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, March 5, 2015

Jerome Rothenberg: Isaac Bashevis Singer, a Reminiscence

[The following short essay appeared as the terminal piece in the Library of America’s A Singer Album, 2004.]

It was through Isaac Bashevis Singer that I first saw an opening to what came to be, for a number of years at least, a central focus of my work as a poet. I met him only once, a year or so after the American publication of Satan in Goray in 1957, and it took me at least a decade to absorb that book and the books that followed into my own system of writing and thinking. Our meeting was arranged by Cecil Hemley, who was Singer’s editor at Noonday Books, with the mistaken idea that I might know enough Yiddish to take on some of the translation for what was coming to be a major Noonday project. Singer was only just getting to be known – outside of Yiddish circles anyway – but my own reading of Satan in Goray and the Gimpel the Fool stories was already working on my imagination with a sense of something new that might find a way into the poetry I was then learning to compose.

Two things stand out in my memory. The first was Singer’s reaction to a recent review in the Times – Irving Howe writing on Satan or on Gimpel, or possibly on both. Hemley brought this up over lunch, in particular a comment by Howe that Singer was a “cruel” writer, and asked him what he thought about that. Singer shrugged it off with a comment that stuck with me and that I often repeated: “Since when has cruelty been a crime?” (Or maybe he said “a sin”; I’ve told it differently at different times.) I was still a young poet at the time, and a statement like that had a real frisson for me.

The other thing I remember was that I asked him whether there were any Yiddish poets who did anything comparable to what he was doing in his fictions. We talked about what that comparable thing, that quality, might be, and in the end he came up with a blank and an indication, I thought, that the matter was of no great concern to him. It was to me, however, and it began to confront me with a question to which I still had no answer – if there were such a Yiddish poetry, a poetry of cruelty in Artaud’s sense (or Singer’s for that matter), what form would that poetry take?

In 1967, as I was completing work on Technicians of the Sacred and mapping tribal and oral poetries on a global scale, I decided to explore “ancestral sources of my own in a world of Jewish mystics, thieves, & madmen.” The initial thrust came from a concurrent reading of Singer and Gertrude Stein – two very different artists but both of them crucial for what I meant to undertake. In a 12-part poem of Stein’s called “Dates,” I came across what I took to be Stein’s “Jewish poem” – the words “pass” and “over” repeated a number of times: “Pass over / Pass over / Pass / Pass / Pass / Pass / Pass pass,” to which I added a final line: “Pass water.” I then went over the other parts of her poem, referring constantly to Satan in Goray and substituting words of Singer’s for words of Stein’s while retaining her pattern of syllables and rhymings. Thus, where Stein’s first numbered section read “Fish. / Bequeath fish. / Able to state papers. / Fish. / Bequeath fish,” mine read “Sect. / Avert sect. / Avert to wash bellies. / Sect. / Avert sect.” I called the resultant poem “Satan in Goray” and subtitled it “A Homage to Isaac Bashevis Singer.”

For me the work that followed was a booklength poem or poem-series called Poland/1931. While most of the poems in Poland departed sharply from the opening Stein imitation, Singer’s books remained part of the body of largely documentary materials from which I drew toward the construction of an imagined (I stress imagined) Jewish Poland. That work was my own attempt at a fiction of some dimension or what fellow poet Ed Sanders included in another context as an “investigative poetry” made up of “radiant data clusters.” For this, Singer was one of my guides into that Jewish underworld toward which my poetry was tentatively reaching.

Such an underworld – and its sexual side in particular – was a block, I later found, for many of Singer’s Yiddish readers. In my own family, Singer’s brother [I.J. Singer] and other Yiddish novelists were cited as his superiors, for reasons that I felt and still feel were spurious. But for other readers of hisYiddish and for those of us who were reading him in English, his work was an incitement and a path to those “Jewish mysteries that one confronts in a place no less dangerous or real than that abyss of the Aztecs: … a difficult, a dangerous place, a deathly place: it is dark, it is light …” Or so I wrote in the pre-face to A Big JewishBook (a.k.a. Exiled in the Word), my revisionist anthology of Jewish poetry “from tribal times to the present.” Of course I included Singer in that one among the many “cruel poets” (old and new) for whom he was, I thought, an always present, always necessary, ally.

addendum 2015

The following are Gertrude Stein’s “Dates” and my variations on her & on Singer, as described above.

