Eliot Weinberger Written Reaction Poetics Politics Polemics 1979-1995 1996 - [PDF Document] (2024)


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Eliot Weinberger Written Reaction Poetics Politics Polemics 1979-1995 1996 - [PDF Document] (3)

Eliot Weinberger Written Reaction Poetics Politics Polemics 1979-1995 1996 - [PDF Document] (4)

Eliot Weinberger


Works on Paper (1986)

19 Ways of Look~ng clt Waizg Wei (with Octavio Paz . 1987) Outside Stories (1 992)

Written Rcuctior~: Poetics Politics Polemics ( 1996)


Montemora (1975-1 982)

Una atztologia de la poesia norteamericana desde 19.FO (1992)

American Poetry Since 19SO: 1tztzou~7tors & Outsiders (1 993)

Sltlfz<r 33: lnto the Pust (1993)


Octavio Paz, Eagle or Sun? (1970; new version, 1976)

Octavio Paz, A Draft of Shadows ( 1 980)

Homero Aridjis, Exaltation of Light (1981)

Octavio Paz, Selected Poems (1984)

Jorge Luis Borges, Seven Nights (1984)

Octavio Paz, Collecteri Poems 1957-1 987 (1987)

Vicente Huidohro, Altazor (1988)

Octavio Paz, A Tree Within (1 98 8)

Octavio Paz, Strnstonc, ( 1 991)

Cecilia Vicuna, Unravelling Words and the Weaving of Water (1992)

Xavier Villaurrutia, Nostalgia for Death (1 992)



. M A K S I L I O P I J B L I S H F R S


Eliot Weinberger Written Reaction Poetics Politics Polemics 1979-1995 1996 - [PDF Document] (5)

Most of these essays, In varying for~ns, originally z~ppeared in the following periodicals and hooks: Artion I'odi~1rte (France), Agni, I-'/ ~ i ~ g e l (Mexico),

Artes dc M~;xico (Mexico), (;lobill (;ity Rcvlr~c~, 1.0 Iorrrado Ser,zniti~l (Mexico), Tlic L.A. Weekly. Mor~tcnzorii, Thc Not~oit, I1or>try Flash, SiOiliz (Spain), Sulfur,

Vueltil (Mexico); Eliot Weinbcrger. I i t t~c~~ciones dc pa/)el [Edic~ones Vuelta. Mexico); Hugh Macniarrnid, Sclcrtctl Poems (Ne\v Directions); Tbr Brc*izd of D L I ~ S : Elc~~crl

Mexiran Ports Tralzslatc~d by .Yanzriel Heikett (Yolla Boll!); Brorl?c Ages: Briart Nis- sctt's Sculpture (Clarion); (:orztrmpi~rilvy Pocjts (St. .Martin's); ()itLlvlO P~17: 1.0s priuile-

g ~ ) s de lu uistil (Centro Cultural/ Arte (:ontempor,ineo, h lex~co) ; P. loris, ed., lay! Praise! leromr Rothett l~er~ ot 60 (Ta'wil); E.M. Santi. ed., ~ r r h i t ' o Bloitc~ (F.diciones del Equilibrista, Mexico). The essay "Paz in India" is a revised and expanded \-crsion

o f a text originally published in my book Outside Stories (New Directions).

I n d i v ~ d ~ ~ a l selection5 copyr~ght O 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1981, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1991, 1994, 1995 h~ Ellor Weinberger.

Marsilio Publ~shers Corp. 853 Broadway

New York, NY 10003

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Weinberger. Eliot Wr~rten reaction-poetics, politics, polemics/Eliot Weinberger.

P. cm. Includes index. ISBN 1-56886-027-7 (hardcover : alk. paper) I. Title

PS3.573.E.3928W75 1996 814' .S4-dc20

Book de\~gn, Drentell l>oyle Partners Author p h o r ~ by John Madere

Distributed in the United States by (;onsorrtium Rook Sales and Distribution

1045 Westgate Drive Saint Paul, MN 551 14

96-755 CIP

I used t o live a lways in the beautiful Land of Poetry.

Then o n e d a y I f ound myself in Nonsense Land, a n d since then

I c anno t find m y w a y back home .


The Book of Betty Ba rhe r (1900)

for N.S., A.D. & S.

Eliot Weinberger Written Reaction Poetics Politics Polemics 1979-1995 1996 - [PDF Document] (6)

[Note] This Book Will Be Here for a Thousand Seconds Pegasus at the Glue Factory Griffin: Ruin's Verge Notes for Sulfur I:

Seidel's Sunrise

From S. Juan de la Cruz to St. John of the Cross A Case of AIDS Hysteria Mircea Eliade (1 907-1986)

Genuine Fakes An Aviary of Tarns

Black Mountain Lost Wax I Found Objects Notes for Sulfur 11:

Birkerts vs. Ashbery A Brief Note on Montemc~ra, America 8i the World

The "Language" Letters Is God Down?

Panama: A Palindrome Notes for Sulfur 111:

The NEA T.S. Eliot

Mary Oppen Barbaric Lyricism

Olson & Rexroth Biographies Future PMLA Article Persuasive New Defense of Traditional Prosody

Eliot Weinberger Written Reaction Poetics Politics Polemics 1979-1995 1996 - [PDF Document] (7)

Reading Poetry Rothenberg: IVew York / 1968 Talking on Drugs In the Zocalo MacDiarmid Mislaid in Translation Notes for Sulftir IV:

East Berlin Poets Kamau Brathwaite Chinese "Obscure" Poets Lorca Collected Zukofsky Collected Poet Laureates Muriel Rukeyser Mvung Mi Kim Blaise Cendrars Will Alexander An Anthology of Anthologies

Paz in India Paz & Beckett Yugoslavia The Revolution a t St. Mark's Church My Pet Rabbit Naked Mole-Rats Index


Eliot Weinberger Written Reaction Poetics Politics Polemics 1979-1995 1996 - [PDF Document] (8)

Nearly all the essays in this book are reactive: indignation, inves- tigation, celebration, written in response to topics that were sug- gested by editors or merely happened to surface. Here, in loose chronological order, are reviews, notes, answers to questions, political commentary, introductions, informal talks, catalog texts, bits of autobiography, travel, literary history and natural history. Some of these were written for publication in Mexico and have never appeared in English; some are previously unpub- lished or obscurely published. The essays intended for specific magazines, particularly Sulfur, were written with a certain audi- ence in mind; reprinting them here, I've not attempted to alter those contexts. The earliest pieces now remind me of Stendhal's injunction that one should enter society with a duel.


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IA rCzjreul of RoI~ert ElY, This Tree Will Be Hcre for a Thousand Years

(Harper & Row) , wrltteiz for The N a r ~ o n , 1979. Bly, later the guru of the

"melt's C O I ~ S C I O ~ S I I C S S ' ' ttiouemettt, tuns izt the trttzc ~trgaged itt an opposrtr pursult:

a protnotrolz of the so-called "femrtzrtze" aspects of the American psyche.]

R obert Bly is a windbag, a sen- timentalist, a slob in the language. Yet he is one of the half-dozen living American poets who are widely read; and of them, the one whose work is most frequently imitated by fledgling poets and students of "creative writing." His success, however, is less dis- heartening when considered as an emblem of an age- perhaps the first in human history- where poetry is a useless pleasantry, largely ignored by the reading public.

In every pre-industrial society, the poet has played an essential role as prophet, chronicler, social and political commentator, singer, wit, refiner of the language, keeper of the myths. In the West, by the end of the 18th century, most of these functions had disappeared: the old myths had died in the mills and collieries; the rise of the novel and the newspaper (thanks in part to increased leisure time among the bourgeoisie, cheap methods of

Eliot Weinberger Written Reaction Poetics Politics Polemics 1979-1995 1996 - [PDF Document] (10)

producing printed matter, global communication) replaced the necessity for the poem to narrate, chronicle, or comment on the world at large. The poets' response to this new irrelevancy was a turning inward toward secular exaltation: Romanticism.

Romanticism represented an exploration of what they imagined to be the passive, "feminine" aspect of human nature (which- need one say it?-is neither the exclusive nor general domain of women): moon, dream, shadow, sentiment, "the life of the mind" (as Wordsworth called his anti-epic), rhapsodies of the natural world. It was the creation of a counter-kingdom, a shadow gov- ernment; the poet became the "unacknowledged legislator." The achievements of the few great poets of the time led to imitation and excess, and a new image- that of the moony poet- was pet- rified in the public mind. The adjective "poetic" became synony- mous with ztnzuorldly, dreamy, high-flotun (language), sensitive- in a word, romantic-. "Poetic justice" meant that evil, in the end, would receive its just desert; a wishful contrast to political justice, which- as is evident in every issue of The Nation- is rarely so felicitous. The opposite of "poetic" became, naturally, "prosaic": fuctual, down-to-earth, at worst tedious as daily existence.

The revolution in American poetry at the beginning of the 20th century attempted to topple late Romanticisnl and return poetry to an active, self-consciously "masculine" position. At its worst, it meant ideology, like this from Ezra Pound in 1921: "Man real- ly the phallus or spermatozoid charging, head-on the female chaos ... Even oneself has felt it, driving any new idea into the great passive vulva of London." At its best, the poetry would incorporate politics, history, social comment, precise observation of the material world, urban topics, colloquial rather than "poet- ic" language, absolute concision of speech. The movement changed literature, yet failed, especially in America, to reinsert

the poet into society: the old model held. For the last fifty years poetry has drifted even further from the mainstream, though important work still flourishes in the backwaters. Today poetry in the U.S. is a snail darter, a frobush lousewort: a frail, unim- portant creature which is only visible when- as during the Viet- nam War, for example- it becomes a nuisance, a slight hitch in the business at hand.

Meanwhile, a neo-Romantic poetry of noble sentiment contin- ues to remain popular, especially among the young. It is sweet and escapist, like a so-called Gothic novel, and far from the world of the daily paper. "Disasters are all right," Robert Bly claims in his new collection, "if they teach men and women/ to turn their hollow places up." It is the language of Esalen, and not Bangladesh. Bly sees his mission as the restoration of the "femi- nine" to American poetry. (At his many public readings, he still stomps around the stage in a rubber LBJ mask, to symbolize "masculine"- meaning destructive- energy.) H e has dismissed most of the North American masters (Pound, Williams, Eliot, et all and has publicly knelt and kissed the hand of Pablo Neruda, his muse and role-model. Following Neruda, he has ignored musical s t r ~ ~ c t u r e and precision of language to exalt the image; imitating Neruda's imitation of Whitman, he has adopted the persona of the poet as the embracer of all beings: Bly's poems are a forest of exclamation marks, through which the phrase "I love" runs like an asylum escapee.

This Tree Will Be Here for a Thousand Years (48 poems which had previously appeared in 30 magazines) opens with a short essay on "The Two Presences." They are, according to Bly, the poet's own consciousness, which is "insecure, anxious, massive, earthbound, persistent, cunning, hopeful," and "the conscious- ness out there, in creatures and plants," which is, mercifully,

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"none of' these things," but which has "a melancholy tone." The poems, then, are an attempt to bridge this gap between inner and outer, and they d o so by presenting an "I" whom we may assume is the poet himself, and a largely personified natural world. Not since Disney put gloves on a mouse has nature been so human: objects have "an inner gief"; alfalfa is "brave," a butterfly "joy- ful," dusk "half-drunk"; a star is "a stubborn man"; bark "calls to the rain"; "snow water glances up at the new moon." It's a carnival of pathetic fallacy. At times, Bly's all-embracing I, more childish than childlike, verges on the parodic: "I know no one on this train./ A man comes walking down the aisle./ I want to tell him/ that I forgive him, that I want him/ to forgive me." One longs for a new chapter to D.H. Lawrence's Studies in Classical Americarz Literature ("Oh God! Better a bellyache. A bellyache is at least specific.")

Most college students who write poetry imitate Bly, not only because the poet's lack of emotional subtlety matches their own, but, most of all, because a Bly poem is so easy to write. Consid- er the first five lines of a poem in this collection called "Women We Never See Again":

There are women we love whom we never see again. T i~ey are chestnuts shining in the rain. Moths hatched in winter disappear behind books. Sometimes when you put your hand into a hollow tree you touch the dark places between the stars.

The first line flatly posits a familiar and "poetic" theme: lost love. The second sets up a metaphor that is entirely without meaning; any word could easily be replaced without altering the poem: they are Brazil nuts shining in the sun, they are Pontiacs

idling in the moonlight, etc. The third line jumps to another unrelated image, and one that is probably inaccurate: the moths I know, at least, preter the products of knit & purl to those of Harper & Row. Lines four and five, beginning with a wistful "sometimes," jump again, this time to a bit of fancy that might be charming if written by a third-grader. The poem, as all Bly poems, runs on, offering a new self-contained image every line or two, and then abruptly ends. What could be simpler for an ado-

I lescent- whose feelings cannot be restrained by technique- to copy?

Bly is a popular poet because his poems, to the general audi- ence, sound like poems. The poet is identifiably cheery ("I loved that afternoon, and the rest of my life") or sad ("In a few years we will die") and his images have all been certified as "poetic": snow, moon, lakes, trees, shadows, horses, birds, night, rain, wind, lions, graves and so on. That his enthusiasm is expressed through pointless and rarely believable metaphor- who else would compare the sound of a cricket to a sailboat?-that his facility for English seems to have been warped by reading (and writing) too many bad translations, that he has never conceived of the line as a unit of musical measure, are subtleties that are largely lost to the college crowds. That a bad poet is widely read is hardly news. What is disturbing, however, is the fact that so many young writers- who should be experimental, wild, out- raged, idealistic- are modeling themselves after this utterly safe, cozily irrelevant poet, a man who has written, with numbing sin-

. cerity, "It is good to be poor, and to listen to the wind."

[Postsc-ript, 1 W . C : Bly's relaxed surrealism has now heen largely replaced, in the writing schools, by "realist" description and auto-therapy.]

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1'1 < , : \ $ t i $ : \ I 1 t l t < , I [ I t l 4 C l ' O l < Y


( A reuretu o/ Thr Poctr) Anthology 19 12- 1977, edrted h)

wrrtteit for Mon temora , 197v.J

aryl Hine took America's most D successful and prestigious poetry magazine and drove it to ruin. Yet far more reprehensible is the continuing campaign of vilifica- tion he has directed against his predecessor, the late Henry Rago.

After the death of Harriet Monroe in 1936, Poetry drifted for nineteen years in a vapid succession of short-term editors and editorial committees. By 1955, when Rago assumed the editor- ship, the magazine was in a state of financial collapse. A strict organizer- even specifying the brand of office paper clips- he quickly brought Poetry into the period of its greatest prosperity. More significant, he heeded Eliot's advice that Poetry was an institution, not a little magazine. It existed not to promote a spe- cific group or genre, but rather to display monthly the range of the serious writing that occurred in the country. Neither fief nor commune, Poetry was, ideally, the Republic of Letters.

The history of Poetry and its editors is encapsuled in the evo- lution of the magazine's cover. Rago's restoration of the Monroe

Pegasus, now in a tasteful sketch, the grand procession of month- ly colors, and the sober list of contributors all reflected his edito- rial intent. This was the real thing, Mt. Olympus, high above the warring factions. Almost every poet of interest, from all fronts, was represented, and entry became a rite of initiation for the young. A debut in Poetry was admission to the Guild, a license to practice. (Today, there is nothing remotely similar, only a nod from the creative writing school teacher.)

On May 18, 1969, Daryl Hine was announced as Rago's successor, and eleven days later Rago's heart gave out. The maga- zine changed immediately. The tell-tale cover eliminated Pegasus and the poets, and gave its entire space to doleful pen-and-inks: On the outside, Poetry had become the Pawpaw College Lit. Mag. Inside was equally grim: Hine's 5 7 varieties of studied irony, a lugubrious murmur of "Sewanee, how I love you ..." Within a year and a half, circulation had fallen nearly 20%, indicating a drop in individual subscriptions and sales (libraries generally renew automatically). The magazine began to lose money serious- ly, and even the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature (which had been indexing Poetry since 19 1.5) dropped them, resulting in a further loss of subscriptions, now from the smaller libraries.

In 1978, after nine drooping years, Hine finally stepped down. His chosen replacement- inspired, perhaps, by Tutmania- was a member of the editorial committee of the 19403, John Frederick Nims, the man who once compared the Cantos t o cancer cells. His first act was to restore the Rago cover, but with one signifi- cant change: the grave and graceful Rago Pegasus was now a cute winged horsey drawn by James Thurber. As all institutions in the final stage of decay, Poetry had become a parody of itself.

The Poetry Anthology purports to represent "sixty-five years of America's most distinguished magazine." A judicious anthologist

Eliot Weinberger Written Reaction Poetics Politics Polemics 1979-1995 1996 - [PDF Document] (13)

\ Y l < l I I t X [ < I - . A ( I I O N 1 ' 1 ( , , \ \ [ I \ , \ I I t l t ( 9 1 L I I . I ,I( I ( ) I < \

would have attempted to mirror each succeeding editor's taste. Hine & Parisi, however, shamelessly offer their ow11 claustropho- bic reading of literary history. Scores of regular contributors- in the style of the Soviet Encyclopedia- have mysteriously vanished.

Examine, for example, four typical Rago years: April 1965 to March 1969 (all of Volumes 106 through 113). The following were among the avant-gardist poets published, often in long selections and often repeatedly, alongside the traditionalist prac- titioners: Antin; Blackburn; Bowering; Bromige; Bunting (the complete Briggflatts); Creeley; Davenport; Dorn; Dull; Duncan (including some particularly fine "Passages"); Eigner; Enslin; Eshleman; Hollo; Irby; Ronald Johnson; Levertov; Loewinsohn; Merton; Stuart Montgonlery (the complete Circe); Niedecker; Olson (from Maximus); Oppen; Rakosi; Margaret Randall; Raworth; Tim Reynolds; Rexroth; Rukeyser; Samperi; even Aram Saroyan; S i l l i ~ ~ ~ a n ; Snyder; Sorrentino; Tomlinson; Turn- bull; Whalen; Zukofsky (including special issues and the com- plete "Ax-14, 15, 18, 19, 21 ) .

Hine & Parisi give sixteen anthology pages to those four years. (1 10 of the book's 520 pages are devoted to eight of Hine's years as editor.) The poets chosen from that period are Carruth, Sexton, Snyder, Van Duyn, Tomlinson (twice), Spacks, Hollander (a little poem in the shape of a swan...), Howard, Stafford, W.S. Graham, Benedikt, Bly, Merwin, Karl Shapiro, Winfield Townley Scott, Mark Van Doren and Vernon Watkins. Althoughmany frorn the first list were Poetry regulars, a search elsewhere in the anthology is equally depressing. Some are grudgingly allotted one poem each, despite long associations with the magazine. Some, like Bunting and Zukofsky, are represented by a few early poems, but nothing from Briggfilatts or The Spoils- first published in Poetry- or "A ", which the magazine practically serialized over

forty years. Others, like Olson and Rexroth, have simply van- ished, while immortals like David Wagoner, John Ciardi, and Turner Cassity are given multiple entries.

Nor is Hine's distaste for Rago and his policies limited to edito- rial subversion. In a 13-page introduction, the fourteen Rago years are discussed and dismissed in one paragraph: "He seems, from the space he gave certain fashionable poets both in the mag- azine and on its movie-marquee-like cover, to have picked favorites ... there were few surprises in these years." (Earlier, Hine notes that Ezra Pound's "influence on Poetry, as on modern poet- ry in general, has been exaggerated out of proportion...") Revi- sionism has even oozed on to the book's dust jacket: 33 snapshots of poets and editors, but no Rago and no Pound. Worse, the fat spine is adorned with a goony freshman Tho111 Gunn, a marcelled Randall Jarrell, and a squishy Amy Lowell. They stare from the shelf.

As Poetry (Hine) had few readers, and as only collecting com- pletists would consider buying this book, a dutiful reviewer should provide a brief synopsis of this last decade. A few titles and the first lines of poems tell it all: Like a particularly damp provin- cial museum, the pages were crowded with plaster-casts: "Baucis and Philomen"; "Dido: Swarming"; "Muse"; "Credo"; "Pervig- ilium Veneris"; "Death & Empedocles" and "Empedocles on Etna" (by different authors); "Narcissus to Himself"; "Satyr"; "Bird and the Muse"; "Homage to the Caracci." There was some tourism, but no exotic climes: "Hotel in Paris"; "Circumambulat- ion of Mt. Tamalpais"; "Stones: Avesbury"; "Historical Museum, Manitoulin Island"; "Winter Drive"; "Leaving Buffalo"; "Under the Arc de Triomphe October 17'' (which begins "The French clocks struck two-thirty"); "Wandsworth Common." There were "Waiting Rooms" ("What great genius invented the waiting

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room?") and "The Waiting Room" ("I sit thinking of: a rowing- boat I saw"). There was introspection: "The world is several bil- lion years of: age1 and I am thirty"; "What of: these verses that I write"; "I attended the burial of all my rosy feelings"; I was always called in early for dinner." There was observation ("Night is a black swan"); ruminations on poetry ("The old forms are like birdhouses") and on gastronomy ("The Joy of Cooking"; "Twin- ings Orange Pekoe"). And no end to freshman wit: "Vowel Move- ments" (that one, five pages long, by Hine himself); "The Poet's Farewell to His Teeth." The Hine section is swiftly read, for only those in solitary confinement with only this book could get past most of the first lines. And yet, three whole lines, the opening of a poem called "The Pleasure of Ruins," are worthy of citation for their spec- tacular kitsch:

We cannot walk like Byron among Ayasoluk's ruined mosques, kicking the heads o f f yellow iris and eating cold lamb, but still we never envy the Bedouin.

But hold, reader: four more opening lines, and then good night:

Reading through your work tonight As though it were autobiography I find your resonance... [author's ellipsis] " I shan't be yours forever; even this can't last."

G R I F F I N : R U I N ' S V E R G E

( W r ~ t t e f t ~ 7 s t h e e l l t ry ( ~ r z Jon tz th~z i t G ' t l f f i ~ ~ for t h e re ferer~cv book,

Contemporary Poets (St. Murtrrz'sj, 1 'I7'). (

he card catalogue of the New T York Public Library assumes that there are three Jonathan Griffins: the English poet, the 1930's journalist and expert on mil- itary affairs, and the translator of a shelf-full of books from seven European languages. To these we might add the "would-be" pianist who studied with Schnabel in Berlin in the early 1930's, the director of BBC European Intelligence during World War 11, the diplomat in Paris, the screenwriter in Rome, the playwright featured at the Edinburgh Fest~val in 1957. But amidst this flock of public Griffins, the poet- the one whose work will last- has scarcely been visible. Until quite recently the poems rarely appeared in magazines, and his books were published by the smallest of small presses. Today one can find Griffin, if one looks hard enough, but there has been no critical attention paid him, other than a few short reviews. One poem was anthologized once; no survey of contemporary writing has even mentioned his name. He is, in short, that hidden treasure, a poet's poet's poet.

The voice is unique, and even at first glance a Griffin poem is unmistakable: titles which seem to come from nowhere ("You

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May Come Out"; "Ear to House-"; "3 Angels in Supernova"; "Into the Straight"; "At the Crucifixion of One's Heirs"; "The World is Bugged"); rhymes that appear and disappear; neologisn~s (breathprint, termcide, gravechill, brainstone); rhythms like shat- tering glass; breath-pauses presented on the page through a system of indentation he has apparently invented. The music can be as dense as the later Bunting; the language as personal as that of David Jones (though unlike Jones, Griffin never displays his erudi- tion; the poems are entirely without literary reference). "The syn- tax," George Oppen has commented, "moves of its own force, moves in the force of the world, it restores light and space to poet- ry. It is what the poetry of England has lacked for- how long?"

H e was first published in his (and the century's) fifties, and the work contains none of the indulgences of younger poets. There is wit but never cleverness, no fanciful speculation, no anecdote, few occasional pieces, and- other than some recent meditations on death- no autobiography, no confession. The "I" of the poem, when it appears, is linked only to verbs of thought, decla- ration o r perception. Griffin's nuclear words are man, God, music, pride, humility. There is always the sense that the poet has been impelled to speech.

This may be the first poetry to contemplate seriously the new vision of earth given us by the lunar missions. It is a poetry of planetary consciousness, but without the occultism and nostalgia for a Golden Age that has characterized more popular writing. Accordingly, given the times, the vision is double; the poet's response both ecstasy and rage. The intense lyrics in celebration of natural beauty are almost eclipsed by the bleak and apocalyp- tic meditations. Griffin is one of the few poets today who is con- fronting, in the poem, this earth of pesticide, radiation, holocaust, overpopulation, deforestation, chemical waste- the

way we live now, in the first age to devastate the future. His is a voice at world's end: "We need no prophets We know what is coming/ but can we live with it?"

Although the poems continue the English spiritual tradition (and indeed Griffin seems closer to Vaughan, Herbert and Trah- erne, Hopkins and Dixon, than to any poet of this century) the God of organized religion never enters these contemplations. Griffin's God is idiosyncratic and complex: a divine force which is either destructive or does not exist; a God that is the Goddess, planet earth; a God that "is men making music." One of his darkest lines simply states: "Entropy is God." In the absence of a creator God, the poetry becomes spiritual in the broadest sense: the spirit of incantation- incantation mean- ing music, poetry, prayer ("I believe in prayer not in God.") In a world where "we voted with our feet a deadness to live in," Griffin's prayer is a grim one: "for/ Earth to be saved from Man." He writes: "I believe in man but not much."

Two thousand years ago, Wei Hung stated: "The music of an age on the verge of ruin is mournful and thoughtful." Griffin's music is both, and yet, given his vision, strangely ecstatic. For Jonathan Griffin, the "fact of musicn- that it is there, that we are capable of making it- may be, in the end, all that matters:

Is it too late? Before it is too late remember the great mztsic. Because small mammals dreamed it, because it is at all, preserve the world, contitztte Man. Let great work, by the few unlikely, inseminate

I silence- the priz~ate sile~zces, the All Siletzce- with new music: to the still, small ttilze of Man the 1~7st zuaste reverberate.

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( N o t e s , reoleuis, commen t s arld responses wrlttelz

for tile hack pages of Sulfur. 1981 - 1 986.1

Seidel's Sunrise

s o what's a guy like me doing

with a book like that in a place like this? Well ... Frederick Seidel is our latest most important American

poet. Suizrise, seventeen years in the making, smartly published by Penguin1 Viking, is the 1979 Lamont Poetry Selection and the winner of the 1980 National Book Critics Circle Award (now second in prestige to the Pulitzer). Robert Lowell wrote in 1965: "When I read him, I have envious, delighted, jolted feelings and suspect the possibilities of modern poetry have been changed." Richard Poirier compares Seidel to Lawrence, calling Surzrise one of the best poetry books of the last decade or more. Jerome Maz- zaro in the Hudson Reuicw reveals that "Seidel has the power to be an important visionary." And Denis Donaghue, moonstruck in the N.Y. Review of Books, is reminded of- needless to say-

Yeats and Lowell. In other words, it is likely that few, if any, Sulfur subscribers have read the man.

One effect of the poetry pandemic has surely been the elimina- tion of exogamous reading. It has become so hectic in one's own longhouse that one rarely has the time or stamina for visits to the other clans. Twenty years ago, in the ardent days of the antholo- gy battles, even diehard Beat or Black Mountain partisans could, at the least, recognize the insignia of the opposing troops (do~lble initials always made an easy target). Today, who among Sulfur readers (which I take as the progressive, but not radical, flank) can spot the ear of Alfred Corn, or distinguish between Howard and Stanley Mosses? Who among us doesn't think that a "line of Dubie's" refers to Frank Sinatra?

I, for one, read contemporary American poetry every day, receive a pile of poetry books and periodicals every week, yet rarely open any book of poetry published by a major house or as part of a university press poetry series (excepting selected/collect- ed editions of the old or dead), any poetry book that wins a major prize, or any literary periodical with the word "Review" in the title. (Nor, I hasten to add, do I exclusively linger in that church bake-sale ozone where all the presses are named after exotic flora or common fauna.) Consequently, I am not only ignorant of 80% of the poets discussed at the moment by scholars, wits and literati; I am utterly mystified by the mechanics of current "establish- ment" taste- the grounds, say, for the inclusion or exclusion of any poem in or from any Review. This despite the fact- which we never admit- that on the whole the academic reviewers and critics are far better writers and far more informed than the aver- age fellow traveler of those who make it new.

And so adritt with my nearly blank map of American poetry, I happened to read a review of Seidel's Sunrise by Vernon Young in

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the N.Y. Tinzes Book Rerliezv. Seidel was unknown to me, but I recognized Young as a "frequent critic." Although, to remain calm, the Rook Review is best avoided- one always makes the mistake of confusing it with literature, simply because it happens to deal with objects identical to those in which literature is tradi- tionally stored- Young's piece caught my eye. Seidel's poems, he wrote, "were the best about hell written in this country"; ~ ~ r b a n e , scathing, frenetic"; "his visionary glimpses are balefully superb"; "compelling"; and so on. In support, he produced two passages from the book. The first, about Osip Mandelstam:

He was last seen alizfe In 1938 at a transit camp near Vladivostok Eating from a garbage pile, When I was two, arzd Robert Lowell was twenty-one, W h o mtrch later tvozild translate Mandelstam, And now has been dead two years himself.

And the second:

Antonioni walks in the desert shooting Zabriskie Point. He does not perspire Because it is dry His twill trousers stay pressed, He wears desert boots and a viewfinder, He has a profile he could shave with, sharp And meek, like the eyesight of the deaf, With which he is trying to find America.

These two excerpts struck me as not merely dull, but so spectacularly bad that I wondered what aesthetic could prize

(literally, as it turned out) such work? What boat had I missed? I bought the book.

Seidel in Sulfur should, in fairness, be presented, not describ- ed- it's all too easy to sniff in dismissal or lower the heavy artillery, So instead of sitting duck, I offer "Pressed Duck," a poem in its entirety from the collection:

Caneton a la presse at the now extilzct Cafe Chauz~eron. Chaztr~eron himself cooking, fussed And approved Behind Elaine, whose party it was; Whose own restnzrrant would be fi7irzous soon.

Poised and hard, bzrt dreaming and innocent- Like the last Romarzovs- spring buds at thirty, nt thirty-two, We were green i7s grapes, A clzrster of February birthdays, All "Elaine's" regulars.

Donald, Elaine's then-partner, His then-wife, a lovely girl; Johizny Greco, Richardson, Elaine, my former wife, myself: With one exception, born t~jithin a few days and years O f one another.

Not too long before, thirty had been old, But we toere young- still slender, with one exccptiotz, Heads and necks delicate As a sea horse, Elegant and guileless

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Above our English clothes And Cartier ruatches, which ten years later shopgirls And Bloomingdale's fairies ujoltld wear, And the people who pronounce chic chick. Chauveron ctit

The tuine-red meat off the carcasses. His duck press was the only one in New York. He stirred brandy into the blood While we watched. Elaine said,

"Why do we need anybody else? We're the world."

[Readers who do not happen to live on the island of Manhat- tan south of 96th Street will undoubtedly require some annota- tion. Elaine is the proprietor of Elaine's, a restaurant p t ronized by wealthy demi-intellectuals ("anti-Establishment" Hollywood directors, authors of "serious" bestsellers, et al). Elaine herself is well known both for her extreme snobbishness and her corpu- lence (i.e., the "one exception"). Cartier is, of course, one of the world's most elegant jewellers; Bloorningdale's, outwardly a department store, should be considered the Main Temple of the local consumer cult. A few years ago pressed duck became the rage, following a full-page article in the N.Y. Times; there was a run on duck-pressers at $500 apiece. One of the functions of the poem is to inform us that the poet was there first. It should also be noted that stanza 5 is not only snide, it is inaccurate: no shop- girl could possibly afford a Cartier watch, and no one on the island in recent memory has been heard to mispronounce a word which, in frequency of local usage, is second only to the first per- son pronoun (possessive case).]

Kindly souls might suspect that "Pressed Duck" is supposed to be funny, or ironic. It is not. He means it. For "Pressed Duck" is surrounded by thirty other poems of similar ilk, in a book dedi- cated to Bernardo Bertolucci: poems about partying with the Kennedys and Francis Bacon and Antonioni and apparently famous race car drivers; images of opium by the pool, Courrkges boots, cuisine minceur, Mercedes limos, skin-tight leather, hand- made suits, Dorn Perignon and Polaroid and Valium and Mao. There is a poem called "f*cking"; poems that end with one-line stanzas like "Goodbye." or "That is the poem."; and lines like "That is as sensitive as the future gets." or "Between his name and neant are his eyes." or "There and beyond one like heaven, as Che is."

When Seidel is trying to be funny, he sounds like this (the poem is about the author):

He sucked his pipe. He skied he fished he published. He f*cked his wife's friends. Touching himself he murmured He was not fit to touch his wife2 hem. He dreamed of running away with his sister-in-law! Of doing a screenplay. Him the guest on a talk show-

When he is serious, like this (on Robert Kennedy):

Younger brother of a murdered president, Senator and candidate for president; Shy, compassionate and fierce Like a figtire out of Yeats; The only politician I have loved ...

And mainly like this:

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It was U n i o n Square. I remember. Turn a corner And in a light year She'd have arrived At the nearby inky, thinky offices of Partisan Review. Was s l~e off to see my rival Lief, Boyfriend of girls and men, who cruised 111 a Rolls ~oizz~crtihle?

This is news that doesn't stay news with a vengeance: the inven- tion of disposable poetry. It may be the least numinous poetry ever written, the poetry of a millisecond in an accelerating histor- ical time, a poetry obsessed with dates and the ages of individuals, with the objects of fashion which the poet accepts literally and absolutely.

As such, the poetry has appeal to the bicoastal upper-middle brow- that is, people in Los Angeles who read The New Yorker. (Even the book itself is designed to look tony on a table in a high- tech interior.) Small wonder that book reviewers, whose words live less than a day, love it. But why is Academia bathed in the light of Sunrise? Why would a man like Donaghue mistake "Pressed Duck" for "Leda and the Swan"?

First, the book is not only not campy (which might have saved it), it is deeply humorless, therefore serious. Second, Seidel's styl- istic models are clearly Lowell and, especially in the 14-page incomprehensible (Young: "enigmatic") title poem, Ashbery. What Sunrise offers, then, is some easily recognized gossip and glitz couched in the current academic mode. In short, perfect Leisure Reading for the English Department, or down at the inky thinky Partisan Review. Brancusi called Wagner's music a beef-

I steak in delirium; Seidel's poetry is a quiche on quaaludes.

Back at the dinky but kinky Sulfur, all 1 can do is nod as the sun- rise sets.

11983 1

Froni S. 111'111 d~ 1'1 CYMZ to St. ]ohn o f the Cross

I t is a curiosity that translation- the most passive, bookish act of writing- often occurs in a fit of anger. Appalled at the injustice of an existing translation, one rises in defense of the poem. Many translators have begun their careers out of rage at a perceived "betrayal" of a beloved text, and thus the worst translators have often turned out to be inadvertent forces of good. All of us who translate Spanish, for example, are forever indebted to Ben Belitt.

In the case of this poem by S. Juan de la Cruz (1542-1591), coincidental references to the text in manuscripts by Karin Less- ing and Octavio Paz propelled me to check the translations I had at hand: Willis Barnstone's version, now in its sixth printing as a New Directions paperback; John Frederick Nims' recent third revision as a University of Chicago paperback; and Roy Camp- bell's translation, long out of print. I tound:

Aqttella eterna fonte estn ascondida, que hien se yo do tiene su manida,

~71tnque es de noche.

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literal: That eternal fozlntailz is hidden, how well I know ~uhere it/ she has its/ her abode/

lair/ mansion, although it is night.

Nims: Waters that flow forever and a day through a lost country- oh 1 know the way in dark of night.

Barnstone: The eternal fountain is unseen. How well I know where she has been in black of night.

Campbell: Its deathless spring is hidden, even so Full well I guess from whence its sources flow Though it be night.

Nims had translated three words of the original, I know and night, and then simply made up the rest. Barnstone and Camp- bell seemed willing to do almost anything to complete a rhyme: Barnstone by stretching meaning (unseen for hidden, has been for has itslher lair- and even in Tin Pan Alley they don't rhyme unseen and has been) and Campbell by inventing sources flow and the convoluted and (oxy)moronic Even so/ full well I guess.

Here was more:

S u claridad Fzunca es escurecida, y se que todn la luz de elln es venida,

literal: Itslher clarity is never darkened, and I know that all light comes from her,

Nims: A stream so clear, and never clouded? Never. The wellspring of all splendor whatsoever.

Barnstone: Her shining never has a blur; 1 know that all light cornes from her

Campbell: Its clarity unclouded still shall be: Ou t of it comes the light by which we see

Aqtli se esta llamando a las criaturas, y de esta agua se hartan azinque a escuras, porque es de noche.

literal: Here itlshe is calling to the creatures, and zuith this water they are sated, althotlgh in

darkness, for it is night.

Nims: Song o f the ulsters calling: come and drink. Come, all you creatures, to the shadowy brink in dark of night.

Barnstone: She calls on all mankind to start to drink her wateu, though in dark, for black is night.

Campbell: Here to all creatures it is crying, hark! That they should drink their fill though in the

dark, For it is night.

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W ' K I ' I T F N K E A ( : T I O N

The patterns had remained the same throughout each version. Nims was simply out to lunch. (James Dickey, on the back cov- er, had hit the nailon the head: "You tend to forget that the poems were ever written in Spanish.") Barnstone and Campbell had collapsed from strenuous ministrations to that exacting god, rhyme: Campbell, like an old couch, showing great tufts of stuffing (still shall be, by which we see, hark!); Barnstone falling into a kind of baby-talk which he had mistaken for colloquial speech (never has a blur, start/ to drink).

My own version, a quick draft, was written, then, merely to give N. American readers some small sense of what S. Juan was talking about. It follows along the wide road cleared by Paul Blackburn's Proensa, where an attention to literal detail evolves a musical complex unlike that of the original. In attempting an exactitude of meaning- not at all difficult, given the poet's extraordinarily simple, limpid speech- I found it harmful either to keep the meter running or to retain the three-line stanzas of Juan's unorthodox villancico. This may distress those wardens who would prefer to keep the translation in a prosodic equiva- lent of'the prison where the poem was originally written. But the point is that translation, especially translation of the classics, should have linlitless possibility, no walls at all:

The Fountain

Although it is n igh So well I know her Fountain mounting

spilling out That eternal fountain

bidden So well I knoirl where She keeps her lair Though it is night

Although it is night I will never know

her origin She has no origin And I know all origin comes from her And I know there can be nothing more beautiful T l~at heavens, the earti) drink from her Though it is night

Altl~o~igh it is night Her depth cannot be sounded Well I know

no one may round i~er And her clarity never darkens And all light I know comes from her Though it is nigbt

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Although it is night 1 know her streanzs so abundant Watering hells and heavens and ?nun The stream born from this fountain Well 1 know so able

all-powerful Though it is night

Although it is night The stre~~tn of these two flows Neither before the other goes

I know Tbis eternal fountain

bidden In this living bread to give us life Thozrgb it is night

Here she calls to t l ~ e creatures And with this water they are slaked Although in darkness for it is night

This the living fountain 1 desire In this bread of life I see her Though night

A Case of AIDS Hystcvia

I Wrrtten rtl 1')R 3 , whet1 A r m was consrcicrt,[i to be u drsea~e affectrtlg otily

g.7) mrtz. Czrrrozrsly, thr R o l l ~ n g Stock "uwnrd" may well h a ~ ~ c , hcetz the

first nielltiotz of AII) . \ 111 tile poetry prc'ss, attd this the secottd.]

