The University of California Press has recently published Volume One of
Poems For The Millennium: The University of California Book of
Modern & Postmodern Poetry, Vol. 1 (From Fin-de-Siecle to Negritude) [Rothenberg, Jerome and Joris, Pierre, eds. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995], edited by Jerome Rothenberg and
Pierre Joris. Jerome Rothenberg is one of the world's leading
anthologists. Among his more than sixty books of poetry and numerous
anthologies are Technicians of the Sacred, Revolution of the
Word, and Shaking the Pumpkin. He is Professor of Visual
Arts and Literature at the University of California, San Diego. Pierre
Joris has published more than twenty books of poetry, several
anthologies, and numerous volumes of translations. He is Professor of
English at the University at Albany-SUNY. Rothenberg's & Joris's
previous collaboration pppppp: Selected Writings of Kurt
Schwitters (Temple University Press, 1993) was awarded the 1994
PEN Center USA West Literary Award for Translation. The following
interview, conducted by Chris Funkhouser, took place at Pierre Joris'
home in Albany, New York, December 1995.
Chris Funkhouser: The reason I have some of these questions is because
of the event a few nights ago, the EPCLIVE chat about your anthology,
on the Internet Relay Channel (IRC). I have some questions about the
anthology which I didn't have a chance to ask you then. The first thing
relates to the fact that my copy of the anthology came the week that
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. I was thinking, through
your book, you're drawing the world's literatures and cultures together
through English, through the page. Yet it's still really a greatly
conflictive and angry world with a lot of division. Despite the
destruction of such symbols as the Berlin Wall, we still have a popular
media which celebrates divisions, perpetuates violence in a way which
poetry laments. I'm wondering how the strife, and succession of
diplomatic tragedies impinges upon work such as this anthology.
Though it might seem like a naive question, I'm wondering if you see
any role poetry might play in terms of some kind of international
relations? Or, is poetry present to be just politely distantly "contrastive"
to unfortunate "human" predicaments?
Jerome Rothenberg: Well, I don't know if politely contrastive
is right. Certainly, there's a feeling that many of us have, that poetry is
somehow "contrastive": a way of being and speaking that marks a
differenceand a resistance. In the second volume [of the anthology],
even more than the first, we'll be using terms like "resistance," picking
up from a [Charles] Olson essay on poetry as a form of resistance, post-
World War Two, coming to it in that way. So the contrastive is a contrast
by resistance. But, it's very complicated out there, also, so in terms of
the initial question, of whether things are brought together or are seen
in their separate identities, obviously there's a lot of fluctuation for any
of us. That is, we presumably don't want to bring things together into
such a unanimous, single, entity that the individual differences (what
makes for their distinctiveness) then disappear. To speak even in trite
terms (as we often do) about the unity of all living beings (and so on) is,
well, problematic. I mean, the real question is how to do that without
imperializing it in some way or another, so that there are no longer
differences, those differences which, of course, also have value? At the
same time, one is both trying to stress difference and to somehow make
it a difference that doesn't end up in ethnic cleansing.
Pierre Joris: Ethnic cleansing is of course that totalitarian attempt to do
away with difference, it is the One that pathologically refuses the many.
Certainly poetry has some kind of role, however limited, to play, in
pointing out, even in creating a place, a field -- in Duncan's sense, where
the many can co-exist. You need difference to make it an interesting
placeanything kinetic, i.e. any movement, anything negentropic
happens only when there is a difference, a departure from equilibrium,
from the same, thus a clinamen. That it always become
something else: if you have only the one, you have only a kind of death,
because you have no multiplication. You have nothing. I think in terms
of poetry or poetics you could even, then, talk of, say, how poetry by field,
composition by field, is a kind of map where this multiplicity, the many,
can come in and be in a field that is not necessarily an arena of conflict.
So that would be a kind of mapping of some of those questions. But
poetry is not going to directly solve any of the questions.
Funkhouser: It's like you can't impose a heterogeneity, yet that's sort of
an over-arching project?
