Rosenberg is a startling poet of learning, subtlety, and ambition, and his books include heroic translations, commentary, and anthologies. He is in the tradition of Ezra pound, who insisted that in recovering our archaic, cultural, and theological roots, we may get closest to a sacred matrix. Rosenberg, however, began writing in conjunction with the new york school of poetry, in which a new surrealism competed with a parodistic mania and a whimsy of kitsch and culture. But he outgrew this observational bias and has been guided in a complex symbolist journey toward Jerusalem and the origins of the Bible.
Rosenberg was born in Detroit. He studied with Robert lowell at the New School and with Donald hall at the University of Michigan, where he received a B.A. in English (1964) and refined his work. He also met Delmore Schwartz at Syracuse University, where he received an M.FA. (l966). After six books of poems were published in Canada, where he worked as an editor, and with his doctorate on Gertrude stein almost completed, he made a commitment to study Hebrew literature in Israel and the United States, and these studies changed his life. One of his translations is the well-known and controversial Book of J (1990), a recovered biblical text. He has taught at many universities and has lectured both nationally and internationally.
Rosenberg's poems are sensual and provocative. He translates the Psalms as blues, maintaining the freshness of American jazz. He continued for many years to create "a poet's Bible," not merely a mistranslation, but a wise and moderate nigun, or improvisation. He gave himself up to a lengthy series of testaments concerning Jewish life and art, and he created the influential anthologies on Judaism for his generation: Congregation (1987), Genesis (1996), Testimony (1989), and others. The main theme and stylistic finesse in Rosenberg's poetry and other writings is the mystery of translating and mistranslating. He always plays with the boundaries between an original and a copy, between a sacred poem and its restoration. Eventually, a reader hardly knows whether the text at hand is an original, homage, essay, or fiction. A poem in The Lost Book of Paradise (1993) radiates this mystery in lines that might be from a lost Hebrew text or from a very contemporary American one: "[T]he creator"
becomes both poet and divinity, bringing the reader "to crawl in a great library / of the natural world, to read / the text of plants." This new poem tries to recreate an old, possibly inverted, sacred poem, to restore a tone from the biblical Song of Songs, and to make readers feel the archaic as something as fresh as a scientific discovery. Immersed in natural and human history, Rosenberg finds in a destroyed forest material for a new Bible. His poems raise a bridge between scientific and linguistic marvels.
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