R oIIing stock is a cultural news- paper edited by Ed and Jennifer Dorn and published from the Uni- versity of Colorado. Its latest issue, "numero 5," devotes a full page- written, I gather, in collaboration with Tom Clark- to the " 1983 AIDS AWARDS FOR POETRY- In recognition of the current EPI- DEMIC OF IIIIOCY on the poetry scene." The page features a large illustration of a test-tube of reddish liquid, presumably infected blood: the "prize." At the bottom of the page is a photograph of two Asian men in suits wearing Mickey Mouse caps. The caption reads: "To date 1300 cases of AIDS POETRY have been reported in the U.S."

The recipients of this honor are Dennis Cooper ("for writing the most ~ ~ ~ I s - l i k e line of the year: 'Mark's anus is wrinkled, pink, and simplistically rendered, but cute"'); Clayton Eshleman (for "attacking a dead- and thus harmless- poet, Elizabeth Bish- op," in a review in the L.A. Tzmes); Robert Creeley (for writing extravagant blurbs for books by Stephen Rodefer and Joanne Kyger); Steve Abbott ("for accusing everybody who doesn't like him or his poetry of 'rabid hom*ophobia"'); Allen Ginsberg (for claiming that he wrote some lyrics for the rock group The Clash

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when supposedly he hadn't); and finally, " \Y 'KIT~;- IN (:AN~~I~>I-\TE" ("Fill in the name of your favorite IYIETRY I D I U T here")

As "idiocy" goes- even poetry "idiocyn- these strike me as rather obscure misdemeanors. Cooper's line is hardly worth sin- gling out (but in what way is it "~111s-like? because it is hom*o- erotic?); the Ginsberg is strictly a "so what" item; and the Abbott clearly the product of a personal grudge. Creeley's liking for Rodefer and Kyger and Eshleman's dislike of Bishop are scarcely cause for alarm. (In fact, I'm more alarmed that Dorn and Clark, of all people, feel that Bishop, of all people, needs protection from the barbarians trampling on her grave.)

The presenting of awards to "idiots" has always been a favored pastime for sophom*oric wits. Luckily the sophom*oric wits of poetry usually find other things to do, like writing grants proposals. Here, however, Rolling Stock is merely picking up where Robert Bly's FiftieslSixtieslSeventies left off. But Dorn and Clark have considerably raised the stakes from Bly's "Blue Toad," or whatever it was: For these supposed infractions of good taste, they not only wish the poets dead, but dead after a long and particularly gruesome disease.

It's not at all funny, And Rolling Stock's choice of AIDS as the vehicle of death is positively sinister. It has only one reading: if AIDS is "idiocy," then clearly the "idiots" are AIDS-victims- that is, gay men. For Cooper, Ginsberg and Abbott, who are publicly known as hom*osexual, it means: Those fa*ggots should drop dead. For Creeley and Eshleman, publicly known as heterosexu- al, it means: They're idiots, therefore fa*ggots, therefore they should drop dead from fa*ggot disease. (And as for Asians in Mickey Mouse caps- presumably more "idiotic" than whites in similar attire- they can drop dead too.) -

Sickening and pointless, its utter irrelevancy makes the matter barely worth mentioning. But admirers of Dorn, who are many, and of Clark, who are some, now face the task of recovering the poetry from the macho slobber. Most depressing is that these poets, like a village on the fringe of the Empire, can only reduce the news, when it reaches them, to family squabbles. Meanwhile people are dropping dead from AIDS, and its discovery has un- leashed a wave of hom*ophobia, both verbal and active. Worse, it has become the right-wing's counter to the left's categorization of cancer as the moral disease of the age. If cancer, as various libera- tionists have proclaimed, is the body's response to passion unnat- urally repressed by society or personality, then AIDS, according to the right, is the result of unnatural passion: hom*osexuality itself, or promiscuous, "depersonalized" hom*osexuality,

There is no doubt that AIDS is widely seen- even by some of its victims- as the wrath of God. This mythologizing of disease not only erects enormous barriers to treatment and potential cure, but it also promotes a climate of fear that extends far beyond ~111s itself. Hell becomes other people: the "idiots" among us, out not only to physically destroy us, but to destroy our family struc- ture, our "American" values. The current AIDS hysteria is merely an exaggerated and particularly shameless form of the continu- ing national dementias of racism and anticommunism.

Rolling Stock demonstrates how easily the objects of fear and hatred become iumbled: hom*osexuals, AIDS-victims, Asians, authors of book-jacket blurbs-"idiots" all. I once would have thought Dorn and Clark to be unlikely mouthpieces for Reagan America.

[Postscript: Steve Abbott died of .+\IDS in 1994.1

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..... .............

Mircea Eliade (1 907-1 986)

H is earliest memory was crawling in the forest, having wandered away from his mother, and suddenly coming face to face with a resplendent blue lizard.

His earliest story, written as a child, began: "I met God at the end of a path. He had pulled a branch off a hazel tree and was trying to make a switch of it. 'You wouldn't have a penknife, by any chance?' he asked me." (The gods, from the beginning, needed his help.)

He trained himself to sleep only four hours a night. He learned Italian, French, Portuguese, English, Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Per- sian, Russian, Sanskrit, Bengali. As a teenager he published two novels and hundreds of shorter pieces: stories, accounts of his extensive walking trips through the countryside, literary criti- cism, essays on entomology, alchemy, Orientalism, religion. Like many others who would form the Bollingen group, he was attracted to Fascism by its glorification of an indigenous folk.

At 21 he went to India for three years. He studied Sanskrit twelve hours a day, had a doomed love affair (recounted in his novel Bengali Nights), and ended up as a yogi in a cave above Rishikesh. That conjunction- scholarship, sensuality, sacrality- describes his life.

By 30 he had written seventeen books in Rumanian: best-selling novels, collections of stories and essays, books on India, alchemy,

oceanography, Babylonian cosmography. He had translated two volumes of T.E. Lawrence, and written his first book on Yoga in French. (A year later, his first book written in English.)

Because of the great books on Yoga and shamanism, and Pat- terns in Comparative Religion; The Myth of the Eternal Return; Rites and Symbols o f Initiation; The Forge and the Crucible; The Quest; The Sacred and the Profane; The T2uo and the One; Images and Symbols; Myths, Dreams and Mysteries; the anthol- ogy From Primitives to Zen; the three-volume A History of Reli- gious Ideas; he was (and is) the preeminent guide and encyclopedia to the manifestations of the ancient mysteries- for the second half of the century, our Frazer. "We are 'con- demned,"' he wrote, "to learn and to reawaken to the life of the spirit through books."

And yet he considered his work as an historian of religion as ancillary to his fiction. His masterpiece, he thought, was the long novel The Forbidden Forest. [I had tried to read it, and gave up after a hundred pages. Years later, reading his journals, I came across this passage: "F6ret Interdit. Why do so many readers stop, discouraged, after a hundred pages?" If only they would realize that those pages are deliberately "confused, wordy, and awkwardn- a "camouflage" for what is to come. Past those pages, "any intelligent reader would be captivated, obsessed. "1

His friends were Bachelard, Jung, Bataille, Breton, Ionesco, Ortega y Gasset, Dumezil, Cioran. His death elicited only a few paragraphs in our "newspaper of record."

Eliade wrote "I arrived at cosmic sacralities by reflecting on the daily experiences of Rumanian or Bengali peasants." Never much of a theoretician, his subject was the "concrete spiritual life as it takes place in culturew- the stuff of the sacred. He was a

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man who read everything and remembered everything: any thing reminded him of everything else. For Eliade, to find God one could begin anywhere. He was, at heart, a Hindu- and often - could barely disguise his impatience with the exclusionary poli- cies of the three monotheisms. And he was- in his histories of religion perhaps more than in his fiction- a poet: one of the cen- tury's great celebrants of the ideas in things.



T h e Forger', Ar t ( U r ~ ~ u e r s l t ) ~ of C . c ~ / ~ f o r r t ~ L ~ Press) for T h c L.A. \Yreeklv, 1983.

Rewr~ttrrt for i l 1 1 ljstre of Arres J e ML-xicu iievot[~d t o forgeries, 1 9Y.i. 1

A bout ten years after it was published, an energetic young man retyped Jerzy Kosinski's 1965 prize-winning novel, The Painted Bird, gave the manu- script a new title, and submitted it to a dozen American pub- lishers. None of them, including Kosinski's own publisher, recognized the book, and all of them rejected it.

It was a good joke, and a telling comment on how books get published, but the story does not end there. Some years before Kosinski's death, an investigative journalist wrote an article claiming that the Polish author could not possibly have written The Painted Bird in English: at the time, he was a recent immi- grant to the United States, and his command of: the language was poor. It was suggested that he either wrote the novel in Polish and had it translated, o r he outlined the story t o an assistant who actually "wrote" the book. Either way, the book's acclaimed ver- bal pyrotechnics would not be the work of Kosinski. Further- more, there were rumors that the novel was based on- or

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\ \ )< I I I I h I l l ,\< I I O N

possibly plagiarized from- the writings of an unpublished Pol- ish writer who had died in a concentration camp, and whose manuscript had somehow fallen into Kosinski's possession.

The Painted Bird is a classic case of how authorship determines reception. The memoir of a small boy in war-torn Poland, it would have been enveloped in unbearable pathos if it had been presented as the work of the murdered Pole. As it is, although the text remains the same, its importance diminishes, in the following order, according to the identity of its author: Kosinski as original writer, the translator, the assistant, Kosinski as plagiarist, the young re-typist. As Salvador Dali said, the first person to compare a woman's cheeks to a rose was undoubtedly a genius; the second person to do so could easily have been a n idiot.

Forgery is the little pin that pricks the hot-air balloon of theo- ries of art. Intellectually, we may believe, with the modernists, that in art all ages are contemporaneous- that a lyric by Sap- pho has the immediacy of a poem written yesterday- o r believe, with the postmodernists, that there is n o author, only the text. But the actual reading o r looking o r listening to a work of art always occurs in the tension between our perception of the work itself and our knowledge of its origin. Even when the author is Anonymous (as the old joke goes, the greatest writer who ever lived) the work is inextricably placed in its historic moment. Its timelessness is its unchanging core, which keeps the work alive over the centuries. Its location in time- moreover in a time that is receding- keeps the work in constant flux. We see the work as part of an archaic context, a context we must enter into, but we see it with modern eyes- that is, with the eyes of a modernity that is always chang~ng.

A forgery is an object without a creator, and human nature cannot bear anything without a narrative of its origin. (The

liveliest debate in physics today is the question that every age and culture has had to answer: what happened in the first four seconds of the universe?) There is no reason why an exact copy (assuming it were possible) of a painting should be inferior t o the original, but we knout, emotionally if not rationally, that it is so. Mark Twain said that Wagner's music was better than it sounds. A forgery is always worse than it looks.

Forgery is based on authenticity, and both of them are jokes. But it is authenticity, not forgery, that is the cruelest joke of all. The Metropolitan Museum buys a Greek vase for a million dol- lars that is hailed as the masterpiece of its kind, until it is revealed as a fake. We venerate da Vinci's "Last Supper," even though it has been restored so many times it no longer has any of its original paint. We ponder the quite serious critical pro- posal that the plays of Shakespeare were not written by William Shakespeare, but by another man of the same name. Yesterday's attribution to the hand of the Master becomes today's relegation to an anonymous "From the studio of ..." Nothing is more cer- tain than the foolishness of old certainties.

But if authenticity leaves a taste of bitter regret, forgery a t its best is a sugared hilarity. When it is done for monetary gain it is as humorless as a counterfeit bill: all skill and no wit. When it is a work of megalomania it is a t its most perverse, the combina- tion of skill and obsession that leads to the pleasure of seeing one's efforts hanging in a museum or sold a t Sotheby's. But the perversity of the humor is that it can never be shared: the forger must laugh alone. Forgery is at its most comic when it is an act of simple revenge, and when that act is, in the end, revealed.

For example, the pianist Alexis Weissenberg was tired of read- ing reviews that claimed he was a "cold, unemotional" performer. So he invented- what else?-a soundless piano. He then gave a

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concert where he played a tape recording of himself, and accom- panied the music with precisely coordinated histrionic gestures and passionate grimaces. The hoax was not discovered, and the critics hailed the evening as one of Weissenberg's most moving performances.

An elaborate combination of revenge and megalomania, and one with more serious consequences, was the case of the centu- ry's greatest (known) forger, Hans van Meegeren. Born in Hol- land in 1889, he had some success as a very young artist, most notably for a drawing of Queen Juliana's pet deer, which still appears on Dutch Christmas cards. But the utterly dreadful Sym- bolist canvasses he began painting in his late twenties were receiving the kind of reviews usually reserved for misunderstood genius or well-understood mediocrity. Needing money, he made his first forays into the forging business by producing fakes of Frans Hals, Ter Borch, and de Hoogh. They sold moderately well. He then discovered his true mission in life, the master plan:

Vermeer had recently been rediscovered, and was rightly being celebrated as a rival to Rembrandt as the avatar of Dutch genius. There was, however, a large chronological gap in Ver- meer's thirty-odd known works: his early years when, it was thought, he had travelled to Italy, fallen under the influence of Caravaggio, and painted works with religious themes- unlike his later landscapes, interiors, and portraits. As it happened, the art critics who were indulged in speculating on Vermeer's miss- ing paintings were the very same who had consigned van Meegeren to the Siberia of modern taste.

It was perfect. Van Meegeren went into seclusion in France and, after years of perfecting the preparation of materials that would delude scientific examination- to this day some of his techniques cannot be explained- he proceeded to produce the missing

Vermeers. His greatest work, "The Supper at Emmaus," was declared by one cr~tic- a particular enemy of van Meegeren- to be not only authentic, but "the masterpiece of Vermeer." The paint- ing was sold in 1937 for the equivalent of 1.4 million dollars, and it hung, to great adulation, in the Boysman Museum for seven years.

It would, still be there were it not for the inevitable twist of fate. After the Second World War, it was discovered that van Meegeren had sold a Vermeer to Hermann Goring. He was arrested for stealing a Dutch National Treasure and selling it to the enemy. To escape a conviction of treason, van Meegeren was forced to confess that the painting was a fake- and more- over, that all the newly-found Vermeers were van Meegerens. He was not believed, and the police insisted he produce a Vermeer in prison, which he did. Yet despite his confession and conviction for forgery- he died in prison soon after- there were some crit- ics who stubbornly maintained that "The Supper of Emmaus" was indeed a genuine Vermeer that the forger was claiming as his own. They successfully pleaded with the Dutch government not to destroy the painting, in case a mistake had been made.(The argument, curiously, against capital punishment.) Finally, in an odd reversal, the pop novelist Irving Wallace published an article In 1947 celebrating van Meegeren as a hero who had swindled Goring. (We now know that van Meegeren was a Nazi sympa- thizer who had no choice when Goring asked for the painting.)

Looking at "The Supper of Emmaus" today, it seems incredible that this unspeakably clumsy canvas was ever mistaken for the real thing. As an authentic Vermeer, it is pathetic. But as an orig- inal van Meegeren it is a brilliant parody which, in one startling gesture, both delivers the last laugh and anticipates postmodern ironic1 iconic pastiche: van Meegeren clearly copled the face o f Jesus from a photograph of Greta Garbo.

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Forge: the same word for falsifying artworks and shaping metal by heating and hammering. In traditional societies, the black- smith, the maker of the weapons, is, like the shaman, a source of great power who is kept apart from the rest of the community through a web of taboos. In our society, it is the forger who has taken the Romantic ideals of the isolation of the artist to its great- est extreme. He is a maker of art who can never be acknowledged as such, whose work is acclaimed while he remains in total anonymity. H e is an outcast from the outcasts of society. And yet, he is also the purest artist: the one who rejects the cult of person- ality, who has n o identity and n o personal style, who believes only in the work itself and the age to which it is attributed. The forger, in the end, may be the model artist.


( Wrrtteii ~ 7 s the entry 011 Nathaniel Lzrn for the refere,ri-c hook,

Contemporary Poets (St. Martin's), 1984.1

1 remember on the shores of the most beautiful lake in the world

whose name in its own language means abundance of waters as if the volcanoes surrounding it had broken open the earth there in the village of Saint lames of Compostela one cold night not the cereus-scented summer nights in which a voice I nerler

traced sang those heartbreaking serenades to no one known a zfisiting couple gave birth in the market place the father gnawing the cord like a rat to free the child and before leaving in the morning they were giz~en the

freedom of the place 1 mean the child was given

A child of nowhere, Nathaniel Tarn has been given, and has given himself, a freedom of place that is rare among contemporary poets. Anglo-French by birth, a

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dual citizen, his childhood was bilingual, and he was educated on both sides of the Channel. In the 1950's and 1960's he had a short career as a (self-described) "25th-rate" French Surrealist poet, and a more successful run as an up-and-coming young Eng- lish poet: an associate of the literary group called "The Group," and editor of the extraordinary Cape Editions. Furthermore, he was an anthropologist, a student of Levi-Strauss and Griaule in Paris and Redfield in Chicago, writing monographs on the Atitlan region of Guatemala. And he was a Buddhist scholar, author of, among other writings, a book on the monastic politics of Burma. In 1970 Tarn followed his literary affinities and moved to the United States where, at the moment- always subject to sudden metamorphosis- he is an American poet and citizen, a professor of comparative literature, and a Mayanist. As an anthropologist he continues to write on Guatemala, and as a Buddhist scholar he is involved with the Tibetan diaspora. Much of his writing, par- ticularly the prose, has appeared under other names.

This range of Tarns is mirrored, in his four major book-length poems, in a poetry of place where the place is always changing (The Beautiful Contradictions); a love poetry where the object of desire undergoes countless transformations (Lyrics for the Bride of God); and a deeply personal poetry which the poet allows to be spoken by others (A Nowhere for Vallejo, which is a collage of lines and invented lines by the Peruvian poet, in Spanish and English translation, mingled with the voice of "Tarn"); and Alashka, written with Janet Rodney, perhaps the century's only collaborative poem which does not identify the individual contributions. Moreover the poetry has, in the poet's words, frequent "unconscious thrusts, sudden irruptions into the body of the work, almost like spirit-cult possessions," where the poet speaks in other voices, and sometimes other languages.

What holds it together is Tarn's ecstatic vision, his continuing enthusiasm for the stuff of the world. It is a poetry whose native tongue is myth, and it rolls out in long lines of sacred hymns that oscillate between the demotic and the hieratic (heir to Smart and Blake, to Whitman and the Neruda of The Heights of Macchu Picchu, which he translated) and sequences of short poems, small linked bursts of sharp image and speech, which tie Tarn t o Williams and contemporary practitioners like Snyder and Kelly.

Since the death of Kenneth Rexroth, he is, with Michael McClure, the major celebrant of heterosexual love in the lan- guage. His combination of ingenious metaphor and sexual exu- berance has been rare in the language since the 17th century. (Indeed, much of Tarn's American work may be read as an epic elaboration of Donne's erotic geography of the "new found land.") Like Rexroth, he is the author of travel narratives that restore the adjective "readable" to poetry. And, like Rexroth and MacDiarmid, his poetry encompasses Eastern philosophy, world myth, revolutionary politics, and precise descriptions of the natural world. His poems have more birds than Clare's.

I Not an exile, longing for the abandoned home, but a nomad, longing for the idea of home: it is the American condition, and the Jewish condition. Tarn, both American and Jewish, has declared that sparagmos ("the falling to pieces1 the tearing to pieces1 of the world as body") is "the inescapable theme of our time." (And he can, at times, be as indignant as Pound at the destroyers of culture and of the wilderness.) His poetry, along with that of few others these days, sets course for a mythical uni- ty: the hierosgamos, marriage of earth and sky, when history will

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be forever in the present tense, somewhere will be everywhere, i

and the author everyone: I

that the branch may break that the long voyage may end for the planet and the furthest point of death be returned from the separation into dead and live summer and winter, and only green be seen above

ground that he might go home


[Originnll>j wr i t te i i as il rPl'lCtL' o f M a r y E m i n a HClrris ,

The Arts ar Black Mountain College ( M . I . T . Press) for The Nat ion, 1987.

Kezc~rittcil f o r p u h l i c n t i v n i n M c x i c o , 1989. I

0 nly in America could an art school be imagined as a form of Utopia, yet that is precisely how Black Mountain College (1933-1956) lingers in the memory. Set in a magnificent corner of the Blue Ridge Mountains, it was a com- munity where students and teachers lived together, raised their own food, built their own dorms and classrooms, and jointly deter- mined both their courses of study and the courses of their lives. It was an outpost of aestheticism through the Depression, two hot wars and the cold war, and it attracted an extraordinary collection of European refugees from fascism and American refugees from capitalism. It was the kind of place where Josef Albers determined the way the cans should be stacked in the kitchen, and where the evening's entertainment might be a play with music by John Cage and dances by Merce Cunningham, sets by Elaine and Willem de Kooning, costumes by Richard Lippold, direction by Arthur Penn, and Buckminster Fuller as the leading man.

Fuller built his first geodesic dome at Black Mountain, and Cage first played his silent music and staged the first "happening." Its

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resident artists (students and teachers) were Albers, the de Koon- ings, Rauschenberg, Kline, Lippold, Shahn, Feininger, Zadkine, Bolotowsky, Chamberlain, Noland, deCreeft, Twombly, Tworkov, Vicente, Greene. Gropius taught architecture; Cunningham, deMille, Humphrey and Litz taught dance. Its composers were Harr~son, Wolpe, Sessions, Krenek; its photographers Callahan, Siskind, Newhall and Morgan. Radin taught anthropology; von Franz mythology, Rudofsky the history of costume. Paul Good- man was there, and Alfred Kazin, Clement Greenberg, Eric Bentley, Eric Kahler, Clark Foreman, Edward Dahlberg, M.C. Richards. And, in its last years, Charles Olson, Robert Creeley and Robert Duncan were the centrifugal forces of a poetlcs movement that came to be classified, however erroneously, as the Black Mountain school.

Although it was a short-lived and tiny institution- 1200 stu- dents in its 2 4 years, most of them in attendance only for a sum- mer- Black Mountain existed in such a state of perpetual schism and flux that it defies any generalization of intents or purposes. There were, essentially, three Black Mountains, each in turn com- posed of idiosyncratic members who rarely agreed on very much. The first was the college founded in 1933 by John Andrew Rice and a group of renegade faculty and students from a Congrega- t~ona l Church college in Florida, and whose guiding light, until 1949, was Josef Albers. The second was the remarkable series of summer sessions that were held, with some interruptions, from 1944 to 1953. And the third was the small, mainly l~terary band of outsiders, led by Charles Olson, that more or less camped in the ruins of the college from 1952 to 1956.

Rice was an iconoclastic classicist who delighted in the enfant terr~ble role, and taught by question~ng everything, particularly cherished beliefs.When he and his fellow exiles from Rollins Col-

lege took over some Baptist Assembly buildings on Black Moun- tain in 1933, they came with few specific plans and one general ideal: to break down the institutionalization (and, for Rice, the "excessive feminization") of the American college. At Black Mountain, faculty and students were to be held jointly and equally responsible for every aspect of their lives and education. There was to be no "admi~listration" and no outside governing body, such as trustees; decisions were to be made by the commu- nity as a whole, according to the Quaker "sense of the meeting." Grades and requirements were to be abolished; athletics would be replaced by useful work on the farm and in maintenance. Most important, art was to be the central force- not, as else- where, a n extra-curricular activity- in the student's general education.

Into this hotbed o f Americ~zn progressivism came the coolest of the European mod~rn~s t s : Josef Albers, who had left Germany after the forced closing o f the Batihaus and had arrived in Bun- combe County, North Carolina not speakiirg a word of English. ("All I knew was Buster Keaton and Henry Ford. ") In a coziittry without cultlire, but "hu?zgry for a culture," he saw himself as a kind o f cultural-spiritual adzriser, leading students in a disci- plined program o f self-discovery through controlled experiments in the elements o f form. "Abstracting," he zurote, "is the essen- tial function of the Human Spirit. " The rest was distraction.

This meant that no art history was taught at Black Mountain during the Albers years, and no one sketched or painted the exquisite landscape. Art was a series of problems to be solved: the interactions of shapes and colors (only colored paper was used, not variable paint), the split between the"physica1" and "psychical" effects of matter. Thus the students labored to make the hard look soft, the wet dry, the warm cold. Wood was made

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to look like water, egg shells to look like flower petals, wire screen and leaves to look like shadows. Jewelry was made from paper clips and kitchen utensils; kernels of corn were meticu- lously arranged to give the appearance of a piece of woven cloth.

Albers- disciplined, opinionated, autocratic, "a beautiful teach- er and an impossible person," according to Robert Rauschen- berg- was to be the determinative force at Black Mountain for seventeen years. Nearly everything that happened there during the regular school year can be seen as a result of, or a reaction against, his presence. Against a succession of idealistic and younger faculty members, he stood his ground on the side of educational ideals vs. an ideal community, aesthetic preoccupation vs. social concerns, isolation vs. interaction with the rest of the world. (That these were seen as contradictory impulses may have been the school's undoing.)

Albers had no patience for "this constant over-democratic non- sense." He insisted that teachers know more about teaching than students, and gradually the students lost their equal role in the administration of the college. He had no interest in the farm, and deplored the sloppiness of the students' Bohemian dress. Certain crafts- weaving (taught by Anni Albers), woodworking, book- binding- were permitted, but ceramics, for one, was verboten ("ashtray art"). Most important, Albers was relentlessly apolitical, and opposed to the teaching of the social sciences and history. Per- haps the most shocking aspect of Black Mountain during the Albers years is its studies obliviousness to the dramatic contempo- rary events. When the students performed a proletarian drama by Irwin Shaw, instead of the usual folk plays and Ibsen, Albers stormed out. Students would gather every Saturday to listen to the Texaco opera, but when, six months into World War 11, a student brought a radio into the dining hall to hear the news, there was a

!general scandal. None of the histories of the college mention any interest in the Spanish Civil War.

Albers was also largely successful in isolating the community from what was imagined as "the outside world." This meant not only the opposition of other faculty members' proposals for social work in the community, voter registration drives, crafts programs and the like, but, more devastating, a continual purging of ele- ments that were seen as adversely affecting the image of the col- lege. There was a quota for Jews until the late 40's. Left-wingers- most notably Eric Bentley, Clark Foreman and Paul Radin- were forced out. hom*osexuals were tolerated only if they kept their activities secret. And, in a long and particularly divisive battle, Albers and his followers kept Black Mountain segregated, despite overwhelming opposition by the students, until 1944, when one female black day student was allowed to take classes. (Only a few other blacks attended over the next five years.)

Year after year, during the fall, winter and spring, the tiny fief- dorns, each led by a charismatic faculty member, waged war for the ideological control of the community and the college. It was not until 1944, with the inauguration of special summer sessions that included many of the regular students and few of the facul- ty, that Black Mountain achieved the Utopian quality that sus- tains its reputation today.

It should be remembered that nearly all of the luminaries asso- ciated with Black Mountain attended only the summer sessions, and usually for a single summer. Many of them were young and penniless at the time. They were given a few months of vacation in the country- room and board but no pay- and the freedom to teach as much or as little as they pleased, and whatever they pleased. Meals were communal, and most of the teaching took

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place over a dining room table-"education as conversation," Cage called it. Those in the performing arts had an extraordinary opportunity to realize their work: an eager cast of student and faculty dancers, musicians, actors, as well as painters and sculp- tors to create the sets. Alliances formed or strengthened at Black Mountain- among Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg, Fuller, Harrison and Lippold, for example- would have lasting effects on the art of each.

Above all, there were too many stars for any one person to dominate, and none of them carried any vested interest in the community. The subject became the making of art, not the defin- ing of an art school, and the flow of temporary visitors effective- ly prevented institutional petrification. Moreover, the provisional and improvisatory nature of the summer sessions rhymed per- fectly with the techniques that were being explored at the time by Cage and the others: chance operations, random juxtaposition, the introduction of the accidental into the "finished" work, the mixing of media, the dismantling of the "art object." To have Cage on a ladder reading Meister Eckhart while Rauschenberg simultaneously played scratchy Piaf records on a wind-up Vic- trola, Cunningham danced through the audience chased by a barking dog, David Tudor hammered a prepared piano, and slides and movies were screened at odd angles on the wall, was the exact opposite of Albers' meticulous arrangements of given forms. For one Albersian at the Cage happening, it was "the Dark Ages."

Albers and the entire art faculty resigned in 1949, and that vision of the Dark Ages became the shadow cast by the gigantic Charles Olson, for whom "the poet [was] the only pedagogue left." The school, in many ways, became its opposite: writing

was emphasized, rather than art; the largely female student body became predominantly male; the upbeat progressives of the 30's and 40's became the drunken nihilists of the SO'S, exiles from the postwar materialist boom; politics became a matter of hot debate; "process" replaced "form" as the key word.

Olson envisioned Black Mountain as a "twin" to the Prince- ton Institute of Advanced Studies, and outlined grand schemes of visiting lecturers and consecutive series of long symposia on nearly every aspect of human knowledge ("a curriculum of the soul"). But he was no administrator, and in McCarthy's Ameri- ca the college was attracting more F.K.I. agents than students. The school fell apart. The dining room was closed, and the stu- dents fended for themselves. The farm was abandoned, its barn uncleaned, its cows sick and freezing to death. Kudzu vines overran the campus, and the classrooms were piled with trash. In the music library, the phonograph records had been melted down to look like Dali's painting. There was, in Olson's words, "no more of this community bullsh*t"; in fact there was hardly a community. In its last years, the school had less than twenty students and teachers; most of them professional (or would-be) artists more interested in their own work than in any education- al or communal ideals.

And yet this tiny band o f outsiders formed the only arts move- ment to which the name "Black Mountain" has been attached. Olson brought in Robert Creeley and Robert Duncan (who in 1938 had been expelled from the college, after one day, because of his hom*osexuality and anarchist views); and students such as Edward Dorn, Joel Oppenheimer and Jonathan Williams wan- dered in. Together they resurrected the American small press poetry scene with a flurry of publishing: pamphlets and broad- sides on the school's own presses, Williams' Jargon Press, and

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The Black Mountain Review, which under Creeley's direction became the hest "little" magazine of the 1950's. By 1960, four years after the college had closed, Donald Allen's anthology Thr New American Poetry had formally christened the six poets (along with others who had never attended, such as Paul Black- burn, Larry Eigner and Denise Levertov) as the Black Mountain school.

As a movement the poets were largely ~inited in their rejection of the contemporary New Criticism and its well-crafted poem- objects poured into the lnolds of traditional prosody. For Cree- ley, form was "never more than an extension of content"; for Duncan, the poem was an event: "not a record of an event, but the event itself"; for Olson, the poet's own breath was to deter- mine the measure of the line; for Levertov, the poem was an or- ganic entity. Most shared an allegiance to William Carlos Williams and a poetry written in a natural American speech; some believed, with Ezra Pound, that the subject of poetry was everything, that poetry was the best way to talk about every- thing. If the poerns in the academic journals of the time were flotillas of small craft, Olson hoped to launch ships of state. H e often compared himself and his handful of students with Mao in the caves of Yenan. As the North Carolina version of Black Mountain dwindled, Olson imagined a network of Black Moun- tain satellites and cells across the nation: a force.

It is curious that both Albers and Olson spent a great of deal of time in Mexico in the late 1940's and early SO'S. Albers saw the pre-Columbian pyramids as expressions of a pure form which he could reduce to a few lines on a page. (And, in a weird bit of anthropological fantasy, declared that Black Mountain was "consciously on the side" of the "Mayan Indians who demanded

that the King be the most cultivated among them.") Olson saw the hieroglyphs as poetry, perfect embodiments of the things they represented, and remarked on countless examples- from the domestication of corn to the way the Indians walked- of what he considered to be the Mexicans' seamless unification of intel- lect and physicality. In one of his most famous sentences he exclaimed, "0, they were hot for the world they lived in, these Maya, hot to get it down the way it was- the way it is, my fel- low citizens."

Cold and hot, the winds that emanated from Black Mountain have never dissipated. There is a direct line of formalist preoccu- pation from Albers to the Abstract Expressionists to the Pop and O p painters to the conceptualists to the current breed of neo- Expressionists, neo-Geos and other quality merchants. Albers would be at home in a hluseurn of Modern Art that exhibits a Polynesian spirit fetish, drained of its religious and social con- text, next to a Giacometti because both are anthropomorphic, tall and thin. The cold has dominated the century; the hot remains the permanent heterodox. Olson never won a major prize (nor have Creeley or Duncan); he died with his work large- ly out of print. Today, of course, there is a shelf-full of critical studies, but the poets alive and working out of Olson's image of what poetry ought to be remain as marginal as Pound o r Williams or Olson were in their own times.

At Black Mountain, both the Albers years and the Olson years were small triumphs amidst a larger disaster. It may, in the end, be impossible to create a community of artists in a secular soci- ety. And- though we assume the beneficence of ventures such as Black Mountain and its scores of spin-offs- perhaps it was a mistake to assume that the function of such a community should be education. The inseparable identification of art and school is

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a recent development. In 1914, the proto-Dadaist poet and box- er Arthur Cravan, raging against art schools, ended his diatribe with this prophetic line: "I am astonished that some crook has not had the idea of opening a writing school."


[ Written 0s the text t o the catalog, Bronze Ages: Brian Nissen's Sculpture,

(Clarion Press), 1987.1

" O n e creates an organism when the elements are ready for life."

Tristan Tzara

G ood sculpture," wrote Ezra Pound, thinking about Gaudier-Brzeska, "does not occur in a decadence. Literature may come out of a decadence, painting may come out of a decadence, but in a decadence men do not cut stone." Within that hyperbole- written, strangely, in spite of the evidence at hand: a master stonecutter killed in a pointless war- is a small seed of truth.

Decadence implies a self-absorbed present: one that may yearn for certain lost moments of history, but in which history has attenuated, and the ancient knowledge, beliefs, customs, mores have lost their vitality. Religion becomes superstition, custom entwines with commerce, taboo turns to common practice. That

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literature and painting are produced in ages of decadence may owe, in part, simply to their materials, which have so little history. To write (in the West) is to use the language, however stylized, of one's contemporaries- a language not much older than one's grandparents. One paints with materials that are only a few centuries or a few decades old: oil, watercolor, acrylic. But to sculpt- literally to "sculpt": carving or shaping stone, wood, clay, wax- is to work with one's hands on ancient matter: to remain in the present while simultaneously inserting oneself into a continuum that begins in the archaic.

To work in bronze is to immerse oneself in a process that has remained unchanged since its invention in Egypt in 2600 B.C. It is to create pieces that- no matter how new or idiosyncratic in form- share their molecules and the act of their making with Anatolian winged centaurs and bull's heads from Ur, Cretan dou- ble axes and Corinthian helmets, Saxon heads with silver eyes, Persian ewers incised with lovers and cuirasses with inscriptions from the Qu'ran, Etruscan sunburst oil lamps, hunting reliefs from Vace, Shang bells and drums and tall-stemmed bowls, the long-tailed birds of the Chou, their vessels covered with meanders and continuous volutes, their monster masks with ring handles, their animal-headed daggers and knives, cheekpieces, jingles, har- ness fittings, the mirrors inscribed "May we never forget each other" with which the Han nobility were buried, shields from Battersea and Celtic buckets, battle-axes from Luristan, Greek charioteers, kings of Nineveh, the gates of the Assyrian palace of Balawat, Marcus Aurelius on his horse, the doors of St. Sophia in Byzantium and St. Zeno in Verona, the seven-branched Easter candlesticks of Rheims, Gothic fonts and covers, Romanesque chandeliers and pelican lecterns, Parthian perfume stills, Moorish aquamanales in the shape of lions, the huge eyes and blank stares i I

of Benin masks and heads, lanterns of musical Boddhisattvas from Nara, Bamun pipes of lizards and ancestors stacked like totem poles, the saints and miracles on the doors of Pisa, Renais- sance lamps In the shape of a foot, in the shape of a man with his head between his legs (or worse),Donatello's plaquettes, Degas' dancers, Rodin's ponderer, filigreed flower baskets from Karnaku- ra and the four-thousand-pound statue of Queen Napirassu of the Elam, three thousand years old and headless now, but with her hands delicately crossed ... Objects created out of a marriage- traditionally celebrated as such- of copper and tin, whose offi- clant, the smith, was revered and reviled, subject to the same taboos as priests. Objects created in a process that has always been seen as a metaphor of the sacred mysteries: the wax is shaped and encased in clay, baked in a kiln until the clay hardens and the wax runs out, leaving the mold into which the bronze is poured. "Lost wax": only when there IS nothing, when one has created a nothing, can the work be achieved.

"Sculpture," said Brancusi, "is not for young men."

To which, looking at Nissen's work, must be added another layer of history: the New World- which made knickknacks of bronze, but never had a Bronze Age- before the arrival of the Old.

Nissen, born in England in 1939, went to Mexico at age twen- ty-three and stayed for seventeen years, with frequent visits since. 1 And there too, a long line of British ancestors: Thomas Blake in Tenochtitlrin only thirteen years after Cortes; Robert Tomson in 1556 accurately prophesying that one day it would be "the most populous Citie in the world"; that meticulous 18th century

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observer, Thomas Gage; Frederick Catherwood, discoverer and the great draughtsman of the Mayan ruins; the chronicler of 19th century drawing rooms, Frances Calderon de la Barca, a Scot married into Mexican society; the archeologist Alfred Maudslay; Henry Moore, appropriating the reclining figure of the Maya- Toltec chac mool; the Surrealist Leonora Carrington; Lawrence, Huxley, Waugh, Greene, Lowry; and the anonymous legions of scholars and bohemians, repressed voluptuaries, missionaries, drunks, xenophobes and aristocrats gone native- those who went to escape and those who went to find.]

Nissen, escaping the airless club room of post-imperial Eng- land, found in Mexico, as so many Europeans before him, vivac- ity- a vivacity that extends even into its obsession with death- and a unity, still extant in the hinterlands, of art and life. (Xntonin Artaud: "In haexico, since we are talking about Mexi- co, there is no art: things are made for use. And the world is in perpetual exaltation.") Above all, he found its indigenous histo- ry. Three of the forms of pre-Columbian expression are essential to Nissen's work: the glyph, the codex, and the temple. Their elaborations are tracks towards Nissen's work:

The Mayan glyphs are important here not for their individual meanings (decipherment) but for their system of construction. They were laid out on a grid that could be followed in a variety of directions. Within each rectangle of the grid, the individual glyph itself was a conglomerate of component parts (much like the Chi- nese ideogram): simple pictographs (a house for "house," a vul- ture for "vulture"), phonetic signs (each representinga single sylla- ble), logographs (non-representational representations of a word), and semantic determinatives (specifiers of particular meaning).

