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Jerome Rothenberg


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)

Jerome Rothenberg
Photo credit: Adine Sagalyn

By This Poet


The Case for Memory

I was amok & fearless
twice deceived
for which I sought out
in a tree.  Too carelessly
I reached for love
& beaten down
I found you
in a froth or frenzy
spent my days around
the pan yards.
I would ask no help from those
whose trust is weak
but I would buy the latest
& the least. 
I live for something practical
--the case for memory--
I set one foot into the space
the others leave abandoned.
Not your lord or slave
I meet you
in an equal clash of wills
& face you down.
I only touch the ground 
on Sundays

45 I Give Up My Identity

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 you
calling me
except at the allotted
times. I scratch my head
because I know
it's empty. Hot & cold
are equal terms.
I give up my identity
to write to you.
The notice on the board says:
Stay at home
Be vigilant
The aim of medicine is
I can hardly wait until
Signals everywhere 
are fraught
with terror.
In the deepest
waters spread around 
the globe
there is a sense
of life so full
no space exists 
outside it.
I will go on writing
till I drop
& you can read my words
beyond my caring.

Autobiography 1997 The First One Hundred

   1  Archipelago of the wandering dream

   2  A castle with two bodies

   3  The figure of Rosa Luxemburg among the animals in cages

   4  Midnight forest

   5  Trains circling below the icy waters

   6  A meeting in the bourse

   7  The men come into the small locker room & order drinks

   8  Picasso wears a hat with roses

   9  He has shoes aglow with little lights
 10  Electricity runs along the floor & in between the tables

 11  Picasso & Rosa Luxemburg converse

 12  Her face is the face of our old friend Hannah Weiner

 13  "Time is abolished" someone says "the world is o'er"

 14  Letters dance into the infinite

 15  She wears the infinite around her neck

 16  He keeps another infinite inside one earring

 17  They live in a world made up of infinites

 18  How small a thought it takes to fill the world

 19  When we gut up to dance the java it is 5 o'clock

 20  Robert Filliou acts the role of Picasso & doesn't like it

 21  It makes us look too small

 22  A crowd of diplomats crosses the first rhine bridge

 23  There is a place called holy mountain where the ghost of Goebbels wanders

 24  Picasso the tap dancer

 25  Rosa Luxemburg the temptress on the hill she holds a faded banner

 26  A group of soldiers pokes her from the rear

 27  A castle opens up

 28  The lady with the playing cards is only half familiar

 29  I make a phone call to Lynn Lonidier I have to read her book

 30  Twice Rosa Luxemburg shows us her breasts

 31  Picasso & Paul Blackburn are throwing a ball back & forth

 32  It hits Zukofsky who calls out in pain "they hit the poet"

 33  A ladder hangs in space

 34  I climb it & look down

 35  The soldiers of the revolution block every street

 36  A line of cars reaches the Seine

 37  Tomorrow when you go shopping bring back some cheese

 38  Exchange the news with the Jabèses

 39  I want all my friends to live where I live especially the dead

 40  A banquet in a factory 

 41  The statue of a woman standing with spread legs between her legs a fire

 42  A table piled with roasted meats & spirits

 43  I ravished you

 44  They embraced at length

 45  The armies of drunk artists spread out through the forests

 46  Children with their throats cut open

 47  In a room with photographs tacked to the walls

 48  The mouths are packed with gravel

 49  They run the women down for pleasure

 50  When the earth shakes bulbs drop from the chandeliers

 51  An artist trembles in his atelier

 52  In the cold air fingers burn & stretch

 53  A holy sacrament begins

 54  He swallows air & spits out fire

 55  The gardens drop their leaves the leaves crack under foot

 56  The carnival comes rushing by

 57  We watch it from a window in the bombed-out town

 58  My fist is beating on a stranger's vest

 59  The forest comes alive with sounds of cuckoos

 60  Clocks & death our password

 61  In the night George Oppen still a soldier guards our house

 62  Disney among the metaphysicals

 63  Picasso in the Louvre hiding with his loot

 64  We are all too human

 65  She was not the first victim nor will she be the last

 66  Napoleon standing on the altar of the world

 67  The battle is engaged

 68  The beasts in the fountain cry with pain

 69  December is the cruelest month

 70  There is an avant-garde that cannot be defeated

 71  Robert Duncan rides his elevator up to heaven

 72  It drops us back to earth

 73  The airplane rushes blindly up the city streets

 74  Find me a place to hide and I will love you dearly dearly

 75  Here is a beer hall called the Holy Ghost

 76  My socks in tatters

 77  A geranium

 78  The way to rub out wine stains is to pour on salt

 79  A soldier with a line of watches on each arm

 80  The rat inside the lion's cage

 81  Someone follows someone up the hill & stops

 82  "Why shouldn't we be a live?" he asks & no one answers

 83  She has a stone to mark her grave her friend has none

 84  Christ in a woman's dress with hefty boobs

 85  I might have known it

 86  He pours a black blob on the sheet & blows on it until it dries

 87  The circle of their friends draws closer

 88  The retrieval of a body in the early dawn

 89  It is an accident of weather

 90  From too much the process leads into a dearth of themes

 91  My country is an amphitheater

 92  A peacock bed pharaoh the lord of Egypt

 93  A nickel flattened by a trolley spreading lead across the street

 94  They slide the body back onto the bed & leave

 95  Down in the restaurant a sailor lying on a table sleeping

 96  Steps with blue messages are everywhere

 97  Blue tambourine blue nails blue poppy seeds blue powdered hair

 98  Too tardy & too premature for god

 99  Tell Rosa Luxemburg to wait for Monday

100  It is eight a.m. in Paris 

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