from Greece, say, to the barbaric or paleolithic past, or to the larger, often still existing tribal world, and to see in that world (however “outcast and vagabond” it had been made to look) a complexity of act and vision practiced by proto-poets/proto-artists who were true “technicians of the sacred.”  And along with this shift came the invention and revival of specific means: new materials and instruments (plastic and neon, film and tape) alongside old or foreign ones (stones, bones, and skin; drums, didjeridoos, and gamelans); ancient roles and modes of thought that had survived at the Western margins (sacred clowns and dancers, shamanistic ecstasies, old and new works of dream and chance); and a tilt toward ritual, not as “an obsessional concern with repetitive acts” but, as Victor Turner describes it, “an immense orchestration of genres in all available sensory codes: speech, music, singing; the presentation of elaborately worked objects, such as masks; wall-paintings, body-paintings; sculptured forms; complex, many-tiered shrines; costumes; dance forms with complex grammars and vocabularies of bodily movements, gestures, and facial expressions.”
The description, which fits both “them” and “us,” holds equally true in the language arts – as this book will attempt to show – though by the nature of language itself (and the need to translate ourselves in – always – partial forms) the complexity and the interplay of new and old haven’t been as clear there. Taken as a whole, then, the human species presents an extraordinary richness of verbal means – both of languages and poetries – closed to us until now by an unwillingness to think beyond the conventions and boundaries of Western literature. This “literature” as such goes back in its root meaning to an idea of writing—more narrowly and literally, the idea of alphabetic writing (littera, Lat. = letters) as developed in the West.  In poetry, the result has been to exclude or set apart those oral traditions that together account for the greatest human diversity, an exclusion often covered over by a glorification of the oral past. Thus Marshall McLuhan – defining the words “tribal” and “civilized” on the basis of alphabetic literacy alone – can write: “Tribal cultures like those of the Indian and Chinese [!] may be greatly superior to the Western cultures in the range and delicacy of their expressions and perception,” and in the same paragraph: “Tribal cultures cannot entertain the possibility of the individual or of the separate citizen.”
If the recovery of the oral is crucial to the present work, it goes hand in hand with a simultaneous expansion of the idea of writing and the text, wherever and whenever found. To summarize rapidly what we elsewhere present in extended form, the oral recovery involves a poetics deeply rooted in the powers of song and speech, breath and body, as brought forward across time by the living presence of poet-performers, with or without the existence of a visible/literal text. The range of such poetries is the range of human culture itself, and the forms they take (different for each culture) run from wordless songs and mantras to the intricacies (imagistic and symbolic) of multileveled oral narratives; from the stand-up performances of individual shamans and bards to the choreographies of massed dancers and singers, extended sometimes over protracted periods of time. From the side of visual and written language—which may, like the oral, be as old as the species itself—a fully human poetics would include all forms of what Jacques Derrida calls archécriture (= primal writing): pictographs and hieroglyphs, aboriginal forms of visual and concrete poetry, sand paintings and earth mappings, gestural and sign languages, counting systems and numerologies, divinational signs made by man or read (as a poetics of natural forms) in the tracks of animals or of stars through the night sky.
That practices like these correspond to experimental moves in our own time isn’t needed to justify them, but it indicates why we’re now able to see them and to begin to understand as well the ways they differ from our own work. Other areas in which such correspondences hold true may be more involved with “idea” than “structure,” though the distinction isn’t always easy to maintain. Traditional divination work, for example – the Ifa oracles of Africa, say, or the Chinese I Ching – rests on the recognition of a world revealed moment by moment through processes of chance and synchronicity (i.e., the interrelatedness of simultaneous events), and these processes in turn inform one major segment of our avant-garde.  Similarly, the widespread practice of exploring the “unknown” through the creation of new languages shows a strong sense of the virtual nature of reality (what Senghor speaks of as the traditional surreal) and the linguistic means to get it said. The idea of the surreal – at its most meaningful – also suggests the dream-works so central to other cultures and so long submerged in ours. And from these, or through them, it’s only a short step into a life lived in a state-of-myth (“reality at white heat,” Radin called it) and to the recovery of archetypes (as image and/or symbol) that infuse our own work at its most heated: the animal and trickster side of us; the goddess and the feminine; the sense of “earth as a religious form” and of a living, even human, universe; and the commitment to imaginal geographies and journeys that lead into our own lives and minds. These are as old as the human, maybe older, and they come back to us, transformed, not so much when we shut out the immediate world around us as when we choose to work within it.
The twentieth century – and with it the attendant modernisms that have characterized our poetry and art – is by now fading out. It has been a long haul and a sometimes real adventure, but the work is in no way complete and some of the major points have still to be hammered home. My own choice has been to write from the side of a modernism that sees itself as challenging limits and changing ways of speaking/thinking/doing that have too long robbed us of the freedom to be human to the full extent of our powers and yearnings. The struggle is immediate and the objects and attitudes to be destroyed or transformed appear on every side of us. But it isn’t a question of our having no sense of history or of the human past – no sense of possibilities besides the most apparent. The clincher, in fact, is the transformation beyond that, of our consciousness of the human in all times and places.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Anne Tardos: Nine Poems from “Nine”