For the Western mind- if not to its native practitioner- the

glyph or the ideogram has a concreteness, a weight, that does not exist in alphabetic writing: the word is an object. Further, it seems- particularly to those who cannot "read" them- that each glyph, each word, has the same weight, that the glyphs are equal to one another, giving each thing in the world an identity of correspondence.

The extraordinary scholarship, and partial decipherment, that has occurred in recent years has proven that the glyphs are even more complex. The Mayaologist Linda Schele notes- to take one example- that the word "vulture'' could be written in pic- tographic form, geometric form, or syllabic form. A pictograph- ic vulture with a crown was one of the many ways of writing ahau, which meant both "lord" and one of the day-names of the Maya calendar. The pictographic vulture could also refer specifi- cally to the black-headed vulture called tahol (literally, "sh*t- head"). From that, the vulture glyphs (whether pictographic or geometric) were also used to represent ta' ("sh*t") or ta (a prepo- sition meaning "to, on, from"). There were, then, nearly endless ways to write any given word, and Mayan scribes were valued for their punning and ability to coin new variations while strict- ly adhering to the rules.

This meant not only that each word was an assembled object, but that each object was in a state of perpetual metamorphosis, its meaning only comprehensible for the moment it is seen in the context of the other object-glyphs. That metamorphosis, within the larger repetitions of circular time, remains, in Mexico, a con- stant. In the poetry of the Aztecs, the poet becomes the poem

1 itself, which becomes a plant growing within the poem; the plant becomes the fibers of the book in which the poem is painted; the fibers of the book become the woven fiber of the mat, the symbol of worldly power and authority. Octavio Paz's "Hymn Among


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the Ruins" ends with this famous line: "words that are flowers that are fruits that are acts."

Nissen, then, constructs his sculptures as glyphs. His work table is covered with small components fashioned out of wax: tiny balls, cylinders, zigzags, donuts, squares, cubes, lozenges, tri- angles, rods, j-shapes, pellets. In an interview, Nissen has com- mented: "I use a method based on the found object. The difference being that first, I make the objects, then I find them. Then I assemble them." He has remarked elsewhere that he also considers those components as parts of speech- given elements capable of a near-infinity of con~binations. Their assembly is reminiscent, above all, of language as it is used by children, poets, punsters. The result- the individual piece of sculpture- is a phrase, a stanza (literally the "room" in which the words are arranged), a single moment of relation permanently frozen in bronze.

Nissen has also worked extensively, and with great originality, in the creation of codices. There were two kinds of Mexican codices, screen-fold books painted on both sides. The Mayan- of which only four survive- largely consisted of a hieroglyphic text accompanied by some illustration. The later codices are more extraordinary: Each page presented complex images- not all of them pictographic- that served as mnemonic devices for the priestly elite trained to "read" them, but were incomprehen- sible to outsiders. It is a kind of "text" unknown outside the New World, but which has its parallels in the geometric patterns of Amazonian baskets and Peruvian woven cloth, both of which could be "read." [Dennis Tedlock points out that the Maya word for the codex was ilbal, or "instrument for seeing." Today the word is used to refer to telescopes. 1

Nissen has continued, in traditional screen-fold book form, the pictographic experiments on canvas of Klee, Tobey, Gottlieb, and Torres-Garcia. His "Madero Codes" invents a witty language of jigsaw puzzle pieces, wooden matchsticks, cigarette butts, human figures (perhaps the Mayan "smoking gods"?), crossword puz- zles, gridworks of letters that seem to, but don't quite, spell words like "glyph" and transform into a Mondrian "boogie- woogie." In its translation of traditional into contemporary imagery, it is reminiscent of the strangest illustrations in Mexican historiography: those that accompanied F.J. Clavijero's Historia Antigua de Mexico, published in 1780. In that book the artist, rather than presenting the usual heavily stylized renderings of the Mexican originals, simply "interpreted" the glyphs and codices and redrew them in the current fashion. Thus, if he thought he saw, in the original, a hand holding a fish, he drew a hand hold- ing a fish in the style of an 18th century lithograph. The elabora- tions are wonderful: a running figure with a daisy head, a man with a lily growing from his nose, a snake crowned with arrows. Clavijero's book, whose intentions were scientific, becomes, for us, Surrealism. Nissen, with no pretense of historical realism, cre- ates both a science and a grammar.

Nissen's more complex "Itzpapalotl Codex" takes off from the Aztec goddess Obsidian Butterfly and a prose poem on the sub- ject by Octavio Paz. It consists of grids of invented glyphs (some of whose components are recognizable small metal objects: keys, wrenches, nuts and bolts, horseshoe magnets, tuning forks, springs); electronic circuits; graffiti (mosca, fly; tinieblas, dark- ness; Ramon, Pepe, Berta ...); butterflies; clippings and maps con- cerned with the village of Papalotl, home of the goddess' shrine; encyclopedia entries on the goddess; Maya numbers; and so on. These represent, according to their author, a calendar, an

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I 0 5 I W A X 1 I k O L I N l ) 0 1 5 I l , < T 5

entomological taxonomy, a topography, a mathematical reckon- ing (an accounting, in all the meanings of the word), auguries, and an inventory of tributes the goddess has received. The result is extraordinary: beautiful images that leave us just short of comprehension. Much like the ancient codices, in order to under- stand it the initiated (of which there is only one: Nissen) must recall it; the uninitiated (the rest of us) must invent it. The game has no end.

What Nissen makes are altars, idols, temples, ruins, machines, ships, fountains ... each, the moment it is recognized, turning into another.

The two basic shapes on which he rings his countless variations are the truncated pyramid and the pillar. The truncated pyramid comes, of course, from the Maya, and Nissen plays, as they did, with the harmonies and contrasts of the simple base and what was placed on the flat top (altars, idols, columns, friezes, false- fronts). It has often been remarked that theMayan pyramids are less works of architecture than sculpture built on a monumental scale. One can imagine them a foot high- the height of a Nissen sculpture- as one could imagine certain of Nissen's pieces as hundreds of feet high, as architecture. And more: the slender pyramids of Tikal (for example), topped with their high combs, mimic a Maya head with its flattened forehead and elaborate headdress. So Nissen's "Pod," a stack of pea pods placed on a blank base, is simultaneously a fantastic Mayan pyramid, an altar on which the pods have been placed, and the blank face and extravagant headdress of an imaginary Pea Goddess- a goddess

I 1

of fertility and harvest whose last incarnation may well be Car- men Miranda.

The vegetation, the plant forms, that rise out of so many of Nissen's sculptures- as well as the crumbled walls, the gaps (like aboriginal "x-ray" painting) revealing the tombs of images with- in- cannot help but recall the particularly English preoccupa- tion with ruins. It is an obsession whose earliest record is the Anglo-Saxon poem "The Ruin," a rumination on the rubble of the Roman city of Aquae Sulis (now Bath). An obsession that reached its heights with the Romantics, after the translation in 1795 of Volney's The Ruins, or a Meditation on the Cycles of Empires- one of the four books given to educate Frankenstein's monster, and a book that leads directly to Shelley's "Ozyman- dias" or Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey." One thinks of the archi- tect Sir John Soane, contemporary to these poets, submitting three sketches of his design for the Bank of England: in the first, the Bank appears brand-new and gleaming; in the second, it is ivy-covered, with weathered stones; in the third, the time is a thousand years later, and the Bank is a stately ruin.

The Romantics saw ruins as emblems of the transitoriness of power, the permanence of nature, the destructive force of greed and corruption, the chaos of the heart overwhelming the orderli- ness of the intellect. It is possible to ascribe such allegorical meanings to Nissen's sculptures, but they are unlikely. In the first place, the work begins as a transformation of what he literally saw in Mexico: buildings half in rubble, overwhelmed by roots and branches. What matters is not the allegorical (that is, liter- ary) interpretation but rather the fact of metamorphosis itself: the temple that becomes a plant that becomes a bronze.

That play of stone, vegetable and metal brings another element into these sculptures: machines. There are works here called

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"Metronome," L'Hydrant," even "Jacuzzi." Some of the pieces are simultaneously reminiscent of both the severely truncated versions of the pyramids (the raised platforms in the Great Plaza of Copan, for example) and, an identical shape, the office type- writers of the 1920's.

One thinks of the great debates in the Machine Age of the 1920's and 1930's between the advocates of the machine as the ultimate icon of the new age- a progressive art to celebrate human progress- and those who argued for the perennial cen- trality of the organic (then called the "biomorphic"). Hart Crane, carrying the argument to literature, attempted to recon- cile the two: "For unless poetry can absorb the machine, i.e. acclimatize it as naturally and casually as trees, cattle, galleons, castles and all other human associations of the past, then poetry has failed of its full contemporary function." It is interesting to see how, fifty years later, that acclimatization is complete in work like Nissen's- it is not even a question. His "Typewriter" is composed of submarine vegetation; his "Fern" grows razors; his ''Zempoala" is a pyramid (in the Totonac site of that name) excavated by Nissen and a tool box; his "Jacuzzi" is adorned with the rings that are washers that are the hoops protruding from the blank walls of the Maya ball courts that are the life pre- servers o n a ship.

Anyone familiar with Mexican art will hear the nunlerous echoes and rhymes in Nissen's sculpture: the anthropomorphic columns of Tula, the diamond patterning of the Nunnery in Uxmal and the saw-toothed combs of its House of Pigeons, the hooked nose of the rain god Chac protruding from the temples of Chichen Itza and Kabah. They are not- as in the case of the great Mexican muralists- meant to be folkloric, or glorifications

of a national past. (It is, of course, neither Nissen's nation nor his past.) Nor are they meant- as the Surrealists used African and Oceanic imagery- as icons of another reality to transport us to dream and the archaic. They are never literal.

What Nissen makes are fetishes: objects of power, objects that look at us looking at them. The source of a fetish's power is accu- mulation: traditionally each supplicant added something to it, and its strength was the sum of all the individual histories attached to it. Nissen, although he remains the sole "author," reproduces that accumulation in each work.Working with a vocabulary of elemental signs, he heaps layers of history that crumble one into another and become entangled with weeds.

They are idols whose attributes are not quite remembered; maquettes for the monuments of a future civilization; machines with obscure functions; altars for a household shrine. They are objects to be buried with.

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N O T E S F O R S U L F U R I1

(Written for tl7e hack pages of Sultur, 1987-1 988.1

Birkerts us. Ashbery

[Cont r~hu to r s were asked t o respond to a negative article o n l o h n Xshbery In the sarne

issue hy the critic Sven B~rkerts . ]

hat I find remarkable about w Birkerts' piece is its willful ignorance of much of the century, including, most obviously, French poetry. H e writes as though Apollinaire and Reverdy, Larbaud and Roussel, Breton, Jacob, Soupault and Char had never existed, or that Ashbery had nev- er read them. His dichotomy of Surrealism ("the transcription of spontaneously recovered, a-logical unconscious materials") and Ashbery ("a calibrated verbal contraption") is false. Despite various claims for the former, the Surrealists were clearly, like all poets, constructing the latter. And Birkerts' isolated praise of Ashbery (the poems "weave a spell, enlarge our sense of mys- tery ... We feel a blurring of bounds, a subjective liberation from

I the constraints of order") has been equally applied to the Surrealists. Surely one of the important developments of poetry in this century (and particularly in America since the Second World War) is a true internationalism, unseen since the Euro- pean late Middle Ages. At its worst, it has produced imitators: the American bad Eastern European poet, the South American bad beatnik poet, the Chinese bad imagist. At its best we are seeing legitimate heirs who are transforming the tradition, while


i working in another language. To my mind, two of the most I interesting French poets today happen to write in English: Ash-

bery and Michael Palmer. That this may strike some as an insult is a result of the continuing mesmerizing effect of Williams' nationalistic jingoism: "American speech. " [Everyday American was a language only occasionally employed by Williams, only parodically by Pound and Zukofsk~ , and almost never by H.D., Moore, Stevens, Crane, Oppen, Olson, et al. Interestingly, its main practitioners- Fearing, Rakosi, Hughes, Blackburn, Rez- nikoff, Baraka- are considered "minor" poets.]

Furthermore, Birkerts seems strangely oblivious to some recent developments. H e should spend an afternoon in the deep shade of In the American Tree: Ashbery will seem a fountain of light. After all, an Ashbery poem has an unmistakable (however "imperson- al") voice- a major verboten in language-land- and an unmis- takable atmosphere of oneiric melancholia. I have trouble follow- ing Birkerts' exasperation: the passages he quotes seem perfectly comprehensible to me. But perhaps, like many critics, Birkerts is too smart. (Or perhaps, like many readers, I've become stupefied from watching too many flocks of untethered signifiers).

What Birkerts doesn't discuss is the apparent impetus for his piece: Ashbery's extraordinary reputation. That Ashbery has become the most heavily laureled American poet since Lowell,

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decadent stage. Your "alternate forms of temporality," "critiques of narrative logic," etc.were news around 1912 ( "Zone"). Since then, "techniques of radical iuxtaposition" may be the one dis- tinguishing characteristic of nearly all "avant-garde" poetry writ- ten i i this century. Those fragments of a whole were, however, a Utopic yearning for a whole. Now the "language" poets have exploded the myth of the whole, and what seems to be left is what television calls "bites": very short bits of glitzy images or catchy phrases that are dependent on immediate effect. A "lan- guage" poem in perhaps its most typical form begins, ends, and goes nowhere (utopia?) and consists of short wisecracks, epi- grams, bits of slang or advertising slogans or popular songs, gnomic remarks, ironic references to suburban American culture, etc., all held together by a glue of impenetrable declarative sen- tences or seemingly random word-lists. Some of the "bites" are arresting- and they usually turn up in the reviews of "language" poets. Many of the "bites" are funny. (Strange that their wit appears only in the poetry, never in the critical prose.) But in the end it seems to me no different from rock video, which the indus- try calls "moving wallpaper." Were it not for the ponderousness of its defensive prose, much of "language" poetry could easily be seen as a kind of moving-wallpaper literature for the current gen- eration of grad students who were raised in front of the tube- a harmless entertainment not unlike the "7 types of ambiguity" poetry produced for students in the 1950's.

7. The "real agenda" of my article was not, as you imagine, world domination of literary production by the Lionel Trilling Cultural Brigade. Unlike critics and "language" poets, I have no agenda at all: 1 read books. But I do believe that the concentra- tion on "language7' poetry, both for and against, has tended to drown out everything else on the aesthetic left. For the first time

in twenty years, for example, I am aware of excellent poets who cannot get published in book form anywhere, large or small press- let alone discussed, even in the little magazines.

Also missing is any sense of the young. Where is the anthology for them? Most of the poets in the "language" anthologies are in their forties or older. (The poets of The New American Poetry were largely in their twenties or thirties.) There seems to be an "aging" of poetry matching the demographic aging of America. Take the little magazine, traditionally a young person's work. (Who else has the passion, the time, and the dedication for such

i drudgery?) At the moment, the best poetry magazines are edited

I by people in their forties and fifties: Szdlfur, Temblor, Hambone, (How)ever. I know two interesting magazines with editors in

I' '

their thirties, Acts and House of K, but I am unaware of any sub- stantial magazine run by anyone in her or his twenties.

To my mind, a revitalization of the American poetry "avant- garde" will only occur when the young appear with fresh read- ings of their living elders, rediscovering the neglected- think of all the discoveries of the 1960's: Niedecker, Oppen, Zukofsky, Loy, Reznikoff, Bunting, Rakosi, H.D.-and presenting them- selves in the context of those they admire. A new generation of restless disciples that will pick up the threads of the "New Amer- ican" poets, the Caterpillar generation, and the isolated individ- uals who have emerged since. One that will discover all that's been happening in world poetry since American poets generally stopped translating. (And the place to start is Latin America.) One that will discover its own models in the English/American tradition. And, most important, one that finds the world in- teresting, that sees the world as something more than a prohlem- atic text. Now that we've said that it can't be said, there are

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W K I I 1 - F N K F h ( 1 lOx

Literary movements have traditionally had three functions: First, the criticism of the prevailing aesthetic, which is usually the aes- thetic of the preceding generation. Second, the proposal of a new aesthetic and the promotion of its practitioners. Third, the intro- duction of other, historical or foreign, work: discoveries of neglected masters in the same language, new readings or transla-


tions of well-known texts, translations of the previously untrans- lated. This third function is both a service to the community and a means of historical or international validation for the new aes-

i thetic: a new context in which to locate the new. Thus, a tiny movement like Imagism simultaneously soured the appreciation

! I

of late 19th century texts, promoted a handful of new poets, and 1 forever changed the way classical Greek and Chinese poems were


read and translated. Thus, one of the projects of a huge move- ment like Surrealism- which revol~~tionized taste on all aesthet- ic fronts- was the introduction of a wide range of non-Western texts: Latin American writers, to take a small example, had to go to Paris in the 1920's to "discover" pre-Columbian oral and written literature. Thus, the one truly enduring aspect of the New Criticism may well be its bringing of the Metaphysical poets back onto the map.

The members of the "language" movement have been hyperac- tive in fulfilling the first two functions. They have attempted to dismantle the prevailing aesthetic- what Ron Silliman, in his MIA (of course!) paper modestly calls "the naive assumption of speech, individualism or 'beauty."' They have tirelessly promoted a new aesthetic and its practitioners. What they haven't done is

bring any other (non-critical) writings into the fold. This is not t o suggest that they are individually ill-read- far from it. But in their voluminous writings and public speeches, they have gener- ally ignored everyone except themselves, a few non-affiliated contemporaries, and the French and German critics currently fashionable among art critics and English professors. "Lan- guage," for me a t least, would be an exciting and genuinely chal- lenging movement if it presented its own idiosyncratic historical "canon," revisionary readings of the classics, discoveries of lost masters, bridges to previously unknown foreign poets, commen- taries not only on language but on languages. This has simply not occurred as a collective effort.

To my mind there have been four movements (or tendencies or constellations) in America since 1960 which have not only pro- duced important poetry, but have been extraordinarily enriching for those not active in the group:

-The black nationalist poetry of the 19601s, which, besides its political agenda, effectively admitted black speech into poetry (something the Harlem Renaissance poets, with the notable exception of Hughes, had refused to do), created a large and gen- uinely populist audience for poetry, had a close and exciting working relationship with jazz and some rock musicians (still extent, in pop form, as rap and hip-hop), offered scathing com- mentaries on white "verse," and brought in a great deal of African and Afro-American history, mythology and religion which had previously been absent in American poetry.

-The poetry written and read against the Vietnam War, that unique moment when American poets served as citizens, witness- es, intellectual consciences of the nation (a role that poets rou- tinely perform elsewhere on the planet). Most important, a moment when political necessity compelled a settling of differ-

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ences among the poetry communities: not only between academ- ic and non-academic, but among the non-academics. (It has been forgotten, especially by Silliman, that the Donald Allen antholo- gy was intended as a peaceable kingdom for the bitterly warring factions of the anti-establishment: though it is difficult for us to sort out now, the Black Mountains hated the Beats and so on.) The readings and anthologies against the War were a truly demo- cratic vision of a republic of letters, and, as Clayton Eshleman says here, seemed to portend a "responsible avant-garde" for the post-Vietnam years.

-Ethnopoetics- essentially an American revision and ex- pansion of Surrealism- which not only introduced a tremendous amount of indigenous material, but also presented a re-reading of American literature, discovered all sorts of strange and forgotten poets, emphasized oral performance and poetry rituals and talis- mans, translated a great deal of European modernist poets, of- fered new theories and practices of translation, and, perhaps most of all, proposed an image of the poet, based on the archaic, as a vital, necessary member of the community.

-Finally, the women poets who are currently centered around the magazine ~ o w i e f ~ e r ) . After the isolated work of Dick- inson, H.D., Loy, Stein and Niedecker, it is a concentrated and collective effort to challenge the inherited (patriarchal) language, invent a feminine and feminist language of poetry and new modes of criticism, reread and reconsider the entire history of poetry, and raise the pioneer women modernists to their rightful positions of importance. To my mind this is the most exciting group activity occurring in American poetry today. (Though one that desperately needs more periodical outlets.)

What these four movements have given me is a tremendous sense of worlds opening up. (And I should emphasize that I am

speaking of group activity as a sum of all the individual efforts involved- obviously no single individual can do everything.) That black nationalism and ethnopoetics have produced no viable second generations, and that the Vietnam War poetry led nowhere, is, for me, the great disaster of American poetry in the late 1970's and 1980's.

[Given the current obsession with criticism- Silliman's itali- cized "writing itself is not sufficient for completeness in poetry" being the latest pronouncement- it should be said that all of these movements have promoted "critical thinking," though their rhetoric bears no resemblance to "language" discourse. And Silli- man is way off when he states that the "New Americans" were against critical thinking: true perhaps of Corso or Ferlinghetti, but Duncan, Olson, Creeley, Levertov, Dorn, Jones/Baraka, Sny- der, Sorrentino? All published at least one hook of critical essays, and many of the others wrote isolated articles.]

On the other hand, what "language" as a movement has given me is the sense of worlds being closed off. That reductionist label "language" or "language-centered" says it all. One can only imagine how they will react to Rachel DuPlessis, in her statement here, raising words like pleasrrre, transcendence, passion, feeling.

For me, a model of the life and work of a poet was Robert Duncan, who died yesterday- a poet who embraces all the words on DuPlessis' list and much more: curiosity, pluralism, his- tory, indignation, spirituality, social and moral accountability. I have never gotten over the first (now famous) words of Duncan's that I ever read, in the first Caterpillar, 2 1 years ago: "The dra- ma of our time is the coming of all men into one fate ..." and his dream of a "symposium of the whole" where all "the old exclud- ed orders must be included: the female, the proletariat, the for- eign; the animal and vegetative; the unconscious and unknown;

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the criminal and failure." That Duncan, toward the end, found no room at his symposiun~ for the "language" poets was, I think, a mistake- even though nearly all of them stand in opposition to nearly all of his beliefs. A symposium of general agreement is no syn~posium a t all.

i I S G O D D O W N ?

! [Wrrtterl in 1087- r ~ p p r ~ x i m a t e l y Anno 5 o f the perso~zal cotnpriter- for an issrcr of

Agnr deuotetl to "Sprrrtuality After Silicon Valley." Tbe edrtor. Askold Melnyczzik,

asked contriOtctors t o respond to a statement that read, 117 part: '.What are the promis-

es inzplicit and explicit in tbr Gospel o f Apple! With '111 the space ... dcuoted cl'en in

thr l i ter~ry press to questions rrszng aroz4nd the increasing hegemony of iotnpritsrs and

'1 word pr~)cessors, are IL~L, 10 assume recht70log~, h'ls h r e ) ~ l~umanizedZ O r h'7s humanit)'

bee17 techt~ologizetli W l ~ c j ~ we reflect on machincz, what is it we are reflecting on? Is

the ghost it7 the t ~ ~ ~ i h i t t e iz plilusihle structure for a shapelier muse! O r does it aim

rnerely t o keep us amused.i More specifically, h o w in 1987 is tbc sprritrial life affected

by the (diuini;ation of the) comprcteriWI

L eaving aside the separate issue of the relation between the computer and literature, Askold Mel- nyczuk's paragraph seems to break into four, somewhat contra- dictory, questions: In the age of computers, is the machine divine? is the machine more human? is the human less human? is the divine less divine?

The computer may be an international obsession, but it is hardly a religious phenomenon, as Melnyczuk suggests. Religion generally implies a supernatural (non-empirical) explanation and a celebra- tion of the order of the universe and the mysteries of life and death.

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The computer, however extraordinary as a tool for computation, compilation and measurement,offers no such explanations. Nor is it a sacred being in the non-Western sense, an incarnation of a super- natural force. We may tnarvel at its superior calculating capabilities, but this is human programming, not the wisdom of the gods. We may tremble and rage before it- particularly when a "glitch" dyna- mites a bank account or a monthly bill- but it is then no wrathful Old Testament god, but merely the non-human agent of inhuman bureaucracy (or, at its most malign, of state surveillance).

It has of course been a force in psychological change. To spend one's day working with a computer is a narcissistic, masturbatory pleasure. Although it is a stickler for details, the computer, unlike messy humans, always answers immediately, and always answers yes or no. The yes is instantly gratifying, and the no, after refram- ing the question or rethinking one's own logic, can usually be transformed into a yes. Unlike the video arcade where one always loses, where the object is to delay defeat, at the computer one nearly always ultimately wins. This is all quite different from dealing with humans, those stubborn and vague creatures, and the transition from facing a monitor to facing a face can be diffi- cult. The 1980's, as it has been said so many times, is the decade of "me," of greed, of the Trivial Pursuit of happiness and the anx- iety of "coping," and now of a generally unwarranted fear (that is, among those who are most hysterical: the heterosexual middle class majority) of the other as carrier of a lethal disease. An age of a self-absorbed, distracted solitude, where the real is either hostile or remote. This probably would not have occurred without the computer in the workplace and the television at home.

It may be a desocialization, but is it a dehumanization? I was surprised that Melnyczuk raised yet again that perennial sympo- sium topic (now approaching its bicentennial): are humans becom-

ing more like machines? are we less human? Our wars may now be masked by technological euphemisms ("Pentagonese") but it is still war business as usual, and as cruel as ever. The workers who construct microchips or Oldsmobiles are no more or less like machines than the workers who constructed the pyramids. The secretary stares with the same blankness at a monitor, a typewriter, or a sheaf of paper written with a quill pen. Most work is deaden- ing: it was a mistake of Romanticism to find the machine more deadening. (Wordsworth, unlike his neighbors, never spent a 16- hour day pitching hay.) The real question is not the dehumanizing effect of technology, but rather the dehumanizing effect of work. Revolutions have succeeded in improving the material well-being of workers, but they have never changed the nature of work, have never made it spiritually satisfying. (The closest they've come, in this century, is nationalism as a kind of state religion, a spirit of enthusiasm for mundane tasks that rarely outlasts the first genera- tion- those who remember how bad things were before.) We have to go back to Fourier to find a system of collective labor based intrinsically on human nature.

The human is no less human, but the divine- the Western divine- may at the moment be less divine, and not in the obvi- ous way. The computer has so accelerated the Enlightenment that we have barely realized where we have landed. The extraor- dinary speed and precision of its measurements and calculations have not only failed to fully and "rationally" explain the uni- verse(thus killing off God), they have uncovered more mysteries than ever were imagined. There has never been a society more capable of describing the physical world, and yet there has never been a society more bewildered by it. The order of the universe turns out to be more divine than our (Western) image of it. Small wonder the physicists are sounding like theologians these days.

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Human nature can only take so much inexplicability, and it seems inevitable that a new world religion will arise in the com- ing centuries ( i f we make it that far). Certainly Islam, Judaism and Christianity- those magnificent dream-structures of shep- herds and desert villagers- are inadequate to the task. All three, in their institutionalized form, are dependent on dogmatic rigidi- ty, the suppression of heterodoxy, separation and exclusion, and a morality progressively basing itself on less wisdom. There is nothing sadder than their current desperate and final waves of fundamentalism: in the Vatican, in Iran, in Israel, in the White House. The Eastern religions, on the other hand, have tended to embrace everything, to adapt almost any development into their cosmic view: the Vedic god Agni is equally incarnate in fire and in a literary magazine. Stripped of their local trappings, they remain remarkably compatible with the latest scientific news, as a number of pop science-religion books have suggested. Nuclear physicists at the Bombay reactor light incense before a statue of Ganesh, the elephant-headed god; a Western scientist who con- siders herself a Christian has to d o a great deal of defensive shuf- fling, picking and choosing.

1492 dealt the first serious blow to the three monotheisms: the first extended contact with a great mass of people untouched by God. The monotheisms survived by largely destroying the evi- dence, but in many ways they never fully recovered: the modern era of doubt and criticism was born. The computer- not in itself, but as tool of discovery, an ultra-sophisticated caravel tak- ing us into unimagined and inexplicable information- may well bring an end to the monotheisms, or, a t best, force them onto the paths laid out over the centuries by their mystics and heterodox sects. As the millennium approaches, and as the world's popula- tion increases with its concomitant suffering, there will be a pro-

liferation of messianic and millenary cults. (It is already the case in Africa.) It is not difficult to imagine one of these merging with a more cerebral, "scientific" religion- much in the way that Taoism and Buddhism, and Christianity in the Third World, have both theoretical and practical sides. O n the one hand, a religion that celebrates and explains the mysteries of the new cosmos; on the other, a religion of idols, charms, spells, trances, dancing, music and magic to alleviate the daily worldly suffering.

Finally, the less important question of computers and literature: is the writer a robot, or has the robot become a writer? To take the second question first: certainly the computer has forever proved that a thousand monkeys typing a t a thousand typewriters for a thousand years will not produce any Hamlets. There are a few serious writers who have made use of the computer (not as "word processor") to "generate" texts, most notably Jackson MacLow and the members of OULIPO. These are not, as might be assumed, impersonal: behind each text is the human who pro- grammed it.The results are weird or amusing, their ultimate plea- sure deriving mainly from seeing the rules of the game put into action, like extremely complex poetic forms: cl~'znt royal, say, or Chinese poems that can be read forwards or backwards.

The typewriter certainly had a n effect on the writing of poetry. It is impossible to imagine the stepped lines of Williams, Paz, and so many others without it. Pound's Cantos rnakes much more visible sense in his manuscript than on the printed page, and Robert Duncan has recently insisted that his books directly reproduce his own typed manuscript. With the advent of "desk- top publishing," there will no doubt be poems that take advan- tage of its various features, including the mixing of type styles. Furthermore, the computer has democratized certain tricks of the

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trade. Auden's far-reaching and witty rhymes lose much of their charm after a glance through the computer-generated Penguin Rhyming Dictionary (with its hundred rhymes for "Freud," but only one, "broaden," for "Auden"). Rhyme- lately championed again by young conservatives- becomes more than ever a ques- tion of selection rather than invention.

But this is not "word processing," that wonderful phrase that turns writing into packaged cheese. (Poets, said, Chesterton, have been strangely reticent on the subject of cheese.) Word processing is essentially a means of manuscript production that eliminates retyping. A labor-saving device: no more, no less. Yet, like most labor-saving devices, it results in far less labor. In the era of microwave ovens nearly no one has the time to bake their own bread. Before the word processor and the Xerox machine, when manuscripts were written out and copied by hand, the triple- decker novel and the book-length poem were the norm- think of Baudelaire's quip that the long poem was the refuge of those inca- pable of writing short poems- not to mention voluminous diaries and correspondence. Today the standard work is the short story, the minimalist novel, the anecdotal lyric- and who writes long letters? The computer is not, in itself, an obstacle to concen- tration or inspiration. But this is a time of continual distraction, a result of the huge population and the huge amount of artwork the population is producing. (One creates by forcibly, if only tem- porarily, refusing to consume.) The entirety of classical Greek lit- erature is now available on a single compact disk. Perhaps the writers of the late 20th century, tapping at their private consoles, should all feed into a giant mainframe that will eliminate the ceaseless repetitions that now fill the magazines, consolidate the texts, and restore us to our rightful role of Anonymous, the voice of the age.

P A N A M A : A P A L I N D R O M E

I \krrrttetr as a "Letter from Neiu York " for Vuelta milg~lzr?re

rn Mexrco, Fehruar~, 1 YYO.]

"C'est le crach d u Panama qui fit de m o i un poete!" Blaise Cendrars, 19 14

A man, a plan, a canal: Panama! It's my favorite palindrome; nearly a hundred years old, and never out of date, for it seems that Panama is fated to always have a man- an American man- with a plan. It is a palin- drome of our history, a tiny loop forever repeating itself. A thousand years from now, while the rest of the earth is wearing white robes and discussing philosophy with Alpha Centauri, the President of the United States- there will always be a President and a United States- will no doubt yet again unwrap Teddy Roosevelt's big stick and clobber that little strip of jungle cleared for oil tankers and secretive banks.

George Bush declared that the purpose of the invasion was t o "restore democracy" t o Panama, and to bring an indicted drug dealer to trial in Miami. When it was pointed out that the U.S.

normally does not deploy 26,000 troops to arrest a felon, Bush

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\ ' l < l ' l ~ l 1 N l < t t \ < ' l I O N

claimed he was deposing a dictator. When it was pointed out that the U.S. normally does not send 26,000 troops to topple minor despots, Bush replied that he was protecting American children from the scourge of drugs.

Beyond this palindrome of excuses was the usual net of politi- cal opportunism and some unusual personal ill-will. Bush claimed that the suddenness of the invasion was due to Noriega's declaration, in some local speech somewhere, of war against the U.S., and the subsequent murder of an American soldier by Pana- ma Defense Force (PUF) troops. It is remarkable that Bush could repeat Noriega's threat with a straight face- but then again, Reagan actually declared a national State of Emergency in response to the awesome malevolency of the Sandinistas, poised to drive their pickups north. As for the dead soldier, the r1.s. rou- tinely shrugs off the murder abroad of its citizens, whether they are nuns in El Salvador or 260 Marines in Beirut. (Much later we learned that the invasion had been scheduled weeks in advance, that the soldier was not in uniform and was attempting, for unknown reasons, perhaps inebriation, to drive through a PDF

roadblock without stopping.) The invasion was set in December for one reason: On January 1,

according to the terms of the Panama Canal Treaty, the Canal Commission was to have been headed by a Panamanian selected by their own government. (On January 1,2000, the U.S. will with- draw from the Canal completely.) The treaty has been a leitmotif of Republican outrage-"We built it, it's ours!"-since Jimmy Carter signed it: Reagan used it over and over as a symbol of America's weakness and Carter's wimpiness. For ten years, the right has been trying to figure out how to get the Canal back; with the Commis- sion now remaining under their control, they have another ten to work out some gruesome solution to their day of doom.

It was an act of personal vendetta. Though it is unprecedented for an American President to send thousands of troops to redress a private grievance, Bush, like Reagan and Nixon before him, seems to be modeling himself on the patriarchs of the banana republics: crying out for a return to "law and order" while rou- tinely ignoring the Constitution. (War, after all, is supposed to be approved by Congress before troops are committed, except in cases of immediate threat.) But few Presidents these days seem to have read the manual.

Bush prizes personal loyalty above all. The decades of his political career have been undistinguished: serving for short terms in sensitive or troubled government agencies (the CIA, the u.N., the Embassy in China) whenever an uncontroversial interim head was needed; picked by Reagan to be Vice-President because no one could possibly object; spending his eight years in the posi- tion only visible at state funerals. He loyally served his superiors, modifying whatever values he had to conform with theirs. (Bush, it is now forgotten, was once considered to be a "liberal" Repub- lican. In the days before birth control was revealed to Protestants to be the work of Satan, he had even served on the board of the Texas Planned Parenthood.) Now that he's the boss, he, in turn, demands absolute loyalty from his inferiors. His selection of Dan Quayle was a perfect example: a lump of cerebral anti-matter from which Bush may expect never to experience the slightest deviation. (Asked, in the campaign, why he wanted to be Vice- President, Quayle replied: "It seems like a good career move.")

Noriega, Bush's ward from his CIA days, though hardly the incarnation of evil as he has been portrayed here, is indeed the essence of betrayal. For years he played both lucrative sides of every fence: collecting a salary from the Drug Enforcement Agency while helping the Medellin cartel, working for the (.[A

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and making deals with Castro, arming the contras and shipping American parts to the Sandinistas. (The only surprising thing about Noriega is that he never offered to both shelter and assas- sinate Salman Rushdie.) This was clearly more than Bush could stand. According to his Texan wisdom, if you don't lasso a rogue bull, the whole herd will go crazy. With Noriega on the loose, Panama was becoming too unpredictable- in a sense, too Pana- manian for American taste.

The invasion was an enormous political gamble, and I, for one, would never have imagined its astonishing success: Bush, accord- ing to the latest polls, is now the most popular President after one year in office since John Kennedy. This, for a mildly unpleas- ant man whose normal speech is idiosyncratic to the point of in- communicability. (Visiting Auschwitz in 1987, he remarked, "Boy, they were big on crematoriums, weren't they?") This, after Henry Kissinger's remark during the campaign that George Bush would lose even if he ran against himself, and after having been elected by only 55% of the 50% who bothered to vote. This, for a man who had spent his first day as President showing everyone in the office a calculator that squirts water.

Part of this success is due to the media coverage, which, speak- ing of loyalty, blew bugles for the troops with the ardor of Gun- ga Din. Here, from The Boston Globe, is a sample of the kind of news reports Americans were reading:

In this city's poorest neighborhoods, artillery shells and machine gun fire leveled the homes o f the poorest inhabitants and destroyed the meager possessions o f thousarzds, but it lifted their spirits and gave them hope.

Across this devastated and emotionally and economically exhausted urban war zone, people stood amid the ruins yes-

terday shedding tears of happiness in spite of their predica- ment and cheering the Americans whose weaporzs turned many o f their bonzes into smolderirzg ruins.

"Thank you, President Boosh! Thank you, President Boosh!" exulted Alejandro Bullerz as he stood shirtless not twenty yards from the still-snzokirzg rubble o f the apartment brlilding where he once lived.

Night after night, the television news told us about the twenty- six American soldiers who had died, but never mentioned the Panamanian civilians, although it was obvious that whole neigh- borhoods had been devastated. Night after night, we were re- galed with stories of Noriega's p*rnographic magazines which, according to the Pentagon, had shocked the soldiers who cap- tured his house (being, as they were, more accustomed to reading Being and Nothingness around the barracks), of his red under- wear to ward off the evil eye (where was that evil eye looking?), of the fifty pounds which became fifty kilos of cocaine in his freezer (which, weeks later, were revealed to be tamales- anoth- er form of addiction), and of the heavy-metal music blasting into the ,Vatican Nuncio to drive the opera-loving Noriega (not t o mention the presumably Gregorian chant-loving priests) mad. Not once did we hear that Bush had killed more Panamanians than anyone- certainly not Noriega- since its 1899 war with Colombia. Not once was the evil Panama of Noriega- who killed a few dozen enemies and had less than a hundred political prisoners- compared with the mass slaughters by our allies in El Salvador and Guatemala. Only rarely was it revealed that the rest of the world- even Maggie of the Malvinas- was aghast.

The narcissism of the Panama palindrome cannot be attributed merely to nationalism, a last fit of fervor from a waning super-

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power, or racism. (Though anti-Hispanic feeling, particularly in the "sunbelt" states, is rising faster than the Hispanic popula- tion. Its most genteel battleground is the movement to have Eng- lish declared the national language- which is based on the assumption that the Anglos are able to speak it.) No, the real source of Panamania can be summed up in one word: drugs.

Thanks again to television- the true "unacknowledged legis- lator of the worldm- a national problem has been transformed into a national panic. Drugs have become an Evil emanating with the power of a million Noriegas. Their use escalated enormously during the Reagan years, and the populace has been made to feel helpless before this monster and its children: violent street crimi- nals, crazed teenagers, babies born addicted. These days, every time one turns on the television one is pummeled by yet another horror story.

