Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Short Form

While my students were taking an exam, I designed a course on the short form. The trick will be to make it a long enough course! Perhaps it should be a mini-course.

First of all, the genres:

Idiom. This is the shortest form of all (above the level of the word). It is a lexicalized combination of words.

Mottos and slogans.

Proverb. The lexicalized sentence.

Glosas. The proverb explained in a slightly longer poem.

Aphorism. The aphorism is the proverb with an author.

Greguería. A humorous aphorism of the type written by Ramón Gómez de la Serna.

Sofisma. A genre similar to the greguería invented by another Spanish poet, Vicente Nuñez.

Haiku. In the Western tradition, a short poem written in imitation of a Japanese genre, or inspired by it in a general sense, like WCW's Wheelbarrow.

Microcuento. The short, short, short short-story.


Epitaphs. Short texts written to be inscribed on tombstones, or written in imitation of such inscriptions.

Minimalist works of other sorts, like the extremely short poems of Aram Saroyan. ("lighght")

Other genres of short songs: cantares, coplas, etc...

The fragment. A short text, that, while it stands alone, could seem to be a part of a lost whole. Or an actual fragment.

So the idea would be to spend a day or a week on each category, with some requiring two to three weeks (proverbs).

The theoretical approaches would begin with the "poetic function" (RJ) and move to cognitive psychology, cultural history, etc... Not every shortish text or poem is an example of the "short form." In some sense brevity itself must come into play in the text.

"Only incorrectly formulated problems have viable solutions." Vicente N.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Poet Voice

I've noticed that sing-song up and down "poet voice" reading style more and more. Even poets I like (their work and them personally) seem to rely on it as their default. Though it seems less prose-like and hence more musical, it really reduces musicality by reducing the intonational variety to one damned pattern. Every stressed word is an up and every unstressed is a down. POETS: STOP DOING THIS. Couldn't this be just Creative Writing 101? (Except the teacher probably does it too.)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Secondary Stress in Spanish

There is an emphatic style of speaking that emphasizes the secondary stress, normally very weak in Spanish. I'm listening to a lecture now and just heard the lecturer say


Normally you would say "interpretación, and the secondary stress, very weak, would be on the syllable "pre."

He also says "cualquier caso." That is interesting because the real stress should be cualquier. I'll have to look to see whether the "rhythm rule" has been documented in Spanish, where stress clashes are avoided through leftward shift of stress. An example in English would be the difference between "Tennessee," and "Tennessee Williams."

I find that in my own lecturing mode in class I do speak, also, in that more emphatic mode. It has the advantage of being easy to understand and dynamic, well, emphatic.

The one article I've found documents the emphatic style in newscasts and the like. Where I'm going with this is an approach to stress clash in versification, where the norm, for Spanish is iambic or trochaic, and stress clashes tend to occur with relatively stressless prepositions.

Jesus's Wife Not a Fake!

This was a kind of silly incident. Scientists examining a fragment of papyrus mentioning Jesus's wife said that it was indeed "ancient." Possibly dating from the seventh century. Well that is interesting, because that is some 600 years after the time of Jesus (if there was such a person). The word ancient is very misleading, because it implies a historical proximity that simply is not supported. What did the Coptic Christians in Egypt a half a millennium later know about the historical Jesus? That's the same time span between us and the early 16th century!

I'm not arguing he didn't have a wife, or that he did. On that I'm agnostic. Of course there are interests on both sides in arguing about the authenticity of the fragment, but none of that has any bearing on anything real.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


I am doing a thing where I listen to all of my ipod "songs" in random order. I have done about 230 of out 7,000. Some "songs" are hour-long lectures. I heard Carmen Martín Gaite talk for on hour on Cinco horas con Mario, and Antonio Colinas on María Zambrano; Ricardo Gullón on Machado; Abellán on Unamuno. I would have loved to have this technology when I was an undergraduate and thirsty for this knowledge. It is wonderful not to know what is coming next.

A Pocketful of Lorca

That's how one of my students interpreted the title of my book orally. A nice little mondegreen. I should actually write a book called A Pocketful of Lorca! Either that or articulate my words more carefully.

Law of Lengthening Limbs

I've done a little more research. The German phrase Carlos Piera cites translates to "The Law of Lengthening Limbs." This is the tendency to order list-items in ascending order by syllable length:

and the American way

Roman Jakobson mentions this briefly in "Closing Statement: Linguistics and Poetics." He says that you are more likely to say "Joan and Margery" and "Margery and Joan," associating this tendency with the "poetic function" of language. He doesn't say why, just that it sounds better. Piera is another one, citing the German guy who coined the phrase, so there are at least four or five people who have noticed this, including me.

It is probably weaker than a law. It is more of a tendency. Let's say it will happen more often than not, in the weakest formulation. The implications are not profound, maybe, but I find this kind of thing fascinating. As far as I know, there has been little discussion of word length in linguistic or literary prosody.

The nuclear stress rule (Chomsky and Halle) says that you stress the right-most stressable element in a phrase. We know that important elements tend to go last, and that ascending order is preferred in the rhetorical figure of gradation. Curiously, most dictionary definitions don't talk about word-length in relation to figures like "climax" or "gradation."