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

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Nakahara Chuya: Four Poems Newly Englished

Translations from Japanese by Jerome Rothenberg & Yasuhiro Yotsumoto 

[The project to translate Nakahara Chuya into English continued recently (July 2014) with a meeting in Yamaguchi, Japan, of a number of interested poets & translators – plans to be announced.  My own collaborative work with Yasuhiro Yotsumoto will hopefully continue from this point onward, for which the following poems & comments are only a beginning.  (J.R.)]


Look at this, it’s my bone,
a tip of bone torn from its flesh,
filthy, filled up with woes,
it’s the days of our lives
sticking out, a blunt bone
bleached by the rain.

There’s no shine to it,
innocent, stupidly white,
absorbing the rain,
blown back by the wind,
just barely
reflecting the sky.

Funny imagining, seeing
this bone on a chair
in a restaurant
packed to the gills, & eating
mitsuba leafy & boiled,
a bone but alive.

Look at this, it’s my bone,
& is that me staring
& wondering: Strange,
was my soul left behind
& has it come back
where its bone is,
daring to look?

On the half dead grass
on the bank of a brook
in my home town, standing
& looking – who’s there?
Is it me? A bone
sticking out
a bone stupidly white
& high as a billboard.

sound of a brook
comes down
the mountain:
spring light
like a stone:
the water running
from a spout
split open:
more a grey-haired
crone, her story
pouring out. 

mica mouth
I sing through:
falling backward
drying up
my heart
lies wrinkled:
tightrope walker
in between
old stones. 

o unknown fire
bursting in air! 

o rain of echoes
wet & crowned!


clap my hands clapping
this way & that



The field until yesterday
was burning now
it stretches under clouds
& sky unmindful.
And they say the rain
each time it comes
brings autumn that much
closer even more so
autumn borne cicadas
sing out everywhere,
nesting sometimes in a tree
awash in grass.

I smoke a cigarette,
smoke spiraling
through stale air,
I try & try
to stare
at the horizon.
Can’t be done,
The ghosts of heat
& haze
stand up or flop down.
And I find myself alone there,

A cloudy sky
dark golden light
plays off now
as it always was,
so high I can’t help
looking down.
I tell you that I live
resigned to ennui,
drawing from my cigarette
three different tastes.
Death may no longer be
so far away.


“He did, he said so long & then
he walked away, he walked out from that door,
the weird smile that he wore, shiney like brass,
his smile that didn’t look like someone living.

His eyes like water in a pond the color when it clears,
or something. He talked like someone somewhere else.
Would cut his speech up into little pieces.
He used to think of little things that didn’t matter.”

“Yes, just like that. I wonder if he knew that he was dying.
He would laugh and tell you that the stars became him
when he stared at them. And that was just a while ago.


A while ago. Swore that the clogs that he was wearing weren’t his.”


The grass was absolutely still,
and over it a butterfly was flying.
He took it all in from the veranda,
stood there dressed in his yukata.
And I, you know, would watch him
from this angle. Staring after it,
that yellow butterfly. I can remember now
the whistles of the tofu vendors
back and forth, the telephone pole
clear against the evening sky.
Then he turned back to me and said “I ...
yesterday, I flipped a stone over that weighed
maybe a hundred pounds.” And so I asked
“how come? and where was that?”
Then you know what? He kept on staring at me,
straight into my eyes, like he was getting mad,
or something … That’s when I got scared.

How strange we are before we die …



World’s end, the sunlight that fell down to earth was warm, a warm wind blowing through the flowers.

On a wooden bridge, the dust that morning silent, a mailbox red & shining all day long, a solitary baby carriage on the street, a lonely pinwheel.

No one around who lived there, not a soul, no children playing there, & I with no one near or dear to me, no obligation but to watch the color of the sky above a weathervane.

Not that I was bored. The taste of honey in the air, nothing substantial but enough to eat & live from.

I was smoking cigarettes, but only to enjoy their fragrance. And weirdly I could only smoke them out of doors.

For now my worldly goods consisted of a single towel. I didn’t own a pillow, much less a futon mattress. True I still had a tooth brush, but the only book I owned had nothing but blank pages. Still I enjoyed the heft of it when I would hold it in my hands from time to time.

Women were lovely objects but not once did I try to go with one. It was enough to dream about them.

Something unspeakable would urge me on, & then my heart, although my life was purposeless, started pounding with a kind of hope.


In the woods was a very strange park, where women, children & men would stroll by smiling wildly. They spoke a language I didn’t understand & showed emotions I couldn’t unravel.

Looking up at the sky, I saw a spider web, silver & shining.

