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Eliot Weinberger

AIJTIIOK

Works on Paper (1986)


19 Ways of Look~ngclt Waizg Wei (with Octavio Paz. 1987)
Outside Stories ( 1992) W R I T T E N
Written Rcuctior~:Poetics Politics Polemics ( 1996)

EDITOR
R E A C T I O N
Montemora (1975-1982) POETICS POLITICS POLEMICS
Una atztologia de la poesia norteamericana desde 19.FO (1992)
American Poetry Since 19SO: 1tztzou~7tors& Outsiders (1993)
Sltlfz<r33: lnto the Pust (1993)

EDITOR & TRANSLATOR

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 1957-1987 (1987)
Vicente Huidohro, Altazor (1988)
Octavio Paz, A Tree Within (198 8 )
Octavio Paz, Strnstonc, ( 1 991)
Cecilia Vicuna, Unravelling Words and the Weaving of Water (1992) . M A K S I L I O P I J B L I S H F R S
Xavier Villaurrutia, Nostalgia for Death ( 1992) N E W Y O R K
Most of these essays, In varying for~ns,originally z~ppearedin the following
periodicals and hooks: Artion I'odi~1rte (France), Agni, I-'/ ~ i ~ g (Mexico),
el
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>tryFlash, SiOiliz (Spain), Sulfur,
Vueltil (Mexico); Eliot Weinbcrger. Iitt~c~~ciones dc pa/)el [Edic~onesVuelta. Mexico);
Hugh Macniarrnid, Sclcrtctl Poems (Ne\v Directions); Tbr Brc*izdof D L I ~ SElc~~crl :
Mexiran Ports Tralzslatc~dby .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- I used t o live a l w a y s in t h e beautiful L a n d of Poetry.
g ~ ) de
s lu uistil (Centro Cultural/ Arte (:ontempor,ineo, h l e x ~ c o )P. ; loris, ed., lay! T h e n o n e d a y I f o u n d myself in N o n s e n s e Land, a n d since t h e n
Praise! leromr Rothettl~er~ ot 60 (Ta'wil); E.M. Santi. ed., ~ r r h i t ' oBloitc~(F.diciones
I c a n n o t find m y w a y back h o m e .
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).
hIAGC;[E RROWKE,
I n d i v ~ d ~ selection5
~al copyr~ghtO 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1981, 1984, 1985, 1986,
The B o o k of Betty B a r h e r (1900)
1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1991, 1994, 1995 h~ Ellor Weinberger.

Marsilio Publ~shersCorp.
853 Broadway
New York, NY 10003

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Weinberger. Eliot
Wr~rtenreaction-poetics, politics, polemics/Eliot Weinberger.
P. cm. for N.S., A.D. & S.
Includes index.
ISBN 1-56886-027-7 (hardcover : alk. paper)
I. Title
PS3.573.E.3928W75 1996
814' .S4-dc20 96-755
CIP

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
[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 (1907-1986)
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
Reading Poetry
Rothenberg: IVew York / 1968
Talking on Drugs
In the Zocalo
WRITTEN REACTION
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 at St. Mark's Church
My Pet Rabbit
Naked Mole-Rats
Index
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.
--E.W.
T H I S R O O K W I L L BE H E R E

FOR A THOUSAND SECONDS

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


(Harper & R o w ) , 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 ~trgageditt 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 a n emblem of a n 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 a n 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
the poet into society: the old model held. For the last fifty years
producing printed matter, global communication) replaced the
poetry has drifted even further from the mainstream, though
necessity for the poem to narrate, chronicle, or comment on the
important work still flourishes in the backwaters. Today poetry
world at large. The poets' response to this new irrelevancy was a
in the U.S. is a snail darter, a frobush lousewort: a frail, unim-
turning inward toward secular exaltation: Romanticism.
portant creature which is only visible when- as during the Viet-
Romanticism represented an exploration of what they imagined
nam War, for example- it becomes a nuisance, a slight hitch in
to be the passive, "feminine" aspect of human nature (which-
the business at hand.
need one say it?-is neither the exclusive nor general domain of
Meanwhile, a neo-Romantic poetry of noble sentiment contin-
women): moon, dream, shadow, sentiment, "the life of the mind"
ues to remain popular, especially among the young. It is sweet
(as Wordsworth called his anti-epic), rhapsodies of the natural
and escapist, like a so-called Gothic novel, and far from the
world. It was the creation of a counter-kingdom, a shadow gov-
world of the daily paper. "Disasters are all right," Robert Bly
ernment; the poet became the "unacknowledged legislator." The
claims in his new collection, "if they teach men and women/ t o
achievements of the few great poets of the time led t o imitation
turn their hollow places up." It is the language of Esalen, and not
and excess, and a new image- that of the moony poet- was pet-
Bangladesh. Bly sees his mission as the restoration of the "femi-
rified in the public mind. The adjective "poetic" became synony-
nine" to American poetry. (At his many public readings, he still
mous with ztnzuorldly, dreamy, high-flotun (language),sensitive-
stomps around the stage in a rubber LBJ mask, to symbolize
in a word, romantic-. "Poetic justice" meant that evil, in the end,
"masculine"- meaning destructive- energy.) H e has dismissed
would receive its just desert; a wishful contrast to political justice,
most of the North American masters (Pound, Williams, Eliot, et
which- as is evident in every issue of The Nation- is rarely so
all and has publicly knelt and kissed the hand of Pablo Neruda,
felicitous. The opposite of "poetic" became, naturally, "prosaic":
his muse and role-model. Following Neruda, he has ignored
fuctual, down-to-earth, at worst tedious as daily existence.
musical s t r ~ ~ c t u rand
e precision of language to exalt the image;
The revolution in American poetry at the beginning of the 20th
imitating Neruda's imitation of Whitman, he has adopted the
century attempted to topple late Romanticisnl and return poetry
persona of the poet as the embracer of all beings: Bly's poems are
to a n active, self-consciously "masculine" position. At its worst,
a forest of exclamation marks, through which the phrase "I
it meant ideology, like this from Ezra Pound in 1921: "Man real-
love" runs like an asylum escapee.
ly the phallus or spermatozoid charging, head-on the female
This Tree Will Be Here for a Thousand Years (48 poems which
chaos ... Even oneself has felt it, driving any new idea into the
had previously appeared in 30 magazines) opens with a short
great passive vulva of London." At its best, the poetry would
essay on "The Two Presences." They are, according t o Bly, the
incorporate politics, history, social comment, precise observation
poet's own consciousness, which is "insecure, anxious, massive,
of the material world, urban topics, colloquial rather than "poet-
earthbound, persistent, cunning, hopeful," and "the conscious-
ic" language, absolute concision of speech. The movement
ness out there, in creatures and plants," which is, mercifully,
changed literature, yet failed, especially in America, to reinsert
"none of' these things," but which has "a melancholy tone." The idling in the moonlight, etc. The third line jumps to another
poems, then, are an attempt to bridge this gap between inner and unrelated image, and one that is probably inaccurate: the moths
outer, and they d o so by presenting a n "I" whom we may assume I know, at least, preter the products of knit & purl to those of
is the poet himself, and a largely personified natural world. N o t Harper & Row. Lines four and five, beginning with a wistful
since Disney put gloves on a mouse has nature been so human: "sometimes," jump again, this time to a bit of fancy that might
objects have "an inner gief"; alfalfa is "brave," a butterfly "joy- be charming if written by a third-grader. The poem, as all Bly
ful," dusk "half-drunk"; a star is "a stubborn man"; bark "calls poems, runs on, offering a new self-contained image every line or
to the rain"; "snow water glances up at the new moon." It's a two, and then abruptly ends. What could be simpler for a n ado-
carnival of pathetic fallacy. At times, Bly's all-embracing I, more
childish than childlike, verges on the parodic: "I know n o one on
this train./ A man comes walking down the aisle./ I want to tell
I lescent- whose feelings cannot be restrained by technique- to
copy?
Bly is a popular poet because his poems, to the general audi-
him/ that I forgive him, that I want him/ to forgive me." One ence, sound like poems. The poet is identifiably cheery ("I loved
longs for a new chapter to D.H. Lawrence's Studies in Classical that afternoon, and the rest of my life") or sad ("In a few years
Americarz Literature ("Oh God! Better a bellyache. A bellyache is we will die") and his images have all been certified as "poetic":
at least specific.") snow, moon, lakes, trees, shadows, horses, birds, night, rain,
Most college students who write poetry imitate Bly, not only wind, lions, graves and so on. That his enthusiasm is expressed
because the poet's lack of emotional subtlety matches their own, through pointless and rarely believable metaphor- who else
but, most of all, because a Bly poem is so easy t o write. Consid- would compare the sound of a cricket to a sailboat?-that his
er the first five lines of a poem in this collection called "Women facility for English seems t o have been warped by reading (and
We Never See Again": writing) too many bad translations, that he has never conceived
of the line as a unit of musical measure, are subtleties that are
There are women we love whom we never see again. largely lost to the college crowds. That a bad poet is widely read
T i ~ e yare chestnuts shining in the rain. is hardly news. What is disturbing, however, is the fact that so
Moths hatched in winter disappear behind books. many young writers- w h o should be experimental, wild, out-
Sometimes when you put your hand into a hollow tree raged, idealistic- are modeling themselves after this utterly safe,
you touch the dark places between the stars. cozily irrelevant poet, a man w h o has written, with numbing sin-
. cerity, "It is good to be poor, and t o listen to the wind."
The first line flatly posits a familiar and "poetic" theme: lost
love. The second sets up a metaphor that is entirely without [Postsc-ript, 1 W . C : Bly's relaxed surrealism has now heen largely replaced,
meaning; any word could easily be replaced without altering the in the writing schools, by "realist" description and auto-therapy.]
poem: they are Brazil nuts shining in the sun, they are Pontiacs
1'1 < , : \ $ t i $ :\I 1 tlt <,I [It l4C l'Ol<Y

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
PEGASUS A T T H E G L U E F A C T O R Y
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.)
O n May 18, 1969, Daryl Hine was announced as Rago's
( A reuretu o/ Thr Poctr) Anthology 19 12- 1977, edrted h)
successor, and eleven days later Rago's heart gave out. The maga-
zine changed immediately. The tell-tale cover eliminated Pegasus
wrrtteit for M o n t e m o r a , 197v.J and the poets, and gave its entire space to doleful pen-and-inks:
On the outside, Poetry had become the Pawpaw College Lit.

D aryl Hine took America's most


successful and prestigious poetry magazine and drove it t o ruin.
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
Yet far more reprehensible is the continuing campaign of vilifica- drop in individual subscriptions and sales (libraries generally
tion he has directed against his predecessor, the late Henry Rago. renew automatically). The magazine began to lose money serious-
After the death of Harriet Monroe in 1936, Poetry drifted for ly, and even the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature (which
nineteen years in a vapid succession of short-term editors and had been indexing Poetry since 1 9 1.5) dropped them, resulting in
editorial committees. By 1955, when Rago assumed the editor- a further loss of subscriptions, now from the smaller libraries.
ship, the magazine was in a state of financial collapse. A strict In 1978, after nine drooping years, Hine finally stepped down.
organizer- even specifying the brand of office paper clips- he His chosen replacement- inspired, perhaps, by Tutmania- was
quickly brought Poetry into the period of its greatest prosperity. a member of the editorial committee of the 19403, John Frederick
More significant, he heeded Eliot's advice that Poetry was an Nims, the man who once compared the Cantos t o cancer cells.
institution, not a little magazine. It existed not to promote a spe- His first act was to restore the Rago cover, but with one signifi-
cific group or genre, but rather t o display monthly the range of cant change: the grave and graceful Rago Pegasus was now a cute
the serious writing that occurred in the country. Neither fief nor winged horsey drawn by James Thurber. As all institutions in the
commune, Poetry was, ideally, the Republic of Letters. final stage of decay, Poetry had become a parody of itself.
The history of Poetry and its editors is encapsuled in the evo- The Poetry Anthology purports t o represent "sixty-five years of
lution of the magazine's cover. Rago's restoration of the Monroe America's most distinguished magazine." A judicious anthologist
\Yl<l I I t X [<I-.A( I I O N 1'1 ( , , \ \ [ I \ ,\I I tlt ( 9 1 LII. I ,I(
I ()I<\

would have attempted to mirror each succeeding editor's taste. forty years. Others, like Olson and Rexroth, have simply van-
Hine & Parisi, however, shamelessly offer their ow11 claustropho- ished, while immortals like David Wagoner, John Ciardi, and
bic reading of literary history. Scores of regular contributors- in Turner Cassity are given multiple entries.
the style of the Soviet Encyclopedia- have mysteriously vanished. Nor is Hine's distaste for Rago and his policies limited to edito-
Examine, for example, four typical Rago years: April 1965 t o rial subversion. In a 13-page introduction, the fourteen Rago
March 1969 (all of Volumes 106 through 113). The following years are discussed and dismissed in one paragraph: "He seems,
were among the avant-gardist poets published, often in long from the space he gave certain fashionable poets both in the mag-
selections and often repeatedly, alongside the traditionalist prac- azine and on its movie-marquee-like cover, t o have picked
titioners: Antin; Blackburn; Bowering; Bromige; Bunting (the favorites...there were few surprises in these years." (Earlier, Hine
complete Briggflatts); Creeley; Davenport; Dorn; Dull; Duncan notes that Ezra Pound's "influence on Poetry, as on modern poet-
(including some particularly fine "Passages"); Eigner; Enslin; ry in general, has been exaggerated out of proportion...") Revi-
Eshleman; Hollo; Irby; Ronald Johnson; Levertov; Loewinsohn; sionism has even oozed on to the book's dust jacket: 3 3 snapshots
Merton; Stuart Montgonlery (the complete Circe); Niedecker; of poets and editors, but n o Rago and no Pound. Worse, the fat
Olson (from Maximus); Oppen; Rakosi; Margaret Randall; spine is adorned with a goony freshman Tho111Gunn, a marcelled
Raworth; Tim Reynolds; Rexroth; Rukeyser; Samperi; even Randall Jarrell, and a squishy Amy Lowell. They stare from the
Aram Saroyan; S i l l i ~ ~ ~Snyder;
an; Sorrentino; Tomlinson; Turn- shelf.
bull; Whalen; Zukofsky (including special issues and the com- As Poetry (Hine) had few readers, and as only collecting com-
plete "Ax-14,15, 18, 19, 2 1 ) . pletists would consider buying this book, a dutiful reviewer
Hine & Parisi give sixteen anthology pages to those four years. should provide a brief synopsis of this last decade. A few titles and
(110 of the book's 520 pages are devoted to eight of Hine's years the first lines of poems tell it all: Like a particularly damp provin-
as editor.) The poets chosen from that period are Carruth, Sexton, cial museum, the pages were crowded with plaster-casts: "Baucis
Snyder, Van Duyn, Tomlinson (twice), Spacks, Hollander (a little and Philomen"; "Dido: Swarming"; "Muse"; "Credo"; "Pervig-
poem in the shape of a swan...), Howard, Stafford, W.S. Graham, ilium Veneris"; "Death & Empedocles" and "Empedocles on
Benedikt, Bly, Merwin, Karl Shapiro, Winfield Townley Scott, Etna" (by different authors); "Narcissus to Himself"; "Satyr";
M a r k Van Doren and Vernon Watkins. Althoughmany frorn the "Bird and the Muse"; "Homage to the Caracci." There was some
first list were Poetry regulars, a search elsewhere in the anthology tourism, but no exotic climes: "Hotel in Paris"; "Circumambulat-
is equally depressing. Some are grudgingly allotted one poem ion of Mt. Tamalpais"; "Stones: Avesbury"; "Historical Museum,
each, despite long associations with the magazine. Some, like Manitoulin Island"; "Winter Drive"; "Leaving Buffalo"; "Under
Bunting and Zukofsky, are represented by a few early poems, but the Arc de Triomphe October 17'' (which begins "The French
nothing from Briggfilatts or The Spoils- first published in clocks struck two-thirty"); "Wandsworth Common." There were
Poetry- or "A ",which the magazine practically serialized over "Waiting Rooms" ("What great genius invented the waiting
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
GRIFFIN: RUIN'S VERGE
is a black swan"); ruminations o n poetry ("The old forms are like
birdhouses") and o n 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 ( W r ~ t t e f~t 7 tsh e elltry ( ~ r Jontzth~zit
z G ' t l f f i ~for
~ t h e referer~cvbook,

Farewell to His Teeth." Contemporary Poets (St. Murtrrz'sj, 1 'I7'). (

T
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 he card catalogue of the New
"The Pleasure of Ruins," are worthy of citation for their spec- York Public Library assumes that there are three Jonathan
tacular kitsch: 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
We cannot walk like Byron among Ayasoluk's ruined European languages. To these we might add the "would-be"
mosques, kicking the heads o f f yellow iris and eating pianist who studied with Schnabel in Berlin in the early 1930's,
cold lamb, but still we never envy the Bedouin. the director of BBC European Intelligence during World War 11,
the diplomat in Paris, the screenwriter in Rome, the playwright
But hold, reader: four more opening lines, and then good night: featured at the Edinburgh Fest~valin 1957. But amidst this
flock of public Griffins, the poet- the one whose work will last-
Reading through your work tonight has scarcely been visible. Until quite recently the poems rarely
As though it were autobiography appeared in magazines, and his books were published by the
I find your resonance... [author's ellipsis] smallest of small presses. Today one can find Griffin, if one looks
" I shan't be yours forever; even this can't last." 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
May Come Out"; "Ear to House-"; "3 Angels in Supernova"; way we live now, in the first age to devastate the future. His is a
"Into the Straight"; "At the Crucifixion of One's Heirs"; "The voice at world's end: "We need no prophets We know what is
World is Bugged"); rhymes that appear and disappear; neologisn~s coming/ but can we live with it?"
(breathprint, termcide, gravechill, brainstone); rhythms like shat- Although the poems continue the English spiritual tradition
tering glass; breath-pauses presented on the page through a system (and indeed Griffin seems closer to Vaughan, Herbert and Trah-
of indentation he has apparently invented. The music can be as erne, Hopkins and Dixon, than to any poet of this century) the
dense as the later Bunting; the language as personal as that of God of organized religion never enters these contemplations.
David Jones (though unlike Jones, Griffin never displays his erudi- Griffin's God is idiosyncratic and complex: a divine force which
tion; the poems are entirely without literary reference). "The syn- is either destructive or does not exist; a God that is the Goddess,
tax," George Oppen has commented, "moves of its own force, planet earth; a God that "is men making music." One of his
moves in the force of the world, it restores light and space to poet- darkest lines simply states: "Entropy is God."
ry. It is what the poetry of England has lacked for- how long?" In the absence of a creator God, the poetry becomes spiritual in
H e was first published in his (and the century's) fifties, and the the broadest sense: the spirit of incantation- incantation mean-
work contains none of the indulgences of younger poets. There ing music, poetry, prayer ("I believe in prayer not in God.") In a
is wit but never cleverness, no fanciful speculation, no anecdote, world where "we voted with our feet a deadness t o live in,"
few occasional pieces, and- other than some recent meditations Griffin's prayer is a grim one: "for/ Earth to be saved from
on death- no autobiography, no confession. The "I" of the Man." H e writes: "I believe in man but not much."
poem, when it appears, is linked only to verbs of thought, decla- Two thousand years ago, Wei Hung stated: "The music of an
ration o r perception. Griffin's nuclear words are man, God, age o n the verge of ruin is mournful and thoughtful." Griffin's
music, pride, humility. There is always the sense that the poet music is both, and yet, given his vision, strangely ecstatic. For
has been impelled t o speech. Jonathan Griffin, the "fact of musicn- that it is there, that we
This may be the first poetry to contemplate seriously the new are capable of making it- may be, in the end, all that matters:
vision of earth given us by the lunar missions. It is a poetry of
planetary consciousness, but without the occultism and nostalgia Is it too late? Before it is too late
for a Golden Age that has characterized more popular writing. remember the great mztsic. Because small
Accordingly, given the times, the vision is double; the poet's
response both ecstasy and rage. The intense lyrics in celebration
mammals dreamed it, because it is at all,
preserve the world, contitztte Man. Let great
I
of natural beauty are almost eclipsed by the bleak and apocalyp- work, by the few unlikely, inseminate
tic meditations. Griffin is one of the few poets today w h o is con- silence- the priz~atesile~zces,the All
fronting, in the poem, this earth of pesticide, radiation, Siletzce- with new music: to the still, small
holocaust, overpopulation, deforestation, chemical waste- the ttilze of Man the 1~7stzuaste reverberate.
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
NOTES FOR S U L F U R I other clans. Twenty years ago, in the ardent days of the antholo-
gy battles, even diehard Beat or Black Mountain partisans could,
( N o t e s , reoleuis, c o m m e n t s arld responses wrlttelz at the least, recognize the insignia of the opposing troops (do~lble
for tile hack pages of Sulfur. 1981 - 1 986.1
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?
Seidel's Sunrise
I, for one, read contemporary American poetry every day,
receive a pile of poetry books and periodicals every week, yet

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
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, d o I exclusively linger in that church
bake-sale ozone where all the presses are named after exotic flora
poet. Suizrise, seventeen years in the making, smartly published
or common fauna.) Consequently, I am not only ignorant of 80%
by Penguin1 Viking, is the 1979 Lamont Poetry Selection and the
of the poets discussed at the moment by scholars, wits and literati;
winner of the 1980 National Book Critics Circle Award (now
I am utterly mystified by the mechanics of current "establish-
second in prestige to the Pulitzer). Robert Lowell wrote in 1965:
ment" taste- the grounds, say, for the inclusion or exclusion of
"When I read him, I have envious, delighted, jolted feelings and
any poem in or from any Review. This despite the fact- which
suspect the possibilities of modern poetry have been changed."
we never admit- that on the whole the academic reviewers and
Richard Poirier compares Seidel to Lawrence, calling Surzrise one
critics are far better writers and far more informed than the aver-
of the best poetry books of the last decade or more. Jerome Maz-
age fellow traveler of those who make it new.
zaro in the Hudson Reuicw reveals that "Seidel has the power to
And so adritt with my nearly blank map of American poetry, I
be an important visionary." And Denis Donaghue, moonstruck
happened to read a review of Seidel's Sunrise by Vernon Young in
in the N.Y. Review of Books, is reminded of- needless to say-
the N.Y. Tinzes Book Rerliezv. Seidel was unknown to me, but (literally, as it turned out) such work? What boat had I missed?
I recognized Young as a "frequent critic." Although, to remain I bought the book.
calm, the Rook Review is best avoided- one always makes the
mistake of confusing it with literature, simply because it happens Seidel in Sulfur should, in fairness, be presented, not describ-
t o deal with objects identical to those in which literature is tradi- ed- it's all too easy t o sniff in dismissal or lower the heavy
tionally stored- Young's piece caught my eye. Seidel's poems, he artillery, So instead of sitting duck, I offer "Pressed Duck," a poem
wrote, "were the best about hell written in this country"; ~ ~ r b a n e , in its entirety from the collection:
scathing, frenetic"; "his visionary glimpses are balefully superb";
"compelling"; and so on. In support, he produced two passages Caneton a la presse at the now extilzct Cafe Chauz~eron.
from the book. The first, about Osip Mandelstam: Chaztr~eronhimself cooking, fussed
And approved
Behind Elaine, whose party it was;
He was last seen alizfe
Whose own restnzrrant would be fi7irzous soon.
In 1938 at a transit camp near Vladivostok
Eating from a garbage pile,
Poised and hard, bzrt dreaming and innocent-
When I was two, arzd Robert Lowell was twenty-one,
Like the last Romarzovs- spring buds at thirty, nt thirty-two,
W h o mtrch later tvozild translate Mandelstam,
We were green i7s grapes,
And now has been dead two years himself.
A clzrster of February birthdays,
All "Elaine's" regulars.
And the second:
Donald, Elaine's then-partner,
Antonioni walks in the desert shooting His then-wife, a lovely girl; Johizny
Zabriskie Point. He does not perspire Greco, Richardson, Elaine, m y former wife, myself:
Because it is dry His twill trousers stay pressed, With one exception, born t~jithina few days and years
He wears desert boots and a viewfinder, O f one another.
He has a profile he could shave with, sharp
And meek, like the eyesight of the deaf, Not too long before, thirty had been old,
With which he is trying to find America. But we toere young- still slender, with one exccptiotz,
Heads and necks delicate
These two excerpts struck me as not merely dull, but so As a sea horse,
spectacularly bad that I wondered what aesthetic could prize Elegant and guileless
Above our English clothes Kindly souls might suspect that "Pressed Duck" is supposed to
And Cartier ruatches, which ten years later shopgirls be funny, or ironic. It is not. H e means it. For "Pressed Duck" is
And Bloomingdale's fairies ujoltld wear, surrounded by thirty other poems of similar ilk, in a book dedi-
And the people who pronounce chic chick. cated t o Bernardo Bertolucci: poems about partying with the
Chauveron ctit Kennedys and Francis Bacon and Antonioni and apparently
famous race car drivers; images of opium by the pool, Courrkges
The tuine-red meat off the carcasses. boots, cuisine minceur, Mercedes limos, skin-tight leather, hand-
His duck press was the only one in New York. made suits, Dorn Perignon and Polaroid and Valium and Mao.
He stirred brandy into the blood There is a poem called "Fucking"; poems that end with one-line
While we watched. Elaine said, stanzas like "Goodbye." or "That is the poem."; and lines like
"Why do we need anybody else? "That is as sensitive as the future gets." or "Between his name
We're the world." and neant are his eyes." or "There and beyond one like heaven,
as Che is."
[Readers who do not happen t o live on the island of Manhat- When Seidel is trying to be funny, he sounds like this (the poem
tan south of 96th Street will undoubtedly require some annota- is about the author):
tion. Elaine is the proprietor of Elaine's, a restaurant p t r o n i z e d
by wealthy demi-intellectuals ("anti-Establishment" Hollywood He sucked his pipe. He skied he fished he published.
directors, authors of "serious" bestsellers, et al). Elaine herself is He fucked his wife's friends. Touching himself he murmured
well known both for her extreme snobbishness and her corpu- He was not fit to touch his wife2 hem.
lence (i.e., the "one exception"). Cartier is, of course, one of the He dreamed of running away with his sister-in-law!
world's most elegant jewellers; Bloorningdale's, outwardly a Of doing a screenplay. Him the guest on a talk show-
department store, should be considered the Main Temple of the
local consumer cult. A few years ago pressed duck became the When he is serious, like this (on Robert Kennedy):
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 Younger brother of a murdered president,
poem is to inform us that the poet was there first. It should also Senator and candidate for president;
be noted that stanza 5 is not only snide, it is inaccurate: no shop- Shy, compassionate and fierce
girl could possibly afford a Cartier watch, and n o one on the Like a figtire out of Yeats;
island in recent memory has been heard t o mispronounce a word The only politician I have loved ...
which, in frequency of local usage, is second only to the first per-
son pronoun (possessive case).] And mainly like this:
It was U n i o n Square. I remember. Turn a corner Back at the dinky but kinky Sulfur, all 1 can d o is nod as the sun-
And in a light year rise sets.
She'd have arrived 11983 1
At the nearby inky, thinky offices of Partisan Review.
Was sl~eoff to see my rival Lief,
Boyfriend of girls and men, who cruised
111 a Rolls ~oizz~crtihle?
Froni S. 111'111 d~ 1'1 C Y M Zto St. ]ohn o f the Cross

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,
I
t is a curiosity that translation-
the most passive, bookish act of writing- often occurs in a fit of
with the objects of fashion which the poet accepts literally and anger. Appalled at the injustice of an existing translation, one rises
absolutely. in defense of the poem. Many translators have begun their careers
As such, the poetry has appeal t o the bicoastal upper-middle out of rage at a perceived "betrayal" of a beloved text, and thus
brow- that is, people in Los Angeles who read The New Yorker. the worst translators have often turned out to be inadvertent
(Even the book itself is designed to look tony on a table in a high- forces of good. All of us who translate Spanish, for example, are
tech interior.) Small wonder that book reviewers, whose words forever indebted to Ben Belitt.
live less than a day, love it. But why is Academia bathed in the In the case of this poem by S. Juan de la Cruz (1542-1591),
light of Sunrise? Why would a man like Donaghue mistake coincidental references t o the text in manuscripts by Karin Less-
"Pressed Duck" for "Leda and the Swan"? ing and Octavio Paz propelled me t o check the translations I had
First, the book is not only not campy (which might have saved at hand: Willis Barnstone's version, now in its sixth printing as
it), it is deeply humorless, therefore serious. Second, Seidel's styl- a New Directions paperback; John Frederick Nims' recent third
istic models are clearly Lowell and, especially in the 14-page revision as a University of Chicago paperback; and Roy Camp-
incomprehensible (Young: "enigmatic") title poem, Ashbery. bell's translation, long out of print.
What Sunrise offers, then, is some easily recognized gossip and I tound:
glitz couched in the current academic mode. In short, perfect
Leisure Reading for the English Department, o r down at the inky Aqttella eterna fonte estn ascondida,
thinky Partisan Review. Brancusi called Wagner's music a beef- que hien se yo do tiene su manida,
I steak in delirium; Seidel's poetry is a quiche on quaaludes. ~71tnque es de noche.
literal: That eternal fozlntailz is hidden, Nims: A stream so clear, and never clouded? Never.
how well I know ~uhereit/ she has its/ her abode/ The wellspring of all splendor whatsoever.
lair/ mansion,
although it is night. Barnstone: Her shining never has a blur;
1 know that all light cornes from her
Nims: Waters that flow forever and a day
through a lost country- oh 1 k n o w the way Campbell: Its clarity unclouded still shall be:
in dark of night. O u t of it comes the light by which we see

Barnstone: The eternal fountain is unseen.


