Commentaries - July 2012

Nostradamus, tr. and intro. Richard Sieburth

READ ALL ABOUT IT: Prophesy –– astrology –– verse –– clairvoyance –– sophism ­­–– eschatology –– apocalypticism –– magic  –– obscurity ­­–– divination –– enigma ––opacity –– mysticism –– grotesqueries –– the mother of all ambiguity ­­–– vatic –– visionary –– violent. The avant-garde occult classic The Prophesies of Nostradamus has found its ideal translator in Richard Sieburth and Sieburth and Stéphane Gerson have provided superb introductions and notes. Nostradamus, the vicar of implausible audibles, has created an epic cut-up poem, in William Burroughs’s sense. As Sieburth puts it, this is a “bleakly Nietzschean (or, more precisely, Benjaminian) vision of the Eternal Return of the Same.” Prophesies is riddled with riot, predicting a panoply of possible futures while all the time registering the trauma of its historical moment and, against all odds, our own.

bilingual edition from Penguin classics

four  prophesies:

1. 3
When whirlwind turns the litter upside down,
And faces are covered over by cloaks :
The republic shall be vexed by new folk,
The whites & reds judging the wrong way round.

3. 37
Before the assault an exhortation :
Kite seized by Eagle, ambushed by surprise :
Ancient wall crumbling under cannon fi re :
Little mercy shown : total devastation.

4. 10
The young prince spouting false accusations,
Throws the camp into chaos & dissension :
Struck in head by a stanchion : then grows calm
And on scrofula lays a healing balm.

6. 37
The ancient work shall be fulfilled in time :
The roof shall come crashing down on the lord :
An innocent blamed for the mortal crime,
The culprit hiding in the misty grove.

Outsider poems, a mini-anthology in progress (42): From 'Theragāthā' and 'Therīgāthā' (Pali, 1st century B.C.)

Translations by Andrew Schelling & Anne Waldman

[EDITOR'S NOTE. The following – all but the commentary – comes from selections & translations assembled by Schelling & Waldman that give a sometimes startling view of the poetry created by the early Buddhist outsiders/outriders whose homelessness & wanderings might later serve as a template for the uses of a poetry outside of poetry as such. The link here between experience & poetic form is a marker of outsider poetry as we’ve come to know it in our quest for a vehicle, a book, to bring it all together. (J.R.)]


This lady who cremates the dead
black as a crow –
she takes an old corpse and breaks off a thighbone,
takes an old corpse and breaks off a forearm,
cracks an old skull and sets it out
like a bowl of milk
for me to look at

Witless brain don’t you get it –
whatever you do just
ends up here
Get finished with karma, finished with rebirth –
no more bones of mine
on the slag heap


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

Taking whatever scraps
are tossed
finding medicine
in cow dung

beneath a tree and wrapped in
tattered robes –
only a man like that
walks free in all the four

only a man like that
walks free


Uppalavanna was stunning. She had skin the color of the heart of the blue lotus.
“Give us your daughter,” everyone begged of her father. But Uppalavanna
rencounced the world. She repeated the verses she’d heard:

                                      My daughter
                                      and I
                                      married the same man!
                                      O horror
                                      it’s unnatural
                                      My hair stands on end
                                      Sensual desire is
                                      a thick
                                      and thorny jungle

She is visited and challenged by Mara [Death] in a sal-tree grove.
                                      Such beauty is
                                      vulnerable in
                                      this fragrant grove
                                      Foolish girl –
                                      aren’t you afraid of
                                      being raped?

                                      Were there
                                      a thousand rapists
                                      No hair of mine
                                      would stiffen or tremble
                                      What can you do to me?
                                      I’ve got the same magic you do, Mara
                                      I can disappear into your body
                                      I’m standing
                                      between your eyebrows
                                      and you can’t see me

by Jerome Rothenberg & John Bloomberg-Rissman

SOURCE: Andrew Schelling & Anne Waldman, Songs of the Sons & Daughters of Buddha, Shambhala Publications Inc., 1996.

Out of my mind / deranged with love of my lost son / Out of my senses / Naked
– hair disheveled / I wandered here, there / I lived on rubbish heaps / in a cemetery,
on a highway / I wandered three years in hunger and thirst / Then I saw the
Buddha / gone to Mithila / I paid homage / He pitied me / and taught me the
Dharma / I went forth into the homeless state
(spoken by Vasitthi)

It’s the deliberate outsiderness, then, that marks them, a move into the margins, mirrored across millennia & continents by self-elected saints & poets. For those whose songs were later written down, the goal was a shared homelessness or else a refuge in the old/new wilderness, “to live as wanderers and seekers … in caves or woodland huts.” With that came – as it would for others, elsewhere – a turning to the common language, Pali in the present instance as a deliberately constructed counter to hieratic Sanskrit, & with that a new poetics as the sign of a new life.

