Photo credit: Charles Bernstein, 2006

Jerome Rothenberg

b. 1931

Biography

Jerome Rothenberg’s publishing career began in the late 1950s as a translator of German poetry, first for Hudson Review and then for City Lights Books. Founding Hawk’s Well Press in 1959, Rothenberg used it as a venue to publish collections by some of the up-and-coming poets of the era, including Diane Wakoski and Robert Kelly. He also self-published his first book of poems, White Sun Black Sun, under the Hawk’s Well imprint. From the beginning, his work embodied experimentation with syntax, image, and form that drew on varied influences and moved in diverse directions. Poetic and artistic forebears such as Gertrude SteinJames Joyce, Dali, the Dadaists, Ezra Pound, and Walt Whitman affected the voice and content of his early work. In a career that has already spanned half a century, including seventy books of his own poetry, plus plays, acclaimed anthologies, and other works, Rothenberg has gone on to explore primitive and archaic poetry, sound poetry, found poetry, visual poetry, collaborations, further translations, his own Jewish heritage, and much more.

In an interview with Michael Rodriguez for Samizdat, Rothenberg stated that he came to “believe early that poetry and art could make a difference . . . for the world-at-large at our most ambitious.” However, Rothenberg also said that when he returned to writing at the end of his army service in the mid-1950s, he “felt incredibly isolated as a writer,” partly because of the wars during the previous decade (World War II and the Korean War) and partly because of the repressive spirit that permeated the United States due to McCarthyism. Rothenberg continued: “The emergence of the Beats at the same time was the first public signal that we weren’t alone in the desire to assert or reassert what we thought of as a new revolution-of-the-word and a second awakening of a radical and unfettered modernism.” For Rothenberg and other writers like himself, taking charge of their own publications was the primary means by which they were able to express their voice, and it was this realization that led him, in collaboration with David Antin and Diane Rothenberg, to found Hawk’s Well Press.

Rothenberg identified with both the 20th-century avant garde and with “a range of tribal and subterranean poetries” that can provide “a poetics big enough to account for human creativity, human language-making, over the broadest span available.” Of his poetry and his experimental “anthology-assemblages,” he once wrote: “My process has been like what Samuel Makindemewabe (per Howard Norman) said of the Cree Indian Trickster: ‘to walk forward while looking backward.’ With past and future up for grabs, the possibility opened up—by the late 1950s—to make a near-total change in poetry, perception, language, etc., tied up with earlier twentieth century ‘revolutions of the word.’ … My own contributions (nomenclature and praxis) have included ‘deep image,’ ethnopoetics, ‘total translation,’ poetics of performance, and assorted attempts ‘to reinterpret the poetic past from the point of view of the present.”‘

Rothenberg has been particularly interested in the poetry of the North American Indians, both verbal and non-verbal: a poetry that can often be expressed, according to Rothenberg, in “music, non-verbal phonetic sounds, dance, gesture and event, game, dream, etc.” It is, he explained, “a high poetry and art, which only a colonialist ideology could have blinded us into labeling ‘primitive’ or ‘savage.'” At the same time, he wrote, “I have been exploring ancestral sources of my own in the world of Jewish mystics, thieves and madmen,” the latter resulting in works like Poland/1931 and A Big Jewish Book.

Reviewing the collection titled Seedings and Other Poems for Booklist, Patricia Monaghan stated: “[He] evokes the dream in, of, and through language more effectively than any other contemporary poet,” and she concluded by crediting his poems with being “simultaneously emotionally complex and linguistically experimental.” A Publishers Weekly reviewer praised the title poem of the collection, an extended and personal contemplation on life and death, noting that its “plain style displays the influence of . . . primitive and oral tribal poetics.” The same reviewer found the “Dada-influenced avant-garde” poems in Seedings and Other Poems to be less interesting, but was impressed with “’14 Stations’ . . . a powerful and sad meditation on the Holocaust.”

In 2000 Rothenberg published A Paradise of Poets: New Poems and Translations, a collection about which Rochelle Owens in World Literature Today observed: “In this volume the poet’s stylistic mode, insistencies, and power to synthesize experience into a brilliant word-song orality are manifestations of his art and life where symbol, image, and events create new terminologies.” As the titles indicates, the subject of A Paradise of Poets deals to a large extent with the lives and works of other poets (and artists) some of whom Rothenberg has known. The assemblage is international, including Garcia Lorca, Vitezslav Nezval, Paul BlackburnLouis Zukofsky, Picasso, and Kurt Schwitters. Owens noted that “the illuminations and insights [of other poets and artists] . . . are revealed in their marvelous complexity by the poet/translator who renders the body of the poem into a transformational and personal journey of artistic risk and vitality of language.”

