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

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Mikhl Likht: Processions V

Translation from Yiddish by Ariel Resnikoff & Stephen Ross

[The following 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 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.  Beyond that, “Processions V” will be coming out this week in a small collaborative chapbook Rothenberg//Resnikoff//Likht: Poems, Translations, Variations, published by The Operating System Press in Brooklyn, New York.  In the meantime the work 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.)]

 [ab ovo]

From the dark ways

From bare fidgetings

From the schematic tarantella-motifs
From sufficient machinations intoxicated by bright shimmershine
From the silent smoking modifications
From the cool blue hazes veiled in early morning light
From the rumbling motor cavalcades
From the elongated unimpeded zeppelins

From neutral genres in nature–painting
From sunken water-secrets swaying U-boats
From dumb hearing and pupil billy goat glances
From wilted tulips and sister-flowers in Long Island hothouses
From A-G minor concert piece
From entangled concept over godlessness, Chinese braid and pale financier
From pearly summer-storm onset

From hasty wagers over accidental yes’s and relative no’s
From spiritual germinations and material finishes (and vice versa)
From trolley-clanging violated through radio’s manifold hoo-ha
From the weariness of pedestrian city-street step
From the inertia and forced vivacity of the staff of clothing- and other stores
From bells angelus-chatter in church-spires
From nightwatchman’s burdened eye
From mother’s and wet-nurse’s mechanical chasings after childrens’ paths in squares, streets, parks
From seething howls of productive and destructive machinery
From blind cellars’ miasmic atmosphere
From forced bending from full height under flat, subterranean ceilings
From obscene creatures wheezing in little houses
From birds’ metatarsal altitudes
From complete aircraft signals
From patient waiting for something new

            Life shall live itself out
            Generated itself elderly energy:



[A Story with a Mouse]

Alone. Solitary, without anyone, without myself
am I
(to me). Someone should, who knows,
even thru a crack, a little gap the dimensions
try to turn a creature into a point, a little nail
from a threatening hand, -- throw a thinking cushion
to the shut in head like the majority
among bubbly girl friends the morning after sleep.
I Spring myself/covertly
the between-summerwinter-autumn. Hint:
My wife
is to me (what the world ought to be) the old Jewish catchall;
My mother --
the baker’s bread, farmer’s butter;
My palatial spacious house --
The museum of every bubble and squeak
that ostentationalizes the senses; pomposifies the brains. --

A shudder in a mouse’s cornerroom:
the full power of a god’s prompting.

[The Same: More To The Point]

Dovebosoms. Mine, yours, everyone’s --
no one’s.
God forbid!, I don’t begin to be alone
and sweeter than a worm in horseradish
is the duality (ours) to me: mouse’s
and mine. Oh people of lonely! Oh those
famous nikhbodim[1] who spin themselves
out from, into, events as if from-into flax a coarse fabric:
Sleep robs a hair from you
then comes to poetry-lore;
You take a little nap
You tear life (a supplement to prose) into itty-bitty pieces--
with dovebosoms one lives life out like oneself the zhmenke[2] years,
But this year the yarmulke diaspora-tree shall suffice:
in the coming year -- in Soviet Russia, in Mexico, in Galveston:
if necessary -- in Jerusalem.

[The Doves Do Not Want To Part from Their Bosoms]

The mouse will somewhere finally find rest with us
even if it costs us a thousand-and-one dumplings!
We will lead ourselves with a cow
a bull, with a nanny goat and ram.

For ourselves we will erect a house (a home?),
the livestock -- a stable. And for the sickly little mousey?
With holes we must devote ourselves to God
for our service in shul and shtibl.

We will as it suits us crawl from the skin
through all cracks to redemption: either as guards
of our own renewal -- sowing cabbage
with onion, becoming bakers, farmers;

or giving up corrupt “liberal” professions --
with that, draw in “The Internationale”; the handyman
becomes our beloved anew – industrious and new,
it will completely carry itself out song to God.

And the enemies of Israel will become the young Zionists,
and Allenby and Balfour -- Moses and Aaron,
and we will then, who knows, arrive where --
we’re off already -- we’re coming -- make way!

