The Enduring Power of Technicians of the Sacred, Fifty Years Later

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

Jerome Rothenberg changed the course of poetics with the opening statement to his landmark anthology, Technicians of the Sacred: A Range of Poetries From Africa, America, Asia, Europe & Oceania: “Primitive means complex.”

Fifty years later, Technicians of the Sacred endures, inspiring and educating readers with its ability to expand the possibilities of poetry throughout the world. In the preface to the new 50th Anniversary Edition, Rothenberg situates the book in the present and affirms poetry’s power in making sense of our shared humanity in especially fraught times:

We have witnessed an upsurge of new nationalisms & racisms, directed most often against the diversity of mind & spirit of which the earlier Technicians was so clearly a part. To confront this implicit, sometimes rampant ethnic cleansing, even genocide, there is the need for a kind of omnipoetics that tests the range of our threatened humanities wherever found & looks toward an ever greater assemblage of words & thoughts as a singular buttress against those forces that would divide & diminish us.

Jerome Rothenberg with Nick Cave.

Many readers—among them, notable poets, musicians, and artists—have been profoundly influenced by Technicians of the Sacred, including the musician Nick Cave, who says, “No one taught me more about poetry than Jerome Rothenberg. Technicians of the Sacred is the greatest anthology of poetry ever created, ‘primitive’ or otherwise.” While the poet Anne Waldman says: “Technicians of the Sacred is a seminal world wisdom text, a vibrating compendium of poetry and exegesis that reanimates poetry’s efficacy in the world. More radically timely than ever in a tormented era of xenophobia, racism, post-truth, and psychic crisis when words are abased. This is a spiritual book; a book to survive with.” Poet and environmentalist Homero Aridjis says it is “a unique, groundbreaking and essential guide to humankind’s spiritual relationship with Earth and the divine,” while Michael McClure says it as only Michael McClure can: “Jerome Rothenberg is a DNA spaceman exploring the mammal caves of Now.”

Eddie Vedder with the 50th anniversary edition of “Technicians of the Sacred.”

Other artists who have found inspiration in the book include Eddie Vedder (pictured here with a zydeco washboard vest that Rothenberg gave him) and the late singer and bibliophile Warren Zevon. Zevon’s extensive library rests in the care of his ex-wife, Crystal Zevon, who says: “When Warren moved in with me in 1971, Technicians of the Sacred was the only book he brought with him. Our early relationship is indelibly marked by Warren reading to me from that book, and it continued as a favorite pastime in years that followed.”

UC Press staff were lucky to have Rothenberg (along with wife and co-editor of the 2016 collection Symposium of the Whole, Diane) visit our offices recently for a fascinating presentation on his background, his coining of “ethnopoetics,” and the publishing history of Technicians of the Sacred. He followed with a wonderful reading of a few selections from the 50th anniversary edition, including “Essie Parrish in New York.” The poem appears in a new section called “Survivals and Revivals” in which Rothenberg explores the resurgence of indigenous poetry. Rothenberg explained that Essie Parrish was a healer from the Kashaya Pomo tribe, and as she spoke in 1972 at the New School in New York, poet George Quasha transcribed her narrative of a dream-vision. Watch the video below:

Celebrate the 50th anniversary edition with 30% off. Enter promo code 17M6662 at checkout.


Jerome Rothenberg on “The Symposium of the Whole”

Fifty years ago, when I was assembling and then publishing the first edition of Technicians of the Sacred, my concentration was on the poetry foremost, the sense that came to me as a poet that the roots and resources of poetry were far more complex and widespread than how we commonly thought of them. In my search, informed by the ways in which poets of my own generation and those immediately before had expanded the idea of what we could both hear and create as poetry, I discovered by looking “everywhere” (but especially in places neglected by others) a richness of poetic means and methods that both extended and confirmed the sense of what we were doing in our own place and time. What I stressed far less, though I thought it was apparent to all, was that behind the poetry as such was a diversity of autonomous peoples and deep cultures beyond anything we had previously imagined and cherished. And with that came not only new possibilities for our work as poets and artists, but the possibility of opening up the full dimension of what it meant to be totally and meaningfully human.

