Featured Post


The lute lies rusted in its green case odor of pines is synthetic; sweeteners artificial; even salt!  our tongues crave something dif...

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Thoreau on the 1st person

“In most books, the I, or first person, is omitted; in this it will be retained; that, in respect to egotism, is the main difference. We commonly do not remember that it is, after all, always the first person that is speaking. I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well."

Wow. Just wow. What an insight. (Emphasis added.)

Thursday, October 24, 2013


The distinction between narrative, lyric, and drama is often attributed to Plato. But look what he actually says (bold parts are most relevant):
You know the first lines of the Iliad, in which the poet says that Chryses prayed Agamemnon to release his daughter, and that Agamemnon flew into a passion with him; whereupon Chryses, failing of his object, invoked the anger of the God against the Achaeans. Now as far as these lines,

‘And he prayed all the Greeks, but especially the two sons of Atreus, the chiefs of the people,’

the poet is speaking in his own person; he never leads us to suppose that he is any one else. But in what follows he takes the person of Chryses, and then he does all that he can to make us believe that the speaker is not Homer, but the aged priest himself. And in this double form he has cast the entire narrative of the events which occurred at Troy and in Ithaca and throughout the Odyssey.


And a narrative it remains both in the speeches which the poet recites from time to time and in the intermediate passages?

Quite true.

Epic poetry has an element of imitation in the speeches; the rest is simple narrative.

But when the poet speaks in the person of another, may we not say that he assimilates his style to that of the person who, as he informs you, is going to speak?


And this assimiliation of himself to another, either by the use of voice or gesture, is the imitation of the person whose character he assumes?

Of course.

Then in this case the narrative of the poet may be said to proceed by way of imitation?

Very true.

Or, if the poet everywhere appears and never conceals himself, then again the imitation is dropped, and his poetry becomes simple narration. However, in order that I may make my meaning quite clear, and that you may no more say, ‘I don’t understand,’ I will show how the change might be effected. If Homer had said, ‘The priest came, having his daughter’s ransom in his hands, supplicating the Achaeans, and above all the kings;’ and then if, instead of speaking in the person of Chryses, he had continued in his own person, the words would have been, not imitation, but simple narration. The passage would have run as follows (I am no poet, and therefore I drop the metre), ‘The priest came and prayed the gods on behalf of the Greeks that they might capture Troy and return safely home, but begged that they would give him back his daughter, and take the ransom which he brought, and respect the God. Thus he spoke, and the other Greeks revered the priest and assented. But Agamemnon was wroth, and bade him depart and not come again, lest the staff and chaplets of the God should be of no avail to him—the daughter of Chryses should not be released, he said—she should grow old with him in Argos. And then he told him to go away and not to provoke him, if he intended to get home unscathed. And the old man went away in fear and silence, and, when he had left the camp, he called upon Apollo by his many names, reminding him of everything which he had done pleasing to him, whether in building his temples, or in offering sacrifice, and praying that his good deeds might be returned to him, and that the Achaeans might expiate his tears by the arrows of the god,’—and so on. In this way the whole becomes simple narrative.

I understand, he said.

Tragedy and Comedy are wholly imitative; dithyrambic and some other kinds of poetry are devoid of imitation. Epic poetry is a combination of the two.

Or you may suppose the opposite case—that the intermediate passages are omitted, and the dialogue only left.

That also, he said, I understand; you mean, for example, as in tragedy.
What Plato is saying is there are three modes of literary or poetic discourse. One is pure narration, or single-voiced speech, one pure imitation (the absence of a narrative voice) and a third, mixed mode. He doesn't call the single-voiced discourse "lyric," but simply says that is might be found in "dithyrambic and other sorts of poetry." The way he demonstrates single voiced narrative is through Homer (the parts where nobody else is speaking). It seems that the mention of dithyrambic poetry is a mere afterthought, since his main interest is in narration itself. Also notice that imitation is literally imitation of other speakers, not representation or depiction. (Aristotle, in contrast, will say the all poetry and even music are mimetic.)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Serious question

Do we think the value of poetry consists of bringing us into contact with someone of specially privileged subjectivity? That would explain a lot.


Curiously, Aristotle never proposes a tri-partite division of genres in The Poetics, despite accusations to this effect. Here are his words (well, his translator's words):

"For the medium being the same, and the objects the same, the poet may imitate by narration—in which case he can either take another personality as Homer does, or speak in his own person, unchanged—or he may present all his characters as living and moving before us."