[note. Over a short lifetime, Nakahara Chuya (1907-1937) was a major innovator along lines originally shaped by Dada and other, earlier forms of European, largely French, experimental poetry. In 1997, as part of an annual poetry festival in his home prefecture of Yamaguchi, I came to his grave along with a group of Japanese poet-companions, to celebrate the 60th year of his death and the 90th of his birth. The poem marking that time, “At the Grave of Nakahara Chuya,” appeared a few years later in A Paradise of Poets and included a fake “translation” in what I took to be his style, or one of them, that brought some of his work into the domain of popular Japanese music. The four poems presented above are from a more recent attempt at actual translation, but a part of my earlier poem-song can also appear here as a further homage:

As sportscoats are to toothpaste
as the boa is to scales
as black teeth are to playful ghosts
as seasons are to smiles

As telephones are to toasters
as angels are to air
as wagon wheels are to ups & downs
as horses are to fire

As Buddha is to Buddha
as a toenail is to glass
as the way we make love is tight like that
as ascensions are to cash

As harbors are to hairpins
as napoleons are to joy
as bicycles are to icicles
bones are to a dada boy

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Harris Lenowitz: from Jacob Frank’s The Words of the Lord

At the death bed of Jacob Frank 1791
Translation from the Polish Manuscripts by Harris Lenowitz 

note. As a time of growing dislocations & deconstructions, the eighteenth-century saw changes of mind that reached into isolated corners of Europe, far removed from the strongholds of both the Enlightenment & the “natural supernaturalism” & radical mysticisms that were among  the marks of an emerging Romanticism.  The messianic Frankist movement as it affected eastern European Jews involved, like its literary & western counterparts, a shift in language & its attendant symbols that resembled the shifts emerging as well in the dominant cultures.
            Of the work presented below, Harris Lenowitz writes as translator: “These are some of the sayings of Yankiev Leivich, Yakov ben Lev, who called himself Yakov Frank and whom some called Wise Jacob.  Jacob Frank [1726-1791] was a creature of Podolia, Turkey, Poland-in-its-disintegration.  He traveled.  His father was a traveling preacher.  Frank was a peddler too and spoke everybody’s language: Balkan, Turkish, Yiddish, Polish, Ladino, with quotations, citations, and language play from Hebrew and Aramaic.  He joined up with Sabbateans, followers of the messianic movement begun by Shabtai Zvi and Nathan of Gaza [in the seventeenth century], continued through Barukhya Russo [d. 1721], and temporarily short one messiah.  With them he turned against the Talmud, into the Zohar, and out through the Sabbatean pore.  He added some things to the movement: a new emphasis on the Virgin, a passage through Christianity, after the passage through Islam which Shabtai/Nathan originated, on the way to Esau.  Perhaps more sex.  He became a messiah to thousands of Jews.”
            In the “words” written down by his followers, the mini-narratives show a range of transformative experiences that came to him, like vatic prose poems, in the form of dreams & visions or by observations, simple or not, of the people & events to which his way of life had brought him. (J.R./H.L.) 

[Several of the nearly 3000 sayings and visions follow – from Lenowitz’s complete translation, waiting to be published, but available in its entirety at]

1. I had a vision in Salonika, as though the following words were said to somebody, Go lead Jacob the wise into the rooms and when you and he come to the first room, I admonish you that all the doors and gates be opened to him. When I entered the first room, a rose was given to me as a sign by which I could go on to the next and so on consequenter from one room to the next. And so I flew in the air accompanied by two maidens [the like of] whose beauty the world has never seen. In these rooms I saw for the most part women and young ladies. In some, however, there were assembled only groups of students and teachers, and wherever just the first word was spoken to me, I immediately grasped the whole matter from it and the full meaning. There was an innumerable number of these rooms and in the last one of them I saw the First [= Shabtai Zvi] who also sat as a teacher with his students, dressed in frenk [= Turkish] clothing. This one immediately asked me, Are you Jacob the wise? I have heard that you are strong and brave-hearted. To this point have I come, but I have not the strength of proceeding from here further; if you want [to], strengthen yourself and may God help you, for very many ancestors took that burden upon themselves, went on this road, but fell. With that, he showed me through the window of this chamber an abyss which was like a black sea, hidden in extraordinary darkness, and on the other side of this abyss I saw a mountain whose height seemed to touch the clouds. At that I shouted, Be what may, I will go with God's help, and so I began to fly on a slant through the air into the depth until I reached its very bottom, where, having felt the ground, I stopped. Walking in the dark, I came upon the edge of the mountain and seeing that because of the steep smoothness of the mountain I had difficulty getting up on it, I was forced to clamber up with my hands and nails and using all my strength until I reached the top. As soon as I stopped there, an extraordinary scent reached me; and there were many True-Believers there. Seized by great joy, I did not [yet] want to go up onto the mountain with my whole body, saying to myself, I will rest awhile here, for sweat poured from my head like a river in flood on account of the tortures which I had borne to climb this mountain; but when I am well rested then I will come up on the mountain towards all the good which is found there. And that is what I did, I let my feet hang and sat with my body and hands at rest on the mountain. Then I went up on the mountain. 

