Way back in 1968, Jerome Rothenberg started a poetry movement. "There was a sense of an opening up of poetry," he says, "and a sense that what we knew about poetry was really very limited. Poetry exists everywhere, and takes many different forms, and I began — just for my own pleasure and edification — to look into that; in the process also of writing poetry, so it was feeding my own work."
He became interested in poetry from around the world, he says, and found rich texts that were previously dismissed. As he assembled these poetic discoveries into a book titled Technicians of the Sacred, he marked the beginning of ethnopoetics, a movement that ties poetry to anthropology by recording oral poetry or narrative performance onto the page in order to demonstrate its poetic nature, and in the process move toward a better understanding of the source and complexity of poetry. Rothenberg's own writing developed naturally in tandem with his anthropology: He became immersed in performance, always with the intention to "bring back totality through poetry" (he quotes the Japanese poet Ooka Makoto).
Based in San Diego, Rothenberg is the author of nearly 80 books of poetry, translation, and assemblage over the span of more than 50 years. Tonight, he reads from Eye of Witness: A Jerome Rothenberg Reader, along with the book's co-editor, Heriberto Yépez. The book, published this past September, charts the poet's vast and varied oeuvre with the goal, as he says in the preface, "a kind of transcultural or global poetics: a poetry rooted in its place but capable of crossing borders and languages to become a virtual omnipoetics... a multivocal poetry of witness — the ubiquity of an I-as-speaking-subject that we all share — personal and transpersonal at once."