Here's another, probably better translation:

"A third difference in these arts is the manner in which one may represent each of these objects. For in representing the same objects by the same means it is possible to proceed either partly by narrative and party by assuming a character other than your own--this is Homer's method--or by remaining yourself without any such change, or else to prepresent the characters as carrying out the whole action themselves.

So there are three modes: one is clearly dramatic: the characters are there (as actors) in front of an audience. But the others are both narrative forms: one is a pure narrative form (without dialogue) and the other is a mixed mode, which he attributes to Homer. In Homer, there are speeches of characters as well as Homer's narration.

He hardly mentions the lyric in the entire work. Of course, lyric poetry would be in one's own voice, and hence the pure narrative mode (as opposed to the mixed one), but that's not what Aristotle actually says. This was a neoclassical idea, not one of Aristotle himself, as far as I can tell.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Another citation:
Something completely different: Jonathan Mayhew, Apocryphal Lorca: Translation, Parody, Kitsch, Chicago u.P., 222 pp., is, in fact, not about G.L. at all but is, instead, a thought-provoking exploration of G.L.’s apocryphal afterlife in the poetic culture of the united States, specifically how G.L. became an American poet adapted to the clearly ideological and cultural needs of uS poets during the 1950s and 1960s. after a brief chapter setting up ‘a charismatic, protean, and enigmatic authorial figure’ (xiv), there follow separate chapters on how G.L. was defined according to a new uS cultural nationalism in opposition to Cold War politics in which both black and white, male gay poets played a significant role in the midst of a more generic romantic Lorquismo; on the strategies of ‘domestication’ in a great number of translations from Langston Hughes to Paul Blackburn; on the rather misleading concept of deep image; and then, best of all, the individual studies on specific apocryphal paradigms such as those of robert Creely and Jack Spicer, or Frank O’Hara’s ‘Lorcaescas’, or Kenneth Koch’s parodic poetic pedagogy, or Jerome rothenberg’s variations.

K. Sibbald.

J. Mayhew, ‘Guillen, Cernuda, and the Vicissitudes of Spanish Modernism’ (17–33), exploring a provocative point of view that critiques without mercy the later poetry of the touted modernists of their generation, Guillén and Cernuda, rejects any facile conflation of post-coloniality and postmodernism, and suggests that José Ángel Valente and Antonio Gamoneda are better post-WWII exponents of a movement that still awaits its final realization; to be read together,

K. Sibbald.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

My Poetry

For fall break (yesterday and today) I thought I would put together another version of my poetry manuscript. It involves the modulation of tone from one poem to the next. I have several tones. One a kind of outraged bile, another, more distantly ironic, the fake sincere, the real sincere, the deadpan "bad poet" tone that you might almost take seriously, the parody, etc... The trick is not to get the reader tired of one tone, or allow her to think that the speaker is always going to be the same. I have always wanted to publish a book of poetry, but I have little persistence in entering contests or pursuing it.

I have found 53 pages of usable material. I plan it to have 60.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Assumptions of Poundian Criticism

1. The 1st assumption is that the reader is serious, and probably wants to be a writer (a better writer). At the very least wants to read and appreciate like an expert.

2. The next assumption is that the expert guide has to have credibility by being an excellent writer himself (him, in Pound's case). Academic criticism by people who don't know what they are talking about is only confusing.

3. Next, the only way of studying literature is to catch it at its best. Find the writers who actually invented particular techniques, or perfected them. You can't learn much if anything from mediocre work.

4. The ways that poetry are excellent are definable in concrete terms. We can look at three main ways of "charging language with meaning" and apply them to virtually any text.

5. The literary sensibility is trainable. You have to pay attention to what's actually there on the page and with enough experience you, too, will be expert. At bottom the attitude is empiricist. Pound won't tell you the answers; you have to see for yourself.

6. There's an ethical imperative here, an implied (sometime stated) connection between this clarity of vision and a clear-sighted vision of a well-run society.

So serious expertise, impatience with questions beside the point, close attention to what's there.

In a way, all this should be unobjectionable. Poets like Zukofsky believed the same thing (from the left not the right). I pretty much believe in 1-5 as well.