2. Being sick once in Dziurdziów, I had a dream like this. I saw an extraordinarily beautiful woman, who had a well of the water of life and another well of clear water, and this [woman] said to me, Put your legs in the water and you will become healthy right away. I did so and became well. At the place where this woman was found, there was a broad beautiful field, in which she, taking me by the hand, said, Come, I will show you my daughter who is still a maiden, and I went with her into the depth of that field which gave off an extraordinary scent, from [many] different flowers. The Maiden, whose beauty nothing in this world could describe, came to meet us there, and she was dressed in a Polish rubran [a tight-fitting, twisted blouse of heavy, usually red, silk] and her uncovered breasts were visible. Having noticed this I suddenly saw from one end of the world to the other. Her mother informed me that if I was desirous to take her for a wife, she would permit it, but I answered that I had a wife and children. 

44. My grandmother, my mother's mother was a very learned astrologer. When I was born, all the witches assembled around our home and surrounded it, even their queen was there at their head. There was a dog in our house— a cross between a wolf and a [canine] bitch. This one did not sleep at all, but barked all the time, for if he had fallen asleep even for a moment, then they would have seen to it that he would have never awakened, but he kept watch vigilantly. Then on the 8th day at the circumcision, they surrounded our home as before and wanted to do something evil, but were unable to because that dog kept guard again, and the old grandmother with her craft fought against the evil also, saying, Watch him carefully, bring him up properly, for a new thing will come to the world through him. 

451. On the 21st of October, 1784 the Lord saw a dream, I had a golden ring on my hand, and I dropped that ring onto a mirror, which broke into small pieces, Having turned that mirror onto the other side, I found shining glass there also, and likewise a bracelet fell from my hands and broke the other side. He himself gave the interpretation of that, My help hastens to come. 

504. In a dream I saw Jesus, having priests around him, sitting at a spring of living and clear water. I noticed that this spring went away from them and came to me. 

748. I saw a dream as if I were in a church, totally naked except for a gray cloak such as the Jesuits wear, but the chest was bare like the breasts of a woman. The priests were all prepared for the Resurrection service, but only one priest wore a cloak like mine. All present thought that they would raise something as was the custom at the Resurrection service, but nothing was raised except that priest came to me and sprinkled me with pure water. All the people present laughed, that I was dressed in such a cloak. I wanted to cover my chest, but in spite of all my endeavors, it remained bare. 

791. In a dream I saw a very old woman, 1500 years old. Her hair was white as snow; she brought me 2 silver belts and a Walachian sausage. I bought one from her and stole the other. 

793. In a dream I saw that I went to a great church having a great window, having neither an altar nor any paintings. The walls were covered with silver. Many Polish lords sat there, they ate and they drank. They asked me to eat with them, but I said I was weak and could not eat. Moreover, I had not heard Mass yet. I went to the sacristy, and the sacristy too was beautiful. I saw that a priest threw off his chasuble and put on another. He went to pray with his hands raised, but without the chalice, after having entered a certain room, before which hung a curtain of silver material. I followed and saw a man lying on the ground. He was about 10 cubits long and rolled in the dirt, but the priest prayed to him. I went to those lords and said to them, Come, I will show you a tasty comedy, how a man is rolling in the dirt and a priest praying to him. But I was dressed in a long Polish zupania [the undergarment of the Polish folk costume] and girdled with a precious Persian belt whose ends were very precious; and I wrapped myself around several times with that belt, but still its end trailed on the ground. The Lord himself interpreted: Some new road is prepared for me. 

804. The Lord saw a dream the 14th of June 1784: Two women came to me, and one man 6 cubits tall. They were very beautiful, and they said to me, We have heard in the place where we live that your people have abandoned you and that you do not want to send them on any mission. We have been dead several thousand years and we have worked a lot, and still we have no peace. We ask you, Send us. We will go on your mission wholeheartedly.  I answered them, I have already said that I will make revelation to no man, nor bring any near, nor will I send any on a mission. They asked me, But the signal has already gone out that a great deal of blood will flow in the world, and we want to go and rescue many; only you bless us for the way. I am a prostak, I replied, and cannot make a blessing. They asked me, But you bless your people? I replied, I can say no more than this word: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and this verse: The angel who delivered me1062 & & ... They said to me, We have a book here in which stand blessings. Bless us with that book; we only ask you that you bless us out loud. They gave me the book which was written in large Hebrew letters without dots. They bent their heads and I, after raising my hands above their heads, blessed them. There were beautiful words there, but I do not remember more than two words that were at the end: Du Jankiew, That is Jacob. 

