|You’ve been around the poetry scene forever. When we started first writing poetry in
1965, you were already well known and you’ve been going ever since. You’ve seen
the 1950's, 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's, 2000's and the 10's, and knowing that arc of so
much time, can you give some impressions that you have about poetry in general?
How it’s been received? For example, did the experimental age end in the 1970's as
some people say or has it always been the same?
Jerome: It didn’t end in the 70's but my experience was that in the 50's and 60's into
the 70's was what I thought of as “the second great awakening of experimental
modernism,” not just in the United States but internationally. There were certain things
that were happening, there were some assumptions people were making that could
not easily be repeated in the decades that followed. So obviously other poets have
come along, other movements, but I don’t think with that kind of sense that this was a
renewal. It wasn’t a first go at it—that had happened earlier in the 20th century—but
certainly it was with a sense that one was coming into new and uncharted territory.
Do you sense when the third awakening will be coming?
Jerome: I don’t know. I hope soon!
How does this relate to the work that you and others are doing now and into the
Jerome: To my mind the whole avant-garde proposition is that you are always laying
the ground for something that’s going to take root. Whether it really works out that way
is another matter, but it’s certainly a presupposition of avant-gardism. The other thing
with the tradition of the older avant-garde—before my time but then into my time
also—was that it had a political-social dimension. One was an idea that poetry was to
be connected to a transformation with other things. I think it’s far more difficult to hold
onto that today than it was, say, in the 60's and 70's. There were some
transformations that began with the poets and poetry of that time that entered into the
general experience, but much less transformation of life through poetry and certain
forms of art making. I don’t feel that people today are making those claims. So that
may be more realistic, but it’s somewhat disheartening.
Diane: In point of fact, there are a lot of transformations that have happened not
because of the poetry, but probably not to some degree uninfluenced by what
happened. All [was] together in the change, and poetry was a part of it. It’s really quite
a different world than it was.
Jerome: Looking back, let’s say this was only one part of the activity of an avant-
garde. There was a proclamation in post-World War I time, in the 1920s, in what
Breton called the “surrealist revolution,” followed shortly thereafter—also through
Breton—in what he called “surrealism at the service of the revolution.” He was aligning
with the Communist Party, the Trotsky side of that rather than the Stalinist side of that.
Breton was much more connected to Trotsky, but people like Éluard, Aragon and
Tzara were with the Communists who were then the Stalinists, and the disasters that
came in the wake of that. It’s not so easy to put poetry at the service of the revolution
rather than leaving the initial revolution of the poets’ surrealism.
Breton also said that the surrealist act par excellence was to shoot a gun into a crowd
of people randomly, but it doesn’t resonate in quite the same way after all the
shootings that have taken place.
Diane: The infinite wisdom of the poet is not necessarily to be relied on.
Jerome: And yet there certainly are personal transformations that can happen in the
course of making poetry.
You’ve said that ethnopoetics, rather than a course of study, is a course of action. I
was wondering if you could elaborate on what this means to you, what it is to you.
Jerome: Well, for me it is in a certain sense a course of study, something that I study,
that I’m tremendously interested in, that is, to get the range of poetry and the
possibilities of poetry internationally, globally, trans-culturally and so on. And I think as
a poet with a sense that all of that comes back to affect the possibilities of the poetry
that I might write or people of my generation or time and place might write, so there is
a kind of action that comes out of it involving the practice of poetry. And beyond that,
once one is touching on the ethno-poetic, there is the possibility that it can have some
influence on the greater world in the way we see each other, we see ourselves and
see others in relation to ourselves, because modes of poetry are also involved, ways
of thinking and acting. I would like to see it operating in that kind of global perspective.
As something that’s lived and practiced as well as studied in the abstract?
Jerome: Yes, leading to a further practice of poetry and thought, and the way we
perform ourselves for ourselves and others.
Do you mean performing poetry?
Is there a corresponding transformation of consciousness involved in this practice?
