Friday, March 30, 2012

Jerome Rothenberg, "Serpent," A Seneca Journal

In Windsor Pierce’s words
“a monster” (1937) must ‘ve been
200 ft in length
& 5 ft high
with horns
or others “just a huge horned serpent”
when the timber grew there
white men hadn’t come
but lightning from all directions
struck that place
                         The Thunderers
because they hated snakes
were shouting
—their lightnings twisted like a snake
maybe because of it—one heavy serpent
slid down the hill astride a log
while men shot arrows after it
floated as far as Tracy Run
there dug into the earth
& vanished
in the eddy called “deep water”
or “deep hole”
the place called “where the snake slid down”
all when the world was new

*     *     *     *     *

freaks—the Xtian lady calls you—
like sideshow injuns
             can glide along
the earth o you reptilian
gods       you twisted faces       scraping
those turtle bodies
down longhouse floor

*     *     *     *     *

a thousand years
had passed
the serpent would become
a whale

*     *     *     *     *

for the love of the serpent
& of the god
there are such mysterious comings & goings
across so many oceans
the good & the bad are changing places
            as we see in politics
the primary arena where those terms do not
                           could it then be another
thought another dimension surely
it is of the dimensions of the mind
we write today o Salamanca
& who lives where

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ed Sanders, "Sheep-Fuck Poem"

The ba ba lanolin fur-ears

         Trembling Lamb
where I enter the
                  matted meat
of the trembly sheep
the cunt warm
         & woman sized
offered by the lamb
which is surely the
lamb of god, the
lamb of the Trembling Flank;
& the bucking & sighing
when the prick sputs
the hot come
                  into loins
& the lamb looks back
with her eye
         & glazes me
in the freak-beams
& we are oily & atremble
         in the lanolin glaze
                  frenzy morning field
                           hay hidden
                  day in bloom torrent.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"Owl" (Seneca), total translation by Jerome Rothenberg and Richard Johnny John

h           h
i    o         o    i
g       o     o       g
h             o             h
h                                 h
o    THE OWL (1)    o
y    whose home was    y
a       in the hemlock       a
h                                         h
o                                              o
o                                                    o
o                   THE OWL (2)                  o
o                         could cure                         o
o                        by poison                        o
o                                                         o
o                                                    o
o             THE OWL (3)            o
o            a hollow tree           o
o          & whistling          o
o                                o
o                            o
o                     o
h               h

Monday, March 26, 2012

"I Was Suprised to Find Myself Out Here And Acting Like A Crow" (Seneca), Shaking the Pumpkin: Some Songs from the Society of the Mystic Animals, "total translation" by Richard Johnny John and Jerome Rothenberg, arranged by Ian Tyson

I    DIDN'T     THINK      I'D

I    DIDN'T     THINK      I'D

Sunday, March 25, 2012

"Crazy Dog Events" (Crow Indian), arranged by Jerome Rothenberg

         1. Act like a crazy dog. Wear sashes & other fine clothes, carry a rattle, & dance along the roads singing crazy dog songs after everybody else has gone to bed.

         2. Talk crosswise: say the opposite of what you mean & make others say the opposite of what they mean in return.

         3. Fight like a fool by rushing up to an enemy & offering to be killed. Dig a hole near an enemy, & when the enemy surrounds it, leap out at them & drive them back.

         4. Paint yourself white, mount a white horse, cover its eyes & make it jump down a steep & rocky bank, until both of you are crushed.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Georges Bataille, "A Visit to Lascaux," The Cradle of Humanity: Prehistoric Art and Culture, trans. Michelle Kendall and Stuart Kendall

"Nothing could have rendered the presence of this nascent humanity of long ago more tangible. Yet this tangible aspect also amplifies the paradox proper to all prehistoric art. The traces of their distant humanity that these men left, which reach us after tens of thousands of years, are almost completely limited to representations of animals. These men made tangible for us the fact that they were becoming men, that the limitations of animality no longer confined them, but they made this tangible by leaving us images of the very animality from which they had escaped. What these admirable frescoes proclaim with youthful vigor is not only that the man who painted them ceased being an animal by painting them but that he stopped being an animal by giving the animal, and not himself, a poetic image that seduces us and seems sovereign."

