To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Bob Holman's "Language Matters" (PBS) on the World's 3000 Endangered Languages

A beautiful and important PBS documentary in which Bob Holman carries forward the fight to save endangered languages (3000 of them) and their attendant poetries. Language Matters asks what we lose when languages die, and how we can save them.  Writes Norman MacAfee in The Huntington Post ):
 “There are 6,000 languages in the world, and half are endangered. Those 3,000 will be gone by the end of this century if we don't do something. What are we going to do? That is the situation outlined in a new PBS documentary, Language Matters with Bob Holman, by David Grubin and Bob Holman.
"Why is saving endangered languages important?
"These 3,000 endangered languages are part of the history, and the prehistory, of humanity. They are part of prehistory because many are only spoken languages, not written, passed orally from generation to generation, down the millennia.

 Rupert Manmurulu (Australia) and Bob Holman
credit: PBS,
Language Matters with Bob Holman

 "As the linguist David Crystal writes, 'Each language is a vision of the world. Each language says something different about what it means to be human compared with any other language.'"

A great step forward toward a new & revitalized ethnopoetics.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

From KOJIKI: The Male Deity Izanaki and the Female Deity Izanami (new edition)

Translated from Japanese by Yoko Danno 

[N.B. Yoko Danno’s Songs and Stories of the Kojiki is the first English translation to capture the full sweep & ferocity of the founding Japanese epic.  The work as such was originally published by Ahadada Books in 2008 & has just been reissued by Red MoonPress in Winchester, VA.  Born, raised & educated in Japan, Danno has been writing solely in English for almost forty years.  She continues to live & work in Kobe. (J.R.)]
Izanaki and Izanami Descend from Heaven

The Deities on the Heavenly High Plains said to Izanaki the Inviting Male Deity and Izanami the Inviting Female Deity, “This land is still floating like a jellyfish. Give shape to it and solidify it.” 

The Heavenly Deities sent out the two, giving them the Heavenly Jeweled Spear. Entrusted with this mission, the young Deities departed and stood on the Heavenly Floating Bridge between heaven and earth. They lowered the Spear and stirred the muddy seawater with a churning sound, ko-o-ro, ko-o-ro, and lifted it up. The thick salt water dripping from the tip of the holy Spear piled up and became an island. This island is called Onogoro-jima. The two went down there and brought into being the Heavenly Pillar and a spacious palace for their wedding. 

 At this time Izanaki the Inviting Male Deity asked Izanami the Inviting Female Deity, “How is your body made?” 

 “My body is finely made,” the Female Deity answered, “but has one place which is insufficiently made.” 

“My body is finely made, too,” the Male Deity said, “but has one place which is excessively made. Therefore I would like to produce land by inserting the place which is excessive in my body into the place which is insufficient in your body. What do you think of giving birth to the land like this?”

“That sounds good to me,” the Female Deity answered. 

“Well, shall we,” said the Male Deity, “you and I, walk around this Heavenly Pillar, and mate with each other where we meet? Do you agree?” 

The Female Deity consented. After the two promised thus, the Male Deity said, “Then you walk around from the right, and I will walk around from the left to meet you.”        

They agreed and each walked around the Heavenly Pillar, and then the Female Deity spoke first: “What a handsome man you are!” 

Then afterwards the Male Deity said, “What a beautiful woman you are!” 

After each spoke thus, the Male Deity said to the Female Deity, “It is not right that the woman spoke first.” 

The Male and Female Deities, however, mated in the holy bed. The Female Deity gave birth to a leech-like, boneless child. They placed the child in a boat woven with reed and cast it off shore. Next, she gave birth to a weakling island, Awa-shima, which was not recognized as their proper child, either. 

The two Deities consulted each other and said, “Our children who have just been born are deficient. We’d better return to heaven and report this to the Heavenly Deities.” 

Immediately they returned together to heaven and asked for advice. The Deities in heaven performed a grand divination by heating the blade-bone of a deer. Observing the cracks, they said, “The children were born deficient because the woman spoke first. Descend again, and say it once more.” 

Therefore the Male Deity Izanaki and the Female Deity Izanami descended again and circled round the Heavenly Pillar as they had done before. 

Then the Male Deity Izanaki spoke first: “What a beautiful woman you are!” The Female Deity Izanami said afterward, “What a handsome man you are!” 

After each spoke thus they wedded again.