Rothenberg: Well, obviously, the kind of question that you raise could
be raised about other forms of activity besides poetry. Or, it could be
raised more generally as a great, extremely important political and social
question. Even if one doesn't bring art or poetry into it at all. What is a
humanity in relation to which there can be crimes against it?
What is a crime against humanity? It implies some notion of a humanity
that can be abused in all of usnot as a generality but specifically in its
particulars...as an individual but also as an ethnic entity. There's no
question that the book tries to emphasize, to foreground some of that as
a tension that poetry also in some sense addresses. I don't know if it sets
itself off differently in the United States than elsewhere. This is a
peculiar place, the United States: it's a colonized place at its inception
and grows out of that. It's created at the expense of a given series of
nations that lived here to start with.
Joris: But every place on the globe is like that. Is colonized by humans,
who in their turn over time get invaded, displaced, wiped out,
amalgamated, reconfigured and so on.
Rothenberg: But in the United States the Conquestthe colonizationwas followed by a period of opening. The conquered land was opened to a
multiplicity of peoples. Not always and not equally but with a lot of
stops and starts. Obviously, at a certain point, there was open migration
into the country, open borders. Around 1920, the borders were shut, you
got a closed door policy. After the second world war, the borders were
opened up againor opened up a little more. Today there's a strong
movement to again close up the borders. But for some number of us, the
openness to people's cultures, multiplicities, is one of the terrific things
about being here. And yet, for all of that, you still get these developing,
these re-developing nativisms, and the sense that there are some within
the country who are truly Americans, and there are some
within that who are differently, or only secondarily...
Joris: When this reporter from the local newspaper interviewed me and
I suggested that maybe there were no "true" Americans, that even the
Indians had come here at some time from somewhere else, and that in
that sense I was just as American or non-American as anyone else, he
titled his article: "SUNY Poet is Fake American"!
Rothenberg: And I called you a "Luxembourg Yankee"...
Funkhouser: Along the same lines, and maybe this is more closely
related to the book, I was thinking of how Nate Mackey, in his set of
critical essays [Discrepant Engagement: Dissonance, Cross-
Culturality, and Experimental Writing], coins the phrase
discrepant engagement." It's a process by which he intermixes the work
of writers which aren't normally brought together under the same
critical or creative lens, in a way of breaking down literary and cultural
monoliths, which is what we are talking about. Your anthology is really
outstanding because of its extensive cutting across genres and forms,
cultures, in a way that no other collection of poetry in English has before.
and there's cuts and splices within the text which are delightfully
surprising. So you have two different types of unusual editing going on.
In the Introduction to the anthology, you talk a bit about this desire to
tear down previously standing boundaries. I wanted to ask you about the
radical postmodern editing that you do, and if you had any more to say
about what were trying to trying to accomplish through the
juxtapositions, what kind of discrepant engagement you might see this
ethnopoetics project involved with. How much of it has to do with
extending and livening up the anthology as a form?
Joris: You said it! [laughter by all]
Rothenberg: There's a statement inherent in your question. I mean, yes
-- as you continued to unfold the question, I felt myself saying 'yes, yes,
yes.' I didn't know Nate Mackey's term, but certainly his project is of
particular interest. Not only because he's an extraordinarily good poet
and editor, but because he pulls off a really big poetry that precisely
crosses genres and boundaries without at the same time losing its
'Mackeyness.' His openings are wonderful. There's a big mind at work
there. Unlike what one is fearful of in poets who base themselves in
some particularly ethnic place but don't cross over. Very often it closes
them off, and ultimately all they talk about is that. I mean to
say that there can be a narrowing. Sometimes that narrowing is so
intense that something results from it and makes a poetry, and
sometimes (most often, now that I think of it) it narrows into a
Joris: A closing down.
Rothenberg: When we saw [the Syrian poet] Adonis in Paris a few weeks
ago, he was talking about the life of Arabic poetry and the obvious danger
that the poetry there goes from being an instrument of exploration and
vision (as it is for him and others) and becomes again an instrument for
the perpetuation of fixed truthsin this case (as so often) of religious
tradition. Those are two claims for poetry that are in necessary conflict.