Dates [from Bee Time Vine]


Bequeath fish.
Able to state papers.
Bequeath fish.


Pies and pies.
Weapons and weapons.
World renown.
World renown world renown.


Nitches pencil.
Nitches pencil plate.
Nitches vulgar.
Nitches vulgar pencils.
Nitches plate.


Hopping a thunder.


Soiled pin.
Soda soda.
Soda soda.


Not a particle worker.
Add send dishes.


Poison oak poison oak.
Poison steer.
Poison steer humble.


Wet yes wet yes wet yes sprinkle. Wet yes wet yes wet yes sprinkle.


Thicker than some.


College extension.


Pass over.
Pass over.
Pass pass.


Not a night sight.
Pay sombrely.
Are and n and no and pail. Are and n and no and pail. Are and n and no and pail.”

Satan in Goray: A Homage to Isaac Bashevis Singer

Avert sect.
Avert to wash bellies.
Avert Sect.

Towns & towns.
Witness & witness.
Woman redeemed.

Woman redeemed woman redeemed.

Crutches cockcrow.
Crutches cockcrow Jews.
Crutches impure.
Crutches impure cockcrow.
Crutches Jews.

Drinking in devil.

First a holiday malice.
Ark bares Levi.

Sabbatai Zevi.
Sodom Sodom.
Sodom Sodom.

Marriage bed marriage bed.
Marriage breasts.
Marriage breasts bristle.
Match me.
In three.

Fat yes fat yes fat yes idol.  Fat yes fat yes fat yes idol.

Something is presence.

Holy Muhammad.

Pass over.
Pass over.
Pass pass.                                        (G. Stein)

Pass water.

Lilith a red head.
Jest nudgingly.
S & Z & S & Z. S & Z & S & Z. S & Z & S & Z.  Selah.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Outside & Subterranean Poetry (65): Thomas Rawlin, An Alchemical Poem: “A Magicall Ænigma”

[The following is yet another excerpt from Barbaric Vast & Wild: A Gathering of Outside & Subterranean Poetry from Origins to Present, edited with commentaries by myself & John Bloomberg-Rissman, and published by Black Widow Press as the fifth volume of Poems for the Millennium.  Earlier excerpts have been posted on Poems and Poetics over the last several years, referring to the work as “a mini-anthology in progress,” but the completed book will now appear as a 450 page assemblage to join the other volumes in the Poems for the Millennium series. (J.R.)]

Thomas Rawlin (England/Latin, fl. 1611)
an alchemical poem: “A Magicall Ænigma”

All Things from One, and to One.
In the Center Truth, in the Circumference Vanity.

A Magicall Ænigma.

The omnipotent God in the rotten Mass
(as it were in a Chaos) to be despised,
To us Mortalls has left all things,
Yet they in the Nature of Things are but one.
It is a Mass of Dust, a despicable Thing;
A Fire, an Aquosity; a most amiable Fountain;
It is neither a Stout Captain, nor invincible;
When it is not drawn out of its Cradle.
It is an old Man; it is an Infant; the Lord of all;
It is the red Servant, contrary to the King;
It is the green Lyon; something more sublime
Than the King, or Subjects; but fugitive.
It flys, and attracts; the Virgin obeyeth not,
Unless the Father provoke her with Many Goads;
Then she follows, and much demands
A Husbands company, with whom she cohabits.
She is covered and impregnated with the Embrace,
A clear Water is evacuated out of her Heart
With Blood, wherewith she is raised up
Now dying as it were, and is recreated.
Things bright and clear being so obtained
The King and Queen being begot togeathere
Being put presently in the Secret Prison,
Feed them with heavenly Dew; not Watry things.
Being Dead at length, the Spirit flys away
Washes and purifys the Soul and the Body
Then a more intense Fire allway perpetuats
With a cold Fire; it volatilizes not.
Now no Errour follows in the Work,
Burn all with a very strong Fire,
Bring out at length the Blood, the Soul
After the White King: Then thrice imbibe.
(The King being thus known) the Body is the Soul,
And fixt, and permanent, although like Wax;
The Colour is not an Accident; but a Substance
Reigning in all, with the highest Glory.