Very little is said about the causes of this epidemic, though it is obvious why, in the 1980's, millions of Americans found it necessary to turn their brains into refried beans. Reagan devas- tated the poor: two or three million became homeless (one-third of them children) and unemployment for blacks, Hispanics and poor whites remains phenomenally high. There is little else to do in the ghetto but smoke crack, which is cheap, and drug-dealing is the only guaranteed (and lucrative) job. The middle class has become poor- families with both parents working cannot pos- sibly enjoy the kind of lives they led in the 1960's and 1970's- and drugs and television are its main forms of relief. And, at the top of the heap, the frenetic greed of the corporate raiders and free-ranging entrepreneurs who flourished under Reagan was fueled by the sensations of speed and omnipotence given them by an epic of cocaine lines which, in the beginning, only they could afford.

Rather than address the social problems that have created this mass addiction, Reagan declared a rhetorical war. (Meanwhile, drug prices crashed from the glut on the market, including a 75% drop in the wholesale price of cocaine.) And now Bush seems to be turning that rhetoric into action, of which Panama may be only the first salvo.

There is, as there always is, a hidden agenda to this drug war. As everyone outside of Washington knows, the Cold War end- ed in 1989. /For me, evidence that the world had changed was visible locally in December 1988, when Gorbachev visited New York: the huge neon billboard in Times Square was flashing a hammer and sickle as the crowds along Broadway chanted, "Gorby! Gorby!"] Even Time magazine which, under Henry Luce, was the preeminent journalistic flank of the Cold War and practically the architect of our policy toward China (thanks t o Luce's friendship with Chiang Kai-shek, fostered by the Catholic Church)-a policy that not only refused to recog- nize a quarter of humanity, but created the wars in Korea and Indochina to "contain" the Yellow/Red Menace- even Time was now writing:

Scenarios for a Soviet invasion of Western Europe haz)e always had i7 touch of paranoid fantasy about them. A new consensus is emerging, that the Soz)iet threat is not tohat it used to be. The real point, hozvevet; is that it never was. T/Je doves in the Great Debate o f the past forty years were rigl~t all along.

With Time on their coffee tables, Americans are slowly realizing that the country ruined itself fighting a war that never existed. Though the mirror situation is, of course, far worse in the Soviet

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Union, the U.S has the worst health, education, transportation, and social services of any Western nation, and a swamp of envi- ronmental problems- while, in the Reagan-Bush years, two- thirds of every tax dollar went to war, though no official wars were actually being fought. Even superhawks like Robert McNa- mara (the Secretary of Defcnse during the Vietnam War) are now saying that the Pentagon budget could be cut in half overnight with no effect to our "defense."

Sentiments like these have caused a panic in Washington. Our foreign policy- which, for decades, could be summed up in one sentence: Any enemy of our enemy is our friend- is in a sham- bles. Bush, an old soldier who still checks for Communists under his bed, has lapsed into catatonia before the events in Eastern Europe, standing still amidst a stampede of capitalists rushing in. [Bush calls this "prudence," but there may be another story: The far right seriously belicvcs that glasnost is the ultimate Soviet plot. By pretending to declare peace, Gorbachev will effect the dis- bandment of NATO, withdrawal of American troops from Europe and drastic reductions in Western military strcngth- a t which point the Soviets will march in and finally conquer the world! If it seems far-fetched that any "responsible" leaders would believe this, let us remember that the Vice-president idolizes his father, a founder, in the 1950's, of the John Birch Society, which thought that Eisenhower was a K G ~ agent and the fluoridation of water a Communist plot, and who is now associated with a magazine that claims that the Democrats are controlled directly by Moscow, and the Republicans by Trotskyites in Tel Aviv.]

The Pentagon, faced with hippie flower children in the Polit- buro, is quivering in its spit-polished boots. For the military to hold on to its hardware, and for America to continue to run on a war economy, obviously a new enemy had to be found, and

quickly. That enemy is drugs- a concept more concrete in its particulars, but, as an alien force, equally abstract as Commu- nism. So the Drug War is on, and the country is cheering.

Domestically, Bush and his minions are calling for more police, more courts and more prisons. (Prisons- unlike schools, hospi- tals or mnseums- being the only public buildings Republicans like to construct.) And within the Pentagon, according to military journals, those who see the Drug War as the only means of self- preservation, given the world situation, are prevailing over those reluctant to become mired in another Vietnam-style jungle war. (In, for example, Peru, where the Sendero Luminoso- real Communists!-is in alliance with the coca growers and controls vast areas of the country, where the Peruvian Army is fighting a losing battle, and where Green Beret military "advisers" are already in place. Like Panama, it's the perfect spot to simultane- ously "restore democracy" and "stop the flow of drugs a t their source. " )

A11 of this will, needless to say, do nothing to stop drugs. Drugs are the ideal capitalist venture: the market is limitless, anyone can get into the business, and, with very little money and hard work, make a fortune. And, as Eastern Europe has demonstrat- ed, pcople will stop at nothing to get the consumer products they want, be it blue jeans or cocaine. For every hundred dealers the Drug War eliminates, a thousand will take their place. It is, after arms dealing, the second-largest business in the world, and one that requires far less capital and expcrtise.

The extraordinary success of the Panama invasion has made the prospects for a post-Cold War peace in the 1990's seem dubi- ous. Right now, Bush is standing un the mountain of his popu- larity, scanning the horizon with his binoculars for new territory to conquer.

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N O T E S F O R S U L F U R I11

I Wr~tten for the hack pagrs of Sulfur, 1990- 199 I .] I

The N E A 1


was cheered by the news this morning that the head of some Boston nut-group had condemned the opening there of the Mapplethorpe show as "avant-garde, anti-Christian, anti-American, and perverse." The irony of the current NEA controversy is that these Soldiers of God may indeed effect a Confucian rectification of names: restoring the term "avant-garde" to its former place of dignity as subverter of norms.

Day after day, defenders of the NEA piously repeat that these works are not obscene, but Art that Enriches the Human Soul. It's not true. They are, like all art, obscene: presenting, literally,

I an opposite scene, opposite to the world that is before our eyes.

We should be emphasizing that the primary function of art is subversion: the bringing to light of the sub(terranean) versions: the versions that reveal that the world is not quite what we thought it is.


N O T F S I OI< S I i l t F K 1 1 1

There has been only one reason for the perennial suppression of art: it tells you what you don't know, and that's more than most states can stand.

It should be remembered that the NEA is a product of the Viet- nam War, the moment in this century when American artists and writers were most visibly the enemies of the state. It was found- ed and then expanded by our two w~liest presidents, Johnson and Nixon. They sure knew what they were doing. Snip through all the rhetoric of how my art could never be compromised by a government grant and one fact is plain: Through the Reagan years, the century's most shameful period in American history, the artists were d e n t . We will need a new generation to bury this generation of good Germans.

Parallel to this was the universities' friendly takeover of student protest by introducing "relevancy" to the curriculum: teaching what the students already knew, showing their sensitivity to stu- dent expression by encouraging workshops in various forms of "creativity." This required, of course, the wholesale ~mportation of writers and artists, and the hitherto unimaginable invention of "poet" as a comfortable middle-class career. With it came a kind of collective amnesia: no one seems to remember that, before 1970, the university was considered the enemy of contemporary poetry.

I remember laughing, in the early 1980's, when I saw the Norton Critical Edition of O n the Road, alongside The Scarlet Letter and Billy Budd: it had taken less than thirty years to entomb that once-scandalous book. Today the leap from the bar- ricades to the marble halls is nearly instantaneous. Last night's bad boy or girl of the arts this morning receives a hefty fellow- ship, a university chair, a museum retrospective, a shelf of critical exegesis. We're kidding ourselves if we think that this is a sign of a

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healthy plurality in the institutions- which can, and should, only function as monuments to the dead- or that this hasn't changed the face of the arts.

Is it more incredible that Karen Finley's NEA grant was over- ruled, or that someone who publicly shoves yams up her ass should dutifully fill out the endless government forms to attest to her craft? That this and the other NEA cases have been generally condemned as "censorshipn-here at the end of a century that murdered and still murders thousands of artists and writers, banned and still bans tens of thousands of works- is indicative of how cozy and drowsy the American arts have become.

Nearly everything of enduring interest produced in the last 150 years was made by the perverse, the obscene, the ostracized, the subversive. These days I find myself nearly alone in hoping that the right will succeed in making the arts perverse again. Not so long ago, the goal of artists and writers was to work in such a way that no one would dream of giving you money for it.

T.S. Eliot

T his morning I also happened to be reading (in Wayne Koestenbaum's Double Talk: The Erotics of Male Literary Collaboration) this anecdote of our pillar of rec- titude, T.S. Eliot:

Conrad Aiken had praised Eliot's 1925 Poems. Eliot replied by sending him a page ripped out of The Midwives' Gazette in which

he had underlined a description of vagin*l discharge: "blood, mucous, and shreds of mucozts ... purulent offensive discharge." Aiken at the time was in the hospital suffering from an anal fistu- la. In the accompanying letter, Eliot wrote: "Have you tried Kotex for it ... KOTEX. Used with success by Blue-eyed Claude the Cabin Boy." The reference was to that perennial frat-boy favorite, "The Good Ship Venus," to which Eliot had written some additional lyrics, which he enclosed. Claude was: "a clever little nipper/ who filled his ass with broken glass/ and circumcised the skipper."

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Mary Oppen

T he recent death of Mary Oppen sent me back to her autobiography Meaning A Life (Black Sparrow). Too few know it: a classic of "objectivist" prose. In her poetry Mary often sounded like George; in the prose however she reveals herself as Reznikoff's worthiest disciple. It is extraordinary how much she was able to pack into the simplest declarative sentence. Equally remarkable, a t any given moment in the book the lives of Mary and George- and Mary's emotional responses- are unfolding amidst the enormous events in the world. This is not so much a modernist collage as the result of modernist collage. A 20th century sensibility: the news as autobiography.


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Barbaric Lyrtcisrn

I n the last issue of Sulfur, my untitled article on the poets of Baghdad [reprinted as "The City of Peace" in Outside Stories] was preceded by a quote from Whitman under the title "Barbaric Lyricism." Some thought this the title and epigraph to my piece. It wasn't, and it's especially unfortunate t o have "barbaric" attached t o it, when the point was to debarbarize, if only a little, the place.

For barbaric lyricism, o r lyric barbarism, there was the "Victory" parade in New York the other day, celebrating the slaughter of 200,000 people, the displacement of five million more, the "apocalyptic" leveling of a small country, the tens of thousands of future deaths from disease and starvation, and at least a decade of ecological calamity. A Patriot missile was gar- landed like a Shiva lingam and paraded up Broadway; in the evening, the local pyrotechnic geniuses, the Gruccis, recreated the effect of a Patriot hitting a Scud over the Statue of Liberty, to the theme from "Star Wars."

George Plimpton and the Paris Review seized the moment for a fund-raising "Spring Revel" at $1.50 a head featuring "Dinner and Huge Fireworks Show Celebrating the Return of the Troops" aboard a hired yacht. The "Revel" committee included William Styron, Kurt Vonnegut, William Kennedy, Peter Mathiessen, Frances Fitzgerald, Norman Mailer and E.L. Doctorow, among other stars of the American "left." Said Plimpton to the Village Voice: "There's no political statement in this at all." Said Fitzger- ald: "Things are going to happen anyway. If it's going on out

there, why miss it?" Said Styron: "I don't think it's incongruous, being against the war in principle and feeling that the troops deserve a cheer."

Olson and Rexroth Biographies

I n America, where tens of mil- lions live alone and most people move every three years, where they rarely see their relatives, and where Main Street has been replaced by the strip and the mall, hardly anyone knows anyone any more. O r more exactly: people mainly know, and know best, the people they don't know: celebrities. The village has indeed become a global village, but that global village is Hollywood. What is the Johnny Carson Show, for example, but an amiable evening on the front porch dishing the neighbors? Even better, it is a village where the neighbors stay. the same, unlike one's actual neighbors. The stable presence of their unstable lives is not only a source of daily news and developments, it is a subject- probably the only safe subject- to talk about with the local strangers.

The language of the tribe is gossip, and in perpetual, individual diaspora the need for gossip becomes insatiable. In lives where mainly nothing happens except television, and where television wildly exaggerates the danger in something, anything, happening, there is a craving for "real lifen-not to live it, but to watch it. Sensationalist "news" programs, "true" crime stories, the after- noon talk shows, funny or p*rnographic amateur home videos:

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U ' R 1 7 T I N I < F . \ < l I O N

packaged real life is inevitably weird, and getting weirder. Into the safety of one's own bunker comes the mesmerizing news that what was suspected is true: the boy and girl next door- those real people- really are freaks.

And so is everyone else we've ever heard about, but don't know. It is a Puritan legacy, the tale of the life of sin: only Eng- land and America produce biographies in bulk, and in America they are poring out every day with their emphasized bad news, bizarre and sad stories. It now seems that a life- any life, yours or mine- examined by someone else is not worth living.

This biographical imperative cuts across the strata of taste. There is even a market- or they would not be published- for biographies of contemporary poets, preferably dead, which inevitably seem to issue from houses that never would have con- sidered publishing the poet's work.

The latest, released in the same week by W.W. Norton, are Linda Hamalian's A Life of Kenneth Rexroth and Tom Clark's Charles Olson: The Allegory of a Poet's Life. Both are about 400 pages long, and both wave the Bad Boy banner with covers showing their subjects not typing but engaged in what current American mores now consider to be self-destructive hedonism: smoking.

Hamalian's is by far the better book. Rexroth's life can only be compared, among the American poets, with Pound or Langston Hughes for its variety and frantic pace. Hamalian- who inter- viewed hundreds of his friends and enemies- needs every one of her apparently allotted 400 pages just to keep up. (I've been told that another 200 pages, dealing with the work, were cut.) The book's impossible to put down as it zips through the chronology past the factual trees. Yet I suspect its ultimate value will be, years

Y O T I ' S F O R S t ; ! 1 t K I l l

from now, as the groundwork for the multi-volume Life and Times, on the order of Painter or Edel, that Rexroth deserves.

Clark, on the other hand, relies mainly on published sources and interviews with some mutual triends, like Ed Dorn. And Olson, with the exceptions of his time as a Democratic Party flack and at Black _Mountain, spent most of his life first not writ- ing and then writing. This gives Clark plenty of room for rumi- nation on the work, none of it particularly illuminating. His one coup, perhaps worth reading the book, is the previously little- known story of, and unpublished correspondence with, Frances Boldereff.

[In brief: At age 39, Olson is still floundering, has written little and published less. He gets a letter out of the blue from a woman in a small town in Pennsylvania telling him he's a genius. The corre- spondence accelerates to the rate of two or three letters a day. Boldereff sends him into various branches of arcana that become part of the Olson canon; phrases from both their letters become embedded in the poems he's suddenly furiously writing. Almost a year later they meet for the first time, Olson's first weekend of pas- sion. (As Clark typically tells us- and how does he know?-Olson was tormented that his penis wasn't as Maximus as the rest of him.) Olson, however, won't leave his wife, and for many years the pat- tern of frenetic letters and rare passionate meetings continues.]

Hamalian clearly starts off as an acolyte, but the deeper she gets into Rexroth's incessant philandering, paranoia, and abuse of women, her disdain grows. [Rexroth, the promoter of many women poets, was a personal misogynist; Olson, which is worse, an ideological one. Both books indulge in retrospective moraliz- ing, yet it is curious that both men were surrounded by women who deified them, even after they had found the men impossible to live with. Connie Olson, after one of many separations, says

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she doesn't believe in God, because Charles is her God. Rexroth's second wife is the godmother of the daughter, named after the first wife, who is born to his third wife, to whom he's bigamous- ly married. And so on.]

Clark apparently began with the image of a pathetic, torment- ed genius, and then piled on the evidence; there's no sense of Olson's charisma. And a pall hangs over his book from his will- ful, criminal neglect of George Butterick- who is mentioned only three times in passing as one of the disciples. Clark ends with Olson's funeral, as Olson did not: Sulfur readers need hard- ly be told that nearly everything we know about Olson, the texts of most of the poems and much of the prose, critical glosses of thousands of references, and the very existence of the third vol- ume of Maximus- the volume that is, for me, his great work- is due entirely to Butterick. Clark, whatever his motives, has writ- ten a biography of Kafka without M a x Brod.

Two lives that couldn't be more different: Rexroth the adven- turer, Olson the bookworm. Rexroth the cosmopolitan, Olson the local hick. Rexroth the Don Juan, Olson the timid. Rexroth in the American wilderness, Olson obsessively researching the West for years before actually going out to see it. Rexroth the Buddhist and Christian, deep in the selflessness of ritual and med- itation, Olson the Jungian, deep in the symbols of self. Rexroth compulsively surrounded by people of all types, Olson by a few disciples and, in the last years, living alone in an apartment piled with trash where the phone never rang, writing on every available surface, even the walls, sleeping all day and wandering empty streets at night. For the life of an American poet, it is Rexroth's that is the more incredible.

Most incredible now, when he is remembered but largely unread, is that Rexroth was- alone with Hughes, and Pound in

the teens and twenties- an American poet who was a public intel- lectual figure, famous among general readers. (Ginsberg's celebrity is another matter.) His public exposure in the fifties and sixties seems unimaginable for an American poet today: a weekly radio show, a twice-weekly column in the San Francisco Examiner, book reviews or articles once a month in The Nation and four or five times a year in the N. Y Times Book Review, the twice-month- ly "Classics Revisited" series in the S ~ ~ t u r d a y Review, further arti- cles in magazines from Art News to Mademoiselle and Nugget (whatever happened to Nugget?), records of his poetry readings, sales of 10,000 for a new book of poems and 100,000 for the Chi- nese translations, interviews in the national media, even talk of a television show- plus the endless local discussion groups and readings he organized. Rexroth, in other words, led the life gener- ally available to a poet nearly everywhere except in America.

Olson, however, led a more normal American poet's life. He died with most of his work unpublished, and most of the rest out of print. H e spoke grandly to his "fellow citizens" of the "Repub- lic of Letters," but had only a few devout followers. H e planned national and international institutions and symposia and think tanks to get the message out, all of which came to nothing. There is a sad moment in the letters to Corman where he compares Ori- gin magazine, with its print run of 300- as he had once com- pared the few remaining students at Black Mountain- to Mao's band in the Yenan caves.

Finally, it is true that few among us could survive the investi- gation of a biographer and not emerge a monster. Taking out the garbage is not the stuff of biographies, the garbage itself is: the petty cruelties, the hypocrisies revealed in the archives of corre- spondence, the mistakes and indiscretions, the bad days, bad habits, bad blood.

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But the deeper question is what the biography of a poet does to subsequent readings of the work. It cannot help but localize the poem, cheapen it, fix it permanently in its biographical interpre- tation. So now we know that among Pound's last words, the great lines "When one's friends hate each other1 how can there be peace in the world?" refers to the bickering among three women in his harem. So now we know that Rexroth, the century's great celebrant of married love was, simultaneous to those poems, writing mash-notes to half-a-dozen other women. So now wc know who Frank Moore is, and why Olson wondered. (In a let- ter to Ferrini in the first Origin he had revealed what's buried behind Lufkin's diner.) Is "The Librarianm-and the most mystc- rious lines in American poetry- ruined? And what happened to his own reading of the lines, from writing them (when he's clear- ly talking to himself) to publishing them (when he rrlust consider their effect)? Frank Moore troubles my insomnia.

Eutzlre P M L A article

he signature Olson syntax- T the dangling p r t i c i ~ l e s which Creeley picks up, and the sudden exclamations- always seemed to come from nowhere, certainly not Massachusetts. Then the other day it struck me: H o ~ k i n s . One of many examples:

... My hcart in hiding

Stirred for a bird, - the achieve of, the mastery

of the thing!

The paradox is, the Figure of Outward, the poet of projection, nearly always reads like an escaping convict with only one leg.

Perszdasiue Nezci Drfensc. of Traditional Prosody

P rosody remains enz bedded in the finished work ...( like] the armature in a statue: an essential part o f t l ~ e finished structure. We do rzot iudge a statue by its armature, any move than we judge a beat~ty contest by the X-rays of the conzpetitors. But what the X-rays show is essential to beauty; without the armature o f the skeleton Miss America or Mr. Unl- verse would collapse to a heap o f flab ... "

-John Frederick Nims, The Six-Corrzered S~owflake.


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I \Vr~ttrn for a pallel o 7 z ' 'Po~J t ry d- K t z o ~ ( ~ J ~ d g L "

a t St . M a r k ' s Church, New York. 1 Y90.l

I 've read it every day of my life

since I was thirteen. It is, among the man-made artifacts, my pri- mary source of knowledge of the stuff of this world and the next. Its limitless archive of tiny and piercing, vast and enveloping per- ceptions of "the way things work and move" (Keats) has forever altered and continually alters my own. It is my religion, in as much as it is an affirmation of the sacrality of all things; it brings me news from the unknown, beyond my imagination; it is a daily opportunity to talk with the dead. Bursting into sound, running through its cycles of silence and sound, ending as silence: a poem is the Hindu history of the universe.

But poetry is also- and this is rarely, if ever, said- a source of knowledge a t its most literal: information. My life with poetry began when I discovered that it was talking about the same things- and not only emotional things- that interested me: I was thirteen, wanted to be an archeologist, at that moment read- ing everything I could find on pre-Columbian Mesoamerica in an unusually good high school library. Stuck inside some fat book- Prescott or Bernal Diaz on the Conquest- was the pamphlet of Octavio Paz's Sttr? Stone, in Muriel Rukeyser's translation. It was

the first modern poem I'd come across, and more, it was- unimaginable for me until then- both a use of the ancient (in this case, the Aztec calendar) to read the contemporary (20th cen- tury history and one man's autobiography) and a recreation of it in an intensely musical language. A boy's discovery that poetry- this language that didn't sound like anything else- was a door- way opening onto all times and all places.

From there I wandered undirected through the poetry shelves, poets- my real teachers, not the bored dictators of the class- rooms- leading me from one poet to another. But, equally important, poets and poems were taking me into worlds besides literature. In those adolescent years- to take a few examples- I first began reading about Buddhism because of The Waste Land, which simultaneously sent me into the Grad and medieval mythology. Lorca took me to books on the Spanish Civil War; Hart Crane to Colun~bus' diaries and 19th century New York and Atlantis; Williams to colonial America; Pound to Renais- sance Italy and the history of China (and later to Chinese itself) and the Anglo-Saxons and medieval Provence; Olson to the Del- phic Oracle and the pre-Socratics, to Mesopotamia, to the whale- ship chronicles and the history of agriculture; Artaud to the Tarahumaras and the Black Death. The list is endless, and still continues: hardly any of the books I know cannot ultimately be traced to a poem or poet.

Similarly, most of my travels started out from poems, beginning at sixteen when Neruda's Canto General sent me off to Machu Picchu and the Atacama Desert. The places 1 now happen to know best, beyond the great metropolises, were first literary landscapes: India and Mexico in Paz, Provence in the trouba- dours, Italy in Dante and Pound. And the cities themselves live for me as a s~multaneous moment of the poets walking their

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streets and as a collage of their paper monuments. Conversely, to read poetry is to be alive in the city: the modern poem is a city, even when its ostensible subject is the wilderness.

I confess I adhere to the 19th century image of each poem exist- ing as part of a glittering net of correspondences. I've never understood the concept of the discrete literary artifact, imagined by the New Critics as a golden bowl (or was it a well-wrought urn?) or elaborated by the so-called post-moderns as some sort of textual outer space debris, alone and floating nowhere. For me, any poem worth reading always goes somewhere, as its descrip- tive language implies (verse, metaphor, metrical feet), always is somewhere.

In countless oral stories the hunter, tracking a certain prey, fol- lows an unrepeatable path into another world. It is the origin of the "way," in its universal religious sense. Nearly all my intellec- tual and physical wanderings have been on the track of poems. Naturally many other things might have taken me on similar paths, but poetry happened to be my totemic animal. And strangely, these zillion bits of the world were learned from what is traditionally considered to be the most rarefied, unworldly world of writing.

R O T H E N B E R G : N E W YORK 1 1968

1 Wrtttetf for the hook, Joy! I'ra~se! Jerome Rothenberg a t 60,

ed~ted hy P~errcz Iorts ( T ~ h w z l Books), 1991.1

2 ero birthdays are an occasion when it's forgivable to drag out the old photos, and there's one snapshot I want to pull from the overstuffed Rothenberg album: an important early moment in his work and, it has turned out, an indelible one in my life: the publication of Technicians of the Sacred.

I had twigged to Jerry as an adolescent in the mid-60's: Some/Thing magazine, the "rituals" a t Judson Church and the Something Else pamphlet Ritual (1966), the first JR book I remember buying. He was already on my map when we first met in 1967 at the elaborate parties surrounding the London Poetry Festival- a century ago- I, a teenage nerd following the hors d'oeuvres trays through a crowd of grandmasters (Olson, Neruda, Par, MacDiarmid, Ungaretti) poetry stars (Auden, Spender, Berryman, Empson- who had silenced the room with a shout: "No one insults my wife's boyfriend!") pop icons (Gins- berg, Burroughs, Trocchi, Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull) and hundreds of rising or failing practitioners, many of them now ghosts. Jerry's Between had just come out from Fulcrum; there I

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had finally caught up with The Seven Hells of the Jigoku Zoshi, the first of the JR medium-length sequences, and still lively, though now more likely to be read as an arrow pointing directly to his masterpiece, Khurbn.

There were, in the later 60's, two New York Schools. The first, of course, from the Donald Allen taxonomy: Ashbery, O'Hara, Koch, Guest, Schuyler, and others, and the "second generation" of Berrigan, Waldman, Padgett, and so many more. But there was also "my" N.Y. School- mine as a reader- a group as coherent as any poetry group, but too young for the New American Poets and, in retrospect, whose individual reputations perhaps suffered from the lack of a name, a compartment in the brain to locate them in the subsequent population explosion: Rothenberg, Antin, Eshleman, Kelly, Economou, Owens, Schwerner, Makoski, MacLow and others, with Paul Blackburn, in terms of publica- tion, an older brother.

Both came, in part, out of Surrealism. The official N.Y. School from certain aspects of the French poems: irony, wit, whimsical juxtaposition, random apprehensions of ordinary life, the panorama of the street. The "others" from Surrealism's exoticism and the exotic branches of the rllovement itself, from its politics (as response to one war and prophecy of another), preoccupation with the magical power of the "primitive," and techniques like chance operations, writing under hallucinogenic drugs, collage, and performance. The difference, say, between the poems of Peret and Peret as translator of the Pop01 Vuh, strange dreams and prophetic dreams, Roussei in Afr~ca and Artaud in Mexico, DeChirico and Duchamp.

I had picked up on JR early because my image of poetry was (still is) as the place where one got the news from abroad, from the dead, and from the gods. W ~ t h the firsr page of the firsr issue

of So~ne/Thing, JK's "workings" irom the lilorerztine Codex, I knew that this was part of(MacDiar111id's words) "the kind of poetry I wa~lt.' ' The book 1 eagerly awaited, and then devoured when it finally came out in 1968, was Technicinni of the Sacred.

1968: a tired story we tell over and over, the Great War for which we are the old soldiers: the year of the international stu- dent revolutions, the assassinations, the conviction that the entire world was on the verge of radical transformation, from the struc- ture of society and state to the details of body ornament. But more: the belief that the way to the new was the old: hallucino- gens as the source of ancient wisdom, tribal communisnl as the answer to capitalism, the wilderness to industrialization; an "Electric Tibet. "

A year of continual unforeseeable developments in the day's papers, and an equally incredible poring out of news from the poetry presses. Alongside Technicians, these were some of the new books appearing like oracles that year: Pound's Drafts and Fr~ignieiits, Bunting's Collected Poems, Oppen's Of Being Numerous, the second volume of Olson's Maxi;nus and the first available edition of the Moyizn Letters, Duncan's Bending the Bow, Snyder's Tblic Back Country, Rexroth's Collected Lonpp l'oenzs and his translations o f Keverdy, Niedecker's North Con- tral, Eshleman's translation of Vallejo's Human Poelrzs, Black- burn's In. On. or About the Preinises, MacLow's 22 Light Pocrns, Enzensberger's Poenrs for Pcople Who Don't Read Poet- ry (trallslated by Jerry with Michael Hamburger), Ginsberg's l 'lan~~t Nezvs, Dorn's Gttnslir~ger I... as well as small hooks and pamphlets by many others (including two by Rothenberg), Cater- pilliir magazine, " A " serillized in P C t r co~~nt less readings against the \$2.Tar, tht. p o p ~ ~ l i s t readings and jazz collaborations o f the hlack pocrs- a n d the first word from Don Juan! Nothing

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more tedious than the joys of someone else's youth, and yet: it is a moment from which I, then 19, like so many others, never recovered.

It was a moment when the world and poetry-world were inextricable, and both were devoted to political change, passion- ate comniitment, commitment t o passion, alternate realities, the foreign and the ancient. Technicians, more than an anthology of tribal and oral poetries- like Willard Trask's two-volume The Unwritten Song, which had just appeared in 1966 and 1967 and had gone unnoticed- was an attempt to bring it all together, the "rite of participation" invoked the year before by Duncan in Caterpillar, the true coming of Here Comes Everybody.

It is incredible how many of those everybodies Rothenberg would go on to embody. Here, among his friends, it needs no reit- eration. Only this: he is probably the gateway to more corners of the earth than any poet in this century. In the pages of a Rothen- berg book- the poems as much as the anthologies- the world has a coherence. Perhaps this coherence is false- the tangle of correspondences from Altaic shamans to Blake t o Kabbalah t o Mixtec codices to East Village perforn~ances- but we cannot deny that Rothenberg, as so few others, has managed to con- struct a world. And more: it is a world, even in the hells of Khurhn, of ecstasy and a fundamental joy. Not Utopia, but a model of the world t o set against the world.

Startling that, at 60, Jerry enters the ranks of the senlor poets, alongside the equally suddenly venerable Creeley, Snyder, Ash- bery, Tarn and Ginsberg, and next year, Antin. Yet his 60 is a youthfulness the lugubrious youths of poetry-world might well emulate. Who among them has as many projects cooking? And who among us, the now incomprehensibly middle-aged, has the curiosity and erudition, the Cinemascope frame and the genuine

multiculturalism, the enthusiasm, the accomplishments t h ~ t Rothenberg had at 40?

To put it simply: I have read everything that Jerry has written, translated or edited, and I still read it all the time. He is the rare poet whose last book is his best book, and whose next book I'll read the day I get it. At this moment of the breaking-up of nations and the end of the ideologies, the disaster and threat of the next d e c ~ d e and the next century will be ethnocentricity, nationalism, a!l the forms of excluding the other. Ethnopoetics- a poetics not of "the people," but of "peoples"- could be one of the ways out. American poets, in worse isolation than ever, symp- tonlatic of the times, have stopped talking to strangers, stopped listening to the news from elsewhere. Think of what informed those Greatest Hits of 1968 and what informs even the Hits of 1991. Ethnopoetics was this great pod exploding, but the seeds still lie dormant. Now that the 25-year time-lag of recognition (Pound's Law) is nearly over, I think- maybe I'm crazy- that the moment for a revitalization, a new generation of ethnopoet- ics, is almost here. And with it, the realization that Rothenberg, all along, has been one o t the wisest in the tribe, and the one who, amidst general indifference, has been taking care of the sacred bundles.

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o begin with, I should say that,

as a loyal member of the generation of '68- one who still sleeps in his uniform- I was naturally involved with drugs and hallucino- gens. But I should also say, for certain elements of this newspaper's readership, that it's now twenty-odd years later. .. There are two aspects to this: one I'll speak of as a writer, and the other as a teenaged inhabitant of the United States at the end of the 1960's.

As I writer, I think that the experience of hallucinogenic drugs can he useful because under their effect ordinary objects are transformed: the chair you are sitting in is more than a chair; it is a chair that has its own aura of signification. It is a way of dis- covering that the world is not what it seems, and moreover that there is another world that can be explored. But this is only a first step, because one goes from there to the discovery that in poetry the world is transformed in exactly the same way as on drugs: In a poem a chair is not a chair. It is a chair charged with meaning. As soon as one makes this discovery, drugs become unnecessary.

But I also happen to believe that the origin of writing- more specifically, when writing goes beyond the act O F tallying- is in hallucinogenic drugs. One of the experiences o t drugs is that it creates a correspondence between abstract signs and meaning. Under its effects one can look at cloud formations or animal tracks or tree branches against the sky and find significance. In tact, many cultures have myths in which the origin of writing is tied to hallucil~ogens. For example, it is extremely interesting that the Ivlazatec shaman, Maria Sabina, who was illiterate, said that, when under the influence of the mushrooms, she received a book from which she "read" her healing songs. And the Mexican codices were, in part, mnemonic devices that perhaps were read- o r could only be read- after taking mushrooms or other hallucinogens, or after having performed other actions that pro- duced hallucinatic~ns, like the bloodletting practiced by the Maya. Under the influence of drugs the images of the codices would have taken on meaning. N o doubt these books were not for the general public, but were exclusively for an intellectual or priestly elite. Yet they represent that small leap from abstract signs taking on a personal significance under drugs to abstract signs having a shared kig~lificance- in other words, reading.

O n the other side, in the 60's taking drugs was a political act because it was an act, however futile, against the established order, and a negation of the prevailing reality.

We were looking for an alternate reality because we rightfully couldn't stand the existing reality, which meant primarily the Viet- nam War, the most visible and clearly unjust of the world's injus- tices at that moment. And the other reality that we were discover- ing was, of course, a spiritual reality. Spiritual reality is always the enemy of political reality; the way the two have been reconciled

i historically has been through the institutionalization of religion.

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\\ I<I I I I \: l<I .\I I I O N

All of the religions have besun as a revolt against the established order: Jesus or Mahavira or the Bllddha were dangerous people. The way to weaken that danger was to institutionalize their teach- ings and develop stricter ties between the social and religious orders. Thus the counterculture was a kind of return to the origins of religion- in a certain sense- and with it a return to human ori- gins. This naturally led to a fascination, in the 60's, with American Indians. There was the inevitable identification with an iinagined "sinlple" and communal life, close to nature and the gods, that had been obliterated by technology and capitalist greed. It was said then, romantically, that the "Woodstock nation" was like the Sioux nation, something one carried on one's back. Coincident to the "baby boom," the 50's existentialist alienated outsider- the survivor of the Second World War- had now expanded into a group of internal exiles with communal yearnings, a "band of out- siders" as Godard's movie was called.

Taking drugs was inseparable from what was happening at that moment, from the demonstrations against the Vietnam War to rock music, communes, the return to the land, and so on. All of this was of one piece- the counterculture was a whole culture- and can't be broken down. That is to say, we took drugs much in the same way that our parents went to work.

This makes it difficult, I think, for members of my generation to have too n ~ u c h interest in the drug-taking among those who followed us. In the 90's it has become a form of entertainment, a sort of LITV OF the mind. If you take drugs you're of course opposing your parents; if you take drugs too much you're oppos- ing yourself; but you're not, in any way, opposing society.

\Vhy did the spiritual quests of the 60's seem, ill the end, to have lead nowhere?

Basically what happened was the McDonaldization of the counterculture, exactly as it had occurred with Beat culture. Everything that was considered radical in the 60's turned into popular consumer choices: rock music, marijuana, exotic cuisine, con~fortable work clothes, long hair, the "natural look" for women, vegetarianism, sex without marriage, etc. Look at the Beats in the SO'S, as they are represented, say, in Kerouac's nov- els. Yesterday's wildness is today's conventionality: red wine, Chi- nese food eaten with chopsticks, jazz, and so on. And the ideology behind these material manifestations takes another form and becomes part of another culture, or it merely fades away.

Sixties' youth genuinely believed that the world was on the verge of a radical change. It seems absurd now, but that was what it was like. We thought that the other reality would replace the existing reality- and for this reason the counterculture was more than adolescent rebellion, it was a genuine belief that in a few short years the dominant culture was going to be transformed. (I'll never forget those alarmed articles in Time magazine: "Who's going to run the corporations when these hippies grow up?" It took no time at all to produce a new generation of what the sus used to call "bullet-headed make-out artists.") And rock & roll, in a way that is unimaginable now, was the artistic expression of the new society, much as Constructivism was the artistic expres- sion of the new Soviet society. What happened to rock & roll was exactly what happened with Constructivism: it turned into designs for bathroom tiles.

Another thing that weakened the counterculture, at least in the U.S., was that the universities accepted the more superficial demands of the students- among them, that what they study have greater "relevance" to their lives. This meant, for example, in the first stage, that recent books were introduced into literature

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courses, things people were reading anyway. By the second stage, in the 1980's, this had expanded to recent culture in gen- eral- meaning, of course, pop culture- to which the new French theories could be so cleverly applied. So now if you're a student- and nearly all youths are students- and you can study Madonna or Neuromancer for a degree, urged on by the profes- sors, the authority figures, well, what then is the counterculture- Sophocles and Milton?

Dztring the ere-Hispanic era, there were people rclhose f~tnction it was to guide others in the takiizg of dr~tgs, zuhich had a specific merrning. Perhaps what happened in the 60's was the loss of cer- tain norms, certain knoulledge tinder which drzigs shouId be taken.

I think that in the 60's there was a kind of elite who took drugs, until around 1967. At that time, there was a general set of beliefs shared by those who took drugs. An elite, in other words, not of priests, but of believers. By the time of Woodstock, in 1969, the practices, but not the beliefs, had spread to the entire country. For us- white middle-classintellectual New York City kids- Woodstock was not, as it is remembered, the cliniax of the hippie movement, but a sign that it was over, had gone suburban. The ideology had dropped out, and what was left was a new form of hedonism- one which, however, in retrospect, I wish had lasted: I'll take group mud baths any day over group baptisms.

But nobody I knew went to Woodstock. My friends were far too self-co~isciousl~ cool to light candles while the dreadful Melanie sang "Beautiful l'eople." That weekend, for example, I was camp- ing on the side of Mt. Sliasta, in Cklifornia, down the stream from a group of people who used to wander naked in the woods, play- ing flutes. They believed that the mountain was hollow, that it was

inhabited by survivors of the lost continent of Lemuria, and that messages from the Lemurians could be decoded from Beatle records.

And yet, from the current perspective, Woodstock belongs to another world: There were no t-shirts sold at Woodstock, no marketing. Ten years later, the symbol of youthful rebellion against bourgeois values would be the most successful business- woman in America: Madonna.

In this century drugs tend to come more from the laboratory than from the natural world. Do you thirzk this hirs created the absence of sacrality in the constimption of drugs?

Not really. In fact, most drugs require a great deal of prepara- tion. Think of soma, as it is described in the Vedas. It doesn't make a great deal of difference if its origin is the modern labora- tory or not: Amazonians preparing ayahuasca are lab technicians in different clothes. But it's true that in the 60's drug-taking was seen as a return to the natural world, a return to the values of the tribe. An attitude that no longer exists, because that was the part of the counterculture that was in opposition to all forms of industrialization- except the manufacture of long-playing records- whereas the hippest kid today is a techno-freak.