In my opinion, this hypothesis equally accounts for a paradoxical fact that I would now like to consider in greater depth. The fact is well known. Whereas the Upper Paleolithic painters left us admirable representations of the animals they hunted, they used childish techniques to represent men. This negligence does not illustrate an essential intention in relation to which the representation of a man did not have any importance in itself; the representation of man only mattered in relation to the animal. It was effectively necessary to give the evocation of the animal not only the central value but a tangible characteristic that the naturalistic image alone allowed them to attain. The animal had to be, in a sense, rendered present in the ritual, rendered present through a direct and very powerful appeal to the imagination, through the tangible representation. It was, on the contrary, useless to try to make man’s presence tangible. In fact, man was already present; he was there in the depths of the cave when the ritual was taking place.

Let’s take a closer look at the only clear representation of a man found in the Lascaux cave. You see that it is crudely schematic. It appeals to our intellect, not our senses. It is an intelligible sign. I don’t mean that it entails a kind of writing, but moving from the image to writing, we would only have to multiply the signs; we would also have to simplify them and render them conventionally systematic, yet it is clearly a question, for figurative art, of a completely different direction, of another open path.

Let’s turn our attention back to the image of the bison, still in Lascaux. Now let’s imagine before the hunt, on which life and death will depend, the ritual: an attentively executed drawing, extraordinarily true to life, though seen in the flickering light of the lamps, completed in a short time, the ritual, the drawing that provokes the apparition of this bison. This sudden creation had to have produced in the impassioned minds of the hunters an intense feeling of the proximity of the inaccessible monster, a feeling of proximity, of profound harmony. Definitely a more powerful and disturbing feeling than if it were a question of a previously completed, known painting. As if men, obscurely and suddenly, had the power to make the animal, though essentially out of range, respond to the extreme intensity of their desire. This time it is a question not of rendering it intelligible—as with the human figuration—but of making it tangible. This time it is a question of manifesting the animal and letting it loose to live out one of the roles in the drama of the hunt.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Marco Antonio Flores, "Requiem Por Luis Augusto," trans. Edward Dorn and Gordon Brotherston


They had the effect
of ash
and they contaminated the humus
Despite everything that had been done
made furrows
thrust their hands into the embers
But the wrong
was deeper, much deeper
Despite it
“mankind has said
and has begun to move”
In the meantime
we go on snagging ourselves
on fear, on justifications
Oyster shells
go on
swelling their form
around the hunger
of others
still we are incapable
of shouting or letting our chests out
Ours is the time of the few who prey
“I may die tomorrow
but others will take my place”
The idols saw him leave
and wept


A child not yet 5 years old
dies of hunger:
violence to the people
Equitable and sacred
supply and demand
A fat man bursts
engorged inside his cheque book
The plateau secretes its coyotes
its elevated buildings
its mink coats
its cadillacs
The old ladies drip
their pity tottering
at their charity balls:
The pain is of great antiquity
                                                      but not eternal
Ours is the time
of plunder
Yes “mankind has said
and has begun to move”


We are usurpers of the easiness
of buying food
Across from us is another face
full of hunger’s disease
I am afraid but not terrified
Terror conquers man
Man subjugates fear
I am going to stand
in the eye of the wind
to kill my flesh
Then I intend
over the ground
to drag myself
To place my name in the roots
to bury those roots very deep
                                                     in the watertable
From the highest peak
the net will stretch there
that holds our dreams


