From the Arunta of Australia comes the word “Alcheringa,” “The Eternal Dream Time, The Dreaming of a sacred heroic time long ago when man and nature came to be, a kind of narrative of things that once happened.” The ethnopoetics magazine Alcheringa, “A First Magazine of the World’s Tribal Poetries,” was published from 1970 to 1980 and edited by Jerome Rothenberg and Dennis Tedlock (Rothenberg left the magazine in 1976 to found New Wilderness Letter). Their intention was to publish “transcriptions of oral poems from living traditions, ancient texts with oral roots, and modern experiments in oral poetry. There will be songs, chants, prayers, visions and dreams, sacred narratives, fictional narratives, histories, ritual scenarios, praises, namings, word games, riddles, proverbs, sermons. These will take the shape of performable scripts (meant to be read aloud rather than silently), experiments in typography, diagrams, and insert disc recordings.”
Alcheringa 2 (Summer 1971).
The editors encouraged against literal translation and toward innovation in transcribing what are often works located in an oral tradition. The first issue includes, in translation, work from the Seneca and the Quiche Maya; from New Guinea; and from the Serbo-Croatian. Over the years, contributors included Jackson Mac Low, Armand Schwerner, Jaime de Angulo, Anne Waldman, Gary Snyder, Charles Olson, Clayton Eshleman, W. S. Merwin, Nathaniel Tarn, Anselm Hollo, Simon Ortiz, and others, who presented their own work as well as transcriptions from a broad range of the world’s tribal poetries including Eskimo, Hebrew Tribal poetry, Black Oral poetry, hunting and gathering songs, songs of ritual license, and much more. As Rothenberg noted, “The poets of ALCHERINGA start with the voice. The essayists will look, ultimately, to the very origins of poetry. ALCHERINGA will be radical—that is, going to the center—in approaching the Word.”
“Ethnopoetics—my coinage, in a fairly obvious way, circa 1967—refers to an attempt to investigate on a transcultural scale the range of possible poetries that had not only been imagined but put into practice by other human beings. It was premised on the perception that western definitions of poetry & art were no longer, indeed, had never been, sufficient & that our continued reliance on them was distorting our view both of the larger human experience & of our own possibilities within it. The focus was not so much international as intercultural with a stress…on those stateless & classless societies that an earlier ethnology had classified as ‘primitive.’ That the poetry & art of those cultures were complex in themselves & in their interconnections with each other was a first point that I found it necessary to assert—There are no primitive languages.”
— Jerome Rothenberg, “Ethnopoetics & Politics/The Politics of Ethnopoetics” in Charles Bernstein, ed., The Politics of Poetic Form: Poetry and Public Policy (New York: Roof, 1990)
Alcheringa 3 (Winter 1971).