It's curious that the courztercultzire which was opposed to indtistrialization alzd capitalism should have created the enor- mous industry of drtlgs.

That's not entirely true. In the 60's, heroin- the drug of the ghettoes- was controlled by the Mafia, but the hippie trade in marijuana and hallucinogens was carried out entirely by small-

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scale independent entrepreneurs, the kind of people Mario Var- gas Llosa supports these days. It has nothing to do with narcotics traffic as it is now practiced by international cartels.

But this brings up the question of the legalization of drugs. I should say that I am in favor of the complete legalization of all drugs, for all the obvious reasons. Among them, the fact that it would eliminate a huge category of supposed crime - sale and possession, usually of small quantities- with its attendant prison population, now over a million in the U.S., as well as all of the violence associated with drugs: robberies by drug-takers, the wars between the drug-dealers and the police, and the wars among the drug-dealers themselves, with their innocent bystander victims. I can only speak of what has happened in the U.S., but here the vast majority of crimes are drug-related. With legalization this would end overnight. From another angle, I also believe that any activity which involves an individual acting alone, or acting with consent- ing individuals, without direct effect to others, is not the business of the state, and should not be regulated by the state. This applies to all sorts of activities which have varying degrees of illegality throughout the world: sex of any kind between consenting adults, birth control, abortion, suicide (especially by the terminally i l l ) , and so on.

One often hears the argument against legalization that drugs create anti-social behavior, dangerous to society, and therefore must be prohibited by the state. The newspapers and television are now full of terr~fylng stories about crack addicts, as they once were about heroin addicts, and before that, so-called marijuana addicts. This is fascinat~ng because crack was called "free-base" when it was used in Hollywood and by Wall Street yuppies, and was not considered to cause psychotic behavior. But when the ghetto discovered the drug, and started using it under a different

name, suddenly it became a menace to society. (And in most states, criminal penalties for crack are, not surprisingly, far more severe than those for cocaine.) Similarly, there are many musi- cians who are life-long heroin addicts, but who have the money to pay for it and lead productive lives, unthreatening to anyone else. And we all know that smoking marijuana did not make us go out and beat up kindly grandmothers, as the propaganda in the 1930's said we would.

There is an interesting parallel phenomenon in the US.- besides, of course, the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920's. For most of the century, the state spent a great deal of time and mon- ey attempting to eliminate the numbers racket, a form of gam- bling run by the Mafia. Then in the 1970's the government realized that this could be quite lucrative for them and instituted a lottery game that was played in exactly the same way, various combinations of three numbers. That was the end of the criminal aspect of the game: In place of an Evil to be combatted, it was recognized that people will always gamble, that the money could be put to good use, and the police could concern themselves with genuine criminals, murderers and rapists. It happened overnight, and now all the states have lotteries, with the money supposedly going to education.

Drugs, very much like prostitution, should be treated as a health problem, not a criminal problem. Instead of 3 rhetorical "war" against drugs, there should be a war against what makes people take drugs. Drug use increased enormously in the 1980's because of the economic disaster of the Reagan era. When people have decent lives there is less reason to escape life. This is where the government should be putting its money: legalize drugs and impose a tax on them that would go to improving the infrastruc- ture and treating the addicted.

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Anyway, you can't win a war against drugs beca~ise it's a war with no end. New soldiers wlll always appear: lt's such an easy way to make money. At the local level, it's the only job in the ghetto that requires no training and guarantees good pay- a salary that is irresistible to many, despite the high risks. At a high- er level, drugs are the second biggest industry in the world (after, of course, weapons) and it is well known that they provide an overflowing source of untraceable money for the clandestine activities of many governments. I am not so paranoid as to think that drugs remain illegal in order to serve the interests of the state, but I do think that their illegality is awfully convenient for the state.

WbLrt abotrt the reliztiorz bettueen drugs and Eastern religions- mystic-'11 qtrerts to India, ~ 1 t z c i SO on?

Asla has alw.~ys been the other side of the mirror for the West, so that the leap from the world of hallucinogens to the world of the East is not so great. Moreover in Asia, particularly in India, there is a long tradition of drug use. And India was a place where drugs were easily obtained, and could be taken generally without harassment. To go to India was not only a way to get in touch with the Other, but also a way to find the means for getting in touch with the Other: drugs.

And Mexico, too, o f course ...

The case of Maria Sabina, about whom I'd like to write one of these days, is extremely interesting. There was an amazing amount of publicity around her in the lVSO's, orchestrated by Gordon Wasson, the banker and mushroom expert who "discov-

ered" her. The world of the "magic mushroom" was a kind of window of subversion in the conforn~ity of Eisenhower America. Suddenly there was this revelation of a world that was entirely different, and it was a tremendous shock. All the major maga- zines ran articles with titles like "I Ate the Magic Mushrooms," and the Mazatecs were overrun with gringo soul-seekers and Mexican federal police. Sabina claimed that the mushrooms sub- sequently lost their healing powers, and thus a very ancient prac- tice came to an end, to the delight of the local missionaries from the nefarious Summer Institute of Linguistics, who had brought Wasson there in the first place. But it was much like the enormous publicity around the Beats: Out of nowhere there were these new subversive elements, besides dreaded Communism, that invasion of the body snatchers, in American society.

Like Carlos Castaneda, sometvhat later. ..

Much later- Castaneda's first book is in 1968- after, for example, Sgt. Pepper. The difference is that he was a reflection of what was already happening in the U.S. at that time, whereas Maria Sabina was a contradiction. (That is t o say, the image of Maria Sabina- all this had little to do with the person herself.) She was a radical contradiction of the prevailing values, whereas Castaneda was a confirmation of the new radical values that had been created in part by the discovery of Sabina.

There are other parallels between hallz~cinogenic experience iznd poetry, for example the way abstract srgns become meanrng- ful, and t l ~ e experience of synaesthesla: liz poetry or under I \n, we ~ C L I T C O ~ C ) ~ S , see smells, touch sorirzcis.

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One of the great works of synaesthesia is of course Rimbaud's poem where each vowel is associated with a color, and this is absolutely the case with hallucinogens. And this is true in the oth- er arts, for example the pre-Columbian sculpture from Veracruz that we were all looking at the other day in the museum in Jala- pa. The ceramic sculptures seem to be emitting sounds because the figures appear to be singing, laughing, screaming- the clay is full of sound. It was extraordinary.

In India the relation between hallucinogens and poetry is explic- it. The principal drugs of India today are hashish and bhang, a drink made from hash, but the great drug of classical India, the drug of the Vedas, was soma. Gordon Wasson has persuasively argued that soma was a kind of mushroom, the amarita muscari- nu. And there are some interesting Vedic hymns that deal with how the gods gave soma to humans, and how this coincided with the origin of poetry. In one version, even the various metrical forms of poetrJ are elaborately tied to the gift of soma. In my own life, 1 discovered poetry before I discovered drugs. I also discov- ered that, at least for me, poetry was more profound, more inter- esting, and more psychedelic than psychedelics. We all have our paths to wisdom, and it merely happened that it was ancient words, not ancient pharmaceuticals, that kept turning Ine on.


I Wr~tt(vz for a12 I S S I ~ P of A r t ~ s d~ M ~ ~ I L O I ~ C I J O ~ P ~

to the crty of Oax~lccz. 199 j. I

ietzsche, dying, dreamed of N moving to Oaxaca to recover his health. Others, myself among them, have dreamed of dying and moving to Oaxaca. For at any moment, and if for only a moment, where I want to be is in its zocalo.

It is more than the touristic pleasure of sitting for hours on the raised platform of the Cafe El Marquez, looking out over the cob- blestone streets without traffic, the orange blossoms in the canopy of the flame trees, the balloon vendors dwarfed in a kitsch explo- sion of pink and silver mylar, the kids playing good-natured hide- and-seek with the local halfwit, the strange silence that presses down on the square, even when thousands are viewing the whim- sical tableaux of the Night of the Radishes. And it is more than the sensation of being enveloped in the salubrious climate Nietzsche dreamed of- a weather that, here in the north, we receive for one or two days in late spring, and remember the rest of the year. The Oaxaca zocalo is more than the most beautiful Plaza Mayor in Mexico. More than the others, it fulfills the function of all zocalos: a place for doing nothing, sitting at the center of the universe.

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A city, traditionally, does not merely contain a sacred or secu- lar center. It is a center, surrounded by streets and houses, and from that still center, the "unwobbling pivot" of Confucianism, the power of the city emanates; around it the comings and goings of the world turn. Han Ch'ang-an, two thousand years ago, was the most literal manifestation of this: laid out in the form of the Big and Little Dippers, with the Emperor's Glittering P: lace at the place of the unmoving North Star.

In times of insecurity, as in Medieval Europe, the center is found amidst a maze of winding, easily defended streets, all with- in the confines of defensive moats and walls. In moments of impe- rial confidence, the city is laid out in a grid, emblem of the new order that has overconle the previous chaos.

Mohenjodaro was the first of the many grid cities, and later, after the luminous Dark Ages, the Italian Renaissance rediscov- ered it, inspired- it is very Italian- by the chessboard: the little orderly squares as the stage for intrigues, strategies, and assassi- nations. The Spanish took it from the Italians, and within four years of Columbus' first voyage were erecting their first grid city, Santo Domingo, on the island of Hispaniola. By 1580, there were 273 similar cities throughout New Spain.

[Conquest followed by the replication of monuments to one's self: it is the norm in the West, from the arches of the Romans to the arches of McDonald's. In contrast, consider this bit of Chi- nese intelligence: when the legendary Founding Emperor Huang- ti defeated a city, he had an exact replica of its palace built in his own capital, to house and retain the vital forces that had once given strength to the fallen city. The Romans, in so many things a conjunction of East and West, gave a proto-capitalist twist to this Asian practice: the evocatio, where the local deities of

besieged cities were invoked and persuaded to move to Rome, where they would enjoy greater powers.]

Few of the Spanish colonial cities- the great exceptions being Mexico-Tenochtitlhn and Cuzco- were built over the pre- Columbian cities: a New World must have its new world order. Oaxaca itself wandered and changed names for a few years: first in 1520 as Villa de Segura de la Frontera near the Zapotec town of Tepeaca; then to the Aztec fort of Huaxyacac; then south to the coast, to the Mixtec kingdom of Tututepec where the climate was too tropical and the natives hostile; and then back again in 1522 to Huaxyhcac, as the town of Antequera, and later- it is unclear when- as Oaxaca, the original Nahuatl name having been trans- formed by Spanish mumbling.

In 1529 the great urban planner of the Empire, Alonso Garcia Bravo, architect of Mexico City and Veracruz, was sent to erect a grid over the razed buildings of the small Aztec fort. The zoca- lo he laid out, precisely aligned, as centers always are, to the car- dinal points, was exactly 100 by 100 vnrils square. To the north, the Aztec direction of death, was to be the cathedral. To the south, municipal buildings. No walls were needed to keep the barbarians out: from the zocalo this balance o f sacred and secu- lar power would radiate unobstructed throughout the valley.

To sit in the silence of the zocalo in Oaxaca- a silence that is not from the absence of motion, but rather as though sound had been erased, vacuumed out, from human activity- is to recover that state of perfect rest that can only occur at the center, and that is now so noticeably absent from most of our cities and most of our lives. To dream of sitting in the z6calo in Oaxaca is not to imagine an escape from the world, a shipwreck on a tropical island. It is to imagine an existence- one that can only last a few

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moments- at the heart of the world: to be completely in the world, but without distraction.

And yet, as always in Mexico, order is always subverted, sym- metry is set askew. The central axis at Teotihuacan does not pass through the Temple of Quetzalcoatl; Monte Alban, Mitla, Chichen Itza, and so many others are similarly slightly, inten- tionally dislocated. Is it an image of the imperfection of the human world, that can imitate, but never rival, heaven? Or is it the emblem of becoming, of forms that are almost, but never quite, fixed? Time, in pre-Columbian Mexico, might have been a nest of perfect circles, one within the other, but the dominant forms were the spiral and the jagged steps. Spiral: from a central point of origin whirling into the unknown. Jagged steps: the least direct way to get from one point to another.

111 the zocalo in Oaxaca, one is planted at the center and pulled in two directions. Physically, to the north, to the adjoining little raised plaza beside and the Alameda in front of the cathedral, another hubbub of activity, and a reminder that, slightly off-cen- ter, there is always another center. And n~etaphorically, or histor- ically, to the south, a block from the zocalo, where the municipal market now stands, and where there is the ghost of another cen- ter, that of the razed town of Huaxyacac. In its day it too was an ordered and quartered city: six hundred men with their wives and children from each of the principal Aztec provinces, each in its own quarter: Mexicanos,Texcocanos, Tepanecas, Xochimilcas, with other groups scattered on the outskirts.

There are two things to do in the zbcalo. First, one must circumambulate, as the new kings of China or Egypt or Cambo- dia, upon their coronations, were required to circle the sacred center. Circumambulation stakes out one's place in the world; in its democratic form, a territory to inhabit, not to own or rule.

Second, one must sit in that place and let the world continue on. It is an act that is natural in Mexico- as sacred and natural as washing one's hands in India. Yet it is unimaginable in certain other cultures: here, for example, one needs to join an alternative religious group to sit without embarrassment.

Sitting in the zbcalo, one's eyes are invariably drawn to the cen- ter of the center, to the ornate and Ruritanian bandshell. It is the great late European contribution to this concept of sacred space: that at the absolute center is not a cosmic tree or sacred moun- tain or pillar of stone- ladders between heaven and earth- but rather an enclosure of empty space. The word handshell captures it perfectly: band, the source of music; shell, a bounded hollow, a seashell you hold t o your ear.

In Oaxaca, the high raised platform of the bandshell is forbid- den space, inaccessible to the public- though the children, as if in an ancient parable, always manage to find a way in. Empty by day, packed with local musicians at night. Who cares if the music is less than ethereal? The image that one dreams of is this: at the center of the universe is a perfect and perfectly aligned square; at its center is an empty space; and, a t the end of the day, that space is filled with music, a music to reenact the sound that created the universe, the sound that will invent the following day. Time turns, the world turns, around that pivot. Where I'd like to be, right now, is there.

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I Wrlttelr '1s the 117trodr1ctlo1l to the Selected I'oems o f Hug11 X l ~ c D ~ n r m ~ d .

ctiltc>d 1)) ' AI'zi7 Kiac-17 ntrd M~chirrl G'rrc~l~e (Nrlc, ~ ) I ~ C C ~ I ~ I Z S ) , 199 I . I

M y job," he wrote, is "to erupt like a volcano, emitting not only flame, but a lot of rubbish." Heat, fireworks, acrid smoke and tons of dead ash are indeed among his attributes, but a volcano is too small a trope for Hugh MacDiarmid. He occupied- perhaps he was himself- an entire planet.

"Hugh MacDiarmid": the dominant pseudonym among a dozen pseudonyms and one actual birth-name, Christopher Mur- ray Grieve. They wrote about each other, usually in praise, some- times in disagreement. They were Nietzschean Marxist Christians; supporters of Mussolini and Stalin and Scottish nationalism; followers of Hindu Vedanta. They produced tens of thousands of pages of journalism and commiss~oned books, edit- ed anthologies and a string of magazines; wrote an autobiogra- phy estimated to be 4000 pages long, hundreds of pages of fiction and translations, hundreds of letters to editors and thousands to friends and enemies, and, above all, some 2000 pages of poetry, much of it in long lines. They wrote in variations of two lan- guages, with passages in a few dozen others, even Norn. One of

the two primary languages, "synthetic Scots," was their own invention. And behind the curtains of this vast collective enter- prise was a short, often miserable and alcoholic man, a national- ist who hated his nation, a gregarious misanthrope who spent most of his life in extreme poverty. All of his teeth were extract- ed at 24; most of his writing was completed by 50; he died at 86 and never learned to type: MacDiarmid!

The work that will survive begins in 1922, when, at age 30, Christopher Grieve gave birth to Hugh MacDiarmid. At the time he was a nine-to-five journalist for small-town newspapers and a bad Georgian English poet. Most of the passions of his life were already in place: Scottish nationalism, which was flaring all around him, lit by the Irish and Russian revolutions; Marxism; the Social Credit schemes of Major C.H. Douglas, championed by A.R. Orage and Ezra Pound in the New Age. His heroes were Nietzsche and Lenin ("I have no use for anything between genius and the working man"), Dostoyevsky for his nationalist spiritu- alism, and the Russian philosopher Leo Shestov for his evocation of the limitlessness of the imagination, an imagination beyond all dogmas, and where all contradictions are reconciled.

For Scottish writers at the time, the central question was what language to write. Middle Scots, in the 15th and 16th centuries, had been one of the grand vehicles for poetry: the Great Makars Robert Henrysoun and William Dunbar (whom the English call the "Scottish Chaucerians"), Gawin Douglas' magnificent ver- sion of the Aeneid, Mark Alexander Boyd's single and perfect sonnet, "Venus and Cupid." After 1603- the death of Queen Elizabeth, the transformation of the Scottish James VI into the English James I, and the subsequent loss of Scottish autonomy in the "United Kingdomn- Scots as a literary language decayed. In

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the L8th century, Allan Ramsay, Robert Fergusson and finally Robert Burns attempted a revival which never quite caught on. (Their greatest contemporary, David Hume, for one, spoke Scots in private but wrote only in English.) Ironically, it was the success of Burns that strangled the movement: Scots became the domain of the corny songs of his imitators, which in turn led to vaude- ville parodies. By the time of Grieve's childhood, kids were pun- ished for speaking Scots in school; it was considered unspeakably vulgar.

There was a new Scots Revival movement, led by the various Burns Societies, which Grieve and his pseudonyms had violently opposed as reactionary and irrelevant to the struggle. But by 1922, the wonder year of Modernism, a conjunction of forces changed his mind. His mentor, the militant nationalist Lewis Spence (now remembered as an historian of Atlantis) suddenly switched sides, and supported Scots. There were the examples of the revival of Gaelic in the Irish Republic, and the invention of Nynorsk, a new language created out of various rural dialects, which became the official second language of Norway. There were the writings by Gregory Smith promoting the idea of a unique Scottish psychological make-up: the Caledonian Anti- syzygy, capable of holding "without conflict irreconcilable opin- ions," "easily passing from one mood to the other," and with a "zest for handling a multiple of detailsm- a perfect description, in fact, of MacDiarn~id himself. Moreover, there was the general belief that this sensibility- anticipating, in a way, Benjamin Lee Whorf's studies of the Hopi- could only be expressed by the Scots language. ("Speakin' o' Scotland in English words," Mac- Diarmid later wrote, was like "Beethoven chirpt by birds.") And most of all, there were the examples of Charles Doughty and James Joyce: Doughty, mining his poems from archaic English,

and Joyce, opening the gates for all the world's languages to rush in. From them, Grieve believed that one's spoken language was not enough, that one must ransack the dictionaries for precision of expression.

Grieve created MacDiarmid- and kept MacDiarmid's identity secret for years- as an experiment in writing in Scots. His goal was to return not to the folkish Burns, but to the continental and intellectual Dunbar; to "extend the Vernacular to embrace the whole range of modern culture," as well as to delineate the Scot- tish mind. By doing so, he thought he would help to sever Scot- land from England and insert it into Europe as a nation among equals.

His sources were books like John Jamieson's 1808 Etymologi- cal Dictionary o f t l~e Scottish Language and Sir James Wilson's Lorulund Scotch as Spoken in the Loz~ler Stratheurn District of Perthshire. There he found the words like watergaw (an indis- tinct rainbow) and your-trummle (cold weather in July after sheep-shearing) and peerieweerie (dwindled to a thread of sound) that would fill the lyrics of his first important books, Sangschaw (1925) and Penny Wheep (1926). As one stumbles through these poems now, the eyes bouncing between the lines and the glossary below, it is important to remember that this is exactly how most Scottish readers would have had t o read it at the time. (Worse, the glossaries in those early editions were in the back.) Mac- Diarrnid's Scots- and later, much of his English- are written in a language foreign to everyone.

From these early short pieces, which he later dismissed as "chocolate boxes," he set out to write the Scots Ulysses or The Waste Land, a poem that could demonstrate that Scots was not only a medium for lyrics, but also for the rigorous intellect of dif- ficult "n~odern" works. The result was A Drunk Man 1,ooks at

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t!7e Thistle (1 926), a poem five times as long as Ellot's. Like T!JC Waste Land, which makes a cameo appearance in the poem, it is written in a varlety of styles and meters- though largely inter- spersed among ballad stanzas- and it collages other texts: tr'lns- lations of whole poems by Alexander Blok and Else Lasker- Schuler, and some forgotten continentals such as Zlnaida Hippius, George Ramaekers and Edmond Rocher, to give the poem a European context. Like "Prufrock" it is an interior mono- logue, though one that continually locates itself. To Ulysses' sin- gle day, it takes place in a single night; its Molly is Jean, who sim- ilarly has the last word. Its narrative comes from Burns' "Tam o' Shanter" who was also on his way home from the taverns at rnid- night, and its insp~ration from Paul Valery's La Jeu~ze Parque, which the French poet described as "the transformation of a consciousness in the course of one night."

A Drunk Man is unquestionably the Scots masterpiece of the century, and nearly all of MacDiarmid's critics and acolytes con- sider it his greatest work. Certainly it is dense w ~ t h complexities that are still being unravelled in a parade of monographs, most of them written in Scotland. But it is a curious late Symbolist work in the age of High Modernism. The thistle itself is fraught with significant meaning, and would have appalled the Imagists: emblem of Scotland and the Scottish character, sign of the Drunk- Man's virility, image of the soul flowering over the thorns of the "miseries and grandeurs of human fate"; it even becomes Ygdrasil, the cosmic tree. And its Nietzschean narrative has dat- ed badly: the triumph of the intellect and the soul over drunken- ness, psychological difficulties, cultural inferiorities and doubt; the dream of the transformation of the low-horn Drunken Man, the poet, into "A greater Christ, a greater Burnsn- an odd pair as models for one's superlor self. At the end of a century that has

seen what can be wrought by acts of "the beautiful violent will," it is MacDiarmid's Nietzschism more than his Stalinism- per- haps they are the same- that is most difficult to take.

Though A Drunk Man sold poorly, Hugh MacDiarmid became the most f ~ ~ m o u s poet in Scotland, and Grieve and the psendo- nyms shrank in his shadow (except of course when writing arti- cles ahout him). In the 1920's he edited three magazines, including The Scottis!~ Chapbook, which is considered to be the greatest Scottish literary review ever, and contributed to dozens of magazines with "Scots" or "Scottish" in their titles; founded the Scottish chapter of PEN; joined and broke with countless polit- ical organizations; stood for Parliament a few times; and held posts in local governments like Convener of Parks and Gardens, Hospitalmaster, member of the Water Board. A hero-worshipper, he read the news from Italy and- as many did at the time- mis- took National Socialism tor socialism and wrote "A Plea for Scottish Fascism." But his continuing loyalty was to Lenin and Major Douglas and Dostoyevsky ("This Christ o' the neist thoosand years"), believing that the combination of Marxist- Leninism and Social Credit would end the struggle for material existence and prepare the world for the struggle for spiritual tran- scendence.

In 1933, a t age 41, he went into a kind of exile and a prodi- gious I3urst of writing perhaps unmatched by any other writer in the century. With his wife, Valda Trevlyn, and son Michael, he moved to a place called Sodom on the tiny island of Whalsay in the Shetlands, paying two shillings a month for a house without electricity and water a quarter of a mile away. The falnilv sub- sisted on gifts of fish and potatoes from their neighbors and gulls'

' eggs gathered in the cliffs. In his eight years there, MacDiarmid

I wrote a series of h~~ck-works, with titles like Scottish Lloctors,

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Scottish Eccentrics, The Islatzds of Scotlatzd, Scottish Scene; polit- ical tracts like Red Scotland, or What Leizin Has Meant to Scot- land and Scotland a n d the Qliestiovt o f a Poptllar Front Against Fascisin and War; and an autobiography estimated to be a mil- lion words long, parts of which were later published as Llicky Poet and The Company I've Kept. H e edited a series of books on Scotland and a large anthology of Scottish poetry, translating the Gaelic sections himself, in collaboration with Sorley Maclean. He was expelled from the National Party of Scotland for Commu- nism and from the Communist Party for nationalism. He had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized for some months. And there was more:

H e set out to write, in English, the longest poem ever written by one individual, Corrrish Heroic Sotzg fbr Valda Trevlyn. In the two years between 1937 and 1939, he wrote some six or seven hundred pages of it- one-third of the intended whole. This was virtually all of the poetry (with the exception of The Battle Con- tinues), largely unrevised, that he was to publish for the next forty years.

The Cornish Heroic Song has never been reconstructed. According to MacDiarrnid's biographer, Alan Bold, the first part was a 20,000-line section entitled Mature Art. MacDiarmid sent a 10,000-line version to Eliot at Faber's, which the poet admired (while finding the title "forbidding"), but the publisher rejected. Of the surviving longer poems, "In Memoriam James Joyce" (now 150 pages in the so-called Complete Poenzs) was originally merely a piece of Matlire Art. The "Kind of Poetry I Want" (now fifty pages) was to run throughout the Cornish Heroic Song, and "Direadh" (now thirty pages) was to be in a later section. It is unclear where all the other poems belonged, and "Cornish Hero- ic Song for Valda Trevlyn" itself now survives as an eight-page

poem. In 1967 MacDiar~nid published a book of Foetry called A Lap of Ho?zoz~r, containing, he claimed, poems that had been omitted froin his 1962 Collected because he'd forgotten that he'd written them! Rescued by the scholar Duncan Glen, these con- tained some of his greatest works, including "Diamond Body" and "Once in a Cornish Garden."

Various forces impel the poems of Cornish Heroic Song: First, the attempt to create a "synthetic English," as he had invented a "synthetic Scots," a project inspired by Doughty, but with a vocabulary drawn not, as Doughty had done, from archaicisms, but from the new language of science. It is a poetry of "hard facts," of hundreds of thousands of details ("The universal is the particular"), and its ultimate mysticism anticipates the computer age, where an unprecedented precision of measurement and description has only made the universe far more mysterious.

Second, MacDiarrnid discovered that the way out of the tradi- tional prosody and rhy~ne he had hitherto employed almost exclusively was to break prose down into long jagged lines. Often this meant transcribing- the current term is "samplingn- other people's prose: long passages from obscure travel and science books, reviews in The Times Literary Sltpplement, Herman Melville's letters, Martin Buber, Thomas Mann's Tonio Kriiger. His practice of reproducing these uncredited led to charges of plagiarism later in his life, but plagiarism, to his mind, was besides the point for an epic that was to include everything.

Third, he had come to believe that the poetry of the classless society was not the personal lyric, but an epic without heroes (or with thousands of heroes). And he had taken to heart the words of Lenin's last speech, delivered in 1922 in a prose that sounds like MacDiarmid's, and which are quoted twice in Lucky Poet:

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\ Y l < l 1 1 1 N I I I ; \< I I O N

It would he a v e r y s e r i o u s mistake to suppose that one can become a C o m m u n i s t w i t h o u t making one's own the treasures of human knowledge ... C o m m u n i s m becomes an empty phrase, a mere faqade, a n d the Coln inun i s t a mere bluffer, if he has not worked over in h i s c o n s c i o u s n e s s the whole inheritance of human knowledge- m a d e h i s o w n and worked over anew all that was of value in the m o r e t h a n two thousand years [!] of development of human thought.

The result, then, was, in MacDiarmid's words, "an enormous poem," dealing w i t h the interrelated themes of the evolution of world literature and w o r l d consciousness, the problems of lin- guistics, the place and potentialities of the Gaelic genius ... the synthesis of East and West and the future of civilization. It is a very learned p o e m i n v o l v i n g a stupendous range of reference, especially to Gaelic, R u s s i a n , Italian and Indian literatures, Ger- man literature a n d p h i l o s o p h y , and modern physics and the phys- iology of the brain, and whi le mainly in English, utilizes elements of over a score of l a n g ~ l a g e s , Oriental and Occidental.

There is nothing l i k e i t i n modern literature, nothing even close. It is an attempt t o re turn poetry to its original role as repository for all that a c u l t u r e k n o w s about itself. Unlike Pound's Cantos, it does not merely a l l u d e t o its extraordinary range of referents; it explains everything i n a persistent, unorganized stream of eru- dition to match the J o y c e a n stream of consciousness. Sylvia Townsend Warner d e s c r i b e d MacDiarmid's autobiography in words that are Inore a p p l i c a b l e to the poetry: "as though the pages of two e n c y c l o p e d i a s were being turned by a sixty-mile gale." It is a poetry that w a n t s to raise the standard- both in the sense of hoisting a b a t t l e flag and of educating the world through

unremitting i i is tructio~~ and admonition- and it is a poetry that, uniquely, keeps reminding us what it ought to be: "The Kind of Poetry I Want."

Certain poems easily detach themselves- among them, the ear- lier "On a Raised Beach," "In the S l u l ~ ~ s of Glasgow," "The Glass of Pure Water," "Direadh 111," "Diatnond Body" and "Once in a Cornish Garden" - and can stand with the poems of the great 20th century poets from the Celtic Isles:Yeats, Basil Bunting, D.H. Lawrence, David Jones. But to excerpt- as edi- tors of various editions of Selected Poe~lzs have been forced to do- from the poenis of Cornish Heroic Song is to destroy the effect of MacDiarmid's greatly underestitnated music. Based on Scottish piping and Indian ragas, it is dependent on the counter- point (MacDiarmid would say dialectic) between a continuous drone and bursts of melody. The pleasures of MacDiarmid are precisely the explosions of passion, rage, intellectual insight, aphorism and spiritual transcendence that occur after pages of foreign word-lists and arcane bibliographies, catalogues of scien- tific terms and theories, histories of literature and art and philos- ophy and music, piling up, as he wrote, like Zouave acrobats. These are the volcanic fireworks amidst the tons of dead ash; out of contest there is no contrast, and their power is diminished. Rather like excerpting the magnificent landscapes from the Ca?z- tos, they are the jewels without the crown.

He is one the great materialist poets and one of the great mys- tics; a poet thoroughly in~mersed in the technicalities of geology, astronomy and physics who could also write "The astronomical universe is not all there is" and "everything I write, of course,/ Is an extended metaphor for something I never mention." He was a political animal who believed that the role of the poet is to be a

solitary contemplative; a man whose millions of words revolve

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around a center of absolute stillness: "The word with which silence speaks/ Its own silence without breaking it." A Niet- zschean Marxist, he thought that the collective, with all its con- tradictions, could be embodied by one superior man. A Communist from the working-class (unlike his English poet contemporaries), he had no pity for the poor, but honored them for their stoicism and loathed them for their ignorance and spir- itual decay, "innumerable meat without minds." H e expressed his love, in "Once in a Cornish Garden," one of the great love poems, through an astonishingly detailed celebration of his wife's clothes and cosmetics. He wrote in a style that owed nothing to the modern writers he most admired: Joyce, Pound, Rilke, Brecht, Mayakovsky, Hikmet. He may be the only poet of the century for whom, in the poem, philosophy rnatters. Scicncc was his mythology.

He believed that the first civilization was Ur-Gaelic, and that it rose in Georgia, birth-place of Stalin. He started a Hugh MacDi- a rn~ id Book Club, which offered subscribers a new MacDiarmid book every two months. He envisioned a Celtic Union of Social- ist Soviet Republics (Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Cornwall) which would join in an "East-Wcst Synthesis" with the Soviet 1Jnion. He listed his hobby in Who's Who as "anglophobia." He believed that Cornwall was an outpost of Atlantis. He rejoined the Party after the invasion of Hungary, while simultaneously signing a public letter denouncing it. H e believed that "there lie hidden in language elements that, effectively combined, can utterly change the nature of man." He read his poems under huge portraits of Blake and Whitman in Peking in 1957. He debated on the same side as Malcolm X at the Oxford Union in defense of extremism. H e said that "Of all the men I have known, I loved Ezra Pound," but they only briefly corresponded, and had met

only once, in 1970, when Pound had already stopped speaking and MacDiarmid was nearly deaf. In his eighties he was writing television reviews. The words he wanted on his tombstone were

. . "A disgrace to the community," but at his death this was ignored.

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I W r ~ t t c r ~ for n tiilk izt M ~ d t l l c O z r r ~ ( :o l lc ,qr~, I 9 9 3 . ]

F our years ago, hundreds of thousands demonstrated around the world, thousands rioted, hundreds were wounded and more than a dozen were killed because of a mistake in translation. The mayhem was set in motion by the mere title of what has become the most famous novel ever written, Thc Satanic Verses. As you may know, Salman Rushdie's book was named after a strange legend in Islamic tra- dition about the composition of the Qu'ran, which was dictated to Muhammad by Allah himself through the angel Gabriel. According to the story, Muhammad, having met considerable resistance to his attempt to eliminate all the local gods of Mecca in favor of the One God, recited sonle verses which admitted three popular goddesses as symbolic Daughters of Allah. Later he claimed that the verses had been dictated to him by Satan in the voice of Gabriel, and the lines were suppressed. Thus the Qu'ran, as Mircea Eliade has pointed out, is the only divinely revealed text which was suhiect to revision. (Though God certaiilly could have used some editorial assistance when he wrote Thc Book of Mormon.)


What you may not know is that the name "Satanic verses" was an invention of 19th century British Orientalists. In Arabic (and its cognate languages) the verses are called gharaniq, "the birds," after the two excised lines about the Meccan goddesses: "These are the exalted birds/ And their intercession is desired indeed." In Arabic (and similarly in other languages) Rushdie's book was called Al-Ayat ash-Shataniya, with s h y t a n meaning Satan, and ayat meaning specifically the "verses of the Qu'ran." As the phrase "Satanic verses" is completely unknown in the Muslim world, the title, then, in Arabic, implied the ultimate blasphemy: that the entire Qu'ran was composed by Satan. The actual con- tents of the book were almost irrelevant.

Translators paid for this mistake in translation: On July 3, 1991, the Italian translator of The Satanic Verses, Ettore Capri- oli, was stabbed in his apartment in Milan. H e survived the attack. Days later, the Japanese translator, Hitoshi Igarashi, an Islamic scholar, was stabbed to death in his office a t Tsukuba University in Tokyo.

These are, of course, extreme cases- like that of William Tyn- dale, another sainted translation martyr, strangled and then burnt at the stake in 1535 for the crime of turning the Scriptures into vernacular English- but the point is this: Despite the fact that nearly everything any one of us knows about world literature is due t o the work of translators; that nearly every literary renais- sance anywhere has been inspired and fueled by translations, the latest news fro111 abroad; despite the fact that people even die for it, translation remains the most anonymous literary profession.

A tiny personal example: Six years ago, I published a 700-page book of the Collected Poems of Octavio Paz, at the time the largest volume ever done in English of a 20th century foreign poet. The book- unusually for a book of poetry- was widely

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reviewed. But consider this: Of about a hundred reviews, eighty- five didn't mention me at all. Ten summed up 111y work in one word: "excellent," "mediocre," "brilliant," "lackluster." Five gave me a paragraph or two, all of them, even in the rave reviews, complaining about the specific translation of a word or two in some 13,000 lines of complex modern poetry. I use my own case not to elicit pity, but because I happen to have all the clippings: any other translator could tell you the same story. According t o reviewers, when we are not invisible, we are merely lively, work- manlike or wooden. And the true measure of our worth- unlike any other writers- is to be found in a few isolated examples of our specific word-choices.

Worse, those of us who translate poetry must suffer the tedious reiteration, in conversation and in print, of that mushy chestnut: Poetry cannot be translated, poetry is that which is lost in trans- lation. To my mind, the int translatability of poetry is rather like the essential meaninglessness of language or of life: something t o ponder for a minute or two, before one gets on with it. As a phi- losophy, it is not terribly helpful, and, in the case of translation, it manages to wipe out most of world literature for any given individual, and becomes yet another excuse- and one I've actu- ally heard- for not reading.

Of course, for the most doggedly literal, it is true: a slice of Ger- man pumpernickel is not a Chinese steam bun which is not a French baguette which is not Wonder Bread. But consider a hypothetical line of German poetry- one I hope will never be written, but probably has been: "Her body (or his body) was like a fresh loaf of pumpernickel." Pumpernickel in the poem is pumpernickel, but it is also more than pumpernickel: it is the image of warmth, nourishment, homeyness. When the cultures are close, it is possible to translate more exactly: say, the German

word pumpernickel into the American word pumpernickel- which, despite appearances, are not the same: each carries its own world of referents. But to translate the line into, say, Chi- nese, how n ~ u c h would really be lost if it were a steam hun? (I leave aside sound for the moment.) "His body (her body) like a fresh steam bun" also has its charm- especially if you like your lover doughy.

It's true that no translation is identical to the original. But no reading of a poem is identical to any other, even when read by the same person. The first encounter with our poetic might be delightful; at a second reading, even five minutes later, it could easily seem ridiculous. O r imagine a 14-year-old German boy reading the line in the springtime of young Aryan love; then at SO, while serving as the chargi d'affaires in the German con- sulate in Kuala Lumpur, far from the bakeries of his youth; then at 80 in a retirement village in the Black Forest, in the nostalgia for dirndelled maidens. Every reading of every poem is a transla- tion into one's own experience and knowledge- whether it is a confirmation, a contradiction or an expansion. The poem does not exist without this act of translation. The poem must move from reader to reader, reading to reading, to stay alive. The poem dies when it has no place to go. Poetry is that which is worth translating.

I A few years ago, Bill Moyers did a PBS series on poetry that was

filmed at the Dodge Festival in New Jersey. I had read there with Paz, and knew that we would be included in the first program. The morning of the broadcast, I noticed in the index of that day's N e w York Tinzes that there was a review of the show. This being my national television debut, naturally I wondered if their tv crit- ic had discovered any latent star qualities, and I quickly turned to

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the page. What he wrote was this: "Octavio Paz was accompa- nied by his translator,"-no name given of course-"always a problematic necessity."

Down there in Translation Inferno, next to the poetry-can't-be- translated shades are the legions of those who find translation "problematic." These are the people who write nearly all the reviews that mention the translator a t all, and they are obsessed, like the Reverend Pat Robertson and Phyllis Schafly, with "fideli- ty"- in this case, the fidelity to the dictionary meanings of the foreign words. Any lapse in proper behavior- even a one-word stand- is branded a "howler," presumably because they are howling with glee at discovering the transgression. Of course it never occurs to them that the translator, who knows the original better than anyone and has spent months or years on the work, might have deliberately chosen to translate the word in a way not immediately apparent to the reviewer's ten seconds of reflection on the matter.

The value of "fidelity" was made clear to me by an interesting experiment I once witnessed: average 9-year-old students at a public school in Rochester, New York, were given a text by Rim- baud and a bilingual dictionary, and asked to translate the poem. Neither they nor their teacher knew a word of French. What they produced were not masterpieces, but they were generally as accu- rate, and occasionally wittier, than any of the existing scholarly

/ versions. In short, up to a point, anyone can translate anything faithfully.

