Happy World Poetry Day! To celebrate, we share a selection of poetry from Jerome Rothenberg’s landmark anthology Technicians of the Sacred: A Range of Poetries from Africa, America, Asia, Europe, and Oceania.
Technicians of the Sacred has educated and inspired generations of poets, artists, musicians, and other readers, exposing them to the multiple possibilities of poetry throughout the world. Juxtaposing “primitive” and archaic works of art from many cultures with each other and with avant-garde and experimental poetry, Jerome Rothenberg contends that literature extends beyond specific temporal and geographic boundaries, while acting as a retort to those who would call that larger humanity into question.
The Chapter of Changing into Ptah
I eat bread.
I drink ale.
I hoist up my garments.
I cackle like the Smen goose.
I land on that place hard by the Sepulchre for the festival of the
All that is abominable, all that is abominable I will not eat.
Shit is abominable, I will not eat it.
All that is abominable to my Ka will not enter my body.
I will live on what the gods live.
I will live & I will be master of their cakes.
And I will eat them under the trees of the dweller in the house
of Hathor My Lady.
I will make an offering.
My cakes are in Busiris, my offerings are in Heliopolis.
I wrap a robe around me woven by the goddess Tait.
I will stand up & sit down wherever it pleases me.
My head is like the head of Ra.
I am complete like Tem.
I will come forth.
My tongue is like the tongue of Ptah
& my throat like that of Hathor.
With my mouth I remember the words of Tem my father.
Tem forced the woman, the wife of Keb
& broke the heads of those around him
so that people were afraid of him
& proclaimed him
& made me his heir on Keb’s earth.
Then I mastered their women.
Keb refreshed me.
Keb lifted me up to his throne.
Those in Heliopolis bowed their heads to me.
I am their bull.
I am stronger than the Lord-of-the-Hour.
I have fucked all their women.
I am Master for millions of years.
1 It has a red flower, it has power.
2 Daylight. Red flower.
3 It moves along.
5 Dawn rays are standing.
6 Power is flying.
1 Horse is coming down.
2 Move into line, it’s daylight.
3 Male antelopes, breeding.
4 Bird is circling, crying out.
5 Hell-diver’s circling, crying out.
6 Bird getting ready to fly.
7 Beaver, it’s dawn.
Mantra for Binding a Witch
I bind the sharp end of a knife
I bind the glow-worm in the forehead
I bind the magic of nine hundred gurus
I bind the familiars of nine hundred witches
I bind the fairies of the sky
Let the sky turn upside down, let the earth be overturned,
let horns grow on horse and ass, let moustaches sprout on a young girl, let the dry cow-
dung sink and the stones float, but let this charm not fail
I bind the glow-worm of a virgin
I bind every kind of Massan
The nail of bone
The lamp of flesh
Who binds the spirits?
The guru binds and I the guru’s pupil
May the waters of the river flow uphill
May the dry cow-dung sink and stones float
But let my words not fail.
Moon of the Thaw
Moon of the Spring Salmon Run
Moon of the Calving
Moon of the Flowers
Moon of the Moulting
Moon of the Rutting Bison
Moon of the Nut
Moon of the First Frost
The Woman Who Married a Caterpillar
Kumuhea the night-caterpillar loves the woman
with his daylight man-body takes her for wife, handsome
man huge caterpillar, at night
gorges on sweet-potato leaves
Kumuhea huge night-caterpillar
bloated back home mornings
soft Kumuhea flabby Kumuhea, through
him shiftless the wife starves
Where does he go nights, her father says, Where
does he go nights, says the hemp string
his wife fastens to track him where he goes nights;
after him through brush on his crawl
the long string snarls, the night-
caterpillar is strong with anger, tears
into leaves all around
all people cry Kane help us
night-caterpillar kills our food, do him in
in his hill-cave home, he
kills our food
merciful Kane slices him to bits
we now call cut-worm cut-worm cut-worm