[Anne Tardos, whose poetry & performances have enlightened us for several decades now, emerges in Nine (BlazeVox Books, forthcoming) as an innovator of new forms that serve as a vehicle for work that incorporates, like all great poetry, the fullest range of thoughts & experiences & makes them stick in mind & memory.  The form in question is called a “nine,” the reach & depth of which is described by Rachel Blau DuPlessis in the opening of a powerful introductory essay: “Anne Tardos has invented a form that is a mode of practice and thus a mode of being in language, expressed in this book with a patient excitement. It's called a ‘nine’: ‘Nine words per line and nine lines per stanza’ (Nine 1). The first words you see in this book demystify the practice and tell you the form. Like many procedural forms, the Nine is number based with things to count. It only remains to add that most of the lines are end-stopped, autonomous and poised in themselves, whether they are word salad, meditative messages, observations, part of a life-long list to oneself, thought-associations, or a-contextual propositions. Sometimes there are lines that follow from each other logically or narratively, associatively or in summary, but this is not a necessity. The regularity of the book Nine is modular: a series of boxes to open, a series of rooms to enter, a series of lines to account for. The ‘room’ of the stanza is also enclosing of the reader without, in most instances, becoming claustrophobic or oppressive. This is because the lines are each porous in relation to each other. Now you know almost everything except the mysteriously elegant and calming feeling that this book gives.”
               Additional excerpts from an earlier version of Nine were published here in Poems and Poetics on December 8, 2011.] 


Nine Words per line and nine lines per stanza
Pink fluffy underwater kangaroo fuzzy free manic rabbity thing.
Sense and nonsense similarly writer’s block clogged and unblocked.
Happiness nothing really blue so you can start living.
Laptop immersion fools your brain into thinking whatever needed.
Gazebo-tranquility-ragweed, condemned to live with the Self.
Find yourself totally isolated strict exile a common ploy.
Like you, I’m impatient as we become each other.
Bright green primary features evolving society—the age thing.


Sleep being slept, a bird has something to say.
Reality flip flop artistic failure extremely hard to explain.
Foggy zendo vigilance gendergap understanding the desire to live.
Levitating underbelly slime, dengue fever ankle deep, vilification zigzag.
I love you too dear—count your chickens carefully.
Echo chamber plant life, cellular reality, yellow rent abatement.
Quiet knucklehead comradery a thousand hopes subject to change.
Infinity appears in repeated mirror images perceived as reflection.
Zealous devotion to waxwork sex, because Sigmund said so.


Birthing velocity’s snapshot-like nature, pushed to the extreme.
It is Racine not Montaigne for most lovers’ discourse.
To suddenly fall upon the old dialectic of enlightenment.
And what is masturbation if not a homosexual act?
A role to play must have a visible function.
We are being categorized in the realm of tonality.
A counterintuitive yearning for the quiescence of pre-birth.
The way our twig’s bent is how we grow.
Empty thermos, unkissed nose tip, text rotation, marsupial nesting.


Kerchief ligament pirouette darkness jettison mother of invention boy-toy.
Zany foxy smoke alarm tremolo evacuation juniper ginger dimple.
Zinguer je je zinguer je, mich dich Villa nicht.
Every thought first thought in the visible universe, strange.
Zendo cushion run for it go. Long ago Labrador.
Swift recollection tired Daphne just like our overheated relationshit.
Something has changed I felt giddy I felt sick.
Since women. Forget it. No way. Barbaric and inhumane.
Learning a lot here: I’m wrong in being wrong.


Djibouti laptop polyrhythmic stevedore imagination for example people die.
Yeah yeah yeah listen to the music around you.
Plagiarize and cannibalize yourself by mining your own work.
Counter-sadistic anti-suffering vraiment triste faché becoming real.
Don’t think for a minute that you don’t exist.
First, get used to the sound of my voice.
Bob Perelman knows what Maisie knew about her parents.
Katy Lederer didn’t have money. She was a poet.
Mitch Highfill keeps a pet moth in his mind.

dirty love you

Dirty birthday, suntan-benevolence of impenetrable and incendiary nature.
Vibrations and particularized energy formations make some sense somehow.
Mind-independent reality: Haley’s Comet exists even if we don’t.
Hold your lover’s hand, and tomorrow will be yesterday.
When in ill thoughts again, stop everything but breathing.
Life is cool. Nothing need be done about it.
Jewish reconstructionism in Mamároneck, why just a minute ago.
When out of context, nothing will ever make sense.
Now I understand you because now I love you.


