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Anxious gatekeeping

Analogous to nervous cluelessness is something we might call “anxious gatekeeping.”   This is desire to police the borders of poetry, or of...

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Career Narrative (2)

I'm sure you are all waiting for this with great anticipation. Tell me if it sounds arrogant in any way.
I began my academic career as an undergraduate at the University of California at Davis and a graduate student at Stanford University. I spent my junior year abroad in Madrid, studying with the poet Claudio Rodríguez, who later became the subject of my doctoral dissertation. My year in Spain had a formative influence on my life and career, determining my choice of field: I would be a scholar of Spanish-language poetry. My principal goal has been consistent from the very beginning of my intellectual trajectory: I have always wanted to account for the contribution of modern Spanish poetry to the larger project of literary modernity in the international context. In other words, how can we compare the achievement of poets like Federico García Lorca and José Lezama Lima to that of Ezra Pound, André Breton, Fernando Pessoa, or Constantin Kavafy? What is distinctive about the contribution poetry written in Spanish? I have sometimes approached these questions through close readings of emblematic poets. At other times, I have addressed broader historical and theoretical questions, sometimes intervening in literary polemics.

I received my PhD in Comparative Literature from Stanford in 1988. My first tenure-track position was at the Ohio State University, where I taught from 1988 through 1994. I published my dissertation as my first book, Claudio Rodríguez and the Language of Poetic Vision (1990). I wrote a second one, The Poetics of Self-Consciousness: Twentieth-Century Spanish Poetry (1994) with help from a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities (1992-93 academic year). During these years I was also able to publish articles in prestigious journals like PMLA, Hispanic Review, and MLN, establishing myself as a recognized scholar in my field at a relatively early stage of my career.

In 1995, I accepted a position as Associate Professor at the University of Kansas, where I currently teach. In the late 1990s I began work on a mongraph that was eventually published in 2009: The Twilight of the Avant-Garde: Spanish Poetry, 1980-2000. This book deals with the heated polemic between two rival schools of poetry. The first, “the poetry of experience,” pointedly rejects the intellectual and literary ambitions of literary modernism. The second, which I call “late modernism,” attempts to reshape these ambitions for the twenty-first century. Since I took the position that this more intellectually challenging held more promise than the anti-modernist alternative, I gained some degree of fame (or notoriety) among Spanish critics and poets. One prominent poet, for example, referred to me sardonically as “politically correct because of a love for Indian reservations.” I began work on this book in the midst of an on-going controversy. Perhaps as a result of this, I frequently questioned myself and revised my plans, so that the final book came out several years later than I had orginally planned.

I held my second NEH Fellowship during the 2007-08 Academic Year, completing my fourth book, Apocryphal Lorca: Translation, Parody, Kitsch (2009). This book, published by the University of Chicago Press, has received a positive reception. This book charts the uneven process by which US poets like Langston Hughes, Allen Ginsberg, Frank O’Hara, Robert Bly, Paul Blackburn, and Jack Spicer assimilated the influence of Federico García Lorca, the best-known Spanish writer of the twentieth century. Like The Twilight of the Avant-Garde, this book has a polemical edge, since I argue that American poets read Lorca through the prism of their own “domestic agenda,” often mistranslating, oversimplifying, and otherwise misrepresenting his poetry. While Lorca’s influence on American poetry had received some attention from previous scholars, my book, based on extensive archival work, brought the most relevant material together in a coherent narrative. Apocryphal Lorca is the scholarly book for which I am best known. Several scholars have told me that they have used this book in their courses.

The publication of two books in 2009 cemented my scholarly reputation and led to my promotion to full professor. My current projects include a book to be written in Spanish with the title Lorca / modelo para armar [Lorca / a model to construct], and What Lorca Knew: Spanish Poetics and Intellectual History. The first, which I expect to publish in Spain, will synthesize my thinking about Lorca for a Spanish-speaking audience. What Lorca Knew is the project I propose to complete while holding the Guggenheim Fellowship. Although it is a completely new project, it draws from more than 30-years of single-minded study. Like my previous books, it is an approach to what I regard as the central problem for scholars in my field: what is the distinctive contribution of Spanish poetry to modern poetry and poetics?

1 comment:

Tanya Golash-Boza said...

Thanks for sharing. Fascinating. If you haven't already submitted, I think this sentence is missing a word: Since I took the position that this more intellectually challenging held more promise than the anti-modernist alternative, I gained some degree of fame (or notoriety) among Spanish critics and poets.