Glory to God alone, the three-one.


source: Transcribed from The British Library MS. Sloane 3643. This work was printed in Latin at the end of Thomas Rawlin, Admonitio de Pseudochymicis, seu Alphabetarium Philosophicum (“A warning to the false Chymists or the Philosophical Alphabet”), 1611.

As I thought of these things, I drew aside the curtains and looked out into the darkness, and it seemed to my troubled fancy that all those little points of light filling the sky were the furnaces of innumerable divine alchemists, who labour continually, turning lead into gold, weariness into ecstasy, bodies into souls, the darkness into God; and at their perfect labour my mortality grew heavy, and I cried out, as so many dreamers and men of letters in our age have cried, for the birth of that elaborate spiritual beauty which could alone uplift souls weighted with so many dreams.”
(W.B. Yeats, from “Rosa Alchemica”, 1897)

(1) It’s dreams of this kind – of an occulted practice & poesis – that have continued to attract poets & others up to the very present.  As a form of languaging coincident with poetry, the appeal of alchemy & other forms of what would become “the occult” shows up in the works & thoughts of many disbelievers as well as those who have bought into its chemico-magico-spiritual efficacy. Outside the frame of normative religion & with a claim over the physical world like that of the science which succeeded it, the alchemical tradition or traditions go back several millennia both in Europe & in Asia, their openness to public viewing varying vastly over time.         
               However commonly understood alchemical language might (or might not) have been, by the time of the Enlightenment alchemy’s prestige had sunk to the point that for the modern reader its language has become as mysterious & “outsided”/occulted as canting language, say, and though it continues to be studied, it has become the property of everyone from scientists to depth psychologists (e.g., Jung), to those who “use it as a source of philosophical and esoteric ideas, to support the particular belief system to which they have attached themselves. Thus they use alchemical ideas and symbolism as part of their interest in Kabbalah, or Tarot cards, or some esoteric or magical system.” (From “What exactly is alchemy?” at
               As a form of poesis, however, the alchemist’s signs & symbols have remained a persistent resource & an inducement for poets & artists over a wide range of newly emerging isms & individual encounters. 

 (2) Writes Diane di Prima as a major late practitioner: “Today we stand again at the brink of a new age. Science has failed us, as the Church failed the man of Paracelsus' day. ... To be born again, to make the world anew, will be no easy task. We shall have increasingly to have recourse to the wisdom of other times, to the philosophies of the East, to the mystics and masters of the ‘occult,’ to those adepts for whom there was no dualism, for whom spirit and matter, man and cosmos, were one. ... [Alchemy] deals with the question, which is still the question, the real millennial question: how to make paradise on earth. How to transform the matter universe so that the spirit, which has fallen into matter finally, like yeast in bread, fills everything.” (From “Paracelsus: An Appreciation” in R. Grossinger, The Alchemical Tradition in the Late Twentieth Century, 1970) 
               And again: “Alchemical literature admits us into a magical universe of rich and bizarre imagery and sudden insights – dimensional shifts – but it is a universe in which we feel the need for some kind of map. In our century, this problem has often been solved by flattening the material: reductively reading the texts as either spiritual allegory, or a primitive form of ‘science.’ But, in a correspondent cosmos, the process that is creative of soul is also creative of galaxies    there is no need to reduce alchemy to psychology or chemistry.”  (From a proposal for four lectures on “The Language of Alchemy”)

(3) Or H.D, from a still earlier generation:

Hermes Trismegistus
is patron of alchemists;

his province is thought,
inventive, artful and curious;

his metal is quicksilver,
his clients, orators, thieves and poets;

steal then, O orator,
plunder, O poet,

take what the old-church
found in Mithra’s tomb,

candle and script and bell,
take what the new-church spat upon

and broke and shattered;
collect the fragments of the splintered glass

and of your fire and breath,
melt down and integrate,

re-invoke, re-create
opal, onyx, obsidian,

now scattered in the shards
men tread upon.