H o w well I know where she has been Aqtli se esta llamando a las criaturas,
in black of night. y de esta agua se hartan azinque a escuras,
porque es de noche.
Campbell: Its deathless spring is hidden, even so
Full well I guess from whence its sources flow literal: Here itlshe is calling t o the creatures,
Though it be night. and zuith this water they are sated, althotlgh in
darkness,
Nims had translated three words of the original, I know and for it is night.
night, and then simply made up the rest. Barnstone and Camp-
bell seemed willing t o d o almost anything to complete a rhyme: Nims: Song o f the ulsters calling: come and drink.
Barnstone by stretching meaning (unseen for hidden, has been Come, all you creatures, to the shadowy brink
for has itslher lair- and even in Tin Pan Alley they don't rhyme in dark of night.
unseen and has been) and Campbell by inventing sources flow
and the convoluted and (oxy)moronic Even so/ full well I guess. Barnstone: She calls on all mankind t o start
Here was more: t o drink her wateu, though in dark,
for black is night.
S u claridad Fzunca es escurecida,
y se que todn la luz de elln es venida, Campbell: Here t o all creatures it is crying, hark!
That they should drink their fill though in the
literal: Itslher clarity is never darkened, dark,
and I know that all light comes from her, For it is night.
W'KI'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 The Fountain
poems were ever written in Spanish.") Barnstone and Campbell
had collapsed from strenuous ministrations to that exacting Although it is n i g h
god, rhyme: Campbell, like an old couch, showing great tufts of So well I know her
stuffing (still shall be, by which we see, hark!);Barnstone falling Fountain mounting
into a kind of baby-talk which he had mistaken for colloquial spilling out
speech (never has a blur, start/ to drink). That eternal fountain
My own version, a quick draft, was written, then, merely to bidden
give N. American readers some small sense of what S. Juan was So well I knoirl where
talking about. It follows along the wide road cleared by Paul She keeps her lair
Blackburn's Proensa, where an attention to literal detail evolves Though it is night
a musical complex unlike that of the original. In attempting an
exactitude of meaning- not at all difficult, given the poet's Although it is night
extraordinarily simple, limpid speech- I found it harmful either I will never know
to keep the meter running or to retain the three-line stanzas of her origin
Juan's unorthodox villancico. This may distress those wardens She has no origin
who would prefer to keep the translation in a prosodic equiva- And I know all origin comes from her
lent of'the prison where the poem was originally written. But the And I know there can be nothing more beautiful
point is that translation, especially translation of the classics, T l ~ aheavens,
t the earti) drink from her
should have linlitless possibility, no walls at all: Though it is night

Altl~o~ighit 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
Although it is night
1 know her streanzs so abundant
Watering hells and heavens and ?nun A Case of AIDS Hystcvia
The stream born from this fountain
Well 1 know so able
all-powerful
I Wrrtten rtl 1')R 3 , whet1 Arm was consrcicrt,[i to be u drsea~eaffectrtlg otily
Though it is night
g.7) mrtz. Czrrrozrsly, thr R o l l ~ n gStock "uwnrd" m a y well h a ~ ~hcetz
c , the

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

The stre~~tn of these two flows


Neither before the other goes

Tbis eternal fountain


I know R
oIIing stock is a cultural news-
paper edited by Ed and Jennifer Dorn and published from the Uni-
bidden versity of Colorado. Its latest issue, "numero 5," devotes a full
In this living bread to give us life page- written, I gather, in collaboration with Tom Clark- to the
Thozrgb it is night " 1983 AIDS AWARDS FOR POETRY- In recognition of the current EPI-
DEMIC OF IIIIOCY on the poetry scene." The page features a large
Here she calls to t l ~ ecreatures illustration of a test-tube of reddish liquid, presumably infected
And with this water they are slaked blood: the "prize." At the bottom of the page is a photograph of
Although in darkness for it is night two Asian men in suits wearing Mickey Mouse caps. The caption
reads: "To date 1300 cases of AIDS POETRY have been reported in
This the living fountain 1 desire the U.S."
In this bread of life I see her The recipients of this honor are Dennis Cooper ("for writing
Though night the most ~ ~ ~ I s - l iline
k e 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 homophobia"'); Allen Ginsberg (for
claiming that he wrote some lyrics for the rock group The Clash
when supposedly he hadn't); and finally, " \ Y ' K I T ~ ; - I N (:AN~~I~>I-\TE" Sickening and pointless, its utter irrelevancy makes the matter
("Fill in the name of your favorite IYIETRY I D I U T here") barely worth mentioning. But admirers of Dorn, who are many,
As "idiocy" goes- even poetry "idiocyn- these strike me as and of Clark, w h o are some, now face the task of recovering
rather obscure misdemeanors. Cooper's line is hardly worth sin- the poetry from the macho slobber. Most depressing is that these
gling out (but in what way is it "~111s-like?because it is homo- poets, like a village on the fringe of the Empire, can only reduce
erotic?);the Ginsberg is strictly a "so what" item; and the Abbott the news, when it reaches them, to family squabbles. Meanwhile
clearly the product of a personal grudge. Creeley's liking for people are dropping dead from AIDS,and its discovery has un-
Rodefer and Kyger and Eshleman's dislike of Bishop are scarcely leashed a wave of homophobia, both verbal and active. Worse, it
cause for alarm. (In fact, I'm more alarmed that Dorn and Clark, has become the right-wing's counter to the left's categorization of
of all people, feel that Bishop, of all people, needs protection cancer as the moral disease of the age. If cancer, as various libera-
from the barbarians trampling on her grave.) tionists have proclaimed, is the body's response t o passion unnat-
The presenting of awards to "idiots" has always been a urally repressed by society or personality, then AIDS, according t o
favored pastime for sophomoric wits. Luckily the sophomoric the right, is the result of unnatural passion: homosexuality itself,
wits of poetry usually find other things to do, like writing grants or promiscuous, "depersonalized" homosexuality,
proposals. Here, however, Rolling Stock is merely picking up There is n o doubt that AIDS is widely seen- even by some of its
where Robert Bly's FiftieslSixtieslSeventies left off. But Dorn a n d victims- as the wrath of God. This mythologizing of disease not
Clark have considerably raised the stakes from Bly's "Blue only erects enormous barriers t o treatment and potential cure,
Toad," or whatever it was: For these supposed infractions of but it also promotes a climate of fear that extends far beyond
good taste, they not only wish the poets dead, but dead after a ~111sitself. Hell becomes other people: the "idiots" among us, out
long and particularly gruesome disease. not only to physically destroy us, but t o destroy our family struc-
It's not at all funny, And Rolling Stock's choice of AIDS as the ture, our "American" values. The current AIDS hysteria is merely
vehicle of death is positively sinister. It has only one reading: if a n exaggerated and particularly shameless form of the continu-
AIDS is "idiocy," then clearly the "idiots" are AIDS-victims- that ing national dementias of racism and anticommunism.
is, gay men. For Cooper, Ginsberg and Abbott, w h o are publicly Rolling Stock demonstrates how easily the objects of fear and
known as homosexual, it means: Those faggots should drop hatred become iumbled: homosexuals, AIDS-victims, Asians,
dead. For Creeley and Eshleman, publicly known as heterosexu- authors of book-jacket blurbs-"idiots" all. I once would have
al, it means: They're idiots, therefore faggots, therefore they thought Dorn and Clark to be unlikely mouthpieces for Reagan
should drop dead from faggot disease. (And as for Asians in America.
Mickey Mouse caps- presumably more "idiotic" than whites
in similar attire- they can drop dead too.) - [Postscript: Steve Abbott died of .+\IDS in 1994.1
..................
oceanography, Babylonian cosmography. He had translated two
volumes of T.E. Lawrence, and written his first book on Yoga in
Mircea Eliade (1 907-1 986) 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;

H is earliest memory was


crawling in the forest, having wandered away from his mother,
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
and suddenly coming face to face with a resplendent blue lizard. encyclopedia to the manifestations of the ancient mysteries-
His earliest story, written as a child, began: "I met God at the for the second half of the century, our Frazer. "We are 'con-
end of a path. H e had pulled a branch off a hazel tree and was demned,"' he wrote, "to learn and to reawaken t o the life of the
trying to make a switch of it. 'You wouldn't have a penknife, by spirit through books."
any chance?' he asked me." (The gods, from the beginning, And yet he considered his work as a n historian of religion as
needed his help.) ancillary to his fiction. His masterpiece, he thought, was the
H e trained himself to sleep only four hours a night. H e learned long novel The Forbidden Forest. [I had tried to read it, and
Italian, French, Portuguese, English, Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Per- gave up after a hundred pages. Years later, reading his journals,
sian, Russian, Sanskrit, Bengali. As a teenager he published two I came across this passage: "F6ret Interdit. Why do so many
novels and hundreds of shorter pieces: stories, accounts of his readers stop, discouraged, after a hundred pages?" If only they
extensive walking trips through the countryside, literary criti- would realize that those pages are deliberately "confused,
cism, essays on entomology, alchemy, Orientalism, religion. Like wordy, and awkwardn- a "camouflage" for what is to come.
many others who would form the Bollingen group, he was Past those pages, "any intelligent reader would be captivated,
attracted to Fascism by its glorification of an indigenous folk. obsessed. "1
At 21 he went to India for three years. H e studied Sanskrit His friends were Bachelard, Jung, Bataille, Breton, Ionesco,
twelve hours a day, had a doomed love affair (recounted in his Ortega y Gasset, Dumezil, Cioran. His death elicited only a few
novel Bengali Nights), and ended up as a yogi in a cave above paragraphs in our "newspaper of record."
Rishikesh. That conjunction- scholarship, sensuality, sacrality- Eliade wrote "I arrived at cosmic sacralities by reflecting on the
describes his life. daily experiences of Rumanian or Bengali peasants." Never
By 30 he had written seventeen books in Rumanian: best-selling much of a theoretician, his subject was the "concrete spiritual life
novels, collections of stories and essays, books on India, alchemy, as it takes place in culturew- the stuff of the sacred. He was a
man w h o read everything and remembered everything: any thing
reminded him of everything else. For Eliade, t o 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 GENUINE FAKES
religion perhaps more than in his fiction- a poet: one of the cen-
tury's great celebrants of the ideas in things.
[I9861

T h e Forger', A r t ( U r ~ ~ u e r s of
l t ) ~C . c ~ / ~ f o r Press)
r t ~ L ~ for T h c L.A. \Yreeklv, 1983.
Rewr~ttrrtfor il11 ljstre of Arres J e ML-xicu iievot[~dt 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, a n 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 a n 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
\ \ ) < II I I h I l l ,\< I I O N

possibly plagiarized from- the writings of an unpublished Pol- liveliest debate in physics today is the question that every age
ish writer who had died in a concentration camp, and whose and culture has had to answer: what happened in the first four
manuscript had somehow fallen into Kosinski's possession. seconds of the universe?) There is n o reason why an exact copy
The Painted Bird is a classic case of how authorship determines (assuming it were possible) of a painting should be inferior t o
reception. The memoir of a small boy in war-torn Poland, it the original, but we knout, emotionally if not rationally, that it
would have been enveloped in unbearable pathos if it had been is so. Mark Twain said that Wagner's music was better than it
presented as the work of the murdered Pole. As it is, although the sounds. A forgery is always worse than it looks.
text remains the same, its importance diminishes, in the following Forgery is based on authenticity, and both of them are jokes.
order, according to the identity of its author: Kosinski as original But it is authenticity, not forgery, that is the cruelest joke of all.
writer, the translator, the assistant, Kosinski as plagiarist, the The Metropolitan Museum buys a Greek vase for a million dol-
young re-typist. As Salvador Dali said, the first person to compare lars that is hailed as the masterpiece of its kind, until it is
a woman's cheeks to a rose was undoubtedly a genius; the second revealed as a fake. We venerate da Vinci's "Last Supper," even
person to d o so could easily have been a n idiot. though it has been restored so many times it n o longer has any
Forgery is the little pin that pricks the hot-air balloon of theo- of its original paint. We ponder the quite serious critical pro-
ries of art. Intellectually, we may believe, with the modernists, posal that the plays of Shakespeare were not written by William
that in art all ages are contemporaneous- that a lyric by Sap- Shakespeare, but by another man of the same name. Yesterday's
pho has the immediacy of a poem written yesterday- o r attribution t o the hand of the Master becomes today's relegation
believe, with the postmodernists, that there is n o author, only t o an anonymous "From the studio of ..." Nothing is more cer-
the text. But the actual reading o r looking o r listening to a work tain than the foolishness of old certainties.
of art always occurs in the tension between our perception of But if authenticity leaves a taste of bitter regret, forgery a t its
the work itself and our knowledge of its origin. Even when the best is a sugared hilarity. When it is done for monetary gain it is
author is Anonymous (as the old joke goes, the greatest writer as humorless as a counterfeit bill: all skill and no wit. When it is
w h o ever lived) the work is inextricably placed in its historic a work of megalomania it is a t its most perverse, the combina-
moment. Its timelessness is its unchanging core, which keeps the tion of skill a n d obsession that leads to the pleasure of seeing
work alive over the centuries. Its location in time- moreover in one's efforts hanging in a museum o r sold a t Sotheby's. But the
a time that is receding- keeps the work in constant flux. We see perversity of the humor is that it can never be shared: the forger
the work as part of an archaic context, a context we must enter must laugh alone. Forgery is at its most comic when it is a n act
into, but we see it with modern eyes- that is, with the eyes of a of simple revenge, and when that act is, in the end, revealed.
modernity that is always chang~ng. For example, the pianist Alexis Weissenberg was tired of read-
A forgery is an object without a creator, and human nature ing reviews that claimed he was a "cold, unemotional" performer.
cannot bear anything without a narrative of its origin. (The So he invented- what else?-a soundless piano. H e then gave a
concert where he played a tape recording of himself, and accom- Vermeers. His greatest work, "The Supper at Emmaus," was
panied the music with precisely coordinated histrionic gestures declared by one cr~tic- a particular enemy of van Meegeren- to
and passionate grimaces. The hoax was not discovered, and the be not only authentic, but "the masterpiece of Vermeer." The paint-
critics hailed the evening as one of Weissenberg's most moving ing was sold in 1937 for the equivalent of 1.4 million dollars, and it
performances. hung, to great adulation, in the Boysman Museum for seven years.
An elaborate combination of revenge and megalomania, and It would, still be there were it not for the inevitable
one with more serious consequences, was the case of the centu- twist of fate. After the Second World War, it was discovered that
ry's greatest (known) forger, Hans van Meegeren. Born in Hol- van Meegeren had sold a Vermeer to Hermann Goring. H e was
land in 1889, he had some success as a very young artist, most arrested for stealing a Dutch National Treasure and selling it
notably for a drawing of Queen Juliana's pet deer, which still to the enemy. To escape a conviction of treason, van Meegeren
appears on Dutch Christmas cards. But the utterly dreadful Sym- was forced to confess that the painting was a fake- and more-
bolist canvasses he began painting in his late twenties were over, that all the newly-found Vermeers were van Meegerens. H e
receiving the kind of reviews usually reserved for misunderstood was not believed, and the police insisted he produce a Vermeer in
genius or well-understood mediocrity. Needing money, he made prison, which he did. Yet despite his confession and conviction
his first forays into the forging business by producing fakes of for forgery- he died in prison soon after- there were some crit-
Frans Hals, Ter Borch, and de Hoogh. They sold moderately ics who stubbornly maintained that "The Supper of Emmaus"
well. H e then discovered his true mission in life, the master plan: was indeed a genuine Vermeer that the forger was claiming as his
Vermeer had recently been rediscovered, and was rightly being own. They successfully pleaded with the Dutch government not
celebrated as a rival to Rembrandt as the avatar of Dutch t o destroy the painting, in case a mistake had been made.(The
genius. There was, however, a large chronological gap in Ver- argument, curiously, against capital punishment.) Finally, in an
meer's thirty-odd known works: his early years when, it was odd reversal, the pop novelist Irving Wallace published an article
thought, he had travelled to Italy, fallen under the influence of In 1 9 4 7 celebrating van Meegeren as a hero who had swindled
Caravaggio, and painted works with religious themes- unlike Goring. (We now know that van Meegeren was a Nazi sympa-
his later landscapes, interiors, and portraits. As it happened, the thizer w h o had no choice when Goring asked for the painting.)
art critics w h o were indulged in speculating on Vermeer's miss- Looking at "The Supper of Emmaus" today, it seems incredible
ing paintings were the very same w h o had consigned van that this unspeakably clumsy canvas was ever mistaken for the
Meegeren to the Siberia of modern taste. real thing. As an authentic Vermeer, it is pathetic. But as an orig-
It was perfect. Van Meegeren went into seclusion in France and, inal van Meegeren it is a brilliant parody which, in one startling
after years of perfecting the preparation of materials that would gesture, both delivers the last laugh and anticipates postmodern
delude scientific examination- to this day some of his techniques ironic1 iconic pastiche: van Meegeren clearly copled the face o f
cannot be explained- he proceeded to produce the missing Jesus from a photograph of Greta Garbo.
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 w h o is kept apart from the rest of the community
through a web of taboos. In our society, it is the forger who has
AN AVIARY OF T A R N S
taken the Romantic ideals of the isolation of the artist to its great-
est extreme. H e is a maker of art w h o 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, ( Wrrtteii ~ 7 sthe entry 011 Nathaniel Lzrn for the refere,ri-c hook,
he is also the purest artist: the one w h o rejects the cult of person- Contemporary Poets (St. Martin's), 1984.1
ality, w h o has n o identity and n o personal style, w h o believes
only in the work itself and the age to which it is attributed. The
forger, in the end, may be the model artist. 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~enthe
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
dual citizen, his childhood was bilingual, and he was educated on What holds it together is Tarn's ecstatic vision, his continuing
both sides of the Channel. In the 1950's and 1960's he had a enthusiasm for the stuff of the world. It is a poetry whose native
short career as a (self-described) "25th-rate" French Surrealist tongue is myth, and it rolls out in long lines of sacred hymns that
poet, and a more successful run as an up-and-coming young Eng- oscillate between the demotic and the hieratic (heir t o Smart and
lish poet: an associate of the literary group called "The Group," Blake, to Whitman and the Neruda of The Heights of Macchu
and editor of the extraordinary Cape Editions. Furthermore, he Picchu, which he translated) and sequences of short poems, small
was an anthropologist, a student of Levi-Strauss and Griaule in linked bursts of sharp image and speech, which tie Tarn t o
Paris and Redfield in Chicago, writing monographs on the Atitlan Williams and contemporary practitioners like Snyder and Kelly.
region of Guatemala. And he was a Buddhist scholar, author of, Since the death of Kenneth Rexroth, he is, with Michael
among other writings, a book on the monastic politics of Burma. McClure, the major celebrant of heterosexual love in the lan-
In 1970 Tarn followed his literary affinities and moved t o the guage. His combination of ingenious metaphor and sexual exu-
United States where, at the moment- always subject t o sudden berance has been rare in the language since the 17th century.
metamorphosis- he is a n American poet and citizen, a professor (Indeed, much of Tarn's American work may be read as an epic
of comparative literature, and a Mayanist. As an anthropologist elaboration of Donne's erotic geography of the "new found
he continues to write on Guatemala, and as a Buddhist scholar he land.") Like Rexroth, he is the author of travel narratives that
is involved with the Tibetan diaspora. Much of his writing, par- restore the adjective "readable" to poetry. And, like Rexroth
ticularly the prose, has appeared under other names. and MacDiarmid, his poetry encompasses Eastern philosophy,
This range of Tarns is mirrored, in his four major book-length world myth, revolutionary politics, and precise descriptions of
poems, in a poetry of place where the place is always changing the natural world. His poems have more birds than Clare's.
(The Beautiful Contradictions); a love poetry where the object
of desire undergoes countless transformations (Lyrics for the I N o t an exile, longing for the abandoned home, but a nomad,
longing for the idea of home: it is the American condition, and
Bride of God); and a deeply personal poetry which the poet the Jewish condition. Tarn, both American and Jewish, has
allows to be spoken by others (A Nowhere for Vallejo, which is declared that sparagmos ("the falling to pieces1 the tearing t o
a collage of lines and invented lines by the Peruvian poet, in pieces1 of the world as body") is "the inescapable theme of our
Spanish and English translation, mingled with the voice of time." (And he can, at times, be as indignant as Pound at the
"Tarn"); and Alashka, written with Janet Rodney, perhaps the destroyers of culture and of the wilderness.) His poetry, along
century's only collaborative poem which does not identify the with that of few others these days, sets course for a mythical uni-
individual contributions. Moreover the poetry has, in the poet's ty: the hierosgamos, marriage of earth and sky, when history will
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.
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 BLACK MOUNTAIN
the separation into dead and live
summer and winter, and only green be seen above
ground [Originnll>j writteii as il rPl'lCtL' o f M a r y E m i n a HClrris,
that he might go home
The Arts ar Black Mountain College ( M . I . T . Press) for The Nation, 1987.
Kezc~rittcilf 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
resident artists (students and teachers) were Albers, the de Koon- lege took over some Baptist Assembly buildings on Black Moun-
ings, Rauschenberg, Kline, Lippold, Shahn, Feininger, Zadkine, tain in 1933, they came with few specific plans and one general
Bolotowsky, Chamberlain, Noland, deCreeft, Twombly, Tworkov, ideal: to break down the institutionalization (and, for Rice, the
Vicente, Greene. Gropius taught architecture; Cunningham, "excessive feminization") of the American college. At Black
deMille, Humphrey and Litz taught dance. Its composers were Mountain, faculty and students were to be held jointly and
H a r r ~ s o n ,Wolpe, Sessions, Krenek; its photographers Callahan, equally responsible for every aspect of their lives and education.
Siskind, Newhall and Morgan. Radin taught anthropology; von There was to be no "admi~listration" and no outside governing
Franz mythology, Rudofsky the history of costume. Paul Good- body, such as trustees; decisions were to be made by the commu-
man was there, and Alfred Kazin, Clement Greenberg, Eric nity as a whole, according to the Quaker "sense of the meeting."
Bentley, Eric Kahler, Clark Foreman, Edward Dahlberg, M.C. Grades and requirements were to be abolished; athletics would
Richards. And, in its last years, Charles Olson, Robert Creeley and be replaced by useful work on the farm and in maintenance.
Robert Duncan were the centrifugal forces of a poetlcs movement Most important, art was to be the central force- not, as else-
that came to be classified, however erroneously, as the Black where, a n extra-curricular activity- in the student's general
Mountain school. education.
Although it was a short-lived and tiny institution- 1200 stu- Into this hotbed o f Americ~znprogressivism came the coolest of
dents in its 2 4 years, most of them in attendance only for a sum- the European m o d ~ r n ~ s tJosef
s : Albers, who had left Germany
mer- Black Mountain existed in such a state of perpetual schism after the forced closing o f the Batihaus and had arrived in Bun-
and flux that it defies any generalization of intents or purposes. combe County, North Carolina not speakiirg a word of English.
There were, essentially, three Black Mountains, each in turn com- ("All I knew was Buster Keaton and Henry Ford. ") In a coziittry
posed of idiosyncratic members who rarely agreed on very much. without cultlire, but "hu?zgryfor a culture," he saw himself as a
The first was the college founded in 1933 by John Andrew Rice kind o f cultural-spiritual adzriser, leading students in a disci-
and a group of renegade faculty and students from a Congrega- plined program o f self-discovery through controlled experiments
t ~ o n a lChurch college in Florida, and whose guiding light, until in the elements o f form. "Abstracting," he zurote, "is the essen-
1949, was Josef Albers. The second was the remarkable series of tial function of the Human Spirit. " The rest was distraction.
summer sessions that were held, with some interruptions, from This meant that no art history was taught at Black Mountain
1944 to 1953. And the third was the small, mainly l~teraryband during the Albers years, and no one sketched or painted the
of outsiders, led by Charles Olson, that more or less camped in exquisite landscape. Art was a series of problems t o be solved:
the ruins of the college from 1952 t o 1956. the interactions of shapes and colors (only colored paper was
Rice was an iconoclastic classicist who delighted in the enfant used, not variable paint), the split between the"physica1" and
terr~blerole, and taught by question~ngeverything, particularly "psychical" effects of matter. Thus the students labored to make
cherished beliefs.When he and his fellow exiles from Rollins Col- the hard look soft, the wet dry, the warm cold. Wood was made
to look like water, egg shells to look like flower petals, wire !general scandal. None of the histories of the college mention any
screen and leaves to look like shadows. Jewelry was made from interest in the Spanish Civil War.
paper clips and kitchen utensils; kernels of corn were meticu- Albers was also largely successful in isolating the community
lously arranged to give the appearance of a piece of woven cloth. from what was imagined as "the outside world." This meant not
Albers- disciplined, opinionated, autocratic, "a beautiful teach- only the opposition of other faculty members' proposals for social
er and a n impossible person," according to Robert Rauschen- work in the community, voter registration drives, crafts programs
berg- was to be the determinative force at Black Mountain for and the like, but, more devastating, a continual purging of ele-
seventeen years. Nearly everything that happened there during the ments that were seen as adversely affecting the image of the col-
regular school year can be seen as a result of, or a reaction against, lege. There was a quota for Jews until the late 40's. Left-wingers-
his presence. Against a succession of idealistic and younger faculty most notably Eric Bentley, Clark Foreman and Paul Radin- were
members, he stood his ground on the side of educational ideals vs. forced out. Homosexuals were tolerated only if they kept their
an ideal community, aesthetic preoccupation vs. social concerns, activities secret. And, in a long and particularly divisive battle,
isolation vs. interaction with the rest of the world. (That these Albers and his followers kept Black Mountain segregated, despite
were seen as contradictory impulses may have been the school's overwhelming opposition by the students, until 1944, when one
undoing.) female black day student was allowed t o take classes. (Only a few
Albers had no patience for "this constant over-democratic non- other blacks attended over the next five years.)
sense." He insisted that teachers know more about teaching than
students, and gradually the students lost their equal role in the Year after year, during the fall, winter and spring, the tiny fief-
administration of the college. He had no interest in the farm, and dorns, each led by a charismatic faculty member, waged war for
deplored the sloppiness of the students' Bohemian dress. Certain the ideological control of the community and the college. It was
crafts- weaving (taught by Anni Albers), woodworking, book- not until 1944, with the inauguration of special summer sessions
binding- were permitted, but ceramics, for one, was verboten that included many of the regular students and few of the facul-
("ashtray art"). Most important, Albers was relentlessly apolitical, ty, that Black Mountain achieved the Utopian quality that sus-
and opposed to the teaching of the social sciences and history. Per- tains its reputation today.
haps the most shocking aspect of Black Mountain during the It should be remembered that nearly all of the luminaries asso-
Albers years is its studies obliviousness to the dramatic contempo- ciated with Black Mountain attended only the summer sessions,
rary events. When the students performed a proletarian drama by and usually for a single summer. Many of them were young and
Irwin Shaw, instead of the usual folk plays and Ibsen, Albers penniless at the time. They were given a few months of vacation
stormed out. Students would gather every Saturday to listen to the in the country- room and board but no pay- and the freedom
Texaco opera, but when, six months into World War 11, a student to teach as much or as little as they pleased, a n d whatever they
brought a radio into the dining hall to hear the news, there was a pleased. Meals were communal, and most of the teaching took
place over a dining room table-"education as conversation," was emphasized, rather than art; the largely female student body
Cage called it. Those in the performing arts had an extraordinary became predominantly male; the upbeat progressives of the 30's
opportunity t o realize their work: an eager cast of student and and 40's became the drunken nihilists of the SO'S, exiles from the
faculty dancers, musicians, actors, as well as painters and sculp- postwar materialist boom; politics became a matter of hot
tors to create the sets. Alliances formed or strengthened at Black debate; "process" replaced "form" as the key word.
Mountain- among Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg, Fuller, Olson envisioned Black Mountain as a "twin" to the Prince-
Harrison and Lippold, for example- would have lasting effects ton Institute of Advanced Studies, and outlined grand schemes
on the art of each. of visiting lecturers and consecutive series of long symposia on
Above all, there were too many stars for any one person to nearly every aspect of human knowledge ("a curriculum of the
dominate, and none of them carried any vested interest in the soul"). But he was n o administrator, and in McCarthy's Ameri-
community. The subject became the making of art, not the defin- ca the college was attracting more F.K.I. agents than students.
ing of an art school, and the flow of temporary visitors effective- The school fell apart. The dining room was closed, and the stu-
ly prevented institutional petrification. Moreover, the provisional dents fended for themselves. The farm was abandoned, its barn
and improvisatory nature of the summer sessions rhymed per- uncleaned, its cows sick and freezing to death. Kudzu vines
fectly with the techniques that were being explored at the time by overran the campus, and the classrooms were piled with trash.
Cage and the others: chance operations, random juxtaposition, In the music library, the phonograph records had been melted
the introduction of the accidental into the "finished" work, the down t o look like Dali's painting. There was, in Olson's words,
mixing of media, the dismantling of the "art object." To have "no more of this community bullshit"; in fact there was hardly
Cage on a ladder reading Meister Eckhart while Rauschenberg a community. In its last years, the school had less than twenty
simultaneously played scratchy Piaf records on a wind-up Vic- students and teachers; most of them professional (or would-be)
trola, Cunningham danced through the audience chased by a artists more interested in their own work than in any education-
barking dog, David Tudor hammered a prepared piano, and al or communal ideals.
slides and movies were screened at odd angles on the wall, was And yet this tiny band o f outsiders formed the only arts move-
the exact opposite of Albers' meticulous arrangements of given ment to which the name "Black Mountain" has been attached.
forms. For one Albersian at the Cage happening, it was "the Olson brought in Robert Creeley and Robert Duncan (who in
Dark Ages." 1938 had been expelled from the college, after one day, because
of his homosexuality and anarchist views); and students such as
Albers and the entire art faculty resigned in 1949, and that Edward Dorn, Joel Oppenheimer and Jonathan Williams wan-
vision of the Dark Ages became the shadow cast by the gigantic dered in. Together they resurrected the American small press
Charles Olson, for whom "the poet [was] the only pedagogue poetry scene with a flurry of publishing: pamphlets and broad-
left." The school, in many ways, became its opposite: writing sides o n the school's own presses, Williams' Jargon Press, and
The Black Mountain Review, which under Creeley's direction that the King be the most cultivated among them.") Olson saw
became the hest "little" magazine of the 1950's. By 1960, four the hieroglyphs as poetry, perfect embodiments of the things they
years after the college had closed, Donald Allen's anthology T h r represented, and remarked on countless examples- from the
New American Poetry had formally christened the six poets domestication of corn to the way the Indians walked- of what
(along with others who had never attended, such as Paul Black- he considered to be the Mexicans' seamless unification of intel-
burn, Larry Eigner and Denise Levertov) as the Black Mountain lect and physicality. In one of his most famous sentences he
school. exclaimed, "0,they were hot for the world they lived in, these
As a movement the poets were largely ~initedin their rejection Maya, hot to get it down the way it was- the way it is, my fel-
of the contemporary New Criticism and its well-crafted poem- low citizens."
objects poured into the lnolds of traditional prosody. For Cree- Cold and hot, the winds that emanated from Black Mountain
ley, form was "never more than a n extension of content"; for have never dissipated. There is a direct line of formalist preoccu-
Duncan, the poem was an event: "not a record of an event, but pation from Albers to the Abstract Expressionists to the Pop and
the event itself"; for Olson, the poet's own breath was to deter- O p painters t o the conceptualists t o the current breed of neo-
mine the measure of the line; for Levertov, the poem was an or- Expressionists, neo-Geos and other quality merchants. Albers
ganic entity. Most shared a n allegiance t o William Carlos would be at home in a hluseurn of Modern Art that exhibits a
Williams and a poetry written in a natural American speech; Polynesian spirit fetish, drained of its religious and social con-
some believed, with Ezra Pound, that the subject of poetry was text, next to a Giacometti because both are anthropomorphic,
everything, that poetry was the best way to talk about every- tall and thin. The cold has dominated the century; the hot
thing. If the poerns in the academic journals of the time were remains the permanent heterodox. Olson never won a major
flotillas of small craft, Olson hoped to launch ships of state. H e prize (nor have Creeley or Duncan); he died with his work large-
often compared himself and his handful of students with M a o in ly out of print. Today, of course, there is a shelf-full of critical
the caves of Yenan. As the North Carolina version of Black studies, but the poets alive and working out of Olson's image of
Mountain dwindled, Olson imagined a network of Black Moun- what poetry ought to be remain as marginal as Pound o r
tain satellites and cells across the nation: a force. Williams or Olson were in their own times.
At Black Mountain, both the Albers years and the Olson years
It is curious that both Albers and Olson spent a great of deal of were small triumphs amidst a larger disaster. It may, in the end,
time in Mexico in the late 1940's and early SO'S. Albers saw the be impossible t o create a community of artists in a secular soci-
pre-Columbian pyramids as expressions of a pure form which he ety. And- though we assume the beneficence of ventures such as
could reduce t o a few lines on a page. (And, in a weird bit of Black Mountain and its scores of spin-offs- perhaps it was a
anthropological fantasy, declared that Black Mountain was mistake to assume that the function of such a community should
"consciously on the side" of the "Mayan Indians who demanded be education. The inseparable identification of art and school is
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."
LOST W A X 1 F O U N D OBJECTS

[ 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
literature and painting are produced in ages of decadence may of Benin masks and heads, lanterns of musical Boddhisattvas
owe, in part, simply to their materials, which have so little from Nara, Bamun pipes of lizards and ancestors stacked like
history. To write (in the West) is to use the language, however totem poles, the saints and miracles on the doors of Pisa, Renais-
stylized, of one's contemporaries- a language not much older sance lamps In the shape of a foot, in the shape of a man with his
than one's grandparents. One paints with materials that are only head between his legs (or worse),Donatello's plaquettes, Degas'
a few centuries or a few decades old: oil, watercolor, acrylic. But dancers, Rodin's ponderer, filigreed flower baskets from Karnaku-
to sculpt- literally t o "sculpt": carving or shaping stone, wood, ra and the four-thousand-pound statue of Queen Napirassu of the
clay, wax- is t o work with one's hands on ancient matter: to Elam, three thousand years old and headless now, but with her
remain in the present while simultaneously inserting oneself into hands delicately crossed ... Objects created out of a marriage-
a continuum that begins in the archaic. traditionally celebrated as such- of copper and tin, whose offi-
To work in bronze is t o immerse oneself in a process that has clant, the smith, was revered and reviled, subject to the same
remained unchanged since its invention in Egypt in 2600 B.C. It is taboos as priests. Objects created in a process that has always
to create pieces that- no matter how new or idiosyncratic in been seen as a metaphor of the sacred mysteries: the wax is
form- share their molecules and the act of their making with shaped and encased in clay, baked in a kiln until the clay hardens
Anatolian winged centaurs and bull's heads from Ur, Cretan dou- and the wax runs out, leaving the mold into which the bronze is
ble axes and Corinthian helmets, Saxon heads with silver eyes, poured. "Lost wax": only when there IS nothing, when one has
Persian ewers incised with lovers and cuirasses with inscriptions created a nothing, can the work be achieved.
from the Qu'ran, Etruscan sunburst oil lamps, hunting reliefs "Sculpture," said Brancusi, "is not for young men."
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 To which, looking at Nissen's work, must be added another layer
other" with which the H a n nobility were buried, shields from of history: the New World- which made knickknacks of bronze,
Battersea and Celtic buckets, battle-axes from Luristan, Greek but never had a Bronze Age- before the arrival of the Old.
charioteers, kings of Nineveh, the gates of the Assyrian palace of Nissen, born in England in 1939, went t o Mexico at age twen-
Balawat, Marcus Aurelius on his horse, the doors of St. Sophia in ty-three and stayed for seventeen years, with frequent visits since.
Byzantium and St. Zeno in Verona, the seven-branched Easter 1 And there too, a long line of British ancestors: Thomas Blake in
candlesticks of Rheims, Gothic fonts and covers, Romanesque Tenochtitlrin only thirteen years after Cortes; Robert Tomson in
chandeliers and pelican lecterns, Parthian perfume stills, Moorish 1556 accurately prophesying that one day it would be "the most
aquamanales in the shape of lions, the huge eyes and blank stares i
I populous Citie in the world"; that meticulous 18th century
observer, Thomas Gage; Frederick Catherwood, discoverer and glyph or the ideogram has a concreteness, a weight, that does not
the great draughtsman of the Mayan ruins; the chronicler of 19th exist in alphabetic writing: the word is an object. Further, it
century drawing rooms, Frances Calderon de la Barca, a Scot seems- particularly to those w h o cannot "read" them- that
married into Mexican society; the archeologist Alfred Maudslay; each glyph, each word, has the same weight, that the glyphs are
Henry Moore, appropriating the reclining figure of the Maya- equal to one another, giving each thing in the world an identity
Toltec chac mool; the Surrealist Leonora Carrington; Lawrence, of correspondence.
Huxley, Waugh, Greene, Lowry; and the anonymous legions of The extraordinary scholarship, and partial decipherment, that
scholars and bohemians, repressed voluptuaries, missionaries, has occurred in recent years has proven that the glyphs are even
drunks, xenophobes and aristocrats gone native- those who more complex. The Mayaologist Linda Schele notes- t o take
went to escape and those who went to find.] one example- that the word "vulture'' could be written in pic-
Nissen, escaping the airless club room of post-imperial Eng- tographic form, geometric form, or syllabic form. A pictograph-
land, found in Mexico, as so many Europeans before him, vivac- ic vulture with a crown was one of the many ways of writing
ity- a vivacity that extends even into its obsession with death- ahau, which meant both "lord" and one of the day-names of the
and a unity, still extant in the hinterlands, of art and life. Maya calendar. The pictographic vulture could also refer specifi-
(Xntonin Artaud: "In haexico, since we are talking about Mexi- cally t o the black-headed vulture called tahol (literally, "shit-
co, there is no art: things are made for use. And the world is in head"). From that, the vulture glyphs (whether pictographic or
perpetual exaltation.") Above all, he found its indigenous histo- geometric) were also used to represent ta' ("shit") or ta ( a prepo-
ry. Three of the forms of pre-Columbian expression are essential sition meaning "to, on, from"). There were, then, nearly endless
t o Nissen's work: the glyph, the codex, and the temple. Their ways to write any given word, and Mayan scribes were valued
elaborations are tracks towards Nissen's work: for their punning and ability to coin new variations while strict-
ly adhering t o the rules.
The Mayan glyphs are important here not for their individual This meant not only that each word was an assembled object,
meanings (decipherment) but for their system of construction. but that each object was in a state of perpetual metamorphosis,
They were laid out on a grid that could be followed in a variety of its meaning only comprehensible for the moment it is seen in the
directions. Within each rectangle of the grid, the individual glyph context of the other object-glyphs. That metamorphosis, within
itself was a conglomerate of component parts (much like the Chi- the larger repetitions of circular time, remains, in Mexico, a con-
nese ideogram): simple pictographs (a house for "house," a vul- stant. In the poetry of the Aztecs, the poet becomes the poem
ture for "vulture"), phonetic signs (each representinga single sylla- 1 itself, which becomes a plant growing within the poem; the plant
ble), logographs (non-representational representations of a word), becomes the fibers of the book in which the poem is painted; the
and semantic determinatives (specifiers of particular meaning). fibers of the book become the woven fiber of the mat, the symbol
For the Western mind- if not to its native practitioner- the of worldly power and authority. Octavio Paz's "Hymn Among

