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Michael Rothenberg

Michael Rothenberg is a poet, editor and publisher of BigBridge.org, co-founder of 100 Thousand Poets for Change, and co-founder of Poets In Need, a non-profit 501(c), assisting poets in crisis. His most recent books of poetry include Sapodilla (Editions du Cygne-Swan World, Paris, France, 2016), Drawing The Shade (Dos Madres Press, 2016) and Wake Up and Dream (MadHat Press 2017).


“Wake Up and Dream”—so Michael Rothenberg enjoins us in this winning book. In a dangerous time, we can look to this poet for solace, humor, and good sense.

– Aram Saroyan

Michael Rothenberg is an acrobat of the drastic mood swing, from the self-doubter’s Gethsemane to the elevated cross of the Universal Redeemer. The marvel is that his poetry, at both extremes and every point in between, maintains a perfect consistency of clarity, wisdom and wit.

– Tom Bradley

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Wake Up and Dream

Lucid Dreaming: Michael Rothenberg's Wake Up and Dream


Michael Rothenberg is a political organizer who herds individualistic cat-souled poets into the world’s largest poetry reading each September, who co-founded the life-saving organization, Poets in Need, and who participates tirelessly in important contemporary causes. Thus, I was surprised to read the vividly sensual and descriptive poetry, based on real flora and fauna and earth, of Wake Up and Dream. Alongside calls for skinheads to martyr themselves and the warning that Monsanto owns you, there are haiku-like, real-to-the-touch lines depicting our planet’s landforms and beings.

And as I read on, I realized: this is why Rothenberg is an environmentalist, this is why he is political – it is because of this cellular love for the concrete world around him and its people, places, and things. From “Revolt of the Donkeys”:

Only fools

for a better

Five minutes
a day

the carob tree

we speak

But mostly

we carry

of sweet
oranges . . .

The poetry, like Rothenberg, is global. Whitmanesque, the poet conjures the cities of the United States, and, like an ancient prophet, calls forth nations: Macedonia, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, China. Ancient, the deserts and mountains hold history and the poems reveal their diegesis. The land heals “cannibal” political wounds. In “Bozo the Slick,” Rothenberg juxtaposes the “baby Mussolini” world of the con man (guess who?) with his beloved Italy:

Alburni . . .
Virgil saw this mountain

There was a thunderstorm pelted
The terra cotta shingles
We shivered through the Amalfi night
In a house built in 700 AD
In a town built long before the redwoods . . .

Of course, these poems are political, if by political you mean aware, tough, punk. Rothenberg summons “Baudelaire (borderlands),” as the poet alliterates, and Henry Miller, to his aid as he makes his protest and dances with:

Exhausted senses, wild visions
Timelessness, days without dates
(Deities) . . .

Even when the poet trips with surrealism and Language riffs, the poems are wide awake; the dream in the title is never a fuzzy oneiric sleep. Through despair and exhaustion, the poems sing to what we are fighting for, what Rothenberg insists we make real in our world, what we need to preserve. It is the dream of an alive, non-GMOed, non-conned reality that stems from love for our planet and ourselves.

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