852. Her Highness [his daughter Eva] saw a dream on the 5th of July 1784: I saw a little child in my room; one black man came in with horns on his head. I asked him, What do you want here? He answered, I have come to take that child from your house. I will not give you that child, I said. He said, If you will not give him to me willingly, then I will take him by violence. I asked him who he might be? He replied, First I will take the child, then I will tell you who I am. He took the child by violence under one arm and under the other he caught up that French girl who was with me. I asked him again, Who are you? He answered, I am the worst devil of all the devils. The French girl started to scream loudly and to ask that I rescue her from him, but he did not listen to her and left with her. Immediately a great fire began to burn in my room, which I tried to put out, but I couldn't. The Lord came along to put it out, at which a great outcry arose that in the Lord's room it was burning terribly. 

868. It would be better for you if you had been taught the wisdom of sorcery; you would have known a great deal. 

[Originally written for inclusion but never published in Rothenberg & Robinson, Poems for the Millennium, volume 3, with biographical passages adapted from H.L. in A Big Jewish Book (a.k.a. Exiled in the Word).  Jacob Frank, the eighteenth-century Jewish messiah, was one of a long chain of Messiahs from the time of Jesus and before.  See also H. Lenowitz, The Jewish Messiahs: From the Galilee to Crown Heights, Oxford University Press, 1998.  The entire posting will be included as is in Rothenberg & Bloomberg-Rissman, Barbaric Vast & Wild: An Assemblage of Outside & Subterranean Poetry from Origins to Present.]

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Michael McClure, Jack Foley & Jerome Rothenberg: Writing Between the Lines 1955/2013/2014

[The following work began with Jack Foley’s writing “between the lines” of Michael McClure’s famous poem, “For the Death of 100 Whales,” first recited at the famed Six Gallery reading in 1955 San Francisco.  With my own proclivity toward collaborative writing & thinking I came into the process a few months after Foley, which stretches the time frame of the final work to the almost present.  Typographically McClure’s original poem appears in roman type, Foley’s responses in italic, & mine in bold italic.  The McClure poem of course is the true jewel in the crown, and “the rest,” as someone said, “is commentary.” (J.R.)] 
Hung midsea
Not Death,
Nor Life
Like a boat mid-air
The liners boiled their pastures:
at the poetry reading,
the sea before light,
The liners of flesh,
beautiful white hair
hanks coming loose
The Arctic steamers
straining toward shore 

Brains the size of a teacup
brain sizzling,
brain at my call,
Mouths the size of a door

The sleek wolves
the vowels and consonants
the words laid to rest
Mowers and reapers of sea kine.
of Ecstasy.
Eager & willing.
Sweet meat,
Pronged on my teeth
(Meat their algae)
Ecstatic mammal
Luminous fish
is still leaping
Like sheep or children
like a child or William Blake
like a sea or a firmament
 Shot from the sea's bore.
into the fantastical, deep azure of poetic consciousness,
the freaky passageways of times to come,
Turned and twisted
Flung blood and sperm.
blood, bone and sinew
ballots, bullets, barbers
into the precise
the paradise
Gnashed at their tails and brothers
contemplation of air.
of whales & mothers.
Cursed Christ of mammals,
Burning Babes in amber
Snapped at the sun,
drunk with the sun,
the sun lost in its waters,
Ran for the Sea's floor.
Door opener.

Goya! Goya!
Goya thrice!
Oh Lawrence
hottest blood of all
No angels dance those bridges.
of the birds, beasts and flowers,
everywhere concealed & known
Angelic presence.
Hidden from my ear & eye
There are no churches in the waves,
There is no church but this,
which is no church
No holiness,
no holiness,
no place to hide,
No passages or crossings
no “passages”
no “crossings”
From the beasts' wet shore.
but this man’s deep words in the crowded room.
from which no beast breaks free. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

John Bloomberg-Rissman: In the House of the Hangman 1731

[note. The text that follows is a further installment from Bloomberg-Rissman’s epic assemblage, Zeitgeist Spam, a work constructed (almost) entirely, he tells us, from words or sounds appropriated from other writers.  In the present instance the over-all source is Barbaric Vast & Wild: An Assemblage of Outside & Subterranean Poetry from Origins to Present, which he & I have recently completed as Poems for the Millennium, volume 5, for publication later this year by Black Widow Press.  The subsection of Zeitgeist Spam, “In the House of the Hangman,” itself in multiple installments, derives its title from an essay by Theodor Adorno: “In the house of the hangman one should not mention the noose; one might be suspected of harboring resentment.”]