Jerome: There may be, if I know what you’re getting at. For some people, some of it
depends in part on what you bring to the practice, or what you want to come out of the
practice. Does the practice of poetry or the performance of poetry lead to forms of
spiritual experience of altered states of consciousness, union with the supernatural
powers otherwise outside of our control, do things like that happen? Well, I think for
many people it would be the case. Myself, I would not make any claims of that sort,
although my sense is that poetry in its long history relates to all of those things. I am
very much a secularist, because religion causes so many bad, disastrous things.
Yet there are certain poems that have the feel of ancient/modern religious
incantation, working with tones and sounds rather than words and their meanings.
Jerome: Again, I think I know the poems that you are referring to. And that's in the
area of what I was calling “total translation,” in which working with traditional Indian
chanted music I experimented with translating not only the words but the play of sound
that otherwise tends to be pushed aside—working with distortions of words—the
syllables that are interjected that have no translatable meaning—working with that.
Give me the question again.
It was about vocalizing chanted poetry, reaching for equivalent modes of translation.
Jerome: As an auditor, as a listener, I have the experience of the original. Through the
assistance of others—this is a form of translation—I translate it. But what I perform is
not the original; I don’t perform the Indian as such, maybe a little bit. And I shouldn’t
with some of those Seneca songs. I do my version of what they sound like in Seneca
with the more complicated Navajo Horse songs. I make absolutely no attempt to do
the Navajo but, with assistance, I translate the words; I translate the sounds into
sounds that are more appropriately my language; I translate the music so that you’re
not hearing Indian music, either. When I was first doing that, giving a reading in Iowa,
somebody came up to me and said, “I’m planning to do a movie about cowboys and
Indians, and I’d really like to use the chanting as the musical score for that.” I said,
“No.” That would have been impossible.
Diane: It wouldn’t have been. A soundtrack! I think you missed a big commission.
Jerome: It depends on the movie. It might have worked in Blazing Saddles.
You lived in close proximity with native people for several years while doing
ethnopoetic research, didn’t you?
Diane: We lived with Seneca Indians and that’s really the only group—not visiting,
which we’ve done with others, but we lived on the Seneca Reservation over a period
of, say, ten to fifteen years.
Jerome: In two of those years we lived there without leaving, the rest of the time were
Diane: We rented a house. And one summer in 1968 we rented a place right outside
the reservation for three months, and then 1972-74 we lived on the reservation.
Jerome: But to say that, which is true, might also be misleading, because the
Allegheny-Seneca Reservation has on its land a city called Salamanca, which leases
from the Seneca Nation on a 99-year basis [that expired in 1993, after which the
Seneca tried to reclaim the land but were thwarted in the courts].
Diane: And that’s over.
Jerome: They re-leased it for another 99 years. Salamanca is a small, western New
York town on the reservation. There are of course Indians living there. There are
Indians also living on non-leased Indian land—two Seneca communities. We lived in
Diane: We rented our house from a public library next door.
Jerome: The Seneca Indians there were basically working-class Indians, steel
workers… I don’t think too much railroad work was being done by the time we were
there, but Salamanca was a railroad town, even more so in the 19th century.
Diane: They worked in the forests logging, stuff like that, furniture factory nearby. It
was one of those upstate economically-depressed towns, so a lot of people didn’t
What kind of cigarettes do you smoke?
Jerome: We buy them on an Indian reservation in California, and we’re not exactly
sure what the connection is to the Seneca Nation. There may be some connection.
It seems so fitting.
Diane: I know. It seems that way to us, too.
Jerome: It keeps us smoking, because it’s very inexpensive. So if we’re going to kill
ourselves we may at least do it at a lower price.
Diane: So our activities were almost exclusively with people on the Indian reservation
participating in Indian things. Our families were adopted. We had very close
relationships with a lot of people.
Jerome: And with a lot of age difference. I guess the time we started going there we
were in our early thirties to our early forties.
Diane: We went first in 1967.
Jerome: We were entering into middle age.
Was this around the time you started teaching at the New School for Social
Jerome: It was. We came there because I had done Technicians of the Sacred. As I
was finishing it, Gary Snyder introduced us to the anthropologist, Stanley Diamond,
who had done work with the Senecas. Stanley scolded me for doing all my work in the
library, so he sent us with letters of introduction to the Allegheny Reservation in
western New York State, and we connected there. Stanley later set up a course for
me to teach at the New School.
