Commentaries - November 2012

Photo by Mel Nichols at ROOF Books celebration, Zinc Bar, NYC, Nov. 17, 2012.

From 1980 to 1992, I worked extensively on most of the Roof and Segue Books produced during that period. I worked with the publisher James Sherry and the authors and the typesetters and cover artists. The work consisted of getting the manuscript from James and the authors, which was often very hard to procure, making sure it was proofed and edited and ready, then bringing it to Skeezo, the typesetters on 27th Street. They set the galleys on their machines. Then I’d come and pick up the Xeroxes of the galleys, proofread them, and then bring the galleys back for corrections with author’s corrections too. When the final galleys were ready. I would lay out the book by hand. I made an initial dummy for the book and then pasted up the final mechanical on boards with glue or wax. Often as in the case of Hannah Weiner’s and Bruce Andrews’ books, I would be moving around single words or letters or lines of type with an exacto knife to create shapes or odd spacing. The cover was also done by me, but with various artist’s works on them. Then the book would go to the printer and come back by US mail for blues. It was a lengthy and detailed process of production in those days without e-mail or computers to speed things along.

I also designed the Segue catalogs for the Distributing Service, Asylum's Press books, and L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E magazine, during this same period. I went on to design my own magazine, codited with Mira Schor, M/E/A/N/I/N/G, starting in 1986, till the present. I am happy that I had the opportunity to work on these books with all these wonderful (and sometimes difficult) poets and with the other designers, Lee Sherry, Diane Ward, Brita Bergland, Deborah Thomas, and especially with James Sherry, who made it all possible.

I am credited with production and/or design of all these Roof and Segue books.

Controlling Interests, by Charles Bernstein, 1980
Little Books/ Indians, by Hannah Weiner, 1980
Wobbling by Bruce Andrews, 1981
Ninety-Six Tears by Michael Gottlieb, 1981
The Occurrence of Tune, Charles Bernstein and Susan Bee, Segue, 1981
Active 24 Hours by Alan Davies, 1982
The Son Master, by Peter Seaton, 1982
Never Without One by Diane Ward, 1984
Popular Fiction, by James Sherry, 1985
The White Museum, by Lynne Dreyer, 1986
North of Intention, Steve McCaffery, 1986
Making Money, Henry Hills, 1986
The Age of Huts, Ron Silliman, 1986
Representative Works, Jackson Mac Low, 1986
The New Sentence, Ron Silliman, 1987
Signage, Alan Davies, 1987
Ice Cubes
, by Kit Robinson, 1987
Face Value,
by Bob Perelman, 1988
Red Shift
by P. Inman, 1988
A Young Recruit
, by Jean Day, 1988
Candles Burn in Memory Town,
edited by Janine Pommy Vega, 1988
Getting Ready to Have Been Frightened
, by Bruce Andrews, 1988
by Diane Ward, 1989
The Politics of Poetic Form,
edited by Charles Bernstein, 1990
, Laura Moriarty, 1990
Continental Harmony
, Michael Gizzi, 1991
Civil Noir
, by Melanie Neilson, 1991
, by Hank Lazar, 1992.


Presented at the ROOF 25th anniversary celebrarion at the Zinc Bar in New York, Nov. 17, 2012
James Sherry's remarks at the event were published yesterday at Sybil.

[For the record I will briefly insert the following list of some of my updated book publications, recently published or now awaiting publication. A more comprehensive list of books, magazine publications, & interviews between 2009 & 2011 appeared here earlier on Poems and Poetics.]

America a Prophecy, with George Quasha, reprinted by Station Hill Press, 2012.

Paraíso de Poetas [selected poems], translation from Spanish by Heriberto Yépez, Editorial Arte y Literatura, Cuba, scheduled: 2012.

Occasional Gematria, with Ian Tyson, revised version of artist’s book, published by, St Roman de Malegarde, France, 2012; original from Granary Books, 2011.

A Cruel Nirvana: The Notebooks / Narratives & Real Theater Pieces / Conversations, SplitLevel Texts, Ann Arbor, Michigan, scheduled: 2012.

Poland/1931 (“A Book of Writings” & “A Book of Testimony”), translation into French by Jean Portante, Editions Caractères, Paris, scheduled: 2013.

Eye of Witness: A Jerome Rothenberg Reader, edited with Heriberto Yépez, Black Widow Press, Boston, scheduled: 2013.

Shaking the Pumpkin, reprinted by Station Hill Press, scheduled: 2013.