Rothenberg is widely and highly respected as a consummate anthologist and poetic theorist as well as a poet. In the massive 1,700-page, two-volume Poems for the Millennium: The University of California Book of Modern and Postmodern Poetry, edited with Pierre Joris, Rothenberg presents what Hacsi Horvath of Whole Earth considered “a brilliant kaleidoscope of writing unstuck in time, both in English and in fine translation, from numerous archaic/modern/postmodern voices.” Monaghan praises the editors for providing “the kind of critical guidance so sweeping a collection requires.” The first volume, From Fin-de-Siècle to Negritude, covers the period from 1900 through World War II. The second volume, From Postwar to Millennium, encompasses the remainder of the twentieth century. Despite the length and worldwide scope of Poems for the Millennium, the anthology makes no attempt to be comprehensive with regard to 20th-century poetry. Instead, it emphasizes what Rothenberg and Joris consider to be poems that point toward the future both in form and content, while passing over more conventional work. Beginning with a discussion of Rimbaud and Whitman, the editors present the poetry of dadaism, expressionism, surrealism, and numerous other avant-garde movements, yet omit poets such as FrostAudenDerek WalcottSylvia Plath, and Robert Pinsky. Reviewing the first volume, a Publishers Weekly critic noted: “This invaluable collection, rather than gathering the most fully realized poetry of this century’s first four decades, maps poetic possibility, thus demonstrating how poetry was literally remade during this period.” Ray Olson of Booklist called it “a book to argue with, which is one of its strengths.” Describing the second volume in Publishers Weekly, a reviewer stated: “This collection freely crosses national and aesthetic boundaries to include work by the Scottish concrete poet and garden designer Ian Hamilton Finlay, poems by the famed African novelist Chinua Achebe, and excerpts from Dictée, the only major writing project by the Korean American filmmaker Theresa Hak Kyung Cha,” and went on to conclude: “As an introduction to the many avant-gardes of the second half of the century . . . the value of this international gatecrasher cannot be underestimated.”

Writing in Vort, Kenneth Rexroth described Rothenberg and his poetry in the following way: “Jerome Rothenberg is one of the truly contemporary American poets who has returned U.S. poetry to the mainstream of international modern literature. At the same time, he is a true autochthon. Only here and now could have produced him—a swinging orgy of Martin Buber, Marcel Duchamp, Gertrude Stein, and Sitting Bull. No one writing poetry today has dug deeper into the roots of poetry.” Introducing Rothenberg at a 1998 reading, Al Filreis stated: “He has become the poet, critic, teacher, anthologist, translator, activist, archivist, assembler, organizer, and editor who has done as much as anyone of his generation to make a radical modernism available to readers.”

Rothenberg regularly posts his work, new and old, on his “Poems & Poetics” blog.