But the point at which they cannot translate is the point where real translations begin to be made- and it is a point I want t o

' make here. The purpose of a translation into English is not, as it is usually said, to give the foreign poet a voice in English. It is to allow the poem to be heard in English. [I use "English" here

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rather than the usual term in translation-land, "target lan- guage"- which seems more appropriate to weapons practice than poetic practice- though of course the translation could be going into any language.]

This does not mean- as many translation enthusiasts and even many translators believe- that the object of a translation is to create an original poem in English. (This is easily refuted by the evidence. The great translations of the century- say, Pound's "Seafarer" or Confucian Odes, Blackburn's Provenqal or his Cid, Rexroth's Li Ch'ing-ch'ao- to name only a few among the dead- would all be ludicrous if they'd been presented as origi- nal poems by Americans of the 20th century, even as poems writ- ten in the voice of a persona.)

The translation one writes will always be read as a translation. It always, inescapably, carries the geographical and historical context of the original with it. This is not, as it might seem, a bur- den, but is rather a gift: It gives the translator in English a certain freedom not always available to poets writing in English: the abil- ity to introduce strange elements- musical structures, sounds, phrases, words- that readers will assume are mandated by the original, and possibly accept in ways they wouldn't from a poem in English. (One reason why the partisans of the dullest academ- ic American poetry often turn out to be aficionados of foreign avant-gardes.)

The ideal English translation, then, is one that allows the poem to be heard in English in many of the ways that it is heard in the original. This means that a translation is a whole work- it is not a series of matching en face lines- and should never be read as such. It means that the primary task of a translator is not merely to get the dictionary meanings right- which is the easiest part- but rather to invent a new music for the poem in the English, one

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that is mandated by the original. (Remember Robert Creeley's famous dictum: "Form is an extension of content.") A music that is not a technical replication of the original. (There is nothing worse than translations, for example, that attempt to recreate a foreign meter or rhyme scheme. They're sort of like the way ham- burgers look and taste in Bolivia.) A music that is perfectly viable in English, but which- because it is a translation, because it will be read as a translation- is able to evoke another music, even reproduce Inany of its effects.

This is also why poets are, as is well known, both the best and the worst translators of poetry. They are the best because they are writers and often prodigious readers of contemporary poetry in their own language, at ease with what it sounds like and- more important- with the skill of knowing how far they can go to make it different.

This is why nearly all so-called scholarly translations are so dead on the page: their authors know everything about the for- eign language and text, and nothing about how poems are heard in this country a t this moment. (Which is also why the opinions of the most strident reviewers of translations- who are usually members of the department of the original's language- are gen- erally suspect. Not to mention their proprietary interests: they have to drum up customers, so naturally they find most transla- tions, except those done by colleagues, to be pale imitations.)

And those poets who have been the worst translators have been precisely those enamored with their own voices, who hear only then~selves, are incapable of listening, and therefore of recreating the experience of listening. Translation, at a certain level, is a Zen exercise: it is dependent on the dissolution of the ego.

There is 110 definitive translation because a translation always appears in the context of its contemporary poetry- and the

realm of the possible in any contemporary poetry is in constant flux- often, it should be emphasized, altered by the translations that have entered into it. Any poem should be translated as many times as possible, even by the same translator.

There is no poem that cannot be translated. There are only poems that have not yet found their translators. The translation is never inferior to the original. It is only inferior to other trans- lations, written or not yet written.

Translation is not a means for allowing the foreign to speak. The foreign has already spoken, they don't need us. But we need tl~em, if we are not to end up repeating the same things to our- selves. Translation is one of the ways that lets us listen. It expands the range of possibilities of what we, right now, can hear. From listening, we learn to speak. Translation expands what we can write. Which in turn expands what we can hear. Translation is a necessity, not an accessory, one of the pleasures and- despite the titles of every academic conference on the subject- not one of the problems.

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[ Wrrttetl for the hack pages of Sultur, 1992- 1995.1

East Berlin Poets

T wo years ago, Sulfur 27 fea- tured a section, edited by Roderick Iverson, on the East Berlin poets in the bohemian Prenzlauer Berg scene. The poet most quoted by Iverson, and the one who opens the section, was Rain- er Schedlinski (b. 1956), the editor of a samisdat magazine called ariadnefabrik. Iverson speaks of attending an underground read- ing by Schedlinski and others, and describes the discussions that followed as "being voiced with astonishing moral anger." H e cites Schedlinski at length on the poet's need to counter the pre- vailing enforced silence and self-censorship, and sits with the poet in a former literary hang-out as he laments the defection to the West of many of his friends. Iverson ends the first part of his essay with the collapse of the Wall, and this quote from Schedlinski: "The person who knows how things will proceed from here is a person who is not completely informed ..."

That last word has taken on an eerie resonance, for it turns out that throughout the years of the Prenzlauer Berg scene, Schedlin- ski was a regular, paid informant for the Stasi, the East German secret police. Schedlinski, according to the recently opened Stasi files, sent frequent reports on all his friends: the parties and liter- ary events they attended, the local gossip, off-hand remarks, and so on. At least one poet was, on the basis of this information, arrested.

Schedlinski was hardly alone. Another Stasi employee was Sascha Anderson, a poet and general impresario of the scene- organizer of art shows, rock concerts, magazines, presses, and legendary parties. (Anderson and Schedlinski, though close friends, were probably unaware of each other's secret life.) And from the galactic size of the Stasi files, it is estimated that one out of every fifty East Germans was an informer, including husbands and wives, parents and children reporting on each other. Over 600 friends and acquaintances of the novelist Christa Wolf sent in reports.

There is also the theory, advanced by the poet Wolf Biermann, that the Prenzlauer Berg scene was actively encouraged by the Stasi- that after the highly emotional, political, and accessible poetry of Biermann and his generation (all expelled to the West), the secret police welcomed the endless essays couched in decon- structionist jargon and the kind of poems where, in Schedlinski's words in Sulfur, language is "dismantled into the smallest mnemonic unities which [are] nlutually purged from the text," or where "one word destroys the one next to it." (Not surprisingly, the Prenzlauer Berg story has curious loops back to the Paul de Man case.)

And another loop: In that same issue o f Sulfur, responding to my attack on the NEA (as having bought the silence of the artists

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and writers during the Reagan years), Clayton Eshleman writes: "I've given up on trying to make a connection between source of income and quality of artistic production," that "capable imagi- nations will do their work" regardless. Many would agree, but it's worth noting that Rainer Schedlinski now claims that the only reason he worked as an informer was to pay for his magazine: "I had no scruples about that. I thought, if the Stasi want to finance the underground- fine."

[Schedlinski and Anderson, meanwhile, have formed a publishing company called Galrev, and Schedlinski has, like most victims and perpetrators these days, made a career of telling his story, in European magazines and on television, and on a lecture tour of the U.S.]

Kumazi Brathwaite

N athaniel Mackey's Hambone is the main meeting-place for Third World, American minority and white avant-gardists. It is one of the two or three poetry mag- azines that is always worth reading. The latest issue ( # l o ) features an 80-page poem, "Trench Town Rock," by the Barbadoan poet Kamau Brathwaite, on the violence in Kingston, Jamaica, where he lives. Combining the Dos Passos "camera eye,'' newspaper clippings, transcripts of radio talk shows, lyric passages, an African folk tale, and a computer-generated typographical mon- tage, it is the kind of knock-down political poem not seen in these parts for twenty years. Visually, he is the first important poet to

explore in depth the possibilities of computer fonts, having creat- ed what he calls his "video style."

Brathwaite remains little known in these self-absorbed states. (In the Caribbean he is something like William Carlos Williams to Derek Walcott's T.S. Eliot, particularly in his rejection of KKC: Eng- lish as an essential part of working toward a post-colonial Caribbean identity.) His great works are two trilogies, The Arriuatzts, from the 19603, and the unnamed second trilogy from the 1970's and 1980's, which consists of Mother Poem, Sun Poem, and XISelf. Unpublished in the U.S., both trilogies are compendia of African and Afro-Caribbean history, mythology and current realities, written in an astonishing array of lyrical and anti-lyrical forms. Documents, lists, histories, facts, songs, bits of conversation overheard, sentences copied down: the endless par- ticulars of the world he has collected take him into cosmic cele- bration, or, its opposite and equal, cosmic rage. He is the great chronicler and singer of the African diaspora, and one whose for- mal inventiveness keeps him forever moving. Even more, it is a glimpse of the territories poetry is just beginning to stake out.

Chi~zese "Obscure " Poets

T he Chinese poets of the "Obscure" or "Misty" group were the aesthetic vanguard of the student uprisings of the 1970's and 80's- their poems playing a role q ~ ~ i t e similar to that of rock music in the U.S. in the 1960's. Since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, nearly all of these

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poets are in exile, and their work is starting to appear in Eng- lish- though often in translations that require some reader par- ticipation in the creation of the text.

Their early work, where they rejected socialist realism in favor of highly subjective lyrics and an independently-invented Imag- ism, is best represented by the North Point anthology, A Splin- tered Mirror, translated by Donald Finkel and Carolyn Kizer. Since then, each of the poets has been moving in a different direc- tion, and all their books are worth tracking down. Bei Dao's ear- ly poems are in The August Sleepwalker; the recent work, written in exile in various Northern European countries and full of haunting images that are simultaneously simple and nearly impenetrable, is in Old Snow (both New Directions, both trans- lated by Bonnie McDougall). Duo Duo is the most political, sur- realist and emotionally charged in the group; his work is in Looking O u t From Death, translated by Gregory Lee, published in England by Bloomsbury and unavailable here. Gu Cheng has the humor and exuberance of the early European modernists; his "Bulin" poems are eccentric cousins to Rothenberg's Coyote and co*kboy (which he's never read). His Selected Poems (various translators) has been published in Hong Kong by Renditions. Yang Lian's major work, a 300-page philosophical poem whose title is an invented character pronounced 1 (as in 1 Ching) has yet to be translated. Meanwhile, two sets of six-line poems are in Masks & Crocodile (Canterbury Press, Australia) translated by Mabel Lee with an interesting long introduction.

Since 1989, Bei Dao has been living in Sweden, Denmark, Nor- way and Germany, and has resurrected his magazine from the 1970's, Jintian (Today), for the writers in exile. H e is separated from his wife and child, who have not been permitted to leave China. Duo Duo has been living inEngland, Canada and Hol-

land. Gu Cheng, a disciple of Chuang Tzu, has been living on a tiny island off New Zealand, sometimes subsisting on roots and berries. Yang Lian has been in Australia and New Zealand, Berlin and New York. In Aarhus, Denmark, Bei Dao writes that he speaks Chinese to the mirror. Yang Lian writes that the only ones who don't believe words are the poets.

[Postscript, 1995: Bei Dao is now living in the U.S. In 1994 he attempted to enter China to visit his family. He was arrested a t the airport, detained and interrogated for a day, and then deport- ed. Perhaps because of the ensuing publicity, in 1995 his wife and daughter were allowed to join him in California.

I met Gu Cheng in 1992 in New York, where he was part of a reading tour of Chinese poets, sponsored by the Academy of American Poets. He was accompanied by his wife, Xie Ye, a poet who has not been translated, and a woman of extraordinary beauty. They were an exceedingly strange couple.

Gu Cheng was clearly modeling himself on one of the Taoist Immortals. H e wore a tall cylindrical hat, made from the leg of a pair of blue jeans, in order, he said, to keep his thoughts from escaping. Xie Ye told me that he slept in it. They lived on Wai- heke Island, New Zealand, where they gathered food, and sup- plemented their income by selling spring rolls in the market. They had a small son with an English name, Samuel, whom they had given, at Gu Cheng's insistence, to be raised by a Samoan family on the island. The boy spoke no Chinese, and Gu Cheng spoke no English.

At dinner, Gu Cheng startled his wife by glancing at the menu and actually selecting a dish. He had never done this before, pre- ferring to merely eat whatever he was given. Our conversation, translated into halting English by Xie Ye, went on for hours. She

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W ' R I I ' I I N K I ( . I I O N

tape-recorded all of it, because "everything Gu Cheng says should be preserved." She gazed at him raptly throughout; both of them radiated sweetness. But changing the tapes, she told me, smiling, that she hoped Gu Cheng would die, so that she could live with her son again.

His conversation was funny, dizzying, elliptical, ultimately incomprehensible. Any topic quickly turned into speculation on the universe. From the poems he read later that week, it was obvi- ous that Gu Cheng was probably the most radical Chinese poet who ever lived. With little knowledge of Western modernism, he had invented a poetry full of Steinian repetitions, zaz~rn-like sounds, eccentric rhythms, and wacky humor. The translations I've seen only hint at this.

On November 11, 1993, on Waiheke Island, Gu Cheng, 37, murdered Xie Ye, 35, with an ax, and then hanged himself. She had told him that she had finally decided to leave.

He had written: "The poet is like the fabled hunter who naps beside a tree, waiting for hares to break their skulls by running headlong into the tree trunk. After waiting for a long time, the poet discovers that he is the hare."]

Lorca Collected

F or decades Garcia Lorca's heirs deemed all English translations inadequate and refused to grant permission for any new publications. Thus, other than a few samisdat editions like the Blackburn or Spicer, Lorca's poetry

languished here for thirty years, represented only by the slim New Directions Selected and the monstrous Ben Belitt Poet in New York. Finally, in the mid-1980's, as the early work was entering public domain and the family began losing control, the heirs appointed the leading Lorca scholar, Christopher Maurer, as the editor of English-language editions. Maurer assigned Poet in New York to two mellow dudes from Oregon who'd never seen the Manhattan skyline, let alone the stoops of Harlem. (OK OK- you don't have to, but it helps. Especially when the tone is metropoli- tan freak-out.) The result, though infinitely superior to Belitt, was Lorca A P R ~ ~ , laundered and pressed- and, by the way, no better or worse than the five or six manuscripts of the complete text, rejected by the heirs, that I happened to see over the years.

Now Farrar Straus & Giroux has finally published the long- delayed Collected Poenzs, edited by Maurer. At 900 pages, it's a great ball of dough with a diamond inside. A beautiful book, and an authoritative edition of the Spanish texts: virtually the com- plete poetry (except Poet in New York); good intro, excellent notes. But there's gloomy weather on the recto: Maurer has cho- sen to ignore the many existing published and unpublished trans- lations in favor of entirely new versions. Not necessarily a terrible idea. But he has also, with one exception, equally ignored all the American and English poets- from every possible poetic camp- who occasionally translate Spanish and could have collaborated, and instead given the work to "colleagues" in the Spanish Department, some of them graduate students. What they've pro- duced is hundreds of pages of "Green oh how I love you green" and "No, I refuse to see it!": D.O.A. English that is generally, but not even always, semantically correct.

The one poet in this faculty lounge is Jerome Rothenberg, and his versions of the recently discovered Suites is a 250-page section

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that ejects itself from the rest of the book, and should have been published separately. In Spanish this may not be Lorca at his deepest song, but it is by far the wittiest, most inventive, above all, most musical Lorca in English ever. A tour de force, and a pity we have to pay $50 to hear it.

Zukofsky Collected

I f you don't have one of the samisdat copies of 80 Flowers, it has finally been published in available, though expensive, form in the Complete Short Poetry of Louis Zukofsky (Johns Hopkins). Otherwise the title is a mis- nomer and the book a bummer. It essentially reprints the Norton All, but does not include the many poems which appeared in magazines and were never reprinted, nor any unpublished mate- rial. There are no textual notes. The great Catullus translation is included, but without the Latin facing it, as in the original Cape GoliardIGrossman edition, taking away exactly half the fun of matching the sounds. N o editor is listed, for good reason.

The Zukofsky book is further evidence of how badly the Amer- ican moderns have been neglected by the scholars. (Compare the treatment any Dead French M a n gets.) Out past the LitzIMac- Gowan Williams, the Butterick Olson, the Cooney Reznikoff, the Simon Hart Crane, early Pound, and H.D. ( to 1944) the land- scape is desolate. It is mind-blowing that there's no complete poetry of Stevens, or Langston Hughes, not even of Frost. Incred- ible that there's no scholarly edition of Eliot's poetry (the scur-

rilous poems, for example, have never been published) and that t- here are volumes to be done of his uncollected prose. The Niedecker is a well-known disaster; the Loy, I'm told, is full of ~nistakes. The Cantos keep changing with every reprint. Moore and Oppen, especially, need editions with all the variants (and Oppen a gathering of his extraordinary notes to himself). Other than Pound, there are very few collections of letters. Rexroth and postwar H.D. and Olson's prose and even Robert Lowell need to be put together ... The list is endless. Once upon a time the acade- my used to give us text, not merely its explication.

[Postscript, 1995: In 1994, 27 years after his death, The Collect- ed Poems of Langston Hughes (Knopf) appeared, edited by Arnold Rampersad and David Roessel. It limits itself to poems previously available in book form, omitting hundreds of unpub- lished poems and work that only appeared in magazines. Strange- ly, the political and agit-prop poems of Good Morning Reuolutiorz (Lawrence Hill), edited by Faith Berry, are also excluded. But it's a chance to read the text of a rare collector's item: Ask Your Mama (1961), Hughes'book-length poem, a col- lage of voices written almost entirely in upper-case letters, and a work similarly ambitious and unrecognized as Duke Ellington's last Suites.

In 1995, 32 years after his death, the Library of America announced the publication of a huge Collected Poems, Prose and Plays of Robert Frost. Textually, the rest remain a mess.]

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Poet Laureates

p there in Prize World, the u rule is: when in doubt, tap Mona Van Duyn. She rhymes, she's easy to read, she's cheerful, she's a she, and best of all, a she who writes about how much she loves her hub. Her best-known poem, quoted in every press account every time she wins some- thing, reads in its entirety, as I remember it: "I sometimes think the world's perverse1 But then again it could be worse." The actu- al humor of this escapes me, but it does retrospectively elevate Ogden Nash to a Karl Kraus-dom of corrosive wit.

Van Duyn has just been crowned our new Poet Laureate, join- ing the august ranks of Wilbur, Eberhart, Nemerov, Strand and Brodsky. Well so what. But there are a few interesting things about our Laureates. One is that they are all openly heterosexu- al: certain same-sex epicures in the Establishment have quite obviously been passed over. Two is that, except for Brodsky (a card-carrying anti-communist) they have never, in their careers, expressed any political opinions. (Brodsky, even before he was crowned, used to attend black-tie dinners a t the Reagan White House, no doubt fervently discussing Hardy and melancholia over the koho salmon quenelles with Sylvester Stallone and Jerry Falwell.) Three is the real scandal: Throughout the years of the NEA debate and the assaults on art and speech by Senator Helms & ilk, not one of the reigning Poets- Nemerov, Strand, or Brod- sky- used his position to publicly rise in defense of literature and free expression. They were all happy campers in the BushIQuayle

administration, abiding by the first principle of their selection: poets who make nothing happen.

11 9921

Muriel Rukeyser

I n the continuing recovery of neglected American women poets, I'm surprised no one has picked up on Muriel Rukeyser: a strange case of a well-known but unread poet who never really formed alliances with anyone. She started out in the 1930's as a Yale Younger Poet and Com- munist Party member, but her documentary poetry was too modernist for the Party, too documentary for the modernists, and too modernist and documentary for the ruling New Critics. In the 1940's, although her friendships were with New York literary establishment types, she was notoriously trashed by Randall Jarrell and never fully accepted by them. In the 50's and early 60's she essentially dropped out to raise her child, and had n o connection to the clans of the New American Poets. In the late 60's she was highly visible as an antiwar activist and wrote some of her best poetry, but- even as late as 1968, was anyone ready for a long lyric poem that begins with the lines: "Who- ever despises the cl*tor*s despises the penis1 Who ever despises the penis despises the c*nt"?

In 1979, a year before her death, Norton published a massive Collected Poems, full of wonderful and awful poems, and strange

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items like a book-length poem on the life of Wendell Wilkie. All her work was out of print in the 80's. N o w Triquarterly has pub- lished a selected poems edited by Kate Daniels, appropriately called O u t of Silence. It's not bad, but the more conventional work is emphasized, and the book itself disfigured by the reitera- tion of the least appropriate dingbat in memory- an uncoiled tasselled curtain tie between every poem. Norton is planning a Reader of her poetry and prose, and a biography by Daniels is in the works. Meanwhile, Ozrt of Silence is a place t o begin, but it's far more interesting to dig up a copy of the Collected and wan- der by one's self.

Myung Mi Kiln

B est first book I've read recent- ly is Myung Mi Kim's Under Flag (Kelsey St. Press). Kim, born 1957, is a Korean-American woman who came to the U.S. as a child. Hers is a "poem with history," and her history is the Korean War and the American occupation under the flag of which she was raised. Further evidence that the entry of histo- ry into the poetry written by American women is a n engaging, sometimes thrilling, recent development. A way pointed to by Rukeyser and Lorine Niedecker (however obscured by Niedecker's male handlers: look at what Corman left out of the Selected)-but the major influence here is, of course, Susan Howe. History as her story not only opens an infinite possibil-

F ity of subject matter, but also strange and fresh takes o n the lan- guage used to tell the tale of the tribe. Only white boys think content is dead.

B laise Cendrars is the great comet of French poetry. Born in 1887 in Switzerland, his life would take pages to summarize: perpetual traveller from Vladi- vostok to Rio t o Hollywood, poet, filmmaker, merchant seaman, soldier who lost an arm in World War I, publisher, journalist, novelist, resistance fighter in World War 11- a man actively involved with nearly everyone, in all the arts, in the Modernist explosion. Though he lived until 1961, all of his poetry was writ- ten in the twelve years between 1912 and 1924. (After that, he wrote prose.) Among those works is the single greatest poem- object of the century, the 1913 Prose of the Trans-Siberian pub- lished as a folding seven-foot sheet covered with hallucinatory colors by Sonia Delaunay. For some reason, he has been less known in the US than his contemporary and equal, Apollinaire. The best previous edition, the New Directions Selected Writings, with lively translations by John Dos Passos, among others, is long out of print. But now we have Ron Padgett's translation- an instant classic- of Cendrar's Complete Poems (University of California Press), and the Cendrars' comet, on a 76-year cycle like Halley's, is once again visible over North America.

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These funny, reportorial, documentary, sentimental, sometimes found poems were ultinlately a dead end. (Perhaps because they had no imitators, they remain lively and- except for the occa- sional whor*-with-heart-of-gold- undated.) After Baudelaire and Rimbaud, French poetry splits: One road whose first promi- nent landmarks are Mallarme and Valery and Reverdy and which runs to the present; the other which begins and ends with Cendrars and Apollinaire. Though there's an argument to be made that "Zone" is the most ~nternationally influential poem of the century, one can only imagine a French poetry that would have followed Apollinaire and Cendrars: physical rather than metaphysical, funky rather than serene, full of slang. A poetry that could have recognized- might even have translated!- Pound and Williams. And, as the world followed France for most of the century, changed the poetry everywhere else.

Will Alexander

henever I hear or read the w professors (or worse, the poet-professors) talking about "mar- ginalization" (or worse, their own marginalization) I think of Will Alexander. In a country where poets are hidden from society but known to each other, Alexander writes on, almost totally hid- den from other poets.

He was born in 1948 and has spent his entire life in Los Ange- les. In twenty-odd years of prolific writing, he has only published

one small pamphlet of prose poetry (Vprticnl Rainbow Climber, Jazz Press, 1987) and has appeared in exactly eight magazines. He lives entirely outside of the pobiz world of prizes, grants, readings, teaching positions- at the moment, he is working in the tickets department of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team. In his latest project, he is two-thirds through a trilogy of novels, Sunrise in Armageddon (Pandora's Hatchery and Isolntion, Neu- trality, and Limbo are completed) which are paralleled by a tril- ogy of collections of poems (so far, Impulse 6 Nothingness and The Strntospheric Canticles).

His work resembles no one's, and is instantly recognizable. In part, he is an ecstatic surrealist on imaginal hyperdrive. He is probably the only African-American poet to take Aim6 Cksaire as a spiritual father (and behind Cesaire, Artaud and Lautreamont). But he is also, like Hugh MacDiarmid- a writer of utterly dif- ferent temperament- a poet whose ecstasy derives from the sci- entific description of the stuff and the workings of the world. His erudition and vocabulary, like MacDiarmid's, are vast: read Alexander with a dictionary and you'll see how precise he is.

N o subject seems alien to him: Who else would write a long poem on the death of the Albanian dictator, Enver Hoxha? Who else would attempt to inhabit the brain of an animal in ecologi- cal catastrophe? W h o else could spin a 40-page poem ("The Stratospheric Canticles") from the verb "to paint"? - a poem that not only ranges through the history of world art, but which is an extended meditation on the way seeing is transformed, by the chemical compounds of paint, into vision.

Will Alexander, one of my favorite writers, is a poet who lives by the old injunction, "Astonish me!"


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T he Columbia Anthology of American Poetry, edited by Jay Parini, 750 pages from Anne Bradstreet to Louise Gluck, is being heavily promoted as the new standard; it's even a Book-of-the-Month selection. For Szilfur readers, it will only be of sociological interest for those who are amused watching the glass-enclosed elevators of literary reputa- tion. Thus, Zukofsky, Reznikoff, Olson, Creeley, and Duncan have now been admitted, but they are grudgingly allotted one or two pages each. Oppen, Rexroth, Spicer, Blackburn, Everson (among the dead) are still nobody. Of Sulfur contributors, only Ashbery, Snyder, Ginsberg, and Baraka are included. The major living poets are, according to the page-count, Levine, Ashbery, Pinsky, Rich, and Gwendolyn Brooks. Fame in America, as ever, is once again proved fleeting: prize-winning poets of yesterday and today such as the Benets, van Doren, Gregory, Zaturenska, Karl Shapiro, X.J. Kennedy, Kizer, Kumin, Logan, Simpson, Dugan, Bly, Meredith, Swenson, Hugo, Howard are history, and Merwin (called "Willian~ S." as he was in the 1950's) gets slapped in the face with a single page, no better than some avant- gardist. Meanwhile Teasdale, Wylie and Winters linger on, and a

host of future unknowns are introduced. In the new Multi-Culti world, there are many more women

and African-Americans then there used to be in such books- particularly a lot of (usually justifiably) forgotten women from the 19th century- but the redressing of imbalance does not extend to Loy, Stein or Niedecker. Among the women, there is

one scandal and two surprises: Dickinson still remains too radi- cal for these oak-panelled walls: though praised in the introduc- tion, she's given less space than Longfellow and, almost unbelievably, her punctuation has been "normalized" (as they used to call it)-even now, after forty years of the Johnson edi- tion and a thousand monographs on her dashes. (Would a Columbia History of Art put black bars across the nudes?) Moore and Millay are definitely in the UP elevator: Moore, in number of pages, is the third greatest poet of the century, after Eliot and Stevens (followed by Frost, Lowell, Merrill and Pound); and Millay gets the same space as Williams.

The brief introduction is most notable for this piece of Newt jingoism: "The modernist movement in poetry was largely Amer- ican in its origins." We also learn that Imagism was "founded by Amy Lowell and H.D. and joined by Ezra Pound," and has been an important influence on the (otherwise unmentioned) "lan- guage" poets, and that The Cantos "has failed to convince any- one but a few isolated critics of its greatness." The book, unusually for a university press publication, contains no bibliog- raphy or any notes on the individual poets.

But there's more: I became interested in the book after a glance at the table of contents. Charles Olson was represented by one short poem,"Poem 143: The Festival Aspect." This happens to be a poem I included as part of the Olson section in my anthology, American Poetry Since 19.50: Innovators & Outsiders. Buried in the third volume of Maximus, it is little-known: not included in the Olson Selected Poenzs, or reprinted elsewhere. There was no way in hell, in thicket, that another anthologist- particularly one with no apparent interest in Olson- would have indepen- dently selected the same short poem from Olson's vast work. Clearly Parini had react my book.

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U ' l < l l 1 1 S l < l :I< I I O N

I started checking out the other poets whom we both include, and found various cases where Parini repeated part of my selec- tion for an individual poet. Some of these were not terribly unusual: poems by Baraka, O'Hara and Zukofsky that are not often anthologized, but are not especially obscure. The give-away was a poem by Rukeyser, "Ir~s": I had pulled ~t out of her huge Collected, both as a poem I liked and to bounce off a poem by Sobin called "Ir~ses." Rukeyser's "Iris" has never been repr~nted in an anthology, and isn't even included in either the Rukeyser Reader or Selected Poems. The other poem in Parini's Rukeyser section was "Then I Saw What the Calling Was," also an unusu- al choice. I had a hunch Parini hadn't discovered it in the poet's own books. When I tracked it down- in Fleur Adco*ck's The Faber Book of 20th Century Women's Verse- I also found Parini's complete selection for Josephine Miles.

Small wonder I began to wonder what other anthologies Parini had been reading, and, limiting myself to the 20th century poets from James Weldon Johnson to Louise Gluck- assumlng their "canon" to be less petrifiedthan the 19th- I compared selections. It turned out that, with merely a cursory search through a handful of other books, I could account for two-thirds of the poems and almost two-thirds of the complete or nearly complete sections for individual poets. One-third of the poems was taken from Richard Ellman's The New Oxford Book of American Verse. If we add Ellman and Robert O'Clair's The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry we have nearly half the poems. Even more blatantly, in a book that pretends to be a new multicultural reading, all of the Native American poems came from one anthology, Duane Nia- tum's Carriers of the Dream Wheel, and all of the poems for six African-American poets (and most of a seventh) are from the old 1938 James Weldon Johnson Book of Amerzcan Negro Poetry.

These anthologies were apparently supplemented, to a lesser degree, with poems from J.D. McClatchy's The Vintage Book of Contemporary Arnericrzn Poetry; Stuart Freibert & David Young's Longman Aizthology of Contemporary American Poet- ry; and Robert di Yanni's Modern Americ~~n Poets: Their Voices and Visions.

Here's the breakdown:

SEI.ECTIONS ENTIRELY OR LARGELY DRAWN FROM OXFORD: Vachel Lindsay; Robinson Jeffers; T.S. Eliot; Archibald MacLeish; e.e. cummings; Hart Crane; Allen Tate; Delmore Schwartz; Robert Duncan; Denise Levertov; A.R. Ammons; Sylvia Plath; Carl Sandburg (316); H.D. (416); Conrad Aiken (213); Elizabeth Bish- op (417); James Merrill (316).


W.D. Snodgrass; Galway Kinnell; Anne Sexton; Robert Hass; Randall Jarrell (213).



CANS): James Weldon Johnson; Paul Laurence Dunbar; Claude McKay; Gwendolyn Bennett; Arna Bontemps; Countee Cullen.


N. Scott Momaday; Simon J. Ortiz. SELE(:TIONS ENT1REI.Y DRAWN FROhl NORTON: Jean Toomer; Mar-


ald Justice; Nancy Willard; Charles Wright (416). SELECTIONS ENTIREIY LIKALVN FROM 111 YANNI: Robert Creeley;

James Tate.

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Oxford plus Norton: John Crowe Ransom. Johnson plus Nortott: Langston Hughes. McClatchy plus Norton: Richard Wilbur; Gary Snyder;

Theodore Roethke (518). Weinberger plus Norton: Frank O'Hara; Allen Ginsberg; Amiri

Baraka. Longman plus Norton: William Stafford. Longman plus McClatchy: Robert Hayden. Adco*ck plus Weinberger: Muriel Rukeyser. Oxford plus McClatchy: John Berryman (516); Robert Lowell

(617); James Wright (415). Oxfbrd plus di Yanni: Robert Frost; Ezra Pound; Marianne

Moore. Oxford plus di Yanni plus Longman: Wallace Stevens (9110).

These are the sources I could track down in an afternoon; it is probable that a more diligent researcher could find more. [The poets I couldn't find generally fall into two groups: women from earlier in the century- Amy Lowell, Teasdale, Wylie, Millay, Adams, Riding- which possibly indicates an anthology I missed, and contemporary poets, many of them Parini's colleagues at Bread Loaf, whom it must be assumed that he actually reads.] To the inevitable response that many poems are "canonical" or "anthology pieces," it's worth noting that for certain poets- among them, Stickney, Williams, Penn Warren, Brooks and Rich- Parini has clearly made his own choices. And it's interest- ing to compare Helen Vendler's Harr~ard Anthology of Contenz- porary American Poetry or Hayden Carruth's The Voice That Is Great Within Us, which, covering many of the same poets, rarely

overlap with Parini. McClatchy and Ellman are quite different, and even Ellman (the secret and unwitting co-editor of this book) going from the Oxfbrd to the Nortott, only repeats himself half the time. Love them or hate them, it is obvious that Vendler, Car- ruth, McClatchy, and Ellman- or, more recently, Paul Hoover and Douglas Messerli- have done what a n editor of an anthol- ogy is supposed to do: offer a reading pitched between history ("canon") and an evident personal taste, based on a fairly thor- ough knowledge of the individual poets. With the exception of a few poets whom Parini obviously has read in depth, his book is, far beyond coincidence, a half-hearted recapitulation of a few other anthologies. This may not, strictly, be plagiarism, but it's as close as an editor can get.


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I-rht, fourth port o f tljc C S S I I ~ "Pnz it1 ,4siil" o r ~ , ~ i n n l l ~ ujrittei~ for t h ~

ct7tC~log Octavio 1'32: 1.0s privilegios de la vista ((1?rztr0 C.'ultt~r~~l/

Artc (,'otrten~porai~eo, Mexico, i 990) iznti rrpri~~tel f iiz Outside Stories

Krvrsr~ti lllld ~ j v p ~ ~ n d e ~ f for the hook Archlvo Blanco, c>drtrd 11)

Enrico Marro Snnti (E~f ic io i~es dr l Equrlihrista, Mrsrio) , 1994. I

he god Vishnu appears at the T cave of an ascetic, Narada, who has been practicing austerities for decades. Narada asks the god to teach him about the power of maya, illusion. The god beckons Narada to follow him. They find themselves in the middle of a burning desert. Vishnu tells Narada he is thirsty, and asks him to fetch some water from a vil- lage he will find on the other side of the hill. Narada runs to the village and knocks at the first door, which is opened by a beauti- ful young woman. He stares at her and forgets why he has come. He enters the house; her parents treat him with respect; the fol- lowing year they are married. He lives in the joys of marriage and the hardships of village life. Twelve years go by: they have three children; his father-in-law has died and Narada has inherited the small farm. That year, a particularly fierce monsoon brings floods: the cattle are drowned, their house collapses. Carrying his

children, they struggle through the water. The smallest child slips away. He puts the two children down to search for her; it is too late. As he returns he sees the other two children swept off; his wife, swimming after them, is pulled under. A branch strikes Narada on the head; he is knocked unconscious and carried along. When he awakes he finds himself on a rock, sobbing. Sud- denly he hears a voice: "My child! Where's that water you were bringing me? I've been waiting nearly half an hour." Narada opens his eyes and finds himself alone with Vishnu on the burn- ing desert plain.

Maya: it is the "plot" of the first two sections of East Slope (Ladera este). The book opens with the lines "Stillness/ in the middle of the night7':'- the poet is alone on a balcony over- looking Old Delhi- and then it immediately fills, overflows, with Indian stuff: monuments, landscapes, a jungle of specific flora and fauna, painters, musicians, gardens, gods, palaces, tombs, philosophy, temples, history, bits of Indian English, a large cast of strange and funny characters- the only characters in Paz's poet- ry- and, central to it all, the lover/ wife. In the end, in "A Tale of Two Gardens" (Cuento de dos jardines)," it all vanishes: "The garden sinks./ Now it is a name with no substance.// The signs are erased:/ I watch clarity.""" The poet is not in the desert, but in the middle of the equally empty ocean on a boat leaving India. (Although- this being poetry and not philosophy- his wife, rather than Vishnu, is with him.)

"Quie t i l /~~ t z tnitad de la ~ ~ o c l ~ e .

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Maya is made manifest by time. The Indian cosmos is a map of ever-widening concentric cycles of enormous time: millions of human years with their perpetual reincarnations are merely one day and night in the millions of years in the life of Brahma, who is himself but one incarnation in an endless succession of Brahmas. The function of yoga and other meditation practices is to break out of these cycles of illusory births and rebirths, off the map (out of the calendar) and into the undifferentiated bliss of nirvana (which the Buddhists would later say was equally illusory).

i Myth is a similar rupture of time. Its time is intemporal time, and though its narration unfolds in measured minutes and hours it abolishes time with its narration. Narrator and auditor are pro- jected into a sacred space from which they view historical time and all its products: a world to which they must return, but to which they return educated.

The poem too, though heard in a time that has its own precise measurements (prosody), erases time by projecting us into a world where everything looks the same but is more vivid, where

1 we speak the language but it doesn't sound like the language we speak, where ideas and emotions become concrete particulars,

/ and the concrete is a manifestation of the divine. {.

The first two sections ("East Slope" and "Toward the Begin- ning") of East Slope are "travel poetry": a poetry of verifiable landscapes, things and people which are foreign to the author. But they are among the few instances in the last two hundred years of a travel poetry worth reading. (Poets, since the birth of Romanticism, have tended to write their travels in prose and let- ters.) One reason is its precision of observation, its glittering

language, intellectual cadenzas, emotional and erotic rhapsodies. But more: on nearly every page are synonyms of silence and still- ness. The poems are simultaneously located in India and in a not- India, a somewhere else.

As Aztec shamans would travel out of the earth to a place where all time was visible in a state of total immobility. There they could observe the life-force of the tonalli at any given moment before it occurred in human life. The shaman's task was to alter the tonal- li, to effectively rewrite the future.

As the first two sections of East Slope observe the world from a world where the wind comes simultaneously from everywhere, where "the present is perpetual" and bodies "weigh no more than dawn."

Paz, above all, is a religious poet whose religion is poetry. This does not mean that the poet is a "little God," as Huidobro dreamed, with extraordinary powers. Rather it is the poem that opens a hair-line crack in time through which the poet, in aston- ishment, slips through.

The final third of East Slope- the long poem "B1anco"- is both the most "Indian" poem in the book, and the one with the fewest images of India. In fact, only three words in the poem pertain specifically to India: the neem tree and the musical instruments sitar and tabla. Only three more refer to pheno- mena that exist in India and other places, but are not universal: crow, jasmine, vtiltttre. Certain words from Indian iconography which one would expect in the text are noticeably absent:

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words signal its universality: Grail, Lungs tone , Castille, Mexico.

The form of the poem, originally published on a single vertical folded sheet in black and red type-"black and red ink" in Nahu- atl means "wisdomm- is usually described as descending from Mallarmk's Un Coup de Des ..., as well as the Indo-Tibetan man- dalas and Indian tantric scrolls indicated in Paz's notes. Mallar- me's poem, however, although it plays with varying typefaces and blank space, still uses a traditional (though oversize) page as its playing-field: it exists to end up in a book. It is more likely that the Western grandparent of "Blanco" is the original 1913 edi- tion, designed by Sonia Delaunay, of Cendrar's "Prose of the Transsiberian." It too is a floor-to-ceiling vertical sheet with dif- ferent typefaces in black and red, but unlike "Blanco" the words are not surrounded by emptiness: every inch is covered with Delaunay's hallucinogenic color, itself a kind of Indian festival.