Diane: We went in the winter of 1967, drove up with a letter of introduction. People
were nice to us.
Jerome: And our almost two-year old son.
Jerome: We came as a family.
Diane: And then we were invited back for ceremonies a few weeks later. I guess we
probably went back for “Green Corn.” And then we spent the summer there. Jerry
worked with the singers.
Jerome: And I was moving into doing Shaking the Pumpkin. The title, Shaking the
Pumpkin, comes from a Seneca Indian medicine ceremony.
Were the Seneca you lived among still practicing the old ways?
Jerome: Some part of the community was carrying on the traditions. One should not
be carried away by that because most of the Senecas at that point were not
Diane: No, most of them were Christians. But the whole American Indian Movement
(AIM) was really active and there were things happening. People started getting
interested in being Indians. People came back to the longhouse, not so much to
participate themselves but to get their kids Indian names, which came through the
longhouse. But the Senecas also had a lot of disruption just a little before we came
there. The reason Stanley Diamond knew them was that there was a dam being built
that they had fought for many years not to have built. And it finally was built in 1965
and completely reshaped the reservation communities. They were a people basically
who lived along the Allegheny River, and there were clusters along the river where
people lived. They were working out toward this river, and when this dam was built, all
the river was dammed up. So first of all it made it very risky to be in the flood plain.
Everybody had to move away from there. And they moved them into two
communities of new housing so, with the exception of a few holdouts who were
staying in their old houses,everyone was in new tract housing, which they hated.
Jerome: And we came up there shortly after that had happened. So there was still a
degree of disruption because of that, and the story of the Seneca’s fight against the
Kinzua Dam is covered in Edmund Wilson’s book Apologies to the Iroquois.
Buffy St. Marie sings about the Kinzua Dam in her song about broken treaties, “Now
that the Buffalo’s Gone.”
Jerome: The Senecas didn’t tend to be a very politicized group. It was not really A.I.
M. territory, but they had their own politics in relation to what was happening to them.
They tried to go to the federal government to stop them, but it didn’t work. I think they
tried going to the United Nations.
Diane: They appealed to everybody.
Before World War II, it seems that poetry was held in high esteem as the fountain of
all the arts. Not only poets but painters such as Picasso and others also wrote poetry,
as did architects and everyone else with creative juices. Now it’s more like poetry has
become the poor cousin of the arts.
Jerome: While as a genre poetry may be somewhat marginalized or in decline, the
poetic in society, whether in the title of a film, photo or book, or in multiple other forms
(unfortunately also in advertising), seems as alive and vibrant as ever. People’s
awareness to the poetic in language seems acute as distinct from poetry as a literary
genre with book sales and other societal metrics.
Apollinaire praised the immediacy of advertisements, and Mayakovsky worked on
early Soviet propaganda.
Diane: Advertising was a big thing, wasn’t it?
The simulation replaces the reality.
Diane: It’s called co-optation.
Is there still a possibility of literary and art vanguards leading cultural change?
Jerome: Well, yes. What I saw there was opening up to the poetry—the ritual, the
performance of indigenous peoples—also looking at the place that all of that had
within those cultures. That was part of the poetry temptation—to try to make
something like that happen—in our own time. And some of this does happen again
and again, but I don’t think it’s come into our culture, our world, in the way that we had
hoped. There is more of a sense now that to which the term “niche” can be applied.
It's happening somewhere in our world, and it also spills over into areas of art-making
and performance that reach many more people than poetry as we know it reaches, but
I think it also loses something in that process. But things go on there that make us feel
a kinship to, not separate from that.
Jerome: That the nature of popular music has changed from 50 years ago, let’s take
that number. That has changed.
50 years ago would just about nail it at around 1964.
Jerome: Which was a big year for the emergence of the Beatles, Dylan and so forth.
And that was a different kind of popular music, popular song, pushing into the
territory—sometimes merging with the territory—staked out by the poets.