“I may die tomorrow
but others will take my place”
A girl weeps
in her bereavement, abandoned
His eyes were eyes
as an executed man has eyes
Again the sun is out
It is not a tree
which casts the shade
It is the wood
You must not be confused or cry
The rose germinates
and climbs
protected in the underbush
Young men take themselves off
by the uplands
                             or by the lowlands
And down from the hills
come torrents
of geraniums
which salute you
clenching their right hands
People go on being automatons
even when their knife
of death
more audible
in the mid night
The street’s corners hide
in the house of the sun
The multitude howls in terror
Friends give
their arteries
to the wolf for nothing
and appear then
on pedestrian pages
busted by bullets
There is one response only:


“I may die tomorrow
but others will take my place”
His eyes were the eyes
of an executed man
The asphalt wept fire
in his side
In the meantime
                                all of us
say we enjoy
our crust-of-bread paycheck
We are contented and lower
our heads
to his death
content to sob hypocritically
It is not ours, this waiting time
His burnt throat
propagated the morning which half unbends our fingers
Silence slaughters dreams
All is absence

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Birgit Brander Rasmussen, "Writing in the Conflict Zone: Don Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala's El Primer Nueva Corónica Y Buen Gobierno," Queequeg's Coffin: Indigenous Literacies and Early American Literature

In Andean society, numbers served not only a quantitative but also a qualitative purpose, and the mathematical nature of quipus corresponded to what Galen Brokaw has called “a numerical episteme.” Andean society was characterized by a high degree of numerical literacy and organized its social and philosophical thought according to an episteme rooted in numbers. The number ten was key in this epistemology, and social groups or villages (called ayllus) were organized according to the decimal unit of ten. Guaman Poma’s survey of Inca society corresponds to this decimal organization, with its ten “calles.” In addition to the decimal-based system of social organization, the number five organized both historical and geographical paradigms in the Andes, as evident in the separation of Cuzco into four parts organized around a “fifth” part, the center. The pair constituted another important numerical unit. A preference for pairs reflected the philosophical notion that singularity signified incompletion and also dangerous imbalance. Pairs represented balance and a completed unit. This philosophy, based on the concept of pairing and the privileging of dualism, pervaded Andean society and thought. Arithmetic, whether addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division, was central to the “art of rectification” by which Andean society sought to maintain balance and equilibrium in moral and social terms. Numbers and their arithmetical manipulation then provides “a process by which indigenous Andean culture shapes the raw, quantitative nature of time, space, and social organization into numerically significant contributions” based on its “ontology of numbers.”

In Andean epistemology, numbers can therefore be understood as parallel to words as the privileged signifiers through which reality was understood, represented, and manipulated. Like other kinds of writing, quipus then reflected the privileged forms of representation in Andean society. Indeed, Brokaw has argued that “the Andean ontology of numbers and the conventions of khipu textuality developed together dialogically, even informing and influencing the other.” The Aschers coined the term “cultural insistence” to explain the ways in which the main ideas, values, and organizational structures of a given culture manifest themselves in material and representational artifacts. They note that cloth was such an important component of Inca culture that it can be seen as “characteristic of Inca insistence in and of itself. At every turning point in the life history of an individual cloth played a key role.” The Aschers argue that portability was equally characteristic of Inca “insistence” and that the most common artifact used to carry things was a piece of strong cloth. The quipu, then, appears to have combined numerous central elements of Andean cultural insistence as a cloth-based, highly portable system of literacy based on an epistemology of numbers.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Charles Olson, "Project (1951): 'The Art of the Language of Mayan Glyphs'"

Both the scope and the significance of what I am doing here in the Mayan area---and petition for aid to continue to do---are so involved with (1) the state which Mayan studies as a whole have reached and (2) with advantages I take to lie in approaching the same material from another methodological base, that there will be gain if I am permitted to describe these things at the same time that I outline my plan of work, time required, and publication prospects.