Today that total humanity – that “symposium of the whole,” as our fellow poet Robert Duncan named it – has again come to be challenged. I take this as the context in which this revised and expanded edition of Technicians of the Sacred is now appearing. As Anne Waldman expresses it for me, “More radically timely than ever in a tormented era of xenophobia, racism, post-truth, and psychic crisis when words are abased, perhaps it will be transmission such as this that reinvigorates imagination and highlights our generative cultural inter-dependence.” 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 & racisms, directed most often against the diversity of mind and spirit of which the earlier Techni­cians was so clearly a part.

That I continue to assert a central place for poetry as an instrument of change and difference is also to be noted.

Watch Jerome Rothenberg’s recent lecture on ethnopoetics and Technicians of the Sacred given at the The Faculty of Arts – The University of Melbourne.

Jerome Rothenberg is a poet and an internationally acclaimed anthologist. His more than fifty books include the anthology Poems for the Millennium, coedited with Pierre Joris. He is Professor Emeritus of Visual Arts and Literature at the University of California, San Diego.

Keep up to date with his poetry and writing on his blog Poems and Poetics.

Celebrating National Poetry Month with Technicians of the Sacred

Borneo, Indonesia; 40,000 BC

Rooting poetry beyond location and historical time, Jerome Rothenberg’s seminal compilation Technicians of the Sacred has educated and inspired poets, artists, musicians, and other readers—from Allen Ginsberg to Nick Cave—for generations, exposing them to the multiple possibilities of poetry throughout the world. A half-century since its original publication, this landmark anthology is more timely than ever, maintaining its vital place in our culture, and we are proud to be publishing the 50th anniversary edition this August. The following excerpts reveal the ongoing histories and intersections of language, land, and community through the lens of poetry.

From his 2017 preface, Rothenberg writes:

Something happened to me, now a full half century in the past, that has shaped my ambition for poetry up until the very present. Not to focus too much on myself, it was a discovery shared with others around me, of the multiple hidden sources & the multiple presences of poetry both far & near. I don’t remember clearly where—or when—it started, but once it got under my skin—our skin, I mean to say—that which we could hope to know as poetry drew in whole worlds we hadn’t previously imagined. Nothing was too low—or high—to be considered, but the imagining mind & voice, once the doors of perception were opened or cleansed, were everywhere we looked.

This also tied in to the search to create new forms of writing & thinking & to bring to light experiences & actions heretofore closed to us: a move that began with an earlier avant-garde & that we now repossessed/ reclaimed as our own. A result of that—from the beginning, I thought— was an expansion of what we could now recognize as poetry, for which our inherited definitions had proven to be inadequate. In that sense that which was traditional in other parts of the world or buried & outcast in our own came across as new & unforeseen when placed within our own still too narrow framework. For myself, the discoveries, once I opened up to them, proved as rich in possibilities as what we & our predecessors had been creating for our own place & time. That so much of this came from an imagined “outside” or from long outcast & subterranean, often brutally repressed traditions was evident even before we named them as such.

Revised and expanded with newly gathered and translated texts from reinvigorated indigenous cultures, this volume brings to the fore the range and depth of what we recognize and read as poetry. From oral tradition and song to the written word and beyond.

Juxtaposing “primitive” and archaic works of art from many cultures with each other and with experimental poetry, Rothenberg contends that literature extends beyond specific temporal and geographic boundaries, and must be understood globally, cutting across space and time. The first poem from the book reads:

Genesis I

Water went they say. Land was not they say. Water only then, mountains were not, they say. Stones were not they say. Trees were not they say. Grass was not they say. Fish were not they say. Deer were not then they say. Elk were not they say. Grizzlies were not they say. Panthers were not they say. Wolves were not they say. Bears were not they say. People were washed away they say. Grizzlies were washed away they say. Panthers were washed away they say. Deer were washed away they say. Coyotes were not then they say. Ravens were not they say. Owls were not they say. Buzzards were not they say. Chicken-hawks were not they say. Robins were not they say. Grouse were not they say. Quails were not they say. Bluejays were not they say. Ducks were not they say. Yellow-hammers were not they say. Condors were not they say. Herons were not they say. Screech-owls were not they say. Woodcocks were not they say. Woodpeckers were not they say. Then meadowlarks were not they say. Then Sparrow-hawks were not they say. Then woodpeckers were not they say. Then seagulls were not they say. Then pelicans were not they say. Orioles were not they say. Then mockingbirds were not they say. Wrens were not they say. Russet-back thrushes, blackbirds were not they say. Then crows were not they say. Then hummingbirds were not they say. Then curlews were not they say. Then mockingbirds were not they say. Swallows were not they say. Sandpipers were not they say.  Then foxes were not they say. Then wildcats were not they say. Then otters were not they say. Then minks were not they say. Then elks were not they say. Then jack-rabbits, grey squirrels were not they say. Then ground squirrels were not they say. Then red squirrels were not they say. Then chipmunks were not they say. Then woodrats were not they say. Then kangaroo-rats were not they say. Then long-eared mice were not they say. Then sapsuckers were not they say. Then pigeons were not they say. Then warblers were not they say. Then geese were not they say. Then cranes were not they say. Then weasels were not they say. Then wind was not they say. Then snow was not they say. Then frost was not they say. Then rain was not they say. Then it didn’t thunder. Then trees were not when it didn’t thunder they say. It didn’t lighten they say. Then clouds were not they say. Fog was not they say. It didn’t appear they say. Stars were not they say. It was very dark.

Cahto [Kato] (Northern California)

Happy National Poetry Month and Happy Reading!

Jerome Rothenberg is a poet and an internationally acclaimed anthologist. His more than fifty books include the anthology Poems for the Millennium, coedited with Pierre Joris. He is Professor Emeritus of Visual Arts and Literature at the University of California, San Diego.

Keep up to date with his poetry and writing on his blog Poems and Poetics.

2010 American Book Award Winners

On the surface, they may seem different—one is a book about American jazz, the other is about the relationship between romantic and experimental modern poetry—but Amiri Baraka’s Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music and Poems for the Millenium, Volume 3: The University of California Book of Romantic & Postromantic Poetry, edited by Jerome Rothenberg and Jeffrey C. Robinson, both won the 2010 American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation.

The purpose of the award, as described by the foundation, is to “respect and honor excellence in American literature without restriction or bias with regard to race, sex, creed, cultural origin, size of press or ad budget, or even genre.”

Digging profiles a variety of American jazz musicians with an emphasis on African Americans’ influence on American music and social change. Author Baraka, who has ranked among the most important commentators on African American music and culture, brings home to us how music itself matters, and how musicians carry and extend that knowledge from generation to generation, providing us, their listeners, with a sense of meaning and belonging.

Digging has also been honored with the PROSE Award for Best Music & Performing Arts book and was a finalist for the Lifetime Achievement in Jazz Journalism Award from the Jazz Journalists Association.

Poems for the Millennium may not deal as directly with American culture as Digging, but as a piece of American culture itself, the work of literary theory reflects the sheer diversity of intellect possible in a melting pot nation. The previous two volumes of this acclaimed anthology set forth a globally decentered revision of twentieth-century poetry from the perspective of its many avant-gardes. In this latest installment, Rothenberg and Robinson focus on romanticism, defining it as experimental and visionary, illuminating the process by which romantics and post-romantics challenged nineteenth-century orthodoxies and propelled poetry to the experiments of a later modernism and avant-gardism.

William Keach, author of Arbitrary Power, praises Poems for the Millennium for how it “provokes us to take a fresh look at the achievements of nineteenth-century poets and of modernists often assumed to have defined themselves mainly by refusing and rejecting what came before. We have much to learn from this book about the diversity of ways in which poetry has found forms for responding to the world of which it is a part.”