Dylan claimed Rimbaud as a poetic precursor, the Beatles had various poetic
influences and Artaud was a primary source for the Happening as a theatrical form.
Diane: I’d actually be very curious to know how many of the kids who participate in
slams, let’s say, for example, so many young people making poetry, taking occasions
to do it socially, how many of them really know about visionary poets like [Arthur]
Rimbaud and [Antonin] Artaud? I don’t think that Rimbaud and Artaud are so obscure.
Maybe they know more because of their behavior or things like Rimbaud being
young—idiosyncratic things—not necessarily the work, but I bet most of them know.
Artaud’s The Theater and Its Double inspired experimental theater groups in the late
60’s and early 70’s.
Diane: The sixties were an extraordinarily transformative period.
Jerome: Yeah, but going even deeper, digging back in time and digging into cultures
some of which still existed—poetry is not called poetry—that still existed in the world.
And then, for my part of the poetry world, the whole history of poetry in the West
joined together with a growing sense of poetry in the East, although those terms are
very mixed up, because Japan and China are west of us—they should really be the far
west rather than the far east, but we get a lot of things mixed up.
Diane: Yeah, I remember somebody remarking about how much more influenced the
west coast was by looking west in terms of visual arts.
The Pacific Rim.
Jerome: Your mentor, Kenneth Rexroth, John. That was something he would stress.
Kenneth Rexroth wrote in the 1970's about you: “No one has dug deeper into the
roots of poetry.”
Jerome: I remember that. Yeah, I think I did something that Kenneth would have liked
to do, and it was very kind of him to recognize that in what I was doing, because it
was still fairly early along for me. Kenneth was a supporter from the beginning, and I
believe even that connection that was then made with New Directions and my own
poetry had something to do with him, who was their advisor and James Laughlin’s
I was also very lucky to have had the opportunity to do all of these books. These are
difficult books to get out, they’re big books. Technicians of the Sacred  came at
a fortunate time when commercial publishers thought, for better or worse, that there
was something for them in poetry. And when I came up with the idea of doing this kind
of anthology, Anne Freegood at Doubleday/Anchor jumped to do it. A few years
earlier, it could not have happened, and I think a few years after it could not have
happened. It came at the right time, and I think I have been fortunate with a number of
the things that followed. Not always fortunate but for the most part.
Kenneth taught a three-trimester course. In the first part he used your Technicians of
the Sacred as a textbook, and with it we studied a trimester on pre-modern cultures.
We discussed orality and other aspects relevant to the texts. The second trimester
was on European and American avant-garde poetry in which, among other subjects,
we discussed connections between the two. The third trimester was on Chinese and
Japanese poetry, tilting towards Asia. Had there been four, I don’t know what would
have come next.
Jerome: I don’t know if it would have been under the aegis of Technicians of the
Sacred, but in addition to Europe and Asia, the Ancient Americas were opening up to
us, much of which no longer existed. That was part of a deep history of poetry.
Diane: And to some degree the whole Latin American scene.
And people in other contexts were discovering Tibetan and Southeast Asian cultures
with Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Your work was also in parallel with Euro-
American culture discovering something beyond itself.
Jerome: The ethnopoetics we were working through had a focus on what poets at the
time were calling not primitive, but tribal and oral culture. Also, other complex societies
and poetries and the discovery under the heading of Technicians of the Sacred of
substantial poetries everywhere towards what I have come to call an omnipoetics,
rather than just an ethnopoetics. And this includes Western and European as well as
African and Asian poetry everywhere! And I feel that just going into it gives me a
sense of invigoration.
When did this segue into reaching back to Judaic sources in your poetry and
Jerome: Well, for me, at one point, really in the course of putting together Technicians
of the Sacred, around that time I began to explore ancestral sources of my own in a
world of Jewish mystics, thieves and madmen. That was for about 15-20 years, and it
was a matter of great concern to me, something that I was mining, turning all the
means at my disposal into the creation of a poetry with this as its primary focus.
Poland/1931 , the anthology of big Jewish book [A Big Jewish Book: Poems &
other visions of the Jews from tribal times to present], or exile and the word. It felt
important to me if I was mining those others that…
… you did not forget your own roots.