But it is the mystery that taunts us most: what brought them into that darkness, that becomes long, deep; it widens, extends, narrows. It is a constricted place, a narrowed place, one of the hollowed-out places. It forms hollowed-out places. There are roughened places; there are asperous places. The sky is overcast, the stars are darkened, the celestial expanses quiver, the bones of the earth-gods tremble, his ḥmwst are under his feet, his uraei are on the crown of his head, / Efficient for burning (?); / Who eats their entrails (?), / Even of those who come with their bodies full of magic. Then Saul told his servants find me a woman who can speak with ghosts that I can go to can make her sound her shaman bag can speak through her his servants said well yes there is a woman   mistress of the shaman bag at Endor [scream] what [scream] how [scream] what in the world is this [scream] strange new [scream]. And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the color of amber, out of the midst of the fire. And the likeness of the firmament upon the heads of the living creature was as the color of the terrible crystal, stretched forth over their heads above. And under the firmament were their meshugga wings, take constant notice of the clarity of things, ZEUS (a white flickering) / life-breathing HERA / And I will tell you this: There is no self-nature in anything mortal nor any finality in death’s deconstruction / There is only the merging, change and exchange / Press these things into the pit of your stomach. I came down from my mountain hut into the streets one day to beg food. I stopped where a leper was feeding himself. With his rotted leper’s hand into my bowl he threw a scrap into my bowl as he threw it one of his fingers broke and also fell I simply leaned against a wall and ate I tell you the world is blazing, blazing / the whole world’s in flames / I tell you it’s flared up / the world is shaken / your worlds are shaken / the whole world’s ablaze & the odds have never been easy. An nou there kythed an unco ferlie in heiven – a wuman cleadit i the sun, an the muin wis aneth her feet, an on her heid wis a croun o twal stairns. She wis boukit, an skirlt out wi the sair pyne o her birth-thraws. Than anither ferlie kythed in heiven – a muckle reid draigon, at hed seiven heids an ten horns, an on ilka heid a croun. His tail soopit a third o the stairns frae the lift an cuist them doun on the yird. The Draigon stood fornenst the Wuman at wis about ae bring furth a bairn, ettlin tae wirrie the bairn, whaniver she buir it. She brocht furth a man-bairn, at is weirdit tae hird the nations wi an airn wand; Judas said to Jesus, “Does the human spirit die?” Jesus said, “This is why God ordered Michael to give the spirits of people to them as a loan, so that they might offer service, but the Great One ordered Gabriel to grant spirits to the great generation with no ruler over it — that is, the spirit and the soul. Therefore, the [rest] of the souls [— one line missing —].” “[…] light [— nearly two lines missing —] around […] let […] Then they will fornicate in my name and slay their children and they will […] and [— about six and a half lines missing —] my name, and he will […] your star over the [thir]teenth aeon.” After that Jesus [laughed]. “Truly […] your last […] become [— about two and a half lines missing —], grieve [— about two lines missing —] the ruler, since he will be destroyed. For you are knowledge and ignorance. You are shameless; you are ashamed. You are senseless and you are wise. Which is what happened: Tarafah shed his life as a punctured goatskin sheds its wine. Hoooh! Dierra, Agada, Ganna, Silla! Hoooh! Fasa! They cast themselves in multitudes, like a ram’s fleece upon the ridges of the Boyne.” This is the sense but not the order of the words as he sang them in his sleep. The day I was to depart, I had a bad headache. I called a doctor, but he couldn’t cure me. Then I met a Buddhist Master named Feng-kan. He smiled and said, O my secret’s secret, you have dwindled so much you’re hidden from the thought of the living, and yet a hidden-manifest of you has appeared in all things for all things. After this I saw a very large, round and shady object. It was like an egg, with the top part narrower, the middle part fuller, and the lower part compressed. On the outer edge of this circular object, there was a bright flame which had a darker layer under it. Inside of the fire and the darker layer was a globe of reddish fire which was so great that it lit up the entire inside of the circular object. Above the globe which was inside the circular object, there were three torches which in turn were inside of the fire that was on the outer edge of the circular object. The fourth Wheel is the Chrystaline Pure Corporiety. But there was more: they made me one of them, I sixth among that wisdom company. So we went on as far as the semi-circle light in conversation proper to the place and which now to leave unreported is beautiful. Humans are indeed frightful beings. A large penis is the mark of an idiot. And then the Lama continued: Seek the bird’s, the fish’s path. Lord! A fire is raging without fuel. When the pot falls apart, what do you call it? Numskull! You’ve missed the point. “Language is Delphi.” Mine ears are filled brimful with cries of poor prisoners, Newgate, Ludgate cries (of late) are seldom out of mine ears. Those doleful cries, Bread, bread, bread for the Lord’s sake, pierce mine ears and heart, I can no longer forbear. Wherefore hie you apace to all prisons in the kingdom. Bow before those poor, nasty, lousy, ragged wretches, say to them, your humble servants, sirs (without a compliment), we let you go free and serve you, &c. Do this or (as I live, saith the Lord) thine eyes (at least) shall be bored out, and thou carried captive into a strange land. Loose the bonds of wickedness, undo the heavy burdens, let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke. Deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the poor that are cast out (both of houses and synagogues) to thy house. Cover the naked: hide not thyself from thine own flesh, from a cripple, a rogue, a beggar, he’s thine own flesh. From a whoremonger, a thief, &c., he’s flesh of thy flesh, and his flesh and whoredom is flesh of thy flesh also, thine own flesh. Thou mayest have ten times more of each within thee than he that acts outwardly in either. Remember, turn not away thine eyes from thine OWN FLESH. I had a golden ring on my hand, and I dropped that ring onto a mirror, which broke into small pieces, Having turned that mirror onto the other side, I found shining glass there also, and likewise a bracelet fell from my hands and broke the other side. In a dream I saw a very old woman, 1500 years old. Her hair was white as snow; she brought me 2 silver belts and a Walachian sausage. We have been dead several thousand years and we have worked a lot, and still we have no peace. We ask you, Send us. We will go on your mission wholeheartedly. I answered them, I have already said that I will make revelation to no man, nor bring any near, nor will I send any on a mission. They asked me, But the signal has already gone out that a great deal of blood will flow in the world, and we want to go and rescue many; only you bless us for the way. I am a prostak, I replied, and cannot make a blessing. They asked me, But you bless your people? I replied, I can say no more than this