Founded in 1976, the Before Columbus Foundation is devoted to bringing America’s myriad of types of people and ways of living and thinking to a wider audience through literature that reflects that diversity. Digging and Poems exemplify the type of literature most admired by the foundation in how they reflect the multiculturalism which defines American culture. UC Press also won the award in 2006 for its title, Audiotopia: Music, Race, and America, by Josh Kun.

Romantic Poetry and Self-Consciousness

Yesterday on KPFA 94.1 FM, Jack Foley hosted the prequel to an 8-part series based on Poems for the Millennium Volume Three, edited by Jerome Rothenberg and Jeffrey C. Robinson.

In yesterday’s episode, Foley read “Hamlet, Keats, La Conscience de Soi”, thoughts on romantic poetry and self-consciousness, from his Alsop Review column Foley’s Books.

“La conscience de soi est une nouvelle modalité du savoir, c’est un savoir de soi, un retour de la conscience depuis l’être-autre.”
—French Wikipedia on Hegel

This Cover to Cover with Jack Foley series airs on KPFA, Wednesdays at 3PM until June 23. Next week, hear excerpts from William Bolcom’s setting of William Blake’s “Songs of Innocence & Experience”, Katherine Hastings on Poems for the Millennium, Leslie Scalapino, author of Its go in horizontal, reading from Rousseau, “Reveries of the Solitary Walker”, (a work that Lisa Robertson credits as an inspiration for her book R’s Boat), and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Khan.

UC Press Podcast Featuring, Jerome Rothenberg, Jeffrey Robinson and Adam Frank

We are pleased to announce that Episode 9 of the UC Press podcast series is now available. In December’s episode, Chris Gondek of Heron and Crane Productions interviews two English professors, and a professor of Astrophysics.

First, he interviews Jerome Rothenberg and Jeffrey Robinson, authors of Poems for the Millennium, Volume 3: The University of California Book of Romantic & Postromantic Poetry. Second, it’s Adam Frank, author of The Constant Fire: Beyone the Science vs. Religion Debate. You may subscribe to the monthly podcast feed that contains the individual episodes using your RSS aggregator or directly via the iTunes store.  You can listen to individual author interviews on our podcast page.

Listen to the podcast with Jerome Rothenberg and Jeffrey Robinson:  

Listen to the podcast with Adam Frank:  

“Wall Street Inferno” by Sousândrade

Poems for the MillenniumOne of the most extraordinary poems included in Jerome Rothenberg and Jeffrey C. Robinson’s forthcoming magisterial Poems for the Millennium, Volume 3: The University of California Book of Romantic and Postromantic Poetry is Sousândrade’s (Joaquim de Sousa Andrade, 1832-1902) “Wall Street Inferno.”

Nearly forgotten after his own time, the great Brazilian poet Sousândrade has become, in Latin American terms at least, the epitome of a late experimental romanticism and a prefigurer of new poetries to come. “In 1877,” the Cuban novelist Severo Sarduy writes,”this contemporary of Baudelaire, who lived in the United States for ten years, wrote … a long poem entitled O guesa errante (The Wandering Guesa), which culminates in an astonishing sequence ‘The Wall Street Inferno,’ that might be described as textual marquetry or polyphony, in which layout, neologisms, verbal montage, and sudden changes in tone evoke the newspapers of that period and the hectic world of the stock market. It is a typographical explosion in a pre-Poundian expanding universe.

(Guesa having crossed the Antilles, believes himself rid of the xeques and enters the New-York-Stock-Exchange; the Voice, from the wilderness:)

— Orpheus, Dante, Aeneas, to hell
Descended; the Inca must ascend . . .
= Ogni sp’ranza lasciate,
Che entrate . . .
— Swedenborg, do future worlds impend?