Joris: Which is what, say, any fixed form poetry is still about. That is,
anybody hanging on to, say, the sestina or trying to recover any other
such fixed formand that includes even the "fixed" form of the basic
confessional creative writing class free verse poem. The desire in such
work is for a bygoneor rather a fictitiousfixity in culture. The past
is wet-dream from which you don't want to wake up. When you look at
any of those anthologies of either the new formalists I think they call
themselves, or of the creative writing programs, what you are really
confronted with is a kind of deep-seated fear, a tight-assedness about the
very possibility of changethat the world is in an incredibly uncertain
state, that you can't make sense of it as it is, and have therefore to fall
back on some supposed past cultural coherency. Now clearly, Nate's
sense, and our sense, is that we think the only way the world is going to
cohere, or make it, rather, is if everything can be left in, in fact, has to be
left in and any momentary form or formal coherence has to be made-up
then and there, in situ with all the given. One has to create
enough valences to make the dance possible.
Rothenberg: Nate's project is, like ours, inherently intercultural. Which
means that many things can interact, there's an opening for the
individual writer to move across boundaries. The "multicultural" thing
without an intercultural outletis trickier because in some ways "ethnic
cleansing," or apartheid, can also be based on a notion of the
multicultural: this culture here, that culture there, this culture...
Funkhouser: That's how it seems to work in many academic situations.
Joris: It's identity politics, to define everything a certain way...
Rothenberg: It tends to split apart and separate and to never get to the
other, the discrepant engagement.
Joris: It's a truly useful term to think through these matters.
Funkhouser: I was wondering if you could say a few words specifically
about the editing process. You have a big stack of pages here, you start
with something, and you go somewhere. I knowsince you're separated
geographicallyyou spend a lot of time talking on the phone, faxing, e-
mailing texts, and so forth. The phone has been around for awhile, but
the newer technologies are recently developed. We talked a little bit on-
line the other night about that.
Rothenberg: We started to...
Funkhouser: I was wondering how that has all come to affect and play a
role in your work as editors, and perhaps as poets, too.
Rothenberg: Well, I don't know if I said it on-line, but I do sometimes
have a feeling that if it were not for the ability we now have to
communicate in all of these ways over this three thousand mile distance,
that we would have ditched the project at some point. Maybe not, but
we certainly would have had to handle it in another, more painful,
probably less productive way. I think, really, to split the work up
differently, where one of us, say, would have become totally responsible
for each gallery...
Joris: One gallery each, or something of that order. The first volume was
thought through and put togetherat least the first editingwhile we
were together, while I was living on the west coast. The second one was
put together at a distance. But it was the energy of the first onewe
knew roughly what we wantedand we certainly did get together on a
number of occasionslike right now, the occasion is Jerry being here for
a weekand he has come several times while I've gone to the West
Coast on a number of occasions. Nothing replaces, in fact, the bull
sessions, sitting around and looking and figuring out how we are going to
do this. But indeed, the combination of the three, i.e. phone, fax, and e-
Rothenberg: And almost no surface mail, "snail" mail...
Joris: Yes, indeed, there's basically been no snail mail--
Rothenberg: We almost never put anything into an envelope. I think
occasionally you may have sent me a package. I've got a fax machine,
he's got a fax machine...
Funkhouser: In a way it enables, just in the way that technology enables
us to communicate with people instantaneously around the globe. It
allows for things to be created in this new way. And although you're
probably mostly between the two of you dealing with the text, and
maybe you have to deal with the publisher, and rightsthrough the
phone and fax tootelecommunications seems to open up a more
expedient method of getting things done.
Rothenberg: Dealing with publishers changes with fax. Part of the
nitty-gritty in dealing with publishers is a question of setting prices for
use of material, and there's a certain amount of back and forth on that.
If you have to do all of that by surface mail...
Joris: You'd be at it for years and years.
Rothenberg: This way, when a problem comes up, all publishers have
fax, and increasingly we're getting publishers who give their e-mail
addresses, it can be addressed on the spot. In a day you can settle what
would have taken weeks of negotiation back and forth.
