Jerome Rothenberg is one of the truly contemporary American poets who has returned U.S. poetry to the mainstream of international modern literature…. No one writing today has dug deeper into the roots of poetry.

Kenneth Rexroth

Jerome Rothenberg

Jerome Rothenberg is an internationally known poet, translator, performance artist, and anthologist with over eighty books of poetry and essays including ten in print from New Directions. His anthologies include Technicians of the Sacred, Shaking the Pumpkin, and the three-volume Poems for the Millennium. He has been the recipient of many honors, including an American Book Award, two PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Awards, and two PEN Center USA West Translation Awards. In 2011 he received the prestigious Medalla al Mérito Literario from the International Chihuahua Poetry Festival in Mexico.

cover image of the book Triptych


For the last half of the twentieth century into the new millennium, no other American poet has been as deeply engaged in the opening of the poem (its boundaries and its possibilities) as Jerome Rothenberg. As editor, translator, essayist, performer, groundbreaking anthologist, one of the founding figures of enthnopoetics, and most significantly, as poet, Rothenberg has remapped the art against the grain of a single “great tradition.” Reminiscent of H.D.’s Trilogy, Triptych assembles three long serial poems into one multilayered sacred text. Like Kafka’s America, Calvino’s Euphemia, and Babel’s Odessa, Rothenberg’s Poland in Poland/1931, first published in 1974, is a “poland stuffed with poland / brought in the imagination.” Fifteen years later, Poland materializes into Khurbn (a Yiddish word meaning destruction, holocaust, human disaster), a poem summoned from the author’s visit to his ancestral town, Ostrow-Mazowiecka, and the confrontation with his family’s annihilation––including an uncle who killed himself––during World War II. “Allowing my uncle’s khurbn to speak through me…” the author writes, “the poems are the clearest message I have ever gotten about why I write poetry.” And now in 2006, The Burning Babe rises out of the furnace of khurbn, “reaching through the ruins / for a place to soar”….

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A Book Of Witness

A Book of Witness: Spells & Gris-Gris is Jerome Rothenberg’s passage from one century––one millennium––to another. Of the one hundred poems that comprise the book, the first half were written in 1999, the second in the two years that followed. But far more than a marker of era-shifting, this collection reestablishes the primacy of the poetic “I,” not in the sense of a confessional, personal voice, but of the grammatical first person as both a singular witness and conduit for others––a kind of prophecy. Often incantatory, the poems in A Book of Witness are a reaffirmation of self in the face of history’s darknesses, a shout for life against an indifferent universe.

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cover image of the book Poems For The Game Of Silence

Poems For The Game Of Silence

“I look for new forms and possibilities,” writes Jerome Rothenberg in Poems for the Game of Silence, “but also for ways of presenting in my own language the oldest possibilities of poetry going back to the primitive and archaic cultures that have been opening up to us over the last hundred years." Indeed, it is this combined sense of mystery and authenticity, in words and new structures that approach archetypal chant, which informs his verse. First published in 1971, this volume of Rothenberg’s selected poems brings together the work of a decade: a wide range of experimental forms set beside renderings of American Indian, Australian, and other so-called primitive songs, as well as some of the more recent ancestral poems that explore the author’s own origins.

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Paradise Of Poets

A Paradise of Poets is Jerome Rothenberg’s tenth book of poetry to be published by New Directions, beginning with his Poland/1931(1974). In considering the title of his newest collection, he says: “Writing poetry for me has always included an involvement with the life of poetry––& through that life an intensification, when it happened, of my involvement with the other life around me. In an earlier poem I spoke of this creating a paradise of poets … I do not of course believe that such a paradise exists in any supernatural or mystical sense, but I have sometimes felt it come to life among my fellow poets and, even more, in writing––in the body of the poem.” In Rothenberg’s hands, the body of the poem is an extraordinarily malleable object. Collage, translation, even visual improvisation serve to open up his latest book to the presence of poets and artists he has known and to others, past and present, who he feels have somehow touched him, among them Nakahara Chuya, Jackson Mac Low, Pablo Picasso, Leonardo da Vinci, Federico Garcia Lorca, Kurt Schwitters, and Vitezslav Nezval. Kenneth Rexroth once commented: “Jerome Rothenberg is one of our truly great American poets who has returned U.S. poetry to the mainstream of international modern literature. No one has dug deeper into the roots of poetry.” With A Paradise of Poets, it is clear that this evaluation is as fresh today as it was twenty-five years ago.

