The Q&A with Jerome Rothenberg

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  Indigenous, Immigrant, & Multilingual American Poetry-A ModPoSloPo Course 2/8/2020 – 4/4/2020

Map to the Course Resources on this Site

    1. Access-the-Course-Map for Students New to Coursera online and SloPo Courses
    2. Course Overview with Sample Poems and Sample Discussion Thread
    3. The Library
    4. Week One and Two Materials: Ethnopoetics & Shaking the Pumpkin
    5. Jerome Rothenberg Assemblage of Materials: From Ethnopoetics to his own poetry and his work on A Big Jewish Book — texts, audio, video. 
    6. The Q&A with Jerome Rothenberg
    7. Week Three Materials: Contemporary American Indian Poetry
    8. Week Four Materials: Pacific Islander Poetry 
    9. Week Four Materials: Contemporary Caribbean Anglophone Poetry
    10. Week Five Materials: Contemporary African-American Poetry
    11. Week Six Materials: Contemporary Latinx-American Poetry and Performance
    12. Week Seven Materials: Contemporary Asian-American Poetry
    13. Week Eight Materials:  The Ghazal, Contemporary Middle-Eastern and South-Asian Poetry
    14. RETURN TO COURSERA COURSE SITE PAGE

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  1. 15 Flower World Variations. The poems I refer to have several charming features. There is also a strange disquiet about a threatened world. It is beautifully translated. At the same time I am intrigued by the speaking voice, perhaps by the gender, the emotion, the tradition behind this kind of writing. I would love to have Rothenberg comment on this if he finds time.

 

JR: The originals of course are neither spoken nor written, but songs orally transmitted.  So, as with more familiar songs whose words are written down and published without the accompanying music (by Shakespeare, by Campion, by Robert Burns, & others), the words when written down can also make a poetry, in the original languages but also in translation.  What I was doing, then, in the Flower World poems and elsewhere, was to try to carry forward as many elements of the originals as possible, and particularly in this case, the way the words and phrases repeat themselves, within each poem and between the poems as well. The poetry, then, is in the repetitions and the rhythms, the push, as Gertrude Stein points out so nicely, toward“the inevitable seeming repetition in human expression … not repetition, but insistence.”

 

  1. The Sapir-Whorf Stronglinguistic hypothesis (which emerged in part due to early 20th-century anthropological studies of American Indian languages)predicts the impact of particular properties of language on consciousness — specifically, that it has a massive impact on how the mind who thinks with that language and communicates to others through it understands time/truth/relations …(vs. the  Weak hypothesis championed by Chomsky  et al which basically just ignores it, arguing that the existence of “language” itself it the important thing, not the distinctions among languages.) In the explanation you sent us it seems like Chomsky’s view may be better grounded in reality. Does Mr Rothenberg feel that Sapir-Whorf is substantive its own right or perhaps discredited by the work of Chomsky and other modern linguists?

 

JR: I can see the value here, both in Chomsky’s deep grammar and in the Sapir-Whorf uncovering of  the special or surface traits of individual languages.  So, those surface differences are as valuable for the poetry as the underlying universal grammar.  Likely even more so.  Also: while the surface differences are crucial to the poetry as such, they present the greatest challenge to the translator-poet, having no immediate equivalent in his own language to what’s built into the grammar of the other language.  In that way it resembles the challenge of going from stress-based rhythms in a language like English into the rhythms of a comparatively stress-free language like Japanese – or even a closer language like French, if it comes right down to it.

 

  1. Could you say more about your idea that “translation is a form of composition?”

 

JR: To begin with, when you engage as a poet with the translation of poems (“a small (or large machine made of words,” as William Carlos Williams put it), you’re faced by the need not only to get the meaning and intention right, but to create a full work, a vehicle to carry meaning & sometimes more importantly, to be a “machine made of words” in its own right.  In that sense the translation becomes a response and an homage, as it were, to the original maker: a poem-derived-from-a-poem and answerable at its best to the language in which it’s newly re-composed.  There are anyway stages in this – from the most literal to the extremes of variation and appropriation that Haroldo de Campos (great experimental Brazilian poet) calls “transcreation” and that I call “othering.”  In some ways, as I suggest in Writing Through, my book of “translations & variations,” most of what we call poems and poetry can be viewed as acts of translation. 

 

A cautionary note here: There are times when we want translation to concentrate on meaning and not be distracted by sound and structure, though in what I’m stressing poetry is not what gets lost but what gets found or re-invented in translation.

 

 

  1. Can you provide examples of how, as you indicate, “the unconscious speaks to the unconscious” (Gitenstein, 135) within a few specific poems that you have written?

 

JR: This goes back, I think, to my old “deep image” (neo-surrealist) days and the sense of excitement that certain words and images in juxtaposition could deliver before (if ever) the conscious mind could explain or rationalize the connection.  The well-known example was Lautreamont’s description of a young boy “as beautiful as the chance meeting of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table.”  Here of course there’s a comic edge to it, whereas with Breton or Lorca, say, it was really something else. 

 

Screen Shot 2020-03-24 at 11.13.48 PM

  Indigenous, Immigrant, & Multilingual American Poetry-A ModPoSloPo Course 2/8/2020 – 4/4/2020

Map to the Course Resources on this Site

    1. Access-the-Course-Map for Students New to Coursera online and SloPo Courses
    2. Course Overview with Sample Poems and Sample Discussion Thread
    3. The Library
    4. Week One and Two Materials: Ethnopoetics & Shaking the Pumpkin
    5. Jerome Rothenberg Assemblage of Materials: From Ethnopoetics to his own poetry and his work on A Big Jewish Book — texts, audio, video. 
    6. The Q&A with Jerome Rothenberg
    7. Week Three Materials: Contemporary American Indian Poetry
    8. Week Four Materials: Pacific Islander Poetry 
    9. Week Four Materials: Contemporary Caribbean Anglophone Poetry
    10. Week Five Materials: Contemporary African-American Poetry
    11. Week Six Materials: Contemporary Latinx-American Poetry and Performance
    12. Week Seven Materials: Contemporary Asian-American Poetry
    13. Week Eight Materials:  The Ghazal, Contemporary Middle-Eastern and South-Asian Poetry
    14. RETURN TO COURSERA COURSE SITE PAGE

Screen Shot 2020-03-24 at 11.13.48 PM