Ivy Writers – Jerome Rothenberg and Yves di Manno
Review by Paul Stephenson.
On Tuesday 1 October Ivy Writers, the bilingual reading series that take place once a month, welcomed francophone poet, Yves di Manno, and Anglophone poet, Jerome Rothenberg – two poets who know each other and each other’s work well: besides travelling the length and breadth of France together, Yves has translated ‘Jerry’, among other poets (Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound). In fact it was the second time this year that Rothenberg had read at Ivy Writers, this time to a packed cellar at Le Next with an audience of more than 30 people.
Yves di Manno read first, announcing it would be a strange reading – ‘un programme de lecture un peu bizarre’ – but which wasn’t so odd after all. He began with two passages of Jerry’s work inspired by Lorca, which he had translated. ‘Les Variations Lorca’ brimmed with references to le soleil, la lune, le baiser, le sommeil, with the ‘comme un coeur perdu de vue’ and ‘nos coeurs deviennent bleus’. I was struck by this idea of the sun, not spherical but heart-shaped, blue not red. He went on to read extracts from Jerry’s novel from the 1970s, extracts full of curious agents….les chefs, les autorités, les esclaves, les fondateurs, les inspecteurs, in a place where ‘on charge un enfant de trier le riz dans le temple’. This was followed by extracts of poems which Jerry had written, and then rewritten years later – Jerry later justified this in his reading with the notion that everybody has the right to revise a work of art at least once in its/their lifetime – a place where in the 1983 poem the light is in tatters (‘la lumière en lambeau’) and where they mix up the life buoy with the compass (‘la bouée et boussole se confondent’), but in 1993 the moon is punctual (‘la lune est pontuelle’) and the iron and fire are reflected in each other (‘le feu et le fer reflètent’). These extracts beautifully conveyed the great rhythm and musical quality that Yves had brought to Jerry’s long lines in French.
Jerome Rotherberg read from his new book which spans more than 50 years of his poetic craft, but not before starting with a song in which he stood and sang Seneca in English and ‘shook the pumpkin’ for the animals. This was hypnotic chanting in the vault, the trance like reverberations leaving no cobwebs in ears or subterranean corners of our minds. So then we were primed and ready to begin – at the beginning – with Jerry’s ‘Small Manifestos’ from the 1960s, through which the poet set out to ‘change your mind and ‘use any means and methods to achieve his end’. Referencing William Blake, he proceeded to read early poems that had he had only come across much later and been published, including the magically titled ‘The Light Bulb and the Cock-Eyed Queen of Poland’ all about a king in the palace with no time to be gay [then meaning happy]…it was sad, wrong, so long…his ermine blowing out its spots…so cold under the throne…was it mice, or rain of the hand of night, the wind or the springs….too fat to fart, so he died, buried under the Queen’s begonias.
Rothenberg coined the term ‘deep image’, a term which has since been used by astronomers taking photos of the far depths of the universe. There’s zero gravity in space, but strange gravity in his poems, where ‘onto Newton’s nose a large apple falls’ and which leads him to ‘scratch Saxon nostrils’. This is the comical but unsettling ‘reconsideration’ of place and history, where ‘in the woods the gnomes tear their beards out’ and ‘the green lake trembles in the wind’. After Lorca, Rothenberg ‘dreams enormous pyramids of apples’…But why was it the apples, the virgin fruit, the smooth and gentle Pippin?, he asks, and not some other fruit. In any case, and perhaps like the best poetry, Adam ‘fondled it with no idea what it was’.
Following on from Yves di Manno’s translations of the Lorca variations, so Rothenberg read some of the variations on himself, earlier poems that had been reworked. He made a case to the audience for taking long-established or ‘done’ poems and revisiting them, breathing new life into them from all the poet’s life experience since the original poem, ‘you must change course when the time comes, search for something new’. And so he read of the ‘hell of measures’ and ‘the lovely thieves’, whose tears burn and who bear the pain – perhaps of theft or regret? – in their skin, of all those ladders hung from the sky falling. In his finale – a true tour de force – he insisted through repetition of the miracles, the many miracles, and the miracle of further miracles.
In short, a miraculous evening of poetry and translation, of mysterious poems and of the mysterious found in English-French translation.
Bios courtesy of Ivy Writers Paris and the authors. For more information please see their blog here, their facebook group here or email your info for their readings emailings at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jerome Rothenberg is the author of over seventy books of poetry including Poems for the Game of Silence (2000), Collaborations: Livres d’artiste 1968-2003 (2003), Poland/1931, A Seneca Journal, Vienna Blood, That Dada Strain, New Selected Poems 1970-1985 (1986), Khurbn, and most recently, A Paradise of Poets and A Book of Witness (all from New Directions). Kenneth Rexroth said: “Jerome Rothenberg is one of the truly contemporary American poets who has returned U.S. poetry to the mainstream of international modern literature. At the same time he is a true auctochthon. Only here and now could have produced him — a swinging orgy of Martin Buber, Marcel Duchamp, Gertrude Stein, and Sitting Bull. No one writing poetry today has dug deeper into the roots of poetry.” Describing his own poetry career as “an ongoing attempt to reinterpret the poetic past from the point of view of the present,” Jerome Rothenberg has also edited seven major assemblages of traditional and contemporary poetry: Technicians of the Sacred (tribal and oral poetry from Africa, America, Asia, Europe, and Oceania), Shaking the Pumpkin (traditional American Indian poetry), America a Prophecy (a radical revision of the poetries of the North American continent co-edited with George Quasha), Revolution of the Word (American experimental poetry between the two world wars), A Big Jewish Book (subtitled “Poems & Other Visions of the Jews from Tribal Times to the Present”), and Poems for the Millennium (two volumes, co-edited with Pierre Joris). He has also published a number of plays and essays, has translated a wide range of poets from German and Spanish. His own work has been translated into French, for example Poems for the Game of Silence, has appeared in French, Swedish and Flemish editions, Un livre de témoignage appeared in French in 2002, & he is currently in France celebrating a new translation with a series of readings alongside Yves di Manno. At one point in his life, Rothenberg was the theorist of the deep image group of poets. He has received most of the awards one can think of, fellowships to residencies, etc, and was even elected to the World Academy of Poetry (UNESCO) in 2001. A complete bio may be found at: http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/rothenberg/bio.html
Yves di Manno was born in Rhône in 1954. He now lives and works in Paris. Since the 1970s, he has collaborated with numerous magazines, translating many North American poets (such as William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, George Oppen, Jerome Rothenberg) and has published over 20 works, including Les Célébrations (Bedou, 1980), Champs (Flammarion, 1984-1987), Kambuja (Flammarion, 1992), Partitions (Flammarion, 1995) and Un Pré, chemin vers (Flammarion, 2003). His most recent book is Terre sienna, released in 2012 by Isabelle Sauvage editors. His complete set of short stories were published under the title Disparaître (Didier Devillez, 1997). He has also written a fantasy novel La Montagne rituelle (Flammarion, 1998), two “dream stories”: Domicile (Denoël, 2002), Discipline (Ed. Héloïse d’Ormesson, 2005) and two essays on active poetics: “endquote” (Flammarion, 1999), Objets d’Amérique (José Corti, 2009). Translating commercial literature under various pseudonyms such as the French version of Jerome Rothenberg’s Techniciens du sacré (José Corti, 2008) and Pierre Reverdy’s Œuvres complètes, he also directs the Poésie/Flammarion collection where more than 120 titles have been published since 1994. He is currently working on a new essay on poetics: No man’s land and the third edition of Ezra Pound’s Cantos.