My own study is centered on hieroglyphic writing. The prime material for such study are the carved inscriptions, chiefly on stone, with a very few examples on wood, at the sites of the ancient Maya cities in Mexico, Guatemala, the Republic of, & British Honduras. There are two other primary sources: living Maya speech, especially the Yucatec and Chol dialects which appear to be closest to the spoken language in use at the time the hieroglyphic system of the writing was invented; and what "books" of that writing have survived---the three Codices, Paris, Dresden, Madrid, and the several Books of Chilam Balam. (The Codices "written" in actual glyphs, that is, they are "painted" by brush on a lime coating over a paper made of wild fig; the Books of Chilam Balam are in modern Maya, written by an alphabet derived from Spanish, but are pretty definitely post-Conquest redactions of earlier hieroglyphic books like the Codices, at least uses the materials of same.) It is therefore clear that I am here to study the stone inscriptions and, coincident with residence in the Mayan area, to continue learning and using Mayan speech.

What has been done with this material up to now had to be concentrated on what now constitutes the great secondary source: the long work of the decipherment of the Mayan hieroglyphic system. For until the denotation of enough of the sings was known to declare the nature of the texts, little else could be done. And, aided at every point by seventy-five years of scientific archaeology (I am taking Sir Alfred P. Maudslay's work as the first such to follow on John L. Stephens' discovery of the ruins of Maya civilization in 1839-41), the work of decipherment has gone steadily ahead, by way of the clues of the mathematics, astronomy and calendar system of the Maya, until today the denotations of one-third of the signs are known, and that an important third covering as it does what seems to have been the chief calendrical function of the stones---the recording of the movements of time and the planets.

The publication last year of J. Eric S. Thompson's "Maya Hieroglyphic Writing" by the Carnegie Institution marks the change. For he who is himself the climax of the great decipherers (Forstemann, Goodman, Bowditch, Beyer, Gates, Long and Teeple) argues, and demonstrates, the advantages to be got from opening up new paths, now that the paths to denotation, by way of calendrical decipherment, have begun to run out. In fact, he has forced forward, as a second huge secondary source, the whole panoply of beliefs, behaviours, objects, personages and stories which we are in the habit of loosely calling the "mythology" of a people. Thompson includes the mythology of the neighbors of the Maya, to the north and south, as well.

My own purpose is to examine Mayan hieroglyphic writing without losing these gains but also without losing sight for an instantof another dominating control factor which has up to now, it is my impression, been obscured by the pressing necessities summarized above. It is this: Mayan "writing," just because it is a hieroglyphic system in between the pictographic and the abstract (neighter was it any longer merely representational nor had it yet become phonetic) is peculiarly intricated to the plastic arts, is inextricable from the arts of its own recording (sculpture primarily, and brush-painting), in fact, because of the very special use the Maya made of their written stones (the religious purpose their recording of the movements of time and the planets seems to have served), writing, in this very important instance (important not only historically but also dynamically in terms of its use in cultures today), can rightly be comprehended only, in its full purport, as a plastic art.

So it has been the point of departure for my own researches that if Mayan hieroglyphic writing was examined exactly in its plastic relationships, was studied of, and for them (in other words was studied as close as it is now possible to how the Maya themselves brought it into being in the first place as well as to how they "published" the texts they "wrote" in it---even to the point of making the carved standing stones called stelae a focal element in the architectural plan of their cities) the laws of its nature, its making and its use should like more open before us.

I confess I remain quite puzzled why this has not already been done. But then, it is only part of a greater puzzle, why Mayan art as a whole has not been engaged with anything like the vigor and intelligence the decipherers have brought to bear on the glyphs. For it is exactly the works of the major arts of sculpture, writing, architecture and painting which constitute the body of the material the Maya left behind them and that archaeology has made available. And it is in these arts that the Maya have been considered supreme (by contrast, for example, to their neighbors who are usually taken to be superior in such other things as masonry and road-building, metals, ceramics, feather-work, plus, it is sometimes said, governmental and social organization.)

