Jerome Rothenberg: 'The Pound Project,' sixteen poems after lines by Ezra Pound

[The abomination of the neofascist “Casa Pound” party in contemporary Italian politics brings me back to a sixteen-poem series I wrote several years ago, with Ezra Pound — a strong poetry influence for many of us (myself included) and in politics a fool or worse — as the central focus. Each poem starts with two lines from Pound, to which I add ten or eleven new lines in conclusion, as explained below.  The original commission for the work was from Francesco Conz along with Ezra Pound’s daughter Mary de Rachewiltz, whose recent denunciation of the Casa Pound people is also to be noted.]


Swollen-eyed, rested,

      lids sinking, darkness unconscious



And before hell mouth; dry plain

                                     and two mountains



head down,

screwed into the swill


I am led into a home

where no one

— not a dog or cat —

drops by.


The body of a

strangled child

stares out

& spooks me.


Warriors & children

fill my eyes.




A lady asks me.

I speak in season.


With my old

suburban voice

my prejudice

grows ripe.


I am not empty

but without a taste

for differences

I atrophy.


The dance gets harder

as the mud gets high.




I mate with my free kind

upon the crags.


I neither wait for you

nor need you,

feel the pressure of your tongue

that calls me down.


I know extremis

better than the cackling

of my fellows,

gaunt & green with pain.


In my hand a flower

blossoms, does it not?




I let down the crystal curtain

& watch the moon.


Men & animals surround me,

I am led by these

into a hole, brown-colored

like my arm.


I wait for words the night

once brought me,

luminous, the sky a changing

field of light.


While here below,

       their sightless eyes

confound me.




Nor can I shift my pains

to other,


much less my words

high on your wall.

that face me down

an afterthought

to careless speech.


We teach forgiveness

to the idle only.

For the rest the suffering

leaves its own mark.


You back away from mine,

old face like yours.




I am the help of the aged;

I pay men to talk peace.


With my hands I raise

a sagging body.   I am keen

& run before them,

meaning to escape.


I pay a price for

bounty.  Deaf

I hear a call

to war.


Somewhere within me

armies clash.




I have weathered the storm,

I have beaten out my exile.


I have made a pact with someone

& have botched it.  Freed from time

my fingers have grown frail,

my pen lies helpless on the floor.


I have desires that my flesh

still harbors.  Little help or gratitude

will come from those

my turnings have betrayed.


I watch the dead file by

& feel a stirring.




singing: O sweet and lovely

o Lady be good


the song is traveling

from my time into yours,

like Ella’s song, is



Hear me sing it    see me

dance on water.

I coast down the street          

the while my eyes                              


like everyman’s eyes

fill with apparitions

a dead bullock.




Blown around the feet of

the God,


the landscape hides from us,

the little castle

shows its face at night

& shamans walk the streets


communing with the dead

the terror of the folk

in agony    the cries

of those who fled to open water


gathered into caves

who took their lives.


Okinawa 1945/2000




Where the dead walked

    And the living were made of cardboard

their shadows disappeared.


I lost track of eternity

that makes things new.


Nothing here improves

while time is lost.


Clean as any whistle

I come forth.


But still I can’t shake off

the memory of mud.


In meiner heimat.




“I am noman,

my name is noman”


I wait where road

crosses road,

where hunters fly from

their quarry.


Not me but those

that I point to!

Not those but the dead

fed with blood!


Their hands rise in fury.

They hammer us down.




The yidd is a stimulant

and the goyim are cattle


& the words once written

stay writ    all his words

coming back to the speaker

laying him flat.


What a downfall I had

& what havens I reached for 

too late.  None remained

to embrace me, but


jews, real jews, not shades

in my head but avengers.




First must thou go

the road to hell


must see the millions

thou hast smitten

with thy thoughts    must cry

the cry of killers.


If thy hands are clean

as mine are

why then the swelling in thy throat

the smells of vomit?


Blinded as the dead are blind

the kings of hell.




Time is the evil.



Is what is always lost,

what takes me by the throat

& leaves me, shrunken

begging with the other thieves


then drops me in the pit

called bolgia, where a

rhyme I can’t erase

repeats forever.


For others other pits

shadow their lives.




the soil living pus, full of vermin,

dead maggots begetting live maggots         


fascists at banquets,

pandars to authority,


skinheads with iron teeth


sucking hard at our flesh,

shoving old men

like books in their fires,

outcroppings of shit


too raw for feeling,

the flux in the corpse

turns to stone.




And I am not a demigod,

I cannot make it cohere.


Nor bring it, at a dare,

into my focus,

where the sunlight even now

turns ashen,


heavy with burnt matter,

stinking, where the century

has turned a corner,

like a swollen foetus


it has pulled me down,

            old vanity

has pulled me down.


NOTE. Commissioned by Francesco Conz in cooperation with Mary de Rachewiltz and the Pound estate at Castle Brunnenburg in the Italian Tyrol, the original sixteen-poem sequence was part of a larger project in commemoration of Ezra Pound’s life and work. My original was printed on colored stock and pasted onto sixteen paper boards beneath a xeroxed and degraded photograph of Pound. In an attempt to fuse (or to con-fuse) our two voices, alive and dead, each numbered section begins with two lines of his, and what follows lies ambiguously in the void between us. For this my words are in roman type and his in italics. The Richard-Avedon-derived photo montage of Pound, above, is taken, sadly, from a scurrilous antisemitic website on the internet.