Diane: I remember one Indian woman at a conference was taking exception to some
of the way Jerome translated Navajo things and so on, which frequently happened.
And she said, “Why don’t you study your own people instead of studying us?” Which
is true. And then the other thing was that the Seneca, our friends, used to say that they
loved the idea that we were Jewish because we were tribal people. I thought that was
cute. They were making a common equivalency.
Jerome: It also opened up a complex series of possibilities, because there was more
to it than we were taking for granted while I was getting into it. Much more existed
there than a kind of sentimental searching for roots so that I was able to move from
Poland/1931. In looking for mystics thieves and madmen I was also trying to overturn
certain preconceptions of what it was about, and also expanded it into the anthology,
into the Big Jewish Book.
Did the novelist Isaac Bashevis Singer have an impact on this work?
Jerome: Oh yeah, again and again. Singer was for me an important source, and there
is a lot of Singer in Poland/1931.
Diane: Oh yes, oh yes.
Jerome: I met Singer a couple of times and asked him—I know what you do, but what
about Jewish poetry? And Singer said, “Yeah, well, Jewish poetry…” He didn’t have
much to say about it, and yet his vision was a factor in trying to create that which I
was creating in Poland/1931.
You must have met so many interesting poets and artists in your lifetime. Who
comes to mind as people who fascinated and interested you?
Jerome: Well there were poets that were for me part of an immediate circle of friends.
Early along there was David Antin and Robert Kelley, Armand Schwerner and Diane
Diane: Paul Blackburn.
Jerome: Paul Blackburn came into it. Jackson MacLow opened all sorts of
possibilities for me and for others, different ways to come into the work of the poem.
The emphasis on chance—the possibilities of appropriating and collaging other
material—both from previous poetries and from life in general. So Jackson was doing
very interesting work. There was a lot of interchange. We were not just solitary poets.
But whatever our solitary moments were, there was also an interaction. There was
also the sense of somehow, without plotting it, a work was being done in common that
we could learn from each other.
Diane: And there were also a lot of collaborative publishing operations in the 60's and
70's, and everyone was putting out little magazines. People were working together on
doing those. It was very exciting in that period and it still is.
Jerome: There is still a lot of that. And a lot of this activity is because of well-known
technological changes into the area of the digital. The web has opened up a whole
area of publication, which I don’t find threatening. I’ve been doing a blog (http:
//poemsandpoetics.blogspot.com) as a form of publication since June 2008, something like
Diane: And an incredible amount of material has gone up on it.
Jerome: If you can write it, you can make it public as long as you are able to afford a
computer and the electricity.
Diane: And of course the nice thing about poets is that they don’t expect to make any
money from it. The big problem about all this electronic publication is with novelists
who think they might make money and how do you make it, how do you monetize it.
Poets never care about how do you monetize. It’s never been monetized, so it’s much
How do you feel about your new book, Barbaric Vast & Wild: A Gathering of Outside
and Subterranean Poetry from Origins to Present (eds. Jerome Rothenberg & John
Bloomberg-Rissman, Boston, Black Widow Press, 2015), in relation to past works?
Jerome: Well, the first book of poems brought a special pleasure with it, but also with
a number of books afterwards. The other day a book arrived—a translation of an
older work into French—a work that had been lost for a while. So we thought that
translation had disappeared and then it turned up again. That was very exciting, but
the appearance of new books has also been exciting. I can’t remember way back
when. The first book was New Young German Poets (ed. & tr. by JR, City Lights
Books #11, 1959) also White Sun Black Sun (New York: Hawk's Well Press, 1960),
and there was a lot of excitement when it happened.
You’ve had over 100 books, but this particular book you seem to be reaching out to
the outer bounds of poetry.
Jerome: I realize that with all of the assemblages that this is something I’ve been
doing since the beginning. In Barbaric Vast & Wild I’m open to reaching out in all
You seem even more inclusive and broader.