Izanaki and Izanami Give Birth to Fourteen Islands

After that time Izanaki and Izanami bore many fine islands. The first island born was Awaji. Next was Iyo. This island has one body and four faces, each with a name: E-hime, a fine woman; Ihiyori-hiko, a man possessed by a food spirit; Oho-getsu-hime, a woman in charge of food; and Takeyori-wake, a brave-spirited man. Then the couple bore the triple island of Oki, and next, the island of Tsukushi. This island also has one body and four faces, each with a name describing the brilliance of the sunshine. Then they bore the island of Iki, the island of Tsushima and the island of Sado, and next, the main island thick with grain plants, the Great Yamato Island. These eight islands which were born first are called collectively the Great Land of the Eight Islands. 

After giving birth to these islands, Izanaki and Izanami returned to the island of Onogoro. On their way home they bore six more islands including twin islands. 

Izanaki and Izanami Give Birth to Thirty-Five Deities


After Izanaki and Izanami had finished giving birth to the various islands, they started bearing deities. The first deity born was the great-task-carrying-out deity. Next born were the male deity of rock and soil and the female deity of stone and sand. Then the deity of great doors, the roof-thatching deity, the deity in charge of the safety of houses and the deity who protects houses from storms were born. Next they bore the sea deity Oho-watatsumi and a couple of river-mouth deities, Akitsu-hiko and Akitsu-hime. 

Akitsu-hiko and Akitsu-hime rule respectively rivers and seas. They joined forces and gave birth to the bubble-sinking male deity Awa-nagi and the bubble-rising female deity Awa-nami. Next were born the surface-calming male deity Tsuru-nagi and the surface-rippling female deity Tsuru-nami. They bore next a pair of deities who distribute water at the watershed and a pair of deities holding ladles to draw water. 

In the meantime, Izanaki and Izanami continued their labor. They gave birth to the wind deity Shinatsu-hiko, the tree deity Kukunochi, the mountain deity Oho-yamatsumi and the female plain deity Kayano-hime. 

The coupled deities Oho-yamatsumi and Kayano-hime, who rule respectively mountains and plains, gave birth to a pair of soil deities, a pair of fog-and-mist deities, a pair of valley deities and a couple of deities who protect strays in the mountains. 

Izanaki and Izanami still continued their labor. They gave birth to Tori-fune, the deity of the heavenly ship as fast as a bird and made of camphor wood as hard as rock. Next they bore the female deity Oho-getsu-hime who is in charge of food. Next was born the burning deity Kagu-tsuchi.

Izanami Dies

When Izanami was delivered of the fire deity Kagu-tsuchi, her genitals were severely burnt and she was seriously ill in bed. She vomited and in her vomit a pair of ore deities came into being. In her excrement arose a pair of clay deities, and in her urine the female deity who controls irrigation water and the young deity full of procreative force whose daughter is the food goddess Toyo-uke. 

Then, at last, Izanami, who had given birth to the fire deity Kagu-tsuchi, passed away. 

“I have exchanged the life of my beloved wife for just one child!” Izanaki greatly lamented. Crawling around the head and feet of his wife, he wailed. From his tears arose the female weeping deity Naki-sawame, who dwells at the foot of the trees on the hill of the holy Kagu Mountain. Izanaki buried his wife on Mount Hiba at the border between the land of Izumo and the land of Hahaki.  

[EDITOR’S  NOTE. As the  oldest surviving Japanese book, the Kojiki, or “Record of Ancient Things,” completed on “the twenty-eighth day of the first month of the fifth year of Wado” (A.D. 722) is an attempt to keep a grip on matters already at some distance from the compilers & to establish the “origins” of the Japanese court & nation on (roughly) native grounds.  It is, at the same time, “a compilation of myths, historical & pseudo-historical narratives and legends, songs, anecdotes, folk etymologies, and genealogies.”  (Thus: Donald L. Philippi, the composer of a previous translation.)  Like other such works it begins  with the generations of the gods & follows their creation of -- & descent into – this-place-here.  The fecundity & sexuality of those early gods – like Izanaki and Izanami in the present instance –is an example of surreality (= poesis) as an attempt to comprehend & thereby to possess the world.]

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Clayton Eshleman: Wound Interrogation

[From Penetralia, a new collection of poems, to be published by
Black Widow Press in 2016]

In Matta’s “Wound Interrogation, 
a Malangganesque robot thrusts a flattened palm against
a large pulpy vaginal wound hung before it.
   Matta comments:
“The wound is separated from the human being & subjected to the torture of intense examination by heinous machines. The bloody red insides of the wound convey a life striving to exist, while the grays & blacks of the demon robots remind one of an industrial plant.”