I found this cento I once wrote:
Among twenty snowy mountains, the only moving thing... An old pond -- a frog jumped in. Siempre la claridad viene del cielo. As I sd to my friend because I am always talking, John I sd, which was not his name. So much depends upon the apparition of these faces in the crowd, petals on a wet black bough. Nothing in that drawer. Verde que te quiere verde. Nothing in the drawer. Nothing in that drawer. Like cellophane tape on a schoolbook. Each joining a neighbor, as though speech were a still performance. Empieza el llanto de la guitarra. Nothing in the drawer. You were wearing... Snow has fallen into the bottle of eraser fluid.
I guess my point is that nobody confuses a cento with an original poem. Centos don't attempt to present themselves as anything but that. A plagiarist cannot fall back on the cento alibi.

[The authors are: Stevens, Basho, Rodríguez, Creeley, Williams, Pound, Padgett, Lorca, Ceravolo, Ashbery, Lorca, Koch, and David Shapiro.]

Friday, October 11, 2013

Magic of Translation

I was distractedly reading on Bob Archambeau's blog some poetry that he was citing to make some point:
... the word carries a hopefulness
which has no strict foundation
in the real world.
The world being what it is!
For although I know it cannot be used
in the sense I want to give it
it is the same picture that faithfully
returns in my memory
whenever I pronounce it to myself—
it is the light space over my childhood...
It seemed to me that this was not poetry but another genre, that I might call "translated poetry." It may very well be as prosaic and flat in the original (I don't know), but this is an effect you often see in a translation: "For although I know it cannot be used / in the sense I want to give it." That kind of slackness of language. Once again, you might find that in poetry written originally in English too, whether because some poets like that effect, or because they are incompetent. It seems ok if it is done ironically or with a wink of the eye, but not if it's just that the author doesn't know any better.

I also read a translation of Yeats' "The Lake Isle of Inisfree," by Andrés Sánchez Robayna. It was a very good translation, but wasn't recognizably Yeatsian.

The translator imagines that there is a magic in the original. It could be in the original language itself. Or in the genius of the author. Borges points out several times that there is no inherent reason why a translation should be inferior to the original. There could be as much magic in English (Yeats, Shakespeare, Alice Notley) as in Spanish (Lorca). Nevertheless, we think only the magical texts are worth translating. We cannot even do an analysis of how good a translation is unless we first invest the text with some value. Without this value the traditional questions we need to ask of a poem-in-translation don't even make any sense.

So my point is that we should hold translation to a much higher standard, never make excuses for it.

Face Book Science

I always see friends of mine on facebook post things about "scientific" findings that are pretty much bullshit.

Really badly designed experiments about how creative people are more narcissistic, or that poetry lights up the part of the brain responsible for introspection (duh), or that reading fiction makes you more empathetic.

These media-friendly experiments are likely to be picked up by those looking to bolster their own professional self-esteem. See, literature is really useful!

But if studying literature has not given you the basic critical thinking skills to see through bad science, then I think you should hold yourself up to a higher standard. Yes, reading a sad story is going to light up the part of brain for sadness. That doesn't really tell you anything, does it?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

More Pullum

Common sense on grammar from the Guardian.

New Course

My undergraduate siglo XX peninsular course will be on modernism and avant-garde. This is the perfect solution, because I can study major authors, revivals of avant-garde poetics, reactions to it, just about anything I want including my own research interests. The class projective will be an annotated edition of Lorca's theory and play of the duende. Students will do their own research to explain everything mentioned in this essay. They won't be cheated because we are doing major authors and movements in a serious way, and they will get to do research that is somewhat meaningful.

Monday, October 7, 2013


Here is a gross misunderstanding of melopeia, by a stupidly incompetent literary critic. I can think of many definitions of melos in poetry.

1. It could just be a function of poetry actually set to music, having a historic connection with a tradition of vocal music. That's melopeia(1).

2. Secondly, it could be a kind of mellifluous quality. Smooth sounding verse, like Spenser "Sweet Thames." Melopeia(2).

3. Next, it could be applied to metrical and rhythmic skill generally, whether or not this skill is directed toward smoothness. After all, you can have skillfully rough or shaggy effects too. Melopeia(3).

4. It could be a function of how prominent or salient sound is in the poem, in relation to other elements. Melopeia(4).

That's just getting started. I'm sure there are more. You notice I never mentioned metrical regularity as a form of melos. That may or may not accompany melopeia, depending.

