Jerome Rothenberg: December 11, 1931 – April 21, 2024

A reflection from Amish Trivedi

Well, we’ve come to our end here. Somehow, in the hundreds of hours of phone calls and emails and late nights and breakfasts after, Jerry and I had never once discussed what might happen to this space once he passed away. We have even published a number of obituaries for friends of Jerry’s over the years. I’m not entirely convinced, sitting here writing at 3 a.m., that Jerry thought I’d be left with this task — and not the other way around.

Nevertheless, here I am. I was 26 when we started, had published a handful of poems, and reached out to Jerry through Pierre Joris after seeing Jerry’s own post on Blogger about needing some help. I was then working at the University of Iowa Library and, well, I wasn’t working very hard anyways, so I might as well help out someone who I had come to admire in the years since I’d seen him read at the University of Georgia, where I did my undergrad. He read in our library at Park Hall, I think, and had wowed us all. I felt that way even that last time I saw him read in 2019 —

What began in the last week of 2008 was something like an apprenticeship, both working for Jerry doing various bloggy things (mostly making sure posts were set the way he liked them, were scheduled when he wanted them, etc.) and learning more and more about how to deal with being a poet in the modern world. And he brought me into this world of his. I got to meet a number of heroes, a number of villains, and a lot of poets — all of whom I’m grateful for — and all thanks to Jerry.

At 41 now, I spoke to Jerry briefly after I got a job that I’ll be starting this coming fall as an assistant professor. I talked to him about the position, all the inside baseball that got me there, and like a satisfied grandparent, he kept saying “That’s great!” over and over again.

We had slowed down a bit here at Jacket2. The position I was in was busy, Diane of course had a stroke at the start of 2023. So we had eased back on the accelerator a bit, but even as I’m writing this, I’m half waiting for an email from Jerry telling me to knock out the post for this week — if I had the time and the folks at Jacket2 could make it work, of course. They always managed, somehow.

We came over to Jacket2 in 2011, through which Jerry managed to finagle a reading and meeting at the Kelly Writers House. I was terrified of reading. Not only would I have to share the space with someone who I knew as an amazing performer but would be doing it in a place well above my station in the poetry world. Heck, it still is, if I’m honest. Friends wrote me polite but slightly “Why you?” toned emails when they knew why: because Jerry had made it happen.

I told him at the time that I thought the whole blog thing was dying, that we had all slowed down on Blogger, and that with the Buffalo List seemingly on fumes at that point, Ron Silliman having slowed as well, and social media booming, the age of the poetry blog was winding down. Did we want to move to Jacket2’s new thing just to watch it all end? “Of course!” Jerry shouted into the phone. There was a crackling sound as the receiver hit its max volume and the audio broke slightly. I didn’t argue — just agreed. Whatever Jerry was up to, I wanted in.

So for the last decade plus, Jerry had something for us to post most weeks (really until the last two years or so), promoting a new project of his, an old project, or the myriad of poets and writers and artists that had been in his sphere of knowing. Every once in a while, he’d ask me if I had anything I needed to promote and I’m quite glad to have found myself on the pages of Jerry’s commentaries here. Mostly we’d work quietly, but once in a while some poet’s work would give me (and the Jacket2 team) just enough trouble that we’d have to hash it out, which usually ended with me having to tell Jerry that the software systems in place could only handle so much. I think it blew his mind every time.

We had been lucky to run into each other a few times in person over the years, despite entire books of the Americas of our own in the middle. I was doing an MFA and a PhD and adjuncting and broke but there was always an invite on every call to visit Encinitas. Thankfully, the last year I was in person doing my PhD, we managed to get Jerry out for a couple of nights to do a reading and interview to Normal, Illinois. Watching him read to a packed room after a few glasses of wine, all of us sweaty and tired on an April night, is going to be a happy memory a lot of us get to carry forward.

When my wife, Jenn (an anthropologist — just as Diane is to Jerry), came upstairs to tell me the news, my first thought was “Which Jerry?” because it had not occurred to me that, at some point, a man in his 90s who to the best of my knowledge had never so much as slowed down smoking, might pass away. Again, I half suspected Jerry thought he’d be writing my eulogy before I had to write his. I can’t decide which of us is more surprised at the moment.

The last time I saw him, he and Diane were in Philadelphia and I drove up to see him read at a bookstore near the Penn campus. As ever, the circle around them that night included poets and scholars whom I already adored, and I dare say have come to be acquaintances and friends since. After yet another stellar reading, I was invited to dinner at the Chinese restaurant that was on the first floor of their hotel and I was over the moon just to be included.

Jerry grabbed my hand — hard — and said, “You’re about to have the most Jewish experience ever.” We had a lovely little laugh together.

I don’t know what happens when we die, certainly, but I hope, for my mentor and my friend, that it is the most wonderful experience ever.

Jerry ended nearly every email of the many still sitting in my inbox with “Warm embraces,” so I’ll send along my own now.

Warm Embraces,

Amish Trivedi
Editorial Assistant & Confidant