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Jerome Rothenberg holds a premier place in the American avant-garde. The poems in Seedings, his newest collection, leap across history. Past and future become entwined, and the intricate paths reaching from one century and one millennium into another double back into timelessness (“as the twentieth century winds down/the nineteenth century begins/again”). The long title poem that opens this fin-de-siecle gathering is, appropriately, a celebration of poets and friends––such as Robert Duncan, George Oppen, and Paul Blackburn––who have entered what Rothenberg calls “a Paradise of Poets.” “Seedings” is followed by four other sections, “Improvisations” is a series of high-energy poems in a mode of open writing characteristic of much of the poet’s experimental work, while “Twentieth Century Unlimited” is an assemblage of travel poems and personal observations. “An Oracle for Delfi” revisits and sees anew a classical landscape long the inheritance of Western poets. A final sequence, “14 Stations,” joins the concise verbal techniques of gematria (traditional Hebrew numerology) with the stark agonies of the Holocaust last explored by Rothenberg in Khurbn & Other Poems (1989).

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The Lorca Variations

As poet and experimental translator, pioneer in performance poetry and ethnopoetics, Jerome Rothenberg for over three decades has been a literary radical and prominent influence in the American avant-garde. Among his own earliest sources was the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, whose “composition through images … opened my mind to the contemporary poetry of Europe & of something possibly older & deeper that would surface for us in America as well.” Having recently returned to translating Lorca, Rothenberg began to appropriate and rearrange items of Lorca’s vocabulary and to compose a series of poems of his own that “both are & aren’t mine, both are & aren’t Lorca.” As an original work, The Lorca Variations are, as he describes them, “a way of coming full circle into a discovery that began with Lorca & for which he has stood with certain others as a guide & constant fellow-traveler.”

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Khurbn And Other Poems

In Yiddish, khurbn is the word for “total destruction,” the word for what the English-speaking world calls the Jewish “Holocaust” of World War II. In 1987, thirteen years after the publication of his book of ancestral poems, Poland/1931, Jerome Rothenberg visited Poland and the small town of Ostrow-Mazowiecka, from which his parents had emigrated in 1920. “I hadn’t realized,” he writes, “that it was only fifteen miles from Treblinka…” Out of the poet’s confrontation with his family’s annihilation came Khurbn & Other Poems. “The poems that I first began to hear at Treblinka are the clearest message I have ever gotten about why I write poetry. They are an answer also to the proposition that poetry cannot or should not be written after Auschwitz.” For decades a leader of the American literary avant-garde, Rothenberg, with Khurbn & Other Poems, adds his voice to those writers, like Paul Celan and Edmond Jabes, who have sought to name the unnamable at the ruinous heart of the history of our time.

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New Selected Poems 1970-1985

Acclaimed poet and translator, editor of such ground-breaking journals and anthologies as Alcheringa and Technicians of the Sacred, pioneer in the fields of performance poetry and ethnopoetics, Jerome Rothenberg is a literary radical and a major force in American poetry. Gathered here in his New Selected Poems 1970-1985 are pivotal poems from four previous New Directions collections, Poland/1931 (1974), A Seneca Journal (1978), Vienna Blood (1980), and That Dada Strain (1983). Rothenberg describes his new selection as “an attempt to isolate in the work of the last fifteen years (and a little more) the thread of a single long poem or sequence [in which] figures and voice’s without context in the earlier books…find a location and a shape.” Open-ended, explorative, and exuberantly and irreverently epic, the sequence ends with two new and previously uncollected poems, “15 Flower World Variations” and “Visions of Jesus.”

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That Dada Strain

The title of Jerome Rothenberg’s newest collection suggests jazz, blues, and above all the Dada movement in European art and poetry in the years immediately following World War I. “In my own world,” he explains in his pre-face to That Dada Strain, “the Dada fathers who inhabit the opening poems of this book are necessary figures, & to summon them up along with their legends is no more erudite than to summon up Moses or George Washington or Harpo or Karl Marx, & so on.” For Rothenberg, the Dada connection, his looking back to Dada founders Tristan Tzara, Hugo Ball, Kurt Schwitters, and Francis Picabia, is especially apt, emphasizing as it does a “strain” that is echoed and replayed throughout all his work, whether it be oral poetry, ethnopoetics, translation, or the assembling of innovative anthologies. Following the title section is “Imaginal Geographies,” a group of poems that draw largely on the poet’s private self, his own language and perceptions, in much the same way that the Dada poets recorded associations between images for which no key was readily available. In the third and final section, “Altar Pieces,” Rothenberg attempts, as he says, “to return to the world in which human beings still suffer both the loss of bread & words.”

