To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
.......................................again
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Saturday, May 28, 2016

From Technicians of the Sacred Expanded: “The Age of Wild Ghosts” (Lolop'o [Yi], China)


















Translated from Yi & Mandarin by Erik Mueggler

[I have recently added the following to the revised & expanded edition of Technicians of the Sacred, still in progress.  Its place is in a new section of the book called “Survivals & Revivals,” as an instance of old rituals of mourning & healing incorporating the threatening ghosts of those killed by political & social violence in a very real & contemporary local & national setting Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution, etc.).  The work from which I’m drawing, The Age of Wild Ghosts by Erik Mueggler (University of California Press, 2001), is a still more complex & detailed report on what’s at stake here. (J.R.)]

1/
Long ago the living could see the dead and the dead could see the living. Living and dead both attended the market: on one side of the street the dead sold their things; on this side the living sold theirs; and the dead took the same form as the living.  At that time they used copper money, not paper.  The dead used paper to stamp out coins that looked just like the copper coins of the living, and with this money they bought things from the living.  But the living were not to be trifled with.  They put the coins in a pan of water: the real coins made of copper sank, and the paper coins made by the dead floated.  They returned the false money to the dead, and gradually the dead could no longer buy them from the living; they could buy only from other dead.  If your father died, you could go to the market he next day and see him.  But it was not permitted for living and dead to speak to each other.  The dead were punished if they spoke to the living – their officials taxed and fined them – and the living were afraid to speak to the dead.  So living and dead could only look at each other.  Then, as now, the dead sometimes harmed [literally “bit”] the living, but the living could beat the dead in return, so the dead had no power over them.  Disgusted with this situation, the dead petitioned for a bamboo sieve to be set up between them and the living.  The living could see the dead only vaguely, but the dead [being closer to the sieve’s holes] could see the living clearly.  The living did not like this, for the sieve was too thick to beat the dead through.  The living were stupid: some say they asked for a paper screen to be placed on their side of the street; they could beat the dead through the paper, but they could not see them at all.

2/
ghosts of ridges attack
ghosts of gullies attack

    descend from the sky
    arise from the earth

pain floods her head
    her torso and her feet

of an entire family harmed
the harm centers on her bed

    of thirty of their men
    thirty of their women

of all in this house
    You beat her head with clubs
    shoot her breast with crossbows

she can’t sleep a wink
can’t sit a moment

    can’t stretch her legs
    can’t lift her hands

      her food won’t digest
      her drink won’t stay down
      her bones have no marrow

pain pierces her pupils
    invades even her pupils
pain pierces her bone marrow
      invades even her marrow 

3/
some die bearing sons or daughters
some die with blood-dyed clothing
some die with blood-soaked groins
some die crushed by trees or stones
some die of hunger or thirst
some swell and explode
some hang and explode
some are stabbed or slashed
some trip and crush their heads
some die of loud shouts or big words
some are roasted by fire
some are swept away by floods

     tile-roofed houses burn
     thatched-roof huts burn

     at work on the road
        they step on mating snakes
     at work on the mountain
        crushed by falling trees

some have intestines ruptured by poison

4/
go over there to Beijing
your ghost kings live there

   every day they hold meetings in Beijing

Lin Biao died in a plane crash
Jiang Qing hanged herself
   your  ghost king Lin Biao, go follow Lin Biao

     your king is over there

I shall lead you to Beijing

   go to where your ghost friends live
   go to where your ghost companions live
     if the road returns don't you return
     if the road strays don't you stray


                                                      (Lolop'o [Yi], China)

N.B.  “A prominent leader of the Cultural Revolution, Lin Biao died in a 1971 airplane crash while fleeing Beijing in the wake of a failed attempt to assassinate Chairman Mao. Jiang Qing, Mao's wife and one of the Cultural Revolution's notorious Gang of Four, was publicly tried in 1980 and sentenced to death, commuted later to life in prison. To people in this mountain community, Jiang Qing and Lin Biao were the king and queen of the violently dead. And, as the seat of their spectral government, Beijing was the ultimate geographical source of all bodily afflictions attributed to memories of past violence.” (Erik Mueggler, from “Spectral Subversions,” in Comparative Studies in Society and History, 1999)

commentary

     Source: Erik Mueggler, The Age of Wild Ghosts: Memory, Violence, and Place in Southwest China (University of California Press, 2001), passim.  The first song here was chanted by Luo Lizhu & the other two by Li Wenyi.