Joris: I can't be absolutely sure, but I'm relatively certain that the
medium, however, has not in any profound way influenced the kind of
book that we have generated. I think the anthology would be roughly
the same if we had sat together in California these last three years.
Rothenberg: Yes. But even if we sat together in California, we would be
usingor at least you would, because you're much ahead of me on this
the net or the web as what it also is: an information gathering device.
Even sitting together, in terms of reaching out, of finding what books by
an author are available, of making contact with people to ask questions
as they come up... On the spot.
Joris: In terms again, of speed and availability, yes, the OCLC's
WorldCatthe world wide on-line library search facilityhas been a
very useful tool. Having found what I need, I can use inter-library loan,
and fill in at midnight my inter-library loan forms on the net, and have
the book arrive in Albany ten days later. Yes, indeed, as an information
gathering tool it has been fairly good. Not perfect, because a lot of the
kind of material we are looking for is, of course, not material that is
available in the various institutions of instruction. So there is also a fair
amount ofwhat do you call it, footwork, that remains to be done
contacting people, getting contacted by people who knew of our project.
Rothenberg: But we pull in things like the Library of Congress, the big
repositories are available. Books at least that have been registered and
Funkhouser: I've seen a couple of publications lately where I know the
editors made extensive use of on-line file exchanges. It's phenomenal, as
many editors have e-mail, have the telecommunications, things comes
together quickly, efficiently. It's that sort of thing that makes me want
to say to the people who resist it: 'some really amazing human things
can happen from using these tools.'
Joris: It goes both ways. You can do a lot of interesting things, but you
can also lose a lot of time. Some study for basic computer in the
workplace has also shown that traditionally a letter was written by a
secretary once, then corrected by the boss, and that was it. Now, with
the ease of computers and printers, most letters are re-written and
printed out six times before they're sent out. So, there's also much
redundancy hereand much paper wasting. But those are things that
need getting used to. When I first used the machina, I was subscribing to
so many lists that I could have spent twenty-four hours a day on-line,
going into the RN [the Internet's system of Usenet bulletin boards],
looking at all the stuff that was happening. One could have gotten
completely lost up thereand finally I think there's more noise than
info going on.
Rothenberg: Another interesting thing, particularly while some large
part of the net remains free, or virtually free, to the individual user, is
the global nature of the communication; that is to say, letters in the
conventional sense can go between countries but also with electronic
mail you can have something like real-time conversation that is
simultaneously a written exchange with people across cultural and
national boundaries. As long, that is, as there's a language in common.
So, getting on the POETICS list [an Internet discussion group,
moderated by Charles Bernstein] was of immediate interest in that you
had link-ups as a starter to the entire English-speaking world, between
the States and New Zealand, Australia, England.
Funkhouser: At first, there were some Russian poets too, but they seem
to have backed off. Arkadii Dragomoshenko was on the list. He said it
was too much for him! But back to the anthologyand we did talk
about this a bit the other nightwhat forms you see this global
anthology opening up into?
Rothenberg: Do you mean if one were to go electronic with it?
Joris: Ideally, remember, we thought what we would have liked was for
the first volume to open with a color fold-out of what is now reproduced
in black-and-white insideThe [Prose Of The] Trans-Siberian [And
Of Little Jeanne Of France], the [Sonia] Delaunay & Blaise
Cendrars work originally conceived & done as a fold-out...
Rothenberg: It was a professional publication for the print trade [FINE
PRINT] that in one issue had a nice fold out of The Trans-Siberian. We
went to UC Press and said, 'look, let's have this fold-out.' And they gave
some consideration to it, but it would have cost such and such, and I
guess they couldn't or they wouldn't raise the extra money specifically to
do that. But foldouts are still within the book format.
