Christophe Lamiot Enos: Postface to 'Un Champ sur Mars / A Field on Mars' (just published)
[The following is the critical postface to my new book, A Field on Mars: Poems 2000-2015 (Un Champ sur Mars), just published by Presses Universitaires de Rouen et du Havre in both an English & a simultaneous French edition. Christophe Lamiot is an active poet & the editor of the Rouen press’s Jusqu’a (To) series of books devoted to contemporary American poetry & poets in separate English & French editions. The complete French translation of my Shaking the Pumpkin (Secouer la Citrouille) was also published under his editorship. (J.R.)]
(...) poetry as elation
A Field on Mars. A field on Mars: this is how Jerome Rothenberg tells of his writings in poetry from the last ten years. A former title was “Divagations and Auto-variations.” “Divagations & Autovariations” now stands as a subtitle. I like this gesture of naming, then renaming—from one of the most prolific, far-ranging, active and successful poets of XXth-century Anglophone America. I like it all the more so, as there is a very remarkable and easily circumscribable echo to naming and renaming, within the work itself. Something in which the “To” series is most highly interested: Within the text, there are other words, given as substitutes for the ones ending lines, not all lines, but a number of them—enough of them to make the naming and renaming attention-catching and remarkable. Something in which the “To” series is most highly interested: The ever-shifting correspondence between language and matter, between words and what they are not. To deal in translations, one has to presuppose a matter to be translated. This “To” series deals in translations. It so much deals indeed in translations that it considers “original texts” as translations. It considers words as resulting from the meeting between humans and their surroundings. As translating this encounter. One particular language: A way of translating. Another particular language: Another way of translating. Dance, music, cooking, architecture: Other languages, other ways of translating. If the matter to be translated was purely and strictly speaking language only, there wouldn’t be so many difficulties to, or impossibilities in, translating. What has to be translated is already a table of correspondences between matter and humans as represented in their words. In other words, what has to be translated is already a translation. The “To” series is a series in translations. This “To” series is a series in poetry as translations.
(…) Rothenberg’s special interest in and devotion to early poetries from all over the world
Rothenberg’s career in poetry ranges from White Sun Black Sun (1960) to the present times. This time expanse also gets multiplied manifold by Rothenberg’s special interest in and devotion to early poetries from all over the world. Rothenberg writes poems. He also collects poems. He also edits poems—so much so that there may not be much of a difference between collecting and writing, according to Rothenberg. There are indeed so many early poems from so many various traditions that Rothenberg offers us, that any given poem we may now read from Rothenberg comes with echoes from previous ones, previous harvesting, previous garnering—from layers upon layers of attentions paid to words as collecting and harvesting, then offering human efforts to name the world, or having words correspond to matters; from layers upon layers of poems in translations, telling us just that: We readers, we writers come after layers upon layers of naming and renaming, from which to collect, from which to harvest. This is a teaching we collect from poetry. This is a teaching that is gathered from collecting words. This, a teaching of words, from words: Words are traces of a collecting, layers upon layers of harvesting and garnering human experience. To bring forward. To forward. To a vast range of traditions, which he gathers under the heading of “ethnopoetics”, Rothenberg makes us heirs. “To” a vast range of traditions. “To:” a vast range of traditions. Three collections or anthologies, as he calls them, come to the fore: Technicians of the Sacred (1968), Shaking the Pumpkin (1972) and A Big Jewish Book (1977). Shaking the Pumpkin is translated into French by Anne Talvaz at the Presses universitaires de Rouen et du Havre (2015) and naturally found its way to this “To” series—within the “To” series. Technicians of the Sacred appears into its French translation by Yves di Manno at José Corti Editions (2008). A Big Jewish Book still calls for its translation into French. Rothenberg’s special interest in and devotion to early poetries from all over the world teach us that a poem is a gesture, or a collecting of gestures, traditionally bearing the marks of harvesting toward sharing what is garnered. There is a celebration: This is poetry, this is books, especially. Books are with us to celebrate the garnering to be shared. While we read, there are shadows that extend before us—shadows of previous harvesters, previous harvests that poetry still celebrates. Such celebrations are reminiscent of words—of the specific celebrations that words are.