69
the Ruins" ends with this famous line: "words that are flowers Nissen has continued, in traditional screen-fold book form, the
that are fruits that are acts." pictographic experiments on canvas of Klee, Tobey, Gottlieb, and
Nissen, then, constructs his sculptures as glyphs. His work Torres-Garcia. His "Madero Codes" invents a witty language of
table is covered with small components fashioned out of wax: jigsaw puzzle pieces, wooden matchsticks, cigarette butts, human
tiny balls, cylinders, zigzags, donuts, squares, cubes, lozenges, tri- figures (perhaps the Mayan "smoking gods"?), crossword puz-
angles, rods, j-shapes, pellets. In an interview, Nissen has com- zles, gridworks of letters that seem to, but don't quite, spell
mented: "I use a method based on the found object. The words like "glyph" and transform into a Mondrian "boogie-
difference being that first, I make the objects, then I find them. woogie." In its translation of traditional into contemporary
Then I assemble them." H e has remarked elsewhere that he also imagery, it is reminiscent of the strangest illustrations in Mexican
considers those components as parts of speech- given elements historiography: those that accompanied F.J. Clavijero's Historia
capable of a near-infinity of con~binations.Their assembly is Antigua de Mexico, published in 1780. In that book the artist,
reminiscent, above all, of language as it is used by children, rather than presenting the usual heavily stylized renderings of the
poets, punsters. The result- the individual piece of sculpture- Mexican originals, simply "interpreted" the glyphs and codices
is a phrase, a stanza (literally the "room" in which the words are and redrew them in the current fashion. Thus, if he thought he
arranged), a single moment of relation permanently frozen in saw, in the original, a hand holding a fish, he drew a hand hold-
bronze. 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
Nissen has also worked extensively, and with great originality, with a lily growing from his nose, a snake crowned with arrows.
in the creation of codices. There were two kinds of Mexican Clavijero's book, whose intentions were scientific, becomes, for
codices, screen-fold books painted on both sides. The Mayan- us, Surrealism. Nissen, with n o pretense of historical realism, cre-
of which only four survive- largely consisted of a hieroglyphic ates both a science and a grammar.
text accompanied by some illustration. The later codices are Nissen's more complex "Itzpapalotl Codex" takes off from the
more extraordinary: Each page presented complex images- not Aztec goddess Obsidian Butterfly and a prose poem on the sub-
all of them pictographic- that served as mnemonic devices for ject by Octavio Paz. It consists of grids of invented glyphs (some
the priestly elite trained to "read" them, but were incomprehen- of whose components are recognizable small metal objects: keys,
sible to outsiders. It is a kind of "text" unknown outside the wrenches, nuts and bolts, horseshoe magnets, tuning forks,
New World, but which has its parallels in the geometric patterns springs); electronic circuits; graffiti (mosca, fly; tinieblas, dark-
of Amazonian baskets and Peruvian woven cloth, both of which ness; Ramon, Pepe, Berta ...); butterflies; clippings and maps con-
could be "read." [Dennis Tedlock points out that the Maya word cerned with the village of Papalotl, home of the goddess' shrine;
for the codex was ilbal, or "instrument for seeing." Today the encyclopedia entries on the goddess; Maya numbers; and so on.
word is used t o refer t o telescopes. 1 These represent, according to their author, a calendar, a n
I 0 5 I WAX 1 IkOLINl) 015Il,< T 5

entomological taxonomy, a topography, a mathematical reckon- of fertility and harvest whose last incarnation may well be Car-
ing (an accounting, in all the meanings of the word), auguries, men Miranda.
and an inventory of tributes the goddess has received. The result The vegetation, the plant forms, that rise out of so many of
is extraordinary: beautiful images that leave us just short of Nissen's sculptures- as well as the crumbled walls, the gaps (like
comprehension. Much like the ancient codices, in order to under- aboriginal "x-ray" painting) revealing the tombs of images with-
stand it the initiated (of which there is only one: Nissen) must in- cannot help but recall the particularly English preoccupa-
recall it; the uninitiated (the rest of us) must invent it. The game tion with ruins. It is an obsession whose earliest record is the
has no end. 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
What Nissen makes are altars, idols, temples, ruins, machines, monster, and a book that leads directly to Shelley's "Ozyman-
ships, fountains ... each, the moment it is recognized, turning into dias" or Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey." One thinks of the archi-
another. tect Sir John Soane, contemporary to these poets, submitting
The two basic shapes on which he rings his countless variations three sketches of his design for the Bank of England: in the first,
are the truncated pyramid and the pillar. The truncated pyramid the Bank appears brand-new and gleaming; in the second, it is
comes, of course, from the Maya, and Nissen plays, as they did, ivy-covered, with weathered stones; in the third, the time is a
with the harmonies and contrasts of the simple base and what thousand years later, and the Bank is a stately ruin.
was placed on the flat top (altars, idols, columns, friezes, false- The Romantics saw ruins as emblems of the transitoriness of
fronts). It has often been remarked that theMayan pyramids are power, the permanence of nature, the destructive force of greed
less works of architecture than sculpture built on a monumental and corruption, the chaos of the heart overwhelming the orderli-
scale. One can imagine them a foot high- the height of a Nissen ness of the intellect. It is possible to ascribe such allegorical
sculpture- as one could imagine certain of Nissen's pieces as meanings to Nissen's sculptures, but they are unlikely. In the first
hundreds of feet high, as architecture. And more: the slender place, the work begins as a transformation of what he literally
pyramids of Tikal (for example), topped with their high combs, saw in Mexico: buildings half in rubble, overwhelmed by roots
mimic a Maya head with its flattened forehead and elaborate and branches. What matters is not the allegorical (that is, liter-
headdress. So Nissen's "Pod," a stack of pea pods placed on a ary) interpretation but rather the fact of metamorphosis itself:
blank base, is simultaneously a fantastic Mayan pyramid, an the temple that becomes a plant that becomes a bronze.
altar on which the pods have been placed, and the blank face and That play of stone, vegetable and metal brings another element
extravagant headdress of an imaginary Pea Goddess- a goddess into these sculptures: machines. There are works here called

I
1
"Metronome," L'Hydrant," even "Jacuzzi." Some o f the pieces of a national past. (It is, of course, neither Nissen's nation nor his
are simultaneously reminiscent of both the severely truncated past.) Nor are they meant- as the Surrealists used African and
versions of the pyramids (the raised platforms in the Great Plaza Oceanic imagery- as icons of another reality to transport us to
of Copan, for example) and, an identical shape, the office type- dream and the archaic. They are never literal.
writers of the 1920's. What Nissen makes are fetishes: objects of power, objects that
One thinks of the great debates in the Machine Age of the look at us looking at them. The source of a fetish's power is accu-
1920's and 1930's between the advocates of the machine as the mulation: traditionally each supplicant added something to it,
ultimate icon of the new age- a progressive art to celebrate and its strength was the sum of all the individual histories
human progress- and those who argued for the perennial cen- attached to it. Nissen, although he remains the sole "author,"
trality of the organic (then called the "biomorphic"). Hart reproduces that accumulation in each work.Working with a
Crane, carrying the argument to literature, attempted to recon- vocabulary of elemental signs, he heaps layers of history that
cile the two: "For unless poetry can absorb the machine, i.e. crumble one into another and become entangled with weeds.
acclimatize it as naturally and casually as trees, cattle, galleons, They are idols whose attributes are not quite remembered;
castles and all other human associations of the past, then poetry maquettes for the monuments of a future civilization; machines
has failed of its full contemporary function." It is interesting to with obscure functions; altars for a household shrine. They are
see how, fifty years later, that acclimatization is complete in work objects t o be buried with.
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 t o be folkloric, or glorifications
I
the constraints of order") has been equally applied t o 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:
N O T E S F O R S U L F U R I1 the American bad Eastern European poet, the South American
bad beatnik poet, the Chinese bad imagist. At its best we are
(Written for tl7e hack pages of Sultur, 1987-1 988.1 seeing legitimate heirs w h o are transforming the tradition, while
I
working in another language. To my mind, two of the most
iI 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'
Birkerts us. Ashbery nationalistic jingoism: "American speech. " [Everyday American
was a language only occasionally employed by Williams, only
parodically by Pound and Z u k o f s k ~ ,and almost never by H.D.,
[ C o n t r ~ h u t o r swere asked t o respond to a negative article o n l o h n Xshbery In the sarne
Moore, Stevens, Crane, Oppen, Olson, et al. Interestingly, its
issue hy the critic Sven B~rkerts.] main practitioners- Fearing, Rakosi, Hughes, Blackburn, Rez-

w
hat I find remarkable about
Birkerts' piece is its willful ignorance of much of the century,
including, most obviously, French poetry. H e writes as though
nikoff, Baraka- are considered "minor" poets.]
Furthermore, Birkerts seems strangely oblivious to some recent
developments. H e should spend a n afternoon in the deep shade of
In the American Tree: Ashbery will seem a fountain of light. After
all, a n Ashbery poem has an unmistakable (however "imperson-
Apollinaire and Reverdy, Larbaud and Roussel, Breton, Jacob, al") voice- a major verboten in language-land- and a n unmis-
Soupault and Char had never existed, or that Ashbery had nev- takable atmosphere of oneiric melancholia. I have trouble follow-
er read them. His dichotomy of Surrealism ("the transcription of ing Birkerts' exasperation: the passages he quotes seem perfectly
spontaneously recovered, a-logical unconscious materials") and comprehensible to me. But perhaps, like many critics, Birkerts is
Ashbery ("a calibrated verbal contraption") is false. Despite too smart. ( O r perhaps, like many readers, I've become stupefied
various claims for the former, the Surrealists were clearly, like all from watching too many flocks of untethered signifiers).
poets, constructing the latter. And Birkerts' isolated praise of What Birkerts doesn't discuss is the apparent impetus for his
Ashbery (the poems "weave a spell, enlarge our sense of mys- piece: Ashbery's extraordinary reputation. That Ashbery has
tery... We feel a blurring of bounds, a subjective liberation from become the most heavily laureled American poet since Lowell,
decadent stage. Your "alternate forms of temporality," "critiques in twenty years, for example, I am aware of excellent poets who
of narrative logic," etc.were news around 1912 ( "Zone"). Since cannot get published in book form anywhere, large or small
then, "techniques of radical iuxtaposition" may be the one dis- press- let alone discussed, even in the little magazines.
tinguishing characteristic of nearly all "avant-garde" poetry writ- Also missing is any sense o f the young. Where is the anthology
ten i i this century. Those fragments of a whole were, however, a for them? Most of the poets in the "language" anthologies are in
Utopic yearning for a whole. N o w the "language" poets have their forties or older. (The poets of The New American Poetry
exploded the myth of the whole, and what seems to be left is were largely in their twenties or thirties.) There seems to be an
what television calls "bites": very short bits of glitzy images or "aging" of poetry matching the demographic aging of America.
catchy phrases that are dependent on immediate effect. A "lan- Take the little magazine, traditionally a young person's work.
guage" poem in perhaps its most typical form begins, ends, and (Who else has the passion, the time, and the dedication for such
drudgery?) At the moment, the best poetry magazines are edited
goes nowhere (utopia?) and consists of short wisecracks, epi- i by people in their forties and fifties: Szdlfur, Temblor, Hambone,
grams, bits of slang o r advertising slogans or popular songs,
gnomic remarks, ironic references to suburban American culture, I (How)ever. I know two interesting magazines with editors in
etc., all held together by a glue of impenetrable declarative sen- 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.
tences or seemingly random word-lists. Some of the "bites" are
arresting- and they usually turn up in the reviews of "language" To my mind, a revitalization of the American poetry "avant-
poets. Many of the "bites" are funny. (Strange that their wit garde" will only occur when the young appear with fresh read-
appears only in the poetry, never in the critical prose.) But in the ings of their living elders, rediscovering the neglected- think of
end it seems to me no different from rock video, which the indus- all the discoveries of the 1960's: Niedecker, Oppen, Zukofsky,
try calls "moving wallpaper." Were it not for the ponderousness Loy, Reznikoff, Bunting, Rakosi, H.D.-and presenting them-
of its defensive prose, much of "language" poetry could easily be selves in the context of those they admire. A new generation of
seen as a kind of moving-wallpaper literature for the current gen- restless disciples that will pick up the threads of the "New Amer-
eration of grad students who were raised in front of the tube- a ican" poets, the Caterpillar generation, and the isolated individ-
harmless entertainment not unlike the "7 types of ambiguity" uals who have emerged since. One that will discover all that's
poetry produced for students in the 1950's. been happening in world poetry since American poets generally
7. The "real agenda" of my article was not, as you imagine, stopped translating. (And the place to start is Latin America.)
world domination of literary production by the Lionel Trilling One that will discover its own models in the English/American
Cultural Brigade. Unlike critics and "language" poets, I have no tradition. And, most important, one that finds the world in-
agenda at all: 1 read books. But I d o believe that the concentra- teresting, that sees the world as something more than a prohlem-
tion on "language7' poetry, both for and against, has tended to atic text. Now that we've said that it can't be said, there are
drown out everything else on the aesthetic left. For the first time
W K I I 1 - F N K F h ( 1 lOx

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
Literary movements have traditionally had three functions: First, contemporaries, and the French and German critics currently
the criticism of the prevailing aesthetic, which is usually the aes- fashionable among art critics and English professors. "Lan-
thetic of the preceding generation. Second, the proposal of a new guage," for me a t least, would be an exciting and genuinely chal-
aesthetic and the promotion of its practitioners. Third, the intro- lenging movement if it presented its own idiosyncratic historical
duction of other, historical or foreign, work: discoveries of "canon," revisionary readings of the classics, discoveries of lost
neglected masters in the same language, new readings or transla-
I
masters, bridges t o previously unknown foreign poets, commen-
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 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
thetic: a new context in which t o locate the new. Thus, a tiny
movement like Imagism simultaneously soured the appreciation
!
I
constellations) in America since 1960 which have not only pro-
duced important poetry, but have been extraordinarily enriching
of late 19th century texts, promoted a handful of new poets, and 1I for those not active in the group:
forever changed the way classical Greek and Chinese poems were -The black nationalist poetry of the 19601s, which, besides
its political agenda, effectively admitted black speech into poetry
read and translated. Thus, one of the projects of a huge move-
(something the Harlem Renaissance poets, with the notable
ment like Surrealism- which revol~~tionized taste o n all aesthet-
exception of Hughes, had refused to do), created a large and gen-
ic fronts- was the introduction of a wide range of non-Western
uinely populist audience for poetry, had a close and exciting
texts: Latin American writers, t o take a small example, had t o go
working relationship with jazz and some rock musicians (still
t o Paris in the 1920's t o "discover" pre-Columbian oral and
extent, in p o p form, as rap and hip-hop), offered scathing com-
written literature. Thus, the one truly enduring aspect of the New
mentaries on white "verse," and brought in a great deal of
Criticism may well be its bringing of the Metaphysical poets
African and Afro-American history, mythology and religion
back onto the map.
which had previously been absent in American poetry.
The members of the "language" movement have been hyperac-
-The poetry written and read against the Vietnam War, that
tive in fulfilling the first two functions. They have attempted to
unique moment when American poets served as citizens, witness-
dismantle the prevailing aesthetic- what Ron Silliman, in his
es, intellectual consciences of the nation ( a role that poets rou-
MIA (of course!) paper modestly calls "the naive assumption of
tinely perform elsewhere on the planet). Most important, a
speech, individualism or 'beauty."' They have tirelessly promoted
moment when political necessity compelled a settling of differ-
a new aesthetic and its practitioners. What they haven't done is
ences among the poetry communities: not only between academ- speaking of group activity as a sum of all the individual efforts
ic and non-academic, but among the non-academics. (It has been involved- obviously n o single individual can do everything.)
That black nationalism and ethnopoetics have produced no
forgotten, especially by Silliman, that the Donald Allen antholo-
gy was intended as a peaceable kingdom for the bitterly warring viable second generations, and that the Vietnam War poetry led
factions of the anti-establishment: though it is difficult for us t o nowhere, is, for me, the great disaster of American poetry in the
sort out now, the Black Mountains hated the Beats and so on.) late 1970's and 1980's.
The readings and anthologies against the War were a truly demo- [Given the current obsession with criticism- Silliman's itali-
cratic vision of a republic of letters, and, as Clayton Eshleman cized "writing itself is not sufficient for completeness in poetry"
says here, seemed to portend a "responsible avant-garde" for the being the latest pronouncement- it should be said that all of
post-Vietnam years. these movements have promoted "critical thinking," though their
-Ethnopoetics- essentially an American revision and ex- rhetoric bears n o resemblance to "language" discourse. And Silli-
pansion of Surrealism- which not only introduced a tremendous man is way off when he states that the "New Americans" were
amount of indigenous material, but also presented a re-reading of against critical thinking: true perhaps of Corso or Ferlinghetti,
American literature, discovered all sorts of strange and forgotten but Duncan, Olson, Creeley, Levertov, Dorn, Jones/Baraka, Sny-
poets, emphasized oral performance and poetry rituals and talis- der, Sorrentino? All published at least one hook of critical essays,
mans, translated a great deal of European modernist poets, of- and many of the others wrote isolated articles.]
fered new theories and practices of translation, and, perhaps most O n the other hand, what "language" as a movement has given
of all, proposed an image of the poet, based on the archaic, as a me is the sense of worlds being closed off. That reductionist label
vital, necessary member of the community. "language" or "language-centered" says it all. One can only
-Finally, the women poets who are currently centered imagine how they will react to Rachel DuPlessis, in her statement
here, raising words like pleasrrre, transcendence, passion, feeling.
around the magazine ~ o w i e f ~ e After
r ) . the isolated work of Dick-
inson, H.D., Loy, Stein and Niedecker, it is a concentrated and For me, a model of the life and work of a poet was Robert
collective effort t o challenge the inherited (patriarchal) language, Duncan, who died yesterday- a poet who embraces all the
words on DuPlessis' list and much more: curiosity, pluralism, his-
invent a feminine and feminist language of poetry and new
modes of criticism, reread and reconsider the entire history of tory, indignation, spirituality, social and moral accountability. I
have never gotten over the first (now famous) words of Duncan's
poetry, and raise the pioneer women modernists to their rightful
positions of importance. To my mind this is the most exciting that I ever read, in the first Caterpillar, 2 1 years ago: "The dra-
group activity occurring in American poetry today. (Though one ma of our time is the coming of all men into one fate..." and his
that desperately needs more periodical outlets.) dream of a "symposium of the whole" where all "the old exclud-
What these four movements have given me is a tremendous ed orders must be included: the female, the proletariat, the for-
sense of worlds opening up. (And I should emphasize that I am eign; the animal and vegetative; the unconscious and unknown;
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~posiuma t all.
i IS G O D D O W N ?

! [Wrrtterl in 1087- r ~ p p r ~ x i m a t eAnno


ly 5 o f the perso~zalcotnpriter- 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 liter~rypress 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~umanizedZO r h'7s humanit)'
bee17 techt~ologizetliW l ~ c we
j ~ reflect on machincz, what is it we are reflecting on? Is
the ghost it7 the t ~ ~ ~ i h iizt plilusihle
te 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 o f 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.
The computer, however extraordinary as a tool for computation, ing more like machines? are we less human? Our wars may now be
compilation and measurement,offers no such explanations. Nor is it masked by technological euphemisms ("Pentagonese") but it is
a sacred being in the non-Western sense, an incarnation of a super- still war business as usual, and as cruel as ever. The workers w h o
natural force. We may tnarvel at its superior calculating capabilities, construct microchips or Oldsmobiles are no more or less like
but this is human programming, not the wisdom of the gods. We machines than the workers who constructed the pyramids. The
may tremble and rage before it- particularly when a "glitch" dyna- secretary stares with the same blankness at a monitor, a typewriter,
mites a bank account or a monthly bill- but it is then no wrathful or a sheaf of paper written with a quill pen. Most work is deaden-
Old Testament god, but merely the non-human agent of inhuman ing: it was a mistake of Romanticism t o find the machine more
bureaucracy (or, at its most malign, of state surveillance). deadening. (Wordsworth, unlike his neighbors, never spent a 16-
It has of course been a force in psychological change. To spend hour day pitching hay.) The real question is not the dehumanizing
one's day working with a computer is a narcissistic, masturbatory effect of technology, but rather the dehumanizing effect of work.
pleasure. Although it is a stickler for details, the computer, unlike Revolutions have succeeded in improving the material well-being
messy humans, always answers immediately, and always answers of workers, but they have never changed the nature of work, have
yes or no. The yes is instantly gratifying, and the no, after refram- never made it spiritually satisfying. (The closest they've come, in
ing the question or rethinking one's own logic, can usually be this century, is nationalism as a kind of state religion, a spirit of
transformed into a yes. Unlike the video arcade where one always enthusiasm for mundane tasks that rarely outlasts the first genera-
loses, where the object is to delay defeat, at the computer one tion- those who remember how bad things were before.) We
nearly always ultimately wins. This is all quite different from have to go back to Fourier to find a system of collective labor
dealing with humans, those stubborn and vague creatures, and based intrinsically on human nature.
the transition from facing a monitor t o facing a face can be diffi- The human is no less human, but the divine- the Western
cult. The 1980's, as it has been said so many times, is the decade divine- may at the moment be less divine, and not in the obvi-
of "me," of greed, of the Trivial Pursuit of happiness and the anx- ous way. The computer has so accelerated the Enlightenment
iety of "coping," and now of a generally unwarranted fear (that that we have barely realized where we have landed. The extraor-
is, among those w h o are most hysterical: the heterosexual middle dinary speed and precision of its measurements and calculations
class majority) of the other as carrier of a lethal disease. An age of have not only failed to fully and "rationally" explain the uni-
a self-absorbed, distracted solitude, where the real is either hostile verse(thus killing off God), they have uncovered more mysteries
or remote. This probably would not have occurred without the than ever were imagined. There has never been a society more
computer in the workplace and the television at home. capable of describing the physical world, and yet there has never
It may be a desocialization, but is it a dehumanization? I was been a society more bewildered by it. The order of the universe
surprised that Melnyczuk raised yet again that perennial sympo- turns out to be more divine than our (Western) image of it. Small
sium topic (now approaching its bicentennial): are humans becom- wonder the physicists are sounding like theologians these days.
Human nature can only take so much inexplicability, and it liferation of messianic and millenary cults. (It is already the case
seems inevitable that a new world religion will arise in the com- in Africa.) It is not difficult t o imagine one of these merging with
ing centuries (if we make it that far). Certainly Islam, Judaism a more cerebral, "scientific" religion- much in the way that
and Christianity- those magnificent dream-structures of shep- Taoism and Buddhism, and Christianity in the Third World, have
herds and desert villagers- are inadequate to the task. All three, both theoretical and practical sides. O n the one hand, a religion
in their institutionalized form, are dependent on dogmatic rigidi- that celebrates and explains the mysteries of the new cosmos; on
ty, the suppression of heterodoxy, separation and exclusion, and the other, a religion of idols, charms, spells, trances, dancing,
a morality progressively basing itself on less wisdom. There is music and magic to alleviate the daily worldly suffering.
nothing sadder than their current desperate and final waves of
fundamentalism: in the Vatican, in Iran, in Israel, in the White Finally, the less important question of computers and literature:
House. The Eastern religions, o n the other hand, have tended t o is the writer a robot, or has the robot become a writer? To take
embrace everything, t o adapt almost any development into their the second question first: certainly the computer has forever
cosmic view: the Vedic god Agni is equally incarnate in fire and proved that a thousand monkeys typing a t a thousand typewriters
in a literary magazine. Stripped of their local trappings, they for a thousand years will not produce any Hamlets. There are a
remain remarkably compatible with the latest scientific news, as few serious writers w h o have made use of the computer (not as
a number of pop science-religion books have suggested. Nuclear "word processor") to "generate" texts, most notably Jackson
physicists at the Bombay reactor light incense before a statue of MacLow and the members of OULIPO. These are not, as might be
Ganesh, the elephant-headed god; a Western scientist who con- assumed, impersonal: behind each text is the human w h o pro-
siders herself a Christian has t o d o a great deal of defensive shuf- grammed it.The results are weird or amusing, their ultimate plea-
fling, picking and choosing. sure deriving mainly from seeing the rules of the game put into
1492 dealt the first serious blow to the three monotheisms: the action, like extremely complex poetic forms: cl~'zntroyal, say, or
first extended contact with a great mass of people untouched by Chinese poems that can be read forwards or backwards.
God. The monotheisms survived by largely destroying the evi- The typewriter certainly had a n effect o n the writing of poetry.
dence, but in many ways they never fully recovered: the modern It is impossible to imagine the stepped lines of Williams, Paz, and
era of doubt and criticism was born. The computer- not in so many others without it. Pound's Cantos rnakes much more
itself, but as tool of discovery, an ultra-sophisticated caravel tak- visible sense in his manuscript than on the printed page, and
ing us into unimagined and inexplicable information- may well Robert Duncan has recently insisted that his books directly
bring a n end to the monotheisms, or, a t best, force them onto the reproduce his own typed manuscript. With the advent of "desk-
paths laid out over the centuries by their mystics and heterodox top publishing," there will no doubt be poems that take advan-
sects. As the millennium approaches, and as the world's popula- tage of its various features, including the mixing of type styles.
tion increases with its concomitant suffering, there will be a pro- Furthermore, the computer has democratized certain tricks of the
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-
PANAMA: A PALINDROME
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 I \krrrttetr as a "Letter from Neiu York " for Vuelta milg~lzr?re
is essentially a means of manuscript production that eliminates rn Mexrco, Fehruar~,1 YYO.]
retyping. A labor-saving device: n o 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 t o bake their own "C'est le crach d u Panama qui fit de m o i un poete!"
bread. Before the word processor and the Xerox machine, when Blaise Cendrars, 19 14
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 t o mention voluminous
A
man, a plan, a canal: Panama!
It's my favorite palindrome; nearly a hundred years old, and
diaries and correspondence. Today the standard work is the short never out of date, for it seems that Panama is fated t o always
story, the minimalist novel, the anecdotal lyric- and who writes have a man- an American man- with a plan. It is a palin-
long letters? The computer is not, in itself, an obstacle t o concen- drome of our history, a tiny loop forever repeating itself. A
tration or inspiration. But this is a time of continual distraction, a thousand years from now, while the rest of the earth is wearing
result of the huge population and the huge amount of artwork the white robes and discussing philosophy with Alpha Centauri, the
population is producing. (One creates by forcibly, if only tem- President of the United States- there will always be a President
porarily, refusing to consume.) The entirety of classical Greek lit- and a United States- will n o doubt yet again unwrap Teddy
erature is now available on a single compact disk. Perhaps the Roosevelt's big stick and clobber that little strip of jungle
writers of the late 20th century, tapping at their private consoles, cleared for oil tankers and secretive banks.
should all feed into a giant mainframe that will eliminate the George Bush declared that the purpose of the invasion was t o
ceaseless repetitions that now fill the magazines, consolidate the "restore democracy" t o Panama, and t o bring an indicted drug
texts, and restore us t o our rightful role of Anonymous, the voice dealer t o trial in Miami. When it was pointed out that the U.S.
of the age. normally does not deploy 26,000 troops to arrest a felon, Bush
\ ' l < l ' l ~ l1 N l<t t\<'l ION

claimed he was deposing a dictator. When it was pointed out It was an act of personal vendetta. Though it is unprecedented
that the U.S. normally does not send 26,000 troops to topple for an American President to send thousands of troops to redress
minor despots, Bush replied that he was protecting American a private grievance, Bush, like Reagan and Nixon before him,
children from the scourge of drugs. seems to be modeling himself on the patriarchs of the banana
Beyond this palindrome of excuses was the usual net of politi- republics: crying out for a return to "law and order" while rou-
cal opportunism and some unusual personal ill-will. Bush tinely ignoring the Constitution. (War, after all, is supposed to be
claimed that the suddenness of the invasion was due to Noriega's approved by Congress before troops are committed, except in
declaration, in some local speech somewhere, of war against the cases of immediate threat.) But few Presidents these days seem to
U.S., and the subsequent murder of an American soldier by Pana- have read the manual.
ma Defense Force (PUF) troops. It is remarkable that Bush could Bush prizes personal loyalty above all. The decades of his
repeat Noriega's threat with a straight face- but then again, political career have been undistinguished: serving for short
Reagan actually declared a national State of Emergency in terms in sensitive or troubled government agencies (the CIA,the
response to the awesome malevolency of the Sandinistas, poised u.N., the Embassy in China) whenever an uncontroversial interim
to drive their pickups north. As for the dead soldier, the r1.s. rou- head was needed; picked by Reagan to be Vice-President because
tinely shrugs off the murder abroad of its citizens, whether they no one could possibly object; spending his eight years in the posi-
are nuns in El Salvador or 260 Marines in Beirut. (Much later we tion only visible at state funerals. He loyally served his superiors,
learned that the invasion had been scheduled weeks in advance, modifying whatever values he had to conform with theirs. (Bush,
that the soldier was not in uniform and was attempting, for it is now forgotten, was once considered to be a "liberal" Repub-
unknown reasons, perhaps inebriation, to drive through a PDF lican. In the days before birth control was revealed to Protestants
roadblock without stopping.) to be the work of Satan, he had even served on the board of the
The invasion was set in December for one reason: On January 1, Texas Planned Parenthood.) Now that he's the boss, he, in turn,
according to the terms of the Panama Canal Treaty, the Canal demands absolute loyalty from his inferiors. His selection of Dan
Commission was to have been headed by a Panamanian selected Quayle was a perfect example: a lump of cerebral anti-matter
by their own government. (On January 1,2000, the U.S. will with- from which Bush may expect never to experience the slightest
draw from the Canal completely.) The treaty has been a leitmotif of deviation. (Asked, in the campaign, why he wanted to be Vice-
Republican outrage-"We built it, it's ours!"-since Jimmy Carter President, Quayle replied: "It seems like a good career move.")
signed it: Reagan used it over and over as a symbol of America's Noriega, Bush's ward from his CIA days, though hardly the
weakness and Carter's wimpiness. For ten years, the right has been incarnation of evil as he has been portrayed here, is indeed the
trying to figure out how to get the Canal back; with the Commis- essence of betrayal. For years he played both lucrative sides of
sion now remaining under their control, they have another ten to every fence: collecting a salary from the Drug Enforcement
work out some gruesome solution to their day of doom. Agency while helping the Medellin cartel, working for the (.[A
and making deals with Castro, arming the contras and shipping terday shedding tears of happiness in spite of their predica-
American parts to the Sandinistas. (The only surprising thing ment and cheering the Americans whose weaporzs turned
about Noriega is that he never offered t o both shelter and assas- many o f their bonzes into smolderirzg ruins.
sinate Salman Rushdie.) This was clearly more than Bush could "Thank you, President Boosh! Thank you, President
stand. According to his Texan wisdom, if you don't lasso a rogue Boosh!" exulted Alejandro Bullerz as he stood shirtless not
bull, the whole herd will go crazy. With Noriega on the loose, twenty yards from the still-snzokirzg rubble o f the apartment
Panama was becoming too unpredictable- in a sense, t o o Pana- brlilding where he once lived.
manian for American taste.
The invasion was a n enormous political gamble, and I, for one, Night after night, the television news told us about the twenty-
would never have imagined its astonishing success: Bush, accord- six American soldiers who had died, but never mentioned the
ing to the latest polls, is now the most popular President after Panamanian civilians, although it was obvious that whole neigh-
one year in office since John Kennedy. This, for a mildly unpleas- borhoods had been devastated. Night after night, we were re-
ant man whose normal speech is idiosyncratic t o the point of in- galed with stories of Noriega's pornographic magazines which,
communicability. (Visiting Auschwitz in 1987, he remarked, according t o the Pentagon, had shocked the soldiers who cap-
"Boy, they were big on crematoriums, weren't they?") This, after tured his house (being, as they were, more accustomed t o reading
Henry Kissinger's remark during the campaign that George Bush Being and Nothingness around the barracks), of his red under-
would lose even if he ran against himself, and after having been wear t o ward off the evil eye (where was that evil eye looking?),
elected by only 55% of the 50% w h o bothered t o vote. This, for of the fifty pounds which became fifty kilos of cocaine in his
a man w h o had spent his first day as President showing everyone freezer (which, weeks later, were revealed t o be tamales- anoth-
in the office a calculator that squirts water. er form of addiction), and of the heavy-metal music blasting into
Part of this success is due to the media coverage, which, speak- the ,Vatican Nuncio t o drive the opera-loving Noriega (not t o
ing of loyalty, blew bugles for the troops with the ardor of Gun- mention the presumably Gregorian chant-loving priests) mad.
ga Din. Here, from The Boston Globe, is a sample of the kind of Not once did we hear that Bush had killed more Panamanians
news reports Americans were reading: than anyone- certainly not Noriega- since its 1899 war with
Colombia. Not once was the evil Panama of Noriega- who
In this city's poorest neighborhoods, artillery shells and killed a few dozen enemies and had less than a hundred political
machine gun fire leveled the homes o f the poorest inhabitants prisoners- compared with the mass slaughters by our allies in El
and destroyed the meager possessions o f thousarzds, but it Salvador and Guatemala. Only rarely was it revealed that the
lifted their spirits and gave them hope. rest of the world- even Maggie of the Malvinas- was aghast.
Across this devastated and emotionally and economically The narcissism of the Panama palindrome cannot be attributed
exhausted urban war zone, people stood amid the ruins yes- merely to nationalism, a last fit of fervor from a waning super-
power, or racism. (Though anti-Hispanic feeling, particularly in Rather than address the social problems that have created this
the "sunbelt" states, is rising faster than the Hispanic popula- mass addiction, Reagan declared a rhetorical war. (Meanwhile,
tion. Its most genteel battleground is the movement to have Eng- drug prices crashed from the glut on the market, including a
lish declared the national language- which is based on the 7 5 % drop in the wholesale price of cocaine.) And now Bush
assumption that the Anglos are able t o speak it.) No, the real seems to be turning that rhetoric into action, of which Panama
source of Panamania can be summed up in one word: drugs. may be only the first salvo.
Thanks again to television- the true "unacknowledged legis- There is, as there always is, a hidden agenda t o this drug war.
lator of the worldm- a national problem has been transformed As everyone outside of Washington knows, the Cold War end-
into a national panic. Drugs have become an Evil emanating with ed in 1989. /For me, evidence that the world had changed was
the power of a million Noriegas. Their use escalated enormously visible locally in December 1988, when Gorbachev visited New
during the Reagan years, and the populace has been made t o feel York: the huge neon billboard in Times Square was flashing a
helpless before this monster and its children: violent street crimi- hammer and sickle as the crowds along Broadway chanted,
nals, crazed teenagers, babies born addicted. These days, every "Gorby! Gorby!"] Even Time magazine which, under Henry
time one turns on the television one is pummeled by yet another Luce, was the preeminent journalistic flank of the Cold War
horror story. and practically the architect of our policy toward China
Very little is said about the causes of this epidemic, though it (thanks t o Luce's friendship with Chiang Kai-shek, fostered by
is obvious why, in the 1980's, millions of Americans found it the Catholic Church)-a policy that not only refused to recog-
necessary to turn their brains into refried beans. Reagan devas- nize a quarter of humanity, but created the wars in Korea and
tated the poor: t w o or three million became homeless (one-third Indochina t o "contain" the Yellow/Red Menace- even Time
of them children) and unemployment for blacks, Hispanics and was now writing:
poor whites remains phenomenally high. There is little else to do
in the ghetto but smoke crack, which is cheap, and drug-dealing Scenarios for a Soviet invasion of Western Europe haz)e
is the only guaranteed (and lucrative) job. The middle class has always had i7 touch of paranoid fantasy about them. A new
become poor- families with both parents working cannot pos- consensus is emerging, that the Soz)iet threat is not tohat it
sibly enjoy the kind of lives they led in the 1960's and 1970's- used to be. The real point, hozvevet; is that it never was. T/Je
and drugs and television are its main forms of relief. And, at the doves in the Great Debate o f the past forty years were rigl~t
top of the heap, the frenetic greed of the corporate raiders and all along.
free-ranging entrepreneurs who flourished under Reagan was
fueled by the sensations of speed and omnipotence given them With Time on their coffee tables, Americans are slowly realizing
by an epic of cocaine lines which, in the beginning, only they that the country ruined itself fighting a war that never existed.
could afford. Though the mirror situation is, of course, far worse in the Soviet
quickly. That enemy is drugs- a concept more concrete in its
Union, the U.S has the worst health, education, transportation,
particulars, but, as a n alien force, equally abstract as Commu-
and social services of any Western nation, and a swamp of envi-
nism. So the Drug War is on, and the country is cheering.
ronmental problems- while, in the Reagan-Bush years, two-
Domestically, Bush and his minions are calling for more police,
thirds of every tax dollar went to war, though no official wars
more courts a n d more prisons. (Prisons- unlike schools, hospi-
were actually being fought. Even superhawks like Robert McNa-
tals or mnseums- being the only public buildings Republicans
mara (the Secretary of Defcnse during the Vietnam War) are now
like to construct.) And within the Pentagon, according to military
saying that the Pentagon budget could be cut in half overnight
journals, those who see the Drug War as the only means of self-
with no effect to our "defense."
preservation, given the world situation, are prevailing over those
Sentiments like these have caused a panic in Washington. Our
reluctant t o become mired in another Vietnam-style jungle war.
foreign policy- which, for decades, could be summed u p in one
(In, for example, Peru, where the Sendero Luminoso- real
sentence: Any enemy of our enemy is our friend- is in a sham-
Communists!-is in alliance with the coca growers and controls
bles. Bush, an old soldier w h o still checks for Communists under
vast areas of the country, where the Peruvian Army is fighting a
his bed, has lapsed into catatonia before the events in Eastern
losing battle, and where Green Beret military "advisers" are
Europe, standing still amidst a stampede of capitalists rushing in.
already in place. Like Panama, it's the perfect spot t o simultane-
[Bush calls this "prudence," but there may be another story: The
ously "restore democracy" and "stop the flow of drugs a t their
far right seriously belicvcs that glasnost is the ultimate Soviet plot.
source. ")
By pretending to declare peace, Gorbachev will effect the dis-
A11 of this will, needless t o say, d o nothing to stop drugs. Drugs
bandment of NATO, withdrawal of American troops from Europe
are the ideal capitalist venture: the market is limitless, anyone
and drastic reductions in Western military strcngth- a t which
can get into the business, and, with very little money and hard
point the Soviets will march in and finally conquer the world! If it
work, make a fortune. And, as Eastern Europe has demonstrat-
seems far-fetched that any "responsible" leaders would believe
ed, pcople will stop at nothing to get the consumer products they
this, let us remember that the Vice-president idolizes his father, a
want, be it blue jeans or cocaine. For every hundred dealers the
founder, in the 1950's, of the John Birch Society, which thought
Drug War eliminates, a thousand will take their place. It is, after
that Eisenhower was a K G agent~ and the fluoridation of water a
arms dealing, the second-largest business in the world, and one
Communist plot, and who is now associated with a magazine that
that requires far less capital and expcrtise.
claims that the Democrats are controlled directly by Moscow, and
The extraordinary success of the Panama invasion has made
the Republicans by Trotskyites in Tel Aviv.]
the prospects for a post-Cold War peace in the 1990's seem dubi-
The Pentagon, faced with hippie flower children in the Polit-
ous. Right now, Bush is standing un the mountain of his popu-
buro, is quivering in its spit-polished boots. For the military to
larity, scanning the horizon with his binoculars for new territory
hold on to its hardware, and for America to continue t o run on
to conquer.
a war economy, obviously a new enemy had to be found, and
N O T F S I OI< S I i l t F K 111

