Jerome Rothenberg

Poems and poetics

Outside & subterranean poems, a mini-anthology in progress (56): Some quatrains from 'Sidi Abderrahman el Mejdub' (Al Jadida, early 16C. – Meknes 1568)

Translation from Arabic by Abdelfetah Chenni & Pierre Joris

[As originally published in Joris & Tengour, Poems for the Millennium, volume 4: The University of California Book of North African Literature, 2012]

dirty and ugly they saw me there goes an empty head they said
in fact I am more like an open book        there’s much useful stuff
        inside this head


o my heart I burn you       and if you want I will do more
o my heart you shame me             because you like who doesn't
        like you.


neither think nor search too much        don’t always be
the planets are not fixed                and life’s not eternal


don't play with your best friend's feelings          & if people insult
        him, ease his mind
who loves you, love him more      but if he betrays you, don't ever 
        be his friend again


all I’ve had in life is one goat                    but I’ve written beautiful 
many are fulfilled through God’s favor              yet claim those favors as
        their own labors


travel and you’ll get to know people       and owe obedience to the
the fathead with the pot-belly      sell him for a dime


my heart’s between a hammer & an anvil        & that damned 
        blacksmith has no pity
he keeps hammering & when it cools     he kindles the fire
        with his bellows

Pablo Tac: On the 'Dance of the Indians' (1840)

Translation from Spanish by Lisbeth Haas

 [From L. Haas, Pablo Tac, Indigenous Scholar, with art by James Luna, University of California Press, 2011.]

 [NOTE.  In a too short life, Pablo Tac (1820-1841) produced a rare work for his time: a completely indigenous study of Luiseño language & culture -- much more than what can be shown here.  Writes Lisbeth Haas in her introduction about a work never translated or published before now: “As a historian and scholar, PabloTac defied the dominant ideas expressed about Luiseño and other indigenous people under Spanish colonialism.  His work used categories of analysis such as ‘dance’ that offered an indigenous way of understanding Luiseño society during the colonial and Mexican eras in California, from 1769 to 1848.  Born in Mission San Luis Rey de Francia in 1820, Tac devised a way to write Luiseño from his study of Latin grammar and Spanish, and in so doing he captured many of the relationships that existed between Luiseños during his youth.  Drawing on local knowledge, traditions, and ideas, his writing leaves traces of Luiseño spiritual practice and thought, while also revealing the relations of power and authority that existed within his indigenous community.”]

Nicole O’Driscoll: Two poems on traveller themes, with the editor’s commentary

Photo Credit: Alen MacWeeney, in Irish Travellers,Tinkers No More
Photo Credit: Alen MacWeeney, in Irish Travellers,Tinkers No More



I tried to outrun the steepening slope

But slipped and burned my hands in the blood of half-beings

Plotted along a crippling hill.

Their faces hissed their sibilant indictments

Against my unmindful bid for escape,

Jerome Rothenberg: From 'Eye of Witness,' two letters to Robert Duncan, 1960, 1968

(1) Image & Melos: a Letter, 1960, to Robert Duncan
[From New York City]

September 27, 1960

... following with great interest your interchange with Kelly. On the basis of your first letter to reach here (only one I’ve seen, other 2 being described) I feel no real disagreement as to melos, etc., being other vehicles for manifestation of “floating world” (source) within the poem, tho if you define yourself as a poet of “word-magic” primarily, my own direction in these last years has probably been toward “image-magic”— yet it doesn’t seem to me that any of the “powers” are totally to be denied, nor can they where the poem is allowed to happen.

An open letter to Kenneth Goldsmith from Anne Tardos

Anne Tardos and Jackson Mac Low, 1981.
Anne Tardos and Jackson Mac Low, 1981.

Dear Kenny,

Your piece “The Burden of Artists’ Crap” posted over a year ago in Harriet (, has just been brought to my attention. I am shocked and dismayed by your characterization of me.