This morning at the end of first light
the sky was drinking a sap so old I could hear the ayahuasca
cloud pythons gargling menstrual-seminal elixir.
I sensed the oracle gas between that Hadic distance &
Matta’s robots interrogating—I propose: Persephone’s sexuality.

Who exactly inhabits Hades’ kingdom?


Can I interrogate this region of dense, cold air without light?

“You can, but my icy lace is blinding
& my knuckles, feeble from your Herculean viewpoint, are
hurricane poundings, tidal flail.
I am the dream jaguar which you created so as to,
while lurching out of bed, crash onto the floor.
I am the kobold which bit your ankle as you climbed out of a cave.
While you were driving home that night I bit again 
so that you smashed into a ditch & really did that ankle in.
I am, in other words, untapped center, shifty ‘always.’
In my casket chloroform are blind troll suns, split
gourds of brain jam, simmering golden sweat known as world wars.
You glimpsed my erection in Lascaux’s “Shaft.”
So I opened my beak toward you that you might watch me scram via
a bison’s vagina-winsome hanging guts
There never was a beginning!
All is nexus & midriff cast on an alabaster plain of marauding
tarantula-shanked camels…”


The frailty of being holed & rampant with closure.
Blake’s angels feast on my neck
as strapped to this fuselage of honking verbs I watch Hades:
a zyzzogeton munching on alfalfa alpha.

For that matter, what is deliverance?
To find oneself present at Pluto’s cornucopian spread & grasp
that one must not pluck a single grape?

The first Persephone, Laussel, pumped time out of her held-aloft
     bison horn,
& with that image phantom she impregnated herself!

Between the cracks in the time board,
to write from a double periphery, in swerve with the labrys…

“Not to subject the change,” Hades quipped,
“but what bugs you the most about America today?”

One: The suppression of the horrifying truth of the 9/11 assault  (more appropriately referred to as “The Pentagon Three Towers Bombing”) infests the American soul with a stifling sense of unreality charged by the rivers of blood flowing alongside the Euphrates & Tigris through a destroyed & failed state that may never again be reconstructed. I note that otherwise responsible political thinkers like Oliver Stone & Bill Maher will not even engage this ongoing nightmare.

   The truth of The Pentagon Three Towers Bombing is, like an undiagnosed plague, lodged in the American subconscious. This truth is now the lie veneer of our dailiness. There is a knotted veil in our eyes building rancor where there could be revelation.

Two: Since I have been writing, translating, & editing for over 50 years, I have to deplore the degree writing programs that are in the process of substituting creative writing for the art of poetry. In 1994 I wrote: “Quotational Reality is the new Purgatory making each desire artificial.” My comment appears to identify Kenneth Goldsmith’s aestheticized plagiarism.

   The first poets, facing the incomprehensible division between what would become culture & wilderness, taught themselves how to span it & thus in such caves as Chauvet & Lascaux respond to their “wound interrogation”. Our key distinction may become that of being the first generation to have written at a time in which the origins & the end of poetry became discernable.


The poem is a fire burning alone out of contact with
the brushwood of my body. 
I study it as Heraclitus studied fat raccoon clouds become weeping
Sky stigmata. Archaic smile of the brave.

An image is fire
around which language appears to be
tightly-packed ash.

James Hillman: “I and soul are alien to each other because of soul’s
by powers, daimones and gods”  Soul is molten protocol.

Life is the blessing. Death the “less” in blessing:
Count Gaga spread-eagled & gagged in everyone’s smoking gate.
Humankind is timed, as if with a timer, by & for
the apocalypse of immortality.

Know thyself = know thyself to be mortal.

To think of the tethered mandala of the hand,
the radial glory of the fist unhooked from its fury.
Vallejo: “Our brave little finger will be big, worthy,
an infinite finger among the fingers.”
Vodun thumb-post attended by 4 hexed dwarves.
Palm pressed to the Matta wound, to the Gargas wall:
new human negative: the I am not    that is.

I dream because I first had hands.
And in dream tonight I held my fire in my hands,
my fire with Caryl’s eyes!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Carol Rubenstein: Four New Poems from “Vanished Number”

author’s note.  With a small Saltonstall poetry grant, I visited Auschwitz in 2004-05 during all the seasons.  I had to get the sense of the place on my skin and know at least that reality as it was felt by the inmates.  It was hard to find a way into the overwhelming “pity and terror” of the Auschwitz tragedy, and many poems took on a surreal cast.  I welcomed the variety of approaches that presented themselves.  Some poems, like “Birken, Place of Birches” and “The Carp Feeders,” are based on where and when events occurred.  The exhibits of hair, clothes, shoes—in relation to the human body—required poems that compressed artifacts into a black-humor reality of their own, as in “Possession.”  Extremes of weather in such a place called for poems like “Wind Tongue (2).”  The voices of persecutor and persecuted alike echoed through my stay at Auschwitz.  All the poems represent a slant on reality imagined but not imaginary.  At present I am developing a manuscript of the many poems—working title, “Vanished Number.”  