Mistici, hoti si nebuni (Mystics Thieves & Madmen), translation into Romanian by Chris Tanasescu, Casa de Editura Max Blecher, Bucharest, scheduled: 2013.

Barbaric Vast & Wild: A Gathering of Outsider & Subterranean Poetry, with John Bloomberg-Rissman, in preparation.

Of these books, preliminary views of Barbaric Vast & Wild have appeared on Poems and Poetics for several years as a "mini-anthology in-progress of outsider poetry," & I've also posted or plan to post excerpts from America a Prophecy, Shaking the Pumpkin, & Eye of Witness. The possibility of sharing & to some degree decommodifying our writings is one of the true pleasures of on-line publication -- at least for me. (J.R.)

The Automotive Story, 1954
A Cittadura Documentary

Rudy Burckhardt, Director
Jane Freilicher, Narration
Kenneth Koch, Text
Debussy, Poulenc, and Scriabin, Piano Music
Frank O'Hara, Music Player

Read the full transcription of a 1976 radio interview with Rudy Burckhardt about Automotive Story at Jacket Magazine.

Central Park in the Dark
, NYC, New York, 1985
A Collaboration with Charles Ives, Christopher Sweet and Yoshiko Chuma and the School of Hard Knocks

Rudy Burckhardt, Director
Christopher Sweet, Director
Yoshiko Chuma and the School of Hard Knocks, Dance Choreography
Charles Ives, Music

"Lurking crime and lingering desire change the atmosphere of this brief but affecting film. The light changes moment by moment. The season is shifting. Figures move like phantoms in the penumbra. Beethoven glowers against the evening; a perfect Alice polishes bronze with her petticoat; traffic in diamonds and rubies twines its way among the trees; snarling youths self-destruct. The false promises of youth, beauty and art are the smoke out the windows of fire along Fifth Avenue."

-- Christopher Sweet


Jacob Burckhardt
Yaknetuma from the Lower East
, New York City, NY, 1974
A collaboration with Laleen Jayamann

"…such varied delights as noted film critic and theoretician Laleen Jayamanne performing a Sri Lankian ritual dance on a tenement rooftop after polishing off a 32-oz. beer in 'Yaknetuma From the Lower East Side'…” -- Bruce Bennett, the New York Sun

Rudy Burckhardt: New PennSound page
Jacob Burckhardt: New PennSound page
PennSound Cinema

Cantiga in medieval Galician-Portuguese

Down with a cold in grey Kelowna, I’m thinking of Pliny the Younger’s (AD 62-113) advice for idle periods in his letters, Epistularum Libri Decem - letter LXXVI to Tuscus:

Quaeris quemadmodum in secessu, quo iam diu frueris, putem te studere oportere. Utile in primis, et multi praecipiunt, vel ex Graeco in Latinum vel ex Latino vertere in Graecum. Quo genere exercitationis proprietas splendorque verborum, copia figurarum, vis explicandi, praeterea imitatione optimorum similia inveniendi facultas paratur; simul quae legentem fefellissent, transferentem fugere non possunt. Intellegentia ex hoc et iudicium adquiritur.

You ask me what course of study I think you should follow during your present retirement. The most useful thing, recommended by everyone, is to translate Greek into Latin and Latin into Greek. This kind of exercise develops a precise and resplendent vocabulary, a variety of figures, and the power of exposition, and imitation of the best models improves your ability to write your own texts. Also, any point which might be overlooked in mere reading cannot escape the eye of a translator. This method lets you acquire knowledge and judgement too. (my translation, cribbed from Betty Radice and William Mormont)

Of course, in my experience in the business world of translation and in the literary one, if you can’t already write well in the target language, you can’t really translate very well, because you can’t think. We think only by using “our” language, “our” in this case being the defective version each of us hold, differently, of our mother or most commonly used tongues. The more restrained "our language" is, the more difficult it is to perform that act called reading. So the retiring student may not progress in translation as far as Pliny imagines.

I prefer to think of this as a paradox rather than as a contradiction. For Pliny is right, really. It’s worth translating anyhow, whether you try it word for word (trying to reproduce the value of the coin) or movement by movement (trying to transmit the weight and temperature of the coin) for it teaches you endlessly about your mother tongue: weight, temperature, value.

Ben – Maybe Not: Ben Yarmolinsky
Hank Eats the Shell ("The Shrimp is a poem in itself"
Marjorie & Joe: Marjorie Perloff
Claude's Prepositions: Claude Royet-Journoud
Alan's Print Performance: Alan Loney
Li: The Snow of Yesteryear: Li Zhimin

Series 11 at PennSound