Rothenberg, Jerome (Dennis)

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ROTHENBERG, Jerome (Dennis)

Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 11 December 1931. Education: New York public schools, 1937–48; City College of New York, B.A. 1952; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, M.A. 1953. Military Service: Served in the U.S. Army in Germany, 1954–55. Family: Married Diane Brodatz in 1952; one son. Career: Instructor, City College of New York, 1959–60; lecturer in English, Mannes College of Music, New York, 1961–70; Regents Professor, University of California, San Diego, 1971; visiting lecturer in anthropology, New School for Social Research, New York, 1971–72; visiting professor, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, 1974–75, San Diego State University, 1976–77, University of California, San Diego, 1977–79 and 1980–84, University of California, Riverside, 1980, University of Oklahoma, Norman, 1985, State University of New York, Albany, 1986, and Binghamton, 1986–88. Since 1988 professor of visual arts and literature, University of California, San Diego. Distinguished Aerol Arnold Chair in English, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, 1983; distinguished writer-in-residence, New York State Writers Institute, Albany, 1986. Founding publisher, Hawk's Well Press, New York, 1958–65; editor or co-editor, Poems from the Floating World, 1960–64, Some/Thing, 1965–68, and Alcheringa, 1970–76, all New York, and New Wilderness Letter, 1976–85; contributing editor, Stony Brook, Stony Brook, New York, Change International, Paris, Dialectical Anthropology, Amsterdam, and Sulfur, Pasadena, California. Awards: Longview Foundation award, 1960; Wenner-Gren Foundation grant, 1968; Guggenheim grant, 1974; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1976; American Book award, 1982. D.Litt.: State University of New York, Oneonta, 1997. Address: c/o New Directions, 80 Eighth Avenue, New York, New York 10011, U.S.A.



White Sun, Black Sun. New York, Hawk's Well Press, 1960.

The Seven Hells of the Jigoku Zoshi. New York, Trobar, 1962.

Sightings I-IX, with Lunes by Robert Kelly. New York, Hawk's Well Press, 1964.

The Gorky Poems (bilingual edition). Mexico City, El Corno Emplumado, 1966.

Between: Poems 1960–1963. London, Fulcrum Press, 1967.

Conversations. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1968.

Poems 1964–1967. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1968.

Offering Flowers, with Ian Tyson. London, Circle Press, 1968.

Sightings I-IX & Red Easy a Color, with Ian Tyson. London, Circle Press, 1968.

Poland/l931. Santa Barbara, California, Unicorn Press, 1969.

The Directions, with Tom Phillips. London, Tetrad Press, 1969.

Polish Anecdotes. Santa Barbara, California, Unicorn Press, 1970.

Poems for the Game of Silence 1960–1970. New York, Dial Press, 1971.

A Book of Testimony. Bolinas, California, Tree, 1971.

Net of Moon, Net of Sun. Santa Barbara, California, Unicorn Press, 1971.

Poems for the Society of the Mystic Animals, with Ian Tyson and Richard Johnny John. London, Tetrad Press, 1972.

A Valentine No a Valedictory for Gertrude Stein. London. Judith Walker, 1972.

Seneca Journal I: A Poem of Beavers. Madison, Wisconsin, Perishable Press, 1973.

Three Friendly Warnings, with Ian Tyson. London, Tetrad Press, 1973.

Esther K. Comes to America, 1931. Greensboro, North Carolina, Unicorn Press, 1974.

The Cards. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1974.

Poland/l931 (complete edition). New York, New Directions, 1974.

The Pirke and the Pearl. Berkeley, California, Tree, 1975.

Seneca Journal: Midwinter, with Philip Sultz. St. Louis, SingingBone Press, 1975.

A Poem to Celebrate the Spring and Diane Rothenberg's Birthday. Madison, Wisconsin, Perishable Press, 1975.

Book of Palaces: The Gatekeepers. Boston, Pomegranate Press, 1975.

I Was Going through the Smoke, with Ian Tyson. London, Tetrad Press, 1975.

Rain Events. Milwaukee, Membrane Press, 1975.

The Notebooks. Milwaukee, Membrane Press, 1976.