BIRKEN, PLACE OF BIRCHES                       
So many birch trees neighbored here, etched heights

that this place was called the place of birches—Birkenau.
A shadow cleaved to each contoured slenderness,
the white bark of each was touched with messages.

One graced near another, they rose together—
comforting the blind who felt their way through this light, the
imprinting rapid momentary air, the mute whose praises,
are chorused by the angel of the day arising whole. 

In forest legend the lost, the homesick, needed only
tap a birch tree and at once the missing village—
winter-trimmed white-and-black or fringed with summer
guttural, inflected, retold by generations, returned about us. 
      That it may.  

The women—the unripened young, and those big with
      tomorrow’s own,
and of dignity in full, and the withering, stooped—were herded
faint amid the rear birken groves.  The men, guarded
      elsewhere.  All 
made to wait their turn near units 4 and 5:  Which, worked day
      and night,

backed up.  Schedules haywire, war ending.  “Here come more
Boxcars out of Hungary—retching, shitting, pissing, half-dead.”
“Heard it from the top.  Schnell!   Turnover FASTER.  Sent
      straight here,
no sorting, no numbers.”  “Units 4 and 5 again!  What’s with
      the furnaces?”

“... Then shovel out the ash!  Hose this sloppy floor!  Skip hair,
rings, knock out gold.  Get what they got hid.  Thought they
      were smart.”
“... Then GET a shovel man dammit.  You!”  Almost all was
      done when,
army near, guards threw down shovels, fled.  Schnell!  Smoke
      still rising.

Shadow-bearing, proof of light-lit substance—they, tree and
still entwine within the whispering freshness of their dance. 
      Their limbs 
sway and turn—until tranced unmoving by first light.  Now
      their new weight
holds in place another dawn.  All:  Every each one unlike any
      other ever.


Auctioneer, let the bidding begin!  All this is up for grabs—get
even as the sweet stuff dizzies and falls gorgeously away.
Bone fragments, splintered bits?  We toothpick them, twice
for dislodging choice morsels and for twirling gums to panting

Knuckled knobs of bone ends?  Crack, suck out the sumptuous
marrow lode, next whistle it dry to summon up the double-
      headed dogs.

This stretch of skin?  Melting lids and lips?  Buyer, what’s to
Crackle-roast it:  Rake.  A savor to the nostrils

rises, a rendering of fat as famished flames leap to lick and
each offering.  Sing the high-pitched song of the spitted turning

The Three Ravens ask, with-a-down: “Where shall we our
      breakfast take?”
Then beak their punctual eyeball prizes.  And refrain goes

Flung, the marbled brains clack broken into shards of silence: 
taken by law as assent.  To any queries as to reasons, answer
      you none.  

The jewels of vital organs spill lustrous through fingers—slip,
festooning the nude bowl of belly:  All let drip within the
      feathered pubes.

But wait, there’s an offal lot more—”offal,” get it?  Ya gotta love
      it!  This portrait,
more warty than most, is matchless, of provenance
      unthinkable.  The agent

deaf-and-dumb signals to snap up these bargains!  Prick, pop,
      shrivel, shred,
pouch to ash, sucked under the grate:  Just forget these assets? 
      Not on your life!

Note the going rate, all items tagged, look you take not one bite
      less.  Sold
for a song!  Lifetime guarantee.  Nothing known that cannot be

And repossessed—sold again, a whinny, a cackle!  Buyer,
      peering closer, reels
at the issuing reek.  Now see in the beholder eye such beauty
      hollowing, pitted.

A good job to get!  Some few are daily marched
to tend the pond for farming fish.  At the pond  
they scoop the fish food from their pails—
send it dimpling in.  The ash
drifts downward:  Down go the cousins.

Carp snatch and nibble—
rare and rich and passing strange
such banquet.  And they grow great,
sheathed in sheen of rosy gold.  They do thrive!

How many?  How keep count?  Of the brilliance,
one chosen lot is daily netted, thrashing.  Only officers
are offered them,
the serving platters heaped along the length of dining tables.