word: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and this verse: The angel who delivered me & & ... They said to me, We have a book here in which stand blessings. Bless us with that book; we only ask you that you bless us out loud. They gave me the book which was written in large Hebrew letters without dots. They bent their heads and I, after raising my hands above their heads, blessed them. There were beautiful words there, but I do not remember more than two words that were at the end: “One Lord, one and only Four Lord, Sky Lord would have been in chaos, Sky Lord would have been dark when you were born. Who are you, owner of chaos? Who are you, owner of night? You are in chaos, Great Lord of Days, the eye of the sun was plucked out when you were born.” But in the summer I was with the herd and fell asleep in front of the herd. Two came on reindeer, the bedding of their sledges worn from traveling so long. The hooves of the deer were ground down from galloping. I looked at them and my mind got confused, my body weakened and became like water. I was turned from a strong one into a weak one, fond of sleep, hardly walking in daylight. Poor Tom; that eats the swimming frog, the toad, the tadpole, / the wall-newt and the water; that in the fury of his heart, when / the foul fiend rages, eats cow-dung for sallets; swallows the old / rat and the ditch-dog; drinks the green mantle of the standing / pool; who is whipped from tithing to tithing, and stock- punished, / and imprisoned; who hath had three suits to his back, six shirts / to his body, horse to ride, and weapon to wear; / But mice and rats, and such small deer, / Have been Tom’s food for seven long year. For the doubling of flowers is the improvement of the gardner’s talent. For there is no Height in which there are not flowers. For flowers have great virtues for all the senses. For the warp and woof of flowers are worked by perpetual moving spirits. For flowers are good both for the living and the dead. For there is a language of flowers. For there is a sound reasoning upon all flowers. For elegant phrases are nothing but flowers. For flowers are musical in ocular harmony. And I felt strength enough in me, as though I could crush the world to atoms. I walked up and down the room, and shook the whole house; for I was not myself. I could not stop my fury; words flew too fast to utter against the power of darkness: and I felt in myself power, that I thought, if he was present, that I could tear him to pieces; and should not have feared, had there been ten thousand men and devils before me. So I remain’d with him, sitting in the twisted root of an oak; he was suspended in a fungus, which hung with the head downward into the deep. By degrees we beheld the infinite Abyss, fiery as the smoke of a burning city; beneath us at an immense distance, was the sun, black but shining; round it were fiery tracks on which revolv’d vast spiders, crawling after their prey; which flew, or rather swum, in the infinite deep, in the most terrific shapes of animals sprung from corruption; & the air was full of them, & seem’d composed of them: these are Devils, and are called Powers of the air. I now asked my companion which was my eternal lot? he said, ‘between the black & white spiders.’ (THE SNAKE.) See on the ground, / and motes of dust / With the blooming / And deep shadows (of) the woods, and it rises / By the figtree /  (     )  (From) To the rooftops the smoke, (at) near the ancient crown / Achilles died to me / Signifying wherever it lie, (glea) / (gleams) / Not all the Snows could make it white – / Not all the Summers Green / You’ve seen the Color maybe – / It is a mere prejudice that I am a human being. Yet I have often enough dwelled among human beings and I know the things human beings experience, from the lowest to the highest. Among the Hindus I was Buddha, in Greece Dionysus Alexander and Caesar were incarnations of me, as well as the poet of Shakespeare, Lord Bacon. Most recently I was Voltaire and Napoleon, perhaps also Richard Wagner. … However, I now come as Dionysus victorious, who will prepare a great festival on Earth. … Not as though I had much time. … Ah! The rotting rags; the bread soaked with rain, the drunkenness – Sometimes I see limitless beaches in the sky covered by white nations full of joy. A great golden vessel, above me, waves its multicolored flags in the morning breeze. I’ve created all the feasts, all the triumphs, all the dramas. I’ve tried to invent new flowers; new stars, new flesh, new languages. I believed I’d gained supernatural powers. Ah well! I must bury my imagination and my memories! Sweet glory as an artist and story-teller swept away! Well, I shall ask forgiveness for nourishing myself with lies. Let’s go. G’ganggali ging g’gang, g’gung g’gung! Giigara-Lina Wiiy Rosina. G’ganggali ging g’gang, g’gung g’gung! Then the God Orpheus, the greatest and most powerful of the Spirits, said, Let there be a Star on which we might all find a shelter and an asylum and, as he ordained it, so it was. A planeet named Eearth: a Desert, formless and void: and so far as they could see it was dark: And all the Spirits moved over the water. And then, they arrived on firm ground.  Then, God Orpheus said, Let there be light: and there was light.  Far above them, a splendid sun sent out its glowing rays vertically down to the earth to them: And before several hours had passed, this last, on a second divine and All-Powerful Word, descended on the horizon and, a gigantic number of brightly shining Staars, brilliant and scintillating, along with the Moon, comets and shadows, stood, or circled around on the blue firmament. And, again on a majestic and All-Powerful Word of the Last, The southern half of all the gigantic and majjestic Creation is my … property.  Not only the millions and billions of stars.  No!!  500 myriads and one star. … I have traveled through all of them in the year 1868.  And now, appalling Ca-tas-tro-phe before God the Holy-Spirit, I am swinging on the hideous rope of the gallows, in cell number 3 of the 5th wing of men. The living Lantern of Ouchy Opera / Cleopatra weds in a palanquin / Fountainebleau / The Quirinal mermaid / The pink pearl of India / Sketch of bank-note / The flowery earth and its work by / The great Victoria saves the rich exiles in Switzerland / Printers of bank-notes / Kaiser Wilhelm II’s love story / The extreme point of mysticism, / I hold it now in the real and in my body, / like a toilet broom. / For me, living man, I am a city besieged by the army of the dead, / Take that, take that, / you didn’t get me out of there yet, / I’m always there no matter what you try to do, / you haven’t defeated me and I have that: / caca, the cream of your … / it is me who gobbles up the cake you made crumb by crumb, / hmm hmm hmm / hmm hmm hmm / hmm hmm hmm / hmm hmm hmm / hmm hmm hmm / so so so si / hmm hmm hmm / hmm hmm hmm / Cayetano García / [He answers “Yes …” She says, “Isn’t that how?” He responds: “Yes, that's it.” She says: “Isn’t that it? Like this. Listen.”] / so so so / so so so / so so so / [“That’s it. Work, work,” exclaims the man.] / hmm hmm hmm / hmm hmm hmm / so so so / hmm hmm hmm / so so so / so so so / si si si / si si si / si si si / so sa sa / si si si / so sa sa sa / hmm hmm hmm / hmm hmm hmm / hmm hmm hmm.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Jerome Rothenberg: Translation, Transcreation, & Othering, A Homage to Octavio Paz & Haroldo de Campos