(from Tribute to the Angels, 1, 1945, later published as part 2 of Trilogy, New Directions, 1973)

Friday, February 27, 2015

Arie Galles & Jerome Rothenberg: Graffite (Complete)

A few years ago I began to engage with the artist Arie Galles in a series of poems  to accompany three “suites” of his drawings (twenty drawings in each suite).  Now, under the title “Graffite: Three Suites after Images by Arie Galles” he has posted all sixty poems & drawings on his web site, sidestepping or postponing publication by any more traditional means. 
        My own pre-face to the work reads as follows: “For some time now I’ve been working with Arie Galles on Graffite, a three-part series of graphite drawings with poem accompaniments: MoonFields, CloudPoems & PepperTree, in that order. Here, with the exception of MoonFields (abstract circles & lines), Galles’s images begin as black & white photographs that he then translates, as with his monumental 14 Stations, into three sets of twenty graphite drawings each, to which are added twenty poems of mine as linkages. My own procedures, after the fact, are largely improvisational, speaking to his images while maintaining a sense of distance & independence. To borrow from the medieval Japanese, the principle here is not one of direct comment or illustration but of something like juxtaposition &/or collage ‘wherein it does not matter that the upper and lower part are put together in a seemingly unnatural & arbitrary way so long as they cohere in the mind.’ In the dance between us, it is he who leads and I who follow, hopefully always in synch.”
        The whole work is now freely available, for any & all who want to see & read, at

Cloudpoems XI
                                         look down
                                           & see
                                           to the eye
                                           are only

                                           the earth below
                                           in the mind
                                           is only

Moonfields II
                                          life has spirit, death
                                            has only chalk

                                            with chalk a word
                                            is written

                                            but not by you

Peppertree III
                                         ferns & rind
                                          the black a distance
                                          deeper than a star

Monday, February 23, 2015

Michael Palmer: New Poems from “The Laughter of the Sphinx,” for Mac Low, Tcherepnin & Artaud

Light Moves 1

Mineral light and whale light,
light of memory, light of the eye,
memory’s eye, shaded amber light
coating the page, fretted
light of anarchy, flare of bent
time, firelight and first light,
lake light and forest light,
arcing harbor light,
spirit light and light of the blaze,
enveloping blaze,
century’s fading light,
light of cello, voice, drum,
figures billowing along
horizon, aligned, outlined.

Light Moves 2

Bright light of sleep, its
shortness of breath, its
thousand sexual suns, curved
and fretted light, lies of that light,
dark, inner light, its
whispered words:
Now beyond, now below,
this to left, this to right,
scarecrow in stubble field,
nighthawk on wire,
these to cleanse your sight.

Light Moves 3

Light through the Paper House
rippling across floors and walls,
across the words of the walls,
its paper tables, paper chairs,
its corners,
pale light by which it reads itself,
fills and empties itself,
and speaks.

Light Moves 4

Watcher on the cliff-head
in afternoon light, aqueous light,
watcher being watched
in the salt-silver light
amidst the darting of terns,
beach swallows and gulls,
between the snow of sand
and the transit of clouds,
keeper of thought or prisoner of thought,
watcher being watched,
snowman of sand,
anonymous man.

Light Moves 5

Night-sun and day-sun
twinned and intertwined,
light by a bedside,
cat’s eye by night,
owl light and crystal light,
endless motion of the light,
the rise and the fall,
the splintered flare,
churning northern lights,
phosphor, tip of iris,
gunmetal moon’s
far, reflected light,
oil sheen
on pelican’s wing.

Light Moves 6

And yet what have we done
where have we gone
sometimes in light sometimes not
we say the great world the small world
the fields
patched with yellow the sudden crows
the city’s streets
alone among others
the billowing streets
bodies crowding past
outlined by light.
What have we done
among the roads and fields
in the theater’s shadows and the theater’s light
so bright you cannot see
those watching beyond
in perfect rows in the dark.

(in homage to Jackson MacLow)

In Memory of Ivan Tcherepnin

So many sounds flower but they are not flowers.
They are mangled girders in a field,
a field of flowers, echo of hooves, 
heavy-metal of tanks,
music’s lost memory.

In the enveloping mist
our shoes squealing
upon the paving stones
while winding through
your Paris streets,
which one of us said,
The absolute
secret of art 
lies in the tongue
of a shoe?
Who said, The true
secret of art
resides in the gaze
of a cat,
and that’s that?
Which one of us asked,
Is this the buried sound
of the future-past?
Do electrons still sing
when no one is listening?
(A little stoned perhaps?)
We spoke of corpses
waving batons, hierophants
professing poems,
as the mist cloaked our words
and mid-summer night
measure by measure
finally arrived.