For their one or two seasons the feeders 
are beaten to go faster.  Their striped garment
angles sharper about their frame:  Until the cloth is shed,
each scarce tenancy                     

vacated ashen.  Or they trip or slide:  One unstoppable slow-
motion instant of falling—dropping into a skeletal sketch
in the road.  Their tattooed numbers, stripped from roll call,
slant in ashen tidbits back into their pond.  

Replacements never can march fast enough.
Rutted, pitted, dust-dry, mud-laden, ice-layered:   
Road that a former crew,
their broken forms dragged back, made

to fetch there the ash, fetch back the fish.

WIND TONGUE (2)                                                                          

How did they get it to be so lifelike?   
                              No sculpture before nor since
so well catches every rippled instance of flesh and muscle.
Is wind-hand slanting cheek and chin?  Wind-thumb and wind-     
squint aligning best profile?  Now wind-wrist balances
on nose-bridge fulcrum:  Where it wrests control, gets to
from the inside out—which expression will stare down time.      

What occult air
channels passageways, explores hollows?
Wind-harp looms the rare tissue that ensheaths the bones.
                              Look—the form-fit figure quivers—

must be reaching for its make!  Wind-tongue
has grooved divinity’s image to the life.


Is our character playing dumb?  Acting bored, a diplomat’s
Holding rhetorical pause?
                              What illusion flickers through its aperture,
while the tidal hours crest and trough?  The new moon slivers 
centuries of query:  Who now plays the part of armature? 
                              When did the skeletal captive
                             know it was a trap?


An elemental switch:  The form is sent into a blaze of bronze.  
Now absence, now solid.  Now the molten good pours in—
wholly fits.  What mad protocol next?  Rising into view:  This, 
the molded issue.  When to break open the cast?  And now 
                              to puzzle the entrails for portending signs. 
                              See wrought our marked fate, 
the telling of it even as the lips and tongue of language melt.

[NOTE. Carol Rubenstein, who had been an active participant in the New York poetry scene during the formative years of ethnopoetics & related projects, began a series of travels in the 1970s, that brought her then to Borneo, where for five years she collected & translated oral poetry from the Dayak people of that island.  Her important book, The  Honey Tree Song:  Poems and Chants of the Sarawak Dayaks, was published by Ohio State University Press in 1985, after which she settled in Ithaca, New York, where she continues today to write & work.  Her Auschwitz project began in 2004, for which she made three separate trips to Poland during 2004-05, to see for herself (in so far as that was feasible) the place of holocaust “in all the seasons."  The work presented here marks the first publication from the many poems that resulted (“imagined but not imaginary”) & otherwise speaks for itself.  (J.R.)]

Sunday, January 11, 2015

David Huerta: “Ayotzinapa,” Translation into English by Mark Weiss

[On September 23rd 43 students of the teacher's college in Ayotzinapa, in the state of Guerrero, Mexico, were detained by the police on the way to a protest, and handed over to a local drug cartel. They were tortured and killed, their bodies dismembered, dumped in a pit and incinerated. Mexico has been in turmoil since.  

David Huerta is one of Mexico's most important poets. This poem is his reaction. (m.w.)]


We bite the shadow
And in the shadow
The dead appear
As lights and fruit
As beakers of blood
As rocks from the pit
As branches and leaves
Of tender viscera

The hands of the dead
Are drenched in anguish
And twisted gestures
In the shroud of the wind
They bring with them
An insatiable sorrow

This is the land of ditches
Ladies and gentlemen
The land of screams
The land of children in flame
The land of tortured women
The land that barely existed yesterday
And today where it was is forgotten

We are lost between puffs
Of hellish sulphur
And irresistable fires
Our eyes are open
And stuffed
With broken glass

We extend
Our living hands
To the dead and the disappeared
But they back away from us
With a gesture of infinite distance

The bread is burnt
The faces of life are uprooted
And burnt and there are no hands
Nor faces
Nor country

There's just a vibration
Thick with tears
A long howl
Where we have confused
The living with the dead

Whoever reads this must know
That they were cast into the sea of the smoke
Of cities
Like a sign of the broken spirit

Whoever reads this must also know
That in spite of all
The dead have neither gone
Nor been made to disappear

That the spell of the dead
Is in sunrise and spoon
In foot and cornfield
In sketches and river

We gave to this spell
The calm silver
Of the breeze

To our dead
To our youthful dead
We delivered the bread of the sky
The sprig of waters
The splendor of all sadness
The whiteness of our condemnation
The forgetting of the world
And the shattered memory
Of all that live

Now brothers
It's best to be silent
To open one's hands and mind
So as to harvest from the cursed land
The shards of hearts
Of all who are
And all
Who have been

David Huerta
November 2, 2014

[Originally published in Plume online at]