[1] Respectable people
[2] Zangberg, Bavaria

Monday, September 28, 2015

Inuhiko Yomota: from MY PURGATORY

Translation from Japanese by Hiroaki Sato

[For many years now Hiroaki Sato has brought the work of a range of Japanese experimental modernists into English, the latest of whom is Inuhiko Yomota, whose book My Purgatory has just been published by Red Moon Press in Virginia.  Sato describes Yomota, a prolific writer in many areas, as follows: “Inuhiko Yomota (b. 1953) aptly calls himself a tuttologista. One of the most prolific Japanese writers on a wide variety of subjects and the most internationally encompassing, Yomota has published more than 100 books covering Japanese film, Asian film, literary criticism, autobiography, arts, music, city theory, cooking, and manga, among other things.”  And Geoffrey O’Brien of My Purgatory’s amazing breadth & scope: “Inuhiko Yomota … has written in My Purgatory a somber, passionate, highly colored cycle of poems, imbued with intimations of ancient suffering and modern-day apocalyptic terror, and candidly confronting the prospect of personal annihilation.  The book’s tragic themes are offset by a bracing and defiant bravura, inhabiting different eras and identities, passing ghostlike through Carthage and Harbin and archaic Thrace, and conjuring with awed detachment the bloody and inextricable histories embedded in millennia of continually resonating language.”  The following is an indication of Yomota’s & Sato’s latterday gift to us. (J.R.)]

But who may abide the day of his coming?
and who shall stand when he appeareth?
for he is like a refiner's fire,
and like fullers’ soap.
—The Book of Malachi, 3:2

A BOAT [1]

People in a small boat,
do not follow my boat any longer,
because from now I must cross those cruel seas
where no one has left wakes;
because I must face the dark expanse
where there are no ropes I’m used to, there’s no celestial body at the northern peak,
where no seagulls scattering goodwill playfully come near me.

So do not follow farther into the offing any more.
I’m going on alone now,
my draft low, my soiled hair wet with briny water,
ignoring various monsters inhabiting the sea,
into the darkness that remains after the star, the divine sign, has fallen,
I turn my cracked keel, unbeknownst to anyone.
Just people,[2] do not follow me further.
Return to the bay and spend your days looking at the quiet waters.

You ask
what lies beyond the dangerous seas,
whether cattle and treasures to be plundered, women to be enslaved, are waiting.
There is nothing, except for what I reach after riding over dozens of nights
will be miserable hidden rocks.
Whenever waves wash over them, seaweeds around the rocks waver a little,
boulders full of holes, the seashore where there are no creatures—
you ask why I’m heading toward the end of such a world.
No, the truth is not even that, because there are
not even hidden rocks, or seaweeds or splashes of waves any more.
There I will continue to wait,
for the length of time equal to my life,
I will continue to stay, utterly inactive.
What will I wait for under the dark canopy?

So never even dream of following me.
No matter how loudly you may call out,
no matter how beautifully you may sing,
in no time
I’ll go where I won’t hear your voice,
beyond the bend of the round earth,
I’ll go out of the outside of time where there are no more seagulls, no more sounds of waves.
When the aim of waiting is known, waiting should be half over,
but I depend only on the cracked keel and sail
and am not permitted to know what on earth I’m waiting for.


stone . . . . .
. . . . . shout . . . .
. . . . hammer . . . .
what a craggy name
whom does it intend to threaten
fading memory
name I cannot remember
crushed eyes

under the collapsing cloudy sky
I feel
the eyes crushed with a stone
the eyes repeatedly flattened, trampled upon
the eyes that continue to stare at me as they I face death

the one staring at me
what is he looking at
with blood accumulating in the eye sockets
what is he looking at
dregs of wax clinging to the candlestick


I want you to cover my body with cow-dung.
I want you to cover my skull, my sunken eyes,
use both hands to put dung over them like clay.
I want you to plaster my bloated belly, my legs grown as thin as bones,
my scrotum between my legs, like withered bulbs,
with the black and ruddy mix that’s in the storing tubs.
Because I am someone soon heading for death,
someone trying to awaken from the silly dream called the present world.

I want you to cover my body with cow-dung.
I want you to blanket with dung not just my body
but also my soul, my memories I’m tired of supporting,
leaving out nothing.
I want you to smear smelly clay
into every one of the innumerable slits that have grown inside my memories.
Because I am now tired of supporting my encephalon,
because my soul has gotten humid and lost its vitality.

The soul is fire,
the soul is fire that flares up airily.
But my body has received too much water,
has gotten as bloated as an oyster’s body,
is ready to wait for a putrefying arrival,
has lost the power of flying up airily.

I want you to cover my body with cow-dung.
Children, I plead with you,
I want you to scoop up the cow-dung in the tub with your 
     clumsy fingers
plaster it into every hole of mine, every dent of mine,
I want you to turn me into cow-dung itself.

When everything that’s smeared dries up,
cracks, and peels away from my skin,
my soul, released from humidity,
will restore its innate cheerfulness.
Now I lie by a Parthenon, fulfilled, splattered with cow-dung
when, children, you’re tired of playing with mud
and think of a new game to play, your unstained souls intact.