Ivan Alexandrovich,
is it only the fugitive things
that ravel the cells
and ring through the air,
le va et le vient as you put it,
the slow rise of a half-step,
followed by falling semi-tones,
in a day of one birth and one death?

So many sounds flower but they are not flowers.
They are street calls and cries
and the promises of bone,
and the bright sightless eye
at the flower’s brief heart.

At the Tomb of Artaud

At the tomb of Artaud
wherever it may be
we hear a howl, unmistakable,
the howl of a wounded wolf
gnawing at its foreleg
caught in the teeth

of a hunter’s steel trap
At the tomb of Artaud
wherever it may be
a sleeper and his double
throw dice made of bone
Should the dice fall

just so, they explain
it will snow
on the tomb of Artaud
Should they fall
the earth will be dry

A dancer and her double
make love
on the bright stones
the light bringers
by the tomb of Artaud
that has become a book

of stone
they care not to read
whatever it may mean
as the fitful
dragonflies alight

on the wet heat
of their bodies
Only later
will they piss on his grave
as a clock without hands

applauds in the dark

[NOTE> Michael Palmer is an internationally celebrated poet with numerous publications, translations into multiple languages, & active collaborations with dancers & artists over a span of more than forty years.  His latest book, The Laughter of the Sphinx, from which these poems are taken, is scheduled for publication by New Directions later this year.  The dedicatory nature of the poems shown here – to two poets & the French composer Ivan Tcherepnin –  indicates Palmer’s sense of presence within that company I always hear as I work, and for whom I write, and to whom I write.”  The lyric force of his later poetry is a turning that illuminates the power of the work that came before.

     n.b. “At the Tomb of Artaud” first appeared in an issue of The American Reader, volume 2, number 2, some months back, and the poem for Ivan Tcherepnin is scheduled for the next issue of Nathaniel Mackey’s magazine Hambone.]

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Outside & Subterranean Poetry (64): Ludwig Wittgenstein, “Philosophy As Poetry” or “Thinking While Talking”

[The following is yet another excerpt from Barbaric Vast & Wild: A Gathering of Outside & Subterranean Poetry from Origins to Present, edited with commentaries by myself & John Bloomberg-Rissman, and published by Black Widow Press as the fifth volume of Poems for the Millennium.  Earlier excerpts have been posted on Poems and Poetics over the last several years, referring to the work as “a mini-anthology in progress,” but the completed work will now appear as a 450 page assemblage to join the other volumes in the Poems for the Millennium series.  Wittgenstein’s presence here points to a sub-theme of the assemblage, to reconsider the rift between poetry and philosophy from the time that Plato broke the two asunder. (J.R.)]

Ludwig Wittgenstein (Austrian, 1889-1951)

257. “What would it be like if human beings did not manifest their pains (did not groan, grimace, etc.)? Then it would be impossible to teach a child the use of the word ‘tooth-ache’.” – Well, let’s assume the child is a genius and invents a name for the sensation by himself! – But then, of course, he couldn’t make himself understood when he used the word. – So does he understand the name, without being able to explain its meaning to anyone? – But what does it mean to say that he has ‘named his pain’? – How has he managed this naming of pain? And whatever he did, what was its purpose? – When one says “He gave a name to his sensation,” one forgets that much must be prepared in the language for mere naming to make sense. And if we speak of someone’s giving a name to a pain, the grammar of the word “pain” is what has been prepared here; it indicates the post where the new word is stationed.


284. Look at a stone and imagine it having sensations. – One says to oneself: How could one so much as get the idea of ascribing a sensation to a thing? One might as well ascribe it to a number! – And now look at a wriggling fly, and at once these difficulties vanish, and pain seems able to get a foothold here, where before everything was, so to speak, too smooth for it.
            And so, too, a corpse seems to us quite inaccessible to pain. – Our attitude to what is alive and to what is dead is not the same. All our reactions are different. – If someone says: “That cannot simply come from the fact that living beings move in such-and-such ways and dead ones don’t”, then I want to suggest to him that this is a case of the transition ‘from quantity to quality.’

285. Think of the recognition of facial expressions. Or of the description of facial expressions – which does not consist in giving the measurements of the face! Think, too, how one can imitate a man’s face without seeing one’s own in a mirror.