Since their first gathering, the poems have been divided into two segments or books – the Theragāthā as songs (gāthā) of the early male followers of Buddha & the Therīgāthā as those of his early female followers. To the songs themselves, arranged from shortest to longest, the ancient anthologizers added short prose narratives, written with an earthiness & matter-of-factness much like that of the songs they put in context. What comes across, with little interference, is a mixture of hope & terror / terror & hope, that we might take for ourselves as the mark of all great poetry. The terror, then, in the following:

                                      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 hope & sense of liberation:
                                      O King, I have attained the goal
                                      for which I went into the homeless state –

                                      I have annihilated the fetters.

The odds have never been easy.

Kevin Gallagher's Rexroth feature

From Jacket 23 (August 2003)

The following is an essay Kevin Gallagher wrote to introduce an extensive feature on the life and poetry of Kenneth Rexroth. The contents of the feature can be found on the main page of Jacket #23.

Now that his Complete Poems are laid out for all of us to see, we have no choice but to make room for Kenneth Rexroth in the canon. This special Jacket tribute celebrates the work of this great poet, essayist, translator and activist from the United States.

Rexroth’s poetry was not well understood during his lifetime. Born in 1905 in South Bend, Indiana, he moved to California in the late 1920s and remained there for the rest of his life. It was in California where he emceed the famous “Six Flags” reading that earned him the name, “the father of the Beats.” Rexroth hated such a tag and was known for replying “an entomologist is not a bug!” First off in this selection is Sam Hamill’s introduction to the entomologist’s new collected poems and gives new and old readers alike a snapshot of the life and work of the Kenneth Rexroth the poet.

Contrary to the popular label thrust on him, Kenneth Rexroth was a late modern poet, one of the early post-modern poets, and toward the end of his life (which ended in 1982) became an eastern classicist. Regardless of the form his poetry took, it always involved at least one of three themes:  love, the natural world, or politics.

Early in Rexroth’s career, Louis Zukofsky included him in both the special Objectivist issue of Poetry, and in the famous Objectivist Anthology (though Rexroth considered himself a cubist rather than an objectivist).

[read more]

Video portraits series 10: Gizzi, Willis, Andrews, Vicuna, Raworth, Tranter


Peter & the Analogue World: Peter Gizzi
Liz's Hair: Elizabeth Willis
John's Trp: John Tranter
Bruce's War: Bruce Andrews
Cecilia: Dancing the Lines: Cecilia Vicuña
Tom: The Night the Lights Went On: Tom Raworth

Series 10 at PennSound

Ron & Joel: video portraits

Ron Silliman and Joel Kuszai

Ron & George

Ron Silliman
After a PoemTalk recording at CPCW, Rachel, Ron, and I wondered over to a Thai place a few blocks West on Chestnut. We then walked back to Walnut and 38th and stopped for a minute on parking ramp, before getting in Ron's car so he could drive Rachel home and drop me off at Bob and Francie's.
March 5, 2008
(mp4, 11mb)



Joel & Niagra Tours

Joel Kuszai
We were working on Blind Witness at my place, talking about Joel's job at Queens Community College and the Publishing Club and about Factory  School.
March 7, 2008
(mp4, 10mb)

Portraits page 1 : Regis Bonvicino, George Lakoff, Heny Hills, Mimi Gross, Loss Pequeno Glazier, Caroline Bervgvall
Portraits page 2
: Pierre Joris, Wysten Curnow, Levhi Lehto, Robert Grenier, James Sherry, Johanna Drucker
Portraits page 3
: Ann Lauterbach, Karen Mac Cormack, Steve McCaffery, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Nick Piombino, Richard Tuttle
Portraits page 4
: Rd Smith, Nicole Brossard, Douglad Messerli, Peter Middleton, Norman Fischer, Tina Darragh
Portraits page 5
: Myung Mi Kim, Charles Alexander, Alan Davies, P. Inman, Phong Bui, Bob Perelman
Portraits page 6:
Kennth Goldsmith, John Yau, Peter Gizzi,  Dubravka Djuric,  Elizabeth Willis, Tan Lin
Portraits page 7: John Ashbery, Rae Armantrout, Emma Bee Bernstein, Susan Howe, Sigmund Laufer
Portraits page 8: Maggie O'Sullivan, Christian Bök, Darren Wershler, Tony Foster, Marty Ehrlich & Erica Hunt, Lev Rubinstein
Portraits page 9: David Antin, Ted Greenwald, Jerome Rothenberg, Diane Rothenberg, Ron Silliman, Joel Kuszai

Portraits 10 & 11 under construction