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Poetry foundation on Bishop Her father died before she was a year old. Her mother suffered through serious bouts of mental instability and...

Monday, October 16, 2017


Poetry foundation on Bishop
Her father died before she was a year old. Her mother suffered through serious bouts of mental instability and was permanently committed to an institution when Elizabeth was only five years old.
Bialosky (p. 162):  

Her father died before she was a year old. After suffering from mental instability, her mother was committed to an institution. Elizabeth Bishop was five 

 Here is a stream of twenty five words in which three are not present in the original (if we count suffered and suffering as the same word.) Defenders will say that there are only so many ways to state basic biographical facts.  But statistically speaking, the odds are against such a heavy coincidence of language. This is not mentioned in Logan's review, because he only went after some of the most egregious examples of the verbatim borrowing of phrasing. Her defenders point out that most of the borrowing is biographical, and this would bear out that (partial) excuse.  Still, as part of the overall pattern this does not look good.

A modest problem

Poems online are often represented with every line centered on the screen. 
This is incorrect: poems should not be centered on the screen, but reproduced according to their original typography.  I even had a graduate student turn in a paper 
with her poetry quotes centered on the page (each line that is). We must put an end to this for the integrity of the art form. 
Do not center
each line 
of the damned poem.  
Never link to a site that engages in this heinous practice.

This is a modest problem that we can tackle together. Impeaching Trump, ending sexual harassment in among the stars (whether in astronomy or Hollywood) are things I can do very little about.  But I can try to stop people from citing poems incorrectly, and I can promote the wearing of bowler hats.  

A Scam

Suppose you offered free gambling tips for a limited amount of time.  People call in a number and are advised to bet for or against a given team.  The catch: the hotline tells half the people to bet on one team and half on the other.  So if 10,000 people call, then 5,000 will be winners. You can offer them the chance to get another tip. The same thing happens, and half of them are winners, or 2,500. That quarter or so of the original group starts to think this tipline is something special. Then by the time you whittle it down to people who have won six bets in a row or so, they think this gambling advice is golden and will be willing to pay for the previously free tips.  They will buy a subscription to your service.

No matter which team wins, half the people will win their bet any given week.  People who bet on contests where the odds are against them will feel especially lucky.  

Sunday, October 15, 2017


Here's a fragment of another long poem by Cashberg, written in the mid 50s.  You can see that Ashbery's style of the md-seventies is heavily indebted to Cashberg's:

As we sifted through the hotel archives of past indignations

the white hot edges of them burned through our memory,

though the root causes were forgotten: the way the word demotic

does not belong, itself, to any vernacular, and thus was misunderstood

by those to whom it was directed. They were right to be insulted,

perhaps.  So too, the prize designed for the undiscovered village crank

genius went, as always, to the Princeton professor du jour.  Are you getting this down?

Are you taking notes quickly enough, ma cherie? I thought not.

My sprezzetura was taken as simple carelessness, but to correct the mistake

would have made it all the worse, limping into twilight-burnished

corridors, under cover of stale leaves...


Walking bass (ii)

One youtube video showed me how to play walking bass in the piano.  Basically, you can just set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes, and metronome to a slowish tempo, choose a chord progression, and just walk with it until the timer rings. Apply as many concepts as you want to or can. Repeat in a different key or with a different chord progression. You can put a rootless voicing in the right hand, like a 3 and 7 or 3,6,9.

What this video, by Dave Frank, taught me is that a bass line is a melody. Since I can write melodies I can write bass lines.

The amazing thing is that after doing this with a few progressions, I found I could do it my head thinking of very precise notes rather than just vaguely.  I did a 2/5/1 in Bflat and then in C, a blues progression in C, and then a 1/6/2/5. I also wrote a bass line for the A section of "Lulu's Back in Town."

I'm not good at it yet, of course, but I made very rapid progress, from barely being able to play one at all to being able to play one with some fluency. When I don't set a metronome I just continually speed up.

This will provide a different kind of left hand for my playing, as opposed to my usual block chords.

Linguistic Exercise

Take this poem by Frost and, without consulting any secondary source, explain the use of definite and indefinite articles (or their omission), in the following noun phrases:  "a crow" "the dust of snow" "a hemlock tree" "a change of mood" "some part of a day I had rued." Write out a set of rules that a person learning English as a second language could apply to know how to use these articles. 

The way a crow 
Shook down on me 
The dust of snow 
From a hemlock tree 

Has given my heart 
A change of mood 
And saved some part 
Of a day I had rued.

In the Wreckage

In the wreckage

of yesterday

I try

to find today's

meat and potatoes