286. But isn’t it absurd to say of a body that it has pain? – And why does one feel an absurdity in that? In what sense does my hand not feel pain, but I in my hand?
            What sort of issue is: Is it the body that feels pain? – How is it to be decided? How does it become clear that it is not the body? – Well, something like this: if someone has a pain in his hand, then the hand does not say so (unless it writes it) and one does not comfort the hand, but the sufferer: one looks into his eyes.

287. How am I filled with pity for this human being? How does it come out what the object of my pity is? (Pity, one may say, is one form of being convinced that someone else is in pain.)

288. I turn to stone, and my pain goes on. – What if I were mistaken, and it was no longer pain? – But surely I can’t be mistaken here; it means nothing to doubt whether I am in pain! – That is: if someone said “I don’t know if what I have is a pain or something else”, we should think, perhaps, that he does not know what the English word “pain” means; and we’d explain it to him. – How? Perhaps by means of gestures, or by pricking him with a pin and saying: “See, that’s pain!” This explanation of a word, like any other, he might understand rightly, wrongly, or not at all. And he will show which by his use of the word, in this as in other cases.
            If he now said, for example: “Oh, I know what ‘pain’ means; what I don’t know is whether this, that I have now, is pain” – we’d merely shake our heads and have to regard his words as a strange reaction which we can’t make anything of. (It would be rather as if we heard someone say seriously: “I distinctly remember that sometime before I was born I believed. ...”)
            That expression of doubt has no place in the language-game; but if expressions of sensation – human behavior – are excluded, it looks as if I might then legitimately begin to doubt. My temptation to say that one might take a sensation for something other than what it is arises from this: if I assume the abrogation of the normal language-game with the expression of a sensation, I need a criterion of identity for the sensation; and then the possibility of error also exists.

289. “When I say ‘I am in pain’ I am at any rate justified before myself – What does that mean? Does it mean: “If someone else could know what I am calling ‘pain,’ he would admit that I was using the word correctly”?
            To use a word without a justification does not mean to use it wrongfully.

290. It is not, of course, that I identify my sensation by means of criteria: it is, rather, that I use the same expression. But it is not as if the language-game ends with this: it begins with it. […]

 Translation from German by G.E.M. Anscombe, P.M.S. Hacker and Joachim Schulte


source: Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, Revised 4th edition, Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

I think I summed up my position on philosophy when I said: One should really only do philosophy as poetry. From this it seems to me it must be clear to what extent my thought belongs to the present, to the future, or to the past. For with this I have also revealed myself to be someone who cannot quite do what he wishes he could do. (L.W.)

(1)  It is with this self-declaration & with the force of his own “investigations” that Wittgenstein brings us back to a situation before the divide in thought that pulled poetry & philosophy asunder.  Still working outside of poetry he followed a path like that of a range of practitioners who would put poetry & art “once more at the service of mind” (M. Duchamp), enlarging in that sense the territory in which poetry could be an operating force.  The division of so much of his work into short prose blocks, often numbered in what seems at first an erratic (non)system & the curious, sometimes unexpected movement therein of thought to thought may now be read as a form-of-meditation that bears many of the marks of a form-of-poetry.  Writes Marjorie Perloff of Wittgenstein’s mode of writing & thinking: “Perhaps it is this curious mix of mysticism and common-sense, of radical thought to which the ‘egg-shells’ of one’s old views continue to ‘stick,’ that has made Wittgenstein, who had no interest at all in the ‘poetry’ of his own time, paradoxically a kind of patron saint for poets and artists.”  But it is the poet David Antin who most clearly captures for some of us the improvisational & experimental nature of Wittgenstein’s practice of philosophy as a form of poetry outside of poetry that Antin cites & himself practices as “thinking while talking.”  Or as Antin writes further in appraisal: “Wittgenstein is not a poet of the German language or the English language; he is a poet of thinking through language … a poet of nearly pure cognition.”
            For this, what Wittgenstein writes of philosophy might also hold for poetry in the work of a range of contemporary poets: “Philosophy, as we use the word, is a fight against the fascination which forms of expression exert on us” (Wittgenstein, Blue Book, 27).