Biography courtesy of the Poetry Foundation

Current City, State, Country

Encinitas, California, USA

Birth City, State, Country

Bronx, New York, USA

Published Works

Poetry
A Book of Witness: Spells and Gris-Gris (New Directions, 2002)
(With Ian Tyson) The Case for Memory, and Other Poems (Granary Books, 2001)
A Paradise of Poets: New Poems & Translations (New Directions, 1999)
Paris Elegies and Improvisations (Meow Press, 1998)
The Leonardo Project: 10+2 (visual poems) (privately printed, San Diego, CA, 1998)
The Treasures of Dunhuang (Graphic Arts Press, 1998)
At the Grave of Nakahara Chuya (Backwoods Broadsides, 1998)
Delight/Délices & Other Gematria, drawings by Ian Tyson, French translations by Nicole Peyrafitte (Editions Ottezec, Nimes, France, 1998)
Gematria 643, art by Ian Tyson (1997)
(With Ian Tyson) Twin Gematria (1997)
Seedings and Other Poems (New Directions, 1996)
A Flower like a Raven, translated from Kurt Schwitter’s works, an artist’s book edition by Barbara Fahrner (Granary Books, 1996)
Pictures of the Crucifixion and Other Poems, drawings by David Rathman, typography by Philip Gallo (Granary Books, 1996)
Two Songs about Flowers & Where I Was Walking, privately printed (New College Book Arts, 1995)
An Oracle for Delphi, illustrated by Demosthenes Agrafiotis (Light and Dust Books, 1994)
Gematria (Sun & Moon Press, 1994)
The Lorca Variations I-XXXIII (Zasterle Press, 1990), (New Directions, 1993)
A Gematria for Jackson Mac Low (Imprints, London, England, 1991)
Khurbn and Other Poems (New Directions, 1989)
Gematria 5 (Bellevue Press, 1987)
New Selected Poems, 1970-1985 (New Directions, 1986)
A Merz Sonata, illustrated by Debra Weier (Emanon Press, 1985)
(With Harold Cohen) 15 Flower World Variations (Membrane Press, 1984)
That Dada Strain (New Directions, 1983)
Altar Pieces (Station Hill Press, 1982)
The History of Dada as My Muse (Spot Press, London, England, 1982)
Imaginal Geography 9: Landscape with Bishop (Atticus Press, 1982)
For E. W.: Two Sonnets (Spot Press, London, England, 1981)
Vienna Blood and Other Poems (New Directions, 1980)
Letters and Numbers (Salient Seedling Press, 1980)
B.R.M.Tz.V.H. (Perishable Press, 1979)
Abulafia’s Circles (Membrane Press, 1979)
A Seneca Journal (complete) (New Directions, 1978)
(With Philip Sultz) Seneca Journal: The Serpent (Singing Bone Press, 1978)
(With Ian Tyson) Narratives and Realtheater Pieces (Braad Editions, Bretenoux, France, 1977)
A Vision of the Chariot in Heaven (Hundred Flowers Bookshop, 1976)
The Notebooks (Membrane Press, 1976)
Rain Events (Membrane Press, 1975)
(With Ian Tyson) I Was Going through the Smoke (Tetrad Press, 1975)
Book of Palaces: The Gatekeepers (Pomegranate Press, 1975)
A Poem to Celebrate the Spring and Diane Rothenberg’s Birthday (Perishable Press, 1975)
(With Philip Sultz) Seneca Journal: Midwinter (Singing Bone Press 1975)
The Pirke and the Pearl,(Tree Books, 1975)
The Cards (Black Sparrow Press, 1974)
Poland/1931 (complete) (New Directions, 1974)
Seneca Journal 1: A Poem of Beavers (Perishable Press, 1973)
Esther K. Comes to America (Unicorn Press, 1973)
(With Ian Tyson) Three Friendly Warnings (Tetrad Press, London, England, 1973)
A Valentine No a Valedictory for Gertrude Stein (Judith Walker, London, England, 1972)
(With Ian Tyson and Richard Johnny John) Poems for the Society of the Mystic Animals (Tetrad Press, London, England, 1972)
Net of Moon, Net of Sun (Unicorn Press, 1971)
A Book of Testimony (Tree Books, 1971)
Poems for the Game of Silence, 1960-1970 (Dial Press, 1971)
Polish Anecdotes (Unicorn Press, 1970)
(With Tom Phillips) The Directions (Tetrad Press, London, England, 1969)
Poland/1931, Part I (Unicorn Press, 1969)
(With Ian Tyson) Sightings I-IX [and] Red Easy a Color (Circle Press, London, England, 1968)
(With Ian Tyson) Offering Flowers (Circle Press, London, England, 1968)
Poems 1964-1967 (Black Sparrow Press, 1968)
Conversations (Black Sparrow Press, 1968)
Between: 1960-1963 (Fulcrum Press, London, England, 1967)
The Gorky Poems (El Corno Emplumado, Mexico City, Mexico, 1966)
Sightings I-IX (Hawk’s Well Press, 1964)
The Seven Hells of the Jigoku Zoshi (Trobar, 1962)
White Sun Black Sun (Hawk’s Well Press, 1960)

Plays
(With Makoto Oda and Charles Morrow) Khurbn/Hiroshima (produced by Bread and Puppet Theater, Glover, VT)
Poland/1931 (produced by The Living Theater, New York, NY, 1988)
That Dada Strain, music by Bertram Turetsky, produced by Center for Theater Science and Research, San Diego, CA, 1985 (produced in New York, NY, 1987)
The Deputy (adaptation of a play by Rolf Hochhuth; produced in New York, NY, 1964), (Samuel French, New York, NY, 1965)