(Xeques appearing, laughing and disguised as Railroad-managers,
Stockjobbers, Pimpbrokers, etc., etc., ballyhooing:)

— Harlem” Erie” Central” Pennsylvania”
= Million” hundred million”” ten digits”””
— Young is Grant” Jackson,
Vanderbilts, Jay Goulds are midgets”

(The Voice barely heard in the tumult:)

— Fulton’s Folly, Codezo’s Forgery . . .
The nation cries swindle and cheat”
They can’t fathom odes
Chattam’s parallel to Wall Street . . .

(Brokers continuing:)

— Dwarves, Brown Brothers” Bennett” Stewart”
Rothschild and Astor the redtop””
= Giants, slaves, this prevails
Just if nails
Effuse light, just if the pains stop” . . .

(Norris, attorney; Codezo, inventor; Young, Esq., manager;
Atkinson, agent; Armstrong, agent; Rhodes, agent; p. Offman &
Voldo, agents; hubbub; mirage; in the middle, Guesa:)

— Two” three” five thousand” by gambling,
Sir, you’ll five million dollars win”
= He won” ha” haa” haaa”
— Hurrah” ah” . . .
— Vanished . . .  were they confidence men?

(j. Miller on the roof of tammany wigwam unrolling
the garibaldian mantle:)

— Bloodthirsties” oh Sioux” oh Modocs”
To the White House” Save the nation,
From Jews” from aberrant
Goth errant”
From most corrupt agitation”

(Violated mob:)

— Mistress Tilton, Sir Grant, Sir Tweed,
Adultery, royalty, outlaw,
Knot masked (grim faces)
Let them dance th’eternal Lynch law”

(Rt. Rev. Beecher preaching:)

— Just Tennyson and Longfellow,
Good morals inspired in us all:
Not Donahues, Arthurs
Nor John Byron, nor Juvenal”

(Tilton moaning with the head pains of Jupiter:)

— Pallas” Pallas” Satan’s sermon”
The cuckold moral of Beecher”
Fiery sermons” moan”
She heard from the Plymouth preacher”

(Joannes-Theodorus-Golhemus preaching in Brooklyn:)

— Rugged rocks of New Malborough”
Mammoth Cave” rather gab a lot
With Mormons I advise”
You despise
The pulpit where Maranhão taught”

(Beecher-Stowe and h. Beecher:)

— Brother Laz’rus, I repent of
The rock that at Byron I threw . . .
= Gypsy sis, I agree
’Cause it hit me”
He gets glory, and me they sue”

. . . . . . .

Newton’s Principia, Shak’spear’, Milton,
The Ormazd, the Vedas, Koran,
The Thousand-One Nights,
And whip bites
Christ dealt out and had to withstand:

There is twixt Harold and Guesa
A greatly diverse circumstance,
One’s voice, strong output,
But bot foot;
The other, “tweak voice” and firm stance.

And comets to meteorites comment
As they pass by shaking the air . . .
= Look at each old
That flaunts whirling and shining there”

(La Fontaine using in a fable the killers of Ines de Castro:)

— Ants are not fond of grasshoppers,
The vampires are Luís Varela’s;
They’re not Pedros’ crude;
They’re lewd
Goats, rodents, and monkeys, and ’dillos.


— Jur’paripirás (not Evang’line)
The Governor of Maranhão,
Baia’s spicy girls
Of the world,
Transferred, and this is his crown.

(O Novo Mundo:)

— Good vates, there’s naught so opposed
To the preservation of life
Than as some rogues do,
To woo
(Manu’s law) another man’s wife”

(Longfellow complaining; trio of parents:)

— Woe” woe” woe” what this perverse world
Does to those that we love so well”
Our daughters beguiled
And defiled”
= They howl as they journey to hell”

(Octogenarian Bryant working:)

— The crows sing so well, Jehovah”
Jehovah” Ku-Klux robed in white
Making other worlds so
Deep below,
They made darkness . . .  out of the light”

Pharsalus’ matinée is dark, Wolfgang,
And its sizeable price would astound”
No notable verse can
Cost more than
Guesa, which insolv’ble was found”

(Episcopalians with the church full of faithful and going bankrupt:)

— Vast congregations could rebuild
Their churches in one day alone . . .
The dollars falter” . . .
The altar,
Cross, everything, creditors own”