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
N O T E S F O R S U L F U R I11
writers were most visibly the enemies of the state. It was found-
ed and then expanded by our two w~liestpresidents, Johnson and
Nixon. They sure knew what they were doing. Snip through all
I Wr~ttenfor the hack pagrs of Sulfur, 1990- 199 I .]
I 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.
The N E A 1 Parallel to this was the universities' friendly takeover of student
protest by introducing "relevancy" to the curriculum: teaching

I
was cheered by the news this
morning that the head of some Boston nut-group had condemned
I
I what the students already knew, showing their sensitivity t o stu-
dent expression by encouraging workshops in various forms of
"creativity." This required, of course, the wholesale ~mportation
the opening there of the Mapplethorpe show as "avant-garde, of writers and artists, and the hitherto unimaginable invention of
anti-Christian, anti-American, and perverse." The irony of the "poet" as a comfortable middle-class career. With it came a kind

I
current NEA controversy is that these Soldiers of God may indeed of collective amnesia: n o one seems t o remember that, before
effect a Confucian rectification of names: restoring the term 1970, the university was considered the enemy of contemporary
"avant-garde" to its former place of dignity as subverter of norms. poetry.
Day after day, defenders of the NEA piously repeat that these I remember laughing, in the early 1980's, when I saw the
works are not obscene, but Art that Enriches the Human Soul. Norton Critical Edition of O n the Road, alongside The Scarlet
It's not true. They are, like all art, obscene: presenting, literally, Letter and Billy Budd: it had taken less than thirty years to
a n opposite scene, opposite t o the world that is before our eyes. entomb that once-scandalous book. Today the leap from the bar-
We should be emphasizing that the primary function of art is ricades t o the marble halls is nearly instantaneous. Last night's
subversion: the bringing t o light of the sub(terranean) versions: bad boy or girl of the arts this morning receives a hefty fellow-
the versions that reveal that the world is not quite what we ship, a university chair, a museum retrospective, a shelf of critical
thought it is. exegesis. We're kidding ourselves if we think that this is a sign of a
I
healthy plurality in the institutions- which can, and should, only he had underlined a description of vaginal discharge: "blood,
function as monuments to the dead- or that this hasn't changed mucous, and shreds of mucozts ... purulent offensive discharge."
the face of the arts. Aiken at the time was in the hospital suffering from an anal fistu-
Is it more incredible that Karen Finley's NEA grant was over- la. In the accompanying letter, Eliot wrote: "Have you tried Kotex
ruled, or that someone who publicly shoves yams up her ass for it ... KOTEX. Used with success by Blue-eyed Claude the Cabin
should dutifully fill out the endless government forms t o attest t o Boy." The reference was to that perennial frat-boy favorite, "The
her craft? That this and the other NEA cases have been generally Good Ship Venus," to which Eliot had written some additional
condemned as "censorshipn-here at the end of a century that lyrics, which he enclosed. Claude was: "a clever little nipper/ who
murdered and still murders thousands of artists and writers, filled his ass with broken glass/ and circumcised the skipper."
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 1 5 0
..................
years was made by the perverse, the obscene, the ostracized, the
subversive. These days I find myself nearly alone in hoping that Mary Oppen
the right will succeed in making the arts perverse again. Not so

T
long ago, the goal of artists and writers was t o work in such a
way that n o one would dream of giving you money for it.
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
T.S. Eliot prose however she reveals herself as Reznikoff's worthiest
disciple. It is extraordinary how much she was able t o pack

T
into the simplest declarative sentence. Equally remarkable, a t
any given moment in the book the lives of Mary and George-
his morning I also happened and Mary's emotional responses- are unfolding amidst the
to be reading (in Wayne Koestenbaum's Double Talk: The Erotics enormous events in the world. This is not so much a modernist
of Male Literary Collaboration) this anecdote of our pillar of rec- collage as the result of modernist collage. A 20th century
titude, T.S. Eliot: sensibility: the news as autobiography.
Conrad Aiken had praised Eliot's 1925 Poems. Eliot replied by 119901
sending him a page ripped out of The Midwives' Gazette in which
there, why miss it?" Said Styron: "I don't think it's incongruous,
Barbaric Lyrtcisrn being against the war in principle and feeling that the troops
deserve a cheer."

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 Olson and Rexroth Biographies
Whitman under the title "Barbaric Lyricism." Some thought this
the title and epigraph t o 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
I n America, where tens of mil-
lions live alone and most people move every three years, where
"Victory" parade in New York the other day, celebrating the they rarely see their relatives, and where Main Street has been
slaughter of 200,000 people, the displacement of five million replaced by the strip and the mall, hardly anyone knows anyone
more, the "apocalyptic" leveling of a small country, the tens of any more. O r more exactly: people mainly know, and know best,
thousands of future deaths from disease and starvation, and at the people they don't know: celebrities. The village has indeed
least a decade of ecological calamity. A Patriot missile was gar- become a global village, but that global village is Hollywood.
landed like a Shiva lingam and paraded up Broadway; in the What is the Johnny Carson Show, for example, but a n amiable
evening, the local pyrotechnic geniuses, the Gruccis, recreated evening on the front porch dishing the neighbors? Even better, it is
the effect of a Patriot hitting a Scud over the Statue of Liberty, a village where the neighbors stay. the same, unlike one's actual
t o the theme from "Star Wars." neighbors. The stable presence of their unstable lives is not only a
George Plimpton and the Paris Review seized the moment for source of daily news and developments, it is a subject- probably
a fund-raising "Spring Revel" at $1.50 a head featuring "Dinner the only safe subject- to talk about with the local strangers.
and Huge Fireworks Show Celebrating the Return of the Troops" The language of the tribe is gossip, and in perpetual, individual
aboard a hired yacht. The "Revel" committee included William diaspora the need for gossip becomes insatiable. In lives where
Styron, Kurt Vonnegut, William Kennedy, Peter Mathiessen, mainly nothing happens except television, and where television
Frances Fitzgerald, Norman Mailer and E.L. Doctorow, among wildly exaggerates the danger in something, anything, happening,
other stars of the American "left." Said Plimpton to the Village there is a craving for "real lifen-not t o live it, but t o watch it.
Voice: "There's no political statement in this at all." Said Fitzger- Sensationalist "news" programs, "true" crime stories, the after-
ald: "Things are going to happen anyway. If it's going on out noon talk shows, funny or pornographic amateur home videos:
U'R17TI N I<F.\<l I O N YOTI'S FOR St;! 1t K Ill

packaged real life is inevitably weird, and getting weirder. Into from now, as the groundwork for the multi-volume Life and
the safety of one's own bunker comes the mesmerizing news that Times, on the order of Painter or Edel, that Rexroth deserves.
what was suspected is true: the boy and girl next door- those Clark, on the other hand, relies mainly on published sources
real people- really are freaks. and interviews with some mutual triends, like Ed Dorn. And
And so is everyone else we've ever heard about, but don't Olson, with the exceptions of his time as a Democratic Party
know. It is a Puritan legacy, the tale of the life of sin: only Eng- flack and at Black _Mountain, spent most of his life first not writ-
land and America produce biographies in bulk, and in America ing and then writing. This gives Clark plenty of room for rumi-
they are poring out every day with their emphasized bad news, nation on the work, none of it particularly illuminating. His one
bizarre and sad stories. It now seems that a life- any life, yours coup, perhaps worth reading the book, is the previously little-
or mine- examined by someone else is not worth living. known story of, and unpublished correspondence with, Frances
This biographical imperative cuts across the strata of taste. Boldereff.
There is even a market- or they would not be published- for [In brief: At age 39, Olson is still floundering, has written little
biographies of contemporary poets, preferably dead, which and published less. He gets a letter out of the blue from a woman in
inevitably seem to issue from houses that never would have con- a small town in Pennsylvania telling him he's a genius. The corre-
sidered publishing the poet's work. spondence accelerates to the rate of two or three letters a day.
Boldereff sends him into various branches of arcana that become
The latest, released in the same week by W.W. Norton, are part of the Olson canon; phrases from both their letters become
Linda Hamalian's A Life of Kenneth Rexroth and Tom Clark's embedded in the poems he's suddenly furiously writing. Almost a
Charles Olson: The Allegory of a Poet's Life. Both are about 400 year later they meet for the first time, Olson's first weekend of pas-
pages long, and both wave the Bad Boy banner with covers sion. (As Clark typically tells us- and how does he know?-Olson
showing their subjects not typing but engaged in what current was tormented that his penis wasn't as Maximus as the rest of him.)
American mores now consider to be self-destructive hedonism: Olson, however, won't leave his wife, and for many years the pat-
smoking. tern of frenetic letters and rare passionate meetings continues.]
Hamalian's is by far the better book. Rexroth's life can only be Hamalian clearly starts off as an acolyte, but the deeper she
compared, among the American poets, with Pound or Langston gets into Rexroth's incessant philandering, paranoia, and abuse
Hughes for its variety and frantic pace. Hamalian- who inter- of women, her disdain grows. [Rexroth, the promoter of many
viewed hundreds of his friends and enemies- needs every one of women poets, was a personal misogynist; Olson, which is worse,
her apparently allotted 400 pages just to keep up. (I've been told an ideological one. Both books indulge in retrospective moraliz-
that another 200 pages, dealing with the work, were cut.) The ing, yet it is curious that both men were surrounded by women
book's impossible to put down as it zips through the chronology who deified them, even after they had found the men impossible
past the factual trees. Yet I suspect its ultimate value will be, years to live with. Connie Olson, after one of many separations, says
she doesn't believe in God, because Charles is her God. Rexroth's the teens and twenties- an American poet who was a public intel-
second wife is the godmother of the daughter, named after the lectual figure, famous among general readers. (Ginsberg's celebrity
first wife, who is born t o his third wife, to whom he's bigamous- is another matter.) His public exposure in the fifties and sixties
ly married. And so on.] seems unimaginable for an American poet today: a weekly radio
Clark apparently began with the image of a pathetic, torment- show, a twice-weekly column in the San Francisco Examiner,
ed genius, and then piled on the evidence; there's no sense of book reviews or articles once a month in The Nation and four or
Olson's charisma. And a pall hangs over his book from his will- five times a year in the N. Y Times Book Review, the twice-month-
ful, criminal neglect of George Butterick- who is mentioned ly "Classics Revisited" series in the S ~ ~ t u r d aReview,
y further arti-
only three times in passing as one of the disciples. Clark ends cles in magazines from Art News to Mademoiselle and Nugget
with Olson's funeral, as Olson did not: Sulfur readers need hard- (whatever happened to Nugget?), records of his poetry readings,
ly be told that nearly everything we know about Olson, the texts sales of 10,000 for a new book of poems and 100,000 for the Chi-
of most of the poems and much of the prose, critical glosses of nese translations, interviews in the national media, even talk of a
thousands of references, and the very existence of the third vol- television show- plus the endless local discussion groups and
ume of Maximus- the volume that is, for me, his great work- readings he organized. Rexroth, in other words, led the life gener-
is due entirely to Butterick. Clark, whatever his motives, has writ- ally available to a poet nearly everywhere except in America.
ten a biography of Kafka without M a x Brod. Olson, however, led a more normal American poet's life. He
Two lives that couldn't be more different: Rexroth the adven- died with most of his work unpublished, and most of the rest out
turer, Olson the bookworm. Rexroth the cosmopolitan, Olson of print. H e spoke grandly t o his "fellow citizens" of the "Repub-
the local hick. Rexroth the Don Juan, Olson the timid. Rexroth lic of Letters," but had only a few devout followers. H e planned
in the American wilderness, Olson obsessively researching the national and international institutions and symposia and think
West for years before actually going out t o see it. Rexroth the tanks t o get the message out, all of which came to nothing. There
Buddhist and Christian, deep in the selflessness of ritual and med- is a sad moment in the letters t o Corman where he compares Ori-
itation, Olson the Jungian, deep in the symbols of self. Rexroth gin magazine, with its print run of 300- as he had once com-
compulsively surrounded by people of all types, Olson by a few pared the few remaining students at Black Mountain- to Mao's
disciples and, in the last years, living alone in an apartment piled band in the Yenan caves.
with trash where the phone never rang, writing on every available Finally, it is true that few among us could survive the investi-
surface, even the walls, sleeping all day and wandering empty gation o f a biographer and not emerge a monster. Taking out the
streets at night. For the life of a n American poet, it is Rexroth's garbage is not the stuff of biographies, the garbage itself is: the
that is the more incredible. petty cruelties, the hypocrisies revealed in the archives of corre-
Most incredible now, when he is remembered but largely spondence, the mistakes and indiscretions, the bad days, bad
unread, is that Rexroth was- alone with Hughes, and Pound in habits, bad blood.
But the deeper question is what the biography of a poet does t o ...My hcart in hiding
subsequent readings of the work. It cannot help but localize the Stirred f o r a bird, - the achieve of, the mastery
poem, cheapen it, fix it permanently in its biographical interpre- of the thing!
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 The paradox is, the Figure of Outward, the poet of projection,
peace in the world?" refers to the bickering among three women nearly always reads like an escaping convict with only one leg.
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 t o 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 Perszdasiue Nezci Drfensc. of Traditional Prosody
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.
P rosody remains enz bedded in
the finished work ...(like] the armature in a statue: an essential part
o f t l ~ finished
e structure. We do rzot iudge a statue by its armature,
any move than we judge a beat~tycontest 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-
Eutzlre P M L A article verse would collapse to a heap o f flab... "

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

T he signature Olson syntax-


the dangling p r t i c i ~ l e swhich Creeley picks up, and the sudden
119911

exclamations- always seemed to come from nowhere, certainly


not Massachusetts. Then the other day it struck me: H o ~ k i n sOne
.
of many examples:
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-
READING POETRY
this language that didn't sound like anything else- was a door-
way opening onto all times and all places.
I \Vr~ttrnfor a pallel o 7 z ' ' P o ~ J t rd-
y Ktzo~(~J~dgL" From there I wandered undirected through the poetry shelves,
a t St. M a r k ' s Church, New York. 1 Y90.l poets- my real teachers, not the bored dictators of the class-
rooms- leading me from one poet to another. But, equally

I
've read it every day of my life
since I was thirteen. It is, among the man-made artifacts, my pri-
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
mary source of knowledge of the stuff of this world and the next.
Its limitless archive of tiny and piercing, vast and enveloping per- mythology. Lorca took me to books on the Spanish Civil War;
ceptions of "the way things work and move" (Keats) has forever Hart Crane to Colun~bus'diaries and 19th century New York
and Atlantis; Williams t o colonial America; Pound t o Renais-
altered and continually alters my own. It is my religion, in as
sance Italy and the history of China (and later t o Chinese itself)
much as it is a n affirmation of the sacrality of all things; it brings
and the Anglo-Saxons and medieval Provence; Olson to the Del-
me news from the unknown, beyond my imagination; it is a daily
opportunity to talk with the dead. Bursting into sound, running phic Oracle and the pre-Socratics, to Mesopotamia, t o the whale-
ship chronicles and the history of agriculture; Artaud t o the
through its cycles of silence and sound, ending as silence: a poem
Tarahumaras and the Black Death. The list is endless, and still
is the Hindu history of the universe.
But poetry is also- and this is rarely, if ever, said- a source of continues: hardly any of the books I know cannot ultimately be
traced to a poem or poet.
knowledge a t its most literal: information. My life with poetry
Similarly, most of my travels started out from poems, beginning
began when I discovered that it was talking about the same
at sixteen when Neruda's Canto General sent me off t o Machu
things- and not only emotional things- that interested me: I
Picchu and the Atacama Desert. The places 1 now happen to
was thirteen, wanted to be an archeologist, at that moment read-
know best, beyond the great metropolises, were first literary
ing everything I could find on pre-Columbian Mesoamerica in an
landscapes: India and Mexico in Paz, Provence in the trouba-
unusually good high school library. Stuck inside some fat book-
dours, Italy in Dante and Pound. And the cities themselves live
Prescott or Bernal Diaz on the Conquest- was the pamphlet of
for me as a s~multaneousmoment of the poets walking their
Octavio Paz's Sttr? Stone, in Muriel Rukeyser's translation. It was
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 ROTHENBERG: NEW YORK 1 1968
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
1 Wrtttetf for the hook, Joy! I'ra~se! Jerome Rothenberg a t 60,
textual outer space debris, alone and floating nowhere. For me,
e d ~ t e dhy P~errczIorts ( T ~ h w zBooks),
l 1991.1
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
2
ero birthdays are a n occasion
when it's forgivable t o drag out the old photos, and there's one
snapshot I want to pull from the overstuffed Rothenberg album:
the "way," in its universal religious sense. Nearly all my intellec-
tual and physical wanderings have been on the track of poems. an important early moment in his work and, it has turned out, an
Naturally many other things might have taken me on similar indelible one in my life: the publication of Technicians of the
paths, but poetry happened to be my totemic animal. And Sacred.
strangely, these zillion bits of the world were learned from what I had twigged to Jerry as an adolescent in the mid-60's:
is traditionally considered to be the most rarefied, unworldly Some/Thing magazine, the "rituals" a t Judson Church and the
world of writing. Something Else pamphlet Ritual (1966), the first JR book I
remember buying. H e was already on my m a p when we first met
in 1 9 6 7 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- w h o had silenced the room with a
shout: " N o 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
had finally caught up with The Seven Hells of the Jigoku Zoshi, of So~ne/Thing,JK's "workings" irom the lilorerztine Codex, I
the first of the JR medium-length sequences, and still lively, knew that this was part of(MacDiar111id's words) "the kind of
though now more likely to be read as an arrow pointing directly poetry I wa~lt.'' The book 1 eagerly awaited, and then devoured
to his masterpiece, Khurbn. when it finally came out in 1968, was Technicinni of the Sacred.
There were, in the later 60's, two New York Schools. The first, 1968: a tired story we tell over and over, the Great War for
of course, from the Donald Allen taxonomy: Ashbery, O'Hara, which we are the old soldiers: the year of the international stu-
Koch, Guest, Schuyler, and others, and the "second generation" dent revolutions, the assassinations, the conviction that the entire
of Berrigan, Waldman, Padgett, and so many more. But there was world was on the verge of radical transformation, from the struc-
also "my" N.Y. School- mine as a reader- a group as coherent ture of society and state to the details of body ornament. But
as any poetry group, but too young for the New American Poets more: the belief that the way to the new was the old: hallucino-
and, in retrospect, whose individual reputations perhaps suffered gens as the source of ancient wisdom, tribal communisnl as the
from the lack of a name, a compartment in the brain to locate answer to capitalism, the wilderness to industrialization; an
them in the subsequent population explosion: Rothenberg, "Electric Tibet. "
Antin, Eshleman, Kelly, Economou, Owens, Schwerner, Makoski, A year of continual unforeseeable developments in the day's
MacLow and others, with Paul Blackburn, in terms of publica- papers, and an equally incredible poring out of news from the
tion, a n older brother. poetry presses. Alongside Technicians, these were some of the
Both came, in part, out of Surrealism. The official N.Y. School new books appearing like oracles that year: Pound's Drafts and
from certain aspects of the French poems: irony, wit, whimsical Fr~ignieiits, Bunting's Collected Poems, Oppen's O f Being
juxtaposition, random apprehensions of ordinary life, the Numerous, the second volume of Olson's Maxi;nus and the first
panorama of the street. The "others" from Surrealism's exoticism available edition of the Moyizn Letters, Duncan's Bending the
and the exotic branches of the rllovement itself, from its politics Bow, Snyder's Tblic Back Country, Rexroth's Collected Lonpp
(as response t o one war and prophecy of another), preoccupation l'oenzs and his translations o f Keverdy, Niedecker's North Con-
with the magical power of the "primitive," and techniques like tral, Eshleman's translation of Vallejo's Human Poelrzs, Black-
chance operations, writing under hallucinogenic drugs, collage, burn's In. On. or About the Preinises, MacLow's 22 Light
and performance. The difference, say, between the poems of Peret Pocrns, Enzensberger's Poenrs for Pcople Who Don't Read Poet-
and Peret as translator of the Pop01 Vuh, strange dreams and ry (trallslated by Jerry with Michael Hamburger), Ginsberg's
prophetic dreams, Roussei in Afr~ca and Artaud in Mexico, l'lan~~t Nezvs, Dorn's Gttnslir~gerI... as well as small hooks and
DeChirico and Duchamp. pamphlets by many others (including two by Rothenberg), Cater-
I had picked up o n JR early because my image of poetry was pilliir magazine, " A serillized in P C t r c o ~ ~ n t l e sreadings
" s
(still is) as the place where one got the news from abroad, from against the \$2.Tar,
tht. p o p ~ ~ l i readings
st and jazz collaborations o f
the dead, and from the gods. W ~ t hthe firsr page of the firsr issue the hlack pocrs- a n d the first word from Don Juan! Nothing
more tedious than the joys of someone else's youth, and yet: it is multiculturalism, the enthusiasm, the accomplishments t h ~ t
a moment from which I, then 19, like so many others, never Rothenberg had at 4 0 ?
recovered. To put it simply: I have read everything that Jerry has written,
It was a moment when the world and poetry-world were translated or edited, and I still read it all the time. He is the rare
inextricable, and both were devoted t o political change, passion- poet whose last book is his best book, and whose next book I'll
ate comniitment, commitment t o passion, alternate realities, the read the day I get it. At this moment of the breaking-up of
foreign and the ancient. Technicians, more than a n anthology of nations and the end of the ideologies, the disaster and threat of
tribal and oral poetries- like Willard Trask's two-volume The the next d e c ~ d eand the next century will be ethnocentricity,
Unwritten Song, which had just appeared in 1966 and 1967 and nationalism, a!l the forms of excluding the other. Ethnopoetics-
had gone unnoticed- was an attempt to bring it all together, the a poetics not of "the people," but of "peoples"- could be one of
"rite of participation" invoked the year before by Duncan in the ways out. American poets, in worse isolation than ever, symp-
Caterpillar, the true coming of Here Comes Everybody. tonlatic of the times, have stopped talking to strangers, stopped
It is incredible how many of those everybodies Rothenberg listening to the news from elsewhere. Think of what informed
would go on t o embody. Here, among his friends, it needs no reit- those Greatest Hits of 1968 and what informs even the Hits of
eration. Only this: he is probably the gateway to more corners of 1991. Ethnopoetics was this great pod exploding, but the seeds
the earth than any poet in this century. In the pages of a Rothen- still lie dormant. Now that the 25-year time-lag of recognition
berg book- the poems as much as the anthologies- the world (Pound's Law) is nearly over, I think- maybe I'm crazy- that
has a coherence. Perhaps this coherence is false- the tangle of the moment for a revitalization, a new generation of ethnopoet-
correspondences from Altaic shamans t o Blake t o Kabbalah t o ics, is almost here. And with it, the realization that Rothenberg,
Mixtec codices t o East Village perforn~ances- but we cannot all along, has been one o t the wisest in the tribe, and the one who,
deny that Rothenberg, as so few others, has managed to con- amidst general indifference, has been taking care of the sacred
struct a world. And more: it is a world, even in the hells of bundles.
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. W h o among them has as many projects cooking? And
w h o among us, the now incomprehensibly middle-aged, has the
curiosity and erudition, the Cinemascope frame and the genuine
But I also happen to believe that the origin of writing- more
specifically, when writing goes beyond the act OF 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
T A L K I N G ON DRUGS tracks or tree branches against the sky and find significance. In
tact, many cultures have myths in which the origin of writing is
tied t o hallucil~ogens.For example, it is extremely interesting that
the Ivlazatec shaman, Maria Sabina, w h o 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-
o begin with, I should say that, duced hallucinatic~ns, like the bloodletting practiced by the
Maya. Under the influence of drugs the images of the codices
as a loyal member of the generation of '68- one who still sleeps in
would have taken o n meaning. N o doubt these books were not
his uniform- I was naturally involved with drugs and hallucino-
for the general public, but were exclusively for a n intellectual or
gens. But I should also say, for certain elements of this newspaper's
priestly elite. Yet they represent that small leap from abstract
readership, that it's now twenty-odd years later. .. There are t w o
signs taking on a personal significance under drugs to abstract
aspects t o this: one I'll speak of as a writer, and the other as a
signs having a shared kig~lificance- in other words, reading.
teenaged inhabitant of the United States at the end of the 1960's.
O n the other side, in the 60's taking drugs was a political act
As I writer, I think that the experience of hallucinogenic drugs
because it was an act, however futile, against the established
can he useful because under their effect ordinary objects are
order, and a negation of the prevailing reality.
transformed: the chair you are sitting in is more than a chair; it
We were looking for an alternate reality because we rightfully
is a chair that has its own aura of signification. It is a way of dis-
couldn't stand the existing reality, which meant primarily the Viet-
covering that the world is not what it seems, and moreover that
nam War, the most visible and clearly unjust of the world's injus-
there is another world that can be explored. But this is only a first
tices at that moment. And the other reality that we were discover-
step, because one goes from there to the discovery that in poetry
ing was, of course, a spiritual reality. Spiritual reality is always the
the world is transformed in exactly the same way as on drugs: In
enemy of political reality; the way the two have been reconciled
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. i historically has been through the institutionalization of religion.
\\ I<II I I \: l<I.\II I O N

All of the religions have besun as a revolt against the established Basically what happened was the McDonaldization of the
order: Jesus or Mahavira or the Bllddha were dangerous people. counterculture, exactly as it had occurred with Beat culture.
The way to weaken that danger was to institutionalize their teach- Everything that was considered radical in the 60's turned into
ings and develop stricter ties between the social and religious popular consumer choices: rock music, marijuana, exotic cuisine,
orders. Thus the counterculture was a kind of return to the origins con~fortablework clothes, long hair, the "natural look" for
of religion- in a certain sense- and with it a return to human ori- women, vegetarianism, sex without marriage, etc. Look at the
gins. This naturally led to a fascination, in the 60's, with American Beats in the SO'S, as they are represented, say, in Kerouac's nov-
Indians. There was the inevitable identification with a n iinagined els. Yesterday's wildness is today's conventionality: red wine, Chi-
"sinlple" and communal life, close to nature and the gods, that nese food eaten with chopsticks, jazz, and so on. And the
had been obliterated by technology and capitalist greed. It was ideology behind these material manifestations takes another form
said then, romantically, that the "Woodstock nation" was like the and becomes part of another culture, or it merely fades away.
Sioux nation, something one carried on one's back. Coincident to Sixties' youth genuinely believed that the world was on the
the "baby boom," the 50's existentialist alienated outsider- the verge of a radical change. It seems absurd now, but that was what
survivor of the Second World War- had now expanded into a it was like. We thought that the other reality would replace the
group of internal exiles with communal yearnings, a "band of out- existing reality- and for this reason the counterculture was more
siders" as Godard's movie was called. than adolescent rebellion, it was a genuine belief that in a few
Taking drugs was inseparable from what was happening at that short years the dominant culture was going to be transformed.
moment, from the demonstrations against the Vietnam War to (I'll never forget those alarmed articles in Time magazine: "Who's
rock music, communes, the return to the land, and so on. All of going to run the corporations when these hippies grow up?" It
this was of one piece- the counterculture was a whole culture- took no time at all to produce a new generation of what the sus
and can't be broken down. That is to say, we took drugs much in used to call "bullet-headed make-out artists.") And rock & roll,
the same way that our parents went to work. in a way that is unimaginable now, was the artistic expression of
This makes it difficult, I think, for members of my generation the new society, much as Constructivism was the artistic expres-
to have too n ~ u c hinterest in the drug-taking among those w h o sion of the new Soviet society. What happened to rock & roll was
followed us. In the 90's it has become a form of entertainment, a exactly what happened with Constructivism: it turned into
sort of LITV O F the mind. If you take drugs you're of course designs for bathroom tiles.
opposing your parents; if you take drugs too much you're oppos- Another thing that weakened the counterculture, at least in the
ing yourself; but you're not, in any way, opposing society. U.S., was that the universities accepted the more superficial
demands of the students- among them, that what they study
\Vhy did the spiritual quests of the 60's seem, ill the end, to have greater "relevance" to their lives. This meant, for example,
have lead nowhere? in the first stage, that recent books were introduced into literature
courses, things people were reading anyway. By the second inhabited by survivors of the lost continent of Lemuria, and that
stage, in the 1980's, this had expanded to recent culture in gen- messages from the Lemurians could be decoded from Beatle
eral- meaning, of course, pop culture- to which the new records.
French theories could be so cleverly applied. So now if you're a And yet, from the current perspective, Woodstock belongs to
student- and nearly all youths are students- and you can study another world: There were no t-shirts sold at Woodstock, n o
Madonna or Neuromancer for a degree, urged o n by the profes- marketing. Ten years later, the symbol of youthful rebellion
sors, the authority figures, well, what then is the counterculture- against bourgeois values would be the most successful business-
Sophocles and Milton? woman in America: Madonna.