1  Alludes to Dante, Paradiso, Canto II, which, in the Carlyle-Okey-Wicksteed translation, begins: “O ye who in your little skiff longing to hear, have followed on my keel that singeth on its way, / turn to revisit your own shores; commit you not to the open sea; for perchance, losing me, ye would be left astray.”
2  Romans I: 1:17, “The just shall live by faith.”

3  Reference to Heraclitus (c535-c475?), a “dark,” “weeping,” i.e., misanthropic philosopher. According to The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers by Diogenes Laertius, Tr. C. D. Yonge, Heraclitus either “shut himself up in a stable for oxen, and covered himself with cow-dung, hoping to cause the wet to evaporate from him, by the warmth that this produced,” and died, or “he placed himself in the sun, and ordered his servants to plaster him over with cow-dung; and being stretched out in that way, on the second day he died, and was buried in the market-place.” Another story says that “as he could not tear off the cow-dung, he remained there, and on account of the alteration in his appearance, he was not discovered, and so was devoured by the dogs.”

Monday, September 21, 2015

In Praise of Steve Clay and Granary, for "The Book Undone: Thirty Years of Granary Books"


[The grand exhibition of Granary Books at Columbia University's Rare Book & Manuscript Library began on September 16 with a panel of readers & talkers, for which the following was my own contribution & tribute. (J.R.)]

The history of poetry in our time has also been a history of those who provide conduits & vehicles, containers & wrappers, for the physical presentation of poetry: publishers, typographers, printers, designers, or those artists-as-such who are often the collaborators in making poetry a visible, even a visual, art.  For this the book has remained the principal vehicle – the material book, like the material poem, still active in the age of virtuality.  In the true history of American poetry, which I have long threatened to write & never will, Granary Books, as a press & resource, is exemplary of how poets & related artists in the post-World War Two era were able to establish shadow institutions that operated, nearly successfully, outside the frame of any & all self-proclaimed poetic mainstreams.

If Steve Clay & Granary Books were not the first participants in this history, they have played a major role in it, both as makers of books & as chroniclers of poets’ & artists’ books – their own & others’.  What’s on view in this exhibition is a display of works by many of these artists, working alone or, typically, in collaboration.  The books as such come in different shapes & sizes, & the production methods involved vary as well – from standard letterpress & offset to incredibly fine printing & graphics, plus a degree of handwork in the more limited editions.   The flood of work links both to what had come before & what continued to be conceived & realized contemporaneously.  This linkage shows up as well in a series of bigger books – anthologies & histories – that made Granary the principal purveyor – both artistic & critical – of what was a virtual renaissance of American poetry & book making.  Of such works two by Johanna Drucker set the standard for a historicizing of this movement in the arts: The Century of Artists’ Books and Figuring the Word: Essays on Books, Writing and Visual Poetics.  These were followed by Renée & Judd Hubert’s The Cutting Edge of Reading: Artists’ Books, & my own attempts by way of anthology, The Book, Spiritual Instrument and A Book of the Book, the latter in collaboration with Steve Clay. 

To speak of myself, then, with relation to Steve Clay and to Granary Books, the anthologies played as always a major role, though there were other books as well, before and after: Pictures of the Crucifixion & Other Poems, with drawings by David Rathman and typography by Philip Gallo, in 1996; A Flower Like a Raven, translations from Kurt Schwitters in an artist’s book edition by Barbara Fahrner, also in 1996;The Case for Memory, & Other Poems, a collaboration with Ian Tyson, in  2001; The Burning Babe & Other Poems, with Susan Bee, in 2005; and the Introduction to A Secret Location on the Lower East Side, published by The New York Public Library and Granary Books in 1998.  But beyond all these, A Book of the Book, co-edited with Steve Clay, remains the crown jewel of the books produced between us.

So …

As the twentieth-century faded into the twenty-first, I republished through Granary Books an issue of my magazine, New Wilderness Letter, titled after Stéphane Mallarmé The Book Spiritual Instrument and co-edited with David Guss, one of my earlier companions in writing and editing.  And in the immediate aftermath of that I embarked with Steve Clay on another anthology project which we called A Book of the Book: Some Works & Projections About the Book & Writing:  a wide-ranging book of writings on “the book,” taken in some sense as an extension of what The Book, Spritual Instrument was attempting with those materials that were then immediately to hand.  (This is the difference, then, between a magazine & an anthology.)  It was in this context that we hoped to explore more fully the points at which a poetics & an ethnopoetics of the book & writing come together or illuminate each other.  And we wanted at the same time to expose the material bases (ink & paper, manufacture & dissemination) of those ends to which the work of Mallarmé (among other predecessors) was leading us. 