Better logopeia definition

... it employs words not only for their direct meaning, but it takes count in a special way of habits of usage, of the context we expect to find with the word, its usual concomitants, of its known acceptances, and of ironical play. It holds the aesthetic content that is peculiarly the domain of verbal manifestation, and cannot possibly be contained in plastic or in music.
Original emphasis

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Strong determinism

I was reading some philosophy on free will because my college-student daughter wanted to discuss it with me. Anyway, I learned some things. A lot of effort goes into arguments over compatibilism and its opposite, in other words, whether free will is compatible with determinism.

Then I got to thinking about determinism. The strongest form would say that, from the time of the big bang (say) it was determined that Kansas would lose a football game on October 5, 2013 by a score of 54-16. The strongest form of determinism, then, is highly counterintuitive, because molecules bumping into each other do not seem to explain events that depend on man-made symbolic processes. For example, the molecules in the paper and ink of an edition of Mein Kampf don't explain why the book is noxious.

Kenneth Burke uses the example of a truck driver: he drives the truck and stops to ask directions from a pedestrian. He then turns the truck around and drives it in another direction. If that message had been different, he would have continued in the original direction instead. So something symbolic, a few little words in this case, has a material effect on several tons of machinery and cargo.

Saying that strong determinism is unsatisfactory is not the same as saying that there really is free will, of course.

But, really, strong determinism is the only kind. If not everything is determined, after all, then some things aren't.

de Man

When de Man constrasts a grammatical and rhetorical meaning of a rhetorical question, like "What's the difference?", what he means by grammatical is a "literal" meaning, one that asks for information. What he means by a rhetorical meaning is that the question makes an assertion: "it makes no difference, why are you bothering to even care about this."

So this is not really a distinction between grammar and rhetoric. Both questions have the same grammatical form and semantic meaning. Rather it is the difference between two pragmatic functions: one can use the question in that syntactical form to ask for information or to make a statement. Questions also serve as requests: "Could you open the window?" You could misconstrue the question as a request for information, and answer "Yes, I am able to open the window." That would be a pragmatic mistake. Questions can also be insults: "Are you really that stupid! What were you thinking!" Assertions can also be questions, as in typical interview formats. "You were born in Western Kentucky." In context that is asking the person being interviewed to elaborate on her origins. Or, "You're best known for your sestinas." The poet being interviewed might say: "Yes, I began writing them as a small child..."

It's not even a distinction between semantics and pragmatics, but between various pragmatic functions.

My point? Paul de Man's categories are medieval* ones. He wants to go beyond structuralist categories but he has little curiosity about actual modern linguistics, even. Grammatical is not a synonym for literal or non-rhetorical, in any case.

The alternative interpretation of Yeat's "how can we know the dancer from the dance" is totally dumb, anyway. It isn't plausible to have a request for information in this context, I'm sorry. It only works as a rhetorical question, in pragmatic terms.


*No insult here to medieval grammars, semiotics, poetics, and rhetorics, which are marvelously complex and interesting.

Saturday, October 5, 2013


Here's another quote:
Vegem l'essència d'aquests instants; vegem l'essència d'un moment poètic concret. "En tendre prat gaudir el paisatge estricte", comença un sonet de J.V. Foix. Heus ací, potser, una manera de posar-nos en el terreny adequat. Sentim la tendresa del prat; sabem que és "tendre" perquè té una verdor dolça o perquè l'ja humitejat la rosada. Però el paisatge és "estricte": precís, ben dibuixat, nítid, de contorns segurs. El veiem ara amb més netedat, amb claror definitòria, més fermament descompartit que no en la visió confusa de la vida corrent. El vers ens el fa veure així.
It's the theory of the modernist epiphany. In language itself, in a line from a sonnet by Foix, we feel the tenderness of the meadow, the green sweetness of the dew, but with a hard, strict, cleanness and clarity, unlike the confused vision of everyday life. "The line of poetry makes us see it that way." Really, to see this theory of poetry in its stunning clarity, can also make us see the limits of this conception of poetry. It's like a theory of cooking based only on the necessity of putting butter in everything.


Ingredients I will use to make my eggplant pasta this evening: water, salt, pasta; eggplant, olive oil, flour, eggs, bread crumbs, cayenne pepper, black pepper, onions, garlic, parmesan, fresh basil.

I will boil the pasta in salted water; dip the eggplant in bread crumbs (flour & eggs first), sauté them in olive oil, make a tomato sauce with onions, garlic, fresh basil; mix the pasta, the eggplant, and a little of the tomato sauce with some cheese, and I am done. This is a relatively simple dish, that I think of as having two main ingredients, but if I break it down like this it looks complex. I have to decide how much of everything to use, how small to dice the onions, cooking times for every ingredient, amounts of seasonings. I might find a few more things in the pantry or fridge that will go into it.