     What emerges here, within the framework of a traditional “minority” culture in China is the survival of rituals of exorcism & healing, now incorporating “wild ghosts” as the invasive spirits of those doomed both as perpetrators & as victims by the violent actions of the central Chinese state, from the Great Leap Forward (& subsequent famine) of the late 1950s, to the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s & 70s, to the era of Communist-sponsored state capitalism in the present.  For this a charged & musical language – close to what we would think of as poetry – is again the primary instrument, whose singers & makers continue to function as native technicians of the sacred.  The tension here is between the local & traditional at home as against the imaginary & distant in places of power like Beijing & Shanghai, for which the “wild ghosts” of the recent dead – in the local village & in the distant state – appear as both grim reminders & reawakened voices.
     Writes Erik Mueggler elsewhere of what he calls “the geography of pain” & “the age of the wild ghosts”: “In much of rural China, memories of past violence are crucial to people's sense of their own relation to distant centers of state power. In particular, memories of death from hunger during the Great Leap famine (1958-61) and suicide during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) continue to haunt people's imagination of state and nation in ways that those of us who did not live through these devastations are only beginning to discover.  Many of the diverse, non-Han, Tibeto-Burman speaking communities scattered through the mountains of Southwest China share traditions of poetic speech, explicitly intended to deal with bodily afflictions attributed to spectral memories of the violently dead.
      “In a Lolop'o (officially Yi) minority community, where I did fieldwork from 1991-1993, poetic speech is used to drive the ghosts of those who died of hunger, suicide, or other violence out of the bodies of their descendants and into the surrounding landscape.  The ghosts are driven along a specific route through surrounding mountain villages. Their path eventually takes them down the nearby Jinsha river to the Changjiang (Yangtze). They make these rivers their steeds, riding them across the empire's breadth to the richly-imagined cities of Chongqing, Wuhan, Nanjing, Shanghai, and Beijing. En route, they are to feast on piles of meat and barrels of drink, buy beautiful clothing in the markets, and hobnob with officials. The fragment of one chanted exorcism [above], which finds the ghosts in Beijing – their penultimate destination before they disperse into sea and sky – encapsulates [these] themes. .. 
     “(With the exception of proper names and terms for political meetings and airplane crashes, spoken in Mandarin ..., [these chants are] in a sub-dialect of the Central dialect of Yi.)”

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Christophe Lamiot Enos: Postface to “Un Champ sur Mars / A Field on Mars”

[The following is the critical postface to my new book, A Field on Mars: Poems 2000-2015 (Un Champ sur Mars), just published by Presses Universitaires de Rouen et du Havre in both an English & a simultaneous French edition.  Christophe Lamiot is an active poet & the editor of the Rouen press’s Jusqu’a (To) series of books devoted to contemporary American poetry & poets in separate English & French editions.  The complete French translation of my Shaking the Pumpkin (Secouer la Citrouille) was also published under his editorship. (J.R.)]

(...) poetry as elation

A Field on Mars. A field on Mars: this is how Jerome Rothenberg tells of his writings in poetry from the last ten years. A former title was “Divagations and Auto-variations.” “Divagations & Autovariations” now stands as a subtitle. I like this gesture of naming, then renaming—from one of the most prolific, far-ranging, active and successful poets of XXth-century Anglophone America. I like it all the more so, as there is a very remarkable and easily circumscribable echo to naming and renaming, within the work itself. Something in which the “To” series is most highly interested: Within the text, there are other words, given as substitutes for the ones ending lines, not all lines, but a number of them—enough of them to make the naming and renaming attention-catching and remarkable. Something in which the “To” series is most highly interested: The ever-shifting correspondence between language and matter, between words and what they are not. To deal in translations, one has to presuppose a matter to be translated. This “To” series deals in translations. It so much deals indeed in translations that it considers “original texts” as translations. It considers words as resulting from the meeting between humans and their surroun­dings. As translating this encounter. One particular language: A way of translating. Another particular language: Another way of translating. Dance, music, cooking, architecture: Other languages, other ways of translating. If the matter to be translated was purely and strictly speaking language only, there wouldn’t be so many difficulties to, or impossibilities in, translating. What has to be translated is already a table of correspondences between matter and humans as represented in their words. In other words, what has to be translated is already a translation. The “To” series is a series in translations. This “To” series is a series in poetry as translations.

