old man beaver's blessing song

Is this the origin of the line?

"Although there are many versions of this story, the most often repeated alleges that Kansas Senator Joseph Bristow had been made a long-winded speech with the repeated refrain "What this country needs—" causing the vice president to lean over and whisper to one of the Senate clerks: "Bristow hasn't hit it yet. What this country needs is a good five-cent cigar." Newspapers repeated the quote and cigar makers gratefully showered the vice president with their products. Immortalized in every dictionary of quotations, the "five-cent cigar" quote remains just about the only thing for which Thomas R. Marshall is remembered today. But historian John E. Brown has traced the quotation back to the Indiana newspaper cartoonist Kin Hubbard, who put the words in the mouth of his popular character "Abe Martin." As a fan of the cartoon strip, Marshall simply picked up the phrase, repeated it, and became its surrogate father."


Mara Gordon interviews Jerome Rothenberg

Q. You've said: "The language of poetry — for myself and others — came to be closer and closer to the language that people really use in everyday speech, but different at its best from official language, from authorized language — as we get it in politics, in advertising, in standardized religion — all of that." How close should it come? How close does it come? How do you draw the lines? And most importantly: why is this distinction so important?

JR: I find the language as spoken a much more flexible medium for poetry than other more fancified or poetical expressions, and I take it that poets from the Romantics on have pushed inexorably in that direction. Even so I have found it useful sometimes to slip into the older, specifically poetical language, whatever game or irony may be involved in doing that at present. In Poland/1931, for example, I go into the old second person (thou, thy, thee) both because I want it to have an exaggeratedly poetic and possibly religious sound, and with a nod, maybe, to Martin Buber's I and Thou formulations.

Q: "Getting it." Close reading. Analysis, overanalysis, comprehension, whatever. I've been socialized for the past 19 years to read something, to ponder it alone, to write about it: the normal classroom model. Our Fellows class is a pretty non-traditional one -- closer to the kiva or the coffeeshop than the Economics lecture hall, but still. We read alone, we write a response paper every week. And then your poetry has thrown a bit of a wrench in the whole system. Given that we're students at a mainstream university and we're having a bit of a struggle getting over this deeply ingrained socialization -- how "should" we be reading your poetry? Can you even answer that question?

JR: I have no problem with that really, and I may even be a little flattered by that kind of consideration. Where I get edgy is when that appears to be the only approach or the only context for poetry. In that sense the big books (the ethnopoetic ones in particular) have been a search for ways in which a poetry (even a deeply hermetic one) may be alive at the heart of a culture. I also believe strongly that most poetry comes alive in performance – a face to face encounter with something like an audience – and that there are responses that precede analysis and that are certainly outside "the normal classroom model." During my formative years there was a great desire "to break down the boundaries between art and life" whether in a post-Duchampian context or in a Surreal or Beat push to lay open extremities of experience and dream. There are times, anyway, when poetry dazzles me or others, and
"the rest," as the old rabbis had it, "is only commentary." (Another practice, I should add, in which I frequently indulge.)

Q: We've talked a lot about the spectrum of Holocaust art and literature in this class, having read Art Spiegelman's "Maus" earlier in the semester, and our professor Al being "obsessed" (self-described) with various representations of the Holocaust. You've quoted Adorno's famous line about no poetry being possible after Auschwitz; no metaphor, no language (a metaphor in and of itself) is adequate to describe genocide. At the other end of the spectrum is Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List -- an oft-quoted trope in our class to represent "bad" Holocaust art: art that is too authoritative, too confident, too simple. It's almost silly to refer to Schindler's List and Khurbn in the same sentence, but they have more in common than the idea that no art should exist -- can exist -- that refers to the Holocaust. Where do you fall in this debate? What were some of your concerns writing Khurbn (and to a lesser extent, Poland/1931) and how did you approach them as a writer?

JR: I'm writing this in Berlin, where the Holocaust still haunts all of the Germans I've been with – even the younger ones – so that gives us a kind of common ground. For me, although it was far away from me while it was happening, the Jewish disaster was very vivid, and the sense of loss was also unavoidable. I think it was a presence behind the push I was feeling into poetry, but it didn't enter directly for
close to 25 years after the war, while I felt an unwillingness to claim somebody else's suffering as my own or to tie the question of identity (Jewish or otherwise) to a kind of death cult. In the course of assembling Technicians of the Sacred, however, I began to consider the possibility of writing an ancestral poetry of my own – taking a pass at a form of ethnic writing that I otherwise thought of as degraded. The book that came out of that was Poland/1931, and I wrote it (or thought I did) without a direct reference to "holocaust" but with a sure sense that "holocaust" was the underlying subtext. For this I had to dig pretty deeply – "investigate," to use Ed Sanders' favorite word – to make a fantasy world that had some degree of credibility. I was more interested anyway in the archaeology of the Jewish life than in its destruction, and I wanted not to idealize it it but to construct it with a regard for its dark and dangerous side – "the world of Jewish mystics, thieves and madmen" that I've mentioned elsewhere. (A Big Jewish Book from the mid 1970s is an ethnopoetic extension of the same impulse.) That intention was helped along further by an early meeting with Isaac Bashevis Singer and a later one with Paul Celan. The conversation with Singer raised the issue of cruelty – rhyming at the time with what we were reading in Artaud – and let me push forward a sense of the absurd / comic / demonic that was waiting to come to surface. For this I needed a further range of investigations to bring the reality – the fantasy – to light and to allow other voices to speak or (if that were possible) to drown out my own.

With Khurbn, the sense of cruelty was all the greater, as was
the desire to make room for other voices in so far as I could get to
them by all means then available to me. As I've written in the
introduction to Khurbn, what led me to defy the taboo I had previously
felt toward writing the Holocaust was the experience of entering some
of the places where the murders had taken place – an experience that
set things off and without which I never would have written Khurbn. I
also chose the title word as a sign of the discomfort I had felt
toward the marketing of Holocaust. Once it got started, anyway, it
was something that I couldn't avoid, but I still have some misgivings.


jobs for jerry

Snack for Fellows Class: Cat, Matt

Check-in (6PM at Writers House): Lauren, Jane

Set Up (5:30 PM): Michael Tom, Thomson

Book sales (Monday night 5:45 and Tuesday morning 9:45): Jen, Alex

Assist in Kitchen (5:00-end of reading): Blair, Andy

Assist in Kitchen (end of reading – 10:30ish): Danny, Yumeko, Mara

Set up Tuesday Morning (9:15 AM): Mingo, Sam

Clean up Tuesday Morning (11:00-12:30): Steve, Simone

Wireless Microphone: Ellie

Intro: Matt


Vienna Blood paperback cover

Above: the back cover of Rothenberg's book The Vienna Blood and other poems.