Jerome Rothenberg

Jerome Rothenberg’s complex and singular poetic voice has emerged in more than seventy volumes of poetry, prose and innovative translation over the past half-century. Within the self-fashioned realm of ethnopoetics, he negotiates the perils and problematics of his identities as man, Jew, artist, displaced person, observer and participant in society. Determined to mine and discover what is dismissed or ignored by mainstream writing, he also exhibits an interest in non-traditional poetics, working with photography and visual languages to explore the relation of the seen to the spoken. Kenneth Rexroth once credited Jerome Rothenberg with having “returned U.S. poetry to the mainstream of international modern literature,” adding that “No one has dug deeper into the roots of poetry.”

Indeed, Rothenberg’s poems reach into the reader to carve out dense litanies on the horrors of history and modern civilization, the small salvations of daily life, and a sense of fright and amazement surrounding the human form. Jerome Rothenberg’s complex and singular poetic voice has emerged over the past half-century in more than seventy books – including the poet’s own words, innovative translations from the German and other languages, and momentous poetic compilations—such as Technicians of the Sacred, Shaking the Pumpkin, and A Big Jewish Book—which scholars hesitate even to confine by the term anthology.

Rothenberg first published his poetry—as well as that of others, including Armand Schwerner and Diane Wakoski—with Hawk’s Well Press, the house he founded in 1958. He has been an active voice in progressive poetry, notably culling and processing his vital avant-garde influences in the 1983 volume That Dada Strain. His works have variously been celebrated and expanded in musical and theatrical stagings. Over the course of his career, Rothenberg has been the recipient of many honors, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, the American Book Award, and two PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Awards. He currently resides in California.

Poetry Center Reading:

Spring 2006

Shaman Dreamwork Two

I was moving through the water-somewhere in the middle of
the ocean, someone said. I knew that I was sick & that the sick-
ness meant my name would change. “Your name will be
Diver,” said the sickness, kicking up the water. That brought
me to a mountain, which I climbed & found a naked woman
waiting for me. I started sucking at her heart.

From NEW & SELECTED POEMS (New Directions, 1986)

There Is Never Enough Time

Above the clouds
is nothing
but a leprous
single star.  (B. Brecht)

The more I look at it
the less I feel.
I try to recollect. I shake
a distant hand
& pay for laughter.
The odds are heavily
against me.
There is never enough time.
When I place a foot
in the hot water
someone declares me lost.
I smile into a mirror
& my face
glares back.
A father holds his babe
up to the light.
Where will it lead us?
Heaven is no place for fools.
I run my fingers
through your hair
& feel the universe
shut down.

From A BOOK OF WITNESS (New Directions, 2002)

“Lorca’s Spain: A Homage”

Beginning with olive trees.
Shadows.
Beginning with roosters.
Crystal.
Beginning with castanets & almonds.
Fishes.
This is a homage to Spain.
This mists dogs.
This silences rubber.
This is Saturn.
Beginning with yellow.
Eclipse.
Beginning with needles.
Insomnia.
Beginning with baskets.
The Moon.
Who is naked? The imagination
(wrote Lorca) is seared.
This is a homage to water.
Beginning & end.

From WRITING THROUGH (Wesleyan, 2004)