Kaurab Magazine: Rothenberg Interview & Millennium Anthology Review

The latest installment of the English edition of the Bengali online literary magazine Kaurab has an lovely interview of Jerome Rothenberg by Mark Weiss as well as an excellent review of volume one of Poems for the Millennium by Tyrone Williams (oh, btw Tyrone, your inklings re Faber & Faber hit the nail on the head). Extracts of these can be read below. Kaurab is generally excellent — a rare place where you can read up on current Bangla poetry and check out a review of Carla Harryman’s latest book!

Edited by Jerome Rothenberg & Pierre Joris

Tyrone Williams

Poems for the Millennium, Volume One: From Fin-de-Siècle to Negritude, edited by Jerome Rothenberg and Pierre Joris (University of California Press, 1995).

The impossible task of the international anthologist, like that of the encyclopediast, depends, in part, on the objectivity of an idealized scientist and the aesthetic breadth, however subjective, of the cosmopolitan. How to render encyclopedic breadth, even within the delimited parameters of periodization and aesthetic-political movements, when “taste,” however worldly, must intervene? The traditional response of anthologists has been to acknowledge the inevitable limitations, shortcuts and outright omissions in the introduction. Jerome Rothenberg and Pierre Joris, as capable internationalists as we have in the United States of America, are eminently qualified to attempt the impossible. Both are renowned translators, anthologists and poets. They tackle the immense problems they faced assembling this anthology head-on, and though Poems of the Millennium: Volume One is indeed exceptional in its breadth and historical contextualizations, one of the very best of its kind, part of the pleasure of reading slowly and carefully through an anthology like this is not only rediscovering old pleasures (Apollinaire, Mallarme, Césaire, Damas, Trakl, Radnoti, etc.) while discovering new ones (Dario, Huidobro, Benn, Glatshteyn, etc.), but also in weighing the consequences of choices forced upon, or decided by, the editors.

For example, the decision to include only a brief note on, as opposed to an excerpt from The Waste Land, might strike the casual reader as curious. Even if one agrees that this poem is “[m]uch anthologized” and “readily available…in many representative anthologies of American modernism,” its omission is still problematic in an anthology devoted to international modernism. The introduction makes it clear what is at stake in this anthology: in situating Negritude, “along with the ‘Objectivist’ line of Williams, Pound and Zukofsky as our culminating movement,” Rothenberg and Joris have consciously tried to correct or balance the Anglo-Saxon biases of the Norton anthology tradition. For those well versed in modern poetry and poetics this particular reorientation of how we imagine or conceive of modernism makes perfect sense. But if we think of this anthology as a way to introduce undergraduate (or, sadly, graduate) students to modern poetry, it is clear that the conscientious pedagogue fares no better with this anthology than she would if she were armed with a more or less comprehensive Norton or other trade market anthology. The resourceful teacher would need to do what she has learned to do well—create a course-pack, though with publishers and heirs enforcing stringent or, in a few cases, non-existent, copyright laws, the course-pack as such may well be an endangered species. More curious, at least initially, is a note regarding the omission of work by the little-known British modernist poet David Jones. The only hint regarding the basis for its exclusion is given in the opening “introduction” to the commentary on Jones’s work: “The reader’s attention is called to David Jones’s In Parenthesis (1937) & to his The Anathemata: Fragments of an Attempted Writing (1952), both published by Faber & Faber.” (599) Assuming that “the works’ difficulty & gnarledness” cannot possibly be the reason for its exclusion from a volume that features a healthy selection of Dadaist, Futurist and Surrealist writing and art, one may surmise that the apparently superfluous reference to the publisher is not only a helpful citation but also, perhaps, a hint that Faber & Faber’s copyright fees for republication were prohibitively high. Of course, Rothenberg and Joris acknowledge this problem in general in their introduction when, referring to certain omissions from the anthology, they note that “the economics of republication have forced the elimination of work to which we can only refer (if at all) by way of commentary.” (13)

And here an excerpt from Mark Weiss’ interview with Jerry Rothenberg,

MW : … I suppose I’m asking indirectly how you chose to become a poet, if you experienced it as a choice, and the corollary, how that fit into the expectations of parents and community.
I think I’ve just invited you to write a bildungsroman. Have at it.

JR: It’s only recently that I’ve begun to consider that my parents were not only Jewish – which they were – but European, different in that sense from those other parents of other childhood friends, Jews too but born and raised in America. It was in the intimacy of that older European world that we still kissed in greeting and confessed openly to feelings of ennui and dis-ease. Nor did I realize that the foods that we thought of as typically Jewish were shared with a range of eastern European cultures, however modified they were by the demands of dietary laws that were largely in the domain of my mother’s mother, who came to live with us from Poland in the year before my birth. My father’s favorite food was boiled beef served with horseradish, which I took as a sign of dietary indifference, rather than a Polish-Jewish version of pot au feu or Italian bollito misto. At breakfast my grandmother made do, I thought, with bread or a sweet roll, a far cry from the eggs and meat or the cold and hot cereals of the surrounding outside world (myself included). I grew up thinking of that as weirdly Jewish and never associated it with the breakfasts of that other Europe until much later.

The greater Jewish presence for me was in the language, something I find almost impossible to reconstruct at this distance. My first language was Yiddish – a monolingual speaker to the age of three or four, and that was probably the duende, in Federico García Lorca’s terms, the force of language that I later came to struggle with or through. (Or possibly – Lorca again – my angel.) I have that much in common with Zukofsky and Charles Reznikoff and others who shared that kind of ancestry. In my case the ambience was a mix of secular – through my parents – and religious – through my grandmother – with a curious calm and understanding on both sides. My father’s father, whose name I was given, was a hasidic follower of the Radzymin rebbe, but my father had left that well behind him and would rarely set foot in our local synagogue, not out of contempt (he said) but out of respect for that which he no longer shared. My mother – more uncomplicatedly secular – had written poetry as a girl, though I can’t remember that she ever showed it to us. My father’s brother Archie (Aaron) had continued with it even later, and once, when he read a poem to us about his long-dead mother (he was then well into his nineties), couldn’t keep from weeping.

Oh vey iz mir, but I will cut it off here so that you’ll all go to the Kaurab site & here the whole shmier there.

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