(…) Rothenberg’s special interest in and devotion to early poetries from all over the world
Rothenberg’s career in poetry ranges from White Sun Black Sun (1960) to the present times. This time expanse also gets multiplied manifold by Rothenberg’s special interest in and devo­tion to early poetries from all over the world. Rothenberg writes poems. He also collects poems. He also edits poems—so much so that there may not be much of a difference between collecting and writing, according to Rothenberg. There are indeed so many early poems from so many various traditions that Rothenberg offers us, that any given poem we may now read from Rothen­berg comes with echoes from previous ones, previous harvesting, previous garnering—from layers upon layers of attentions paid to words as collecting and harvesting, then offering human efforts to name the world, or having words correspond to matters; from layers upon layers of poems in translations, telling us just that: We readers, we writers come after layers upon layers of naming and renaming, from which to collect, from which to harvest. This is a teaching we collect from poetry. This is a tea­ching that is gathered from collecting words. This, a teaching of words, from words: Words are traces of a collecting, layers upon layers of harvesting and garnering human experience. To bring forward. To forward. To a vast range of traditions, which he gathers under the heading of “ethnopoetics”, Rothenberg makes us heirs. “To” a vast range of traditions. “To:” a vast range of traditions. Three collections or anthologies, as he calls them, come to the fore: Technicians of the Sacred (1968), Shaking the Pumpkin (1972) and A Big Jewish Book (1977). Shaking the Pumpkin is translated into French by Anne Talvaz at the Presses universitaires de Rouen et du Havre (2015) and naturally found its way to this “To” series—within the “To” series. Technicians of the Sacred appears into its French translation by Yves di Manno at José Corti Editions (2008). A Big Jewish Book still calls for its translation into French. Rothenberg’s special interest in and devotion to early poetries from all over the world teach us that a poem is a gesture, or a collecting of gestures, traditionally bearing the marks of harvesting toward sharing what is garnered. There is a celebration: This is poetry, this is books, especially. Books are with us to celebrate the garnering to be shared. While we read, there are shadows that extend before us—shadows of previous harvesters, previous harvests that poetry still celebrates. Such celebrations are reminiscent of words—of the specific celebra­tions that words are.
(…) a heritage in elation (…)
Besides what may be drawn from years upon years of poetry writing, i.e. attentiveness to poetry and beyond it, toward what constitutes poetry and acts it out, I want to stress Rothenberg’s A Field On Mars as a proposition in elation. To Rothenberg, poetry is elation. It enthuses us. It is our heritage. It is a heri­tage in elation. Beyond what may be drawn from years upon years of poetry writing, there are at least two good reasons for elation in poetry, for elation as poetry writing. The first reason is to be able to still write more—write beyond what has already been achieved, rename once more time what has already been named. Writing as never-ending. Writing without an end to writing. Writing from generation to generation. Writing as a process forward. Writing as a way to circumvent death. As it is the meaning of one’s inheritance. As it is comprised already within the heritage. Within poetry as heritage. The second reason for being elated by and reaching elation through poetry, has to do with a special letting go of etiquette and conventions. Beyond attentiveness to poetry, Rothenberg’s A Field On Mars is a proposition in poetry as elation, as humor brings us elation. Poetry is our heritage. Not a thing here, nor a thing there. Not just a fish from out of waters. But the desire and care for making things, not this one or that one—but many, many things, a whole procession of things. Not just a fish out of waters, but the ways in which fish may be landed, i.e. ways to fish and enthusiasm for what has to be done for one’s sustenance. Enthusiasm for the way there is more than one fish in the sea. One fish, two fish. Red fish, blue fish. And another. And yet another. There is something of a classic in kid’s literature in Rothenberg’s. There is also a letting go of conventions. Here comes to mind again the very special way in which endings of certain lines go along with possible substitutes in Rothenberg’s A Field On Mars. You would think that a given line wants a specific ending. You would think that it matters that such or such a line ends with this particular ending—not any other. Well, Rothenberg makes you reconsider this assumption. A Field On Mars makes you reconsider it so much, that to a certain extent words become interchangeable. Which is a way of underlining what matters most in words: Their being with us, whatever they are, their being used and re-used, again and again. Words in our hands, words as gestures. As a result of this reconsidering of words, precise lexical meanings as collected in dictionaries fade in importance, as compared to the presence of words in our activities, in our daily routines and actions. Isn’t it elation for us?
A field on Mars: an expanse of grass, from the most impro­bable of places; soil to be tilled, on a planet that does not look like very welcoming to man, or to life in general. “A field on Mars” sounds pretty idealistic. Seems to be very far-fetched, indeed. Could poetry be a field on Mars? Could it finally be that, after years and years of practice and thought, exposition to poetry and striving toward it, poetry equal some expanse of grass from the most improbable of places? What wisdom is there to be derived from such an equation?
Reader, if you’ve not read the work itself, yet, you may at first sight have construed its title as stressing the ever-growing rarity of poetry within our world, or in our societies—how man decides to organize this world, or most men, apparently. Within such a context, poetry does appear as a rarity. Yet, such an inter­pretation does not give credit to the full range of Rothenberg’s meaning. A field on Mars, OK. Poetry as a field on Mars: OK. Yet the meaning of poetry as elation in Rothenberg’s A Field on Mars is that an expanse of grass may grow from it on the barest, most inhospitable of planets. Poetry as elation: despite dire circumstances, there is still hope, through heritage, through poetry, through the enthusiasm that poetry’s task is to convey. Rothenberg does not think about poetry as anything else but a heritage. A poem: a heritage. To write a poem: to inherit. To deal in harvesting: To deal in inheriting. To deal in tradition. To deal in forwarding. What is it that we want to forward our children? This or that? No. What we want to hand over is this handing over, precisely. This is the significance of poetry. This is one of the main teachings of ethnopoetics. With Shaking the Pumpkin, Rothenberg states or re-states the following: We want to forward dynamics, we want to bestow energies, enthusiasm and elation. Poetry as elation.
(…) only sharing, infinite sharing                
A word. Another. A word for another. This one. That one. This. That. One. One and the same thing. What is common to a word and another? What is it that makes them interchangeable? That one can be put instead of the other? Just ending sonorities? Rhymes? There is something that sounds common in between two words. Between this one and that one. Between any two words, indeed? What is it? What about the interest of the rhyme, any rhyme indeed? Taking into account that they can be interchangeable. Perfectly interchangeable. Couldn’t it be assigned to something else than pure sound being repeated? And what if the interest in rhymes did not only pertain to similarities of sound? Did pertain to something that similari­ties in sound only represented? Marked? Suggested? Designated, in turn? To which it pointed? Not being it, itself. This is one of the strongest propositions in and of A Field on Mars: Words are revealed through poetry and its rhyming as not so much separate entities, with such or such a meaning, or even such or such a material signature or composition. Words are beyond the markings that linguistics make them to be. Markings with which linguistics have made us used to considering first, when thinking about words. Rothenberg says: Look, hear, weigh, touch, feel, consider, this is where humans have been, this is the sign and flesh and signature and shadow of our ancestry and lineage, our past, present and future, this is the trail, the human trail, this is where there is nothing to hide, nothing to fear, only sharing, infinite sharing.