Joris: But then adding to, expanding the book-format, we would have
liked to see a CD-ROM at the end of the second volume. That would
have been a way of pointing to this century's technologies, and where
Rothenberg: But publishing people, certainly in relation to this
anthology (or looking back to Technicians of the Sacred), have
spoken the word CD-ROM or recognized that as an alternative means of
publication. And if one were doing a CD-ROM, or multimedia version of
Millennium, there would be a whole range of things to do or
show: the performance and sounding of poetry, the contemporary
experiments with hypertext, the things that we were speaking about just
now, like the use of color and other forms of visualization as part of
poetry's extended means. All of this is built into the medium itself, so
what what's irregular in a book (and what the press won't therefore do) is
simply there with CD-ROMlike color.
Funkhouser: There's that great [John] Cage text, DIARY: How to
Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse)...
Rothenberg: Yes, that original color version that [Dick] Higgins put out
when he was doing Something Else Press. Although that goes into
Wesleyan's A Year From Monday in black, white and grey,
Funkhouser: So, you see multimedia applications for the work.
Rothenberg: A multimedia version would be terrific.
Joris: It would be wonderful.
Rothenberg: The one problem I've always had with multimedia versions
of things is that the text itself becomes difficult to read. I find it hard to
read text off of a computer screen. But that's to quibble, and the other
thingsto see figures and movements, to get a reasonable amount of
background on a poet, to be able to see poets performing their own
poetry, or whateverwould really be terrific. And as for the other
problem, of reading poetry off the screen, you can always download and
make a paper copy. Or you can publish the CD-ROM with an
accompanying book, a printed text, the way you now have a compact disc
with a printed insert.
Joris: I don't think that the CD-ROM is going to supplant the book in
any way. We need the book, and we need the CD-ROM too. It's not
either/or. It's both/and.
Funkhouser: I agree. That seems to be a sensible way to approach it
anyway. I don't know if the industry is really going to embrace it quite
like that, but poets probably will.
I had a couple specific questions about the anthology, and a couple of
questions about anthologies in general way. The first one is, what isn't
in the anthology that you would like to have put in?
Rothenberg: The [Blaise] Cendrars Trans-Siberian (as we've been
talking about it), and other things in color. The Blake was of course
going to be in color also. He did his plates in color. David Jones, all
things being equal, would have been in there with an actual excerpt, in
this case from In Parenthesis, rather than the commentary (as
we have it) minus the work itself.
Joris: But then Faber & Faber asked for just extortionary amounts of
money for that, and couldn't be budged, so we had to cut the text out but
leaving in the commentary to create the sense that 'Here, David Jones
should be'a sort of tombeau. So, that kind of thing
happened, but not too often, just with two famous patriarchs.
Rothenberg: There were a number of other authors that would have
been good to have, but there were questions of money and, more
positively, of wanting to or needing to be global, so that we couldn't
overdo it in any one region. That would have been great, say if we had
2,000 pages to work with, but barring that, then clearly you have to draw
Joris: Both volumes, at one point in their stage were much bigger. We
had to cut them down to size. They already wound up being bigger than
what the initial contract stipulated, and even in a way what in our minds
the initial book was supposed to be...
Rothenberg: But in another sense (and to be perfectly honest) some of
the cutting can really make a better book of it. To keep expanding it
makes it valuable as a repository, but sometimes when you shrink it, you
get a corresponding intensity. It gets sharper in the process.
Joris: Sometimes we show a few of the individual works at a longer
stretch, given that the long poem is something that interests us very
Rothenberg: We were going to do the complete Trans-Siberian of
Cendrars, for example. Instead we did three or four big chunks of it, but
not the complete thing. With Mallarmé's Un Coup dés...
Joris: It really cannot be excerpted, and so we decided to do the whole
thing, to make, in fact, the point from the start, that poems have a
certain size, and that this century is not the century of the small, lyric
poem as the only possible, or best, or even most central mode. We try, I
think, to show this in a number of ways, even if we only get six or nine
pages from a poet in at a time. Certainly it would have been nice...
Funkhouser: To stretch it out a bit...
Rothenberg: I know there are other things that ideally one would do
that practically aren't feasible.
