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About this poet

Born on December 11, 1931 to Morris and Estelle Rothenberg, Jerome Rothenberg was raised in New York City and graduated from the City College of New York in 1952 with a BA in English. He went on to the University of Michigan to receive his Masters in Literature in 1953. From 1953 until 1955, he served in the U.S. Army in Mainz, Germany and afterwards returned to New York and continued his graduate studies at Columbia University until 1959.

Rothenberg began his literary career in the late 1950s working primarily as a translator; he is responsible for the first English appearances of Paul Celan and Günter Grass. He founded the Hawk's Well Press in 1959, and with it, the magazine Poems From the Floating World. Hawk's Well Press published Rothenberg's first book, White Sun, Black Sun, in 1960. He remained in New York City teaching, writing, and publishing until 1972, when he moved to the Allegany Seneca Reservation. In 1974, he moved to California to teach at the University of California, San Diego.

Rothenberg has published over seventy books and pamphlets of poetry. His books have been translated into multiple languages; two of them have been turned into stage plays and performed in several states. He has also assembled, edited and annotated over ten anthologies of experimental and traditional poetry and performance art and has been the editor or co-editor of several magazines. He has translated an enormous amount of world literature, including Pablo Picasso and Vítezslav Nezval. He has been deeply involved in performance art and has written several plays.

Throughout his literary career, Rothenberg has explored or been influenced by global cultural movements, including the Dadaists, North American Indian culture, Japanese literature, his familial connections with the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe, and a vast range of tribal poetics, both verbal and non-verbal.

At the beginning of his career he and fellow poet, Robert Kelly, began the Deep Image movement, coining the term and citing the Spanish 'cante jondo' for 'deep song' and Federico García Lorca as their inspirations. Rothenberg is probably best known for his work in ethnopoetics, a term he coined, involving the synthesis of poetry, linguistics, anthropology, and ethnology. Through it he sought to both to perpetuate fading oral and written literary legacies of the world and render them relevant and necessary to modern literature. His 1968 anthology, Technicians of the Sacred, a collection of African, American, Asian and Oceanic poetics, went beyond mere folk songs and included the texts and scenarios for ritual events and both visual and sound poetry. This anthology has informed a generation of artists of the immense potentiality and value of poetry throughout the world. He also founded and co-edited the first magazine of ethnopoetics, Alcheringa, and has been referred to as the father of American ethnopoetics.

His numerous awards and honors include grants from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts; two PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Awards; two PEN Center USA West Translation Awards; and the San Diego Public Library’s Local Author Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1997 he received a Doctorate of Letters from the State University of New York and was elected to the World Academy of Poetry in 2001.

Rothenberg has taught at the City College of New York, the State University of New York, Binghamton, and spent the majority of his teaching career at the University of California, San Diego, where he remains an emeritus professor of visual arts and literature.

A Selected Bibliography

A Seneca Journal (1978)
That Dada Strain (1983)
New Selected Poems, 1970-1985 (1986)
Poems for the Millennium: The University of California Book of Modern & Postmodern Poetry (1995)
Seedings & Other Poems (1996)
A Paradise of Poets: New Poems and Translations (1999)
Poems for the Game of Silence (2000)
A Book of Witness: Spells & Gris-Gris (2003)
Triptych: Poland/1931, Khurbn, The Burning Babe (2007)

Lorca Variation 34 A Book of Hours

3:00 P.M.

The green man, more a man
than most, took a scissors,
cut the sky with it,
let a river loose
till it became
a sea, the way that yellow
turns to gold,
his scissors tore its blue
apart, his lips
grown pale with dust,
the branches broke
& from the west a man rode up,
who saw the west in ruins,
Pan sat with a zither
heaping sadness upon sadness
earth upon air
until the sun itself was lost,
the air as murky
as the soul of man
he bathes in it
he sits inside
a molten pool
a catherine wheel spins overhead
a hundred pinwheels

6:00 P.M.

They set the snake loose
where the weathercocks
were twisting     slowly
day was settling on the fountain
sunset dropping from
their beaks    we drove our boat
around while evening
let its tail fall
& the half moon hunkered down
would turn forever blue among
its blue birds

7:00 P.M.

Venus waits in front of you
& trembles     will tomorrow
ever come, she thinks
& everything be like it was
inside the well
or will the stars be there
she like a girl will be
the first to raise it

8:00 P.M.

What a sweetheart he has,
who is wrapped in her blindfold,
can’t see him,
not for all her one thousand eyes
like a dragon’s     or tongues
as loud as the wind’s
she will lose him at last
in a crowd
even though she stares down from her sky
a shivering Venus

9:00 P.M.

In sight of the river,
a river that looks like
brushed velvet     an island
shaped like a heart
but bloodless
the breeze that skims over
is soft as a kiss
where a cistern lies open
ready to swallow the sky,
an olive grove vanishes
vanishes     words
cover everything
pass them along to your lady
make sure the color is blue

From Seedings & Other Poems. Copyright © 1996 by Jerome Rothenberg. Reprinted with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

From Seedings & Other Poems. Copyright © 1996 by Jerome Rothenberg. Reprinted with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Jerome Rothenberg

Jerome Rothenberg

Poet, editor, and translator, Jerome Rothenberg has published over seventy books and pamphlets of poetry and is known for being at the forefront of American ethnopoetics.

by this poet


I was amok & fearless
twice deceived
for which I sought out
in a tree.  Too carelessly
I reached for love
& beaten down
I found you
in a froth or frenzy
spent my days around
the pan yards.
I would ask no help from those

Up there—or down here
for that matter—the screams
rush around us
Ellipses dismember the tower
of Babel, crapulent city,
enraged zigzag women still sit in
with feathers, on porticos
Men with pale foreheads
shout poems from its rooftops,
crushing its grasses,
city that's buried in words,
like “cypress”
				       for Ted Berrigan & Alice Notley

the bridges of Chicago
are not the bridges of Paris
or the bridges of Amsterdam
except they are a definition
almost no one bothers to define
like life full of surprises
in what now looks to be the oldest
modern American city
o apparition of the movie version