San Francisco, November 13, 2017
Songs of Flowers and Stones
New wilderness friends, to preserve the nuances of musical language and the chant of poetry
by Rosanna Albertini
Charlie Morrow, 1971:
“My work has taken me into two large areas in the past
year: numbers and the language of nonhumans. Both interests
derive from chanting music, which has been my central concern.
My first chanting pieces were about ecstasy and anger,
the strongest emotions, in their longest and most intense form.
As the ecstatic chanting became more familiar, I found myself
curious about the roots of chanting music in the natural world;
that is, the natural world as perceived by humans.
In my search for a rhetoric of chanting music, I was
reliving the ancient process of anthropomorphism, looking for
the animal world in me and for myself in the natural universe.
As part of this search, the technology that gathers sound
from the bottom of the water, the outer reaches of spaces,
the low levels of quiet places and so on, is a kind of sacred
And the sound processes in these innumerable locations
are exciting both in themselves and as wonderful models. They
are models for composing and performing, models for communi-
cating, models of processes within humans. Using models, I
am not just myself.”
“Counting is a move toward the basic biological functions, toward pulses.
Like breathing exercises.
Hanging numbers like signposts on locations, as in the performance of
my counts with complex sound systems or several counters, is a meditative
geometry: the space as many shapes, the numbers are
fireflies of my mind.”
And Jerome Rothenberg? He is a poet who did for the American avant garde poetry and for the new indigenous poetries of the Americas, joined by indigenous poetry from Africa, Asia, Europe and Oceania a monumental editorial work. I don’t hesitate to compare his books to Diderot and D’Alembert’s Encyclopédie. The anthological form makes his collections more fragmented and easier to consult than the eighteen century compilation.
Jerome Rothenberg 1974:
“It was 1948 & by year’s end I was seventeen. I had been coming into poetry for two years. My head was filled with Stein and Cummings, later with Williams, Pound, the French Surrealists, the Dada poets […] The thing was to get off on it, to hear one’s mind, learn one’s voice. But the message clear & simple was to move. To change. To create one’s self & thus one’s poetry. A process.”
“For myself —early along— I turned to “reinterpreting the poetic past from the point of view of the present.” […] With this as my impulse I began to scour areas that had been closed to us as poetry — hidden, outside & subterranean — to discover what was clearly poetry but also forms of languaging that had ever been within poetry’s domain. […]
I was also able to drop the notion of the “primitive” as a kind of simplistic or underdeveloped state of mind & word, & to begin the pre-face to the book with a three-word opening I can still adhere to: “Primitive means complex.”
The San Francisco performance opened for me the way to merge into a variety of unknown poetry from different continents printed in Technicians of the Sacred at the third edition. (First edition 1968) This book is a secret cave of poems mostly conceived for oral transmission, a concert with dancing tongues and feet. Also shamanic songs. It’s a treasure trove, a place where poems unfold meanders of life free from time and rules, they run like a stream.
Poetry, poetry, is a gesture, a landscape,
your eyes and my eyes, girls; ears, heart,
the same music. And I say no more, because
no one will find the key that no one has lost
And poetry is the chant of my ancestors
a winter day that burns and withers
this melancholy so personal.
Elicura Chihuailaf, a Mapuche poet (Chile)
Technicians of the Sacred has 643 pages. I asked my hands to magically open the book: with big surprise I found first, with no hesitation, the poem Rothenberg had moved back to sounds in his performance: a poem from the Yaqui Deer Dance. Immediately after, at the following opening of the book, my eyes stopped on two poems by Marcela Delpastre, from Occitania (France). I couldn’t quit. Was my European blood orienting my fingers? I had found The Scream of the Stones, words that triggered my memory like a shotgun.
I don’t know if they bleed, the stones. Or if they scream, if they howl
under the wheel & the mace, or if the knife’s blade wounds them, deep in
their flesh, slicing through them.
I know that the loam that sometimes runs from them, no matter how
red, is not blood.
And I’ll say nothing of their tenderness, from stone to stone, from water
But what I know is that our blood comes from the stone. And our flesh
comes from nowhere else, come from stone we are stone, we are dust and
That our blood is blood of the stone, and our heat is of the sun, and our
wail the howl of the stone, through which our soul passes full-bodied,
that we are the soul of the stone — but tell me, the stone, who is the
stone — where does she come from?
Marcela Delpastre, Occitania (France)
My stones were painted pink by my grandfather’s stories. Were his words more effective than the real mountains I saw? The mountains were called “monti pallidi,” or Dolomites. He was a plein air painter, he loved them so much he spent the entire good season, every year, walking on their skin and making paintings of them. I went with him the last five years of his life. I was seven when he turned into a golden breath that never left, still around my body. We never talked when walking on the pale ladies, words only arose in the evening, bringing up invisible elves and fairies. “Who is the stone” was my hidden question at the time not even expressed in words, it was a vague, inner uncertainty. We used to drive on the top when the road made it possible. Curves made me throw up every time. But once out of the car, humans disappeared. I was left alone, or swallowed by the landscape, I can’t say. The pale mountains had finally shrunk to my size, I could touch them, run from one to another and discover with amazement the bluest flowers, the eyes of that place. Now I wonder if I felt I was on the moon. Maybe the soul of the stones passed through my body, she did not go away.
Revolution of the word; a new gathering American avant garde poetry, 1914-1945. Editor Jerome Rothenberg, A Continuum Book The Seabury Press, New York, 1974
Technicians of the Sacred, a range of poetries from Africa, America, Asia, Europe, and Oceania. Edited with commentaries by Jerome Rothenberg, University of California Press, Oakland, California, 2017. Third edition, revised and expanded, 50th anniversary.
Charlie Morrow, NUMBERS & SPELLS, an unpublished anthology sent to me by the author in digital version. RA.