Mix of funk and freejazz Miles Davis musical response.
Lucretius saw the universe as something having a nature.
Bernstein: “Estrangement is our home ground”—Yukon bullfrog flu.
Barely arrived, it seems, and almost time to leave.
If narrowness were the price of intensity—not necessarily.
Adeena Karasick textacy and her rules of textual engagement.
Segue Zen coffee house Segue haunted lightning Segue offerings.
Place holders and temporary solutions require tolerance trust imagination.
Rachel Zolf Israeli-Palestinian Lesbian writing methods her Gematria.


Filling what is empty—it does keep getting better.
Dubious fanatical relationship-focus brilliant thinking interesting, I write.
Cleverly observed in retrospect via dark tunnels to New Jersey.
Honesty because it’s easier and honesty because it’s easier.
All of a sudden we can’t be far behind.
Together we can be keen, intelligent, well-meaning, and visible.
Like two shadows, never to be overtaken by anyone.
I quietly become agitated like a storm-tossed ship.
Now I’ll confess something to you: I don’t know.


How totally awful. How can anyone be so callous?
That cute smile and that glimmer in one’s eyes.
Bill Luoma uses the word “raw” as a noun.
Just look at all that raw covering his neurasthenia.
How his neurons respond to stimuli with exaggerated force.
“Let me listen to me, and not to them.”
Thinking of you brings me to my knees with longing.
Life could be seen as some kind of spasm.
Smitten in mid-spill the baby and the bathwater.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Jerome Rothenberg: “The Hell of Smoke,” for the anniversary of the Hiroshima holocaust

[On the anniversary today of the Hiroshima holocaust I thought to post a poem of mine written some fifteen years after the event & later performed with the Japanese novelist Oda Makoto and composer Charlie Morrow under the auspices of the Bread & Puppet Theater.  The event, “Auschwitz/Hiroshima,” was a dirge for the murders by fire that marked our time and too many times before & after.  The Jigoku Zoshi is a Japanese scroll of hells that dates back to the twelfth century.] 


the seventh hell: of smoke where fire-raisers try in vain to escape
                               from a shower of hot sand falling from a cloud 

The houses of men are on fire
            Pity the dead in their graves
                        & the bones of the living
Pity the roof beams whose waters burn till they’re ash
Pity the old clouds devoured by the clouds of hot sand
& the sweat that’s drawn out of metals pity that too
Pity the teeth robbed of gold
            The bones when their skin falls away
Pity man’s cry when the sun is born in his cities
& the thunder breaks down his door
                        & pity the rain
For the rain falls on the deserts of man & is lost

If the mind is a house that has fallen
                        Where will the eye find rest
The images rises from the marrow & cry in the blood
Pity man’s voice in the smoke-filled days
            & his eyes in the darkness
Pity the sight of his eyes
                        For what can a man see in the darkness
What can he see but the children’s bones & the dead sticks
But the places between spaces & the places of sand
& the places of black teeth
                        The faraway places
The black sand carried & the black bones buried
The black veins hanging from the open skin
            & the blood changed to glass in the night

The eye of man is on fire
           A green bird cries from his house
& opens a red eye to death
The sun drops out of a pine tree
                        Brushing the earth with its wings
For what can a  man see in the morning
What can he see but the fire-raisers
            The shadow of the fire-raisers lost in the smoke
The shadow of the smoke where the hot sand is falling
The fire-raisers putting a torch to their arms
The green smoke ascending
                        Pity the children of man
Pity their bones when the skin falls away
Pity the skin devoured by fire
            The fire devoured by fire
The mind of man is on fire
            & where will his eye find rest                               

Monday, August 3, 2015

Simon Ortiz: “What Indians?” (complete)

The Truth Is: "No kidding?" "No." "Come on! That can't be true!" "No kidding." 

"What Indians?" is my too-often unspoken response to people who ask "When do the Indians dance?" Like other colonized Indigenous peoples, cultures, and communities throughout the world, Native Americans have experienced and endured identities imposed on them by colonial powers, most of which originated in Europe. This imposition has resulted to a great extent -- more than we admit and realize -- in the loss of a sense of a centered human self and the weakening and loss of Indigenous cultural identity. 


April 9, 1999, 9:15 A.M.
Snow in soft wet knots
coming down
through gray trees.

                                    Strange to think of Iowa and Kansas.
                                    And Washington where I've never been in winter.
                                    And Portland, Oregon, where I've lived
                                    -- elms and pines dripping with rain
                                on Umatilla Street in weather like this –
Sellwood Bridge
over the Willamette River.

