Jerome Rothenberg at UC Press in 2017, seated beside his collections: “Technicians of the Sacred” and “Symposium of the Whole.”

Jerome Rothenberg, who passed away on April 21, was a giant in the poetry community and a longtime author, anthologist, and translator for University of California Press. His life’s work affirmed poetry’s power in making sense of our shared humanity. 

Rothenberg published more than 80 books, a number of which were published with University of California Press, and his work has been translated globally into Spanish, Japanese, Yiddish, French, Russian, Persian, Dutch, among others. His books, poems and performances have influenced well-known performers like Patti Smith, Warren Zevon, Nick Cave, Eddie Vedder, Jim Morrison, and Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hütz. Rothenberg began teaching at University of California, San Diego in 1974, and went on to become an Emeritus Professor of Visual Arts and Literature. In 2001, he was elected into the World Academy of Poetry.

Expanding the meaning of poetry and literature

Rothenberg significantly impacted poetics by introducing concepts such as ethnopoetics and omnipoetics into the field. With Technicians of the Sacred, his 1968 anthology of global poetry, Rothenberg coined the term “ethnopoetics” to embrace literary expression that includes “primitive” and archaic, oral and written works of art from many cultures, allowing them to interact with each other and with contemporary avant-garde and experimental poetries. In the process, he inspired generations of readers to explore poetic expression across languages, eras, and geographies. 

Before his passing, he was working on his final book with University of California Press The Serpent and the Fire, in which he proposes the concept of “omnipoetics,” a poetic effort to confront implicit, sometimes rampant ethnic cleansing, that “tests the range of our threatened humanities wherever found and looks toward an ever-greater assemblage of words and thoughts as a singular buttress against those forces that would divide and diminish us.” His final book, co-edited by Javier Taboada, employs an omnipoetics of the American hemisphere, as an experimental collection of poetry that views North and South together in a transnational, multilingual vision of what “America” means.

It was his vision to eventually apply omnipoetics on a worldwide scale, in “an anthology of everything.” 

Anthologist and publishing history

A noted anthologist, Rothenberg edited three of the four volumes with University of California Press in the landmark Poems for the Millennium series, a revolutionary collection of manifestos that captured the art and poetry of the twentieth century. These collections explored the century’s poetic possibilities and made a powerful statement on the future of poetry in the millennium ahead. International in scope, Poems for the Millennium brought together the poets and poetry movements that radically altered the ways that art and language could express the human condition.

Rothenberg’s first collection of writings on poetics, Pre-Faces (New Directions, 1982), received the American Book Award in 1982. In 1983, he came to University of California Press with Symposium of the Whole, an anthology of writings on ethnopoetics co-edited with his wife, a cultural anthropologist, Diane Rothenberg.

María Sabina: Selections (University of California Press, 2003) includes a generous presentation from Sabina’s recorded chants and Rothenberg’s complete English translation of her oral autobiography, her vida, as written and arranged in her native language by her fellow Mazatec Alvaro Estrada.

Later editions of his seminal Technicians of the Sacred were published by University of California Press, and in 2017, we celebrated with publishing the 50th anniversary edition. An anthology of tribal and oral poetry from Africa, America, Asia, Europe, and Oceania, Technicians has received enormous praise, having been hailed by the Los Angeles Times Book Review as one of the hundred most recommended American books of the late 20th century. Of his collection, Rothenberg stated: 

“In my own words I see the new Technicians both as a testament to the survival and revival of many indigenous and threatened poetries and languages and as an instrument against new acts of genocide and ethnic and religious cleansing abroad and an upsurge closer to home of still potent nationalisms and racisms.”


“I had the great good fortune to correspond with Jerry Rothenberg throughout the strange, tense, heartbroken fall of 2016, as I copyedited the expanded third edition of Technicians of the Sacred. I remember most Jerry’s generosity, his vivid curiosity, his avidity for the new, the astonishing depth of his memory and breadth of his knowledge.

Jerry’s email signature at the time included a quote from his friend Michel Giroud: ‘There is an avant garde / that cannot be defeated.’ Jerry was a joyful warrior in that avant garde, and generations of poets, lovers, seekers, and seers will wander and wonder at the paths he laid.”

Caroline Knapp, former UCP project editor and freelance copyeditor

“Jerry was a great human being and wonderful poet. He was also a brilliant thinker and writer about poetry, whose explorations over time and geography and whose breadth and depth gave us extraordinary and original anthologies that changed the way we think about connections between poetries over space and time—and about poetry itself.

Jerry gave us poetry from all over the world—the originals in diverse languages, over millennia—showing us continuities and disjunctions, traditions and experiments in a rich weaving together of thought, belief, culture, song, ritual, language itself.

