Michael Rothenberg

Reading Big Bridge

My father was a glutton. He raised me on escargot and cheesecake, Cadillac leather and the silver scales of a tarpon doing a sun dance against a tangle of mangroves on a high falling tide. I am complex. Eclectic not just to be different but because my appetite is insatiable. My father always told me, "Try it, if you don't like it you don't have to eat it." So I tried it and usually liked it. He kept the good things in front of me. So I suppose my tastes became refined. At least I had the good fortune to have Opportunities.

But just for equal measure, having been a child of the 60's, I was inclined to throw out the "good" and the "bad," maybe I became a victim of my own rebellion in the process, I don't know. I abandoned the template of parental judgment and preference as best I could, the form of what I was taught to think of as good and bad. I learned about Zen soup, cold burdock root, tree fungi and other delicacies that required an acquired taste. I learned about the trippy and the avant garde, language poets and surrealists, learned to like mostly everything, permit everything, cheap marijuana, Ripple, even Rod McKuen, James Cavanaugh, Leonard Nimoy and more recently, Jewel. I learned to apologize for everything, everyone, rationalize perspective and encourage surprise. Even poems from The Pope (not Alexander) were worth considering for a moment.

Everything, gastronomically, poetically, has it's merit. Snakes are not ugly. Toads are not gross. Maggots not evil. Everything figures in the scheme of creation. I came to the idea of phenomenology with interest. I was never privy to the idea behind the plan. I was simply and complexly created by what I observed and what observed me back. It was very puzzling and kept me awake. And that was okay as long as I got some sleep.

So here I am reflecting reflection trying to lay out an explanation of what makes Big Bridge what it is. What it is? I never could see the similarity between Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, between Wallace Stevens and e. e. cummings. But I liked them all. I could never explain why Bob Dylan as a poet inspired me as much or more than Ezra Pound, and why I believed them both to be wonderful poets. I got my MA in poetics and presented a thesis on poetry and the popular song. I came to see the poem and song as one entity. Of course you can split hairs, but on the most profound and fundamental levels, I believe poetry and song are the same, of the same, from the same, serve the same purpose.

I like Basho and Appolinaire. I like poetry that confuses and amuses me. I like Robert Frost and William Stafford, Justin Chin ... I like poetry that romances me and insults me. What is the connection? "There is no connection." That is what I believe. Once everything is connected, everything is disconnected. There's no accounting for taste, and taste, which gets a bad rap for being some word out of the language of the bourgeoisie, is what it's all about, mostly. Personal, private, intimate, horny, taste.

You know when you are listening to a really great singer? No you don't. How would you know? There's no such thing as a really good singer. Is David Byrne a good singer? Barbra Streisand? Who's got soul? Whose soul is being touched? Is the rapper's soul less complex, deep, or valid than the soul of Itzhak Perlman? Follow me down this line, this path of thinking and what have we got? Nothing. That's what Big Bridge is. Big Bridge is nothing. Means nothing. Proposes nothing. It is a literary magazine, after all!

Of course, there are things I want poetry to do. I want poetry to liberate, entertain, teach, create community, spread some news. But the nature of the liberation, entertainment, teachings and community, the style and content of the news is beyond my reach in definition and enclosure. I detest boundaries and borders. They result in self-entrapment. There is no way out of the tangle of barbs. Beware of the statement!

I can only act and react and leave it to you, the reader, to tell me what I have done or have not done in Big Bridge. If you feel inclined to do that, to tell me, feel free to do so. I may or may not listen. I will certainly listen only to what I want to hear. I am capable of nothing else. But you don't have to do that, comment, respond, or tell me what you think about what I'm doing. It's not a requirement. Class is open.

If Big Bridge has an aesthetic or poetic preference, the reader will have to define it. I have read many of the literary critics and analysts, semioticians, "linguicians" (not the sausage), and they have many great ideas, ask a lot of interesting questions that encourage me to think in different ways about what I'm reading, and how I can approach what I read and write. But when school's out nobody seems to be right or wrong.

Big Bridge has a task. To provide myself with an excuse to learn ways of seeing and experiencing phenomena, and to provide an excuse, medium, for sharing my learning.To find work that seems striking and put it out because it is entrancing and something I want to show off, like a shell fragment uncovered from sun-bleached sands, a wave polished piece of glass, some kind of treasure that catches my eye. So it's all about what turns me on.

But I do hope you keep coming back to Big Bridge. Because if you do keep coming back to Big Bridge then I believe I am doing something good. Not laying out the guidelines for a Great New American Poetics, or anointing the New Prophets of The Anglo-American Tendency but rather laying out an experience, a reflection of nature that keeps us wondering, you and I. Keeps us reading for wonder. And I do feel sure that poetry must keep us wondering or else we ought to hurry up and go do almost anything else.


Michal Rothenberg edits Big Bridge. He recently edited Philip Whalen's Overtime: Selected Poems for Penguin Poets.

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