Christophe Lamiot Enos, June 2015, Paris[The following is the critical postface to my new book, A Field on Mars: Poems 2000-2015 (Un Champ sur Mars), just published by Presses Universitaires de Rouen et du Havre in both an English & a simultaneous French edition.  Christophe Lamiot is an active poet & the editor of the Rouen press’s Jusqu’a (To) series of books devoted to contemporary American poetry & poets in separate English & French editions.  The complete French translation of my Shaking the Pumpkin (Secouer la Citrouille) was also published under his editorship. (J.R.)]
 (...) poetry as elation

A Field on Mars. A field on Mars: this is how Jerome Rothenberg tells of his writings in poetry from the last ten years. A former title was “Divagations and Auto-variations.” “Divagations & Autovariations” now stands as a subtitle. I like this gesture of naming, then renaming—from one of the most prolific, far-ranging, active and successful poets of XXth-century Anglophone America. I like it all the more so, as there is a very remarkable and easily circumscribable echo to naming and renaming, within the work itself. Something in which the “To” series is most highly interested: Within the text, there are other words, given as substitutes for the ones ending lines, not all lines, but a number of them—enough of them to make the naming and renaming attention-catching and remarkable. Something in which the “To” series is most highly interested: The ever-shifting correspondence between language and matter, between words and what they are not. To deal in translations, one has to presuppose a matter to be translated. This “To” series deals in translations. It so much deals indeed in translations that it considers “original texts” as translations. It considers words as resulting from the meeting between humans and their surroun­dings. As translating this encounter. One particular language: A way of translating. Another particular language: Another way of translating. Dance, music, cooking, architecture: Other languages, other ways of translating. If the matter to be translated was purely and strictly speaking language only, there wouldn’t be so many difficulties to, or impossibilities in, translating. What has to be translated is already a table of correspondences between matter and humans as represented in their words. In other words, what has to be translated is already a translation. The “To” series is a series in translations. This “To” series is a series in poetry as translations.

(…) Rothenberg’s special interest in and devotion to early poetries from all over the world
Rothenberg’s career in poetry ranges from White Sun Black Sun (1960) to the present times. This time expanse also gets multiplied manifold by Rothenberg’s special interest in and devo­tion to early poetries from all over the world. Rothenberg writes poems. He also collects poems. He also edits poems—so much so that there may not be much of a difference between collecting and writing, according to Rothenberg. There are indeed so many early poems from so many various traditions that Rothenberg offers us, that any given poem we may now read from Rothen­berg comes with echoes from previous ones, previous harvesting, previous garnering—from layers upon layers of attentions paid to words as collecting and harvesting, then offering human efforts to name the world, or having words correspond to matters; from layers upon layers of poems in translations, telling us just that: We readers, we writers come after layers upon layers of naming and renaming, from which to collect, from which to harvest. This is a teaching we collect from poetry. This is a tea­ching that is gathered from collecting words. This, a teaching of words, from words: Words are traces of a collecting, layers upon layers of harvesting and garnering human experience. To bring forward. To forward. To a vast range of traditions, which he gathers under the heading of “ethnopoetics”, Rothenberg makes us heirs. “To” a vast range of traditions. “To:” a vast range of traditions. Three collections or anthologies, as he calls them, come to the fore: Technicians of the Sacred (1968), Shaking the Pumpkin (1972) and A Big Jewish Book (1977). Shaking the Pumpkin is translated into French by Anne Talvaz at the Presses universitaires de Rouen et du Havre (2015) and naturally found its way to this “To” series—within the “To” series. Technicians of the Sacred appears into its French translation by Yves di Manno at José Corti Editions (2008). A Big Jewish Book still calls for its translation into French. Rothenberg’s special interest in and devotion to early poetries from all over the world teach us that a poem is a gesture, or a collecting of gestures, traditionally bearing the marks of harvesting toward sharing what is garnered. There is a celebration: This is poetry, this is books, especially. Books are with us to celebrate the garnering to be shared. While we read, there are shadows that extend before us—shadows of previous harvesters, previous harvests that poetry still celebrates. Such celebrations are reminiscent of words—of the specific celebra­tions that words are.