(2) Additionally, as Elaine Scarry notes, in her The Body in Pain, “Whatever pain achieves, it achieves through its unsharability, and it ensures this unsharability through its resistance to language.” To a significant extent, then, in the passage above, Wittgenstein chews on the same problematic that confronts a tremendous number of twentieth- and twenty-first-century poets: how to make language go beyond itself, how to make it express / represent / etc. what it was not made to express or represent. This, in contrast to an Alexander Pope, say, for whom poetry (“True Wit”), is that which is “Nature to advantage dress’d, / What oft was thought, but ne'er so well express'd” (“Essay on Criticism”). In that sense, then, Wittgenstein not only engages in the “fight against the fascination which forms of expression exert on us”, he engages in the fight against their limitations, in perhaps unwitting solidarity with much of what is called here the outside & the subterranean.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Ed Friedman: Four New Poems (“Ideal Boy”) from Two Towns

Good Habits 

The ideal boy
gets up early.
Light is dim outside,
not so bright inside either.
Salutes parents
bare feet knees together,
proud posture with no sassy upturns.
Goes for morning walk.
Does not wander from path.
Until sun has fully risen
it’s hard to avoid ditches and
fast-moving wild predators.
Brushes up the teeth.
Special red chili pepper toothpaste
not recommended.
Bathes daily.
Wears underwear in shower if
swimming trunks not available.
to local deities and major godheads.
Takes meals on time.
Hand to mouth,
no metal utensils.
Helps others
to second helpings.
Crossing busy access roads,
avoids careening vehicles.
Takes part in games
amicable and rancorous.
Hard wooden balls
bruise the shins and cheekbones.
Taking lost children to the police post
is ill-advised during rebellion,
tribal unrest, or slave trade.
Joins National Junior Army
only as last resort.
Pink recruitment tents
dot the green spring flood plains.
Joins in social gatherings.
Boys and boys boys and girls
button and unbutton
their bright cloth shirts,
sing many times over
anthems and hymns.
Define laxness.
Go to school and read attentively.
Blazing, all fired up,
head home, incite the family.

Bad Behaviors

The ideal boy
never sketches costume jewelry
during homework time or
pilfers baubles to draw.
Must avoid spitting near breakfast,
lunch, dinner, festival meals.
Even rotten wormy food
is politely contained.
Kite-flying barefooted
on slanted tile roofs
is unpardonable danger.
Same for catching Father
in the act of expelling
household cat litter
over public sidewalk.
Avert eyes subtly.

Bad Habits Too

The sky is overcast and faintly blue gray.
Creamy yellow stucco walls,
salmon drapery, and mouldings.
Don’t gamble wearing native shorts and shirts.
Big bugs leap off unclean vegetables.
Toying with deadly electricity.
If you ever lie down before the rolling-forward bus,
you’ll die worse than animal teasing with sticks.
Thieves are reamed regularly
for insolent infractions.
A fine way to treat others can’t be bought.
Gummed-down dinners.

Human Stages and Duties

Ideal boys
sleep wearing little
under smooth cotton sheets,
lie awake in the charged quiet.
Preparing to lift a miniature
soccer ball from the rug,
twirl it for Daddy and
show all sides of a weird haircut.
Red tiger-print jumpsuits.
give way to swimming trunks,
three-wheeled scooters.
What’s sunset and afterglow on flood runoffs?
Henna tattoos.
Posters of our beloved pacifist presidents.
Do thoughts duel?
Looking at my portraits
I’d say so then not.
Rice ripening on time equals life or death.
For scroll inscribers and graduates
all kinds of love
pour forth among wicker furniture.
Leaning back wrist to temple
I regard the future with weariness—
now invigorated awe.

[note. Ed Friedman grew up in 1950s Los Angeles. He made his way to New York City in the early 70s, where he worked on magazines, collaborated with artists & composers, played in bands, & participated in the active St. Mark’s Poetry Project community. In 1987 he became the Poetry Project’s Artistic Director, a position he held until 2003. His previous books of poetry & prose include: The Telephone Book, Humans Work, Mao & Matisse, Away, & Drive Through the Blue Cylinders.  Of his new book, Two Towns from Hanging Loose Press, I’ve written elsewhere: “There is in Ed Friedman’s marvelous new book a range of voices from the mock-naive & deeply comic ‘Ideal Boy’ to the wide-ranging & always surprising ‘Propulsion,’ a long poem in itself with incursions into both the personal & political.   Friedman emerges in all of these as a powerful & never disappointing poet/chronicler, at the top of his form & ready to take his place among the makers & movers of our time.  The work is refreshing, absorbing, & remarkably readable; the pleasure in that reading all ours now as it must have been his in the making.” (J.R.)]