[NOTE. The following commentary was written to accompany a series of poems commisioned & prepared for "Trans-Poetic Exchange: A Colloquium on Haroldo de Campos and Octavio Paz's poem 'Blanco'" at Stanford University, January 29-30, 2010. An instance of what de Campos called "transcreation" and I call "othering," the method employed here is one I've used in The Lorca Variations & elsewhere, drawing on translations of Paz’s & de Campos’s writings & moving on therefrom.  Both poems & commentary are scheduled for publication as part of a full-scale proceedings of the 2010 colloquium, news of which will follow shortly.  (J.R.) ]
The crux of the matter here was Haroldo de Campos’s theory and practice of transcreation, something that was very much on my mind since our first meetings in Europe nearly two decades ago.  For me too – and I believe for Haroldo as well – this brought up the question of my own practice with translation in Technicians of the Sacred (1968) and beyond, as well as the still larger dimension of what I had come to call “othering” and, more narrowly, “total translation.”  Like him I came more and more to think of translation as the foundation for the larger part of what I and others had been practicing as poetry – at least that our treating it as such raised some productive questions about the nature of poetry and of language over all.  (This was also at the heart of the noigandres experiment, for which Haroldo of course was one of the prime movers.)  And this centrality of translation was hammered home as well by Octavio Paz, so that the conjunction of De Campos and Paz in the present gathering made translation, transcreation, and othering the dominant themes for me as I approached it.  For this of course, Octavio’s “Blanco” and Haroldo’s transcreation thereof were the twin works open for our consideration.
            My strategy here was to turn, as Haroldo had before me, to the original “Blanco,” so as to further the earlier act of transcreation with a transcreative work of my own.  I looked in doing so to a form of othering that I had begun to practice two decades before – in a series of poems, “The Lorca Variations,” derived from the vocabulary of my own translations of García Lorca’s early Suites.  In those I systematically used all of Lorca’s nouns (in my English translation) as nuclei from which to compose new poems.  Moving from poem to poem I arranged the translated nouns in four or five columns and proceeded to link the words in something like reverse order, with results like the following, both Lorca and not-Lorca, both mine and not-mine:

The Lorca Variations XV

Water Jets

If death once had a face
the water from this water jet
has wiped it out,
the August air has left no trace of it,
like other fountains
or other faces from your home town
that the sunlight & the water jet
drive from your room.
Things leave our eyes no boundaries here
other than dreams, no dreams
still precious to your heart,
its carved interior shot through with corners,
into which a grapevine grows,
fed by the water jet your fingers
once turned on, made it a place of clouds,
the perfect death’s head still inside it,
& that a water jet wipes out. 

It’s night.
In the garden our hearts have turned blue.
A maid opens the water jet, lets water & roses spill out.
A century passes.
Pianos circle the earth, dark swords slice arteries.
No dust on your windows, just blood.
In the garden four gay caballeros trade swords.
A cloud breaks apart & starts quaking.
It’s night.

And for Paz’s “Blanco” the following: 


1.  A clarity | of all the senses | lingers | leaving on the mouth & face | a white precipitation | sculptures crystal-thin | blank space | translucid whirlpools 

2. Is it a pilgrimage | that brings us | dancing in a ring | into a forest | where our thoughts | are white | the only signs | our steps | that break the silence 

3.  Green would be better | a slim defile | through which we pass | an archipelago | the shadow of a syllable | a white reflection 

4.  Is it red | or is it blue |  this dazzlement | that blinds us | numbers | dancing in the void | like things | a final clarity | no longer white  

5.  Thoughts fade | winds cease| forgetfulness erases truth | there is a deeper music in the words we speak | yellow isn’t white | & amethyst | is just a color 

If the Blanco variations published here and written for the occasion of the Stanford conference were my homage to Paz, in the case of Haroldo de Campos I brought forward a series of poems composed several years before and displaying a quite different form of othering.  That series, which I called “Antiphonals” for obvious reasons, was part of a commission from Francesco Conz, a great collector and publisher of Fluxus and other avant-garde art and poetry, for poems to be written by hand on a series of large colored photo portraits of Haroldo. As my contribution to what was conceived as a group tribute, I took phrases & lines from English translations of Haroldo’s poetry & responded to them with loosely rhymed soundings of my own. I then handwrote the poems pair by pair onto a black left margin on each of the photographs. In the typographical version, Haroldo’s words appear in italics, while mine are shown in roman type. For me at least, the resultant work has the feel of translation/transcreation – as still another instance of othering. 

            Two such instances follow: 

the malice
 of the
the chalice
of her

and a fury 

in missouri 

            All of this of course is not unfamiliar to other poets and is part of what we mean when we speak not only of translation as such but of related procedures such as collage and appropriation.  I am willing enough to extend all of these techniques so as to consider the consequences of viewing all our works (even the most “original” and “self-expressive” ones) as aspects of such a deeply human procedure.  Language is and always has been an aspect of our work in common, and there is a sense here, as I’ve stated often before, in which all translation and all of its related acts involve a kind of implicit collaboration – at least in the mind of the translator.  I am very much aware of this, however one-sided it may often seem, and I have sometimes let myself believe that all our writing, all our poetry, is an activity shared by all who are the users and makers of our common language.  This idea of a communally driven poetry – of the poem, however individual or unique, as simultaneously what Pound called “a tale of the tribe” – has held my attention even when I felt it to be false.  In a world in which that kind of unity is again under fire, I would continue thinking in those terms, wherever it may take me.