Jerome Rothenberg

Poems and poetics

For Kader El-Janabi: 'The French Connection'

[The following short essay & poem were commissioned a decade ago for publication in Kader El-Janabi’s short-lived magazine, Arapoetica de la Poésie Internationale, but with that magazine’s demise or suspension, were never actually published.  The issue for which they were intended was to focus on the connection between American & French poetry over the preceding century.  In its original English version the concluding  poem (“Three Paris Elegies”) had appeared earli

Heriberto Yépez: Ethopoetics, what is it?

[In a recent announcement, which seemed strange even to those of us who thought we knew him well, our friend & companion in poetry Heriberto Yépez announced recently that “the writing project that was Heriberto Yépez” had now come to an end and that “Heriberto Yépez’s oeuvre has concluded.”  Since Heriberto had only turned forty this year, it seemed a little premature & reminiscent, to me at least, of the “poets of the no” (the great refuseniks) in Enrique Vila-Matas's masterful  Bartleby & Co.  It was also enough to set off a

Ian & me: A collaboration

Ian Tyson, “Three Friendly Warnings,” Realization from the Seneca Indian with Ri
Ian Tyson, “Three Friendly Warnings,” Realization from the Seneca Indian with Richard Johnny John & Jerome Rothenberg

I have tried an altenstil
& dropped it.

— J.R., A Book of Witness, 2003

“Ian Tyson reads us” — or so I wrote a number of years ago when the question first came up.  He is illustrator of the work not as subject or as mood per se but as structure.  The rest comes out of that, a play between the poet & the artist, where the poet’s words are taken, not for what they say at surface but for the directions they imply — the rules or inner structures that are there for him to read & follow, or evade.  I am a poet with some feel for content, for signification, that may sometimes act to hide the structure.  I began to come alive in poetry with a series of polemics arguing the primacy of image (“deep” or “surreal” or otherwise) as a concern to be explored anew in the awakening of the later 1950s.  That part, the image part, had no need for picture as a form of illustration.  And even later, when I used photos & other images to let the physical eye catch a glimpse of a mythical Poland disclosed through words, said photos were sparing & personal, my additions, often ironic, to a work that was proceeding as a whole by means of an already evident collage.

For David Meltzer, an Old Pre-Face for a New Publication

[Having written it  originally for David’s Copy: Selected Poems (Penguin Books, 2005), I reprint my pre-face here in celebration of the republication by City Lights Books of his classic poetics primer, Two Way Mirror, concerning which I wrote more recently: David Meltzer had set out, when he was very young, to write a long poem called The History of Everything, an ambition that his later poetry brought ever closer to fulfillment.  Here, i

Jerome Rothenberg: After Gorky’s 'The Betrothal,' poem & autovariation, 1966 & 2014

Arshile Gorky’s “The Betrothal”
Arshile Gorky’s “The Betrothal”

[Using the procedure of “variations” that I began with The Lorca Variations (1993) I turn it here toward my own earlier work & show, below, both a poem from 1966 & the corresponding autovariation from 2014.   In the present instance I’ve gone back to a poem written & published as part of a book called “The Gorky Poems,” and, as in the  “variations” I’ve done from other poets, I systematically remove all nouns from the original & use them as building blocks or what Jackson Mac Low used to call “nuclei” in the const