A Vision of the Chariot in Heaven. Boston, Hundred Flowers Book Shop, 1976.

Narratives and Realtheater Pieces, with Ian Tyson. Bretenoux, France, Braad, 1977.

Seneca Journal: The Serpent, with Philip Sultz. St. Louis, SingingBone Press, 1978.

A Seneca Journal (complete edition). New York, New Directions, 1978.

B*R*M*Tz*V*H. Madison, Wisconsin, Perishable Press, 1979.

Abulafia's Circles. Milwaukee, Membrane Press, 1979.

Letters and Numbers. Madison, Wisconsin, Salient Seedling Press, 1979.

Vienna Blood and Other Poems. New York, New Directions, 1980.

For E.W.: Two Sonnets. London, Spot Press, 1981.

Imaginal Geography 9: Landscape with Bishop. San Diego, Atticus Press, 1982.

The History of Dada as My Muse. London, Spot Press, 1982.

Altar Pieces. Barrytown, New York, Station Hill Press, 1982.

That Dada Strain. New York, New Directions, 1983.

15 Flower World Variations, with Harold Cohen. Milwaukee, Membrane Press, 1984.

A Merz Sonata. Easthampton, Massachusetts, Emanon Press, 1985.

New Selected Poems 1970–1985. New York, New Directions, 1986.

Gematria 5. Binghamton, New York, Bellevue, 1987.

Khurbn and Other Poems. New York, New Directions, 1989.

Further Sightings and Conversations. San Francisco, Pennywhistle Press, 1989.

The Lorca Variations (1–8). Tenerife, Spain, Zasterle Press, 1990;New York, New Directions, 1993.

The Gematria. Los Angeles, Sun and Moon Press, 1990.

Pictures of the Crucifixion: Poems. New York, Granary, 1995.

Seedings & Other Poems. New York, New Directions, 1996.

Paris Elegies & Improvisations. San Diego, California, Meow Press, 1998.

Recordings: Origins and Meanings, Folkways, 1968; From a Shaman's Notebook, Folkways, 1968; Horse Songs and Other Soundings, S-Press, 1975; 6 Horse Songs for 4 Voices, New Wilderness, 1978; Jerome Rothenberg Reads Poland/l931, New Fire, 1979; Rothenberg/Turetzky: Performing, Blues Economique, 1984; The Birth of the War God, with Charlie Morrow and The Western Wind, Laurel, 1988.


The Deputy, adaptation of a play by Rolf Hochhuth (produced New York, 1964). New York, French, 1965.

That Dada Strain, music by Bertram Turetzky (produced San Diego, 1985; New York, 1987).

Poland/1931 (produced New York, 1988).

Radio Plays: Das Hörspiel des Bibers, 1984 (Germany); Der Dada Ton [That Dada Strain], 1986 (Germany).


Pre-Faces and Other Writings. New York, New Directions, 1981.

The Riverside Interviews 4: Jerome Rothenberg, edited by Gavin Selerie. London, Binnacle Press, 1984.

A Paradise of Poets: New Poems & Translations. New York, New Directions, 1999.

Editor and Translator, New Young German Poets. San Francisco, City Lights, 1959.

Editor, Ritual: A Book of Primitive Rites and Events (anthology). New York, Something Else Press, 1966.

Editor, Technicians of the Sacred: A Range of Poetries from Africa, America, Asia and Oceania. New York, Doubleday, 1968; revised edition, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1985.

Editor, Shaking the Pumpkin: Traditional Poetry of the Indian North Americas. New York, Doubleday, 1972; revised edition, New York, Alfred van der Mark, 1986.

Editor, with George Quasha, America a Prophecy: A New Reading of American Poetry from Pre-Columbian Times to the Present. New York, Random House, 1973.

Editor, Revolution of the Word: A New Gathering of American Avant Garde Poetry 1914–1945. New York, Seabury Press, 1974

Editor, with Michel Benamou, Ethnopoetics: A First International Symposium. Boston, Alcheringa, 1976.

Editor, with Harris Lenowitz and Charles Doria, A Big Jewish Book: Poems and Other Visions of the Jews from Tribal Times to the Present. New York, Doubleday, 1978; revised edition, with Lenowitz, as Exiled in the Word, Port Townsend, Washington, Copper Canyon Press, 1989.