Joris: Among other things of that order, we would have liked to travel to
those parts of the world that we don't know very well to gather
materials. We're certain that in India, say, there is interesting work
happening that we don't know about. It would be great to actually go
there and search it out. But unhappily that kind of fieldwork is not
Funkhouser: I was wondering if you had any symbolism in mind with
the cover image of the first volume of the anthology? I was thinking of
the irony, the fact that the word zenith emerges, the name of a
future television giant, out of this 1914 painting.
Rothenberg: That will become even clearer, won't it, over the next few
Funkhouser: And then how, this pair of anthologies really is a zenith of
twentieth century poetry, in print, in English. So, you have two sides of
that. As far as anthologies go, it really is the biggest collection, with the
widest scope. I didn't think of it as coincidental...
Rothenberg: The cover isn't coincidental; it means something too, both
what you're pointing out in this particular instance and that for the first
time with the cover image (unlike the inside of the book) we were
offered full-color reproduction. In working that out with the designer we
were digging out various images and I think we had it narrowed down to
Joris: There was an [Guillaume] Apollinaire, there was a [Kurt]
Schwitters, and I think there was a [Max] Ernst. Clearly we were looking
for someone from that part of the century in whose work intersections
happened, specifically where art intersected with poetry. We didn't
want an "illustration," just a nice picture on the cover to sell the book.
We wanted it to be an indication of its content. Thus all our choices were
somewhere connected with the kind of poetic moves the book chronicles.
Rothenberg: The Apollinaire was the only full-color of his and done by
hand. It contains a nice green color. Apollinaire, Ernst, and Schwitters
were all in there as poets, and we didn't want to do part of The Trans
Siberian again, seeing that [Marjorie] Perloff has it on the cover of her
Futurist Movement, but I found a catalog of Delaunay's work
with the Zenith painting, so given the title and the content of the
Cendrars poem and as another instance of the Cendrars/Delaunay
collaboration, it seemed the right one for our purposes. And so far, if it
matters, the one typo, or mistake that I've come across in the whole book
is in the cover credit, which mentions Delaunay all right but not
Cendrars. They're supposed to fix that up for the second printing.
Funkhouser: Is the same image going to be on the second volume, too?
Rothenberg: No. For the second volume we'll have to find something
from a later time.
Joris: We have not figured it out.
Funkhouser: These things emerge...
Joris: This will be in a year's time, roughly.
Rothenberg: Tom Phillips...
Joris: Yes, Tom Phillips is a good possibility...
Funkhouser: It almost makes me think of what will be, a century hence,
the zenith. I'm wondering if it's going to be more visual, the form such
an anthology will take now that people are working with computers. It
seems like it will be different. The anthology of twenty-first century
Rothenberg: We assert that this is a preliminary to the twenty-first
century, yes. But I can't tell you what the twenty-first century will be.
It's one I expect I will have very little to do with...
Joris: You're going to have printed matter, too. People have had
print/writing around for three or four thousand years. Again, it's not an
either/or question, but a both/and situation. They may have the book and
they may have the videocassette, or however the technology will pan-out.
Have the CD-ROM and the laserdisc or the hologram...
Funkhouser: VR [virtual reality] goggles...
Rothenberg: Also, within the next few years we will see the commercial,
big-time version of all of this coming out. We're just first getting into it,
but it won't take more than two or three years and the industry will
have made its imprint on all of these thing that we're talking about.
Obviously, that will then reflect back on the presentation of poetry and
Funkhouser: Now that Microsoft and NBC have partially merged...
Joris: There are some number of ways and reasons in that. Whatever the
iconoclastic, the sabotage edge of poetry has to be, it may very well have
to go back to some other form of dissemination.
Rothenberg: Yeah, but there's television, and people do video...even
where they lack the means for distribution. It's just that the early
promise ofI remember when video was first coming in and hadn't yet
been made into a major public vehicle, various artist friends were saying,
"Ok, we have this new medium (& largely unused) medium where we can
disseminate art and poetry, and so forth,' and then suddenly you realized
that around it, this mammoth new entertainment industry was growing
up. How many years has that been going on? Twenty?
