The Darkness of the Present: Poetics, Anachronism, and the Anomaly Steve McCaffery 6 x 9 · 256 pages ISBN: 978-0-8173-5733-7 · $34.95 $24.47 paper ISBN: 978-0-8173-8642-9 · $34.95 $24.47 ebook
“This book raises important ethical/political issues for the practice of art in the twentieth century. The Darkness of the Present calls them to rigorous attention in a series of critical studies. It finishes in a deliberate move to stand back, in order to reflect on the issues from a cool critical vantage, like Tennyson’s poet at the end of The Palace of Art.”—Jerome McGann, author of Radiant Textuality: Literature after the World Wide Web and Are the Humanities Inconsequent?: Interpreting Marx’s Riddle of the Dog Google boosk preview here.
We at Jacket2 are pleased to announce that Jerome Rothenberg joins us a commentator. His previous postings to “Poems and Poetics” (heretofore a blogspot site) are all linked to his J2 commentary page, and he is now publishing new commentaries here: http://jacket2.org/commentary/jerome-rothenberg.
Of Jerry’s many works, there is one that in spite of being just a very small fraction of all his books was key for my own experience as a reader.
Anthologies are, with different degrees of intensity, the creation of a new field made out of preexisting elements; for the most part they define anew what was there before. Only once in a while an anthology can change not only what we know about poetry but the way we read beyond its own selection. Technicians of the Sacred: A Range of Poetries from Africa, America, Europe & Asia is that occurrence, a turning point that made visible what wasn’t before. Even more than an anthology it’s the blue print for a strategy, one that works his complexity up from multiple poetics to present at the same time, and without ever taking them apart, the particular and the whole.
I met Jerome in the Spring of 1950 at a small party given by a Francophil professor, where seven or eight of us sat around with wine glasses under a modest collection of School of Paris paintings, making awkward conversation about modern art and poetry, when I noticed a short noble -browed guy in a green suit sitting across from me, his green eyes blazing with the kind of disapproval I was feeling myself. This was not what we were looking for in modern art and poetry. Some time in the fall we met again, realizing we were both trying to become poets, and we started to hang out together, searching for signs of a living experimental scene, listening to folk music and jazz, and checking out modern dance and music in a culture that believed artistic experiment and exploration were over. And it wasn’t till the late 50s that we caught up with cool jazz, Abstract Expressionism, John Cage, Wittgenstein, Fluxus and Pop.
What follows is the text of a talk presented in honor of Jerome Rothenberg on the occasion of his 80th birthday, at an event held at CUNY Graduate Center in New York, on December 9, 2011.
If you were looking one way for new Americans in 1960, they would of course be found in Allen’s The New American Poetry. But there was another way. Jerome Rothenberg’s first book, New Young German Poets, published by City Lights in 1959, introduced American readers to a postfascist antifascist avant-garde that successfully “oppose[ed] the inherited dead world with a modern visionary language,” crucially among them, Paul Celan and Ingeborg Bachmann.
Here's my introduction to a session featuring readings for the Rothenberg/Joris Poems for the Millenium back in 1998. In my 11-minute intro I tried to do something a little more than my usual brief, get-out-of-the-way segue to the main presenters. I wanted to say something in particular about Jerome Rothenberg's passage (as a young poet) through the cultural cold war. I make reference, for instance, to his discovery at the University of Michigan that in the 1950s Whitman was definitely on the outs — that Whitmanism in the 1950s was academically (if not also otherwise) dangerous. (To get to my comments about Rothenberg in the 50s, you can go immediately to a point halfway through the recording.)
On the New Year’s Eve between 1959 and 1960 I met Diane Wakoski — a night spent between Armand Schwerner’s place, whom we knew, and LeRoi Jones’s, who was still remote from us. I had begun to move beyond my familiar New York quarters the year before — a trip by bus and car to dazzling San Francisco — and found a poetry world there (a world, in short) that beckoned us to enter. My first real book — translations, to start things off — had been published in 1959 by City Lights, and traveling home from San Francisco, I looked through the rear window of the bus and saw what seemed like a white sun, flat and cold, overhead. That was enough to serve as a title for White Sun Black Sun, a first book of my own that I would publish in the new year — 1960 — through Hawk’s Well Press, cofounded with David Antin a couple of years before.