It is curious discrepancy, and one I am much confronted by in what I am doing, for what studies have been done of sculpture, architecture and painting are largely of a descriptive or historical nature, and almost the only studies of the writing---certainly the only valuable ones---have been done in the light thrown, not by the other arts, but from the chronology complex by way (again) of the great decipherers. Perhaps it is just that decipherment took up all the best energies, and that there was no real time or chance for an equal investigation of the arts. I don't know. But I should judge, from observation of the state of studies on other ancient civilizations, that it also has something to do with the important fact that only recently have men of art and language become capable of scholarship like that of the Mayan decipherers, and that only now can we expect to get a methodology at once creative and morhpological, thus able to produce studies of Maya art at least of equal validity to the work of said decipherers. In any case, in Mayan studies the decipherers have made themselves the measure, and my aim is to try to study exact enough to give the arts (and I include writing) the sort of attention I take it they deserve, admittedly dominating as they do the culture as it has survived to our use.

With these things in mind I have called the study, and the book I plan to be the sum of the work here, "The Art of the Language of Mayan Glyphs." The "art" is a matter of the fact that a glyph is a design or composition which stands in its own space and exists---whether cut in stone or written by brush---both by the act of the plastic imagination which led to its invention in the first place and by the act of its presentation in any given case since. Both involved---I shall try to show---a graphic disciplining of the highest order.

Simultaneously, the art is "language" because each of these glyphs has meanings arbitrarily assigned to it, denotations and connotations (it is the latter which have, up to now, proved so hard to come by), and because they are put together, are "written" over a whole stone (stela, altar, lintel, zoomorph, whatever) to make the kind of sense we speak of as language, however one must be on constant guard not to be "linguistic" about this language, not to confuse whatever "syntax" is here with what we are used to in the writing of phonetic language, in fact to stay as "plastic" throughout the examination as the Maya were in its making and to let this language itself---not even any other hieroglyphic system---declare what, for itself, are its own laws. I take it that such an examination ought to be of some considerable use to the scholarship of glyphs as well as of some certain use as a study of Mayan art.

My qualifications to do such a thing would seem to lie in a particular sort of scholarship and a particular sort of writing which, in their practice, have been one. They are what brought me to the methodology, and to Mayan hieroglyphs in particular. The scholarship was concentrated from the first on American civilization, with an increasing emphasis on the American Indian until, in 1948, I was granted my second Guggenheim fellowship precisely on the basis of research which was largely into Indian life---in that instance, how the coming of the whites impinged on it. The value of the writing to my work here would seem to be a matter of the insights which follow from the practice of it as a profession, particularly such graphic verse as a contemporary American poet, due to the work of his immediate and distinguished predecessors, does write. Two recent publications document the point of such practice, particularly as it applies to such things as Mayan glyphs: the essay on "Projective Verse" in Poetry New York No. 3, Fall, 1950, and the study of language in relation to culture, "The Gate and the Center," in Origin No. 1, Boston, Spring 1951. But I can state it here most quickly by using the words of John Milton which Mr. Thompson has had the insight to use as the epigraph to his glossary of Mayan glyphs. In his "A Tractate on Education" Milton puts what I have elsewhere called "the objectism of language" in these sharp words: he says, that though a linguist have all the tongues of the world, he would not be as wise as a yeoman or a tradesman if he did not have what they have from their dialects, the use of the "solid things" in speech "as well as the Words & Lexicon!"

It is these solid things which the Maya kept extraordinarily clear, and it is as my study is designed to get at them, at the way the Maya kept them alive in their writing and at the profound reasons in their life and make-up as a people why they did, that is distinguishes itself from what has preceded it, the way of the decipherers who gave us so much of the "lexicon" of glyphs. My emphasis is on the live stone, for all the value of its "relief" (it is this emphasis which makes the field work I am shortly to describe so essential) and, within any given stone, the analysis of two parts: not only the individual glyph and its elements (with the emphasis shifted from too close an attention to its denotation as "word" toward more understanding of its connotations, from its force as carved thing) but also that unit which dominates a stone visually and has heretofore received too little attention, the glyph-block, that "square" which can include up to 4 glyphs and which sets itself off an area usually about 6 x 6 inches. The mechanics of the glyph-block (the way it organizes its glyphs and the way the glyph-blocks are organized to make up the "passage" of the whole stone) is the clue, my studies so far suggest, of the other important element of this art, time, as the Maya, great masters of time elsewhere, managed it here in their language. For the demand on my technique is a double one, the double nature of this unusual writing: it is at once object in space (the glyph) and motion on stone in time (the glyph-blocks).