Joris: In the late sixties, video became hot. I still have the first issue of
Radical Software. Which is, I think, sixty-nine. Maybe early
seventy. Yes, that promise has not been kept. If you look at the video
art of that period, it's very static. One thing was, you didn't have the
editing possibilities you had with filming. I know friends who
experimented feverishly with videoonly to go back to making movies.
editing made video a difficult medium whereas film's cut-&-glue
editing, i.e. montageand collagehad always been core elements of
twentieth-century art and it's aesthetic sensibility. This only changed
when computerized, digital editing came in. So there was this odd
decade-long gap where you had the kind of avant-garde possibility
offered by a new medium, but remaining unfulfilled because another
piece of hardware was missing.
Funkhouser: It will be interesting to see where it goes.
You've probably noticed that there have been a few, in the last couple of
years, more anthologies coming out. There has been a trend towards
anthologies. I'm wondering if this might be somelike Michael Joyce
and Jay Bolter are describing things as 'The Late Age of Print.' Now,
even if it's hyperbole, there's always going to be the alphabetic text that
goes along with sonic or visual interpretations we have. It probably is
coincidental that people are trying to lay down some definitive texts in
print. That's one way I've been looking at thiswhy are all these
anthologies coming out? Why is there this need for the definitive...
Rothenberg: Well, let's say within the anthology worldthere has been
a big production of anthologies for a student market. And those keep
getting churned out. What's been notable for us over the last five or six
years (maybe less) is the appearance of at least several big anthologies
touching on those areas the more canonical anthology makers have
marginalized. Specifically, in the American instance, the anthologies
from [Eliot] Weinberger, [Paul] Hoover, and [Douglas] Messerli. And
what we're doing. Suddenly, for the moment, all of those are in print,
and it represents an availability of what had not been available since the
Donald Allen anthology [The New American Poetry], which
itself had had its life, and had gone out of print a couple of times, with
one or two attempts to revive it. I don't know what version of it is now
in print, although I heard that someone was going to reprint the original
version. But suddenly there are a number of these books that we can feel
a kinship to, and I think it's partly that some people who see poetry in a
truly contemporary and radical way have now reached a certain age and
certain position and are able to insert themselves successfully into that
kind of work. I'm also very curious about our own sponsorship by the
Comparative Literature Association at the upcoming MLA [Modern
Language Association] meetings [in Chicago], which I'm a little
suspicious of, while recognizing how little that is compared to what the
academic world has regularly embraced and sponsored. I don't know
what we're going to find when we actually show up there, but I expect it
to be friendly enough or (at the worst) indifferent. I suspect that it's a
few people in the CLA, Marjorie [Perloff], and some others, who are
friendly to this project, and have therefore allowed us their space and
their sponsorship. But that's certainly something such that I had never
Joris: Well, we are coming to the end of the century, and our
first volume covers the period from 1897 (Mallarmé's Throw of the
Dice) to, roughly, WWII. So that's a relatively safe period, by
academic standardsit's history. And what we've done is to discard all
the dross and dregs that had accumulated for any number of reasons to
older anthologies covering that period, while adding those poets &
movements willfully or otherwise left out previously. It is a new look at
and over what should by now be a familiar landscapeand as
such should be a readable proposition for anybody with intelligence
and I guess some curiosity and passionin the academe, i.e. to anybody
who doesn't have a completely conservative approach or believes that
only Eliot & Stevens should be rescued from that period. The second
volume will be a different, more complicated matter. It covers a period
closer to us, and because of that there will be a range of concerns on
both sides, the conservative and the progressive. On one side that
will take the shape of: 'How come you only have [Charles] Olson and
[Robert] Duncan and [Robert] Creeley there, and there is no Robert
Lowell.' Or you can replace those names by any number of other ones.
That kind of thing is sure to come up.
Rothenberg: Once we're into the second volume, we're out of the
territory where there's anything like a consensus between us
and them, at least us and them on the
American side. But on other things also besides the selection of poets.