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Jerome Rothenberg & John Bloomberg Rissman: Poems for the Millennium, volume 5: the Table of Contents (part two)

James Tilly Matthews, The Air-Loom Machine, c. 1810
[What follows is the second half of the table of contents for Barbaric Vast & Wild: A Gathering of Outside & Subterranean Poetry from Origins to Present, which has been announced for March publication by Black Widow Press.  The first half appeared in Poems and Poetics on February 2, & numerous excerpts from the book-in-progress have appeared there also from time to time.  The work as a whole functions de facto as the fifth volume of Poems for the Millennium.]


Gallery Three
A Book Of Extensions 

(Russian, 19th Century)
Bald Mountain Zaum

(American, 19th Century)
Shaker Sound Poem

Hildegard Of Bingen (German, 1098-1179) 
O Orzchis Ecclesia: An Antiphonal Hymn

(Central Europe, 15th/16th Century)
from The Voynich Manuscript

Dwight Mackintosh (American, 1906-1999)
Image and Unknown Script

Adolf Wölfli (Swiss/German, 1864-1930) 
Image and Text

Howard Finster (American, 1915-2001)
“Highway to Heaven” & “Guardian Angel”

Robert Walser (German, 1878-1956)

(Medieval Hebrew)
Masora Calligrams

Naftali Bacharach (Hebrew, 17th Century)
The 10 Sefirot as a Wheel of Light

John Clare (English, 1793-1864)
Untitled Letter (Vowelless Writing)

“Lord” Timothy Dexter (American, 1748-1806)
from A Pickle for the Knowing Ones; or Plain Truths in a Homespun Dress

(2nd Century B.C. – 5th Century A.D.)                                                           
Coptic & Greek Magical Papyri

Nakhman Of Breslov (Ukraine/Yiddish, 1772-1810)
The Burnt Book

Antonin Artaud (French, 1896-1948)
Spell for Roger Blin

Kuo-An Shih-yuan, (Chinese version, 12th Century)  
The Ten Oxherding Pictures

George Herriman (American, 1880-1944)
from Krazy Kat

Ernst Herbeck (Austrian, 1920-1991)
Golden ABCs

(Shona, Zimbabwe, 20th Century)
African Praise Names: The Monkey, The Eland

Mikhl Likht (American/Yiddish, 1893-1953)
from Processions

Hannah Weiner (American, 1928-1997)
from A Clairvoyant Journal

Larry Eigner (American, 1927-1996)
from Air The Trees

Graham Reynolds, J.A. Lindon (English, 20th Century)
Four Palindromes

Lewis Carroll (English, 1832-1898)
10 Syllogisms

Eugene Field (American, 1850-1895)
from The Complete Tribune Primer

Félix Fénéon (French, 1861-1944)
from Faits Divers

(U.K., Contemporary)
from The Library of Unwritten Books

Anonymous (American, 20th Century)
Schizophrenic Definitions

James Tilly Matthews (English, 1770-1815), as transcribed by John Haslam
Air-Loom Machine

Sun Ra [Herman Poole Blount] (American, 1914-1993)
The Wisdom of Ra

Shea Zellweger (American, 1925-)
Objects Toward an Outsider Logic

Ludwig Wittgenstein (Austrian, 1889–1951) 
from Philosophical Investigations

Graham Harman (American, 1968-)
On Vicarious Causation: A Latour Litany

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin (2010)
The Voice Of The Dolphin

Gallery Four
A Book Of Performances 

Diogenes Of Sinope (Greek, 412 or 404 B.C.– 323 B.C.)
Six Event Pieces

(England, 1849)
A Christmas Play, Performed by the Derbyshire Mummers

(Quiché Maya, 15th Century A.D.)
Rabinal-Achí, Part Four

Harry Partch (American, 1901–1974)
Barstow: Eight Hitchhiker Inscriptions from a Highway Railing at Barstow, California

W. [Willis] T. Goodwin (American, 1935-2007)
from Easter Sunrise Sermon, 1971

Gilbert Eastman (American Sign Language, 1934-2006)
Epic: Gallaudet Protest


Armand Schwerner
Tablet VIII

John Bloomberg-Rissman
In The House of the Hangman #1731

Jerome Rothenberg
from A Further Witness, for Anselm Hollo