Jerome Rothenberg

 

 

introduction

The work of poet Jerome Rothenberg stretches over nearly forty years of writing poetry, translating, editing, and performing.  A profound student of literary and oral traditions, his poetry has been strongly influenced by the performativity and "surrealism" of Native American verbal art, particulary that of the Seneca of Salamanca, NY and the Navajo songs Frank Mitchell Blue, from the cycle referred to by musicologists as the Horse Songs.  Yet as a multi-lingual poet trained in anthropology and who co-edited the ground-breaking journal Alcheringa and coined the term Ethnopoetics, Rothenberg has also placed his work in relation to the German George Trakl, and the avant-gardist Kurt Schwitters, as well as the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca.

Not an "oral poet" in any simple or reductive sense, Rothenberg has been foremost among U.S. poets and critics to emphasize the artfullness of (and not just the cultural information within) marginalized traditions.   His work has also been informed by the textual dimensions of the art, as his coedited volume Book of the Book implies. 

In performance, Rothenberg is always informed by the dynamics of listening and sounding that play such a significant role in traditional orality.  His translations or versions of the Horse Songs exemplify the role sound plays in his poetics, since he attempts via "total translations" to carry over not only the meaning and rhythms of the Navajo but also the patterns of chanted vocables.

Just as this intimate, translation through close-listening produced dramatic poems, his work with the poetry of Garcia Lorca has a similar influence. His own Lorca Suite enacts a form of aural homage as he molds versions that become too loose to count as "proper translations" of Lorca into aural echoes of the Andalusian poet's lyrical approach to the word.

 

 

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