Recordings
(With Charles Morrow) Signature (Granary, 2001)
The Birth of the War God (with Charles Morrow) and The Western Wind (Laurel, 1988)
Rothenberg, Turetsky: Performing (Blues Economique, 1984)
Jerome Rothenberg (New Letters,1979)
Jerome Rothenberg Reads Poland/1931 (New Fire, 1979)
6 Horse Songs for 4 Voices (New Wilderness Audiographics, 1978)
Horse Songs and Other Soundings (S-Press, 1975)
From a Shaman’s Notebook (Folkways, 1968)
Origins and Meanings (Folkways, 1968)

Translations & Edited Works
“Writing Through”: Translations and Variations (Wesleyan University Press, 2002)
(Co-editor with Pierre Joris, and translator) Pablo Picasso, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz and Other Poems (Exact Change, 2002)
(Translator) Frederico García Lorca, The Suites (Green Integer, 2001)
(Translator, with Milos Sovak) Vitezslav Nexval, Antilyrik and Other Poems (Green Integer, 2001)
(Editor, with Steven Clay) A Book of the Book: Some Works & Projections about the Book & Writing (Granary Books, 2000)
(Editor, with David Guss) The Book, Spiritual Instrument (Granary Book, 1996)
(Editor, with Pierre Joris) Poems for the Millennium: The University of California Book of Modern and Post-Modern Poetry (University of California Press, Berkeley, CA), Volume One: From Fin-de-Siècle to Negritude, 1995, Volume Two: From Postwar to Millennium, 1998
(Editor and co-translator) Kurt Schwitters, Poems, Performance Pieces, Proses, Plays, Poetics (Temple University Press, 1993)
(Translator) Four Lorca Suites (Sun and Moon Press, 1989)
The Riverside Interviews 4: Jerome Rothenberg, edited by Gavin Selerie and Eric Mottram, (Binnacle Press, London, England, 1984)
(Editor and author of commentaries, with Diane Rothenberg) Symposium of the Whole: A Range of Discourse toward an Ethnopoetics (University of California Press, 1983)
Pre-Faces and Other Writings (New Directions, 1981)
(Editor, with Harris Lenowitz and Charles Doria) A Big Jewish Book: Poems and Other Visions of the Jews from Tribal Times to Present, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1978, contents revised as Exiled in the Word: Poems & Other Visions of the Jews from Tribal Times to the Present (Copper Canyon Press, 1989)
(Translator, with Harris Lenowitz) Gematria 27 (Membrane Press, 1977)
(Editor with Michel Benamou) Ethnopoetics: A First International Symposium (Alcheringa, 1976)
(Editor) Revolution of the Word: A New Gathering of American Avant Garde Poetry 1914-1945 (Seabury-Continuum Books, 1974)
(Editor, with George Quasha) America a Prophecy: A New Reading of American Poetry from Pre-Columbian Times to the Present (Random House, 1973)
(Editor) Shaking the Pumpkin: Traditional Poetry of the Indian North Americans, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1972, 2nd revised edition (University of New Mexico Press, 1991)
(Translator) The Seventeen Horse Songs of Frank Mitchell, Nos. X-XIII (Tetrad Press, London, England, 1970)
(Translator) Eugen Gomringer, The Book of Hours and Constellations (Something Else Press, 1968)
(Editor and author of commentaries) Technicians of the Sacred: A Range of Poetries from Africa, America, Asia, and Oceania, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1968, 2nd revised edition (University of California Press, 1985)
(Translator, with Michael Hamburger) Hans Magnus Enzenberger, Poems for People Who Don’t Read Poems, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1968, published as Selected Poems (Penguin, 1968)
(Translator) The Flight of Quetzalcoatl (Aztec) (Unicorn Bookshop, Brighton, England, 1967)
(Editor) Ritual: A Book of Primitive Rites and Events (anthology) (Something Else Press, 1966)
(Editor and translator) New Young German Poets (City Lights, 1959)

Current Title

University of California, San Diego, emeritus professor of visual arts and literature.

Author Site

Education

City College of New York, BA in English, 1952
University of Michigan, Masters in Literature, 1953

Video Reading

Links to Sample Works

Genre

Profile Created By

Charles Bernstein