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Pre-Faces & Other Writings

Pre-Faces & Other Writings is the first collection of poetics by one of the most revolutionary literary innovators of our time. In addition to more than twenty volumes of his own poetry Jerome Rothenberg has been active in a wide area of contemporary experimentation: poetry performance, both as “reading” and as “happening”; the assembling of radical anthologies and magazines (such as Technicians of the Sacred and Alcheringa) aimed at the creation of a fresh environment of poetries “freed from the bondage of a monolithic great tradition”; and the exploration of new techniques of translation especially appropriate to tribal/oral poetry. Almost singlehandedly, he founded the interdisciplinary field of “ethnopoetics”––both as the investigation of poetry across the full range of human cultures and its practice in relation to our own. Called an “oral” poet by some, a “post-modernist” by others, Rothenberg’s own views––both the theories and their applications––have never before been gathered; the present book is intended to show the continuities in his own evolving poetics. “I see all my work in this regard," he comments, “as a pre-face to something that comes after. If there’s still any sense in talking of an avant-garde, then that must be it for me: an insistence that the work deny itself the last word, because the consequences of closure & the closed mind have been and continue to be horrendous in the world we know.”

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Vienna Blood

Vienna Blood & Other Poems is in some ways the most synthesizing of Jerome Rothenberg’s recent collections, pulling together work from the 1970s that stands apart from Poland/1931 (1974) and A Seneca Journal (1978) yet at the same time continuing the enactment of past and present begun in those books. But where before he chose to restrict his exploration to ancestral Jewish and Amerindian poetries, Rothenberg now takes us on a series of broader journeys through the collapsed landscape of what he calls the ’new wilderness," evoked as place, as structure, as mind. Written both to be read quietly on the printed page and aloud in performance, the poems in Vienna Blood, though experimental and language-centered, are nevertheless the work of a poet who, by his own admission, is “crazy for content, make no mistake about it.” As if to underscore this point, he has appended brief comments to most of the major sections of the book, in order, as he says, “to give it some context in the way of ’oral tradition’ usually reserved for poetry readings, etc., a little of which I now commit to writing.”

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Jerome Rothenberg’s Poland/1931, a continuing series of ancestral poems, appeared in installments over the course of five years, published in limited editions by various small presses. This volume brings together the contents of all the earlier books, integrating them with the most recent sections. The author himself describes the work as “an experimental attempt to explore, and recover, ancestral sources in the world of Jewish mystics, thieves, and madmen.” Drawing from the kabbala and Hasidic lore, folk custom and historic fact, Rothenberg constructs a free-verse collage that gives voice to the interior journey between the New World and the Old. Related to his poetry and translations are the innovative anthologies that Rothenberg has edited as part of ’’an on-going attempt to reinterpret the poetic past from the point of view of the present," including Technicians of the Sacred: A Range of Poetries from Africa, America, Asia & Oceana (Doubleday) and, with George Quasha, America a Prophecy: A New Reading of American Poetry from Pre-Colombian Times to the Present (Random House).

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Jerome Rothenberg is one of the truly contemporary American poets who has returned U.S. poetry to the mainstream of international modern literature…. No one writing today has dug deeper into the roots of poetry.

Kenneth Rexroth

Throughout his career as a very prolific poet and editor he has been a pioneer and has manifested a daring dynamic sensibility that has brought the innovative excitement of contemporary painting and sculpture to poetry….

Rochelle Owens, Contact II

No one writing today has dug deeper into the roots of poetry.

Kenneth Rexroth

By equating archaic and experimental, primitive and complex, [Rothenberg has] offered contemporary poets an opportunity to conceive of their roots as deeper and wider than any narrowly defined academic lineage.

Geoffrey O'Brien, Voice Literary Supplement

Rothenberg maps a visionary tradition at once diverse and humanly coherent.

Michael Palmer

Jerome Rothenberg wields a unique, personal language, one unfolding line by line with strength and integrity.

Los Angeles Times
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