Dztring the ere-Hispanic era, there were people rclhose f~tnction In this century drugs tend to come more from the laboratory
it was to guide others in the takiizg of dr~tgs,zuhich had a specific than from the natural world. Do you thirzk this hirs created the
merrning. Perhaps what happened in the 60's was the loss of cer- absence of sacrality in the constimption of drugs?
tain norms, certain knoulledge tinder which drzigs shouId be taken.
Not really. In fact, most drugs require a great deal of prepara-
I think that in the 60's there was a kind of elite who took drugs, tion. Think of soma, as it is described in the Vedas. It doesn't
until around 1967. At that time, there was a general set of beliefs make a great deal of difference if its origin is the modern labora-
shared by those who took drugs. An elite, in other words, not of tory or not: Amazonians preparing ayahuasca are lab technicians
priests, but of believers. By the time of Woodstock, in 1969, the in different clothes. But it's true that in the 60's drug-taking was
practices, but not the beliefs, had spread to the entire country. seen as a return to the natural world, a return to the values of
For us- white middle-classintellectual New York City kids- the tribe. An attitude that no longer exists, because that was the
Woodstock was not, as it is remembered, the cliniax of the hippie part of the counterculture that was in opposition t o all forms
movement, but a sign that it was over, had gone suburban. The of industrialization- except the manufacture of long-playing
ideology had dropped out, and what was left was a new form of records- whereas the hippest kid today is a techno-freak.
hedonism- one which, however, in retrospect, I wish had lasted:
I'll take group mud baths any day over group baptisms. It's curious that the courztercultzire which was opposed to
But nobody I knew went to Woodstock. My friends were far too indtistrialization alzd capitalism should have created the enor-
self-co~isciousl~ cool to light candles while the dreadful Melanie mous industry of drtlgs.
sang "Beautiful l'eople." That weekend, for example, I was camp-
ing on the side of Mt. Sliasta, in Cklifornia, down the stream from That's not entirely true. In the 60's, heroin- the drug of the
a group of people who used to wander naked in the woods, play- ghettoes- was controlled by the Mafia, but the hippie trade in
ing flutes. They believed that the mountain was hollow, that it was marijuana and hallucinogens was carried out entirely by small-
scale independent entrepreneurs, the kind of people Mario Var- name, suddenly it became a menace to society. (And in most
gas Llosa supports these days. It has nothing to do with narcotics states, criminal penalties for crack are, not surprisingly, far more
traffic as it is now practiced by international cartels. severe than those for cocaine.) Similarly, there are many musi-
But this brings up the question of the legalization of drugs. I cians who are life-long heroin addicts, but who have the money
should say that I am in favor of the complete legalization of all to pay for it and lead productive lives, unthreatening to anyone
drugs, for all the obvious reasons. Among them, the fact that it else. And we all know that smoking marijuana did not make us
would eliminate a huge category of supposed crime - sale and go out and beat up kindly grandmothers, as the propaganda in
possession, usually of small quantities- with its attendant prison the 1930's said we would.
population, now over a million in the U.S., as well as all of the There is a n interesting parallel phenomenon in the US.-
violence associated with drugs: robberies by drug-takers, the wars besides, of course, the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920's. For
between the drug-dealers and the police, and the wars among the most of the century, the state spent a great deal of time and mon-
drug-dealers themselves, with their innocent bystander victims. I ey attempting to eliminate the numbers racket, a form of gam-
can only speak of what has happened in the U.S., but here the vast bling run by the Mafia. Then in the 1970's the government
majority of crimes are drug-related. With legalization this would realized that this could be quite lucrative for them and instituted
end overnight. From another angle, I also believe that any activity a lottery game that was played in exactly the same way, various
which involves an individual acting alone, or acting with consent- combinations of three numbers. That was the end of the criminal
ing individuals, without direct effect to others, is not the business aspect of the game: In place of a n Evil t o be combatted, it was
of the state, and should not be regulated by the state. This applies recognized that people will always gamble, that the money could
to all sorts of activities which have varying degrees of illegality be put t o good use, and the police could concern themselves with
throughout the world: sex of any kind between consenting adults, genuine criminals, murderers and rapists. It happened overnight,
birth control, abortion, suicide (especially by the terminally ill), and now all the states have lotteries, with the money supposedly
and so on. going to education.
One often hears the argument against legalization that drugs Drugs, very much like prostitution, should be treated as a
create anti-social behavior, dangerous t o society, and therefore health problem, not a criminal problem. Instead of 3 rhetorical
must be prohibited by the state. The newspapers and television "war" against drugs, there should be a war against what makes
are now full of terr~fylngstories about crack addicts, as they once people take drugs. Drug use increased enormously in the 1980's
were about heroin addicts, and before that, so-called marijuana because of the economic disaster of the Reagan era. When people
addicts. This is fascinat~ngbecause crack was called "free-base" have decent lives there is less reason to escape life. This is where
when it was used in Hollywood and by Wall Street yuppies, and the government should be putting its money: legalize drugs and
was not considered to cause psychotic behavior. But when the impose a tax on them that would go to improving the infrastruc-
ghetto discovered the drug, and started using it under a different ture and treating the addicted.
ered" her. The world of the "magic mushroom" was a kind of
Anyway, you can't win a war against drugs beca~iseit's a war
window of subversion in the conforn~ityof Eisenhower America.
with no end. New soldiers wlll always appear: lt's such an easy
Suddenly there was this revelation of a world that was entirely
way t o make money. At the local level, it's the only job in the
different, and it was a tremendous shock. All the major maga-
ghetto that requires no training and guarantees good pay- a
zines ran articles with titles like "I Ate the Magic Mushrooms,"
salary that is irresistible t o many, despite the high risks. At a high-
and the Mazatecs were overrun with gringo soul-seekers and
er level, drugs are the second biggest industry in the world (after,
Mexican federal police. Sabina claimed that the mushrooms sub-
of course, weapons) and it is well known that they provide an
sequently lost their healing powers, and thus a very ancient prac-
overflowing source of untraceable money for the clandestine
tice came to an end, t o the delight of the local missionaries from
activities of many governments. I a m not so paranoid as t o think
the nefarious Summer Institute of Linguistics, who had brought
that drugs remain illegal in order t o serve the interests of the
Wasson there in the first place. But it was much like the enormous
state, but I d o think that their illegality is awfully convenient for
publicity around the Beats: Out of nowhere there were these new
the state.
subversive elements, besides dreaded Communism, that invasion
of the body snatchers, in American society.
WbLrt abotrt the reliztiorz bettueen drugs and Eastern religions-
mystic-'11qtrerts to India, ~ 1 t z c Si O on?
Like Carlos Castaneda, sometvhat later...
Asla has alw.~ysbeen the other side of the mirror for the West,
Much later- Castaneda's first book is in 1968- after, for
so that the leap from the world of hallucinogens t o the world of
example, Sgt. Pepper. The difference is that he was a reflection of
the East is not so great. Moreover in Asia, particularly in India,
what was already happening in the U.S. at that time, whereas
there is a long tradition of drug use. And India was a place where
Maria Sabina was a contradiction. (That is t o say, the image of
drugs were easily obtained, and could be taken generally without
Maria Sabina- all this had little t o d o with the person herself.)
harassment. To go t o India was not only a way to get in touch
She was a radical contradiction of the prevailing values, whereas
with the Other, but also a way to find the means for getting in
Castaneda was a confirmation of the new radical values that had
touch with the Other: drugs.
been created in part by the discovery of Sabina.
And Mexico, too, o f course ...
There are other parallels between hallz~cinogenicexperience
iznd poetry, for example the way abstract srgns become meanrng-
The case of Maria Sabina, about whom I'd like t o write one of
ful, and t l ~ eexperience of synaesthesla: liz poetry or under I \n,
these days, is extremely interesting. There was an amazing
we ~ C L I C
T O ~ Csee
) ~ Ssmells,
, touch sorirzcis.
amount of publicity around her in the lVSO's, orchestrated by
Gordon Wasson, the banker and mushroom expert who "discov-
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- I N THE Z O C A L O
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.
I Wr~tt(vzfor a12 I S S I ~ Pof A r t ~ sd~ M ~ ~ II ~L COI J O ~ P ~
In India the relation between hallucinogens and poetry is explic-
to the crty of Oax~lccz.199 j. I
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
N
ietzsche, dying, dreamed of
moving to Oaxaca to recover his health. Others, myself among
them, have dreamed of dying and moving to Oaxaca. For at any
how the gods gave soma t o humans, and how this coincided with
the origin of poetry. In one version, even the various metrical moment, and if for only a moment, where I want to be is in its
forms of poetrJ are elaborately tied to the gift of soma. In my own zocalo.
life, 1 discovered poetry before I discovered drugs. I also discov- It is more than the touristic pleasure of sitting for hours on the
ered that, at least for me, poetry was more profound, more inter- raised platform of the Cafe El Marquez, looking out over the cob-
esting, and more psychedelic than psychedelics. We all have our blestone streets without traffic, the orange blossoms in the canopy
paths to wisdom, and it merely happened that it was ancient of the flame trees, the balloon vendors dwarfed in a kitsch explo-
words, not ancient pharmaceuticals, that kept turning Ine on. 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.
A city, traditionally, does not merely contain a sacred or secu- besieged cities were invoked and persuaded to move to Rome,
lar center. It is a center, surrounded by streets and houses, and where they would enjoy greater powers.]
from that still center, the "unwobbling pivot" of Confucianism, Few of the Spanish colonial cities- the great exceptions being
the power of the city emanates; around it the comings and goings Mexico-Tenochtitlhn and Cuzco- were built over the pre-
of the world turn. H a n Ch'ang-an, two thousand years ago, was Columbian cities: a New World must have its new world order.
the most literal manifestation of this: laid out in the form of the Oaxaca itself wandered and changed names for a few years: first
Big and Little Dippers, with the Emperor's Glittering P: lace at the in 1520 as Villa de Segura de la Frontera near the Zapotec town
place of the unmoving North Star. of Tepeaca; then to the Aztec fort of Huaxyacac; then south to the
In times of insecurity, as in Medieval Europe, the center is coast, t o the Mixtec kingdom of Tututepec where the climate was
found amidst a maze of winding, easily defended streets, all with- too tropical and the natives hostile; and then back again in 1522
in the confines of defensive moats and walls. In moments of impe- to Huaxyhcac, as the town of Antequera, and later- it is unclear
rial confidence, the city is laid out in a grid, emblem of the new when- as Oaxaca, the original Nahuatl name having been trans-
order that has overconle the previous chaos. formed by Spanish mumbling.
Mohenjodaro was the first of the many grid cities, and later, In 1529 the great urban planner of the Empire, Alonso Garcia
after the luminous Dark Ages, the Italian Renaissance rediscov- Bravo, architect of Mexico City and Veracruz, was sent to erect
ered it, inspired- it is very Italian- by the chessboard: the little a grid over the razed buildings of the small Aztec fort. The zoca-
orderly squares as the stage for intrigues, strategies, and assassi- lo he laid out, precisely aligned, as centers always are, to the car-
nations. The Spanish took it from the Italians, and within four dinal points, was exactly 100 by 100 vnrils square. To the north,
years of Columbus' first voyage were erecting their first grid city, the Aztec direction of death, was to be the cathedral. To the
Santo Domingo, on the island of Hispaniola. By 1580, there were south, municipal buildings. N o walls were needed to keep the
2 7 3 similar cities throughout New Spain. barbarians out: from the zocalo this balance o f sacred and secu-
[Conquest followed by the replication of monuments t o one's lar power would radiate unobstructed throughout the valley.
self: it is the norm in the West, from the arches of the Romans to To sit in the silence of the zocalo in Oaxaca- a silence that is
the arches of McDonald's. In contrast, consider this bit of Chi- not from the absence of motion, but rather as though sound had
nese intelligence: when the legendary Founding Emperor Huang- been erased, vacuumed out, from human activity- is to recover
ti defeated a city, he had an exact replica of its palace built in his that state of perfect rest that can only occur at the center, and that
own capital, to house and retain the vital forces that had once is now so noticeably absent from most of our cities and most of
given strength to the fallen city. The Romans, in s o many things our lives. To dream of sitting in the z6calo in Oaxaca is not to
a conjunction of East and West, gave a proto-capitalist twist to imagine an escape from the world, a shipwreck on a tropical
this Asian practice: the evocatio, where the local deities of island. It is to imagine an existence- one that can only last a few
moments- at the heart of the world: to be completely in the Second, one must sit in that place and let the world continue on.
world, but without distraction. It is a n act that is natural in Mexico- as sacred and natural as
And yet, as always in Mexico, order is always subverted, sym- washing one's hands in India. Yet it is unimaginable in certain
metry is set askew. The central axis at Teotihuacan does not pass other cultures: here, for example, one needs to join a n alternative
through the Temple of Quetzalcoatl; Monte Alban, Mitla, religious group to sit without embarrassment.
Chichen Itza, and so many others are similarly slightly, inten- Sitting in the zbcalo, one's eyes are invariably drawn t o the cen-
tionally dislocated. Is it an image of the imperfection of the ter of the center, to the ornate and Ruritanian bandshell. It is the
human world, that can imitate, but never rival, heaven? O r is it great late European contribution to this concept of sacred space:
the emblem of becoming, of forms that are almost, but never that at the absolute center is not a cosmic tree or sacred moun-
quite, fixed? Time, in pre-Columbian Mexico, might have been a tain or pillar of stone- ladders between heaven and earth- but
nest of perfect circles, one within the other, but the dominant rather an enclosure of empty space. The word handshell captures
forms were the spiral and the jagged steps. Spiral: from a central it perfectly: band, the source of music; shell, a bounded hollow, a
point of origin whirling into the unknown. Jagged steps: the least seashell you hold t o your ear.
direct way to get from one point t o another. In Oaxaca, the high raised platform of the bandshell is forbid-
111 the zocalo in Oaxaca, one is planted at the center and pulled den space, inaccessible to the public- though the children, as if
in two directions. Physically, to the north, t o the adjoining little in an ancient parable, always manage to find a way in. Empty by
raised plaza beside and the Alameda in front of the cathedral, day, packed with local musicians at night. Who cares if the music
another hubbub of activity, and a reminder that, slightly off-cen- is less than ethereal? The image that one dreams of is this: at the
ter, there is always another center. And n~etaphorically,or histor- center of the universe is a perfect and perfectly aligned square; at
ically, t o the south, a block from the zocalo, where the municipal its center is a n empty space; and, a t the end of the day, that space
market now stands, and where there is the ghost of another cen- is filled with music, a music to reenact the sound that created the
ter, that of the razed town of Huaxyacac. In its day it too was an universe, the sound that will invent the following day. Time
ordered and quartered city: six hundred men with their wives and turns, the world turns, around that pivot. Where I'd like to be,
children from each of the principal Aztec provinces, each in its right now, is there.
own quarter: Mexicanos,Texcocanos, Tepanecas, Xochimilcas,
with other groups scattered on the outskirts.
There are two things to d o 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 t o inhabit, not t o own or rule.
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
MACIIIARMID 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 t o type: MacDiarmid!
I Wrlttelr '1s the 117trodr1ctlo1lt o the Selected I'oems o f Hug11 X l ~ c D ~ n r m ~ d .
The work that will survive begins in 1922, when, at age 30,
ctiltc>d1))' AI'zi7 Kiac-17 ntrd M~chirrlG'rrc~l~e
(Nrlc, ~ ) I ~ C C ~ I ~ I 1Z9S9) I, . I Christopher Grieve gave birth to Hugh MacDiarmid. At the time

M
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
y job," he wrote, is "to already in place: Scottish nationalism, which was flaring all
erupt like a volcano, emitting not only flame, but a lot of rubbish." around him, lit by the Irish and Russian revolutions; Marxism;
Heat, fireworks, acrid smoke and tons of dead ash are indeed the Social Credit schemes of Major C.H. Douglas, championed
among his attributes, but a volcano is too small a trope for Hugh by A.R. Orage and Ezra Pound in the New Age. His heroes were
MacDiarmid. He occupied- perhaps he was himself- an entire Nietzsche and Lenin ("I have n o use for anything between genius
planet. and the working man"), Dostoyevsky for his nationalist spiritu-
"Hugh MacDiarmid": the dominant pseudonym among a alism, and the Russian philosopher Leo Shestov for his evocation
dozen pseudonyms and one actual birth-name, Christopher Mur- of the limitlessness of the imagination, an imagination beyond all
ray Grieve. They wrote about each other, usually in praise, some- dogmas, and where all contradictions are reconciled.
times in disagreement. They were Nietzschean Marxist For Scottish writers at the time, the central question was what
Christians; supporters of Mussolini and Stalin and Scottish language to write. Middle Scots, in the 15th and 16th centuries,
nationalism; followers of Hindu Vedanta. They produced tens of had been one of the grand vehicles for poetry: the Great Makars
thousands of pages of journalism and commiss~onedbooks, edit- Robert Henrysoun and William Dunbar (whom the English call
ed anthologies and a string of magazines; wrote an autobiogra- the "Scottish Chaucerians"), Gawin Douglas' magnificent ver-
phy estimated t o be 4000 pages long, hundreds of pages of fiction sion of the Aeneid, Mark Alexander Boyd's single and perfect
and translations, hundreds of letters to editors and thousands to sonnet, "Venus and Cupid." After 1603- the death of Queen
friends and enemies, and, above all, some 2000 pages of poetry, Elizabeth, the transformation of the Scottish James VI into the
much of it in long lines. They wrote in variations of two lan- English James I, and the subsequent loss of Scottish autonomy in
guages, with passages in a few dozen others, even Norn. One of the "United Kingdomn- Scots as a literary language decayed. In
the L8th century, Allan Ramsay, Robert Fergusson and finally and Joyce, opening the gates for all the world's languages to rush
Robert Burns attempted a revival which never quite caught on. in. From them, Grieve believed that one's spoken language was
(Their greatest contemporary, David Hume, for one, spoke Scots not enough, that one must ransack the dictionaries for precision
in private but wrote only in English.) Ironically, it was the success of expression.
of Burns that strangled the movement: Scots became the domain Grieve created MacDiarmid- and kept MacDiarmid's identity
of the corny songs of his imitators, which in turn led to vaude- secret for years- as a n experiment in writing in Scots. His goal
ville parodies. By the time of Grieve's childhood, kids were pun- was to return not t o the folkish Burns, but to the continental and
ished for speaking Scots in school; it was considered unspeakably intellectual Dunbar; t o "extend the Vernacular t o embrace the
vulgar. whole range of modern culture," as well as t o delineate the Scot-
There was a new Scots Revival movement, led by the various tish mind. By doing so, he thought he would help to sever Scot-
Burns Societies, which Grieve and his pseudonyms had violently land from England and insert it into Europe as a nation among
opposed as reactionary and irrelevant t o the struggle. But by equals.
1922, the wonder year of Modernism, a conjunction of forces His sources were books like John Jamieson's 1808 Etymologi-
changed his mind. His mentor, the militant nationalist Lewis cal Dictionary o f t l ~ eScottish Language and Sir James Wilson's
Spence (now remembered as a n historian of Atlantis) suddenly Lorulund Scotch as Spoken in the Loz~lerStratheurn District of
switched sides, and supported Scots. There were the examples of Perthshire. There he found the words like watergaw (an indis-
the revival of Gaelic in the Irish Republic, and the invention of tinct rainbow) and your-trummle (cold weather in July after
Nynorsk, a new language created out of various rural dialects, sheep-shearing) and peerieweerie (dwindled t o a thread of sound)
which became the official second language of Norway. There that would fill the lyrics of his first important books, Sangschaw
were the writings by Gregory Smith promoting the idea of a (1925) and Penny Wheep (1926). As one stumbles through these
unique Scottish psychological make-up: the Caledonian Anti- poems now, the eyes bouncing between the lines and the glossary
syzygy, capable of holding "without conflict irreconcilable opin- below, it is important to remember that this is exactly how most
ions," "easily passing from one mood t o the other," and with a Scottish readers would have had t o read it at the time. (Worse,
"zest for handling a multiple of detailsm- a perfect description, the glossaries in those early editions were in the back.) Mac-
in fact, of MacDiarn~idhimself. Moreover, there was the general Diarrnid's Scots- and later, much of his English- are written in
belief that this sensibility- anticipating, in a way, Benjamin Lee a language foreign to everyone.
Whorf's studies of the Hopi- could only be expressed by the From these early short pieces, which he later dismissed as
Scots language. ("Speakin' o' Scotland in English words," Mac- "chocolate boxes," he set out to write the Scots Ulysses or The
Diarmid later wrote, was like "Beethoven chirpt by birds.") And Waste Land, a poem that could demonstrate that Scots was not
most of all, there were the examples of Charles Doughty and only a medium for lyrics, but also for the rigorous intellect of dif-
James Joyce: Doughty, mining his poems from archaic English, ficult "n~odern"works. The result was A Drunk Man 1,ooks at
seen what can be wrought by acts of "the beautiful violent will,"
t!7e Thistle ( 1 926), a poem five times as long as Ellot's. Like T!JC
it is MacDiarmid's Nietzschism more than his Stalinism- per-
Waste Land, which makes a cameo appearance in the poem, it is
haps they are the same- that is most difficult to take.
written in a varlety of styles and meters- though largely inter-
Though A Drunk Man sold poorly, Hugh MacDiarmid became
spersed among ballad stanzas- and it collages other texts: tr'lns-
the most f ~ ~ m o upoet
s in Scotland, and Grieve and the psendo-
lations of whole poems by Alexander Blok and Else Lasker-
nyms shrank in his shadow (except of course when writing arti-
Schuler, and some forgotten continentals such as Zlnaida
cles ahout him). In the 1920's he edited three magazines,
Hippius, George Ramaekers and Edmond Rocher, to give the
including The Scottis!~ Chapbook, which is considered to be the
poem a European context. Like "Prufrock" it is an interior mono-
greatest Scottish literary review ever, and contributed t o dozens
logue, though one that continually locates itself. To Ulysses' sin-
of magazines with "Scots" or "Scottish" in their titles; founded
gle day, it takes place in a single night; its Molly is Jean, who sim-
the Scottish chapter of PEN; joined and broke with countless polit-
ilarly has the last word. Its narrative comes from Burns' "Tam o'
ical organizations; stood for Parliament a few times; and held
Shanter" w h o was also on his way home from the taverns at rnid-
posts in local governments like Convener of Parks and Gardens,
night, and its insp~rationfrom Paul Valery's La Jeu~zeParque,
Hospitalmaster, member of the Water Board. A hero-worshipper,
which the French poet described as "the transformation of a
he read the news from Italy and- as many did at the time- mis-
consciousness in the course of one night."
took National Socialism tor socialism and wrote "A Plea for
A Drunk Man is unquestionably the Scots masterpiece of the
Scottish Fascism." But his continuing loyalty was t o Lenin and
century, and nearly all of MacDiarmid's critics and acolytes con-
Major Douglas and Dostoyevsky ("This Christ o' the neist
sider it his greatest work. Certainly it is dense w ~ t hcomplexities
thoosand years"), believing that the combination of Marxist-
that are still being unravelled in a parade of monographs, most
Leninism and Social Credit would end the struggle for material
of them written in Scotland. But it is a curious late Symbolist
existence and prepare the world for the struggle for spiritual tran-
work in the age of High Modernism. The thistle itself is fraught
scendence.
with significant meaning, and would have appalled the Imagists:
In 1933, a t age 41, he went into a kind of exile and a prodi-
emblem of Scotland and the Scottish character, sign of the Drunk-
gious I3urst of writing perhaps unmatched by any other writer in
Man's virility, image of the soul flowering over the thorns of
the century. With his wife, Valda Trevlyn, and son Michael, he
the "miseries and grandeurs of human fate"; it even becomes
moved t o a place called Sodom on the tiny island of Whalsay in
Ygdrasil, the cosmic tree. And its Nietzschean narrative has dat-
the Shetlands, paying two shillings a month for a house without
ed badly: the triumph of the intellect and the soul over drunken-
electricity and water a quarter of a mile away. The falnilv sub-
ness, psychological difficulties, cultural inferiorities and doubt;
sisted on gifts of fish and potatoes from their neighbors and gulls'
the dream of the transformation of the low-horn Drunken Man, ' eggs gathered in the cliffs. In his eight years there, MacDiarmid

I
the poet, into "A greater Christ, a greater Burnsn- an odd pair
wrote a series of h~~ck-works, with titles like Scottish Lloctors,
as models for one's superlor self. At the end of a century that has
Scottish Eccentrics, The Islatzds of Scotlatzd, Scottish Scene; polit- poem. In 1967 MacDiar~nidpublished a book of Foetry called A
ical tracts like Red Scotland, o r What Leizin Has Meant to Scot- Lap of Ho?zoz~r,containing, he claimed, poems that had been
land and Scotland a n d the Qliestiovt o f a Poptllar Front Against omitted froin his 1962 Collected because he'd forgotten that he'd
Fascisin a n d War; and a n autobiography estimated t o be a mil- written them! Rescued by the scholar Duncan Glen, these con-
lion words long, parts of which were later published as Llicky tained some of his greatest works, including "Diamond Body"
Poet and The Company I've Kept. H e edited a series of books on and "Once in a Cornish Garden."
Scotland and a large anthology of Scottish poetry, translating the Various forces impel the poems of Cornish Heroic Song: First,
Gaelic sections himself, in collaboration with Sorley Maclean. H e the attempt to create a "synthetic English," as he had invented a
was expelled from the National Party of Scotland for Commu- "synthetic Scots," a project inspired by Doughty, but with a
nism and from the Communist Party for nationalism. H e had a vocabulary drawn not, as Doughty had done, from archaicisms,
nervous breakdown and was hospitalized for some months. And but from the new language of science. It is a poetry of "hard
there was more: facts," of hundreds of thousands of details ("The universal is the
H e set out t o write, in English, the longest poem ever written particular"), and its ultimate mysticism anticipates the computer
by one individual, Corrrish Heroic Sotzg fbr Valda Trevlyn. In the age, where an unprecedented precision of measurement and
two years between 1 9 3 7 and 1939, he wrote some six or seven description has only made the universe far more mysterious.
hundred pages of it- one-third of the intended whole. This was Second, MacDiarrnid discovered that the way out of the tradi-
virtually all of the poetry (with the exception of The Battle Con- tional prosody and r h y ~ n ehe had hitherto employed almost
tinues), largely unrevised, that he was to publish for the next exclusively was to break prose down into long jagged lines. Often
forty years. this meant transcribing- the current term is "samplingn- other
The Cornish Heroic Song has never been reconstructed. people's prose: long passages from obscure travel and science
According to MacDiarrnid's biographer, Alan Bold, the first part books, reviews in The Times Literary Sltpplement, Herman
was a 20,000-line section entitled Mature Art. MacDiarmid sent Melville's letters, Martin Buber, Thomas Mann's Tonio Kriiger.
a 10,000-line version to Eliot at Faber's, which the poet admired His practice of reproducing these uncredited led t o charges of
(while finding the title "forbidding"), but the publisher rejected. plagiarism later in his life, but plagiarism, t o his mind, was
Of the surviving longer poems, "In Memoriam James Joyce" besides the point for an epic that was to include everything.
(now 150 pages in the so-called Complete Poenzs) was originally Third, he had come to believe that the poetry of the classless
merely a piece of Matlire Art. The "Kind of Poetry I Want" (now society was not the personal lyric, but an epic without heroes (or
fifty pages) was to run throughout the Cornish Heroic Song, and with thousands of heroes). And he had taken to heart the words
"Direadh" (now thirty pages) was to be in a later section. It is of Lenin's last speech, delivered in 1922 in a prose that sounds
unclear where all the other poems belonged, and "Cornish Hero- like MacDiarmid's, and which are quoted twice in Lucky Poet:
ic Song for Valda Trevlyn" itself now survives as an eight-page
\Yl<l 1 1 1 N III ;\< 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 unremitting iiistructio~~ and admonition- and it is a poetry that,
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 uniquely, keeps reminding us what it ought to be: "The Kind of
human knowledge ... C o m m u n i s m becomes a n empty phrase, a Poetry I Want."
mere faqade, a n d the C o l n i n u n i s t a mere bluffer, if he has not Certain poems easily detach themselves- among them, the ear-
worked over in h i s c o n s c i o u s n e s s the whole inheritance of human lier "On a Raised Beach," "In the S l u l ~ ~ofs Glasgow," "The
knowledge- m a d e h i s o w n and worked over anew all that was Glass of Pure Water," "Direadh 111," "Diatnond Body" and
of value in the m o r e t h a n t w o thousand years [!] of development "Once in a Cornish Garden" - and can stand with the poems of
of human thought. the great 20th century poets from the Celtic Isles:Yeats, Basil
Bunting, D.H. Lawrence, David Jones. But to excerpt- as edi-
The result, then, was, i n MacDiarmid's words, "an enormous tors of various editions of Selected Poe~lzshave been forced to
poem," dealing w i t h the interrelated themes of the evolution of do- from the poenis of Cornish Heroic Song is to destroy the
world literature and w o r l d consciousness, the problems of lin- effect of MacDiarmid's greatly underestitnated music. Based o n
guistics, the place a n d potentialities of the Gaelic genius ... the Scottish piping and Indian ragas, it is dependent on the counter-
synthesis of East a n d West and the future of civilization. It is a point (MacDiarmid would say dialectic) between a continuous
very learned p o e m i n v o l v i n g a stupendous range of reference, drone and bursts of melody. The pleasures of MacDiarmid are
especially to Gaelic, R u s s i a n , Italian and Indian literatures, Ger- precisely the explosions of passion, rage, intellectual insight,
man literature a n d p h i l o s o p h y , and modern physics and the phys- aphorism and spiritual transcendence that occur after pages of
iology of the brain, a n d w h i l e mainly in English, utilizes elements foreign word-lists and arcane bibliographies, catalogues of scien-
of over a score of l a n g ~ l a g e s Oriental
, and Occidental. tific terms and theories, histories of literature and art and philos-
ophy and music, piling up, as he wrote, like Zouave acrobats.
There is nothing l i k e i t i n modern literature, nothing even close. These are the volcanic fireworks amidst the tons of dead ash; out
It is an attempt t o r e t u r n poetry to its original role as repository of contest there is no contrast, and their power is diminished.
for all that a c u l t u r e k n o w s about itself. Unlike Pound's Cantos, Rather like excerpting the magnificent landscapes from the Ca?z-
it does not merely a l l u d e t o its extraordinary range of referents; tos, they are the jewels without the crown.
it explains e v e r y t h i n g i n a persistent, unorganized stream of eru- H e is one the great materialist poets and one of the great mys-
dition to match the J o y c e a n stream of consciousness. Sylvia tics; a poet thoroughly in~mersedin the technicalities of geology,
Townsend W a r n e r d e s c r i b e d MacDiarmid's autobiography in astronomy and physics who could also write "The astronomical
words that are Inore a p p l i c a b l e to the poetry: "as though the universe is not all there is" and "everything I write, of course,/ Is
pages of two e n c y c l o p e d i a s were being turned by a sixty-mile an extended metaphor for something I never mention." H e was a
gale." It is a poetry t h a t w a n t s to raise the standard- both in the political animal w h o believed that the role of the poet is to be a
sense of hoisting a b a t t l e flag and of educating the world through solitary contemplative; a man whose millions of words revolve
around a center of absolute stillness: "The word with which only once, in 1970, when Pound had already stopped speaking
silence speaks/ Its own silence without breaking it." A Niet- and MacDiarmid was nearly deaf. In his eighties he was writing
zschean Marxist, he thought that the collective, with all its con- television reviews. The words he wanted on his tombstone were
. .
tradictions, could be embodied by one superior man. A "A disgrace t o the community," but at his death this was ignored.
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. H e wrote in a style that owed nothing t o
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 r n ~ i dBook Club, which offered subscribers a new MacDiarmid
book every two months. H e 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.
H e listed his hobby in Who's Who as "anglophobia." H e 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. H e 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
What you may not know is that the name "Satanic verses" was
a n 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
MISLAIII I N T R A N S L A T I O N
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
I W r ~ t t c for
r~ I99 3. ]
n tiilk izt M ~ d t l l c O z r r(:ollc,qr~,
~ 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-