O n the Eastern side, the poem was clearly originally conceived as

l a simplified mandala. Mandalas have been called "psychocosmo- grams": maps of the universe that are maps of the self. They are simple or complex configurations of nesting circles and squares, drawn on paper or painted oncloth for personal meditation, or laid out with colored powders on the ground for ritual practices. The earliest mandalas were simple geometric figures, sometimes containing letters or words. The later, Tibetan versions are riots of activity, filled with often terrifying iconic images of the gods. They are based on extremely complicated sets of four, which are endlessly elaborated in the esoteric texts for the initiates, called Tantras: four directions, four colors, four goddesses, four joys, four defects, four moments, four gestures, four requisites, and so

on- always with a fifth at the center. The construction of a man- dala, and the meditation on it, begins at secular nothing, and pro- ceeds from the creation of samsara (all the things of the world), to the reconciliation of all opposites, to, finally, the enlightenment of nirz~izniz, sacred nothing. In the words of Giuseppe Tucci, whose The Theory and Practice of the Mandala was one of the books that informed the writing of "Blanco," it is a "scheme of disintegration from the One to the many and of reintegration from the many to the One, to that Absolute Consciousness, entire and luminous, which Yoga causes to shine once more in the depths of our being." The Four Moments in the creation of a mandala could equally refer to the progression of "Blanco": they are, in order, Variety, Development, Consummation, Blank.

"Blanco" was apparently modeled as a simplified version of the mandala described in great iconographic detail in an Indo- Tibetan text, composed in 690, called the Hevcljra TLlntra, a line of which Paz uses as an epigraph. The poem, of course, has no gods, other than poetry, and its representational imagery tends to be abstract. But it largely follows the general outline for the Heuajra Tantra mandala, which is conceived as a stupa seen from above, with a center dome, four walls, four doors with two columns a t each door, and four portals. [The stupa, like a pyra- mid, is a representation of the cosmic mountain, and- unlike the cave, the cathedral, or the consecrated ground- it is the only sacred space that cannot be entered or climbed. It can only be cir- cumnavigated- much as this essay, or perhaps any reader, does around "Blanco."]

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According to this schema, V. represents the center column sec- tions at the beginning and end of the poem, and I.-IV. the four sections consisting of acenter column and one left and right col- umn each. As explained in Paz's notes, I. (North) corresponds to yellow, fire, and sensation; 11. (East) to red, water, and perception; 111. (West) to green, earth, and imagination; IV. (South) to blue, air, and understanding. V., presumably, corresponds to white, the color of the Absolute. IThis slightly rearranges the traditional Indian color-direction correspondences, which are: N: yellow; E: red; W: white; S: blue; Center: green. Curiously, the Aztec corre- spondences were nearly identical: N: black; E: red; W: white; S: blue; Center: green.]

Although not indicated by Paz's notes, it is also apparent that the poem follows what the Hevajra Tantra calls the Four Joys:

I. corresponds to what is called the First Joy. It is devoted to the consecration of the body (here a baptism of fire); its name is The Jar ("vase," "chalice," and "Grail" in the poem), and its accom- panying gesture- there are, of course, Four Gestures- is the smile ("you laugh- naked"). The creation of a mandala always begins with the placing of a jar- symbol of the initiate's body-

into which the gods are to descend. It is interesting that into this jar Paz has placed a sunflower, perhaps William Blake's, which was, like a Hindu or Buddhist adept before Enlightenment, "weary of time."

11. is Perfect Joy, known as The Secret. It is a washing away of speech (as throughout this section), and its gesture is the gaze ("I watch myself in what I watch,":'etc.).

111. is Joy of Cessation, known as Knowledge of Prajna, with prajna in the Tantric texts meaning both "wisdom" and "a wom- an's body" ("naked place/ in a naked woman"'";"," etc.). It is a washing away of impurities of the mind, and it is also associated with thunder- as the storm in the central co lun~n suggests. Its gesture is the embrace, and it is at this point that the two columns come together.

IV. is Joy Innate, called the Fourth Consecration. Here body, mind and speech are all consecrated, as throughout this section, and its gesture is union, as in the sexual intercourse which becomes explicit in this part of the poem.

The problem of modeling a poem on a mandala, although both unfold in time, is that a poem tends to proceed vertically, while a mandala moves in four directions simultaneously. For this rea- son, "Blanco" also takes some of its formal arrangement from the yogic and tantric vertical scrolls which depict the ascent of the kundalini (the "serpent power" of latent energy). Such scrolls represent the human body, though an outline of the body itself is rarely shown. From bottom to top are images of the seven chak- ras, the energy centers that run from the base of the spine t o the

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top of the head, and through which the kundalini ascends during ~ o g i c meditation or tantric practice. Each of the chakras, almost needless to say, has a host of attributes: elements, colors, senses, planets, emotions, philosophical concepts,and so on. As an early Hindu commentator wrote, "there are n o places of pilgrimage like those within one's own body."

"Blanco," which must necessarily be read down the page (it not being written in Maya) can be seen, loosely, as an upside-down diagram of the chakras. Its first two vertical sections (before it splits into left and right) correspond to the first chakra at the base of the spine, Mzlladhara, which means "the foundation" (the first two lines of the poem are: "el comienzol el cimiento" or "the beginning1 the foundation") and which is associated with the bila, the syllable-seed (the next two lines are: "la simierztel latente" or "the seed/ latent") which is also the dot that is the lit- eral starting-point for the mandala. The bija is the sound of potentiality, and represents pure thought. It is created by the union of ali (vowel) and kali (consonant), and from it all sound, all language, and everything in the cosmos is born. Other attrib- utes of the Muladhara chakra are the earth ("escalera de escapu- larion- an earth-body pun meaning both "mineshaft/scapulary ladderm- in what is otherwise meant to be the "fire" section) and the previously mentioned color yellow ("yellow//chalice of consonants and vowels" )'".

From there the kundalini rises as the poem descends through the other chakras- though not strictly: most of the attributes of the

chakras are present in "Blanco," though not quite in the same order. It never reaches the final, seventh chakra, the "illumination of the void": to d o so, in a poem,would be less presumptuous than impossible: at that point poetry ceases to be written. (As the Hez~ajra Tantra says, "Nothing is mentally produced in the high- est bliss, and no one produces it.") But it does, following this schema, reach the sixth, called Ajna ("power"). That is the point between the eyebrows (the last word of the poem is mirada, "gaze"), where all the elements return in purified form (as they d o in the poem), and whose "color" is transparency ("Trans- parency is all that remains.":" Its reigning god is Ardhanarishv- ara, who is the half-male, half-female incarnation of Shiva, the union of all opposites ("No and yes" and the many other pairs which unite in this section of the poem). And it is associated with nada, cosmic sound, which becomes a complex Spanish-Sanskrit pun in "Blanco": "son palabrasl aire son nada" (with son mean- ing both "sound" and "they are," and izada both "nothing" and "cosmic sound"): "sound (they are) words/ air sound (they are) nothing (cosmic sound)." The seed-syllables, though made of air, form words, form the cosmic sound, form the universe. The three are inextricable, and equally illusory: Sanskrit nada is Spanish nada. [There is a form of meditation, rather like "Blanco," called nada-yoga, which consists of focusing on a succession of sounds as they emerge from and retreat into silence.]

Further, in this map of the Hindu body and of "Blanco," there are three "nerves" or "veins" which convey sacred breath and the body's subtle energies. The left, lalana, is feminine and associat-

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ed with the moon, wisdom, emptiness, nature, the Ganges river, vowels. The right, rasana, is masculineand associated with the sun, intellect, compassion, method, the Yamuna (the other great river in India), consonants. In the center is avadhztti, the union of the two veins and all their attributes. Again, a schema followed loosely in the poem through its left, right and center columns.

I The map of the body is a map of the earth is a map of the cos- mos (or time) is a map of language. Most of Paz's work is, and has always been, concerned with the tangle of correspondences anlong these four elements, their identicalness, their trans-

I formations into one another. He is surely Western poetry's pri- mary "inventor of India for our time" (as Eliot called Pound the inventor of China); but he is equally an invention of India: "Indi- an" readings are possible for poems he wrote long before he went there.

Much has been written about the connections between "Blanco" and the ritual copulation practiced in Tantrism: an escape from the world (and a return to the original unity of the world) through the union of all opposites as incarnated in the actual bodies of the male and temale adepts. (The best texts on this are still Paz's pages in Conjurzctions and Disjunctions and the essay "Blank Thought" in Convergences.)

Robert Duncan, in the era of "action painting" in the 1950's, used t o emphasize that the poem "is not the record of the event, but the event itself." "Blanco," though far too structured to be an "event" of' writing in the processual sense developed by the Black Mountain poets, demands reader participation in the creation of the test by offering a list of variant readings that is, moreover,

deliberately left incomplete. Writer and reader are yet another pair of opposites who unite in the poem.

But "Blanco" goes even further: with its male center column and female split columns, it is, uniquely in erotic poetry, a poem that makes love to itself. (As, in India, the syllable-seeds engender lan- guage without human assistance.) The author has closed the door

I behind him on his way out; like Duchamp's Etarzt domes, it remains for the reader to peer (or not) through the keyhole.

Tantric texts are written in sarzdha, which Mircea Eliade trans- lates as "intentional" language. Each word carries a long string of associative possibilities, like those attributed to the three yog- ic "veins" above: the spiritual words have materialist and erotic meanings, and vice-versa. (The "right-hand" group of Tantrists believes that all of the material words should be taken only as metaphors for the spiritual; the "left-hand" group believes that all of the spiritual words are merely code names for aspects of the rituals, which, like copulation on a cremation ground, are scan- dalous to outsiders.)

There is a pair of sandha-words in the Hevajra Tantra that is par- ticularly intriguing: preksana (the act of seeing) is agati (the act of arrival or achievement). In India the primary act of daily wor- ship among Hindus is darsl~ana (seeing): it is both a "viewing" of the gods as they are manifest inthe temple and wayside images, and something more: in darshana the eyes literally touch the gods; sight goes out to physically receive the god's blessing.

"Blanco" ends at the chakra between the eyes. Its last line reit- erates an earlier couplet ("The unreality of the seen/ brings

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reality to seeing"" ) in the context of a ritualized copulation: "Your body/ spilled on my body/ seen/ dissolved/ brings reality to seeing." :":- ) The poem, then, never erases the world, never

enters the "plentiful void" of nirvana (as the last canto of Alta- zor does: a void filled with syllable-seeds) or the "empty void" of sunyata. In the unreality of the world the poem ends by affirming the reality of a seeing which is touching which is writ- ing. As Indian philosophy often reiterates, perception is real, even i f what is perceived is unreal. [In the famous Buddhist para- ble, a man is frightened by a piece of rope lying on the ground which he thinks is a snake, runs away, trips, and breaks his leg: although the cause is unreal, the effect is not.]

Tantric art is notable for its representation of the cosmos in another form of simple o r complex geometric drawing: the yantra. Paz's India (India's Paz) is a yantra composed of a triangle (seeing-touching-writing) within a square (body-world- cosmos-language) within a circle, which in India stands for a vision o r a system. An 0 that is a poet's political button, this poet's monogram, the egg (symbol and syllable) of the cosmos, and the delineation of the nothing- the empty void or the plen- tiful void- from which everything is created and to which it returns.

In the Hevajra Tantra, in the rituals in which Buddhas and Mas- ters, goddesses and yoginis dance, "the sound of a bee is heard at

"1-a rrreulitiad de lo inirndol dt7 rcalidnd a hz rnrmda. ::. ::. T u I .r 7ol derraninndo en rnr cucrpol r'rstol desvilr~ecidol t fa renlidad n In rnzruda.

the end of the song": in Blanco, it is "this insect/ fluttering among these lines." "

In the meditation, the yogin imagines a lotus blossoming on his navel. O n the petals of the lotus are the letters of the mantra ARHAN. Smoke appears, rising from the letter R. Suddenly a spark, a burst of flame, and the lotus is consumed by fire. The wind picks up and scatters the ashes, covering him from head to toe. Then a gentle rain falls, and slowly washed them away. Bathed, refreshed, the yogin sees his body shining like the moon.

:'t:ste iizsectol revoloteando erztre estas pLzla6rL~s.

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P A Z & B E C K E T T

[Written as the ~iztroductiolt to The Bread of Days: Eleven .Mexican Poers,

Translated by Samuel Beckerr, a limited edition with artwork

by Enrique Chagoya (Yolla Boll)? Press), 1994.l

O n the flowers the angel of the mist

sc-attered pearly molsture from hls wlngs, and Arrrora floated o n the air,

enveloped 117 her g~zrrzy toprzz robe.

It was the nlrpti'zl holir. The earth lay sleeping, virginal, beneat17 the bashful veil, and to surprise her with his amorous kisses the royal sun inflamed the firmament.

ho would suspect that the w officiants at this pastelled marriage of heaven and earth were none other than two of the primary architects of postwar inter- national modernism? If part of the Surrealist project depended on the fortuitous conjunction of disparate elements in an unlikely place, then surely one of its oddest late productions was an mas-

suming book called An Anthology of Mexican Poetry. For far beyond its ostensible subiect matter, the book was the result of an improbable encounter between Octavio Paz and Samuel Beckett on the field of classical Mexican literature.

In 1949, Beckett was forty-three and Paz thirty-five. Both were living in Paris, and both were generally broke. Beckett was trying to find a producer for his play, Waiting for Godot, and a pub- lisher for Molloy, the first of his trilogy of novels. (His earlier novel, Murphy, had sold exactly six copies in its first year of pub- lication.) Paz, though known in Mexico as a young poet, was just finishing the books that would propel his international reputa- tion, The Labyrinth of Solitude and The Bow and the Lyre. His first major long poem, Sunstone, was still some years away.

Paz had a low-level position at the Mexican embassy. Beckett was surviving on literary hackwork, some of it for UNESCO, which was then sponsoring a series of representative works of world literature in translation. Beckett called it "that inexhaustible cheese," though his own life at the time, according to his biogra- pher Deirdre Bair, was more rat than mouse: sleeping all day and roaming the streets of Paris all night.

The UNESCO cheese lured Paz into a project for which he had lit- tle enthusiasm: an anthology of Mexican poetry to be translated into French and English. Paz, an anti-nationalist, would have pre- ferred to consider Spanish American poetry as a whole. And worse, in Mexico, between the twin volcanoes of the 17th and 20th century poetries lay a gloomy valley of some two hundred years of largely feeble European imitations.

The book was further encumbered when a well-known Mexican poet, Jaime Torres-Bodet, became the director of u~b.sco Torres- Bodet, with the once-prevalent inferiority complex of the Third

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\Y I ( I I I I I I(1 . \ ( I I O N

World intellectual in the halls of European culture, insisted that each edition be introduced by one of those grandiloquent poohbahs who perennially serve the role as "leading critic." For the French edition, Torres-Bodet chose Paul Claudel, then eighty- one, decades past his best poetry, and largely preoccupied with theological questions. For the English, he asked Sir Cecil Maurice Bowra, the Hellenist and warden of Wadham College, Oxford. Neither had the least interest in Mexico. I've never seen Claudel's text, but Bowra's introduction, called "Poetry and Tradition," cheerfully rambles for pages through world poetry- not exclud- ing that of the Ainu, the Asiatic Tartars, and the Lower Sloven- ians- until it final settles, in the third-to-last sentence, on the sub- ject at hand. That sentence- Bowra's only comment on the matter- informs us that Mexico has a "vivid and varied culture."

Paz was, as he recalls, furious, and further disappointed when Torres Bodet decided that Alfonso Reyes, the Grand Old Man of Mexican letters, would be the only living poet admitted in the book. This meant eliminating the work of poets such as Xavier Villaurrutia and Jose Gorostiza, members of the Contempora- neos (Contemporaries), the vibrant and internationalist Mexican poetry group that flourished in the 1930's and 40's, and was so important to Paz's own writing.

Paz was responsible for finding the translators for the two edi- tions. For the French he commissioned Guy Levis Mano, a poet and Spanish translator who remains known as one of the great printers of the Surrealist movement, producing limited editions of texts by Breton, Tzara, Michaux, Char, and Soupault, with art- work by Giacometti, Picasso, Man Ray, Miro, and others. For the English, someone suggested Samuel Beckett, whom Paz knew slightly through their mutual publication in Max-Pol Fouchet's magazine Folztaine. An obstacle that would daunt lesser, or less

hungry, mortals- Beckett's total ignorance of the Spanish lan- guage- was quickly overcome. Beckett had "a friend" who would help, and he had, after all, studied Latin a t Trinity College.

Beckett completed his work in March or April of 1950. The original manuscript, now in Texas, includes two pages of notes, "not in Beckett's hand," on the translation of specific words, as well as corrections and additions "mostly in another hand." ( N o one knows to whom these hands belonged.) The French edition was published in 1952 by Editions Nagel, had one printing, and vanished. The English language edition, delayed for unknown reasons until 1958, appeared simultaneously from Thames & Hudson in the U.K. and the Indiana University Press. Thanks in part to its unusual collaborators, it has remained in print in paperback ever since, an extraordinarily long publishing run for what is, after all, a collection of otherwise generally arcane texts.

Years later, Beckett would write that his work on the Mexican anthology was strictly an "alimentary chore," and that the poems were "execrable for the most part." And certainly those mar- tinets of the bilingual dictionary who normally review poetry translations would have a field day with Beckett: In the poems included here, for example, he drops two lines from the Lopez Velarde poem, and writes "twenty" for "seventy." He is hope- lessly lost among Mexican flora and fauna, confusing macaws and macaques, tigers and jaguars, magueys and aloes. (When the going gets really rough, in Alfonso Reyes' "Tarahumara Herbs," he randomly selects Old World plants to stand in for the Mexi- can.) He's clearly unfamiliar with such things as the Mexican cal- endar stone, which he calls "a stone of sun." Sometimes he's mysterious, as when a sinfonh logrizda (a fully-realized sympho- ny) becomes a "symphony of positive esthetics." Sometimes, he's

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just being Beckett, as when the last lines of Rodriguez Galvan's poem (which mean, literally, "Dream, be my passage through the world,/ until that new dream, sweet and graceful,/ shows me the sublime face of God.") are clipped to "Dream, in thy safe keep- ing let me come/ to this world's end ..." (Even in a translation, Godot can never arrive.) And in many of the poems he seems to be on autopilot, cruising until he can reach the next poem.

Yet Beckett's Mexican anthology is one of the liveliest English translations of the century. Its greatest achievement is its recre- ation of that sense of reading old texts, the distance between us and them. (One has it in one's own language, but rarely in trans- lation, which tends to be written according to present-day usage, whatever present-day it is.) Beckett accomplishes this through a subtle mimicking- and who, besides Joyce, was a better mim- ic?-of the English poetry contemporary to whatever period he is translating. And he displays a stupefyingly vast command of Eng- lish archaicisms that will send any diligent reader deep into the OED. In the poems included here, we find, among others, "grate- less" for ungrateful; "cramoisy" for crimson; "featly" for grace- ful; "ensample" for example; "cark" for anxiety or grief; "adust" for scorched; "flower-de-luce" for iris; "monachal" for monastic; "fatidic" for prophetic; "tilths" for tillable land; "popinjay" for parrot; "mede" for recompense; as well as "cha1chuite"- an archaic derivative from the Nahuatl word chalchihuite- for turquoise. In two cases, even the O L D didn't help: "wildering" for wandering; and a bird's "crawy" call. Did Beckett make them up, did someone misread his notorious crabbed handwriting, or are these actually lacunae in the definitive dictionary? With Beckett's erudition, one never knows: I thought "gyps" was a typographi- cal error for "gypsumn until I discovered it was an obsolete form. And I was puzzled that he would translate "pheasant" as "bird

of PhasisX- not knowing that the word derives from the Phasis river where the birds once abounded.

Moreover, he has created a vivid music for each poem by avoid- ing the end-rhymes of the Spanish (while still suggesting the orig- inal prosody through complex internal rhymes) and by breaking the lines where the English, not the original, demands it. He can take a sow's ear, like the opening two lines of Nervo's "An Old Burden," and turn it, if not quite to silk, then into a purse with some inner compartments. Nervo's lines mean, literally:

Who is that siren with the voice so painful. with flesh so white, with braidsltresses so dark brown?

Beckett transforms this to:

Who is yonder siren s o distressed of voice, so white of flesh, so dark of tress?

The "yonder" may be a bit much, but the rhymes of "dis- tressed," "flesh," and "tress" are more complex than the origi- nal, which doesn't rhyme at all. The poem sings, as it doesn't in Spanish. And the play between "distressed" andntress," which Beckett made up, no doubt made his day's (or night's) work more amusing.

There are whole poems, such as the Nervo, that strike me as better in English than Spanish, and quite a few individual lines are simply more intense in the translation:

greeny sea-wrack coils a waky tress

(Ral buena)

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In such throng of dead forms thou didst not die (Sandoval y Zapata)

Space is azure and the mountains bathe in vivid azure and in azure shade

(Rodriguez Galvan)

For the people the bard is grace not cark (Diaz Mircin)

A precious pearl in the slaver of a mollusc (Diaz Mir6n)

and throughout that brooding and adust

savannah, not a path, not a track (Oth6n)

what a wilderi~lg midst ruins and pits! (Oth6n)

and many books made me all-ignorant (Gonzalez Martinez)

or the Yeatsian:

the tower riddled in the slinging winds (L6pez Velarde)

We will never know whether Beckett, despite later denials, was secretly enchanted with some of the poems, or whether, with a writer like Beckett, his hackwork would be anybody else's master-

piece. But no matter how or why it was written, forty-five years later the book still remains the best introduction in English to classical Mexican poetry, and the repository of some remarkable poems. It stands, in some strange way, next to that other great, late 1940's invention of Mexico in English, U~zder the Volcano.

Certainly it is as impossible to imagine Beckett in Mexico as it is to imagine Malcolm Lowry anywhere else. And yet one won- ders if there was not a shock of recognition when Beckett read the first page of the manuscript Paz gave him. It contained what is perhaps the first sonnet written in Mexico, by the first Mexican Spanish poet, Francisco de Terrazas. Had Beckett never translat- ed Mexican poetry, we might never have made the connection. But because of his presence, a curious loop forms. For Mexican poetry begins not in the expected grand and tragic spectacle of the Conquest, but with a single individual in a desolate land- scape, a nobody suffering in nowhere, that dismal world for which Beckett, centuries later, would be the great cartographer:

1 dreamed that 1 was thrown from a crag by one who held nzy will in servitude, and all but fallen to the griping jaws of a wild beast in wait for me below.

In terror, gropingly, 1 cast around for wherewith to uphold me with my hands, and the one closed about a trenchant sword, and the other twined about a little herb.

Little and little the herb came swift away, and the sword ever sorer vexed my hand as 1 more fiercely clutched its cruel edges ...

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O h wretched me, and h o w from self estranged, that I rejoice t o see m e mangled thus for dread of ending, dying, m y distress!


I Written for '772 rssur7 of (,Iobal City Kev~ew devoted t o texts of t w o

pages or less, 1994. A77 ~ t t e r n p t to tirsiover what , i f atzythrtig,

could be scritl i 7 7 a few words ahout ati etzornz~ty.]

Y ugoslavia, you open a news- paper, charred at the edges, riddled with holes. Two men in suits walk down the sidewalk, chatting, oblivious to the elderly woman lying shot dead at their feet. A severed head on a pile of shoes. You. It's you. Yugoslavia.

War and always war, but certain wars seem evidence of some- thing more than the varieties of human brutality. Certain small wars, seen from a distance that turns their daily horror into alle- gory: another, bloodless war that is reenacted in the mind, our minds, we who are not in the slaughter. Wars one can't stop thinking about. As if the way they, over there, are dying is a reflection of the way we are living. And worse: that the way we are living is the cause of their dying.

Until now, Spain, in this century, was the small internal war that unravelled transnationally as a parable of the age. Not only as the first performance, in a provincial "theater of war," of the global cataclysmic battle against fascism: Spain, in Western minds, was the triumph of the destroyers of art, and of the tech-

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nologically powerful over the aspirations of ordinary people. "Cuernica," the painting, draws its force, not from its depiction of carnage- there is always carnage- but from the image of the old ways being oliterated by what is most horrible in the new ways. The airplane- till then the great symbol and glory of the Machine Age- brings not the reign of progress, but a rain of bombs. It is a scene that was reenacted from the conquest of the Americas t o the last of the colonial wars: Algeria, Vietnam, Angola. What we, the "modern" people, most hate about our- selves is the agent of the destruction of what we imagine is most admirable in the "old" people, the people we think we once were.

These are wars that seem, for the moment, over: the imperial territorial expansions, the wars in the name of this century's cru- el ideologies, the aspirations of a peasantry hopelessly crushed by the technologically advanced. Instead we have the so-called "trib- al" wars: the revivals, manipulated by the power-hungry, of sup- posedly ancient ethnic, racial, religious animosities. Wars, we are told, that return to the roots of war.

Rut these are not wars taking place in the rain forest, or even in the Balkans in the years before the First World War. These are wars being acted out within a global network of communication, and within a global consumer market. The dead are seen "live," all over the planet, on the television news; the combatants, on either side, drink the same Coca-Cola. The world is simultane- ously coming together and blowing apart, the "steady state" model of the universe.

Yugoslavia- ex-Yugoslavia- above all, is the emblem of the age, and not merely as the chaos that follows the collapse of empires and ideologies. Yugoslavia is a nervous breakdown in the collective mind of the West.

Sick and weary at the end of a century that murdered millions in the name of certainty, the generation that considers itself "postn-- post-modern,post-ideology- has, in an unprecedented, nearly unbelievable manner, transformed doubt into a science. After three centuries, the Age of Criticism has reached its deca- dence. Words do not mean what they say; books are lies imagined into truth by their readers; images are the representation of a con- spiracy between creators and receptor; every narrative is false, and any opposing notion equally true. It is a dismantling of the world. they say, so that murderous certainty will never happen again.

As always, what will never happen happens over. The tragedy of Yugoslavia is the certainty of the combatants, and the para- lyzing uncertainty of the rest who are watching. There, people die every day in the name of their belief, and continue to die every day in the name of our disbelief. Here, we see the evidence, and wonder what is evidence, and wonder what to do, and wonder in what name is anything done, and let a thousand other images rush in.

[4 March 19943

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Iln May 1994 the Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church ril N c w York held its 11717111111

symposrrlm; the topic that year was "Revolutro?r~~ry Poetry."

On the r~pt~trrirg nrght there were four "keynote" speakers: trrc-a Uuirt, '111

African-Americarr poet atzd labor organizer: Eileen Myles, poizt a i ~ d gay actiutst;

Amiri Baraka; and, inexplrcahly, myself.

T h e eueirrtrg tiegun stra?tgely: As 1 entered the church, L I )Ioung woman from

the Project surd, "011, we got your package and paid for rt." She handed m e

a bulging /iff), hag that had been sent t o me care of t i ~ c church, c.0.11. for 527.

1 couldn't help hut open rt. T h e package u8as filled with trash.

Hunt spoke first; rn the subscqrrent chaos I 'm atrartl ~ ' L J ( , forgottell u h a t she said.

Then 1 spoke; the reception ~ i rd trot seem par t i i~r l~~r ly i~ostrke. M y k s gave

a very f u t r ~ ~ y " l ' m a leshran" rap. Baraka got up, talkctl for five nzrirutes,

then whipped out hrs n o t c ~ / ~ o o k , satd, " A n d n o w I'd ltke t o reply to

the gentleman uiho proceeded me," and lau17ched itzto a fifteeiz-rnrn~ite tzrdtle,

pointing his finger at rite. N o o77e expresses rage 11ke Amrrr Barak,~- ' I rage

that has also leti to ~iztiel~tlle poetry. When he turired t o Mylcs, shorit~irg that

l~~sl~zutzrsm bas nothrng t o do zvzth the revolut~on, she t~c~gan yelliirg b ~ i k .

Thrrlgs fill apart, and thc nrght eirded.

A feu, ?~zo?rtl~s li7tcr. l'oetry Flash ran 1771 account of the symposrum I)!, Trm (;rrf/i?t.

He re,rotr7: "f;l,eryr,irr, sec,inrrf to / J ? /~atr?rg Elrot W c , r i ~ / ) e r ~ ~ r , loho ~ 1 t t ~ i 7 1 p t ~ d t o drrai/

the rrotroil o f '711 c f f ; ~ t r l ~ r ' r t , / t ~ ~ c ' ~ j poetry,' ilirri c~sl~orisrd what scholar

Waltcr 1 . e ~ ~ u~orrlti in LI paircl drsc-ztssioir the next daycall 'an iircre~lrOly i~uttiateti

lrheral, Cold War dcnroirrzutro?~ o f C;hr?ra.' Baraka had krcked his tlijo c-ctrts 171

against Wei~zOerger as u1c~11, sayr?rg that revolution never consrstcd of ',I?I c~irdorc~ed

charr 171 u conceirtratrorr c~liirp. '" Thrs tuas followeti by a report r i r thcz

Poc7try Pri~lcct rre~vsletter I J ~ Dorlglas Rothschild o n m y "trow legendary talk. "

Rothsc-h11d hclii up /acksoir h l ~ c Low as "lrurng proof" against "Mr . W~~rrrhc,rger's

c.lar?i~ t h i ~ t ~ ~ ~ l r t i i n l l y ~ . c ~ d ~ i r ~ l L ~ I ~ I ~ J S 6- allegra7zces lead you to stop writing. "

And / I [ , zc'rote that "Mr. HarakL~ h17d taken very careful notes 072 what

Mr. W1c~r~rl)rrgcr hod lust sold f5 l~rr~rched u full sci~le Oarrase; effectr~iely

scuttlri~g Mr. Wer?rOerger's thesrs (the lrkes of whrch we harie not set~rz

srtrce the Potempkrir) [src-1."

1 wrote to the ~ ~ e u ~ s l e t t e r in an attempt t o s,~lr~,zgc~ rchi~t I'd actrr,~lly s,~rd, t o

rc)irrird them that the Potc~nrkif~ surlors were the (;ood (;uys, and to u,orrifc~. why

ither her o f the corresl)orrdc~~lts had been r7li7rrired b y , among other thrizgs,

BL~rLrki7's condem?tatioir o f the "l~ortzography " r~t rap lyrrcs, uttd his defense

o t t l l e rmprrsonment o f the utterly upolrtical Gut gay wrrter Rei~raldo Arenas

'7s LI "c.orrl~ter-reuolrrtro?rary. " This led to a letter in a su1)sequent rssue

fiom Bnraka, ~ 1 1 t h ti?ree varratrons 171 sc,ue?r setrtetrces of the line

"b0 l t~geOl~ rrrtellect~r~~ls lrko Wrinberger Ire. "

It's Clrr1olis ti7~7t t/lls c ori~c'r of Po- itJor/d 1e'~ls sc~l?l(ia/ize~i, and thofrght they were

i1e~71.11zg I Z ~ O C O I Z rac,rngs- 0 7 I C p~rsr)iz c ~ I I I ~ ~ I ~ ~t "tire I ' C I Z ~ ~ ~ U I I U C ~ S I O I I o f I U O ~ I C I

poetry"- U J ~ C I I a c t ~ i ~ ~ l l y I had uttered a scjrtes o t Oairal conrnro?rplaces. Many

171 the ~71tdrence u~cv.rT r~tfants dtrriitg the Vretnum Wnr. It ulas drshe~7rte11rng

th7t thc~), had g r ~ z e ' i ~ z i / ) t o i l d o ~ t I ~ I I c ~ I ~ I c ~ I I ) ~ t h ~ s/)~czfi[. ~jrl'i7jns and modcls

of Re~~olritroii that i7re r1ouJ- pL7rtrc-rrlarly r i r the' corr~rtrrr~s ~l,l~r'rca tbc8y 0 7 1 i c .

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T h c speech was, of cozrrsc., iiitcvldad t o l ~ c heard, rtot read. It shorrld he noted L ~ # N Z I I

thut this 1s May 1994: r?i rrtrr~spcc.t, u calnz before the storwl. W~thri t the r z c ~ t >,ear, the

ii..s. wozrld see the usceitsioit of <;~ilgrich ( to call htm Newt is to itisult otcr saln~~tnildc~r

friends), the passage of Pr(1/~(1jit1otz 187 c p t Calzfonlia, the Replrblicalt feediitg frritiy

on t i ~ e poor, utzd t i ~ c Oklahoma bom/~tn# . -]u/y I t ) t ) i ]

Lenin to Maxim Gorki: " I can't listen to nzusic too often. It affects your ~zerves, makes you want to say nice stupid thi7zgs and stroke the heads of people who could create such he'urty while living in this vile hell. These days you mustn't stroke 'zizyo~ze's he'ld- you might get your hand bitten off: Y o ~ i haz~e to hit them on the head without any mercy."

here is something nostalgic T and quaint, and something sickening, about a conference now, in 1994, on revolutionary poetry. [My first thought, on being invit- ed here, was to recall the least prophetic line uttered in my life- time: "The revolution will not be televised."] And yet the subject is more pertinent than ever. I want to clear through the first, to get to the second.

First, a matter of definitions, the classic difference between revolt and revolution. Revolt 1s an uprising of some kind against some aspect of the existing order. Revolution is the struggle, near- ly always, but not necessarily, a violent struggle, to replace one form of soctety and state with another. Most important, the form of the new society is usually fairly fixed in the minds of the revo- lutionaries. In this sense, nearly all of us in the generation of 1968- except Bill & Hillary- were engaged in some form of

revolt; but only a few were revolutionaries. It's always a mistake to confuse one with the other, particularly as revolutionary soci- eties tend to suppress any further revolt.

In talking about revolutionary poetry- in its political sense- I also want to draw a line between it and political, "socially aware" poetry. The poetry that bears witness to, or expresses out- rage at, or is the product of, the enormous horrors and injustices of the historical moment is not necessarily revolutionary. It is only revolutionary when it serves, in some way, the destruction of the old order, and carries within it a formed image of the new order. Traditionally, revolutionary poetry presents the horrific details of present existence, excoriates or lampoons those who are responsible for the misery, rallies its readers or listeners to struggle against injustice, exalts certain individual heroes of that struggle, and offers a vision of the paradise that will follow the victory of the revolutionary forces.

Politically revolutionary poetry only sometimes coincides with aesthetically revolutionary poetry. When it does, we have some of the great poetry of the century: Hikmet, Neruda, MacDiarmid, Brecht, Mayakovsky, to name a few. When it doesn't- as is obvi- ous when one reads old issues of the New Masses or any anthol- ogy of guerrilla poetry- it can produce some of the worst poetry, some of it written by these same poets: a poetry where the mes- sage is the medium.

But the real problem with revolutionary poetry is the Revolu- tion. With certain exceptions- Mexico, Spain, Iran, among them- nearly every important revolution of the 20th century has been fought under the inspiration of Karl Marx. [Though interestingly, none of these revolutions were imagined by Mars , and were, in fact, specifically denied by him: He believed that the revolution would be led by the urban proletariat in countries like

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England and Germany, and thought that a revolution led by the rural peasantry, in a place like Russia, would be impossible. Furthermore, he assunled an internationalism to the revolution- ary proletariat, quite unlike the nationalistic Marxist revolutions that actually occurred.]

I happen to think that all of us as writers, like any good union members, must judge the merits of a state first according to what it does for (or against) us as writers. And there is no question that, in this respect, all of the Communist states were, or continue to be, disasters. On the one hand, Communism brought nearly uni- versal literacy to its masses and produced millions of inexpensive books for them to read; it created writers' unions where the state essentially paid writers to write. O n the other hand, these same states all enforced strict censorship, and tended to execute, imprison, exile or silence most of their best writers. The writers who flourished were either supporters who were famous before the revolution, achieving a kind of Grand Old Man status (such as Nicolas Guillkn or Alejo Carpentier in Cuba) or else they were the kind of utter mediocrities- familiar to us in the U.S. or any capitalist country- who thrive in arts bureaucracies.

H o w thrilling it once seemed that Chairman Mao wrote poet- ry in classical Chinese- even though no one else was allowed to do the same, akind of poet's dream. In China, the revolution wiped out a thriving modernist movement that had begun in the 1920's and 30's. The poets who were not killed were essentially required to write useful paeans to the boiler plate factories. Only in the crevices could something new or aesthetically radical be published: translations of foreign poets with impeccable political credentials, such as Neruda, Eluard or Lorca, or considered too remote in time to be dangerous, such as Rimbaud and Baudelaire. It was these translations that inspired the young poets who came

of age in the Cultural Revolution and rejected social realism to write what were, a t first, simple, highly subjective imagist poems. In the 1970's, a whole generation of students was exhilarated by a line of poetry most of us in the West would be too embarrassed to write: Bei Dao's "I- do- not- believe!" For in a collective society, what is more subversive than the first-person singular, a negative and a verb? Targeted by the "anti-spiritual pollution" campaign, these poets were imprisoned, silenced, or forced to publish underground. Since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, most of them are in exile.

H o w thrilling it once was that Che carried a copy of Neruda's Heights of Macchu Picchu in his knapsack in Bolivia. Mean- while, in Cuba, a poet as great as Neruda, Jose Lezama Lima, was under a form of house arrest, and forbidden to publish. Today, when I think of Cuba, it is not all the beautiful books pub- lished by Casa de las Americas. It is one writer among the many exiles: Reinaldo Arenas, who spent a few years in prison for the crime of being hom*osexual, who wrote novels that were confis- cated and then wrote them out again, and who was finally let out of the country with the mentally retarded and the violent crimi- nals in the Marie1 boat exodus. It is Arenas, some years before he began dying of AIDS, in a tenement in Times Square, telling me, with serious intensity, that the KGB had some sort of death ray aimed at his apartment, and that it had exploded a glass of water on his windowsill.

H o w thrilling it was t o read about Nicaragua under the San- dinistas, proclaimed here as a "land of poets," with a well-known poet, Ernesto Cardenal, as its Minister of Culture, who had opened hundreds of poetry workshops around the country for the campesinos. No one seemed to remember that Cardenal h a i started out as the youngest member of the Nicaraguan poet

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z~a~zguardia, fascists who supported Franco, Mussolini, and the first Somoza, and that Cardenal himself wrote love poems to one of the Somoza girls. That his conversion to both Marx and the Church had led to some strange conjunctions, as when, in one of his many poems against the Vietnam War, he compared napalm to abortion. Of all the American poets who trooped down to Nicaragua in those years, how many reported back that in the workshops only a certain kind of poetry, called "exteriorism," could be written, and that, anlong other things, traditional prosody and all metaphors were strictly forbidden? How many reported back that gays and lesbians who had fought for the rev- olution were interrogated and sometimes imprisoned in an attempt to purge the Sandinista ranks of deviants?

I need hardly speak of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, where, as Mandelstam said, they took poetry seriously. But it is revealing that those poets who maintained a life-long devotion to the Party tended to live incountries that never had a Communist government- Neruda, Vallejo, Aragon, Eluard, MacDiarmid, CCsaire, among many others- or else, like Brecht and others in Eastern Europe, had never experienced a revolution. For what Communism governments understood too well is that a collective builds a dam, but a book can only be the result of a subversive solitude.