(…) a heritage in elation (…)
Besides what may be drawn from years upon years of poetry writing, i.e. attentiveness to poetry and beyond it, toward what constitutes poetry and acts it out, I want to stress Rothenberg’s A Field On Mars as a proposition in elation. To Rothenberg, poetry is elation. It enthuses us. It is our heritage. It is a heri­tage in elation. Beyond what may be drawn from years upon years of poetry writing, there are at least two good reasons for elation in poetry, for elation as poetry writing. The first reason is to be able to still write more—write beyond what has already been achieved, rename once more time what has already been named. Writing as never-ending. Writing without an end to writing. Writing from generation to generation. Writing as a process forward. Writing as a way to circumvent death. As it is the meaning of one’s inheritance. As it is comprised already within the heritage. Within poetry as heritage. The second reason for being elated by and reaching elation through poetry, has to do with a special letting go of etiquette and conventions. Beyond attentiveness to poetry, Rothenberg’s A Field On Mars is a proposition in poetry as elation, as humor brings us elation. Poetry is our heritage. Not a thing here, nor a thing there. Not just a fish from out of waters. But the desire and care for making things, not this one or that one—but many, many things, a whole procession of things. Not just a fish out of waters, but the ways in which fish may be landed, i.e. ways to fish and enthusiasm for what has to be done for one’s sustenance. Enthusiasm for the way there is more than one fish in the sea. One fish, two fish. Red fish, blue fish. And another. And yet another. There is something of a classic in kid’s literature in Rothenberg’s. There is also a letting go of conventions. Here comes to mind again the very special way in which endings of certain lines go along with possible substitutes in Rothenberg’s A Field On Mars. You would think that a given line wants a specific ending. You would think that it matters that such or such a line ends with this particular ending—not any other. Well, Rothenberg makes you reconsider this assumption. A Field On Mars makes you reconsider it so much, that to a certain extent words become interchangeable. Which is a way of underlining what matters most in words: Their being with us, whatever they are, their being used and re-used, again and again. Words in our hands, words as gestures. As a result of this reconsidering of words, precise lexical meanings as collected in dictionaries fade in importance, as compared to the presence of words in our activities, in our daily routines and actions. Isn’t it elation for us?
A field on Mars: an expanse of grass, from the most impro­bable of places; soil to be tilled, on a planet that does not look like very welcoming to man, or to life in general. “A field on Mars” sounds pretty idealistic. Seems to be very far-fetched, indeed. Could poetry be a field on Mars? Could it finally be that, after years and years of practice and thought, exposition to poetry and striving toward it, poetry equal some expanse of grass from the most improbable of places? What wisdom is there to be derived from such an equation?
Reader, if you’ve not read the work itself, yet, you may at first sight have construed its title as stressing the ever-growing rarity of poetry within our world, or in our societies—how man decides to organize this world, or most men, apparently. Within such a context, poetry does appear as a rarity. Yet, such an inter­pretation does not give credit to the full range of Rothenberg’s meaning. A field on Mars, OK. Poetry as a field on Mars: OK. Yet the meaning of poetry as elation in Rothenberg’s A Field on Mars is that an expanse of grass may grow from it on the barest, most inhospitable of planets. Poetry as elation: despite dire circumstances, there is still hope, through heritage, through poetry, through the enthusiasm that poetry’s task is to convey. Rothenberg does not think about poetry as anything else but a heritage. A poem: a heritage. To write a poem: to inherit. To deal in harvesting: To deal in inheriting. To deal in tradition. To deal in forwarding. What is it that we want to forward our children? This or that? No. What we want to hand over is this handing over, precisely. This is the significance of poetry. This is one of the main teachings of ethnopoetics. With Shaking the Pumpkin, Rothenberg states or re-states the following: We want to forward dynamics, we want to bestow energies, enthusiasm and elation. Poetry as elation.
(…) only sharing, infinite sharing                
A word. Another. A word for another. This one. That one. This. That. One. One and the same thing. What is common to a word and another? What is it that makes them interchangeable? That one can be put instead of the other? Just ending sonorities? Rhymes? There is something that sounds common in between two words. Between this one and that one. Between any two words, indeed? What is it? What about the interest of the rhyme, any rhyme indeed? Taking into account that they can be interchangeable. Perfectly interchangeable. Couldn’t it be assigned to something else than pure sound being repeated? And what if the interest in rhymes did not only pertain to similarities of sound? Did pertain to something that similari­ties in sound only represented? Marked? Suggested? Designated, in turn? To which it pointed? Not being it, itself. This is one of the strongest propositions in and of A Field on Mars: Words are revealed through poetry and its rhyming as not so much separate entities, with such or such a meaning, or even such or such a material signature or composition. Words are beyond the markings that linguistics make them to be. Markings with which linguistics have made us used to considering first, when thinking about words. Rothenberg says: Look, hear, weigh, touch, feel, consider, this is where humans have been, this is the sign and flesh and signature and shadow of our ancestry and lineage, our past, present and future, this is the trail, the human trail, this is where there is nothing to hide, nothing to fear, only sharing, infinite sharing.
Christophe Lamiot Enos, June 2015, Paris

