About this poet

Born on December 11, 1931 to Morris and Estelle Rothenberg, Jerome Rothenberg was raised in New York City and graduated from the City College of New York in 1952 with a BA in English. He went on to the University of Michigan to receive his Masters in Literature in 1953. From 1953 until 1955, he served in the U.S. Army in Mainz, Germany and afterwards returned to New York and continued his graduate studies at Columbia University until 1959.

Rothenberg began his literary career in the late 1950s working primarily as a translator; he is responsible for the first English appearances of Paul Celan and Günter Grass. He founded the Hawk's Well Press in 1959, and with it, the magazine Poems From the Floating World. Hawk's Well Press published Rothenberg's first book, White Sun, Black Sun, in 1960. He remained in New York City teaching, writing, and publishing until 1972, when he moved to the Allegany Seneca Reservation. In 1974, he moved to California to teach at the University of California, San Diego.

Rothenberg has published over seventy books and pamphlets of poetry. His books have been translated into multiple languages; two of them have been turned into stage plays and performed in several states. He has also assembled, edited and annotated over ten anthologies of experimental and traditional poetry and performance art and has been the editor or co-editor of several magazines. He has translated an enormous amount of world literature, including Pablo Picasso and Vítezslav Nezval. He has been deeply involved in performance art and has written several plays.

Throughout his literary career, Rothenberg has explored or been influenced by global cultural movements, including the Dadaists, North American Indian culture, Japanese literature, his familial connections with the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe, and a vast range of tribal poetics, both verbal and non-verbal.

At the beginning of his career he and fellow poet, Robert Kelly, began the Deep Image movement, coining the term and citing the Spanish 'cante jondo' for 'deep song' and Federico García Lorca as their inspirations. Rothenberg is probably best known for his work in ethnopoetics, a term he coined, involving the synthesis of poetry, linguistics, anthropology, and ethnology. Through it he sought to both to perpetuate fading oral and written literary legacies of the world and render them relevant and necessary to modern literature. His 1968 anthology, Technicians of the Sacred, a collection of African, American, Asian and Oceanic poetics, went beyond mere folk songs and included the texts and scenarios for ritual events and both visual and sound poetry. This anthology has informed a generation of artists of the immense potentiality and value of poetry throughout the world. He also founded and co-edited the first magazine of ethnopoetics, Alcheringa, and has been referred to as the father of American ethnopoetics.

His numerous awards and honors include grants from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts; two PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Awards; two PEN Center USA West Translation Awards; and the San Diego Public Library’s Local Author Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1997 he received a Doctorate of Letters from the State University of New York and was elected to the World Academy of Poetry in 2001.

Rothenberg has taught at the City College of New York, the State University of New York, Binghamton, and spent the majority of his teaching career at the University of California, San Diego, where he remains an emeritus professor of visual arts and literature.

A Selected Bibliography

A Seneca Journal (1978)
That Dada Strain (1983)
New Selected Poems, 1970-1985 (1986)
Poems for the Millennium: The University of California Book of Modern & Postmodern Poetry (1995)
Seedings & Other Poems (1996)
A Paradise of Poets: New Poems and Translations (1999)
Poems for the Game of Silence (2000)
A Book of Witness: Spells & Gris-Gris (2003)
Triptych: Poland/1931, Khurbn, The Burning Babe (2007)

The Chicago Poem

Jerome Rothenberg, 1931
				       for Ted Berrigan & Alice Notley

the bridges of Chicago
are not the bridges of Paris
or the bridges of Amsterdam
except they are a definition
almost no one bothers to define
like life full of surprises
in what now looks to be the oldest
modern American city
o apparition of the movie version of
the future circa 1931
the bridges soon filled with moving lines
of people workers' armies
in the darkness of first December visit
along the water
bend of the Chicago River
the cliffs of architecture like palisades
at night the stars in windows
stars in the poem you wrote a sky
through which the el train pulls its lights
in New York streets of childhood
is like a necklace (necktie) in the language of
old poems old memories
old Fritz Lang visions of the night before
the revolution the poor souls
of working people we all love
fathers or uncles
lost to us in dreams & gauze
of intervening 1960s
there are whole tribes of Indians
somewhere inhabiting
a tunnel paradise
they will wait it out still
with a perfect assurance of things to come
everyone so well read in old novels
maybe the economics of disaster Ted
depressions of the spirit
so unlike the bright promise of
the early years
gloss of the young life easing death
atop a hill in Lawrence Kansas
the afternoon sky became aluminum
(illumination)
played on a tambourine to calm
the serpent fear
the material corpse that leaves us vulnerable
everyone will come to it I think
I do not think you dig it
getting so out of hand so far away
but we remain & I will
make another visit soon
hope we can take a walk
together it is night & we are
not so bad off have turned forty
like poets happy with our sadness
we are still humans in a city overhung
with ancient bridges
you pop your pill I laugh
look back upon the future of
America & remember
when we both wrote our famous poems called
Modern Times

From New Selected Poems. Copyright © 1986 by Jerome Rothenberg. Reprinted with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

From New Selected Poems. Copyright © 1986 by Jerome Rothenberg. Reprinted with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Jerome Rothenberg

Jerome Rothenberg

Poet, editor, and translator, Jerome Rothenberg has published over seventy books and pamphlets of poetry and is known for being at the forefront of American ethnopoetics.

by this poet

poem
My name is smaller
than it sounds.
I work & polish it
until a light
shines through.
I thrust a thorn under 
my tongue.
I drop the little stones
behind me. Striding
I can feel my height extend
up to the rafters.
My voice is thin,
still thinner
is the space between
my footsteps
& the earth.
I do not want
poem
[1]

Up there—or down here
for that matter—the screams
rush around us
Ellipses dismember the tower
of Babel, crapulent city,
enraged zigzag women still sit in
with feathers, on porticos
Men with pale foreheads
shout poems from its rooftops,
crushing its grasses,
city that's buried in words,
like “cypress”
poem
the zig zag mothers of the gods
of science       the lunatic fixed stars
& pharmacies
fathers who left the tents of anarchism
unguarded
the arctic bones
strung out on saint germain
like tom toms
living light bulbs
aphrodisia
“art is junk” the urinal
says “dig a hole
“& swim in it”
a message from the grim