F
our years ago, hundreds of
thousands demonstrated around the world, thousands rioted,
tents of the book were almost irrelevant.
Translators paid for this mistake in translation: O n July 3,
1991, the Italian translator of The Satanic Verses, Ettore Capri-
hundreds were wounded and more than a dozen were killed oli, was stabbed in his apartment in Milan. H e survived the
because of a mistake in translation. The mayhem was set in attack. Days later, the Japanese translator, Hitoshi Igarashi, a n
motion by the mere title of what has become the most famous Islamic scholar, was stabbed to death in his office a t Tsukuba
novel ever written, Thc Satanic Verses. As you may know, Salman University in Tokyo.
Rushdie's book was named after a strange legend in Islamic tra- These are, of course, extreme cases- like that of William Tyn-
dition about the composition of the Qu'ran, which was dictated dale, another sainted translation martyr, strangled and then burnt
to Muhammad by Allah himself through the angel Gabriel. at the stake in 1535 for the crime of turning the Scriptures into
According t o the story, Muhammad, having met considerable vernacular English- but the point is this: Despite the fact that
resistance to his attempt t o eliminate all the local gods of Mecca nearly everything any one of us knows about world literature is
in favor of the One God, recited sonle verses which admitted due t o the work of translators; that nearly every literary renais-
three popular goddesses as symbolic Daughters of Allah. Later he sance anywhere has been inspired and fueled by translations, the
claimed that the verses had been dictated to him by Satan in the latest news fro111 abroad; despite the fact that people even die for
voice of Gabriel, and the lines were suppressed. Thus the Qu'ran, it, translation remains the most anonymous literary profession.
as Mircea Eliade has pointed out, is the only divinely revealed A tiny personal example: Six years ago, I published a 700-page
text which was suhiect to revision. (Though God certaiilly could book of the Collected Poems of Octavio Paz, at the time the
have used some editorial assistance when he wrote Thc Book of largest volume ever done in English of a 20th century foreign
Mormon.) poet. The book- unusually for a book of poetry- was widely
P
reviewed. But consider this: Of about a hundred reviews, eighty- word pumpernickel into the American word pumpernickel-
five didn't mention me at all. Ten summed up 111y work in one which, despite appearances, are not the same: each carries its
word: "excellent," "mediocre," "brilliant," "lackluster." Five own world of referents. But to translate the line into, say, Chi-
gave me a paragraph or two, all o f them, even in the rave reviews, nese, how n ~ u c hwould really be lost if it were a steam hun? (I
complaining about the specific translation of a word or two in leave aside sound for the moment.) "His body (her body) like a
some 13,000 lines of complex modern poetry. I use my own case fresh steam bun" also has its charm- especially if you like your
not to elicit pity, but because I happen t o have all the clippings: lover doughy.
any other translator could tell you the same story. According t o It's true that no translation is identical to the original. But no
reviewers, when we are not invisible, we are merely lively, work- reading of a poem is identical to any other, even when read by the
manlike or wooden. And the true measure of our worth- unlike same person. The first encounter with our poetic
any other writers- is t o be found in a few isolated examples of might be delightful; at a second reading, even five minutes later,
our specific word-choices. it could easily seem ridiculous. O r imagine a 14-year-old German
Worse, those of us w h o translate poetry must suffer the tedious boy reading the line in the springtime of young Aryan love; then
reiteration, in conversation and in print, of that mushy chestnut: at SO, while serving as the chargi d'affaires in the German con-
Poetry cannot be translated, poetry is that which is lost in trans- sulate in Kuala Lumpur, far from the bakeries of his youth; then
lation. To my mind, the int translatability of poetry is rather like at 8 0 in a retirement village in the Black Forest, in the nostalgia
the essential meaninglessness of language or of life: something t o for dirndelled maidens. Every reading of every poem is a transla-
ponder for a minute or two, before one gets on with it. As a phi- tion into one's own experience and knowledge- whether it is a
losophy, it is not terribly helpful, and, in the case of translation, confirmation, a contradiction or an expansion. The poem does
it manages to wipe out most of world literature for any given not exist without this act of translation. The poem must move
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-
from reader t o reader, reading t o reading, t o stay alive. The poem
dies when it has no place to go. Poetry is that which is worth
translating.
I
man pumpernickel is not a Chinese steam bun which is not a
French baguette which is not Wonder Bread. But consider a A few years ago, Bill Moyers did a PBS series on poetry that was
hypothetical line of German poetry- one I hope will never be filmed at the Dodge Festival in New Jersey. I had read there with
written, but probably has been: "Her body (or his body) was like Paz, and knew that we would be included in the first program.
a fresh loaf of pumpernickel." Pumpernickel in the poem is The morning of the broadcast, I noticed in the index of that day's
pumpernickel, but it is also more than pumpernickel: it is the N e w York Tinzes that there was a review of the show. This being
image of warmth, nourishment, homeyness. When the cultures my national television debut, naturally I wondered if their tv crit-
are close, it is possible to translate more exactly: say, the German ic had discovered any latent star qualities, and I quickly turned t o
\ I 1 5 1 ,411) I N IR,\N51 tll I O N

the page. What he wrote was this: "Octavio Paz was accompa- rather than the usual term in translation-land, "target lan-
nied by his translator,"-no name given of course-"always a guage"- which seems more appropriate to weapons practice
problematic necessity." than poetic practice- though of course the translation could be
Down there in Translation Inferno, next to the poetry-can't-be- going into any language.]
translated shades are the legions of those w h o find translation This does not mean- as many translation enthusiasts and even
"problematic." These are the people w h o write nearly all the many translators believe- that the object of a translation is t o
reviews that mention the translator a t all, and they are obsessed, create an original poem in English. (This is easily refuted by the
like the Reverend Pat Robertson and Phyllis Schafly, with "fideli- evidence. The great translations of the century- say, Pound's
ty"- in this case, the fidelity to the dictionary meanings of the "Seafarer" or Confucian Odes, Blackburn's Provenqal or his Cid,
foreign words. Any lapse in proper behavior- even a one-word Rexroth's Li Ch'ing-ch'ao- t o name only a few among the
stand- is branded a "howler," presumably because they are dead- would all be ludicrous if they'd been presented as origi-
howling with glee at discovering the transgression. Of course it nal poems by Americans of the 20th century, even as poems writ-
never occurs to them that the translator, w h o knows the original ten in the voice of a persona.)
better than anyone and has spent months or years o n the work, The translation one writes will always be read as a translation.
might have deliberately chosen t o translate the word in a way not It always, inescapably, carries the geographical and historical
immediately apparent t o the reviewer's ten seconds of reflection context of the original with it. This is not, as it might seem, a bur-
on the matter. den, but is rather a gift: It gives the translator in English a certain
The value of "fidelity" was made clear t o me by an interesting freedom not always available to poets writing in English: the abil-
experiment I once witnessed: average 9-year-old students at a ity to introduce strange elements- musical structures, sounds,
public school in Rochester, New York, were given a text by Rim- phrases, words- that readers will assume are mandated by the
baud and a bilingual dictionary, and asked to translate the poem. original, and possibly accept in ways they wouldn't from a poem
Neither they nor their teacher knew a word of French. What they in English. (One reason why the partisans of the dullest academ-
produced were not masterpieces, but they were generally as accu- ic American poetry often turn out to be aficionados of foreign
rate, and occasionally wittier, than any of the existing scholarly avant-gardes.)
/ versions. In short, u p to a point, anyone can translate anything The ideal English translation, then, is one that allows the poem
faithfully. t o be heard in English in many of the ways that it is heard in the
But the point at which they cannot translate is the point where original. This means that a translation is a whole work- it is not
real translations begin t o be made- and it is a point I want t o a series of matching en face lines- and should never be read as
' make here. The purpose of a translation into English is not, as it such. It means that the primary task of a translator is not merely
is usually said, t o give the foreign poet a voice in English. It is t o t o get the dictionary meanings right- which is the easiest part-
allow the poem t o be heard in English. [I use "English" here but rather to invent a new music for the poem in the English, one
that is mandated by the original. (Remember Robert Creeley's realm of the possible in any contemporary poetry is in constant
famous dictum: "Form is a n extension of content.") A music that flux- often, it should be emphasized, altered by the translations
is not a technical replication of the original. (There is nothing that have entered into it. Any poem should be translated as many
worse than translations, for example, that attempt to recreate a times as possible, even by the same translator.
foreign meter or rhyme scheme. They're sort of like the way ham- There is no poem that cannot be translated. There are only
burgers look and taste in Bolivia.) A music that is perfectly viable poems that have not yet found their translators. The translation
in English, but which- because it is a translation, because it will is never inferior to the original. It is only inferior t o other trans-
be read as a translation- is able t o evoke another music, even lations, written or not yet written.
reproduce Inany of its effects. Translation is not a means for allowing the foreign to speak.
This is also why poets are, as is well known, both the best and The foreign has already spoken, they don't need us. But we need
the worst translators of poetry. They are the best because they are tl~em,if we are not to end up repeating the same things to our-
writers and often prodigious readers of contemporary poetry in selves. Translation is one of the ways that lets us listen. It expands
their own language, at ease with what it sounds like and- more the range of possibilities of what we, right now, can hear. From
important- with the skill of knowing how far they can go to listening, we learn to speak. Translation expands what we can
make it different. write. Which in turn expands what we can hear. Translation is a
This is why nearly all so-called scholarly translations are so necessity, not a n accessory, one of the pleasures and- despite the
dead on the page: their authors know everything about the for- titles of every academic conference on the subject- not one of
eign language and text, and nothing about how poems are heard the problems.
in this country a t this moment. (Which is also why the opinions
of the most strident reviewers of translations- w h o are usually
members of the department of the original's language- are gen-
erally suspect. N o t to mention their proprietary interests: they
have t o drum up customers, so naturally they find most transla-
tions, except those done by colleagues, t o be pale imitations.)
And those poets w h o have been the worst translators have been
precisely those enamored with their own voices, w h o 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
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-
NOTES F O R S U L F U R I V
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.
[ Wrrttetl for the hack pages of Sultur, 1992- 1995.1 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
East Berlin Poets 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

T w o years ago, Sulfur 27 fea-


tured a section, edited by Roderick Iverson, on the East Berlin
and wives, parents and children reporting on each other. Over
600 friends and acquaintances of the novelist Christa Wolf sent
in reports.
poets in the bohemian Prenzlauer Berg scene. The poet most There is also the theory, advanced by the poet Wolf Biermann,
quoted by Iverson, and the one who opens the section, was Rain- that the Prenzlauer Berg scene was actively encouraged by the
er Schedlinski (b. 1956), the editor of a samisdat magazine called Stasi- that after the highly emotional, political, and accessible
ariadnefabrik. Iverson speaks of attending a n underground read- poetry of Biermann and his generation (all expelled to the West),
ing by Schedlinski and others, and describes the discussions that the secret police welcomed the endless essays couched in decon-
followed as "being voiced with astonishing moral anger." H e structionist jargon and the kind of poems where, in Schedlinski's
cites Schedlinski at length on the poet's need to counter the pre- words in Sulfur, language is "dismantled into the smallest
vailing enforced silence and self-censorship, and sits with the poet mnemonic unities which [are] nlutually purged from the text," or
in a former literary hang-out as he laments the defection to the where "one word destroys the one next t o it." ( N o t surprisingly,
West of many of his friends. Iverson ends the first part of his essay the Prenzlauer Berg story has curious loops back to the Paul de
with the collapse of the Wall, and this quote from Schedlinski: M a n case.)
"The person who knows how things will proceed from here is a And another loop: In that same issue o f Sulfur, responding to
person who is not completely informed ..." my attack on the NEA (as having bought the silence of the artists
and writers during the Reagan years), Clayton Eshleman writes: explore in depth the possibilities of computer fonts, having creat-
"I've given up on trying t o make a connection between source of ed what he calls his "video style."
income and quality of artistic production," that "capable imagi- Brathwaite remains little known in these self-absorbed states.
nations will d o their work" regardless. Many would agree, but (In the Caribbean he is something like William Carlos Williams t o
it's worth noting that Rainer Schedlinski now claims that the only Derek Walcott's T.S. Eliot, particularly in his rejection of KKC: Eng-
reason he worked as an informer was to pay for his magazine: "I lish as an essential part o f working toward a post-colonial
had no scruples about that. I thought, if the Stasi want to finance Caribbean identity.) His great works are two trilogies, The
the underground- fine." Arriuatzts, from the 19603, and the unnamed second trilogy from
[Schedlinski and Anderson, meanwhile, have formed a the 1970's and 1980's, which consists of Mother Poem, Sun
publishing company called Galrev, and Schedlinski has, like most Poem, and XISelf. Unpublished in the U.S., both trilogies are
victims and perpetrators these days, made a career of telling his compendia of African and Afro-Caribbean history, mythology
story, in European magazines and on television, and on a lecture and current realities, written in an astonishing array of lyrical and
tour of the U.S.] 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
Kumazi Brathwaite 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.

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- Chi~zese"Obscure " Poets
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
T he Chinese poets of the
"Obscure" o r "Misty" group were the aesthetic vanguard of the
African folk tale, and a computer-generated typographical mon- student uprisings of the 1970's and 80's- their poems playing a
tage, it is the kind of knock-down political poem not seen in these role q ~ ~ isimilar
te to that of rock music in the U.S. in the 1960's.
parts for twenty years. Visually, he is the first important poet to Since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, nearly all of these
poets are in exile, and their work is starting to appear in Eng- land. Gu Cheng, a disciple of Chuang Tzu, has been living on a
lish- though often in translations that require some reader par- tiny island off New Zealand, sometimes subsisting on roots and
ticipation in the creation of the text. berries. Yang Lian has been in Australia and New Zealand, Berlin
Their early work, where they rejected socialist realism in favor and New York. In Aarhus, Denmark, Bei Dao writes that he
of highly subjective lyrics and a n independently-invented Imag- speaks Chinese to the mirror. Yang Lian writes that the only ones
ism, is best represented by the North Point anthology, A Splin- who don't believe words are the poets.
tered Mirror, translated by Donald Finkel and Carolyn Kizer.
Since then, each of the poets has been moving in a different direc- [Postscript, 1995: Bei Dao is now living in the U.S. In 1994 he
tion, and all their books are worth tracking down. Bei Dao's ear- attempted to enter China t o visit his family. H e was arrested a t
ly poems are in The August Sleepwalker; the recent work, written the airport, detained and interrogated for a day, and then deport-
in exile in various Northern European countries and full of ed. Perhaps because of the ensuing publicity, in 1 9 9 5 his wife and
haunting images that are simultaneously simple and nearly daughter were allowed to join him in California.
impenetrable, is in O l d Snow (both New Directions, both trans- I met Gu Cheng in 1992 in New York, where he was part of a
lated by Bonnie McDougall). Duo D u o is the most political, sur- reading tour of Chinese poets, sponsored by the Academy of
realist and emotionally charged in the group; his work is in American Poets. H e was accompanied by his wife, Xie Ye, a poet
Looking O u t From Death, translated by Gregory Lee, published who has not been translated, and a woman of extraordinary
in England by Bloomsbury and unavailable here. Gu Cheng has beauty. They were an exceedingly strange couple.
the humor and exuberance of the early European modernists; his Gu Cheng was clearly modeling himself on one of the Taoist
"Bulin" poems are eccentric cousins to Rothenberg's Coyote and Immortals. H e wore a tall cylindrical hat, made from the leg of a
Cokboy (which he's never read). His Selected Poems (various pair of blue jeans, in order, he said, to keep his thoughts from
translators) has been published in Hong Kong by Renditions. escaping. Xie Ye told me that he slept in it. They lived on Wai-
Yang Lian's major work, a 300-page philosophical poem whose heke Island, New Zealand, where they gathered food, and sup-
title is an invented character pronounced 1 (as in 1 Ching) has yet plemented their income by selling spring rolls in the market. They
to be translated. Meanwhile, two sets of six-line poems are in had a small son with an English name, Samuel, whom they had
Masks & Crocodile (Canterbury Press, Australia) translated by given, at Gu Cheng's insistence, t o be raised by a Samoan family
Mabel Lee with a n interesting long introduction. on the island. The boy spoke no Chinese, and Gu Cheng spoke
Since 1989, Bei Dao has been living in Sweden, Denmark, Nor- no English.
way and Germany, and has resurrected his magazine from the At dinner, Gu Cheng startled his wife by glancing at the menu
1970's, Jintian (Today), for the writers in exile. H e is separated and actually selecting a dish. H e had never done this before, pre-
from his wife and child, who have not been permitted t o leave ferring t o merely eat whatever he was given. O u r conversation,
China. Duo Duo has been living inEngland, Canada and Hol- translated into halting English by Xie Ye, went on for hours. She
W'RII'I I N K I ( . I ION

tape-recorded all of it, because "everything Gu Cheng says languished here for thirty years, represented only by the slim New
should be preserved." She gazed at him raptly throughout; both Directions Selected and the monstrous Ben Belitt Poet in New
of them radiated sweetness. But changing the tapes, she told me, York. Finally, in the mid-1980's, as the early work was entering
smiling, that she hoped Gu Cheng would die, so that she could public domain and the family began losing control, the heirs
live with her son again. appointed the leading Lorca scholar, Christopher Maurer, as the
His conversation was funny, dizzying, elliptical, ultimately editor of English-language editions. Maurer assigned Poet in New
incomprehensible. Any topic quickly turned into speculation on York to two mellow dudes from Oregon who'd never seen the
the universe. From the poems he read later that week, it was obvi- Manhattan skyline, let alone the stoops of Harlem. ( O K OK- you
ous that Gu Cheng was probably the most radical Chinese poet don't have to, but it helps. Especially when the tone is metropoli-
who ever lived. With little knowledge of Western modernism, he tan freak-out.) The result, though infinitely superior to Belitt, was
had invented a poetry full of Steinian repetitions, zaz~rn-like Lorca A P R laundered
~~, and pressed- and, by the way, no better
sounds, eccentric rhythms, and wacky humor. The translations or worse than the five or six manuscripts of the complete text,
I've seen only hint at this. rejected by the heirs, that I happened to see over the years.
O n November 11, 1993, on Waiheke Island, Gu Cheng, 37, Now Farrar Straus & Giroux has finally published the long-
murdered Xie Ye, 35, with an ax, and then hanged himself. She delayed Collected Poenzs, edited by Maurer. At 900 pages, it's a
had told him that she had finally decided to leave. great ball of dough with a diamond inside. A beautiful book, and
He had written: "The poet is like the fabled hunter who naps an authoritative edition of the Spanish texts: virtually the com-
beside a tree, waiting for hares t o break their skulls by running plete poetry (except Poet in New York);good intro, excellent
headlong into the tree trunk. After waiting for a long time, the notes. But there's gloomy weather on the recto: Maurer has cho-
poet discovers that he is the hare."] 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-
Lorca Collected 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-

F or decades Garcia Lorca's


heirs deemed all English translations inadequate and refused to
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.
grant permission for any new publications. Thus, other than a The one poet in this faculty lounge is Jerome Rothenberg, and
few samisdat editions like the Blackburn or Spicer, Lorca's poetry his versions of the recently discovered Suites is a 250-page section
that ejects itself from the rest of the book, and should have been rilous poems, for example, have never been published) and that t-
published separately. In Spanish this may not be Lorca at his here are volumes to be done of his uncollected prose. The
deepest song, but it is by far the wittiest, most inventive, above Niedecker is a well-known disaster; the Loy, I'm told, is full of
all, most musical Lorca in English ever. A tour de force, and a ~nistakes.The Cantos keep changing with every reprint. Moore
pity we have t o pay $50 t o hear it. 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 t o
Zukofsky Collected be put together ... The list is endless. Once upon a time the acade-
my used to give us text, not merely its explication.

I f you don't have one of the


samisdat copies of 80 Flowers, it has finally been published in
[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
available, though expensive, form in the Complete Short Poetry previously available in book form, omitting hundreds of unpub-
of Louis Zukofsky (Johns Hopkins). Otherwise the title is a mis- lished poems and work that only appeared in magazines. Strange-
nomer and the book a bummer. It essentially reprints the Norton ly, the political and agit-prop poems of Good Morning
All, but does not include the many poems which appeared in Reuolutiorz (Lawrence Hill), edited by Faith Berry, are also
magazines and were never reprinted, nor any unpublished mate- excluded. But it's a chance t o read the text of a rare collector's
rial. There are no textual notes. The great Catullus translation is item: Ask Your Mama (1961), Hughes'book-length poem, a col-
included, but without the Latin facing it, as in the original Cape lage of voices written almost entirely in upper-case letters, and a
GoliardIGrossman edition, taking away exactly half the fun of work similarly ambitious and unrecognized as Duke Ellington's
matching the sounds. N o editor is listed, for good reason. last Suites.
The Zukofsky book is further evidence of how badly the Amer- In 1995, 32 years after his death, the Library of America
ican moderns have been neglected by the scholars. (Compare the announced the publication of a huge Collected Poems, Prose a n d
treatment any Dead French M a n gets.) Out past the LitzIMac- Plays of Robert Frost. Textually, the rest remain a mess.]
Gowan Williams, the Butterick Olson, the Cooney Reznikoff, the
Simon Hart Crane, early Pound, and H.D. ( t o 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-
administration, abiding by the first principle of their selection:
Poet Laureates poets w h o make nothing happen.

u
119921

p there in Prize World, the


rule is: when in doubt, tap Mona Van Duyn. She rhymes, she's Muriel Rukeyser
easy to read, she's cheerful, she's a she, and best of all, a she w h o

I
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 n the continuing recovery of
the world's perverse1 But then again it could be worse." The actu- neglected American women poets, I'm surprised no one has
al humor of this escapes me, but it does retrospectively elevate picked up on Muriel Rukeyser: a strange case of a well-known
Ogden Nash to a Karl Kraus-dom of corrosive wit. but unread poet who never really formed alliances with anyone.
Van Duyn has just been crowned our new Poet Laureate, join- She started out in the 1930's as a Yale Younger Poet and Com-
ing the august ranks of Wilbur, Eberhart, Nemerov, Strand and munist Party member, but her documentary poetry was too
Brodsky. Well so what. But there are a few interesting things modernist for the Party, too documentary for the modernists,
about our Laureates. One is that they are all openly heterosexu- and too modernist and documentary for the ruling New Critics.
al: certain same-sex epicures in the Establishment have quite In the 1940's, although her friendships were with New York
obviously been passed over. Two is that, except for Brodsky ( a literary establishment types, she was notoriously trashed by
card-carrying anti-communist) they have never, in their careers, Randall Jarrell and never fully accepted by them. In the 50's and
expressed any political opinions. (Brodsky, even before he was early 60's she essentially dropped out to raise her child, and had
crowned, used to attend black-tie dinners a t the Reagan White n o connection t o the clans of the New American Poets. In the
House, n o doubt fervently discussing Hardy and melancholia late 60's she was highly visible as a n antiwar activist and wrote
over the koho salmon quenelles with Sylvester Stallone and Jerry some of her best poetry, but- even as late as 1968, was anyone
Falwell.) Three is the real scandal: Throughout the years of the ready for a long lyric poem that begins with the lines: "Who-
NEA debate and the assaults on art and speech by Senator Helms ever despises the clitoris despises the penis1 W h o ever despises
& ilk, not one of the reigning Poets- Nemerov, Strand, or Brod- the penis despises the cunt"?
sky- used his position t o publicly rise in defense of literature and In 1979, a year before her death, Norton published a massive
free expression. They were all happy campers in the BushIQuayle Collected Poems, full of wonderful and awful poems, and strange
F
items like a book-length poem on the life of Wendell Wilkie. All ity of subject matter, but also strange and fresh takes o n the lan-
her work was out of print in the 80's. N o w Triquarterly has pub- guage used t o tell the tale of the tribe. Only white boys think
lished a selected poems edited by Kate Daniels, appropriately content is dead.
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- a n 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

B
far more interesting to dig up a copy of the Collected and wan-
der by one's self.
laise Cendrars is the great
comet of French poetry. Born in 1 8 8 7 in Switzerland, his life
would take pages to summarize: perpetual traveller from Vladi-
vostok to Rio t o Hollywood, poet, filmmaker, merchant seaman,
Myung Mi Kiln soldier w h o lost a n 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

B est first book I've read recent-


ly is Myung M i Kim's Under Flag (Kelsey St. Press). Kim, born
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-
1957, is a Korean-American woman w h o came t o the U.S. as a object of the century, the 1 9 1 3 Prose of the Trans-Siberian pub-
child. Hers is a "poem with history," and her history is the lished as a folding seven-foot sheet covered with hallucinatory
Korean War and the American occupation under the flag of colors by Sonia Delaunay. For some reason, he has been less
which she was raised. Further evidence that the entry of histo- known in the US than his contemporary and equal, Apollinaire.
ry into the poetry written by American women is a n engaging, The best previous edition, the New Directions Selected Writings,
sometimes thrilling, recent development. A way pointed to with lively translations by John Dos Passos, among others, is long
by Rukeyser and Lorine Niedecker (however obscured by out of print. But now we have Ron Padgett's translation- a n
Niedecker's male handlers: look at what Corman left out of the instant classic- of Cendrar's Complete Poems (University of
Selected)-but the major influence here is, of course, Susan California Press), and the Cendrars' comet, on a 76-year cycle
Howe. History as her story not only opens a n infinite possibil- like Halley's, is once again visible over North America.
These funny, reportorial, documentary, sentimental, sometimes one small pamphlet of prose poetry (Vprticnl Rainbow Climber,
found poems were ultinlately a dead end. (Perhaps because they Jazz Press, 1987) and has appeared in exactly eight magazines.
had no imitators, they remain lively and- except for the occa- H e lives entirely outside of the pobiz world of prizes, grants,
sional whore-with-heart-of-gold- undated.) After Baudelaire readings, teaching positions- at the moment, he is working in
and Rimbaud, French poetry splits: One road whose first promi- the tickets department of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team.
nent landmarks are Mallarme and Valery and Reverdy and which In his latest project, he is two-thirds through a trilogy of novels,
runs to the present; the other which begins and ends with Sunrise in Armageddon (Pandora's Hatchery and Isolntion, Neu-
Cendrars and Apollinaire. Though there's an argument t o be trality, a n d Limbo are completed) which are paralleled by a tril-
made that "Zone" is the most ~nternationallyinfluential poem of ogy of collections of poems (so far, Impulse 6 Nothingness and
the century, one can only imagine a French poetry that would The Strntospheric Canticles).
have followed Apollinaire and Cendrars: physical rather than His work resembles no one's, and is instantly recognizable. In
metaphysical, funky rather than serene, full of slang. A poetry part, he is an ecstatic surrealist on imaginal hyperdrive. H e is
that could have recognized- might even have translated!- probably the only African-American poet to take Aim6 Cksaire as
Pound and Williams. And, as the world followed France for most a spiritual father (and behind Cesaire, Artaud and Lautreamont).
of the century, changed the poetry everywhere else. 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.
Will Alexander N o subject seems alien t o him: W h o else would write a long
poem on the death of the Albanian dictator, Enver Hoxha? W h o

w henever I hear or read the


professors (or worse, the poet-professors) talking about "mar-
ginalization" (or worse, their own marginalization) I think of
else would attempt t o 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
Will Alexander. In a country where poets are hidden from society the chemical compounds of paint, into vision.
but known t o each other, Alexander writes on, almost totally hid- Will Alexander, one of my favorite writers, is a poet who lives
den from other poets. by the old injunction, "Astonish me!"
H e was born in 1948 and has spent his entire life in Los Ange- [I9931
les. In twenty-odd years of prolific writing, he has only published
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

T
unbelievably, her punctuation has been "normalized" (as they
used to call it)-even now, after forty years of the Johnson edi-
he Columbia Anthology of tion and a thousand monographs o n her dashes. (Would a
American Poetry, edited by J a y Parini, 750 pages from Anne Columbia History of Art put black bars across the nudes?)
Bradstreet to Louise Gluck, is being heavily promoted as the new Moore and Millay are definitely in the UP elevator: Moore, in
standard; it's even a Book-of-the-Month selection. For Szilfur number of pages, is the third greatest poet of the century, after
readers, it will only be of sociological interest for those who are Eliot and Stevens (followed by Frost, Lowell, Merrill and
amused watching the glass-enclosed elevators of literary reputa- Pound); and Millay gets the same space as Williams.
tion. Thus, Zukofsky, Reznikoff, Olson, Creeley, and Duncan The brief introduction is most notable for this piece of Newt
have now been admitted, but they are grudgingly allotted one or jingoism: "The modernist movement in poetry was largely Amer-
two pages each. Oppen, Rexroth, Spicer, Blackburn, Everson ican in its origins." We also learn that Imagism was "founded by
(among the dead) are still nobody. Of Sulfur contributors, only Amy Lowell and H.D. and joined by Ezra Pound," and has been
Ashbery, Snyder, Ginsberg, and Baraka are included. The major an important influence o n the (otherwise unmentioned) "lan-
living poets are, according to the page-count, Levine, Ashbery, guage" poets, and that The Cantos "has failed t o convince any-
Pinsky, Rich, and Gwendolyn Brooks. Fame in America, as ever, one but a few isolated critics of its greatness." The book,
is once again proved fleeting: prize-winning poets of yesterday unusually for a university press publication, contains no bibliog-
and today such as the Benets, van Doren, Gregory, Zaturenska, raphy or any notes on the individual poets.
Karl Shapiro, X.J. Kennedy, Kizer, Kumin, Logan, Simpson, But there's more: I became interested in the book after a glance
Dugan, Bly, Meredith, Swenson, Hugo, Howard are history, and at the table of contents. Charles Olson was represented by one
Merwin (called "Willian~ S." as he was in the 1950's) gets short poem,"Poem 143: The Festival Aspect." This happens to be
slapped in the face with a single page, no better than some avant- a poem I included as part of the Olson section in my anthology,
gardist. Meanwhile Teasdale, Wylie and Winters linger on, and a American Poetry Since 19.50: Innovators & Outsiders. Buried in
host of future unknowns are introduced. the third volume of Maximus, it is little-known: not included in
In the new Multi-Culti world, there are many more women the Olson Selected Poenzs, or reprinted elsewhere. There was no
and African-Americans then there used to be in such books- way in hell, in thicket, that another anthologist- particularly
particularly a lot of (usually justifiably) forgotten women from one with no apparent interest in Olson- would have indepen-
the 19th century- but the redressing of imbalance does not dently selected the same short poem from Olson's vast work.
extend to Loy, Stein or Niedecker. Among the women, there is Clearly Parini had react my book.
U'l<ll 1 1 S IION
l < l :I<

I started checking out the other poets whom we both include, These anthologies were apparently supplemented, to a lesser
and found various cases where Parini repeated part of my selec- degree, with poems from J.D. McClatchy's The Vintage Book
tion for a n individual poet. Some of these were not terribly of Contemporary Arnericrzn Poetry; Stuart Freibert & David
unusual: poems by Baraka, O'Hara and Zukofsky that are not Young's Longman Aizthology of Contemporary American Poet-
often anthologized, but are not especially obscure. The give-away ry; and Robert di Yanni's Modern Americ~~nPoets: Their Voices
was a poem by Rukeyser, "Ir~s":I had pulled ~t out of her huge and Visions.
Collected, both as a poem I liked and to bounce off a poem by Here's the breakdown:
Sobin called "Ir~ses."Rukeyser's "Iris" has never been repr~nted
in a n anthology, and isn't even included in either the Rukeyser SEI.ECTIONS ENTIRELY OR LARGELY DRAWN FROM OXFORD: Vachel
Reader or Selected Poems. The other poem in Parini's Rukeyser Lindsay; Robinson Jeffers; T.S. Eliot; Archibald MacLeish; e.e.
section was "Then I Saw What the Calling Was," also an unusu- cummings; Hart Crane; Allen Tate; Delmore Schwartz; Robert
al choice. I had a hunch Parini hadn't discovered it in the poet's Duncan; Denise Levertov; A.R. Ammons; Sylvia Plath; Carl
own books. When I tracked it down- in Fleur Adcock's The Sandburg (316); H.D. (416); Conrad Aiken (213); Elizabeth Bish-
Faber Book of 20th Century Women's Verse- I also found o p (417);James Merrill (316).
Parini's complete selection for Josephine Miles. SELECTIONS ESTIRELY OR LARGELY IIRAWN FKOhl MCCI.ATCHY:
Small wonder I began to wonder what other anthologies Parini W.D. Snodgrass; Galway Kinnell; Anne Sexton; Robert Hass;
had been reading, and, limiting myself to the 20th century poets Randall Jarrell (213).
from James Weldon Johnson t o Louise Gluck- assumlng their SELECTIONS ENTIRELY DRAWN FROM WEINKERGER: Louis Zukof-
"canon" to be less petrifiedthan the 19th- I compared selections. sky; Charles Olson.
It turned out that, with merely a cursory search through a handful SELE(:TIONS ENTIREIY DRAWN FROM JOHNSON (AFKICAN-AMERI-
of other books, I could account for two-thirds of the poems and James Weldon Johnson; Paul Laurence Dunbar; Claude
CANS):
almost two-thirds of the complete or nearly complete sections for McKay; Gwendolyn Bennett; Arna Bontemps; Countee Cullen.
individual poets. One-third of the poems was taken from Richard SELECTIONS ENT1REI.Y DRAWN FROM NIATUhl (NAI-IVE AMERI(;ANS):
Ellman's The New Oxford Book of American Verse. If we add N. Scott Momaday; Simon J. Ortiz.
Ellman and Robert O'Clair's The Norton Anthology of Modern SELE(:TIONS ENT1REI.Y DRAWN FROhl NORTON: Jean Toomer; Mar-
Poetry we have nearly half the poems. Even more blatantly, in a ilyn Hacker.
book that pretends to be a new multicultural reading, all of the SELECTION ENTIRELY DRAWN FKOM ADCOCK: Josephine Miles.
Native American poems came from one anthology, Duane Nia- SF.I.ECTIONS ENTIREL)' OK LARGEIY DRAWN FROM L.0NGMAN: Don-
tum's Carriers of the Dream Wheel, and all of the poems for six ald Justice; Nancy Willard; Charles Wright (416).
African-American poets (and most of a seventh) are from the old SELECTIONS ENTIREIY LIKALVN FROM 111 YANNI: Robert Creeley;
1938 James Weldon Johnson Book of Amerzcan Negro Poetry. James Tate.
SEI.ECTI0NS F.NT1REL.Y O R 1,AKGEI.Y IIKAWN FROM (:OhIKINATIONS overlap with Parini. McClatchy and Ellman are quite different,
OF THESE ANTHOl.O<;IES: and even Ellman (the secret and unwitting co-editor of this book)
Oxford plus Norton: John Crowe Ransom. going from the Oxfbrd t o the Nortott, only repeats himself half
Johnson plus Nortott: Langston Hughes. the time. Love them or hate them, it is obvious that Vendler, Car-
McClatchy plus Norton: Richard Wilbur; Gary Snyder; ruth, McClatchy, and Ellman- or, more recently, Paul Hoover
Theodore Roethke (518). and Douglas Messerli- have done what a n editor of a n anthol-
Weinberger plus Norton: Frank O'Hara; Allen Ginsberg; Amiri ogy is supposed to do: offer a reading pitched between history
Baraka. ("canon") and an evident personal taste, based on a fairly thor-
Longman plus Norton: William Stafford. ough knowledge of the individual poets. With the exception of a
Longman plus McClatchy: Robert Hayden. few poets whom Parini obviously has read in depth, his book is,
Adcock plus Weinberger: Muriel Rukeyser. far beyond coincidence, a half-hearted recapitulation of a few
Oxford plus McClatchy: John Berryman (516); Robert Lowell other anthologies. This may not, strictly, be plagiarism, but it's as
(617);James Wright (415). close as a n editor can get.
Oxfbrd plus di Yanni: Robert Frost; Ezra Pound; Marianne [I9951
Moore.
Oxford plus di Yanni plus Longman: Wallace Stevens (9110).