One of the things, for example, that breaks strongly with the more
academic view of the earlier part of the century is the attention that we
give to movements. Within the literary worldthough not within the
art world, certainlythere has been an attempt (a consensus in fact) to
forget most of that. I would think that people are going to be bothered
by our foregrounding of the movements. The attention we've given in
both volumes to the more radical forms of poetry is (without our being
limited to that) another crucial difference. We move it from one half of
the century to the other, which is somewhat impeded by our format. We
have a project here that was done one volume at a time, so that we have a
break at mid-century and aren't able adequately to carry people across
it. At the beginning of the second volume, we'll have a small section of
continuities, but a lot of late work by some very notable figures will be
missing. In practice, we would have ended up not carrying through on
that. In practice, for example, we're not able bring in any of the later
Basil Bunting, although we represented him with earlier lighter work in
volume one, while thinking we would later come to Briggflatts.
If we had known that we wouldn't, we could have non-chronologically
brought Briggflatts into volume one. On the other hand, we
have early [Andre] Breton in volume one and late Breton in volume two;
we have early [Ezra] Pound and we have late Pound; and early and late
[Gertrude] Stein; and a number of others. There's a limit to how much
we can get into a second volumehow much from the first period we can
carry along in that way. If we had had the leisure, the patience, to do the
entire thing without a break, and then to publish it, we might have done
it differently. We had to do it this way, I think, in order to ensure
publication, about which I think we were always, until it happened,
rather uncertain. That means I kept on thinking, 'Something is going to
fuck this up, let's get something out'so, rather than working on a
single sixteen-hundred pages...
Joris: We completed one volume, then got that volume to the publisher
before proceeding with the second one. In fact, early along we were
playing with a number of possibilities, but the various contingencies of
the actual work shaped the project into what it has become.
Rothenberg: At one point, actually, it was a three-volume set, but they
would have been shorter volumes...
Funkhouser: The other day, one of the off-hand comments you made on
the IRC was that the second volume was "truly awesome," and I was
wondering if that is because the content is more provocative, or whether
it was the project that you have ahead of you?
Rothenberg: Dealing with the amount of content that we're aware of for
the second half of the century is very difficult: the number of poets that
are now meaningful for us. As you look back to the earlier part of the
century, things have...
Joris: Decanted... [laughter]
Rothenberg: You're not overwhelmed back then by the number of
people that you have to deal with. As we come up to the contemporary,
until finally, we found, with the more contemporary (and I mean the
very contemporary, the younger contemporary), who do you pick, say, as
representative of poets born after 1975 or something? Pick out one
person here or there, or what?
Joris: You can't. We knew from the beginning that it would be difficult
to end the book exactly because of that problem. In a way, considerations
of space help us solve it. We're probably going to be stuck with the fifties
as the birth-decade for the youngest poets in the book.
Funkhouser: That leaves room for the next anthology...
Joris: It becomes that, a possible opening out from where we end... The
trouble is, coming to today, that one is aware of too much work, and one
is interested in too much work. To sort that out, i.e. to evaluate all of the
current production at this point is not feasible for usnor is it really our
brief for this project. It also poses the interesting question of how one is
ableif one is able at allto read & evaluate the work of much younger
Funkhouser: Do you have any crazy ideas for projects after the second
volume? [laughter by all]
Joris: Take a rest, read all the non-twentieth-century poetry books, all
the novels & non-fiction books that have accumulated these last six
years. And maybe write a bunch of small, witty, elegant poems...as a kind
of counter-move... But seriously, essentially to get back to my own work...
Rothenberg: After every anthology, I said, 'That's it, never again!' But
this should be it.
Joris: [Jokingly] It's the anthology to end all anthologies!
Funkhouser: Seems like it...
Joris: We'll wait to the next century...
Rothenberg: An anthology of everything.
Chris Funkhouser edited The Little Magazine Volume 21 CD-
ROM, and is responsible for two on-line poetry and poetics journals,
Descriptions of an Imaginary Universe and Passages.
His work has recently appeared in Talisman, Hambone, and Callaloo.
His hypertext, POETRY WEBS, was produced in conjunction with the
1996 European Media Arts Festival.