Raphaël Pirenne



The first issue of some/thing, a magazine edited by David Antin and Jerome Rothenberg, was released in 1965. A total of five issues were published, two per year, the last of which was released as a double issue in 1968. The magazine was published by Hawk’s Well Press, an independent structure created by Diane and Jerome Rothenberg in 1959.


some/thing stems from a specific cultural and historical context: that of the emerging counter-culture and the 1960s New York art scene. In retrospect, however, some/thing stands out as a singular, unusual object when compared to standard, academic poetry publications, and, to some extent, to other New-York-based alternative poetry journals. One of some/thing’s peculiarities was that an artist was commissioned for each cover. In addition to Amy Mendelsohn’s contribution for the first issue, the second one was adorned by a reproduction of a sculpture by Robert Morris. And while issue 4/5 included three photographs by Georges Maciunas, issue 3 (published in winter 1966 and focussed on the Vietnam war) had Andy Warhol providing a cover made out of perforated gummed paper on which each silkscreened stamp bore the slogan “BOMB HANOI” written on a yellow button. This singular instalment, especially with regard to the system elaborated throughout the issue, where poetical text alternates with cuttings from daily newspapers, official reports or documents in direct or indirect reference to the Vietnam war, reveals how Antin and Rothenberg were not solely focused on expanding and redefining the boundaries of poetry. This issue bears witness to the corollating political stakes behind the intent of the magazine: not only by relaying a conflict the United States had recently entered, but also by embracing so-called “minor,” non-Western literary forms.


Rothenberg and Antin were thus addressing a politics of difference that inhabited the very core of some/thing’s agenda, as is highlighted, in the first issue, by their respective editorials, respectively at the beginning and at the end of the magazine, and thus physically, metaphorically and conceptually framing the publication. In a brief text, Rothenberg included a series of Aztec definitions taken from the eleventh book of the Florentine Codex (1540-1585), the work of Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún. All of the definitions were orally transmitted in the Nahuatl language to the friar by Aztec survivors of the Spanish conquest in order to summarise and explain their system of thought and their organisation of knowledge. These definitions translate a system closely determined by a sensorial and experiential verbalisation process, radically foreign to the Western system of thought that was considered as more rational at the time. When in contact with these definitions, Rothenberg asserted, poetry emerged not so much as literature than as a “process of thought and feeling”: “The conditions these definitions meet,” he said, “are the conditions of poetry.”1 In “Silence/Noise,” Antin developed an understanding of language in terms of a “linguistic community.” As every language may only grow within a community of “speakers” differences between languages can only be equated with differences within the organisation of the reality proper to each of them.2 In a gesture that may at once be assimilated to an acknowledgement and a displacement of Cagean aesthetics, Antin turned around the argument that silence does not exist.3 “All speech is an attempt to create to recover or discover and transmit some order,” he wrote, “yet all speech generates some noise.”4 The piece ends as follows: “The feeling that some/thing lies out there that we cannot lay hold of is the feeling of the inadequacy of the existing order it is the demand for a different order.”5


Furthermore, the magazine title, its emblem as well Amy Mendelsohn’s visual intervention on the cover of the first issue played an essential role in building the publication’s editorial line. some/thing is indeed a peculiar title, visually and semantically speaking, oscillating, through the slash dividing the word in two, between the definition and the indeterminacy of the interrogated object. some/thing is “something,” yet, this “something” was rendered indeterminate by the dividing process emphasized by Mendelsohn’s intervention on the cover—a blue triangle, divided, and therefore jeopardized, by an orange vertical bar. The title itself was relayed by an emblem adorning each back cover, and shown in the first issue as the header of Rothenberg’s first text: the drawing of a labyrinth, characteristic of primitive societies except for its entrance gate (which makes it closer to certain Amerindian civilisations than to the Neolithic one). The drawing was accompanied by a delay effect—a cryptic text on the last page, laid out before the list of contributors: “emblem: a pima drawing: of the pathways: searchings: stoppingplaces: where-the-god-has-stopped: a wave length: energy: cessation: strife: emergence into: something.”6 More than a definition, this sequence of terms echoing each other like concentric and multidirectional curves in a labyrinth, dynamically unfolds a lexicographic, visual, cultural and symbolic field, contributing to defining the multiplicity of the language fields explored by the magazine—its “language game” to use Wittgenstein’s terminology, an author Antin was reading at the time—producing a disorienting and de-familiarising effect on poetry, if not through poetry itself, then at least through language.

  1. Jerome Rothenberg, “Aztec Definitions: Found Poems from the Florentine Codex,” some/thing 1 (Spring 1965): 2.  

  2. David Antin, “Silence/Noise,” some/thing 1 (Spring 1965): 60, 62.  

  3. Antin, “Silence/Noise,” 61.  

  4. Antin, “Silence/Noise,” 62.  

  5. Antin, “Silence/Noise,” 63.  

  6. See some/thing 1 (Spring 1965): 64.  

Published on <o> future <o>, June 5, 2014.

Jean-François Caro
CC BY-ND 3.0 France