Jerome: Yes, in Technicians of the Sacred (University of California Press, 1968)
there was a focus on what was then being called—and I was initially calling—
“primitive” and “archaic” poetry. And then I dismissed the notion of the “primitive,” but I
didn’t dismiss it entirely, because the anthropologist Stanley Diamond exerted
pressure to keep the primitive in mind as a revolutionary counter to other things in our
own culture. But there was a focus there on indigenous languages and cultures and the
tribal and oral, and therefore a tendency not to get into the written literature. Although
in the first revision of Technicians of the Sacred I brought the written in, and even in
the original Technicians of the Sacred there were some works like the I-Ching that
were written works in their own time. The prohibition on the written was not absolute,
even then. But by the time I get to Barbaric Vast & Wild, everything is possible, so I
begin in an exaggerated way to speak of the new project or the total project as
involving an Omnipoetics—not just an Ethnopoetics, but an Omnipoetics. When I
began to think of doing an anthology of outside or outsider poetry, I did have in mind
as others do, what the French call art brut, and what more recently has come to be
called “outsider.” So I wanted that as part of it, but then it began to expand away from
that into other forms inside the purview of what one thinks of in ordinary terms as
“poetry,” and other things in which an active process of what I like to call poesis is in
play, that would not previously have been brought into a poetry context, but in
Barbaric Vast & Wild I am free to bring in anything that I want to bring into it, and that
is what the assemblages are about.
Diane, what do you think of Barbaric Vast & Wild?
Diane: Well, I think it’s very much part of the project. It’s expansive, it’s inclusive, it
brings in all those threads that always existed. The historical, the mad—all those
themes that have always been a part of his work. So it seems of a piece with
everything else, but it’s a very different work. Really it’s a different book in tone, it
seems to me.
Jerome: Even Robert Duncan’s description of “symposium of the whole,” which we
used as a title of a book we did together [Symposium of the Whole: A Range of
Discourse Toward an Ethnopoetics, edited by Jerome & Diane Rothenberg in 1983],
a new symposium in which all of the old, excluded orders must be included. So that
involves also the proletarian—the poetry of workers. When we did a launch for the
book in New York, Charles Bernstein took part in it, who is quite remarkable. He
focused his selection of readings from Barbaric Vast & Wild on Joe Hill on the tragic
side of Mother Goose, and on Charles Reznikov’s found poetry about the tragic
deaths of working people. Charles sensed very much that this was one of the threads
in the book.
Diane: And that’s an exciting thread and rather hard to come by. The material is hard
to come by, and you really have to make an effort to do it.
Jerome: Yeah, I guess it’s an ambition to bring in all the old excluded orders into it.
How much farther out can you get than this? You’ve done all the inclusion and
expanding and it seems you’ve reached the outer edges of what is out there. You’ve
reached a point from which I can’t imagine where it could go from here.
Jerome: The one other project I had in mind—I hate to say this but I may be too old to
carry through on it—was to do an anthology of the Americas, to bring English
language North American together with Spanish and Portuguese of Central and South
American, and French, as well as all the indigenous languages. I began to work with
that and plan with the Mexican poet Heriberto Yépez. I don’t know if we’ll follow
through on it, Heriberto has also got other things on his mind, although he’s less than
half my age.
Diane: Although he’s also very enthusiastic about it, but he does have a lot of
demands on his time, as does Jerry. It’s potentially a terrific project, because at least
initially, it’s a matter of collecting materials.
Jerome: And doing an assemblage that as far as I know has never existed in any
serious way. So that’s not particularly a project of “outside-inside,” but another thing
that seems to me needs doing. There would be something interesting in a book that
brought Darío and Whitman, Pound, Vallejo, and Neruda… all of us together with all of
Diane: And don’t forget the Canadians! They always feel so excluded. Mixing North
and South American art has been a theme for quite a while.
Jerome: When certain things of mine are translated into Spanish—particularly Latin
American Spanish—the question comes up about the use of the term America. I have
tended to insist that when I say “America” in a poem, I don’t want that translated as
“United States.” There is an idea of “America” that in my mind includes the Americas—
plural—and certainly that would make sense. In certain circumstances one wants to
say “North America.” When Blake, for example, writes America a Prophesy (1793),
from that vantage point it’s all of the New World, which was not so new, anyway.