These are the sources I could track down in a n 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 a n 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 t o compare Helen Vendler's H a r r ~ a r dAnthology of Contenz-
porary American Poetry or Hayden Carruth's The Voice That Is
Great Within Us, which, covering many of the same poets, rarely
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
P A Z I N INDIA
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
I-rht, fourth port o f tljc C S S I I ~"Pnz it1 ,4siil" o r ~ , ~ i n nujrittei~
ll~ for t h ~ opens his eyes and finds himself alone with Vishnu on the burn-
ing desert plain.
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~~telf
iiz Outside Stories
Maya: it is the "plot" of the first two sections of East Slope
Krvrsr~tilllld ~ j v p ~ ~ n for
d e ~the
f hook Archlvo Blanco, c>drtrd11) (Ladera este). The book opens with the lines "Stillness/ in the
Enrico Marro Snnti ( E ~ f i c i o i ~dersl Equrlihrista, Mrsrio), 1994. I middle of the night7':'- the poet is alone on a balcony over-
looking Old Delhi- and then it immediately fills, overflows, with

T
he god Vishnu appears at the
cave of an ascetic, Narada, who has been practicing austerities
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
for decades. Narada asks the god to teach him about the power strange and funny characters- the only characters in Paz's poet-
of maya, illusion. The god beckons Narada to follow him. They ry- and, central to it all, the lover/ wife. In the end, in "A Tale
find themselves in the middle of a burning desert. Vishnu tells of Two Gardens" (Cuento de dos jardines)," it all vanishes: "The
Narada he is thirsty, and asks him to fetch some water from a vil- garden sinks./ Now it is a name with no substance.// The signs
lage he will find on the other side of the hill. Narada runs to the are erased:/ I watch clarity.""" The poet is not in the desert, but
village and knocks at the first door, which is opened by a beauti- in the middle of the equally empty ocean on a boat leaving India.
ful young woman. H e stares at her and forgets why he has come. (Although- this being poetry and not philosophy- his wife,
He enters the house; her parents treat him with respect; the fol- rather than Vishnu, is with him.)
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 " Q u i e t i l / ~ ~tnitad
tz de la ~ ~ o c l ~ e .
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
Maya is made manifest by time. The Indian cosmos is a map of language, intellectual cadenzas, emotional and erotic rhapsodies.
ever-widening concentric cycles of enormous time: millions of But more: o n nearly every page are synonyms of silence and still-
human years with their perpetual reincarnations are merely one ness. The poems are simultaneously located in India and in a not-
day and night in the millions of years in the life of Brahma, who is India, a somewhere else.
himself but one incarnation in an endless succession of Brahmas.
The function of yoga and other meditation practices is to break As Aztec shamans would travel out of the earth to a place where
out of these cycles of illusory births and rebirths, off the m a p (out all time was visible in a state of total immobility. There they could
of the calendar) and into the undifferentiated bliss of nirvana observe the life-force of the tonalli at any given moment before it
(which the Buddhists would later say was equally illusory). occurred in human life. The shaman's task was to alter the tonal-
li, to effectively rewrite the future.
Myth is a similar rupture of time. Its time is intemporal time, and

i
though its narration unfolds in measured minutes and hours it As the first two sections of East Slope observe the world from a
abolishes time with its narration. Narrator a n d auditor are pro- world where the wind comes simultaneously from everywhere,
jected into a sacred space from which they view historical time where "the present is perpetual" and bodies "weigh n o more
and all its products: a world to which they must return, but to than dawn."
which they return educated.
Paz, above all, is a religious poet whose religion is poetry. This
The poem too, though heard in a time that has its own precise does not mean that the poet is a "little God," as Huidobro
measurements (prosody), erases time by projecting us into a dreamed, with extraordinary powers. Rather it is the poem that
world where everything looks the same but is more vivid, where opens a hair-line crack in time through which the poet, in aston-
1 we speak the language but it doesn't sound like the language we ishment, slips through.
speak, where ideas and emotions become concrete particulars,
/ and the concrete is a manifestation of the divine. The final third of East Slope- the long poem "B1anco"- is
.{
both the most "Indian" poem in the book, and the one with the
The first t w o sections ("East Slope" and "Toward the Begin- fewest images of India. In fact, only three words in the poem
ning") of East Slope are "travel poetry": a poetry of verifiable pertain specifically to India: the neem tree and the musical
landscapes, things and people which are foreign t o the author. instruments sitar and tabla. Only three more refer to pheno-
But they are among the few instances in the last t w o hundred mena that exist in India and other places, but are not universal:
years of a travel poetry worth reading. (Poets, since the birth o f crow, jasmine, vtiltttre. Certain words from Indian iconography
Romanticism, have tended t o write their travels in prose and let- which one would expect in the text are noticeably absent:
ters.) One reason is its precision of observation, its glittering
words signal its universality: Grail, L u n g s t o n e , Castille, on- always with a fifth at the center. The construction of a man-
Mexico. dala, and the meditation on it, begins at secular nothing, and pro-
ceeds from the creation of samsara (all the things of the world),
The form of the poem, originally published on a single vertical to the reconciliation of all opposites, to, finally, the enlightenment
folded sheet in black and red type-"black and red ink" in Nahu- of nirz~izniz,sacred nothing. In the words of Giuseppe Tucci,
atl means "wisdomm- is usually described as descending from whose The Theory and Practice of the Mandala was one of the
Mallarmk's Un Coup de Des ..., as well as the Indo-Tibetan man- books that informed the writing of "Blanco," it is a "scheme of
dalas and Indian tantric scrolls indicated in Paz's notes. Mallar- disintegration from the One t o the many and of reintegration
me's poem, however, although it plays with varying typefaces and from the many to the One, to that Absolute Consciousness, entire
blank space, still uses a traditional (though oversize) page as its and luminous, which Yoga causes t o shine once more in the
playing-field: it exists t o end up in a book. It is more likely that depths of our being." The Four Moments in the creation of a
the Western grandparent of "Blanco" is the original 1913 edi- mandala could equally refer t o the progression of "Blanco": they
tion, designed by Sonia Delaunay, of Cendrar's "Prose of the are, in order, Variety, Development, Consummation, Blank.
Transsiberian." It too is a floor-to-ceiling vertical sheet with dif-
ferent typefaces in black and red, but unlike "Blanco" the words "Blanco" was apparently modeled as a simplified version of the
are not surrounded by emptiness: every inch is covered with mandala described in great iconographic detail in an Indo-
Delaunay's hallucinogenic color, itself a kind of Indian festival. Tibetan text, composed in 690, called the Hevcljra TLlntra, a line
of which Paz uses as an epigraph. The poem, of course, has n o
O n the Eastern side, the poem was clearly originally conceived as gods, other than poetry, and its representational imagery tends to
be abstract. But it largely follows the general outline for the

l
a simplified mandala. Mandalas have been called "psychocosmo-
grams": maps of the universe that are maps of the self. They are Heuajra Tantra mandala, which is conceived as a stupa seen from
simple o r complex configurations of nesting circles and squares, above, with a center dome, four walls, four doors with two
drawn on paper or painted oncloth for personal meditation, or columns a t each door, and four portals. [The stupa, like a pyra-
laid out with colored powders on the ground for ritual practices. mid, is a representation of the cosmic mountain, and- unlike the
The earliest mandalas were simple geometric figures, sometimes cave, the cathedral, or the consecrated ground- it is the only
containing letters or words. The later, Tibetan versions are riots sacred space that cannot be entered or climbed. It can only be cir-
of activity, filled with often terrifying iconic images of the gods. cumnavigated- much as this essay, o r perhaps any reader, does
They are based on extremely complicated sets of four, which are around "Blanco."]
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
into which the gods are t o 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
According t o this schema, V. represents the center column sec- washing away of impurities of the mind, and it is also associated
tions at the beginning and end of the poem, and I.-IV. the four with thunder- as the storm in the central c o l u n ~ nsuggests. Its
sections consisting of acenter column and one left and right col- gesture is the embrace, and it is at this point that the two columns
umn each. As explained in Paz's notes, I. (North) corresponds t o come together.
yellow, fire, and sensation; 11. (East) to red, water, and perception; IV. is Joy Innate, called the Fourth Consecration. Here body,
111. (West) t o green, earth, and imagination; IV. (South) to blue, mind and speech are all consecrated, as throughout this section,
air, and understanding. V., presumably, corresponds to white, the and its gesture is union, as in the sexual intercourse which
color of the Absolute. IThis slightly rearranges the traditional becomes explicit in this part of the poem.
Indian color-direction correspondences, which are: N: yellow; E:
red; W: white; S: blue; Center: green. Curiously, the Aztec corre- The problem of modeling a poem on a mandala, although both
spondences were nearly identical: N: black; E: red; W: white; S: unfold in time, is that a poem tends t o proceed vertically, while a
blue; Center: green.] mandala moves in four directions simultaneously. For this rea-
son, "Blanco" also takes some of its formal arrangement from
Although not indicated by Paz's notes, it is also apparent that the the yogic and tantric vertical scrolls which depict the ascent of the
poem follows what the Hevajra Tantra calls the Four Joys: kundalini (the "serpent power" of latent energy). Such scrolls
I. corresponds t o what is called the First Joy. It is devoted to the represent the human body, though an outline of the body itself is
consecration of the body (here a baptism of fire); its name is The rarely shown. From bottom to top are images of the seven chak-
Jar ("vase," "chalice," and "Grail" in the poem), and its accom- ras, the energy centers that run from the base of the spine t o the
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-
top of the head, and through which the kundalini ascends during chakras are present in "Blanco," though not quite in the same
~ o g i cmeditation or tantric practice. Each of the chakras, almost order. It never reaches the final, seventh chakra, the "illumination
needless t o say, has a host o f attributes: elements, colors, senses, of the void": t o d o so, in a poem,would be less presumptuous
planets, emotions, philosophical concepts,and so on. As an early than impossible: at that point poetry ceases t o be written. (As the
Hindu commentator wrote, "there are n o places of pilgrimage Hez~ajraTantra says, "Nothing is mentally produced in the high-
like those within one's own body." est bliss, and n o one produces it.") But it does, following this
schema, reach the sixth, called Ajna ("power"). That is the point
"Blanco," which must necessarily be read down the page (it not between the eyebrows (the last word of the poem is mirada,
being written in Maya) can be seen, loosely, as an upside-down "gaze"), where all the elements return in purified form (as they
diagram of the chakras. Its first two vertical sections (before it d o in the poem), and whose "color" is transparency ("Trans-
splits into left and right) correspond to the first chakra at the base parency is all that remains.":" Its reigning god is Ardhanarishv-
of the spine, Mzlladhara, which means "the foundation" (the first ara, w h o is the half-male, half-female incarnation of Shiva, the
two lines of the poem are: "el comienzol el cimiento" or "the union of all opposites ( " N o and yes" and the many other pairs
beginning1 the foundation") and which is associated with the which unite in this section of the poem). And it is associated with
bila, the syllable-seed (the next t w o lines are: "la simierztel nada, cosmic sound, which becomes a complex Spanish-Sanskrit
latente" or "the seed/ latent") which is also the dot that is the lit- pun in "Blanco": "son palabrasl aire son nada" (with son mean-
eral starting-point for the mandala. The bija is the sound of ing both "sound" and "they are," and izada both "nothing" and
potentiality, and represents pure thought. It is created by the "cosmic sound"): "sound (they are) words/ air sound (they are)
union of ali (vowel) and kali (consonant), and from it all sound, nothing (cosmic sound)." The seed-syllables, though made of air,
all language, and everything in the cosmos is born. Other attrib- form words, form the cosmic sound, form the universe. The three
utes of the Muladhara chakra are the earth ("escalera de escapu- are inextricable, and equally illusory: Sanskrit nada is Spanish
larion- an earth-body pun meaning both "mineshaft/scapulary nada. [There is a form of meditation, rather like "Blanco," called
ladderm- in what is otherwise meant to be the "fire" section) nada-yoga, which consists of focusing on a succession of sounds
and the previously mentioned color yellow ("yellow//chalice of as they emerge from and retreat into silence.]
consonants and vowels" )'".
Further, in this map of the Hindu body and of "Blanco," there
From there the kundalini rises as the poem descends through the are three "nerves" or "veins" which convey sacred breath and the
other chakras- though not strictly: most of the attributes of the body's subtle energies. The left, lalana, is feminine and associat-
ed with the moon, wisdom, emptiness, nature, the Ganges river, deliberately left incomplete. Writer and reader are yet another
vowels. The right, rasana, is masculineand associated with the pair of opposites who unite in the poem.
sun, intellect, compassion, method, the Yamuna (the other great
river in India), consonants. In the center is avadhztti, the union of But "Blanco" goes even further: with its male center column and
female split columns, it is, uniquely in erotic poetry, a poem that
the two veins and all their attributes. Again, a schema followed
loosely in the poem through its left, right and center columns. makes love t o itself. (As, in India, the syllable-seeds engender lan- I
guage without human assistance.) The author has closed the door

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-
behind him on his way out; like Duchamp's Etarzt d o m e s , it
remains for the reader t o 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

I
formations into one another. He is surely Western poetry's pri-
mary "inventor of India for our time" (as Eliot called Pound the of associative possibilities, like those attributed t o the three yog-
inventor of China); but he is equally an invention of India: "Indi- ic "veins" above: the spiritual words have materialist and erotic
an" readings are possible for poems he wrote long before he went meanings, and vice-versa. (The "right-hand" group of Tantrists
there. believes that all of the material words should be taken only as
metaphors for the spiritual; the "left-hand" group believes that
Much has been written about the connections between "Blanco" all of the spiritual words are merely code names for aspects of the
and the ritual copulation practiced in Tantrism: an escape from rituals, which, like copulation on a cremation ground, are scan-
the world (and a return t o the original unity of the world) dalous to outsiders.)
through the union of all opposites as incarnated in the actual
bodies of the male and temale adepts. (The best texts on this are There is a pair of sandha-words in the Hevajra Tantra that is par-
still Paz's pages in Conjurzctions and Disjunctions and the essay ticularly intriguing: preksana (the act of seeing) is agati (the act
"Blank Thought" in Convergences.) 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
Robert Duncan, in the era of "action painting" in the 1950's, the gods as they are manifest inthe temple and wayside images,
used t o emphasize that the poem "is not the record of the event, and something more: in darshana the eyes literally touch the
but the event itself." "Blanco," though far too structured t o be a n gods; sight goes out to physically receive the god's blessing.
"event" of' writing in the processual sense developed by the Black
Mountain poets, demands reader participation in the creation of "Blanco" ends at the chakra between the eyes. Its last line reit-
the test by offering a list of variant readings that is, moreover, erates an earlier couplet ("The unreality of the seen/ brings
reality t o seeing"" ) in the context of a ritualized copulation: the end of the song": in Blanco, it is "this insect/ fluttering among
"Your body/ spilled on my body/ seen/ dissolved/ brings reality these lines." "
to seeing." :":- ) The poem, then, never erases the world, never
enters the "plentiful void" of nirvana (as the last canto of Alta- In the meditation, the yogin imagines a lotus blossoming on his
zor does: a void filled with syllable-seeds) or the "empty void" navel. O n the petals of the lotus are the letters of the mantra
of sunyata. In the unreality of the world the poem ends by ARHAN. Smoke appears, rising from the letter R. Suddenly a
affirming the reality of a seeing which is touching which is writ- spark, a burst of flame, and the lotus is consumed by fire. The
ing. As Indian philosophy often reiterates, perception is real, wind picks up and scatters the ashes, covering him from head to
even if what is perceived is unreal. [In the famous Buddhist para- toe. Then a gentle rain falls, and slowly washed them away.
ble, a man is frightened by a piece of rope lying o n the ground Bathed, refreshed, the yogin sees his body shining like the moon.
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 t o 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
.r I 7ol derraninndo en rnr cucrpol r'rstol desvilr~ecidol
tfa renlidad n In rnzruda. :'t:ste iizsectol revoloteando erztre estas pLzla6rL~s.
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.
PAZ & BECKETT
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-
[Written as the ~iztroductioltto The Bread of Days: Eleven .Mexican Poers, lisher for Molloy, the first of his trilogy of novels. (His earlier
Translated by Samuel Beckerr, a limited edition with artwork novel, Murphy, had sold exactly six copies in its first year of pub-
by Enrique Chagoya (Yolla Boll)?Press), 1994.l 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
O n the flowers the angel of the mist first major long poem, Sunstone, was still some years away.
sc-attered pearly molsture from hls wlngs, Paz had a low-level position at the Mexican embassy. Beckett
and Arrrora floated o n the air, was surviving on literary hackwork, some of it for UNESCO, which
enveloped 117 her g~zrrzytoprzz robe. was then sponsoring a series of representative works of world
literature in translation. Beckett called it "that inexhaustible
It was the nlrpti'zl holir. T h e earth lay sleeping, cheese," though his own life at the time, according to his biogra-
virginal, beneat17 the bashful veil, pher Deirdre Bair, was more rat than mouse: sleeping all day and
and t o surprise her with his amorous kisses roaming the streets of Paris all night.
the royal sun inflamed the firmament. The UNESCO cheese lured Paz into a project for which he had lit-

w
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
ho would suspect that the worse, in Mexico, between the twin volcanoes of the 17th and
officiants at this pastelled marriage of heaven and earth were 20th century poetries lay a gloomy valley of some two hundred
none other than two of the primary architects of postwar inter- years of largely feeble European imitations.
national modernism? If part of the Surrealist project depended on The book was further encumbered when a well-known Mexican
the fortuitous conjunction of disparate elements in an unlikely poet, Jaime Torres-Bodet, became the director of u~b.scoTorres-
place, then surely one of its oddest late productions was an m a s - Bodet, with the once-prevalent inferiority complex of the Third
\Y I ( I I I I II(1 . \ ( I I O N

World intellectual in the halls of European culture, insisted that hungry, mortals- Beckett's total ignorance of the Spanish lan-
each edition be introduced by one of those grandiloquent guage- was quickly overcome. Beckett had "a friend" who
poohbahs who perennially serve the role as "leading critic." For would help, and he had, after all, studied Latin a t Trinity College.
the French edition, Torres-Bodet chose Paul Claudel, then eighty- Beckett completed his work in March or April of 1950. The
one, decades past his best poetry, and largely preoccupied with original manuscript, now in Texas, includes two pages of notes,
theological questions. For the English, he asked Sir Cecil Maurice "not in Beckett's hand," on the translation of specific words, as
Bowra, the Hellenist and warden of Wadham College, Oxford. well as corrections and additions "mostly in another hand." ( N o
Neither had the least interest in Mexico. I've never seen Claudel's one knows to whom these hands belonged.) The French edition
text, but Bowra's introduction, called "Poetry and Tradition," was published in 1952 by Editions Nagel, had one printing, and
cheerfully rambles for pages through world poetry- not exclud- vanished. The English language edition, delayed for unknown
ing that of the Ainu, the Asiatic Tartars, and the Lower Sloven- reasons until 1958, appeared simultaneously from Thames &
ians- until it final settles, in the third-to-last sentence, on the sub- Hudson in the U.K. and the Indiana University Press. Thanks in
ject at hand. That sentence- Bowra's only comment on the part t o its unusual collaborators, it has remained in print in
matter- informs us that Mexico has a "vivid and varied culture." paperback ever since, an extraordinarily long publishing run for
Paz was, as he recalls, furious, and further disappointed when what is, after all, a collection of otherwise generally arcane texts.
Torres Bodet decided that Alfonso Reyes, the Grand Old Man of
Mexican letters, would be the only living poet admitted in the Years later, Beckett would write that his work on the Mexican
book. This meant eliminating the work of poets such as Xavier anthology was strictly an "alimentary chore," and that the poems
Villaurrutia and Jose Gorostiza, members of the Contempora- were "execrable for the most part." And certainly those mar-
neos (Contemporaries), the vibrant and internationalist Mexican tinets of the bilingual dictionary who normally review poetry
poetry group that flourished in the 1930's and 40's, and was so translations would have a field day with Beckett: In the poems
important t o Paz's own writing. included here, for example, he drops two lines from the Lopez
Paz was responsible for finding the translators for the two edi- Velarde poem, and writes "twenty" for "seventy." H e is hope-
tions. For the French he commissioned Guy Levis Mano, a poet lessly lost among Mexican flora and fauna, confusing macaws
and Spanish translator who remains known as one of the great and macaques, tigers and jaguars, magueys and aloes. (When the
printers of the Surrealist movement, producing limited editions of going gets really rough, in Alfonso Reyes' "Tarahumara Herbs,"
texts by Breton, Tzara, Michaux, Char, and Soupault, with art- he randomly selects Old World plants to stand in for the Mexi-
work by Giacometti, Picasso, M a n Ray, Miro, and others. For can.) He's clearly unfamiliar with such things as the Mexican cal-
the English, someone suggested Samuel Beckett, whom Paz knew endar stone, which he calls "a stone of sun." Sometimes he's
slightly through their mutual publication in Max-Pol Fouchet's mysterious, as when a sinfonh logrizda (a fully-realized sympho-
magazine Folztaine. An obstacle that would daunt lesser, or less ny) becomes a "symphony of positive esthetics." Sometimes, he's
just being Beckett, as when the last lines of Rodriguez Galvan's of PhasisX- not knowing that the word derives from the Phasis
poem (which mean, literally, "Dream, be my passage through the river where the birds once abounded.
world,/ until that new dream, sweet and graceful,/ shows me the Moreover, he has created a vivid music for each poem by avoid-
sublime face of God.") are clipped to "Dream, in thy safe keep- ing the end-rhymes of the Spanish (while still suggesting the orig-
ing let me come/ to this world's end ..." (Even in a translation, inal prosody through complex internal rhymes) and by breaking
Godot can never arrive.) And in many of the poems he seems t o the lines where the English, not the original, demands it. He can
be on autopilot, cruising until he can reach the next poem. take a sow's ear, like the opening two lines of Nervo's "An Old
Yet Beckett's Mexican anthology is one of the liveliest English Burden," and turn it, if not quite to silk, then into a purse with
translations of the century. Its greatest achievement is its recre- some inner compartments. Nervo's lines mean, literally:
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- Who is that siren with the voice so painful.
lation, which tends to be written according to present-day usage, with flesh so white, with braidsltresses so dark brown?
whatever present-day it is.) Beckett accomplishes this through a
subtle mimicking- and who, besides Joyce, was a better mim- Beckett transforms this to:
ic?-of the English poetry contemporary t o whatever period he is
translating. And he displays a stupefyingly vast command of Eng- Who is yonder siren s o distressed
lish archaicisms that will send any diligent reader deep into the of voice, so white of flesh, so dark of tress?
OED. In the poems included here, we find, among others, "grate-
less" for ungrateful; "cramoisy" for crimson; "featly" for grace- The "yonder" may be a bit much, but the rhymes of "dis-
ful; "ensample" for example; "cark" for anxiety or grief; "adust" tressed," "flesh," and "tress" are more complex than the origi-
for scorched; "flower-de-luce" for iris; "monachal" for monastic; nal, which doesn't rhyme at all. The poem sings, as it doesn't in
"fatidic" for prophetic; "tilths" for tillable land; "popinjay" for Spanish. And the play between "distressed" andntress," which
parrot; "mede" for recompense; as well as "cha1chuite"- an Beckett made up, n o doubt made his day's (or night's) work
archaic derivative from the Nahuatl word chalchihuite- for more amusing.
turquoise. In two cases, even the O L D didn't help: "wildering" for There are whole poems, such as the Nervo, that strike me as
wandering; and a bird's "crawy" call. Did Beckett make them up, better in English than Spanish, and quite a few individual lines
did someone misread his notorious crabbed handwriting, or are are simply more intense in the translation:
these actually lacunae in the definitive dictionary? With Beckett's
erudition, one never knows: I thought "gyps" was a typographi- greeny sea-wrack coils a waky tress
cal error for "gypsumn until I discovered it was an obsolete form. (Ralbuena)
And I was puzzled that he would translate "pheasant" as "bird
In such throng of dead forms thou didst not die piece. But no matter how or why it was written, forty-five years
(Sandoval y Zapata) later the book still remains the best introduction in English to
classical Mexican poetry, and the repository of some remarkable
Space is azure and the mountains bathe poems. It stands, in some strange way, next to that other great,
in vivid azure and in azure shade late 1940's invention of Mexico in English, U~zderthe Volcano.
(Rodriguez Galvan) Certainly it is as impossible to imagine Beckett in Mexico as it
is to imagine Malcolm Lowry anywhere else. And yet one won-
For the people the bard is grace not cark ders if there was not a shock of recognition when Beckett read the
(Diaz Mircin) first page of the manuscript Paz gave him. It contained what is
perhaps the first sonnet written in Mexico, by the first Mexican
A precious pearl in the slaver of a mollusc Spanish poet, Francisco de Terrazas. Had Beckett never translat-
(Diaz Mir6n) ed Mexican poetry, we might never have made the connection.
But because of his presence, a curious loop forms. For Mexican
and throughout that brooding and adust poetry begins not in the expected grand and tragic spectacle of
savannah, not a path, not a track the Conquest, but with a single individual in a desolate land-
(Oth6n) scape, a nobody suffering in nowhere, that dismal world for
which Beckett, centuries later, would be the great cartographer:
what a wilderi~lgmidst ruins and pits!
(Oth6n) 1 dreamed that 1 was thrown from a crag
by one who held nzy will in servitude,
and many books made me all-ignorant and all but fallen to the griping jaws
(Gonzalez Martinez) of a wild beast in wait for me below.

or the Yeatsian: In terror, gropingly, 1 cast around


for wherewith to uphold me with my hands,
the tower riddled in the slinging winds and the one closed about a trenchant sword,
(L6pez Velarde) and the other twined about a little herb.

We will never know whether Beckett, despite later denials, was Little and little the herb came swift away,
secretly enchanted with some of the poems, or whether, with a and the sword ever sorer vexed my hand
writer like Beckett, his hackwork would be anybody else's master- as 1 more fiercely clutched its cruel edges...
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!

YUGOSLAVIA

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


pages o r less, 1994. A77 ~ t t e r n p tto tirsiover what, if atzythrtig,
could be scritl i77 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-
nologically powerful over the aspirations of ordinary people. Sick and weary at the end of a century that murdered millions
"Cuernica," the painting, draws its force, not from its depiction in the name of certainty, the generation that considers itself
of carnage- there is always carnage- but from the image of the " p o s t n - - post-modern,post-ideology- has, in an unprecedented,
old ways being oliterated by what is most horrible in the new nearly unbelievable manner, transformed doubt into a science.
ways. The airplane- till then the great symbol and glory of the After three centuries, the Age of Criticism has reached its deca-
Machine Age- brings not the reign of progress, but a rain of dence. Words d o not mean what they say; books are lies imagined
bombs. It is a scene that was reenacted from the conquest of the into truth by their readers; images are the representation of a con-
Americas t o the last of the colonial wars: Algeria, Vietnam, spiracy between creators and receptor; every narrative is false,
Angola. What we, the "modern" people, most hate about our- and any opposing notion equally true. It is a dismantling of the
selves is the agent of the destruction of what we imagine is most world. they say, so that murderous certainty will never happen
admirable in the "old" people, the people we think we once were. again.
These are wars that seem, for the moment, over: the imperial As always, what will never happen happens over. The tragedy
territorial expansions, the wars in the name of this century's cru- of Yugoslavia is the certainty of the combatants, and the para-
el ideologies, the aspirations of a peasantry hopelessly crushed by lyzing uncertainty of the rest who are watching. There, people die
the technologically advanced. Instead we have the so-called "trib- every day in the name of their belief, and continue to die every
al" wars: the revivals, manipulated by the power-hungry, of sup- day in the name of our disbelief. Here, we see the evidence, and
posedly ancient ethnic, racial, religious animosities. Wars, we are wonder what is evidence, and wonder what to do, and wonder in
told, that return to the roots of war. what name is anything done, and let a thousand other images
Rut these are not wars taking place in the rain forest, or even in rush in.
the Balkans in the years before the First World War. These are [4 March 19943
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.
the rrotroil o f '711 c f f ; ~ t r l ~' rrt , / t ~ ~ poetry,'
c'~j ilirri c~sl~orisrd
what scholar
Waltcr 1 . e ~u~orrlti
~ in LI paircl drsc-ztssioir the next daycall 'an iircre~lrOlyi~uttiateti
lrheral, Cold War dcnroirrzutro?~o f C;hr?ra.' Baraka had krcked his tlijo c-ctrts 171
against Wei~zOergeras 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 rir thcz
T H E R E V O L U T I O N AT ST. MARK'S C H U R C H
Poc7try Pri~lcctrre~vsletterI J Dorlglas
~ Rothschild o n m y "trow legendary talk. "

Rothsc-h11d hclii up /acksoir h l ~ cLow as "lrurng proof" against " M r . W~~rrrhc,rger's


c.lar?i~t h i ~ ~t ~ ~ l r t i i n~l .l cy ~ d ~L i~rI ~~ lI 6-
~ J allegra7zces
S lead you t o stop writing. "

Iln May 1994 the Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church ril N c w York held its 11717111111 And / I [ ,zc'rote that "Mr. HarakL~h17d taken very careful notes 072 what
symposrrlm; the topic that year was "Revolutro?r~~ry
Poetry." hod lust sold f5 l~rr~rched
Mr. W1c~r~rl)rrgcr u full sci~leOarrase; effectr~iely
On the r~pt~trrirg
nrght there were four "keynote" speakers: trrc-a Uuirt, '111 scuttlri~gMr. Wer?rOerger's thesrs (the lrkes of whrch we harie not set~rz
African-Americarr poet atzd labor organizer: Eileen Myles, poizt a i ~ dgay actiutst; srtrce the Potempkrir) [src-1."
Amiri Baraka; and, inexplrcahly, myself. 1 wrote t o the ~ ~ e u ~ s l e tin
t e ran attempt t o s,~lr~,zgc~
rchi~tI'd actrr,~llys,~rd,t o
T h e eueirrtrg tiegun stra?tgely: As 1 entered the church, LI )Ioung w o m a n from rc)irrird them that the Potc~nrkif~
surlors were the (;ood (;uys, and t o u,orrifc~.w h y
the Project surd, "011, w e got your package and paid for rt." She handed m e ither her o f the corresl)orrdc~~lts
had been r7li7rrired b y , among other thrizgs,
a bulging /iff), hag that had been sent t o m e care of t i ~ cchurch, c.0.11.for 527. BL~rLrki7's
condem?tatioir o f the "l~ortzography " r~trap lyrrcs, uttd his defense
1 couldn't help hut open rt. T h e package u8asfilled with trash. o t t l l e rmprrsonment o f the utterly upolrtical Gut gay wrrter Rei~raldoArenas
Hunt spoke first; rn the subscqrrent chaos I'm atrartl ~ ' L forgottell
J(, u h a t she said. '7s LI "c.orrl~ter-reuolrrtro?rary. This led t o a letter in a su1)sequent rssue
"

T h e n 1 spoke; the reception ~ i r dtrot seem p a r t i i ~ r l ~ ~i~ostrke.


rly M y k s gave fiom Bnraka, ~ 1 1 t ti?ree
h varratrons 171 sc,ue?r setrtetrces of the line
a very f u t r ~ ~"yl ' m a leshran" rap. Baraka got up, talkctl for five nzrirutes, " b 0 l t ~ g e O lrrrtellect~r~~ls
~ lrko Wrinberger Ire. "
k , " A n d n o w I'd ltke t o reply t o
then whipped out hrs n o t c ~ / ~ o osatd, It's Clrr1olis ti7~7tt/lls c ori~c'rof Po- itJor/d 1e'~lssc~l?l(ia/ize~i,
and thofrght they were
the gentleman uiho proceeded me," and lau17ched itzto a fifteeiz-rnrn~itetzrdtle, i1e~71.11zg
I Z ~ O C O I Zrac,rngs- 07IC p~rsr)izc ~ I I I ~t
~ ~"tire
I ~ I ' C I Z ~ ~ ~ UU CI ~I S I O I Iof I U O ~ I C I
pointing his finger at rite. N o o77e expresses rage 11ke Amrrr Barak,~- 'I rage poetry"- U J ~ C IaI c t ~ i ~ ~I l had
ly uttered a scjrtes o t Oairal conrnro?rplaces. Many
that has also leti t o ~iztiel~tlle
poetry. W h e n he turired t o Mylcs, shorit~irgthat 171 the ~71tdrenceu~cv.rT
r~tfantsdtrriitg the Vretnum Wnr. It ulas drshe~7rte11rng
bas nothrng t o do zvzth the revolut~on,she t~c~gan
l~~sl~zutzrsm yelliirg b ~ i k . th7t thc~),had g r ~ z e ' zii ~/ ) t o i l d o ~ It ~ I I c ~ I ~ I c t~ IhI s/)~czfi[.
)~~ ~jrl'i7jnsand modcls
Thrrlgs fill apart, and thc nrght eirded. of Re~~olritroii
that i7re r1ouJ- pL7rtrc-rrlarlyr i r the' corr~rtrrr~s
~l,l~r'rca
tbc8y 071ic.

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 t o /J? /~atr?rgElrot W c , r i ~ / ) e r ~loho
~ r , ~ 1 t t ~ i 7 1 pt ot ~drrai/
d
T h c speech was, of cozrrsc., iiitcvldad t o l ~ heard,
c rtot read. It shorrld he noted L ~ # N Z I I revolt; but only a few were revolutionaries. It's always a mistake
thut this 1s May 1994: r?i rrtrr~spcc.t,u calnz before the storwl. W~thritthe r z c ~ t>,ear,the to confuse one with the other, particularly as revolutionary soci-
ii..s. wozrld see the usceitsioit of <;~ilgrich( t o call htm Newt is t o itisult otcr saln~~tnildc~r eties tend to suppress any further revolt.
friends), the passage of Pr(1/~(1jit1otz
187 c p t Calzfonlia, the Replrblicalt feediitg frritiy In talking about revolutionary poetry- in its political sense-
on t i ~ epoor, utzd t i ~ cOklahoma b o m / ~ t n #-]u/y
. It)t)i]
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
Lenin t o Maxim Gorki: " I can't listen to nzusic too often. It affects of the old order, and carries within it a formed image of the new
your ~zerves,makes you want to say nice stupid thi7zgs and stroke the order. Traditionally, revolutionary poetry presents the horrific
heads of people who could create such he'urty while living in this vile details of present existence, excoriates o r lampoons those who
hell. These days you mustn't stroke 'zizyo~ze'she'ld- you might get your are responsible for the misery, rallies its readers o r listeners to
hand bitten off: Y o ~haz~e
i to hit them o n the head without any mercy." struggle against injustice, exalts certain individual heroes of that

