Future, Present, & Past:

~~ Giving itself latitude and leisure to take any premise or inquiry to its furthest associative conclusion.
Critical~~ Ready to apply, to itself and its object, the canons of reason, evidence, style, and ethics, up to their limits.
Traditional~~ At home and at large in the ecosystem of practice and memory that radically nourishes the whole person.

Oυδεὶς άμουσος εἰσίτω

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Brief Blog Reviews IX: Poems and Poetics

This month's Brief Blog Review, of Jerome Rothenberg's Poems and Poetics, is one I have planned to do for a while. I am glad I waited until now, though, because it now follows quick on the heels of the publication by Black Widow Press of Eye of Witness: a Jerome Rothenberg Reader, a retrospective look at Rothenberg's extremely long, prolific, and important career as one of our foremost poet-critics. It would be an exaggeration, but a forgivable one, to call Rothenberg the father of comparative poetics. His early anthologies, Technicians of the Sacred and Symposium of the Whole, introduced many of us to things like Navajo creation stories and the Chinese Book of Songs. To read these things side-by-side with Plato or The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, in a setting like Rothenberg's which so clearly bespoke respect and care for the original context of the work, was for me a formative experience. Here the assumption was at work that one could meaningfully compare Robert Duncan, songs from the Bantu or the Cherokee, Li Po, or Lady Murasaki, without doing violence to any of them, neither handing them over to the careful handling of experts nor slapping them together as though they were all "saying the same thing," but simply treating them as all mutually relevant in a tremendous ongoing conversation that it would take the rest of one's life to begin to enter oneself. Reading these books in my early 20's permanently cured me of any fear of trespassing.

When I discovered, a couple of years ago, that Rothenberg was blogging, I had two thoughts. One was a kind of not being able to believe the good luck. The other was, Of course. Rothenberg comes out of the great experimental and democratic tradition of poetry, that welcomes all comers, and will try anything twice. Of course he would jump into this medium with both feet. Of course he would self-publish. Of course he would put his email address up. His is the tradition of William Carlos Williams, Stanley Burnshaw, and Guy Davenport -- of great learning matched with great generosity.

This lineage, moreover, is a stream of thought that has kept faith with the conception of poetry as a wisdom tradition. It is rooted in a worldwide practice of myth and storytelling and singing, a practice that has not learned to despair even in the face of everything the twentieth century could throw at it. You can just splash around over at Poems and Poetics and not come to the end for a long while. Rothenberg sometimes posts up to two or three times a week, and his archives go back five years. You will wind up learning much, much more about world literature. But you might also come away nourished and steeled for the fight.

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