Editor, with Diane Rothenberg, Symposium of the Whole: A Range of Discourse Toward an Ethnopoetics. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1983.

Editor, with David M. Guss, The Book, Spiritual Instrument. New York, Granary, 1996.

Editor, with Pierre Joris, Poems for the Millennium: The University of California Book of Modern & Postmodern Poetry, Volume One, from Fin-de-Siecle to Negritude. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1998.

Editor, with Pierre Joris, Poems for the Millennium: The University of California Book of Modern & Postmodern Poetry, Volume Two, from Postwar to Millennium. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1998.

Editor, with Steven Clay, A Book of the Book: Some Works & Projections about the Book & Writing. New York, Granary, 2000.

Translator, The Flight of Quetzalcoatl, from a Spanish prose version of the original Aztec by Angel Maria Garibay. Brighton, Sussex, Unicorn Bookshop, 1967.

Translator, with Michael Hamburger and the author, Poems for People Who Don't Read Poems, by Hans Magnus Enzensberger. New York, Atheneum, and London, Secker and Warburg, 1968; as Poems, London, Penguin, 1968.

Translator, The Book of Hours and Constellations, by Eugen Gomringer. New York, Something Else Press, 1968.

Translator, The 17 Horse Songs of Frank Mitchell, Nos. X-XIII. London, Tetrad Press, 1969.

Translator, with Harris Lenowitz, Gematria 27. Milwaukee, Membrane Press, 1977.

Translator, 4 Lorca Suites. Los Angeles, Sun and Moon Press, 1989.


Bibliography: Jerome Rothenberg: A Descriptive Bibliography edited by Harry Polkinhorn, Jefferson, North Carolina, McFarland, 1988.

Manuscript Collection: Archive for New Poetry, University of California, San Diego.

Critical Studies: "20th Century Music" by Diane Wakoski, in Parnassus (New York), fall-winter 1972; "Uniting History in a "Biological Fellowhood'" by Paula Gunn Allen, in Contact II (New York), fall 1978; by Thomas Meyer, in American Book Review (New York),September-October 1981; by George F. Butterick, in Sulfur 4 (Pasadena, California), 1982; by David Toolan, in Commonwealth (New York), 4 November 1983; Interpreting the Indian: Twentieth Century Poets and the Native American by Michael Castro, Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 1983; "Restorative Topographies: Notes on Ethnopoetics from a Province of the Mind" by Judith Gleason, in Parnassus (New York), 11(2), 1984; In Search of the Primitive: Rereading David Antin, Jerome Rothenberg and Gary Snyder by Sherman Paul, Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1986; Apocalyptic Messianism and Contemporary Jewish-American Poetry by R. Barbara Gitenstein, Albany, State University of New York Press, 1986; "Soundings: Zaum, Seriality and the Discovery of the "Sacred'" by Marjorie Perloff, in American Poetry Review (Philadelphia), February 1986; "Where the Real Song Begins: The Poetry of Jerome Rothenberg" by Eric Mottram, in Dialectical Anthropology (Amsterdam), 2(2–4), 1986; "On Rothenberg's Revised "Technicians of the Sacred'" by Jed Rasula, in Poetics Journal, 6, 1986; "Rothenberg's Continuing Revolution of the Word" by John Zalenski, in North Dakota Quarterly (Grand Forks), 55(4), fall 1987; "Literacy and the Roots of Poetry: A Conversation with Jerome Rothenberg" by Fred Garber, in Forum (Binghamton, New York), April 1987; "Jerome Rothenberg: That Dad Strain," in Great American Poetry Bakeoff, vol. 3, by Robert L. Peters, Metuchen, New Jersey, Scarecrow Press, 1987; "Some Bearings on Ethnopoetics" by Paul Christensen, in Parnassus (New York), 15(1), 1989; "Coyote Cohen: Or, the Universal Trickster in Jerome Rothenberg's Evolving Collection Poland/1931" by R. Barbara Gitenstein, in Studies in American Jewish Literature (University Park, Pennsylvania), 9(2), fall 1990; "Contemporary Poetics and History: Pinsky, Klepfisz and Rothenberg" by James McCorkle, in Kenyon Review (Syracuse, New York), 14(1), winter 1992; "Thinking Made in the Mouth: The Cultural Poetics of David Antin and Jerome Rothenberg" by Hank Lazer, in Picturing Cultural Values in Postmodern America, edited by William G. Doty, Tuscaloosa, University of Alabama Press, 1995; Interactive Poetics: Native-American/European-American Encounter As a Model for Poetic Practice (dissertation) by Molly Weigel, Princeton University, 1996; "The Messianic Ethnography of Jerome Rothenberg's Poland/1931" by Norman Finkelstein, in Contemporary Literature (Madison, Wisconsin), 39(3), fall 1998; The Terror of Our Days: Sylvia Plath, William Heyen, Gerald Stern, and Jerome Rothenberg Poetically Respond to Holocaust (dissertation) by Harriet Parmet, Lehigh University, 1998.