While at UC Press, I worked with Jerry on María Sabina: Selections (Sabina was a Oaxacan shaman) and on four magisterial anthologies: Poems for the Millennium, volumes 1-3, and a 50th anniversary edition of the landmark anthology Technicians of the Sacred, each book unique and challenging. Despite the complexities of working together on these books, I remember Jerry’s grace, humor, kindness, patience, and dedication to poetry throughout the process. I cherish my memories of him, glad of our friendship and excited by the extraordinary poetry I discovered in his volumes, I too one of his readers—all beneficiaries and inheritors of his insight, thought, and art through the poetry he brought to us.” 

Rachel Berchten, former UCP poetry editor and principal production editor

“Jerome was kind, thoughtful, gentle in all his interactions, and always put his fellow poets and their art before himself. It pains me that he will not get to see this latest collection that he shepherded in final printed form, but his vision allowed him to imagine it completed. I’m honored to be a part of working to make that vision a reality.” 

David Peattie, of the production vendor BookMatters, who worked with Jerome on volumes 3 and 4 of Poems for the Millennium and The Serpent and the Fire

“Shortly after I started at the Press in 1998, we held a launch party for the second volume of the three-volume Poems for the Millennium series at our old offices on Berkeley Way, and I remember it as one of the more inspiring events that I think we’ve ever had at the Press. These anthologies ambitiously sought to canonize a broader range of voices than competing anthologies had ever sought to include. His work will endure, but he will be missed.”

Erich van Rijn, Executive Director of UC Press

UC Press publications by Jerome Rothenberg

The Serpent and the Fire: Poetries of the Americas from Origins to Present co-edited with Javier Taboada (Forthcoming October 2024)

Technicians of the Sacred, 50th Anniversary edition: A Range of Poetries from Africa, America, Asia, Europe, and Oceania, Revised and Expanded 

Poems for the Millennium, Volume One: The University of California Book of Modern and Postmodern Poetry: From Fin-de-Siècle to Negritude co-edited with Pierre Joris 

Poems for the Millennium, Volume Two: The University of California Book of Modern and Postmodern Poetry, From Postwar to Millennium co-edited with Pierre Joris 

Poems for the Millennium, Volume Three: The University of California Book of Romantic & Postromantic Poetry co-edited with Jeffrey C. Robinson

María Sabina: Selections by Maria Sabina, edited by Jerome Rothenberg

Symposium of the Whole: A Range of Discourse Toward an Ethnopoetics co-authored with Diane Rothenberg 

Praise for Jerome Rothenberg

“Jewish lore, Amerindian poetics, ethnopoetics, contemporary world poetics, international sacred poetics . . . Jerome Rothenberg has certainly done me a favor in collecting specimens in the above categories and putting them in all our hands for immediate inspirational use.”—Allen Ginsberg

“No one taught me more about poetry than Jerome Rothenberg.”—Nick Cave

“Jerome Rothenberg is a DNA spaceman exploring the mammal caves of Now.”—Michael McClure

“With what a humanizing redemptive gusto, once our animal spirits are brought back into play, and yet throughout alive—with the cutting edge of an open attack, this Chasidic cowboy-and-Indian American Bicentennial comic voice comes.”—Robert Duncan

Technicians of the Sacred has elucidated indigenous and shamanic sources as deep orature for several generations of readers. More radically timely than ever in a tormented era of xenophobia and racism, this is a spiritual book, a book to survive with.”—Anne Waldman

“For us, [Jerome Rothenberg] played (and plays) the role Picasso and Braque did for the painters, and Leiris and Bataille later for the French poets: opening the sparkling world that comes when you crack open literature and see the primal gestures of oral energy and sudden imagery from which it all surges. . . . He has given us, in his poetry, criticism, translation, anthologies, a body of work that exhibits what I suddenly realize is an ethical purity, a touchstone for the genuine.”—Robert Kelly 

“Jerome Rothenberg is one of the truly contemporary American poets who has returned U.S. poetry to the mainstream of international modern literature. At the same time he is a true autochthon. Only here and now could have produced him—a swinging orgy of Martin Buber, Marcel Duchamp, Gertrude Stein, and Sitting Bull. No one writing poetry today has dug deeper into the roots of poetry.”—Kenneth Rexroth 

“Mr. Rothenberg’s aim—as is evident in his extraordinary work in ethnopoetics and in the anthologies he has edited is that of rediscovering the archaic, worlds of myth, vision and revelation, all the while connecting these worlds of mostly oral tradition to the poetic revolution of the word; epitomized by writers such as Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein and Charles Olson.”—Jonathan Cott, The New York Times Book Review

“Jerome Rothenberg is an exception to the general misuse of Native America. . . Because he understands his own origins, because he knows his fathers and how his being arises of/from theirs, he can accept and articulate his Seneca experience justly.”—Paula Gunn Allen 

“The significance of Jerome Rothenberg’s animating spirit looms larger every year . . . he brings an unbridled exuberance and an innovator’s insistence on transforming a given state of affairs.”—Charles Bernstein