How do you view your own oeuvre?
Jerome: I’m just a poet putting together books as assemblages in which some of the
works are interchangeable. In no sense would I claim any type of authoritativeness.
The books are my assemblages or assemblages done in collaboration with usually
with one other person: Pierre Joris for a couple of the anthologies, Jeffrey Robinson
for another, John Bloomberg-Rissman for a recent one. I find that I like collaborations
and working with others. With Diane we did a more academic book, an anthology of
readings. I wouldn’t think of that as a grand collage, and I wouldn’t claim it as
authoritative. It’s just that no one is likely to come across doing a second version of it.
I want the work included to read well even though there may be a degree of betrayal of
the original work, a departure from the literal translation.
You’ve always picked good translators and the works stand up in the original, but
your commentaries and footnotes add a dimension that really opens up the texts.
Jerome: Doing the commentary, which we’ve done since Technicians of the Sacred,
is something that really surprised me. I didn’t come into it writing criticism or essays,
but it worked for me to do that. And I also wanted to make the tie-in to what we, and
our predecessors, were doing as contemporary and experimental poets to show
those connections. The second part of the book was also a kind of collage and
anthology, which I was able to say things partly in explanation of the poems which
were included in the first part, and partly in relation to other ideas of poetry and the
making of poems.
What is your next project?
Jerome: My next project is an expansion of Technicians of the Sacred. It’ll be the
second expansion. The first Technicians of the Sacred was a worldwide anthology
which omitted Europe, because I didn’t at that point know what to do with Europe. By
1985, which was seventeen years after the publication of the first Technicians of the
Sacred, I thought I knew what to do with Europe. The main change was the addition of
Europe and the ancient Near East, essentially. And that was in 1985, which was
already thirty years ago. Then Eric Schmidt at UC Press got in touch with me because
the 50th anniversary of Technicians of the Sacred is coming along , about
doing another expanded version. And we began to discuss it, and I said one thing I
would like to add to it is to change the ending from a kind of tragic lament for all of this
to be cognizant of the survivals and revivals and re-inventions that have been taking
place. This is the main thing that I’m working on now.
Diane: So in other words, you’re ending on an optimistic note of where things are
going, because there have been an incredible amount of changes and some number
of things stimulated precisely by the work that Jerry did. Models of what could be
done and ways of doing them. It’s amazing what people are doing now, following
things that Jerry and Dennis Tedlock and others have invented and suggested.
Jerome: I only came to know later that Technicians of the Sacred and Shaking the
Pumpkin had that kind of impact. I didn’t really absorb that at the beginning, except
Kenneth and others were exceptions to it in expressing their enthusiasm for what I had
done. I became aware of that with the French translation of Technicians of the
Sacred, which began about ten years ago. People began to come forward and
indicate the impact that Technicians of the Sacred had on them.
Did it actually take forty years?
Jerome: Until I could feel some confidence.
* * *
|The first time I encountered Jerome Rothenberg’s work was in 1964, when I saw his translation of The
Deputy, Rolf Hochhuth's riveting play about the Holocaust, powerfully performed in the round at the
Coast Theater in West Hollywood. Since Technicians of the Sacred, the first of his many anthologies,
appeared in 1968, Rothenberg and his literary and anthropologist collaborators have mapped out and
documented correspondences between songs, chants and rituals of indigenous peoples and poetry
and performance of the twentieth-century international avant-garde. This ethnopoetic charting of
human culture and psyche has guided poets young and old for nearly half a century. Deep traces of
Rothenberg’s breakthrough explorations are woven into Third Rail’s literary DNA. Rothenberg’s
writing on Julian Beck and Kenneth Rexroth appeared in issues of Third Rail back in the 80’s. He
made a featured appearance in the Third Rail Benefit for Julian Beck at LA’s Nuart Theatre in 1984,
where he performed his Beaver cycle of poems to an enthusiastic house. John Solt and I interviewed
Jerome Rothenberg and his wife, Diane, a cultural anthropologist who was in on the development of
Rothenberg’s theories and field work in ethnopoetics. -- Uri Hertz
* * *