T
struggle, and offers a vision of the paradise that will follow the
victory of the revolutionary forces.
here is something nostalgic Politically revolutionary poetry only sometimes coincides with
and quaint, and something sickening, about a conference now, in aesthetically revolutionary poetry. When it does, we have some of
1994, o n revolutionary poetry. [My first thought, o n being invit- the great poetry of the century: Hikmet, Neruda, MacDiarmid,
ed here, was to recall the least prophetic line uttered in my life- Brecht, Mayakovsky, to name a few. When it doesn't- as is obvi-
time: "The revolution will not be televised."] And yet the subject ous when one reads old issues of the New Masses o r any anthol-
is more pertinent than ever. I want to clear through the first, to ogy of guerrilla poetry- it can produce some of the worst poetry,
get t o the second. some of it written by these same poets: a poetry where the mes-
First, a matter of definitions, the classic difference between sage is the medium.
revolt and revolution. Revolt 1s a n uprising of some kind against But the real problem with revolutionary poetry is the Revolu-
some aspect of the existing order. Revolution is the struggle, near- tion. With certain exceptions- Mexico, Spain, Iran, among
ly always, but not necessarily, a violent struggle, t o replace one them- nearly every important revolution of the 20th century
form of soctety and state with another. Most important, the form has been fought under the inspiration of Karl Marx. [Though
of the new society is usually fairly fixed in the minds of the revo- interestingly, none of these revolutions were imagined by M a r s ,
lutionaries. In this sense, nearly all of us in the generation of and were, in fact, specifically denied by him: H e believed that the
1968- except Bill & Hillary- were engaged in some form of revolution would be led by the urban proletariat in countries like
England and Germany, and thought that a revolution led by the of age in the Cultural Revolution and rejected social realism to
rural peasantry, in a place like Russia, would be impossible. write what were, a t first, simple, highly subjective imagist poems.
Furthermore, he assunled an internationalism t o the revolution- In the 1970's, a whole generation of students was exhilarated by
ary proletariat, quite unlike the nationalistic Marxist revolutions a line of poetry most of us in the West would be too embarrassed
that actually occurred.] to write: Bei Dao's "I- do- not- believe!" For in a collective
I happen to think that all of us as writers, like any good union society, what is more subversive than the first-person singular, a
members, must judge the merits of a state first according t o what negative and a verb? Targeted by the "anti-spiritual pollution"
it does for ( o r against) us as writers. And there is n o question that, campaign, these poets were imprisoned, silenced, or forced to
in this respect, all of the Communist states were, or continue t o publish underground. Since the Tiananmen Square massacre in
be, disasters. O n the one hand, Communism brought nearly uni- 1989, most of them are in exile.
versal literacy to its masses and produced millions of inexpensive H o w thrilling it once was that Che carried a copy of Neruda's
books for them t o read; it created writers' unions where the state Heights of Macchu Picchu in his knapsack in Bolivia. Mean-
essentially paid writers to write. O n the other hand, these same while, in Cuba, a poet as great as Neruda, Jose Lezama Lima,
states all enforced strict censorship, and tended to execute, was under a form of house arrest, and forbidden to publish.
imprison, exile or silence most of their best writers. The writers Today, when I think of Cuba, it is not all the beautiful books pub-
who flourished were either supporters who were famous before lished by Casa de las Americas. It is one writer among the many
the revolution, achieving a kind of Grand Old M a n status (such exiles: Reinaldo Arenas, w h o spent a few years in prison for the
as Nicolas Guillkn or Alejo Carpentier in Cuba) or else they were crime of being homosexual, w h o wrote novels that were confis-
the kind of utter mediocrities- familiar to us in the U.S. or any cated and then wrote them out again, and who was finally let out
capitalist country- who thrive in arts bureaucracies. of the country with the mentally retarded and the violent crimi-
H o w thrilling it once seemed that Chairman M a o wrote poet- nals in the Marie1 boat exodus. It is Arenas, some years before he
ry in classical Chinese- even though n o one else was allowed to began dying of AIDS, in a tenement in Times Square, telling me,
do the same, akind of poet's dream. In China, the revolution with serious intensity, that the KGB had some sort of death ray
wiped out a thriving modernist movement that had begun in the aimed at his apartment, and that it had exploded a glass of water
1920's and 30's. The poets who were not killed were essentially on his windowsill.
required t o write useful paeans to the boiler plate factories. Only H o w thrilling it was t o read about Nicaragua under the San-
in the crevices could something new or aesthetically radical be dinistas, proclaimed here as a "land of poets," with a well-known
published: translations of foreign poets with impeccable political poet, Ernesto Cardenal, as its Minister of Culture, w h o had
credentials, such as Neruda, Eluard or Lorca, or considered too opened hundreds of poetry workshops around the country for
remote in time to be dangerous, such as Rimbaud and Baudelaire. the campesinos. N o one seemed to remember that Cardenal h a i
It was these translations that inspired the young poets w h o came started out as the youngest member of the Nicaraguan poet
z~a~zguardia,fascists who supported Franco, Mussolini, and the in a word, a fit cadre. The poet must acquaint all his com-
first Somoza, and that Cardenal himself wrote love poems to one rades with Nazim Hikmet or Pablo Neruda, and give them a
of the Somoza girls. That his conversion to both Marx and the clear concept of the role of ct~ltur~zlwork within the context of
Church had led to some strange conjunctions, as when, in one of general revolutionary activity. He must also make sure that the
his many poems against the Vietnam War, he compared napalm Administrative Secretary o f the Central Committee, for example,
to abortion. Of all the American poets who trooped down to loves St. Johtz o f the Cross, Henri Michaux, or St-John Perse.
Nicaragua in those years, how many reported back that in the
workshops only a certain kind of poetry, called "exteriorism," Dalton joined the People's Revolutionary Army (EKP) in his
could be written, and that, anlong other things, traditional native El Salvador. In 1975, unattracted by possible discussions
prosody and all metaphors were strictly forbidden? H o w many of Anabasis or Miserable Miracle, he was executed by his own
reported back that gays and lesbians who had fought for the rev- people as a CIA spy. (This is now attributed to a "militarist" or
olution were interrogated and sometimes imprisoned in an "adventurist" or "Maoist" faction.) A few years later, the EKP-
attempt to purge the Sandinista ranks of deviants? formed the Roque Dalton Cultural Brigade.
I need hardly speak of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, Doomed young people: The great unwritten history in 20th
where, as Mandelstam said, they took poetry seriously. But it is century American poetry is the black hole into which the young
revealing that those poets who maintained a life-long devotion to poets vanished inthe 1930's. In 1931 Louis Zukofsky attempted
the Party tended to live incountries that never had a Communist t o launch a new generation of American modernist poets with his
government- Neruda, Vallejo, Aragon, Eluard, MacDiarmid, "Objectivist's" issue of Poetry and subsequent anthology. The
CCsaire, among many others- or else, like Brecht and others in fate of four of these "Objectivists" is well known: Zukofsky
Eastern Europe, had never experienced a revolution. For what would not publish his first pamphlet of poetry for another
Communism governments understood too well is that a collective ten years; Oppen's second book came 28 years after his first;
builds a dam, but a book can only be the result of a subversive Rakosi took 2 6 years between books; Reznikoff, who was not a
solitude. young man in the 30's, like William Carlos Williams and the
The landscape of the revolution is filled with doomed young young poet Kenneth Fearing, essentially gave up poetry during
people. Here is Roque Dalton, the guerrilla saint of Latin America: the late 30's and 40's t o write prose. These four survived, after
long periods of not writing or not publishing, but most of the
The Party must train the poet as a good militant Communist, other young poets included as "Objectivists" were never heard
us a valuable cadre for mass revolutionary action. The poet must from again. Other anthologies from the period are similarly filled
contribute in the utmost to the cultt~raleducatiotz of all members with the disappeared. In fact, the only significant poet to start
of the Party. The Party, specific all^: must help the poet develop publishing in book form in the 1930's and keep publishing was
into arz effectiz~eagitator, a soldier with expert murksmanship- Muriel Rukeyser- with Kenneth Patchen a distant second- and
Rukeyser, throughout her career, inhabited a no-man's zone the most political, and the most revolutionary, poetry ever written
between the avant-garde and the establishment, modernism and by a Latin American- a poetry not only written out of extreme
agit-prop. poverty and the trashheap of history, but one that dismantled and
[This was also true of prose writers: We know that some of the reinvented the received language of the conquistadors.
most prominent, such as Dos Passos and James T. Farrell, ended
up as disillusioned cranks in the pages of the National Review. As Three fundamentalisms have dominated the revolutions of this
for the others: in an interview just a few weeks ago, Henry Roth- century: Marxism, fascism, and Islam. (The fundamentalisms of
who himself stopped publishing for 60 years- wondered what the other two monotheisms have created states, but not modern
happened to the scores of writers he knew as a young radical.) revolutions.) Because of this, it has become impossible to talk
This was the period in America when the Party dominated about revolutionary poetry, or the revolution itself, without ref-
intellectual life. I don't mean to suggest that all of the poets, like erence to them. And the fact remains that, from Nazi Germany
Oppen, joined the Party and gave up writing for organizing, to Iran to Kampuchea- or, right at this moment, from Algeria to
though some undoubtedly did. Rather I think it was the general North Korea- they have murdered, imprisoned or silenced hun-
discourse fostered by the Party that discouraged young poets dreds, probably thousands of poets, as the so-called secular cap-
from going on. This was the era- t o take Camus' example- italist states, with all their injustices, have never done. N o
when young people hotly debated whether one served the people amount of revolutionary romanticism, of the kind that is still
best by being Shakespeare or a shoemaker, whether a pair of stur- being written, can obscure this. N o w matter how thrilling, how
dy shoes was worth all the plays of Shakespeare, and whether, in inspiring to the poets revolution can be, the message is plain:
Brecht's famous formulation, it was a crime, in times like these, After the revolution, you'd better move somewhere else.
to talk about trees. W h o could write poetry when one had to What we need is a revolution of revolutions, a revolution to
defend both the utilitarianism of poetry and the murder of poets crush the dreams of the old revolutions and construct new ones,
for the greater good? Only the stubborn, the oblivious, or those a revolution that will tear down the monoliths and not build pris-
w h o had begun writing before Stalin. And who can keep writing, ons in their place, a revolution that will honor continual revolt, a
who can age gracefully, as it becomes apparent that there is noth- revolution where the poets can live in their own homes. W h o
ing more unreal than yesterday's realism? knows what that revolution could be? For the moment, it may
In retrospect, there is only one major world poet who managed only be possible to imagine what it will be pitched against.
to keep his commitment to Communism, keep writing, and never Two specters haunt the nest century. One is the secularism,
write a line of doggerel: CCsar Vallejo. His solution was to churn nationalism, and ethnocentricity, the psychological apartheid that
out colorless Party-hack prose and keep the poetry utterly uncon- is paradoxically erupting as the world moves toward a single con-
taminated, free to d o whatever he wished: a prose t o serve the sumer culture. The other is the very real possibility of the extinc-
people, and a poetry to serve poetry. Not coincidentally, it may be tion of the human race, following the extinction of countless oth-
1111 111 \ ' 0 1 1 ' 1 I O N ,\I \ 1. \l:\l<h'\ <'II1111( 1i

er species. Overpopulation, deforestation, the nuclear weapons of the government resigned tomorrow, and was replaced by a
that are still very much with us, the rotting canisters of plutonium citizen picked at random. And the left, such as it is, is obsessed
o n the ocean floor- I need hardly recite the list. We are at a with a new form of nationalism called multiculturalism-which is
moment in history when it is a crime not t o talk about trees. healthy insofar as it brings more Americans into the dialogue, and
A revolution against these demons would require the kind of sick in that it still excludes everyone else: Chinese-Americans and
Internationale that M a r x dreamed of, and Communism never no Chinese, African-Americans and no Africans, Mexican-Ameri-
saw- a rising of the humans of the world. It would depend on a cans and no Mexicans. Only one contemporary Chinese poet has
transition t o a global economy that is simultaneous t o a disman- had books published in the U.S., n o Indians writing in Indian lan-
tling of the multinational corporations. And it must begin with us guages, one or two Africans, maybe half a dozen Latin Americans,
talking to each other- more important, listening t o each other- one Arab poet, a few from the Caribbean. The current poetry of
in ways that have never occurred before. Significantly, with the 85% of humanity is represented in this country by a one-foot shelf
new information technology, the means are there- as long as we of books. Americans, and American poets specifically, may be the
are able t o keep those means democratic, and out of mono- last people to get the word that it's global time. Even the speakers
polistic control, which won't be easy. The new generation of and panelists all weekend here, at this symposium o n an interna-
revolutionaries will not begin as a ragged band in the sierras- it tional theme, are a United Colors of strictly Americans.
will be individuals and small groups thousands of miles from each Finally, I think we have to assert, over and over, that the revo-
other and neighbors in cyberspace. lution of the world requires many revolutions of the word, and
And where are the poets in all this? First, as has been often said, that poetry does indeed make something happen, no matter how
revolutionaries are connoisseurs of the apocalypse and visionar- slowly it moves from reader to reader. Zbigniew Herbert has
ies of the terrestrial paradise. Poets, though not lately in Ameri- written that the fire in the poem is one thing, and the town in
ca, have always excelled at both. So we need poets to challenge flames another. In a sense of course it's true, but in another sense,
received notions, tell us what we don't know, ask the questions it is the fire in the poem that helps us t o see the town in flames,
we can't answer, and wake us up t o both doom and Utopia. whether it is a town in history, or our own town tomorrow. Poet-
Second, poetry has always traveled on its own Internet of under- ry is a way- not the only way, but for most of us here, our
ground channels from country to country. These must multiply, way- into the enormous events of history. Only bad poetry talks
especially in the United States, which seems more self-preoccupied t o itself, or tells us what we already know. Above all, only bad
than ever. The 90's, beginning as they did in 1989, have brought poetry is not subversive. The revolution will not only be televised,
extraordinary changes all over the world- many of them exhila- it will be read.
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
had bought a small, rusty mechanical device whose function no
one has been able t o 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
MI' PET RABBIT
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

I had a pet rabbit that devel-


oped a dental problem. Its upper and lower incisors did not meet
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-
to grind each other down, and they kept growing. If left unat- cornatose state of waiting.
tended, as sometimes happens in the wild, the teeth will grow to A tourist, I was following a map, and my map told me that the
such length that they curve back into the rabbit's skull a n d pierce shortest distance to where I was going was across the no-man's-
the brain. The veterinarian told me to buy a pair of special podi- land of the empty half-block. I crossed unhurriedly. People on
atrist's scissors and regularly clip the teeth. either side began waving frantically, perhaps, I thought, because
The first time I tried, I botched the job. The teeth shattered; I was stumbling into what was to be the television picture. Then
there was a lot of blood. An hour later I had to take a plane to there was the crack of a shot, and I saw the brick wall near my
another country, to attend one of those cultural conventions, head chip. Unalarmed, barely registering the event, not reacting
always held abroad, where foreign governments treat otherwise with the "fight or flight" supposedly programmed in my genes, I
obscure intellectuals to exorbitant hospitality. quickened my pace, but did not run, toward the crowd o n the
I was met at the airport by an official, ushered to the front of other side. The next day I read that a student group was occupy-
the immigration line, and taken in a limousine t o an elegant ing the building; a rival group was trying to take it from them;
hotel. That night, in a suite on the fortieth floor, looking over the the first group had placed snipers o n the roof; two people had
radiant expanse of a n endless city, alone in a bed vast as that city, been shot that day.
I couldn't sleep. The memory of the rabbit's bloody mouth kept The rabbit was all right. Its teeth resumed growing, and I
me staring out the window. periodically clipped with increasing expertise. Months later, I
The next morning another limousine took rile, a French poet, woke gasping, in the first asthma attack of my life. Tests showed
and a Chinese painter for a visit to a provincial capital. I already that I was violently allergic to rabbits; the rabbit stayed to niolli-
knew the place, so while the others toured the cathedral, I went fy the children; the asthma continued. One night that summer, at
to find a junk store on the Street of Frogs where, years before, I a house in the country, a Siberian husky belonging t o a neighbor
smashed through the small cage where the rabbit was living out-
doors, mauled it t o 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-
NAKED MOLE-RATS
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
N aked mole-rats have no fur,
but their lips are hairy. Their pinkish mottled skin is loose and
and small, had all, by the fact of their isolation in my writing of hangs in folds, like something that has lost a great deal of weight,
it, become linked, even portentous. This was not what I had the easier t o squirm through their narrow tunnels. Incisors pro-
intended and, discouraged, I abandoned the essay titled "My Pet trude from their mouths like pincers, the only feature of their
Rabbit." undefined faces. One naked mole-rat can fit across your fingers,
[I9951 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 t o the
surface, kicks out the dirt, its rump exposed t o 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.
V'I<II II S It1 A ( II O N

The medium-sized are the warriors, who try to fend off the They are continually cruel in small ways, clanking teeth,
rufous-beaked snakes, the file snakes, the white-lipped snakes breathing rapidly into each other's open mouths, batting, swip-
and the sand boas that sometimes find their way in. They attack ing, biting, pulling one another's baggy skin, shoving each other
with repeated tiny bites that are, if the snake is small enough, sometimes a yard down the tunnel. But only the females who
mysteriously instantly fatal. When, bychance, two colonies of compete for the role of breeder inflict real harm. Wounded, the
naked mole-rats tunnel into each other, their warriors fight to the defeated female crouches shivering in the toilet, ignored by the
death. others until she dies.
These castes serve the largest, who are the breeders. Unique The tunnels are never silent. Naked mole-rats make a t least sev-
among mammals, only one female reproduces. She is by far the enteen sounds: soft chirps and loud chirps, high-pitched and low,
longest and the fattest and the most aggressive in the colony. If tooth-grinding, trills, twitters, tongue-taps, sneezes, screams,
she dies there is chaos. She is attended by one to three males, w h o hisses, grunts. Different sounds for when they bump into each
d o nothing else. They spend their time nuzzling her; have sex, ini- other, when they piss, when they mate, when they're disturbed,
tiated by her, by mounting her from behind for fifteen seconds, alarmed, wounded, when they shove each other, when they meet
bracing themselves by holding their front legs against the walls of a foreigner such as a beetle, when they find food, when they can't
the tunnel, and mainly failing. When she becomes pregnant, the find food.
teats of every colony member, male and female, enlarge, reach They clean their feet with their teeth. They clean their teeth
their peak at the birth, and then shrink. Just before birth, the with their feet. They yawn. They shiver. They scratch themselves
female runs wildly through the tunnels. after they piss. They bask near the surface, in the warm sunless
She has four or five litters a year of a dozen pups. The babies earth. They doze with their short legs splayed, their huge heads
have transparent skin through which their internal organs are drooping. They double over, mouth to anus, t o eat their own shit.
clearly visible. Only a few survive, and they live long lives, twen- They scurry with eyes closed, forwards or backwards at the
ty years o r more. The dead babies are eaten, except for their same speed, over and under each other. They change direction by
heads. At times the live ones are eaten too. somersaulting. They find their way, when they don't know it, by
Interbred so long, they are virtually clones. One dead-end darting forward till their nose bumps the wall, dart backwards,
branch of the tunnel is their toilet: they wallow there in the adjust the angle, dart forward again. Sometimes a naked mole-rat
soaked earth so that all will smell alike. They are nearly always will suddenly stop, stand on its hind-legs and remain motionless,
touching each other, rubbing noses, pawing, nuzzling. When their its head pressed against the roof of the tunnel. Above its head is
tunnel is blocked they work from both sides and reconnect it per- the civil war in Somalia. Their hearing is acute.
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.
INDEX

Steve Abbott 39-41 Gaston Bachelard 43


Leonie Adams 188 Francis Bacon 31
Fleur Adcock 186, 187 Deirdre Bair 205
Agni 100 Bernardo de Balbuena 209
Conrad Aiken 114, 187 Amiri Baraka 77, 79, 81, 95, 184,
Anni Albers 58 186, 188,216,217
Josef Albers 56-60, 62, 63 Mary Barnard 81
Richard Aldington 80 Willis Barnstone 33-36
Will Alexander 182-83 Georges Bataille 43, 86
Allah 160 Baucis 21
Donald Allen 62, 82, 84, 94, 128 Charles Baudelaire 102, 182, 220
A.R. Ammons 187 The Beatles 137
Sascha Anderson 169, 170 Samuel Beckett 81, 204-21 1
Bruce Andrews 84-86 Ludwig von Beethoven 150
David Antin 20, 80, 81, 128, 130 Bei Dao 173, 174, 22 1
Michelangelo Antonioni 28, 31 Ben Belitt 33, 175
Guillaume Apollinaire 76, 18 1, 182 Michael Benedikt 20
Louis Aragon 222 Stephen Vincent Benet 184
Reinaldo Arenas 217, 221 William Rose Benet 184
Rae Armantrout 86 Gwendolyn Bennett 187
Antonin Artaud 68, 86, 125, 128, Eric Bentley 56, 59
130, 184 Charles Bernstein 83, 84, 86, 89
John Ashbery 32, 76-78, 81, 128, Ted Berrigan 128
130, 184 Faith Berry 177
W.H. Auden 80, 102, 127 John Berryrnan 127, 188
Paul Auster 80 Bernardo Bertolucci 31
Ayasoluk 22 Wolf Biermann 169
John Birch Society 110
Sven Birkerts 76-78 Will~amRurroughs 127 John Ciardi 21 Michael Davidson 83
Elizabeth Bishop 39, 40, 8 1, 187 George Rush 103-7, 109-1 1, 178 E.M. Cioran 43 Leonardo daVinci 4 7
John Peale Bishop 8 1 George Butterick 120, 1 76 John Clare 53 Lydia Davis 8 1, 85
Paul Rlackburn 20, 36, 62, 77. 8 1, Witter Bynner 81 Tom Clark 39-41, 1 18-20 C. Day Lewis 8 1
128, 129, 165, 174,184 Lord Byron 22 Paul Claudel 206 Giorgio De Chirico 128
Thomas Blake 67 F.J. Clavijcro 71 Jose deCreeft 56
William Blake 53, 89, 130, 1.58, 197 Bill & Hillary Clinton 219 Pieter de Hoogh 48
Maurice Blanchot 80 John Cage 55, 56, 60, Samuel Taylor Coleridge 89 Elaine de Kooning 55, 56
Alexander Blok 152 Fanny Calderbn de la Barca 68 Christopher Colun~bus 125, 144 Willem de Kooning 55, 56
Robert Bly 13-17, 20, 37, 39, 40, Harry Callahan 56 Clark Coolidge 84 Paul de Man 169
78, 79, 184 Albert Camus 224 S e a m ~ ~Cooney
s 176 Francisco de Terrazas 21 1
Alan Bold 154 Roy Campbell 33-36, 81 Dennis Cooper 3 9 , 4 1 Edgar DCgas 67
Frances Boldereff 1 19 Ettore Caprioli 160 Cid Corman 79, 81, 121, 180 Sonia Delaunay 181, 194
Ilya Bolotowsky 56 Michelangelo Caravaggio 48 Alfred Corn 27 Delphic Oracle 125
Arna Bontemps 187 Ernesto Cardenal 221 Gregory Corso 95 Agnes deMille 56
George Bowering 20 Alejo Carpentier 220 Hernan Cortes 67 Christopher Dewdney 88
Paul Bowles 8 1 Leonora Carrington 68 Malcolm Cowley 8 1 Robert di Yanni 187-88
C. M. Bowra 206 Hayden Carruth 20, 188, 189 Hart Crane 74, 77, 81, 125, 176, Bernal Diaz del Castillo 124
Mark Alexander Boyd 149 Johnny Carson 117 187 Salvador Diaz Miron 2 10
Kay Boyle 81 Jimmy Carter 104 Arthur Cravan 64 James Dickey 36
Anne Bradstreet 184 Turner Cassity 2 1 Robert Creeley 20, 39, 40, 56, 61, Emily Dickinson 82, 89, 94, 185
Brahma 192 Carlos Castaneda 141 62, 63, 81, 85, 95, 112, 130, 165, Dido 21
Constantin Brancusi 32, 67 Fidel Castro 106 184, 187 Walt Disney 16
Kamau Rrathwaite 170, 171 Frederick Catherwood 68 Countee Cullen 187 F.W. Dixon 25
Bertolt Brecht 158, 219, 234 Catullus 176 e.e. cummings 8 1, 187 E.L. Doctorow 116
Andre Breton 43, 76, 206 Paul Celan 85 Nancy Cunard 81 Don Juan 120, 129
Max Brod 120 Blaise Cendrars 103, 181, 182, 194 J.V. Cunningham 81 Dennis Donaghue 26, 32
Joseph Brodsky 178 Aim6 CPsaire 80, 183, 222 Merce Cunningham 55, 56, 60 Donatello 67
David Bromige 20 Chac 74 John Donne 53
William Bronk 79, 81 John Chamberlain .56 Ed Dorn 20, 39-41, 61, 80, 83, 95,
Gwendolyn Brooks 184, 188 RenP Char 76, 206 Edward Dahlberg 56 119, 129
Martin Buber 155 Jonathan Chaves 80 Salvador Dali 46, 61 Jennifer Dorn 39
Buddha 134 Franqois Cheng 89 Roque Dalton 222, 223 John Dos Passos 81, 170, 183, 224
Basil Bunting 20, 24, 80, 81, 91, G.K. Chesterton 81, 102 Kate Daniels 180 Fyodor Dostoyevsky 149, 153
129, 1.57 Chiang Kai-shek 109 Dante Alighieri 125 Charles Doughty 3 50, 155
Robert Burns 1.SO-52 Chuang Tzu 173 Guy Davenport 20, 81 Major C.H. Douglas 149, 153
Gawin Douglas 149 Clayton Eshleman 20, 39, 40, 79, Federico Garcia Lorca 125, 174, Walter Gropius 56
Lynne Dreyer 86 81, 83, 94, 128, 129, 170 175, 176,220 Grucci family 116
Norman Duhie 23 William Everson 184 Alonso Garcia Bravo 145 Gu Cheng 172-74
Marcel Duchamp 128, 20 1 David Gascoyne 8 1 Barbara Guest 128
Alan Dugan 184 Henri Gaudier-Brzeska 65 Che Guevara 3 1, 221
Marianne Faithfull 127
Harold Dull 20 Alberto Giacometti 63, 206 Nicolas Guillen 220
Rev. Jerry Falwell 178
Georges Dumezil 43 Newt Gingrich 2 18 Gunga Din 106
James T. Farrell 224
Paul Lawrence Dunbar 187 Allen Ginsberg 39, 40, 81, 121, Thom Gunn 21
Kenneth Fearing 77, 223
William Dunhar 149, 151 127, 129, 130, 184, 188
Lionel Feininger 56
Rohert Duncan 20, 56, 61, 62, 63, Dana Gioia 87
Robert Fergusson 150
79, 81, 89, 95, 96, 101, 129, 130, Duncan Glen 155 H.D. 77, 79, 80, 83, 91, 94, 176,
Lawrence Ferlinghetti 81, 95
184, 187,200 Louise Gliick 189, 191 177, 185, 187
Vincent Ferrini 122
Duo Duo 172 Robert Gluck 85 Marilyn Hacker 187
Donald Finkel 172
Rachel Blau Duplessis 79, 80, 83, 95 God 25, 41, 42, 52, 97, 99, 100, Donald Hall 81
Karen Finley 114
Denis Dutton 45 112, 160, 193,208 Frans Hals 48
Roy Fisher 80
Jean-Luc Godard 134 Linda Hamalian 118, 119
F. Scott Fitzgerald 81
Godot 205, 208 Michael Hamburger 129
Frances Fitzgerald 116
Richard Eberhart 178 Enrique Gonzalez Martinez 210 Thomas Hardy 81, 178
Ford Maddox Ford 81
Meister Eckhart 60 Paul Goodman 56 Marry Emma Harris 55
Henry Ford 57
George Economou 81, 128 Mikhail Gorbachev 109, 110 Lou Harrison 56, 60
Clark Foreman 56, 59
Leon Edel 120 Hermann Goring 49 Lee Harwood 81
Max-Pol Fouchet 206
Larry Eigner 20, 62, 80 Maxim Gorki 218 Robert Hass 187
Charles Fourier 99
Dwight D. Eisenhower 82, 110, 140 Jose Gorostiza 206 Rohert Hayden 188
Francisco Franco 222
Elaine 29, 30 Adolph Gottlieb 71 Sen. Jesse Helms 178
Waldo Frank 81
Mircea Eliade 42-44, 160, 201 A.C. Graham 80 Rohert Henrysoun 149
Dr. Frankenstein 73
'P.S. Eliot 15, 18, 80, 83, 89, 114, W.S. Graham 20 George Herbert 25
James G. Frazer 43
115, 152, 154, 171, 176, 185, Clement Greenberg 56 Zbigniew Herbert 227
Stuart Freibert 187
187,200 Balcomb Greene 56 Nazim Hikmet 158,219,223
Sigmund Freud 102
Queen Elizabeth I 149 Graham Greene 68 Daryl Hine 18-22
Robert Frost 176. 177, 185, 188
Duke Ellington 177 Jonathan Greene 79 Zinaida Hippius 152
Buckminster Fuller 55, 60
Richard Ellman 186, 189 Horace Gregory 79 Friedrich Holderlin 82
Paul Eluard 220, 222 Marcel Griaule 52 John Hollander 20, 81
Empedocles 21 Gabriel 160 Christopher Grieve 148-159 Anselm Hollo 20, 81
William Empson 81, 127 Thomas Gage 68 Michael Grieve 148, 153 Paul Hoover 189
Theodore Enslin 20, 79 Ganesh 100 Jonathan Griffin 23-25, 80, 81 Gerard hlanley Hopkins 25, 122,
Hans hlagnus Enzensherger 129 Greta Garho 49 Tirn Griffin 21 6 A.E. Housman 81
Richard Howard 20, 184 Lyndon Johnson 15, 113 Stanley Kun~tz 8 1 Mina Loy 79, 81, 86, 91, 94, 177,
Susan Howe 79, 80, 82, 84, 86, 89, Ronald Johnson 20, 80 Joanne Kyger 39 184
180 Thomas H. Johnson 185 Henry Luce 109
Enver Hoxha 181 Davrd Jones 24, 8 1 , 157 L~lfkin 122
Emperor Huang-tr 144 Matthew Josephson 81 Valery Larbaud 76
Langston I-lughes 77, 80, 93, 118, James Joyce 81, 150, 154, 158,208, Else Lasker-Schiiler 152
121, 177, 188 Queen Juliana 48 James Laughlin 81 Hugh MacDiarmid 53, 80, 127,
Ted Hughes 81 C ~ r Jlu n g 4 3 Comte de Lautriamont 184 129, 148-159, 183, 219, 222
Rlchard Hugo 184 Donald Justice 187 D.H. Lawrence 16, 26, 68, 86, 1.57 Christopher MacGowan 176
V~centeH u ~ d o b r o 80, 86, 1 9 3 T.E. Lawrence 4 2 Nathaniel Mackey 170
D a v ~ dHume 150 Gregory Lee 172 Sorley Maclean 154
Dorrs Humphrey 56 Franz Kafkd 120 Ma be1 Lee 172 Archibald MacLeish 187
Erlca Hunt 21 6 Eric Kahler 56 Michel Leiris 86 Jackson MacLow 80, 85, 10 1, 128,
Aldous Huwlev 68 Alfred Kazin 56 Brad Leithauser 8 7 129,217
Buster Keaton 5 7 V.I. Lenin 149, 153, 154, 155, 218 Louis MacNeice 8 1
Robert Kelly 53, 81, 128 Karin Lessing 33, 79, 80 Madonna 136, 137
Henrik lbsen 58 John Kennedy 31, 106 Denise Levertov 20, 62, 81, 95, 187 Mahavira 134
Hrtoshi Igarash~ 161 Robert Kennedy 3 1 Claude Levi-Strauss 52 Norman Mailer 116
David lgnatow 81 William Kennedy 116 Walter Lew 2 17 klalcoln~X 158
Daniel H.H. Il~galls 8 9 X.J. Kennedy 184 Josk Lezama Lima 86, 221 Stephane Mallarmi 182, 194
Eugene Ionesco 4 3 Jack Kerouac 135 Li Ch'ing-ch'ao 165 Man Ray 206
Kenneth Irby 2 0 Myung Mi Kim 180 Vachel Lindsav 187 Osip Mandelstam 28, 222
Itzp'ipalotl 71 Galway Kinnell 187 Richard Lippold 55, 56, 60 Thomas Mann 155
Roderick lverson 168 Rudyard Kipling 81 Katherine Litz 56 Guy Levis Mano 206
Mark Kirschen 79, 80 A. Walton Litz 176 M a o Zedong 31, 62, 121, 220
Henry Kissinger 106 David Livingstone 194 Robert Mapplethorpe 1 12
Edrnond Jahes 80. 85 Carolyn Kizer 172, 184 Ron Loewinsohn 20 Marcus Aurelius 66
Philippe Jaccottet 80 Paul Klee 71 John Logan 184 Karl Marx 2 19, 222, 226
Max Jacob 76 h u g ~ l s tKleinzahler 79 Christopher Logue 81 Peter Math iessen 116
Mick Jagger 127 Franz Kline 56 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 79. Alfred Maudslay 68
James VI (James I) 149 Kenneth Koch 128 185 Christopher Maurer 175
John Jamieson 151 Wayne Koestenbaum 114 Ramcin L6pez Velarde 207, 21 0 Vladirnir Mayakovsky 1.58, 21 9
Randall Jarrell 21, 80, 86, 179, 187 Jerzy Kosinski 45, 46 Amy Lowell 21, 8 1, 188 Bernadette Maver 85
Robinson Jeffers 187 Karl Kraus 178 Rohert Lowell 24, 26, 30, 75, 79, Jerome M a z z ~ r o26
Jesus 50, 134 Ernst Krenek 56 182, 190, 194 Steve McC:atfei-y 86, 88
James Weldon J O ~ J I S O185-1
II 87 Maxine Kumin 184 .V/lalcolnl I.owrv 70, 2 1 .i Joseph Mc(:arthy 6 1
Edrnond Rocher 152 lames Schuyler 128 Stephen Spender 80, 127 Giuseppe T~lcci 195
Stephen Rodefer 39 Delrrlore Schwartz. 8 1, 187 lack Spicer 78, 8 1, 8.5, 174, 184 David T'c~dor60
Auguste Kodin 67 Armand Schwerner 8 1 , 128 \X'illialn St'jfford 20, 188 Ciael Turnbull 20, 80, 81
Edouard Roditi 81 Winfield Townley Scott 20 loseph Stalin 148, 158, 224 Mark Twain 47
Janet Rodney 52 Frederick Seidel 26-32 Sylvester Stallone 178 C:y Twombly 56
Igancio Rodrigue~Galvan 208,210 Roger Sessions 56 Gertrude Stein 80, 86, 94, 184 Jack T~vorkov56
David Roessel 177 Anne Sexton 20, 187 Wallace Stevens 77, 81, 176, 185, William Tyndale 161
Theodore Roethke 188 Ben Shahn 56 188 Tristan Tzara 65, 86, 206
Henry Roth 224 Wlilliam Shakespeare 47, 89, 224 Trumbull Stickney 188
Jerome Rothenberg 79, 81, 127- 13 1 , Karl Shapiro 20, 184 Mark Strand 81, 178
172, 175 Irwin Shaw 58 \X'illiarn S t y o n 116, 1 17
Douglas Rothhchild 21 7 Percy Bysshe Shelley 73 May Swenson 184
Raymond Roussel 76, 128 Leo Shestov 149
Bernard Rudofsky 56 Shiva 116, 199 Paul Valerv 1 52, 182
Muriel Rukeyser 20. 81, 124, 179, Richard Siehurth 82 Nathaniel Tarn 51-53, 79, 81, 130 Cesar Vnllelo 52, 129, 222, 224
180, 186, 288.224 Ron Silli~nan 20, 82-82, 84, 8 5 , 86, Allcn Tatc 81, 89, 187 h l a ~ k\ a n Doten 20, 184
88, 92-95 James Tate 187 hlona Van Duyn 20, 178
Salman Rushdie 106, 160, 161
Charles Sirliic 8 1 Sara Teasdale 184, 188 H . ~ n svan Mergeren 48-49
Marc Simon 176 Dennis Tedlock 70 hfarro Vargas Llosa 139
Maria Sabina 133, 140, 141 Louis Simpson 184 Roberto Tejada 132 Henry Vaughan 25
Frank Sarnpcsri 20 Frank Sinatra 2 7 Gerard Ter Borch 48 Helen Vendler 188, 189
San Juan de la Cruz (St. John of the Aaron Siskind 56 blagali Tercero 132 Jan Vermeer 48-49
Crosc) 33-35, 233 John Skelton 89 Margaret Thatcher 107 Esteban Vlcente 56
Christopher Smart 5 3 Dylan Thomas 8 1 X ~ v ~Vr ~r l l a u r r u t206
~~
Carl Sandburg 118792
Luis de Sandoval y Zapata 210 Gregory Smith 150 James T h ~ ~ r b e1r9 V~shnu 190, 191
George Santayana 8 1 W.D. Snodgrass 187 'Mark Tobey 71 Comte de Volncv 7 1
Enrico Mario Santi 7 9 0 Gary Snyder 20, 53, 81, 95, 129, Charles Tomlinson 20, 81 Mar~e-Lou~se t o n Franz 56
Sappho 46 130, 184, 188 Robert Tomson 64 hurt Vonnegut 1 16
Aram Saroyan 20 Sir John Soane 73 Jean Toomer 193
Jcan-Paul Sartre 85 Gustaf Sobin 79, 80, 186 Joacluin Torres-Garcia 68
Satan 105, 160, 161 Anastasia Somoza 222 Jaime Torres-Bodet 205. 206 R l ~ h a r dWagner 32, 47
Sophocles 136 Thomas Traherne 25 David Wagoner 71
Hiroaki Sato 80
Gilbert Sorrentino 16, 79, 9 5 Willard Trask 130 I)~ancK'akosk~ 128
Phyllis Schaflv 164
Rainer Schedlinski 168-170 Philippe Soupaulr 76, 206 Vr~ldaTrrvlvn 1 3 , 154 Derek W.ilc~tt 17 1
Linda Schele 69 Barry Spllcks 20 Lionel Trilling 90 Anne Waldm'~n 128
Artur Schnahel 22 Lewis Spence 150 Alexander l'roschi 127 Rosrn'ir~eWaldrop 79, 81, 83, 88
Irving Wallace 49 David Y o ~ ~ n187
g
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 ~ ~ g68 h 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,
6 2 , 6 3 , 7 7 , 8 0 , 8 3 , 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
ABOUT THE A U T H O R

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. H e is the co-author, with Octavio Paz, of 3 s t ~ ~ dofy
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~ipoetry and prose are the
Collected Poenrs of Octauio Paz 19.57-1 987 ( N e w Directions),
Vicente Huidobro's Altazav (Graywolf), Jorge Luis Borges's Seven
Niiyhts ( N e w 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.