(Catholics, fearing the glory of bankruptcy, close the door to beggars:)

— If they don’t pay cash they can’t enter”
Latin Mass, Pope, Heaven too”
Such confessionals” . . .
Only burnt do they give God what’s due”

(Pan-Presbeterians chamberlainizing:)

— Sinagogue of the Devil”
Incubussed wife of the Lamb”
You’re ’pocalyptic,
Herr Gallant’s romancing you, ma’am”

(Out-laws Unitarians:)

— Won’t honor Messiah’s parents
Only he who dishonors his own:
As teachers of value
And love, you
The King of the Jews dethrone.

— Just the loyal, never Loyola,
Can in noble hearts trust produce:
Volcano’s yawn,
Acheron . . .
“Water-head”?’s Tom-Tom mother-Goose”

(Bad-sinners good-apostles, enlightened with the beliefs of remission
and resurrection of the dead, seeing Jerry McCaulay and reseeing Frothingham in “Christ would not suit our times”:)

— Peccavi says one, and transforms
Pagoda to Christian mission;
In a church the other:
Holy Mother”
“Christianity’s superstition””

Reserved is the world, in which man
Bears the seal of the Begetter
And broken . . .  Frothingham
Or Brigham,
Mirrors; and Beecher is better.

(Epicurus teaching between Chemistry and Psychology:)

— Poor ideal God . . .  fleshly flower,
Satan’s garden: ergo, betray;
Hunger is dark
And have a lark
The vermin, because of decay.

(Stokers of the furnace reducing the original sin to algebraic formulas and
to the “New Faith” (“moral rapid transit”) the “In God we trust”
of the five cents:)

— Cold, industry, practical life,
Go ahead” oh, oh, such a heart” . . .
To this air, vital vent
Spiraling sent,
Breeze or Bull-hurricane or fart”

(Saint Ignatius founding his Order:)

— Just the cadaver’s majestic,
Such ideal to the real descends;
Ice is fire . . . and each divus
Just to its animal attends.


— What’s that long, sad, striped procession
Coiling through Blackwell in chains?
Carrere, Boss Tweed,
Waist-linked . . .  cruel justice reigns”

= Cuban Codezo, Young Esquire,
Each other do cheat and ensnare,
Mistic Proteus cult
Of Hudson-Canal-Delaware”

Norris, Connecticut’s blue laws”
Clevelands, attorney-Cujas,
Changed to zebras and made
To parade
Two by two, a hundred Barrabas”

(Friends of the lost kings:)

— Humb of railroad and tel’graph,
Tried to steal the heavenly flame,
That the world throughout
Should sprout
The Spangled Star and her acclaim”

(A rebel sun founding a planetary center:)

—“George Washington, etc., etc.,
Answer Royal-George-Third” you bloke”
= You tell him, Lord Howe,
I’m royal now . . .
(And the Englishman’s nose they broke).

(Satellites hailing Jove’s thunderbolts:)

—“The universe salutes the queen” . . .
And Patriarchs laud and admire . . .
(With a liberal king,
The worst thing,
They established a moon empire).


— A sad role on earth is performed
By kings and bards, heav’n’s company,
(And Strauss waltzing)
In Hippodrome or Jubilee.

(Brokers finding the cause of the slump in the Wall-Street exchange:)

— Exeunt Dom Pedro, Dom Grant,
Dom Guesa, brave voyagers three:
Each with golden till
They still
The Moor of the turbulent sea.

(International procession, people of Israel, Orangemen, Fenians, Buddhists, Mormons, Communists, Nihilists, Pallbearers, Railroad-Strikers,
All-brokers, All-saints, All-devils, lanterns, music, sensation;
Reporters: in London the “assassin” of the Queen and
in Paris “Lot” the fugitive of Sodom pass by:)

— The Holy Spirit of slavery
Is a single-Emperor state;
That of the free, verse
Doth all mankind coronate”

Translation from Portuguese by Robert E. Brown