Matt's Reviews > A Book of Witness: Spells & Gris-Gris

A Book of Witness by Jerome Rothenberg
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's review
Jun 09, 2011

really liked it

I found my way to Rothenberg after reading a very different kind of poem dedicated to him by Julie Doxsee and sort of misreading what in her poem was indebted to R. But that said, I'm glad to have found this book, a collection of fifties poems written in 1999, and another fifty written in the next two years that purport to tackle two sides of the millenium.

I don't think writing a hundred poems in two years (or really, three) is necessarily an accomplishment, but it does suggest a certain tossed off quality, kind of like O'Hara's lunch poems, and there's some of that here-- maybe of these poems feel very quick, very occasional, capturing Rothenberg's reflections on a particular moment or else the course of a thought as it runs astray. What makes it notable and poetic, though, is that these moments lead Rothenberg to a kind of lyrical intensity that is pretty heated-- nearly all of these poems build to bold pronouncements and obviously are records of the poet being deeply moved, even if what is moving him remains obscured-- unlike O'Hara, there's little of the visible world in these poems, and they are almost entirely taken up with internal landscapes of thought and emotion.

For me, that made the experience of these poems a little mysterious-- I didn't know what I was reading, a lot of the time-- but throughout the poems, at least in the best ones, there's an electricity there, and that's what I read for, once I got into the swing of it. There's a mainline of energy here, coursing through these tossed off poems, and I found that to be pretty appealing.

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