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Steven Kushner’s Cloud House on the Move


[note.  Since 1970 Steven Kushner (“Kush”) has been known to many of us as the founder & sole proprietor of Cloud House, an amazing & constantly expanding archive of contemporary American poetry, largely audiovisual & equal in size to most institutionally sponsored repositories of kindred materials, or even greater.  As his life work he has come to view Cloud House as a poetmuseum (or, as he likes to say, a “poetmusée”) of the spirit, carrying it with him from New York City to what has been its ongoing residence for many years in San Francisco.  To this he has also contributed as an ongoing chronicler & video artist, catching the likenesses & voices of most poets of note on the west coast & of those from elsewhere who have passed through his territory.  As I post this he is preparing to move again: a return to the east coast where this all began & a new residence & revitalized project in Catskill, New York.  The search for funding & a permanent home for this extraordinary treasure continues into the present, for which Kush’s description that follows is explanation enough.  (J.R.)]
The Cloud House/”Walt Whitman Breathes Here” is a poet-driven cultural & audiovisual archive, a poetic research center and performance space with programs of screenings, literary-historical art installations and poets theatre, engaging the greater community.
Bi-coastal in its storefront emanations, the Cloud House is a vital experiment of cultural imagination, challenging conventional forms by exhibiting poets work, mind and voice. For more than 40 years, the Cloud House has been a poetic sanctuary for the creators of the San Francisco Poetry Renaissances and nomadic poets from around from world. Integral with this archival vision is the field-documentation of poets performing in their native communities or as visitors to the fabled venues of the Bay Area, week by week, month by month, year by year for decades, creating a detailed record of contemporary poetry practice in the tradition of Paul Blackburn. The Cloud House has built an unmatched audiovisual collection, including historic recordings of poets at the core of the anti-tradition such as Allen Ginsberg, Diane di Prima and Gary Snyder.

The scope of the Cloud House is open-ended beyond what passes for poetry in the accepted genres/norms, ranging from the avant-garde to the indigenous, from the historic cutting edge to the timeless individual, from the acknowledged to the wild unknown. The Cloud House Poetry Archives encompass poets of all ethnicities, their lineages, legacies and linkages on a planetary scale and especially poet-discoveries from ethnopoetic fieldwork. The Cloud House is a center for investigatory poetics, exploring roots and branches, the origins of poets and back stories of their work. Our mission is now to establish a living museum and research center, a poetmusee based on its audiovisual & multimedia collections, to preserve and transmit the unending breakthroughs of all the East & West Coast Poetry Renaissances. This Cloud is a poetic genius toolkit and a laboratory for the formulation of a new culture, a new consciousness where poetry is at center of life and community, embodying the creative word of truth, beauty and imagination.

 The Cloud House is in the process of a establishing a new home at 452 Main Street, Catskill, New York.

Go Fund Me link:
https://www.gofundme.com/CloudHousePoetry   

Facebook Page Link:
https://www.facebook.com/CloudHousePoetry/

Sunday, May 8, 2016

From Technicians of the Sacred (expanded): Genesis One

[In the course of expanding & revising Technicians of the Sacred, still in progress, my attention landed on the following – one of the opening poems in the original book – which had appeared there in a shorter version of my own devising.  Nearly fifty years later my new strategy is to give it in Pliny Earle Goddard’s full 1909 version (more than twice the length), & I would add even more, if I ever felt free to do so.  The additional quote from Gertrude Stein, not in the original edition, puts it even more firmly in place, for now as well as for then. (J.R.)]