Jerome Rothenberg comments:

I did not know at the opening how old our work as poets was. Like others my age then—and others before and after us—I was looking for what in my own time would make a difference to that time. What is easily forgotten is the condition of the time itself that should make us want to go in that direction, to pull down and to transform. As a young child I heard people still talking about the "world" war (even the "great" war) in the singular, but by adolescence the second war had come and with it a crisis in the human capacity to reduce and stifle life.

Auschwitz and Hiroshima came to be the two events by which we speak of it—signs of an enormity that turned myth into history, metaphor into fact. The horror of those events encompassed hundreds and thousands of like disasters, joined, as we began to realize, to other, not unrelated violence against the environment/the earth and the other-than-human world. By the mid-twentieth century, in Charles Olson's words, man had been "reduced to so much fat for soap, superphosphate for soil, fillings and shoes for sale," an enormity that had robbed language (one of our "proudest acts," he said) of the power to meaningfully respond, had thus created a crisis of expression (no, of meaning, of reality), for which a poetics must be devised if we were to rise again beyond the level of a scream or of a silence more terrible than any scream.

It is in this sense that I would speak of poetry and politics (and of an avant-garde informed by such a poetry and politics). The poets who live with language and remember the need to resist and remake feel whatever moves they make to be political and charged with meaning in the political sense. Time will determine if the politics is good or bad—if, as I would see it, it contributes to our liberation or our deeper entrapment—but that it is a politics is something I would choose never to deny. As poet I am most interested in the work of those other poets and artists for whom such questions have clearly played a central role and for whom the politics has played itself out not only, or even principally, as a subject matter but in the language and structure of the poem itself.

It is in some such ways, whether ultimately viable or not, that the avant-garde of modernism challenged the traditional/conventional art and poetry that preceded it. And it is in this way too that postmodern poets and artists, from Dada to the present, have challenged the works of the preceding modernists, not as a nostalgic return to the state-bred values of official culture but to keep open the channels of renewal that remain the central necessities behind the impulse of a poetry and art of transformations. The history of that art, that poetry (as of every other art since its separation from its people's central rites), has never been free from corruption, whether by money or by power, and the failure of most avant-gardes to address or redress that corruption must surely be their greatest failure. Nor would I want to say that every claim to change and transformation is valid on its face. But I remain equally unconvinced, as a poet, about the value of any poetry that does not have some such claim, explicit or implicit, as a central part of its agenda.

*  *  *

There is a tradition in American letters that some of the best writers must go abroad to find their true recognition. Europeans were touting Walt Whitman for his revolutionary and refreshing manner of writing himself into his poems while Americans were still hemming and hawing, and Poe had to be translated by Baudelaire to gain recognition. Charles Bukowski has found his greatest audience in Germany, Italy, France, and Sweden. Jerome Rothenberg also is understood in Europe better than he is in the United States.

What has become apparent is the immense intellectual energy that has gone into Rothenberg's poetry and, even more, into his aesthetic explorations and other writings. Anthologies edited by Rothenberg are not merely collections of books full of poems. Each one is an exercise in studying the possibilities of poetry. Not only his selections but also his editorial writing and essays continue to show us how superficial our readings and definitions of poetry have become. In this sense he is part of that great movement in letters, created by Pound and carried on by Olson, to search for the real connections between the past and the present in art and history, life and language.