With Steve Clay as publisher as well as co-author, there were no limits here to what we might include - of books that had been made & books that had still to be imagined.  I believe in this regard that there is also a future of the book as an extended & self-contained compendium of (visible) language & that the emergence of new technologies -- new cyberworks I meant to say -- is not a threat to our identity as poets & book people but a new aspect of it that can & will enhance all that  poesis is or ever has been.  In much the same way, I no longer believe, if I ever did, that the book or writing had -- in some earlier time  -- destroyed orality or made the human voice obsolete.  The book is as old as fire & water, & thought is made in the mouth as it is also in the hands & lungs & with the inner body.   If that was our condition at the beginning, it will be also in the end.

The role of Steve Clay and Granary in all of this remains of utmost importance to me. so that having worked so closely with him before and being able to say some words today in his praise, fills me with the greatest pleasure.

To conclude, then, is to say that here as elsewhere there is no conclusion.  “Of the making of books there is no end,” as the old scriptural saw once put it (while reifying a single book as the unalterable word-of-god), and Mallarmé in his modernist détournement: “Everything in the world exists in order to be turned into a book.”  It is my sense – at least in our common work as poets – that the movement, the dialectic (to use a once fashionable word) is between book and voice, between the poets (present) in their speaking & the poets (absent) in their writing.  That is to say, we are (up to & past our limits) full & sentient beings, & free, as Rimbaud once told us, to possess truth in one soul & one body.  For myself [as for many others here present] the return to the book is the step now needed to make the work complete.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Richard Dauenhauer: 22 Koyukon Riddle-Poems

 Translated & arranged by Richard Dauenhauer after Father Julius Jetté, S.J. 

[The riddle in verbal culture is part of the stock-in-trade of academic folklore, but its relation to the poetic image has rarely been explored until recently.  The workings presented here were originally published in The Riddle and Poetry Handbook, developed by Richard Dauenhauer (1942-2014) as a project of the Alaska Native Education Board in Anchorage, Alaska.  With Nora Dauenhauer, a native Tlingit speaker, Dauenhauer was engaged for many years in translation projects (Tlingit into English, English into Tlingit) aimed at Tlingit-speaking audiences.
            In working with Father Julius Jetté’s 1913 notes Dauenhauer set the riddles up as two-part antiphonal texts, the initial image or utterance clarified or deepened by the utterance that followed.  Of the mind at work here, as well as its endangerment, Dauenhauer wrote further: “The riddle in Jetté exemplify the poetic use of everyday language and the imaginative juxtaposition of everydayimages, of seeing something in terms of something else, and verbalizing that picture through manipulation of the wonderful and indefinite potential of language.  With suppression and eradication of Native Alaskan intellectual traditions, and with the diminished possibilities of transmitting oral tradition because of language loss among the younger generations, a situation has developed in which even the average fluent speaker of Koyukon – through no fault of his or her own – is no longer familiar with riddles and riddle style.”
            The situation, since Dauenhauer wrote this in the late 1970s, may still be open to question. (J.R.)] 

A selection of the riddle-poems, as first published by Dennis Tedlock and myself in Alcheringa and scheduled for publication in the expanded Technicians of the Sacred, follows.

Like a spruce tree
lying on the ground:
the back-hand
of the bear.

I drag my shovel
on the trail:
a beaver. 


Water dripping
from an ice-spear tip:
water dripping
from the beaver's nose. 


Like bones
piled up in the stream bed:
the beaver gnaws.

Flying upward,
ringing bells in silence:
the butterfly. 


like two streams merging:
eagle feet.


At the tip it's
dipping in ashes:
ermine tail.


Faraway, a
fire flaring up:
red fox tail.


Small dots
on the skyline:
when the birds return.

As if the stream bed
were hacked up with a knife:
footprints of the swans
and geese. 


Someone's throwing
sparks in the air: 
plucking the reddish feathers
of the grouse. 


It scatters little wood crumbs
from the trees:
a roosting grouse, eating. 


It looks like a flint:
the louse.  


Round and shiny 
at the end of my spruce bough:
Lynx feet
or the great gray owl. 


It really snowed hard
in opposite directions
on my head:
a mountain sheep. 


At the water hole
the ice-spear
trembles in the current:
a swimming otter's tail.

Like forest branches
fluffing in the wind:
the great gray
owl ears. 


Ptarmigan bills:
like bits of charcoal
scattered on the snow. 


We come upstream
in red canoes:
the salmon. 


Like a water plant:
floating salmon guts. 


it spreads out in the water:
butchered salmon blood. 


The hilltop trail
running close beside me:
a thing on which
the wolf has peed.