Genesis I

Water went they say. Land was not they say. Water only then, mountains were not, they say. Stones were not they say. Trees were not they say.  Grass was not they say.  Fish were not they say. Deer were not then they say. Elk were not they say. Grizzlies were not they say. Panthers were not they say. Wolves were not they say. Bears were not they say. People were washed away they say. Grizzlies were washed away they say. Panthers were washed away they say. Deer were washed away they say. Coyotes were not then they say. Ravens were not they say. Owls were not they say.  Buzzards were not they say. Chicken-hawks were not they say. Robins were not they say. Grouse were not they say. Quails were not they say. Bluejays were not they say. Ducks were not they say. Yellow-hammers were not they say. Condors were not they say. Herons were not they say. Screech-owls were not they say. Woodcocks were not they say. Woodpeckers were not they say. Then meadowlarks were not they say. Then Sparrow-hawks were not they say.  Then woodpeckers were not they say. Then seagulls were not they say.  Then pelicans were not they say.  Orioles were not they say.  Then mockingbirds were not they say. Wrens were not they say.  Russet-back thrushes, blackbirds were not they say. Then crows were not they say. Then hummingbirds were not they say. Then curlews were not they say. Then mockingbirds were not they say. Swallows were not they say. Sandpipers were not they say. Then foxes were not they say. Then wildcats were not they say. Then otters were not they say. Then minks were not they say. Then elks were not they say. Then jack-rabbits, grey squirrels were not they say. Then ground squirrels were not they say. Then red squirrels were not they say. Then chipmunks were not they say. Then woodrats were not they say. Then kangaroo-rats were not they say. Then long-eared mice were not they say. Then sapsuckers were not they say. Then pigeons were not they say. Then warblers were not they say. Then geese were not they say. Then cranes were not they say. Then weasels were not they say. Then wind was not they say. Then snow was not they say. Then frost was not they say. Then rain was not they say. Then it didn’t thunder. Then trees were not when it didn’t thunder they say.  It didn’t lighten they say. Then clouds were not they say. Fog was not they say. It didn’t appear they say. Stars were not they say. It was very dark.
                                                                       (Cahto [Kato] Indian)

     Source:  From the complete literal translation in Pliny Earle Goddard, Kato Texts (University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology [Berkeley, 1909]), vol. 5, no. 3: 71–74.  After the Kato narrator Bill Ray.

     What’s of interest here isn’t the matter of the myth but the power of repetition & naming (monotony, too) to establish the presence of a situation in its entirety. This involves the acceptance (by poet & hearers) of an indefinite extension of narrative time, & the belief that language (i.e., poetry) can make-things-present by naming them. The means employed include the obvious pile-up of nouns (until everything is named) & the use of “they say” repeated for each utterance. In Cahto (Kato), this last is a quotative [yaєnɪ], made from the root -nɪ-n, “to speak,” & the plural prefix yaє. (Cp. use of Japanese particle -to; of tzo = “says” in Mazatec. While yaєnɪ is undoubtedly less conspicuous in Kato than “they say” in English, it still gives the sense of a special (narrative or mythic) context. The editor’s use of Goddard’s literal over his free translation is based on such considerations; also from a feeling that “they say” plus other repetitions add something special to the English &/or American tongues. In brief: there’s something going on here.

      Summary & Addenda.  (1) Repetition & monotony are powers to be reckoned with; or, as the lady said to M. Junod after having heard the tale of Nabandji, the toad-eating girl, “I should never have thought there could be so much charm in monotony.”
Charm, in the old sense.

(2) “There is the important question of repetition and is there any such thing. Is there repetition or is there insistence. I am inclined to believe there is no such thing as repetition. And really how can there be. … And so let us think seriously of the difference between repetition and insistence. … It is very like a frog hopping he cannot ever hop exactly the same distance or the same way of hopping at every hop. A bird’s singing is perhaps the nearest thing to repetition but if you listen they too vary their insistence. That is the human expression saying the same thing and in insisting and we all insist varying the emphasizing. …  When I first really realized the inevitable repetition in human expression that was not repetition but insistence …”

—  Gertrude Stein, “Portraits and Repetition,” in Lectures in America, pp. 166-169

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Scott Ezell: ISHI, from “Songs from a Yahi Bow”

for the hundredth year anniversary of ishi’s death

                                                                       Die into what the earth requires of you.                                                                                 —Wendell Berry
1.

square tongues   speak brick words
      that couple into nothing,
      surrounded by hair and flowers.

decay of fruit and love and sex,
      all subside
                              into chemical contemplation,
            alcohol and buzzing bees,
              sweet sticky scents.

                  police machines  chop the sky                                    
                  into thistles of noise and fear—

I pick up and carry a river on my back,
a cloak of home
              to drape across
                  the shoulders of the world,
                   enfolding streams and stones.

glaze of bone
across my eyes,
a hood of silence,

  my tongue of salt
  dissolving into words
  I speak to you.


2.

secrets of myself
I discover and discard a thousand times
      flower from your skin,
        seeds of me grown
            from the soil of you.

I am a benevolent bear,
wasted with circus tricks.

I am iron claws,
      and seize you with
        die-cast hands.
      we are chains and cages,
              we are free.

3.

I am an adze of bone,

and scrape at refinery

                  dross and efflux,
            the slag of engine heat.

wild birds fly sky trails
            beyond my vision.
      reams of light stack page by page
            across the slush and bray
                  of slaughterhouse corrals.

I am a scaffolding of planed horizons,
ghost mountains rise within my veins.