Rothenberg's later work has evolved from a personal mythology that includes his sense of himself as an American Jew, born in Brooklyn in 1931 of eastern European ancestors, and as an inheritor of the Native American traditions that he has come to revere and feel part of by study and adoption into one of the tribes of the Seneca. In That Dada Strain he acknowledges other origins and resonances, in particular a use of the dadaist's sense of twentieth-century language as collapsing in on itself and needing to be reconstructed by all who wish to make language serve new purposes rather than to reinforce old, often obsolete, values.

Rothenberg concluded Vienna Blood with a tour de force, "Abulafia's Circles," an homage to Tristan Tzara, founder of the dadaist movement. It is a poem written for performance as well as a ritual presentation of all of Rothenberg's own secret ideas about poetry, and after reading it (or, preferably, hearing him perform it) one must be overwhelmed by the wide spectrum of possibilities Rothenberg takes into the poem. He uses incantation. He uses catalogs. He uses historical perspective and narrative devices for presenting that perspective. He uses both surrealist and realist imagery. He uses ritual, song, and even analytical discussion. These techniques are used to show the complexity of any identity once we consider all of its possible origins.

In his collection Khurbn and Other Poems Rothenberg offers another overwhelmingly powerful dramatic poem, this one a meditation on the Holocaust during the Nazi regime. In the introduction to the book he says,

When I was writing Poland/l931, at a great distance from the place, I decided deliberately that that was not to be a poem about the holocaust. There was a reason for that, I think, as there is now for allowing my uncle's khurbn to speak through me. The poems I first began to hear at Treblinka are the clearest message I have ever gotten about why I write poetry.

The various parts of the poem move through a kind of requiem for the human race, presenting the unusual combination of ferocity, black but playful or arabesque language, and dark vision that readers have come to associate with Rothenberg and his mythic treatment of big subjects. The following is from "Di Toyte Kloies":

Let a worm the size of a small coin come out of the
   table where you're sitting
Let it be covered with the red mucus falling from his
   nose (but only you will see it)

Because Rothenberg writes large-purposed works, never concentrating his poems into political messages, "Khurbn" is far more than a poem about this terrible episode in human history. For Rothenberg, in the tradition of Pound and Olson, political concerns and aesthetic concerns are the same or at least are interacting realities, as shown in these lines from "Der Vidershtand":

began with this in Olson's words it was
the pre/face so much fat for soap
superphosphate for soil fillings & shoes for sale
such fragmentation delivered by whatever means
the scrolls of auschwitz buried now brought to light

Rothenberg's first collection of poems, White Sun, Black Sun, gave little indication of the rich intellectual feast that was to follow. The early poems are small, vivid imagistic works, some of which, like the title poem, were deeply influenced by Blake's Songs of Innocence, but all held a surrealist promise of uncovering the dreamworld and the world of the unconscious rather than an intellectual journey. One could, however, have guessed the immense possibilities that lay ahead for him by reading his essay on the concept of "deep image," written in the early 1960s, in which he talks about poetry "as a natural structure arising at once from the act of emotive vision." He tells us that "the power of the deep image is its ability to convey a sense of two-worlds-in-one: directly: with no concept to come between the inner experience and its meaning."

It is now clear that Rothenberg, through his translations of primitive poetry, his elaborate exploration of cultural anthropology, and the extension of his deep-image poetry into the realm of ethnopoetics, is a pioneer of a new approach to poetry itself. Like Gary Snyder and other poets who wish to move away from an anthropocentric universe and his Native American brothers who wish to abolish the Eurocentric way of thinking that has abused nonwhite peoples, Rothenberg hopes to expand and diversify poetry so that it will represent this bigger vision of the world. Perhaps he is describing himself in the poem "A Flower Cantata":

he weaves his flowers into flower words,
a flower song beginning
that will become a flower word song
or will become a root song,
song root flowers at his beckoning
inside a house of flowers,
a flower world,
plumed flowers adrift
on flower drums
the fathers would call delicious flowers

—Diane Wakoski

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Rothenberg, Jerome (Dennis)

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