(…) a heritage in elation (…)
Besides what may be drawn from years upon years of poetry writing, i.e. attentiveness to poetry and beyond it, toward what constitutes poetry and acts it out, I want to stress Rothenberg’s A Field On Mars as a proposition in elation. To Rothenberg, poetry is elation. It enthuses us. It is our heritage. It is a heritage in elation. Beyond what may be drawn from years upon years of poetry writing, there are at least two good reasons for elation in poetry, for elation as poetry writing. The first reason is to be able to still write more—write beyond what has already been achieved, rename once more time what has already been named. Writing as never-ending. Writing without an end to writing. Writing from generation to generation. Writing as a process forward. Writing as a way to circumvent death. As it is the meaning of one’s inheritance. As it is comprised already within the heritage. Within poetry as heritage. The second reason for being elated by and reaching elation through poetry, has to do with a special letting go of etiquette and conventions. Beyond attentiveness to poetry, Rothenberg’s A Field On Mars is a proposition in poetry as elation, as humor brings us elation. Poetry is our heritage. Not a thing here, nor a thing there. Not just a fish from out of waters. But the desire and care for making things, not this one or that one—but many, many things, a whole procession of things. Not just a fish out of waters, but the ways in which fish may be landed, i.e. ways to fish and enthusiasm for what has to be done for one’s sustenance. Enthusiasm for the way there is more than one fish in the sea. One fish, two fish. Red fish, blue fish. And another. And yet another. There is something of a classic in kid’s literature in Rothenberg’s. There is also a letting go of conventions. Here comes to mind again the very special way in which endings of certain lines go along with possible substitutes in Rothenberg’s A Field On Mars. You would think that a given line wants a specific ending. You would think that it matters that such or such a line ends with this particular ending—not any other. Well, Rothenberg makes you reconsider this assumption. A Field On Mars makes you reconsider it so much, that to a certain extent words become interchangeable. Which is a way of underlining what matters most in words: Their being with us, whatever they are, their being used and re-used, again and again. Words in our hands, words as gestures. As a result of this reconsidering of words, precise lexical meanings as collected in dictionaries fade in importance, as compared to the presence of words in our activities, in our daily routines and actions. Isn’t it elation for us?
A field on Mars: an expanse of grass, from the most improbable of places; soil to be tilled, on a planet that does not look like very welcoming to man, or to life in general. “A field on Mars” sounds pretty idealistic. Seems to be very far-fetched, indeed. Could poetry be a field on Mars? Could it finally be that, after years and years of practice and thought, exposition to poetry and striving toward it, poetry equal some expanse of grass from the most improbable of places? What wisdom is there to be derived from such an equation?
Reader, if you’ve not read the work itself, yet, you may at first sight have construed its title as stressing the ever-growing rarity of poetry within our world, or in our societies—how man decides to organize this world, or most men, apparently. Within such a context, poetry does appear as a rarity. Yet, such an interpretation does not give credit to the full range of Rothenberg’s meaning. A field on Mars, OK. Poetry as a field on Mars: OK. Yet the meaning of poetry as elation in Rothenberg’s A Field on Mars is that an expanse of grass may grow from it on the barest, most inhospitable of planets. Poetry as elation: despite dire circumstances, there is still hope, through heritage, through poetry, through the enthusiasm that poetry’s task is to convey. Rothenberg does not think about poetry as anything else but a heritage. A poem: a heritage. To write a poem: to inherit. To deal in harvesting: To deal in inheriting. To deal in tradition. To deal in forwarding. What is it that we want to forward our children? This or that? No. What we want to hand over is this handing over, precisely. This is the significance of poetry. This is one of the main teachings of ethnopoetics. With Shaking the Pumpkin, Rothenberg states or re-states the following: We want to forward dynamics, we want to bestow energies, enthusiasm and elation. Poetry as elation.
(…) only sharing, infinite sharing
A word. Another. A word for another. This one. That one. This. That. One. One and the same thing. What is common to a word and another? What is it that makes them interchangeable? That one can be put instead of the other? Just ending sonorities? Rhymes? There is something that sounds common in between two words. Between this one and that one. Between any two words, indeed? What is it? What about the interest of the rhyme, any rhyme indeed? Taking into account that they can be interchangeable. Perfectly interchangeable. Couldn’t it be assigned to something else than pure sound being repeated? And what if the interest in rhymes did not only pertain to similarities of sound? Did pertain to something that similarities in sound only represented? Marked? Suggested? Designated, in turn? To which it pointed? Not being it, itself. This is one of the strongest propositions in and of A Field on Mars: Words are revealed through poetry and its rhyming as not so much separate entities, with such or such a meaning, or even such or such a material signature or composition. Words are beyond the markings that linguistics make them to be. Markings with which linguistics have made us used to considering first, when thinking about words. Rothenberg says: Look, hear, weigh, touch, feel, consider, this is where humans have been, this is the sign and flesh and signature and shadow of our ancestry and lineage, our past, present and future, this is the trail, the human trail, this is where there is nothing to hide, nothing to fear, only sharing, infinite sharing.
Christophe Lamiot Enos, June 2015, Paris