4.

I drop a cigarette in the gutter
                and flow
    crustacean to the sea.

scull the sky with matchsticks,
                                                               scratch and flare
             but compend to nothing,
                        pass a flame
                              to a newspaper,
                              to a forest fire,
                                    to a cock or cunt
                                         to singe the earth
                                       with zygote need—

                              manzanita
      grows gold and gnarled
            from ash and char,

chikakatee, chikakatee,
quail gather and alight
in the cut lawns of city parks.


5.

I am a gravel truck of tar and meat,
petroglyphs of diesel brain.

flicker and glare
of tv memory,
      my tongue is obsidian 
                        arrow blades.

I am a butcher’s apron
      laid between two mountains,
   a blue river flows
            from my stains and folds.


6.

white noise brainwaves
   bleed the sky,
robot sun
      stands from a crack of stone
            into a void of girder ribs,
                  conduits pulse
                                          and circle through.

                  I miss the mouth to the interior of you,
                  the cleft of hair and skin
                        where I recline with boneyard flowers,
                              half-drunk
                              half-happy
                              half-dead,
                                                 and drink soil soup,
                                 broth of toenails and beards.
           
—condom wrappers
along the morning sidewalk,
torn silver lining, pale
lubricant sheen—

a million engines
crumple and rust
across my skin,
I am a
scrap metal wilderness,
a myth of one,   
a heart spindle
coiled in wires of
      memory.


7.

monolith skies
      sift discount coupons
      across a blur of freeway speed, concrete furrows 
            plowed by gasoline.

                        pubic middens
                        of pottery and teeth
                        aggregate into engines.

        insurrection thoughts
                  hang out on corners
                        in baggy jeans
                          and black bandanas,
                        bailbond ads smile from the backs of
                                    bus stop benches,

                                     bottles break into blades,
                                          power lines dissect the sky.

8.

take a bucket of turpentine and
      a wire brush,
abrade
      the surface of the sky,
reveal
      reflections of yourself
like the scratched and dented tin
      of a subway station mirror,
like the aluminum glint
      between four fingers
holding two dozen nickels worth
      of brownbag beer.

now
I am the city,
radio static within
            a bottle heart,
            ruled components of
            breath and stone.

rainbow oil, primer gray
      suburban streets,
susurrus of
      broken leaves—
peel electric skin
      from clouds and rain,
strip
      to bulbous core,
America, sink
      your longiphallic soul
into the sea,
      let the world
begin
      again.


9.

I am ursine hibernation,
      dark and matted      ,
      I reek and sleep
      through storms of steel decay.

you are the further shore
      across a sea of metal brine,
      petrol flowers bloom
      from the burrow of your womb.

distance shellacs the wholeness of me,
currents of plankton flow between us.


10.

dust trails across a bath of sperm,
      I am abstraction     seized.

headlines slice the streets
open into purple flowers,
sirens unzip the sky and
            beneath the blue it wears a suit and tie.
  old bums with birdnest beards
                        suck wine and nicotine
                by the back doors
                                of strip tease matinees—

a man in rubber gloves
   whistles a tune,
sprays corrosion
   onto the green that grows
from sidewalk cracks.

outside a bar,
an american flag is
stuck to a wall
with chewing gum—
by a silvered window
a polyester girl
worries a diamond ring,
mouth painted red,
hair bleached white,
eyes of plastic blue.

grease and alcohol
  brayered into
          approximations of self,
      the asphalt hush that
day after day I drive—

      photographic visions
                 washed in a stop bath of departure,

            die at home wherever you may be.


[note.  The 100th anniversary of Ishi’s death brings to mind the publication several years ago of a small book, Songs from a Yahi Bow – really a mini-anthology of writings on Ishi – assembled by Scott Ezell & including poems by Ezell, Yusef Komunyakaa, & Mike O’Connor, along with Thomas Merton’s 1968 essay “Ishi: A Meditation.”  Ishi (the Yahi word means “man” or “human”) is well known through the writings of Theodora & Alfred L. Kroeber as the last known survivor of a small Indian community that suffered displacement & genocide during the final European conquest of America.  That memory of course is a warning of dangers & holocausts to come, and much of Ezell’s work is concerned with a range of non-state cultures & a chronicling thereby of globally diverse crises & survivals. 

        Scott Ezell is a Pacific Rim poet & multi-genre artist with a background of  independent study with the indigenous peoples of Taiwan, China, & Southeast Asia. He has published three volumes of poetry & over a dozen albums of original music, & has exhibited paintings in the US & internationally, as well as being involved in installation & performance art projects.   His recent memoir, A Far Corner: Life and Art with the Open Circle Tribe (University of Nebraska Press), explores indigenous Taiwan through immersion in a nonconformist community of aboriginal musicians & artists.  Since 2010 he has been working on a multi-volume poetry project, Zomia, about marginal landscapes & communities in the China-Burma-Laos border region. (J.R.)]