translator, anthologist, and critic, Jerome Rothenberg is best known for his development of deep image poetry and his strategies of "total translation." An emphasis on oral performance in poetics coupled with a drive to expand the formalistic legacy of what came to be known as New Criticism (see fugitive/agrarian SCHOOL) has motivated his composite career in ethnopoetics. Influenced by the work of both Ezra pound and Gertrude stein, Rothenberg has long labored to revise what he refers to half-ironically and half-seriously as the "great tradition" of Anglo-American modernism (Pre-Faces 100). His early efforts in this regard involve the recovery of forgotten modernists, such as Mina LoY, in an important gathering of avantgarde poetry in English, Revolution of the Word (1974). This anthology's "Pre-Face" illustrates his reasons for resisting the New Critical style that increasingly dominated American poetry in the 1950s, which he dismisses as "little toughening of Tennyson" and attributes to W H. auden, Robert lowell, Allen tate, and Richard wilbur, among others (99). The Pre-Face also, however, illustrates his debt to the experimental modernism that preceded it—and his rationale for recasting that modernism to fit his particular post modern style. Revolution has been supplanted by the innovative Poems for the Millennium (1995), a massive two-volume sourcebook, coedited with Pierre joris, which situates 20th-century poetry in a truly global context. For Rothenberg, poetry has been, first and foremost, a process, and in that process the successful poet creates not only his or her poem but also himself or herself. His own poetic development has involved an amplification of the principles of the artistic dada movement in that he regularly experiments with sounds as sounds, with the perceptual and cognitive possibilities offered by repetition, and with the relationship of the primitive and the contemporary.
Rothenberg was born to first-generation Polish-Jewish immigrants in New York City. He launched his career as editor of the small magazine Poems from the Floating World (1959-63) and operator of Hawk's Well Press, through which he published important works by Robert kelly, Armand schwerner, and Diane wakoski, as well as his own first volume of poems, Black Sun White Sun (1960). But his first publications, significantly, were relatively standard translations of contemporary German poets. As a member of the United States Army, he had been stationed in Mainz, Germany, from 1953 to 1955, after which time he attended Columbia University for graduate work (he had previously earned a B.A. at the City College of New York and an M.A. at the University of Michigan). on the strength of these translations, Lawrence ferlingetti invited him to prepare a collection of postwar German poetry, New Young German Poets, for the Pocket Poets Series, published in 1959 by City Lights Books (see poetry presses). The poems Rothenberg later culled for inclusion in the widely circulated Poems for the Game of Silence, 1960—1970 (1971) demonstrate an engagement with the "deep image" that had been sparked by these translations—particularly those of Paul Celan, a German-speaking East European Jew—and exhibit a commitment to the exploration of his own Jewish heritage. They also lay the groundwork for the subsequent contributions to the fields of poetics and ethnology that led him to found the ethnopoetics movement.
With the help of a few close collaborators—particu-larly the anthropologist Dennis Tedlock and the lyrically gifted Nathaniel tarn—Rothenberg centered ethnopoetics with Technicians of the Sacred (1968), an achronological collection of indigenous North American poems, and consolidated it with Alcheringa (1970-73, 1975-80), "the first magazine of the world's tribal poetries" (Rothenberg and Tedlock "Statement of Intention" 1). Rothenberg has taught at a number of schools, including the University of California, San Diego. Over the course of four decades, he has won numerous awards, including the 1982 American Book Award for Pre-Faces & Other Writings (1981), and three PEN writing awards (1994, for poetry, 1994 and 2002 for translation).
As his work with the deep image edged toward ethnopoetics, Rothenberg began working simultaneously to preserve traditions even as he distorted or dislodged conventions. Within a decade he was considering how the contemporary poet might fill the role of shaman in the tribal sense, as a holy man and healer. The "minimal" poetry of Shaking the Pumpkin (1972) contains a strong element of play and consistently privileges sounds over sense. "The 12th Horse Song of Frank Mitchell (Blue)," a poem in which a sacred singer describes why "Some are & are going to my howinouse [house]," makes clear the use of meaningless syllables and distorted sounds in this tribalized poetics. For this kind of total translation, the unit of composition is an extended breath, and before the poem begins Rothenberg provides a phonetic key to each breath's chanted rhythm: "wnn N nnnn N gahn hawuNnawu nngobaheegwing." Yet individual lines on the page, like these last, gain power only when spoken aloud: "Some are & are gone to my house now naht bahyeee naht — / nwinnng buht nawuNNN baheegwinning."
Throughout his career Rothenberg has emphasized intercultural solidarity and attacked the fashionable postmodern notion that impermeable boundaries separate people, contending instead that the nature of translation "asserts or at least implies a concept of psychic & biological unity" (Pre-Faces 93). He has, for more than 25 years, been unsatisfied with a tepid multicultural-ism, since poetry, in his view, can strive for an intercultural future. Indeed he has written and translated poems that are meant to matter in the social and cultural lives of readers; many times, and in many regis ters, he insists, I will change your mind. His volume A Paradise of Poets (1999) concludes with a statement that encapsulates the theory that underlies this goal: "I do not of course believe that [a paradise of poets] exists in any supernatural or mystical sense, but I have sometimes felt it come to life among my fellow poets, and, even more, in writing—in the body of the poem" (117).
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