But I am already getting inside the field work in progress, with an emphasis on plastic analysis, and I better, first, describe on further training I have had for it and for my collaboration with the Campeche artist, Hipolito Sanchez. I describe our collaboration in some detail below, but the curious thing is, that all my joint work has been done with creative artists. It started with the Italian, and now American painter, Corrado Cagli (our last joint publication was the book y & x, Black Sun Press, Paris, with drawing by Cagli and designed by him). With Ben Shahn, during World War II, when we were both employees of the government, he in the Division of Graphics of the OWI, and I in charge of graphics for the Foreign Language Division, I did the pamphlet "The Spanish-Speaking Americans of the Southwest and the War," published by the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs. And it was Joseph Alber, of the Bauhaus, Black Mountain College, and now Yale, who led me, two years ago, back to education as a member of the faculty at Black Mountain.

With that said we can square away at the plan of work. Let me preface it with what I was just saying about the results of the analyses Sanchez and I have so far made of the glyphs and glyph-blocks. The more we have examined and worked out devices to continue (1) to correlate the objects that the Maya levyed of nature with the designs of the glyphs and their parts and (2) to graph the way these designs are moved from glyph to block to stone, the more it is borne home that his people's vaunted brilliance about time and its recordin (their invention of the concept of zero, their observations of the movements of Venus, the moon, the sun, their calendar) is not to be divided from their exactness about all the solid things which nature offered them and which, seized as they seized them and transposed them into their language, gives that language its exceptional subtelties and exactitudes. And it just might be the most important issue of the work (it has been so far) that by such reasoning from the stones alone, by staying inside the content of this sculptured writing and letting its achieved form solely dictate the conclusions, the precise specifics of the Mayan concept of nature and of time, can, for the first time, be defined. For what has so far come clear is, that in obedience to the phenomenal world, the Mayan imagination did very exactly maintain in the hieroglyphic writing the two things which the art of it seems to have demanded of them: the face and the proportion of nature in the glyph, resistant time in the composition of the glyph, the block and the stone.

The plan of work ahead divides itself naturally into two parts: (1) the site examination of the hieroglyphic stones both for themselves and as they are a part of the art complex, both of any given site and of the Mayan area as a whole; and (2), the publication of the results, or, in this case, because of the materials, the nature of the analysis and the necessity for illustration, what can better be called the "projection" of the results.


The presentation of a project in this area is complicated just by one of its pleasures, the collaborations called for. And in my case they are more than the usual ones which follow from the expeditions it takes to get into some, at least, of these sites. For the sites are more to me than ruins to be visited or excavated or reconstructed: they are quite literally "libraries" and "museums," and they are the first such I didn't just walk to, and in! On top of that, though---once in---the sculptures and paintings and buildings can['t?] be looked at like any others elsewhere, the other things, these stubborn carved stones, my "books" and "manuscripts"--they are not just read, like that, either! So if I have had to give space in this petition to the decipherers and to my man Sanchez, they deserve it for the great help they are. As well as this: the dependence of my own work on theirs, on the precision of Sanchez's lines, on the decipherments, leads me to think that the real reason why the house of Mayan art has not been entered is, that the only entrance is hieroglyphic writing, that only from these exactitudes and not from any assumed or traditional "aesthetic" considerations, that only by way of the freshness of the content of this sculptured writing can the forms be understood and presented, the forms that this art of language achieved inside itself and the forms that the other Mayan arts achieved along with it.