It will require about 35 minutes (yes, I am fast in the kitchen). I know that I need to start with the things that take the longest; I know what can be done simultaneously. The the pasta can be cooked first and wait for the other ingredients. Onions will take their time to get as brown as I want them, but garlic cannot be burnt.

I know that I can make minor mistakes in timing and have things turn out still ok. I know my haste and lack of attention to detail might make a dish into a B+ or B- when it could have been and A-. I know rewards and risks of improvisation.

I know that I can eat this pasta with the rest of the pork tenderloin with chipotle blackberry glaze from Thursday. I'll have a salad of baby spinach with lemon and olive oil dressing. That's the third night I'm eating that tenderloin, but that's what I get for living alone.


There's an empirical side to the study of poetry, that I got from Pound, Zukofsky, and Perloff. Look at what the poem actually is saying on the literal level. Evaluate claims with precision. It seems too simplistic an approach but actually develops a level of complexity. There's a clarity of perception, like knowing what certain foods taste like and how long they need to cook.


Here is a quote from Gimferrer:
El papel de la visualidad en la poesía recuerdo que me lo explicó muy bien Cabral de Melo, cuando estaba en Barcelona. Hizo que me fijara en los poetas primitivos, en Berceo, o en La Chanson de Roland y no digamos en Villon. Jamás explican nada que no fuera posible imaginar visualmente, a pesar de que se tratara de hechos fantásticos. Nunca hay en su poesía un concepto no visualizable. La pura comunicación de conceptos abstractos no es poesía. Desde entonces siempre lo he aplicado así, incluso quizás de forma excesivamente rigurosa. La operación poética consiste en explicitar en imágenes una cosa que no existiría en ningún otro caso. Es lo mismo que la teoría del correlato objetivo de Eliot. Por eso Goethe decía que el poeta es un hombre que piensa en imágenes. Octavio Paz es otro ejemplo de que la poesía es imagen.
I'm not so sure. An intense visuality is not always so significant in poetry; this seems like a particularly modernist prejudice. Berceo is not a particularly visual poet, although saying that he never present anything not visualizable might be technically true. What's different about modernist visuality is its intensification, its primacy. Of course, modernist poets looked for precursors to this intense visuality, and found them easily enough, though frequently in Asian poetics rather than the West.

Lorca is visual where the lyrics to the cante jondo are not, typically:
yo quisiera renegar
de este mundo por entero
volver de nuevo a habitar
mare de mi corazón
volver de nuevo a habitar
por ver si en un mundo nuevo
encontraba más verdad

Ni aun durmiendo puedo tener
tranquilo mi pensamiento
porque yo tengo un continuo padecer
mare de mi corazón
tengo un continuo padecer
y que está pasando mi cuerpo
por cumplir con su deber
There is not a single thing in this petenera sung by La Niña de los :eines that throws a visual image unto the imagination of the reader. Basically, the song says "I want to renounce the world entirely, mother of my heart, inhabit a new world where I might find more truth. Not even when I am asleep can I calm my thoughts because I have a continuous suffering..."

I'm not criticizing this poem, which I think is marvelous, just stating the obvious: such poetry has no need for images. When concrete images appear, they do so conventionally, for their obvious symbolic value. The wind, for example, might be fickleness. Lorca's idea that the poetry should be "professor in the five bodily senses" is simply not relevant.


I wanted to know what logopeia was, according to some bare minimum scholarly consensus, at least, but when I googled the term I found (mostly, apart from quotes from Pound himself) a lot of commentaries on it by ... Can you guess who?

So I guess I can always cite myself as the expert on this. I really thought the term was in wider circulation than this.

Friday, October 4, 2013


My students did quite well with a oulipean translation exercise: translate a poem by Lorca without using the letter e. In one case even the mother of a student got in the act, and did her own lovely translation of Lorca's guitar. The course is going quite well and I get to give it again next semester.

The students understood the point of the exercise quite intuitively, without my having to explain it too much. Constraint as a spur to creativity, all that.

Thursday, October 3, 2013


I discovered that any poem I have ever written will sound ok in a poetry reading, if I give it the right inflections. Reading Sunday at the Taproom. Wish me luck.