The landscape of the revolution is filled with doomed young people. Here is Roque Dalton, the guerrilla saint of Latin America:

The Party must train the poet as a good militant Communist, us a valuable cadre for mass revolutionary action. The poet must contribute in the utmost to the cultt~ral educatiotz of all members of the Party. The Party, specific all^: must help the poet develop into arz effectiz~e agitator, a soldier with expert murksmanship-

in a word, a fit cadre. The poet must acquaint all his com- rades with Nazim Hikmet or Pablo Neruda, and give them a clear concept of the role of ct~ltur~zl work within the context of general revolutionary activity. He must also make sure that the Administrative Secretary o f the Central Committee, for example, loves St. Johtz o f the Cross, Henri Michaux, or St-John Perse.

Dalton joined the People's Revolutionary Army (EKP) in his native El Salvador. In 1975, unattracted by possible discussions of Anabasis or Miserable Miracle, he was executed by his own people as a CIA spy. (This is now attributed to a "militarist" or "adventurist" or "Maoist" faction.) A few years later, the EKP-

formed the Roque Dalton Cultural Brigade. Doomed young people: The great unwritten history in 20th

century American poetry is the black hole into which the young poets vanished inthe 1930's. In 1931 Louis Zukofsky attempted to launch a new generation of American modernist poets with his "Objectivist's" issue of Poetry and subsequent anthology. The fate of four of these "Objectivists" is well known: Zukofsky would not publish his first pamphlet of poetry for another ten years; Oppen's second book came 28 years after his first; Rakosi took 26 years between books; Reznikoff, who was not a young man in the 30's, like William Carlos Williams and the young poet Kenneth Fearing, essentially gave up poetry during the late 30's and 40's to write prose. These four survived, after long periods of not writing or not publishing, but most of the other young poets included as "Objectivists" were never heard from again. Other anthologies from the period are similarly filled with the disappeared. In fact, the only significant poet to start publishing in book form in the 1930's and keep publishing was Muriel Rukeyser- with Kenneth Patchen a distant second- and

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Rukeyser, throughout her career, inhabited a no-man's zone between the avant-garde and the establishment, modernism and agit-prop.

[This was also true of prose writers: We know that some of the most prominent, such as Dos Passos and James T. Farrell, ended up as disillusioned cranks in the pages of the National Review. As for the others: in an interview just a few weeks ago, Henry Roth- who himself stopped publishing for 60 years- wondered what happened to the scores of writers he knew as a young radical.)

This was the period in America when the Party dominated intellectual life. I don't mean to suggest that all of the poets, like Oppen, joined the Party and gave up writing for organizing, though some undoubtedly did. Rather I think it was the general discourse fostered by the Party that discouraged young poets from going on. This was the era- to take Camus' example- when young people hotly debated whether one served the people best by being Shakespeare or a shoemaker, whether a pair of stur- dy shoes was worth all the plays of Shakespeare, and whether, in Brecht's famous formulation, it was a crime, in times like these, to talk about trees. Who could write poetry when one had to defend both the utilitarianism of poetry and the murder of poets for the greater good? Only the stubborn, the oblivious, or those who had begun writing before Stalin. And who can keep writing, who can age gracefully, as it becomes apparent that there is noth- ing more unreal than yesterday's realism?

In retrospect, there is only one major world poet who managed to keep his commitment to Communism, keep writing, and never write a line of doggerel: CCsar Vallejo. His solution was to churn out colorless Party-hack prose and keep the poetry utterly uncon- taminated, free to do whatever he wished: a prose to serve the people, and a poetry to serve poetry. Not coincidentally, it may be

the most political, and the most revolutionary, poetry ever written by a Latin American- a poetry not only written out of extreme poverty and the trashheap of history, but one that dismantled and reinvented the received language of the conquistadors.

Three fundamentalisms have dominated the revolutions of this century: Marxism, fascism, and Islam. (The fundamentalisms of the other two monotheisms have created states, but not modern revolutions.) Because of this, it has become impossible to talk about revolutionary poetry, or the revolution itself, without ref- erence to them. And the fact remains that, from Nazi Germany to Iran to Kampuchea- or, right at this moment, from Algeria to North Korea- they have murdered, imprisoned or silenced hun- dreds, probably thousands of poets, as the so-called secular cap- italist states, with all their injustices, have never done. N o amount of revolutionary romanticism, of the kind that is still being written, can obscure this. Now matter how thrilling, how inspiring to the poets revolution can be, the message is plain: After the revolution, you'd better move somewhere else.

What we need is a revolution of revolutions, a revolution to crush the dreams of the old revolutions and construct new ones, a revolution that will tear down the monoliths and not build pris- ons in their place, a revolution that will honor continual revolt, a revolution where the poets can live in their own homes. Who knows what that revolution could be? For the moment, it may only be possible to imagine what it will be pitched against.

Two specters haunt the nest century. One is the secularism, nationalism, and ethnocentricity, the psychological apartheid that is paradoxically erupting as the world moves toward a single con- sumer culture. The other is the very real possibility of the extinc- tion of the human race, following the extinction of countless oth-

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er species. Overpopulation, deforestation, the nuclear weapons that are still very much with us, the rotting canisters of plutonium on the ocean floor- I need hardly recite the list. We are at a moment in history when it is a crime not to talk about trees.

A revolution against these demons would require the kind of Internationale that Marx dreamed of, and Communism never saw- a rising of the humans of the world. It would depend on a transition to a global economy that is simultaneous to a disman- tling of the multinational corporations. And it must begin with us talking to each other- more important, listening to each other- in ways that have never occurred before. Significantly, with the new information technology, the means are there- as long as we are able to keep those means democratic, and out of mono- polistic control, which won't be easy. The new generation of revolutionaries will not begin as a ragged band in the sierras- it will be individuals and small groups thousands of miles from each other and neighbors in cyberspace.

And where are the poets in all this? First, as has been often said, revolutionaries are connoisseurs of the apocalypse and visionar- ies of the terrestrial paradise. Poets, though not lately in Ameri- ca, have always excelled at both. So we need poets to challenge received notions, tell us what we don't know, ask the questions we can't answer, and wake us up to both doom and Utopia.

Second, poetry has always traveled on its own Internet of under- ground channels from country to country. These must multiply, especially in the United States, which seems more self-preoccupied than ever. The 90's, beginning as they did in 1989, have brought extraordinary changes all over the world- many of them exhila- rating, and many of them achieved without violence. Meanwhile, as you've probably noticed, absolutely nothing is happening here, in Anno 14 of Reagan America. We'd be better off if every member

1 1 1 1 111 \ ' 0 1 1 ' 1 I O N , \ I \ 1 . \ l : \ l < h ' \ < ' I I 1 1 1 1 ( 1 i

of the government resigned tomorrow, and was replaced by a citizen picked at random. And the left, such as it is, is obsessed with a new form of nationalism called multiculturalism-which is healthy insofar as it brings more Americans into the dialogue, and sick in that it still excludes everyone else: Chinese-Americans and no Chinese, African-Americans and no Africans, Mexican-Ameri- cans and no Mexicans. Only one contemporary Chinese poet has had books published in the U.S., no Indians writing in Indian lan- guages, one or two Africans, maybe half a dozen Latin Americans, one Arab poet, a few from the Caribbean. The current poetry of 85% of humanity is represented in this country by a one-foot shelf of books. Americans, and American poets specifically, may be the last people to get the word that it's global time. Even the speakers and panelists all weekend here, at this symposium on an interna- tional theme, are a United Colors of strictly Americans.

Finally, I think we have to assert, over and over, that the revo- lution of the world requires many revolutions of the word, and that poetry does indeed make something happen, no matter how slowly it moves from reader to reader. Zbigniew Herbert has written that the fire in the poem is one thing, and the town in flames another. In a sense of course it's true, but in another sense, it is the fire in the poem that helps us t o see the town in flames, whether it is a town in history, or our own town tomorrow. Poet- ry is a way- not the only way, but for most of us here, our way- into the enormous events of history. Only bad poetry talks t o itself, or tells us what we already know. Above all, only bad poetry is not subversive. The revolution will not only be televised, it will be read.

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M I ' P E T R A B B I T

I had a pet rabbit that devel- oped a dental problem. Its upper and lower incisors did not meet to grind each other down, and they kept growing. If left unat- tended, as sometimes happens in the wild, the teeth will grow to such length that they curve back into the rabbit's skull and pierce the brain. The veterinarian told me to buy a pair of special podi- atrist's scissors and regularly clip the teeth.

The first time I tried, I botched the job. The teeth shattered; there was a lot of blood. An hour later I had to take a plane to another country, to attend one of those cultural conventions, always held abroad, where foreign governments treat otherwise obscure intellectuals to exorbitant hospitality.

I was met at the airport by an official, ushered to the front of the immigration line, and taken in a limousine to an elegant hotel. That night, in a suite on the fortieth floor, looking over the radiant expanse of an endless city, alone in a bed vast as that city, I couldn't sleep. The memory of the rabbit's bloody mouth kept me staring out the window.

The next morning another limousine took rile, a French poet, and a Chinese painter for a visit to a provincial capital. I already knew the place, so while the others toured the cathedral, I went to find a junk store on the Street of Frogs where, years before, I

had bought a small, rusty mechanical device whose function no one has been able to ascertain.

Walking the colonial streets, I came across a crowd of a few hundred people and some television crews milling about, appar- ently waiting for something. I had read in the local paper that the students had been protesting some university action; I assumed that the crowd was waiting for a demonstration march to pass by. Half,of the block was deserted. The crowd on either side had formed its own barriers, in order, I thought, to keep the sight- lines clear for the cameras. There were no police, no agitation, nothing more than the familiar sight of a large group in the semi- cornatose state of waiting.

A tourist, I was following a map, and my map told me that the shortest distance to where I was going was across the no-man's- land of the empty half-block. I crossed unhurriedly. People on either side began waving frantically, perhaps, I thought, because I was stumbling into what was to be the television picture. Then there was the crack of a shot, and I saw the brick wall near my head chip. Unalarmed, barely registering the event, not reacting with the "fight or flight" supposedly programmed in my genes, I quickened my pace, but did not run, toward the crowd on the other side. The next day I read that a student group was occupy- ing the building; a rival group was trying to take it from them; the first group had placed snipers on the roof; two people had been shot that day.

The rabbit was all right. Its teeth resumed growing, and I periodically clipped with increasing expertise. Months later, I woke gasping, in the first asthma attack of my life. Tests showed that I was violently allergic to rabbits; the rabbit stayed to niolli- fy the children; the asthma continued. One night that summer, at a house in the country, a Siberian husky belonging to a neighbor

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smashed through the small cage where the rabbit was living out- doors, mauled it to death, and then couldn't get out.

I thought of my pet rabbit a few years later, after reading, in an academic journal, a review of a book of mine that ended, "Weinberger simply needs a freshman English class." Never hav- ing had a freshman English class, I decided to write an essay titled "My Pet Rabbit"; it seemed the thing to do. I sent it to a friend who sometimes teaches creative writing. She thought the essay was vague and pointless, and that if I was trying to draw a par- allel between myself and the rabbit as victims, it wasn't very clear. This connection had never occurred to me. But it was true that the various cruelties of the story, deliberate and inadvertent, large and small, had all, by the fact of their isolation in my writing of it, become linked, even portentous. This was not what I had intended and, discouraged, I abandoned the essay titled "My Pet Rabbit."



aked mole-rats have no fur, N but their lips are hairy. Their pinkish mottled skin is loose and hangs in folds, like something that has lost a great deal of weight, the easier to squirm through their narrow tunnels. Incisors pro- trude from their mouths like pincers, the only feature of their undefined faces. One naked mole-rat can fit across your fingers, its tail dangling down. They have been under the earth for at least three million years.

They never surface. They are blind. Their world is not a labyrinth, but a straight tunnel, a mile or two long, with innu- merable cul-de-sacs branching off, and certain larger chambers. They live on the tuberous roots that grow towards them.

As many as three hundred inhabit a colony, moving a ton of dirt every month. They have a caste system, tripartite like the Indian. The smallest among them are the diggers and food-gath- erers who work through the night in a line, male and female equally, the first gnawing the earth and kicking it back to the next who kicks it back, until the last, who digs a temporary hole to the surface, kicks out the dirt, its rump exposed to the moon and predators, and then plugs the hole again. When they come across ;I root, they chew off pieces to carry to the others.

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V ' I < I I I I S I t 1 A ( I I O N

The medium-sized are the warriors, who try to fend off the rufous-beaked snakes, the file snakes, the white-lipped snakes and the sand boas that sometimes find their way in. They attack with repeated tiny bites that are, if the snake is small enough, mysteriously instantly fatal. When, bychance, two colonies of naked mole-rats tunnel into each other, their warriors fight to the death.

These castes serve the largest, who are the breeders. Unique among mammals, only one female reproduces. She is by far the longest and the fattest and the most aggressive in the colony. If she dies there is chaos. She is attended by one to three males, who do nothing else. They spend their time nuzzling her; have sex, ini- tiated by her, by mounting her from behind for fifteen seconds, bracing themselves by holding their front legs against the walls of the tunnel, and mainly failing. When she becomes pregnant, the teats of every colony member, male and female, enlarge, reach their peak at the birth, and then shrink. Just before birth, the female runs wildly through the tunnels.

She has four or five litters a year of a dozen pups. The babies have transparent skin through which their internal organs are clearly visible. Only a few survive, and they live long lives, twen- ty years or more. The dead babies are eaten, except for their heads. At times the live ones are eaten too.

Interbred so long, they are virtually clones. One dead-end branch of the tunnel is their toilet: they wallow there in the soaked earth so that all will smell alike. They are nearly always touching each other, rubbing noses, pawing, nuzzling. When their tunnel is blocked they work from both sides and reconnect it per- fectly. They sleep in a packed heap in the nesting chamber, with the breeders on the top, staying warm, each naked mole-rat with its nose pressed against the anus and genitals of another.

They are continually cruel in small ways, clanking teeth, breathing rapidly into each other's open mouths, batting, swip- ing, biting, pulling one another's baggy skin, shoving each other sometimes a yard down the tunnel. But only the females who compete for the role of breeder inflict real harm. Wounded, the defeated female crouches shivering in the toilet, ignored by the others until she dies.

The tunnels are never silent. Naked mole-rats make a t least sev- enteen sounds: soft chirps and loud chirps, high-pitched and low, tooth-grinding, trills, twitters, tongue-taps, sneezes, screams, hisses, grunts. Different sounds for when they bump into each other, when they piss, when they mate, when they're disturbed, alarmed, wounded, when they shove each other, when they meet a foreigner such as a beetle, when they find food, when they can't find food.

They clean their feet with their teeth. They clean their teeth with their feet. They yawn. They shiver. They scratch themselves after they piss. They bask near the surface, in the warm sunless earth. They doze with their short legs splayed, their huge heads drooping. They double over, mouth to anus, to eat their own sh*t.

They scurry with eyes closed, forwards or backwards at the same speed, over and under each other. They change direction by somersaulting. They find their way, when they don't know it, by darting forward till their nose bumps the wall, dart backwards, adjust the angle, dart forward again. Sometimes a naked mole-rat will suddenly stop, stand on its hind-legs and remain motionless, its head pressed against the roof of the tunnel. Above its head is the civil war in Somalia. Their hearing is acute.

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Steve Abbott 39-41 Leonie Adams 188 Fleur Adco*ck 186, 187 Agni 100 Conrad Aiken 114, 187 Anni Albers 58 Josef Albers 56-60, 62, 63 Richard Aldington 80 Will Alexander 182-83 Allah 160 Donald Allen 62, 82, 84, 94, 128 A.R. Ammons 187 Sascha Anderson 169, 170 Bruce Andrews 84-86 David Antin 20, 80, 81, 128, 130 Michelangelo Antonioni 28, 31 Guillaume Apollinaire 76, 18 1, 182 Louis Aragon 222 Reinaldo Arenas 217, 221 Rae Armantrout 86 Antonin Artaud 68, 86, 125, 128,

130, 184 John Ashbery 32, 76-78, 81, 128,

130, 184 W.H. Auden 80, 102, 127 Paul Auster 80 Ayasoluk 22

Gaston Bachelard 43 Francis Bacon 31 Deirdre Bair 205 Bernardo de Balbuena 209 Amiri Baraka 77, 79, 81, 95, 184,

186, 188,216,217 Mary Barnard 81 Willis Barnstone 33-36 Georges Bataille 43, 86 Baucis 21 Charles Baudelaire 102, 182, 220 The Beatles 137 Samuel Beckett 81, 204-21 1 Ludwig von Beethoven 150 Bei Dao 173, 174, 22 1 Ben Belitt 33, 175 Michael Benedikt 20 Stephen Vincent Benet 184 William Rose Benet 184 Gwendolyn Bennett 187 Eric Bentley 56, 59 Charles Bernstein 83, 84, 86, 89 Ted Berrigan 128 Faith Berry 177 John Berryrnan 127, 188 Bernardo Bertolucci 31 Wolf Biermann 169 John Birch Society 110

Eliot Weinberger Written Reaction Poetics Politics Polemics 1979-1995 1996 - [PDF Document] (121)

Sven Birkerts 76-78 Elizabeth Bishop 39, 40, 8 1, 187 John Peale Bishop 8 1 Paul Rlackburn 20, 36, 62, 77. 8 1,

128, 129, 165, 174,184 Thomas Blake 67 William Blake 53, 89, 130, 1.58, 197 Maurice Blanchot 80 Alexander Blok 152 Robert Bly 13-17, 20, 37, 39, 40,

78, 79, 184 Alan Bold 154 Frances Boldereff 1 19 Ilya Bolotowsky 56 Arna Bontemps 187 George Bowering 20 Paul Bowles 8 1 C. M. Bowra 206 Mark Alexander Boyd 149 Kay Boyle 81 Anne Bradstreet 184 Brahma 192 Constantin Brancusi 32, 67 Kamau Rrathwaite 170, 171 Bertolt Brecht 158, 219, 234 Andre Breton 43, 76, 206 Max Brod 120 Joseph Brodsky 178 David Bromige 20 William Bronk 79, 81 Gwendolyn Brooks 184, 188 Martin Buber 155 Buddha 134 Basil Bunting 20, 24, 80, 81, 91,

129, 1.57 Robert Burns 1 .SO-52

Will~am Rurroughs 127 George Rush 103-7, 109-1 1, 178 George Butterick 120, 1 76 Witter Bynner 81 Lord Byron 22

John Cage 55, 56, 60, Fanny Calderbn de la Barca 68 Harry Callahan 56 Albert Camus 224 Roy Campbell 33-36, 81 Ettore Caprioli 160 Michelangelo Caravaggio 48 Ernesto Cardenal 221 Alejo Carpentier 220 Leonora Carrington 68 Hayden Carruth 20, 188, 189 Johnny Carson 117 Jimmy Carter 104 Turner Cassity 2 1 Carlos Castaneda 141 Fidel Castro 106 Frederick Catherwood 68 Catullus 176 Paul Celan 85 Blaise Cendrars 103, 181, 182, 194 Aim6 CPsaire 80, 183, 222 Chac 74 John Chamberlain .56 RenP Char 76, 206 Jonathan Chaves 80 Franqois Cheng 89 G.K. Chesterton 81, 102 Chiang Kai-shek 109 Chuang Tzu 173

John Ciardi 21 E.M. Cioran 43 John Clare 53 Tom Clark 39-41, 1 18-20 Paul Claudel 206 F.J. Clavijcro 71 Bill & Hillary Clinton 219 Samuel Taylor Coleridge 89 Christopher Colun~bus 125, 144 Clark Coolidge 84 S e a m ~ ~ s Cooney 176 Dennis Cooper 39 ,41 Cid Corman 79, 81, 121, 180 Alfred Corn 27 Gregory Corso 95 Hernan Cortes 67 Malcolm Cowley 8 1 Hart Crane 74, 77, 81, 125, 176,

187 Arthur Cravan 64 Robert Creeley 20, 39, 40, 56, 61,

62, 63, 81, 85, 95, 112, 130, 165, 184, 187

Countee Cullen 187 e.e. cummings 8 1, 187 Nancy Cunard 81 J.V. Cunningham 81 Merce Cunningham 55, 56, 60

Edward Dahlberg 56 Salvador Dali 46, 61 Roque Dalton 222, 223 Kate Daniels 180 Dante Alighieri 125 Guy Davenport 20, 81

Michael Davidson 83 Leonardo daVinci 47 Lydia Davis 8 1, 85 C. Day Lewis 8 1 Giorgio De Chirico 128 Jose deCreeft 56 Pieter de Hoogh 48 Elaine de Kooning 55, 56 Willem de Kooning 55, 56 Paul de Man 169 Francisco de Terrazas 21 1 Edgar DCgas 67 Sonia Delaunay 181, 194 Delphic Oracle 125 Agnes deMille 56 Christopher Dewdney 88 Robert di Yanni 187-88 Bernal Diaz del Castillo 124 Salvador Diaz Miron 2 10 James Dickey 36 Emily Dickinson 82, 89, 94, 185 Dido 21 Walt Disney 16 F.W. Dixon 25 E.L. Doctorow 116 Don Juan 120, 129 Dennis Donaghue 26, 32 Donatello 67 John Donne 53 Ed Dorn 20, 39-41, 61, 80, 83, 95,

119, 129 Jennifer Dorn 39 John Dos Passos 81, 170, 183, 224 Fyodor Dostoyevsky 149, 153 Charles Doughty 3 50, 155 Major C.H. Douglas 149, 153

Eliot Weinberger Written Reaction Poetics Politics Polemics 1979-1995 1996 - [PDF Document] (122)

Gawin Douglas 149 Lynne Dreyer 86 Norman Duhie 23 Marcel Duchamp 128, 20 1 Alan Dugan 184 Harold Dull 20 Georges Dumezil 43 Paul Lawrence Dunbar 187 William Dunhar 149, 151 Rohert Duncan 20, 56, 61, 62, 63,

79, 81, 89, 95, 96, 101, 129, 130, 184, 187,200

Duo Duo 172 Rachel Blau Duplessis 79, 80, 83, 95 Denis Dutton 45

Richard Eberhart 178 Meister Eckhart 60 George Economou 81, 128 Leon Edel 120 Larry Eigner 20, 62, 80 Dwight D. Eisenhower 82, 110, 140 Elaine 29, 30 Mircea Eliade 42-44, 160, 201 'P.S. Eliot 15, 18, 80, 83, 89, 114,

115, 152, 154, 171, 176, 185, 187,200

Queen Elizabeth I 149 Duke Ellington 177 Richard Ellman 186, 189 Paul Eluard 220, 222 Empedocles 21 William Empson 81, 127 Theodore Enslin 20, 79 Hans hlagnus Enzensherger 129

Clayton Eshleman 20, 39, 40, 79, 81, 83, 94, 128, 129, 170

William Everson 184

Marianne Faithfull 127 Rev. Jerry Falwell 178 James T. Farrell 224 Kenneth Fearing 77, 223 Lionel Feininger 56 Robert Fergusson 150 Lawrence Ferlinghetti 81, 95 Vincent Ferrini 122 Donald Finkel 172 Karen Finley 114 Roy Fisher 80 F. Scott Fitzgerald 81 Frances Fitzgerald 11 6 Ford Maddox Ford 81 Henry Ford 57 Clark Foreman 56, 59 Max-Pol Fouchet 206 Charles Fourier 99 Francisco Franco 222 Waldo Frank 81 Dr. Frankenstein 73 James G. Frazer 43 Stuart Freibert 187 Sigmund Freud 102 Robert Frost 176. 177, 185, 188 Buckminster Fuller 55, 60

Gabriel 160 Thomas Gage 68 Ganesh 100 Greta Garho 49

Federico Garcia Lorca 125, 174, 175, 176,220

Alonso Garcia Bravo 145 David Gascoyne 8 1 Henri Gaudier-Brzeska 65 Alberto Giacometti 63, 206 Newt Gingrich 2 18 Allen Ginsberg 39, 40, 81, 121,

127, 129, 130, 184, 188 Dana Gioia 87 Duncan Glen 155 Louise Gliick 189, 191 Robert Gluck 85 God 25, 41, 42, 52, 97, 99, 100,

112, 160, 193,208 Jean-Luc Godard 134 Godot 205, 208 Enrique Gonzalez Martinez 210 Paul Goodman 56 Mikhail Gorbachev 109, 110 Hermann Goring 49 Maxim Gorki 218 Jose Gorostiza 206 Adolph Gottlieb 71 A.C. Graham 80 W.S. Graham 20 Clement Greenberg 56 Balcomb Greene 56 Graham Greene 68 Jonathan Greene 79 Horace Gregory 79 Marcel Griaule 52 Christopher Grieve 148-159 Michael Grieve 148, 153 Jonathan Griffin 23-25, 80, 81 Tirn Griffin 21 6

Walter Gropius 56 Grucci family 116 Gu Cheng 172-74 Barbara Guest 128 Che Guevara 3 1, 221 Nicolas Guillen 220 Gunga Din 106 Thom Gunn 21

H.D. 77, 79, 80, 83, 91, 94, 176, 177, 185, 187

Marilyn Hacker 187 Donald Hall 81 Frans Hals 48 Linda Hamalian 118, 119 Michael Hamburger 129 Thomas Hardy 81, 178 Marry Emma Harris 55 Lou Harrison 56, 60 Lee Harwood 81 Robert Hass 187 Rohert Hayden 188 Sen. Jesse Helms 178 Rohert Henrysoun 149 George Herbert 25 Zbigniew Herbert 227 Nazim Hikmet 158,219,223 Daryl Hine 18-22 Zinaida Hippius 152 Friedrich Holderlin 82 John Hollander 20, 81 Anselm Hollo 20, 81 Paul Hoover 189 Gerard hlanley Hopkins 25, 122, A.E. Housman 81

Eliot Weinberger Written Reaction Poetics Politics Polemics 1979-1995 1996 - [PDF Document] (123)

Richard Howard 20, 184 Susan Howe 79, 80, 82, 84, 86, 89,

180 Enver Hoxha 181 Emperor Huang-tr 144 Langston I-lughes 77, 80, 93, 118,

121, 177, 188 Ted Hughes 81 Rlchard Hugo 184 V~cente H u ~ d o b r o 80, 86, 1 9 3 D a v ~ d Hume 150 Dorrs Humphrey 56 Erlca Hunt 21 6 Aldous Huwlev 68

Henrik lbsen 58 Hrtoshi Igarash~ 161 David lgnatow 81 Daniel H.H. Il~galls 89 Eugene Ionesco 4 3 Kenneth Irby 20 Itzp'ipalotl 71 Roderick lverson 168

Edrnond Jahes 80. 85 Philippe Jaccottet 80 Max Jacob 76 Mick Jagger 127 James VI (James I) 149 John Jamieson 151 Randall Jarrell 21, 80, 86, 179, 187 Robinson Jeffers 187 Jesus 50, 134 James Weldon J O ~ J I S O I I 185-1 87

Lyndon Johnson 15, 113 Ronald Johnson 20, 80 Thomas H. Johnson 185 Davrd Jones 24, 8 1 , 157 Matthew Josephson 81 James Joyce 81, 150, 154, 158,208, Queen Juliana 48 C ~ r l Jung 4 3 Donald Justice 187

Franz Kafkd 120 Eric Kahler 56 Alfred Kazin 56 Buster Keaton 5 7 Robert Kelly 53, 81, 128 John Kennedy 31, 106 Robert Kennedy 3 1 William Kennedy 116 X.J. Kennedy 184 Jack Kerouac 135 Myung Mi Kim 180 Galway Kinnell 187 Rudyard Kipling 81 Mark Kirschen 79, 80 Henry Kissinger 106 Carolyn Kizer 172, 184 Paul Klee 71 hug~ls t Kleinzahler 79 Franz Kline 56 Kenneth Koch 128 Wayne Koestenbaum 114 Jerzy Kosinski 45, 46 Karl Kraus 178 Ernst Krenek 56 Maxine Kumin 184

Stanley Kun~tz 8 1 Joanne Kyger 39

Valery Larbaud 76 Else Lasker-Schiiler 152 James Laughlin 81 Comte de Lautriamont 184 D.H. Lawrence 16, 26, 68, 86, 1.57 T.E. Lawrence 42 Gregory Lee 172 Ma be1 Lee 172 Michel Leiris 86 Brad Leithauser 87 V.I. Lenin 149, 153, 154, 155, 218 Karin Lessing 33, 79, 80 Denise Levertov 20, 62, 81, 95, 187 Claude Levi-Strauss 52 Walter Lew 2 17 Josk Lezama Lima 86, 221 Li Ch'ing-ch'ao 165 Vachel Lindsav 187 Richard Lippold 55, 56, 60 Katherine Litz 56 A. Walton Litz 176 David Livingstone 194 Ron Loewinsohn 20 John Logan 184 Christopher Logue 81 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 79.

185 Ramcin L6pez Velarde 207, 21 0 Amy Lowell 21, 8 1, 188 Rohert Lowell 24, 26, 30, 75, 79,

182, 190, 194 .V/lalcolnl I.owrv 70, 2 1 .i

Mina Loy 79, 81, 86, 91, 94, 177, 184

Henry Luce 109 L~lfkin 122

Hugh MacDiarmid 53, 80, 127, 129, 148-159, 183, 219, 222

Christopher MacGowan 176 Nathaniel Mackey 170 Sorley Maclean 154 Archibald MacLeish 187 Jackson MacLow 80, 85, 10 1, 128,

1 2 9 , 2 1 7 Louis MacNeice 8 1 Madonna 136, 137 Mahavira 134 Norman Mailer 116 klalcoln~ X 158 Stephane Mallarmi 182, 194 Man Ray 206 Osip Mandelstam 28, 222 Thomas Mann 155 Guy Levis Mano 206 Mao Zedong 31, 62, 121, 220 Robert Mapplethorpe 1 12 Marcus Aurelius 66 Karl Marx 2 19, 222, 226 Peter Math iessen 11 6 Alfred Maudslay 68 Christopher Maurer 175 Vladirnir Mayakovsky 1.58, 21 9 Bernadette Maver 85 Jerome M a z z ~ r o 26 Steve McC:atfei-y 86, 88 Joseph Mc(:arthy 6 1

Eliot Weinberger Written Reaction Poetics Politics Polemics 1979-1995 1996 - [PDF Document] (124)

Eliot Weinberger Written Reaction Poetics Politics Polemics 1979-1995 1996 - [PDF Document] (125)

Edrnond Rocher 152 Stephen Rodefer 39 Auguste Kodin 67 Edouard Roditi 81 Janet Rodney 52 Igancio Rodrigue~ Galvan 208,210 David Roessel 177 Theodore Roethke 188 Henry Roth 224 Jerome Rothenberg 79, 81, 127- 13 1 ,

172, 175 Douglas Rothhchild 21 7 Raymond Roussel 76, 128 Bernard Rudofsky 56 Muriel Rukeyser 20. 81, 124, 179,

180, 186, 288.224 Salman Rushdie 106, 160, 161

Maria Sabina 133, 140, 141 Frank Sarnpcsri 20 San Juan de la Cruz (St. John of the

Crosc) 33-35, 233 Carl Sandburg 11 8792 Luis de Sandoval y Zapata 210 George Santayana 8 1 Enrico Mario Santi 7 90 Sappho 46 Aram Saroyan 20 Jcan-Paul Sartre 85 Satan 105, 160, 161 Hiroaki Sato 80 Phyllis Schaflv 164 Rainer Schedlinski 168-170 Linda Schele 69 Artur Schnahel 22

lames Schuyler 128 Delrrlore Schwartz. 8 1, 187 Armand Schwerner 8 1 , 128 Winfield Townley Scott 20 Frederick Seidel 26-32 Roger Sessions 56 Anne Sexton 20, 187 Ben Shahn 56 Wlilliam Shakespeare 47, 89, 224 Karl Shapiro 20, 184 Irwin Shaw 58 Percy Bysshe Shelley 73 Leo Shestov 149 Shiva 116, 199 Richard Siehurth 82 Ron Silli~nan 20, 82-82, 84, 8 5 , 86,

88, 92-95 Charles Sirliic 8 1 Marc Simon 176 Louis Simpson 184 Frank Sinatra 27 Aaron Siskind 56 John Skelton 89 Christopher Smart 53 Gregory Smith 150 W.D. Snodgrass 187 Gary Snyder 20, 53, 81, 95, 129,

130, 184, 188 Sir John Soane 73 Gustaf Sobin 79, 80, 186 Anastasia Somoza 222 Sophocles 136 Gilbert Sorrentino 16, 79, 9 5 Philippe Soupaulr 76, 206 Barry Spllcks 20 Lewis Spence 150

Stephen Spender 80, 127 lack Spicer 78, 8 1, 8.5, 174, 184 \X'illialn St'jfford 20, 188 loseph Stalin 148, 158, 224 Sylvester Stallone 178 Gertrude Stein 80, 86, 94, 184 Wallace Stevens 77, 81, 176, 185,

188 Trumbull Stickney 188 Mark Strand 81, 178 \X'illiarn S tyon 11 6, 1 17 May Swenson 184

Nathaniel Tarn 51-53, 79, 81, 130 Allcn Tatc 81, 89, 187 James Tate 187 Sara Teasdale 184, 188 Dennis Tedlock 70 Roberto Tejada 132 Gerard Ter Borch 48 blagali Tercero 132 Margaret Thatcher 107 Dylan Thomas 8 1 James T h ~ ~ r b e r 19 'Mark Tobey 71 Charles Tomlinson 20, 81 Robert Tomson 64 Jean Toomer 193 Joacluin Torres-Garcia 68 Jaime Torres-Bodet 205. 206 Thomas Traherne 25 Willard Trask 130 Vr~lda Trrvlvn 1 3 , 154 Lionel Trilling 90 Alexander l'roschi 127

Giuseppe T~lcci 195 David T'c~dor 60 Ciael Turnbull 20, 80, 81 Mark Twain 47 C:y Twombly 56 Jack T~vorkov 56 William Tyndale 161 Tristan Tzara 65, 86, 206

Paul Valerv 1 52, 182 Cesar Vnllelo 52, 129, 222, 224 h l a ~ k \ a n Doten 20, 184 hlona Van Duyn 20, 178 H .~ns van Mergeren 48-49 hfarro Vargas Llosa 139 Henry Vaughan 25 Helen Vendler 188, 189 Jan Vermeer 48-49 Esteban Vlcente 56 X ~ v ~ r r V ~ l l a u r r u t ~ ~ 206 V~shnu 190, 191 Comte de Volncv 7 1 Mar~e-Lou~se ton Franz 56 hurt Vonnegut 1 16

R l ~ h a r d Wagner 32, 47 David Wagoner 71 I)~anc K'akosk~ 128 Derek W.i lc~t t 17 1

Anne Waldm'~n 128 Rosrn'ir~e Waldrop 79, 81, 83, 88

Eliot Weinberger Written Reaction Poetics Politics Polemics 1979-1995 1996 - [PDF Document] (126)

Irving Wallace 49 David Y o ~ ~ n g 187 Sylvia Townsend Warner 156 Vernon Young 27, 28, 32 Robert Penn Warren 188 R. Gordon Wasson 140- 142 Vernon Watkins 20, 8 1 Ossip Zadkine 56 Burton Watson 80 Marva Zaturenska 184 Rarrett Watten 85, 86, 89 Louis Zukofsky 20, 77, 79, 81, 83, Evelyn W a ~ ~ g h 68 8.5, 89, 91, 176, 184, 186, 187, Wei Hung 25 223 Alexis Weissenberg 47, 48 Phillip Whalen 20 Walt Whitrnan 1.5, 53, 1 16, 158 Benjamin Lee Whorf 89, 1.50 Richard LVilbur 81, 178, 188 Wendell Wilkie 180 Nancy \Yiillard 187 Jonathan Williams 61, 6 2 \Villiam Carlos Williams 15, 53,

62 ,63,77,80,83, 101, 125, 171, 176, 182, 185, 188,223

Edmund Wilson 86 Sir James Wilson 151 Yvor Winters 184 Christa Wolf 169 Stefan Wolpe 56 William Wordsworth 14, 73, 99 Charles Wright 187 James Wright 81, 188 Eleanor Wylie 184, 188

Xie Ye 173, 174

Yang Lian 173 \V.R. Yeats 2, 31, 80, 157

Eliot Weinberger Written Reaction Poetics Politics Polemics 1979-1995 1996 - [PDF Document] (127)


Eliot Weinberger is a noted essayist, translator, and editor. His

essays on Asia, Latin America, poetry, and politics are collected in

Wovks on Papev and Outside Stovies, both published hy New

Directions. He is the co-author, with Octavio Paz, of 3 s t ~ ~ d y of

Chinese poetry translation, Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei (Moyer Bell), and the editor of the recent anthology Amcvican Poetuy Since 1950: lnnouatovs & Outsidevs (Marsilio). Among

his many translations of Latin America~i poetry and prose are the

Collected Poenrs of Octauio Paz 19.57-1 987 (New Directions),

Vicente Huidobro's Altazav (Graywolf), Jorge Luis Borges's Seven Niiyhts (New Directions), and Xavier Villaurrutia's Nostalgia fov Death (Copper Canyon). In 1992, he was named the first recipient

of the PENKolovakos Award for his work in promoting Hispanic

literatuie in the United States.


Weinberger keynote

Secrecy, Textual Legitimation, and Inter-Cultural Polemics

Interview David Weinberger Digitale Bibliotheek

Home - Benchley Weinberger Elementary

Polemics of Healing: Storytelling, Refugees and Futures

David Weinberger - Library as Platform

Local Coordinating Council By Jane Weinberger. Seniors’ Resource Center-Evergreen Jane Weinberger, Director

Aristotle - Poetics

Rabbi Weinberger 5774 Night

The Poetics of Cinema (Russian Poetics in Translation)

Joseph Aaron Weinberger

Knox_wine Water and Callimachean Polemics

Weinberger Group brochure

Foucault, Polemics, Politics, And Problematizations

Joel Weinberger - Neuroscience - 2011

Filioque before polemics

Depostion of Diane Weinberger


Stan Beckers Simon Weinberger

Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld - Hofstra University

Everything is Miscellaneous Weinberger

The Camera People - Elliot Weinberger

The Philosophical Polemics with the Vatsiputriyas About

Poetics Revised

Aristotle's Poetics

Polemics Against Ahl Al-Sunnah

Weinberger FirstCourseInPartialDifferentialEquations

1. ESTRATEGIA - Karen Weinberger

UNDERSTANDING THE POEM OF THE BURDAH IN SUFI …· "From Sirah to Qasidah: Poetics and Polemics in Al-Busiri's Qasidat Al-Burdah (Mantle Ode)," Journal of Arabic Literature 38, no

Pages From Badiou, Alain, Polemics Third Sketch

Algo elemental - Eliot Weinberger

“ Weinberger” ist so obskur wie

the metaphisical polemics of tao te ching.pdf

Aristotle’s Poetics

Eliot Weinberger Written Reaction Poetics Politics Polemics 1979-1995 1996 - [PDF Document] (2024)
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