                                    Nebraska, South Dakota, elsewhere...


But this is Salt Lake City, Utah.

Yeah, it could be elsewhere. In fact,
                                          it could be Somewhere Else City,
                                          United States of America, Planet Earth,
                                          but this is Salt Lake City
                                          right smack on the western edge
                                          of the center of the world, believe it or not.

Yeah, it's not elsewhere. It's not Somewhere Else City. It is

Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City

No where else but.
And, yeah, what a place, what a place.

        What a place to think of Indians.

"Where are the Indians?"
"What Indians?"
"You know, Indians."
"I don't know what you're talking about."


                                         To believe or not to believe,

this was the question.

                                         Asked and answered and believed
                                         by the greatest believers
                                        and disbelievers the world has ever known.

Where are the Indians?
Where are the real Indians?

                                         There are no Indians.
                                         There are no real Indians.
There were never any Indians.
There were never any Indians.

                                         There were never any real Indians.

You mean... you mean, there were never any Indians? No real Indians?
   No Indians?



Real or unreal.
Real and/or unreal.
They were made up.
It didn't matter.
                                                They were what people in Europe believed.
                                                They were what people in Europe wanted:
                                                to believe.
                                                They were what people in Europe wanted.
                                                To believe.

Indians were what people in Europe wanted to believe. Indians were what people in Europe wanted to believe. Indians were what people in Europe wanted to believe.

"Indians" were what people in Europe wanted to believe.

"Indians" were what Europeans wanted. To believe.

"Indians" were what Europeans believed.

"Indians were what Europeans believed."

Believe it or not.

Believe it or not.

Believe it or not.

Believe it or not!

Believe it or not!


They believed!
my, yes, they believed!
Soon, very quickly, there were Indians!

If it's one thing Europeans knew how to do, it was to believe!
They still do, you won't believe it even though it's true!

Oh, their belief in the power of belief is powerful!

Their power to believe was beyond belief!
It was overwhelming!
They believed, they believed!

                                  Soon the Americans believed
                            since they were originally Europeans
                           and they yearned for "the old country."
                                       Oh my, they believed!
                                     They absolutely believed!


Indians were made up?


They became what people in Europe believed them to be? Indians?


Yeah, Indians.

Soon there were Indians all over the place. But mainly in the New World, especially in America! Indians thrived in the New World. That's where they were seen the most. That's where they "belonged." That's where they were the most Indian!

             Soon even "the Indians" believed there were "Indians."
               Soon even the "Indians" believed they were Indians.

Nonetheless they were people.
They were hanoh. They were people who were themselves.
They were people who were their own people.

                                             See Indians.
                                          See real Indians.
                                       See real Indians play.
                                      See real Indians work.

                                 But there was nothing to see.
                                       There was nothing.
                               Because there was nothing there.
                                            Nothing real
                                              or surreal.
                                                To see.

                                          See real Indians.

                                              No where.


So where were the Indians?
What did Europeans see?
Did they see anything?
What did they see?
Did they see people?
Did they see people like themselves?
What did they see?

                                            What did they see?
                                            What did they see.
                                            What did they see.

                                     "Indians" who are our people
                              (The People, Human Beings, Hanoh, etc.)

      knew themselves as people. Different from each other. 
      Speaking different and distinct and separate languages. 
      They heard each others' languages. Their people had
      different names. They wore different clothes. They ate
      different foods. They danced different dances. They 
      celebrated their differences. Yes, they were different 
                                            but they were all
                                                   the same:
                              The People, Human Beings, You, Me.


                                 and meantime
                                   and always

                                 After and before
                                    and during
                                    and always

           always no matter what always and always and even
          despite the greatest believers and disbelievers in the
          world, they/we were people they/we were/are people
          we/they are people four times and without number or
          need for number we/they are people like you and just
           like me

Umatilla Street, in Sellwood, near Portland, Oregon, through which the Willamette River passes to join the Columbia River.

hanoh: Acoma word for 'people.'

Original Text: Ortiz, Simon J., Out There Somewhere. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 2002.

[editor’s note.  In the process of preparing a second expanded edition of Technicians of the Sacred with a particular emphasis on survivals & revivals of indigenous cultures & poetries, my attention turns again to the work of poets like Simon Ortiz.  Ortiz in particular, I would say, in the early years of ethnopoetics as a largely poet-driven project, was a powerful voice & a close companion when Dennis Tedlock and I were bringing much of the discourse into Alcheringa & related publications.  A native of Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico, he has continued over the years as a major figure in the still active American Indian literary renaissance and in the “new American poetry” over all.  It is hard for me to imagine a genuine ethnopoetics without his authoritative voice & presence. (J.R.)]