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

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A piano tinkling in the next apartment

I'm learning the harmonization of one song each month. For January it will be "These Foolish Things." I've got through the first few measure already. Anyway, the rhyme "apartment" / "heart meant" is wonderful. "A piano tinkling in the next apartment / Those stumbling words that told you what my heart meant."

A simple test

Does your religion claim to have the truth (THE truth)?

Does it stigmatize non-believers?

Does it have a long tradition of religious war? Conquest and forced conversions? Patriarchy? Anti-semitism? Slavery? Resistance to science? Torture and burning at the stake? Corruption?

If it is a relatively "liberal" religion, or a "moderate" or "tolerant" version of a traditional religion, how long has that been the case? For how many generations, for example?

Friday, December 26, 2014

Why go to graduate school?

Here is one answer.

This is pretty simple and dramatic. More money, less chance of being unemployed, with a PhD or Professional degree. This is true at any level of educational attainment, with the least employable, the least well-remunerated being those without high school diplomas.

Those with professional or PhD level education enjoy what is basically full employment. Even the bad academic job market in some fields does not make a statistical dent here. This being said, should you ge a PhD in a field with abysmal job placement at a mediocre state school, if your only dream is tenure at Princeton? Probably not.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

What is more effective, praise or criticism? (neither)

A good post from bulletproof musician.

Neither praise nor criticism is at the center of effective instruction, but rather instruction itself. Lessons from basketball coach John Wooden.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Mission Creep of Peer review

Composer / musicologist Kyle Gann on Peer Review
A quotation is an ornament to a piece of writing when the quoted phrase is so striking and memorable that the author couldn’t have come up with anything as evocative himself. But if I can state an idea clearly (and little academic writing is as readable as mine), why would it carry more authority if put into a sentence I stole from another writer? If what I say is false, and its falsity has been demonstrated in a previous publication, then I should be told to do my homework. But if what I say is demonstrably true, what does it matter whether someone else has said it before? We are not medieval monks, that we fear to record the fact in front of us unless we can find a citation for it in Aristotle.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Quiero laurearme, pero me encebollo

Here is a line from a sonnet by Vallejo. Laurel branches are the crown of the poet, hence "poet laureate." He wants to crown himself with this traditional award, but instead he "onions himself." He creates a reflexive verb out of the word "cebolla" following morphological rules of Spanish word formation. There is the rhetorical figure of antithesis, obviously, the verbal wit that comes with the creation of neologisms. It is worthy of Quevedo.

An old discussion of


Logopoeia and semantic prosody

The concept of semantic prosody in John Sinclair is similar to that of Pound's logopoeia:

"that is to say, 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... It holds the æsthetic content which is peculiarly the domain of verbal manifestation and can not possibly be contained in plastic or in music."


Semantic prosody, for Sinclair, results from the statistical probability of finding a word close to other words. Take the word "pulular" in Spanish. It refers, often, to the swarming of insects. If we find it with people, instead of with insects, we might envision those people as insects. I guess the word swarm in English works the same way.


intr. 1. Moverse de un lado para otro, bullir en algún lugar personas, animales o cosas.

2. Abundar,multiplicarse insectos y animales semejantes:
las moscas pululaban entre la basura.]

A similar example is "enjambre," a colony or swarm of insects. If used outside of this context, it still suggests insects.

An example Sinclair uses is "budge." The word means to move a slight bit, but the semantic prosody is that of intransigence. It is almost always found in contexts in which someone refuses to budge.

But I think semantic prosody is only one device within the greater category of logopoeia. It seems that it should also encompass other kinds of verbal play, the entire "dance of the intellect among words," not merely one device of using a word against the backdrop of its normal usage. By the same token, semantic prosody itself ought to be reconceived more broadly as the linguistic study of logopoeia in its natural settings (not merely in poetry).

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Translation Book

There is a section of my translation book that will talk about melopeia. Basically, prosody meets translation.

Then there is will be a section about logopeia. The idea here, what happens to it in translation. How the prevalence of non-logopedic translation affects our perception of language.

The idea starts with Appiah ("Thick Translation.") He suggests a translation that would useful in the teaching of literature. That is a very basic idea, too basic, in some sense. But once we examine it, we realize that many standard practices of translation are not useful for the teaching of literature. For example, a translation of a very verbal poet like Quevedo or Vallejo that almost completely erases the verbalness, the languageness of the original. Call it what you want.

Even people very much into poetry do not perceive language as language. Logopeia is often a mystery to them.

There are those two sections, then, and the book will be more or less one seamless argument (with myself.) The idea is to see what an academically adequate translation would look like, and what a poetically adequate translation would look like, if we took both academia and poetry seriously enough.

The two ideals (academic and poetic) are not as far away as one might think, although they are not identical either. The first is

--translation useful in the teaching of literature

--translation that works as poetry for the reader of poetry, without any excuses

Thursday, December 11, 2014

What makes Vallejo Vallejo

One idea for translation is that the translation should convey "what makes x x." In other words, if a poet has a certain number of distinguishing characteristics, and these are on display in the source text, then these same characteristics should be on play in the translation.

Me moriré en París con aguacero,
un día del cual tengo ya el recuerdo.
Me moriré en París —y no me corro
tal vez un jueves, como es hoy, de otoño.

Jueves será, porque hoy, jueves, que proso
estos versos
, los húmeros me he puesto
a la mala y, jamás como hoy, me he vuelto,
con todo mi camino, a verme solo.

César Vallejo ha muerto, le pegaban
todos sin que él les haga nada;
le daban duro con un palo y duro

también con una soga; son testigos
los días jueves y los huesos húmeros,
la soledad, la lluvia, los caminos...

So, without even translating this, let's look for some characteristics.

The name of a specific bone (húmeros), where most poets would talk about bones or limbs in general. Vallejo liked very precise scientific names for things.

There's a colloquialism running through the poem, but it's not simply an imitation of how people talk, but a sort of "twisting motion." The reflexive verb of "me corro" for example. It means not, "I run" but "I accelerate." It can also mean ejaculate. "I'm in no hurry to shoot my load." ??

The grammar we taught in school would prescribe "le pegagan / todos sin que él les hiciera nada." He's mixing up the verbal tenses. (The poet already has memory of the future, in the second line.) The syntax is deliberately "roughed up."

There is a linguistic patterning: a use of six reflexive verbs in the quatrains.

The deictic situation, the here and now, is very front-and-center in this poem. The particular kind of staging of the poetic "I."

The rhythms scan, but are jerky. Enjambment is prominent. There are many pauses within a verse. It is a sonnet, but the rhymes are assonantal and irregular: AABB BAAB CCD EDD.

There is neologism and verbal play: "I prose / these verses." Soga is a rope, but also a whip and a noose. There's a verbal parallelism with two redundant noun modifiers: "los días jueves y los huesos húmeros" the Thursday days and the humeri bones.

So those are some features of this poem that make it Vallejo-like. We don't even know this unless we've read other poems by him. A good rule to follow is if there is a figure of diction, like asyndeton in the final line, that the poet has used it not accidentally.

Eshleman gets most of it right. He keeps the roughness but misses a lot of small details:

I will die in Paris, with hard dirty rain [with downpour]
one day I now remember. [why not already? That's the whole point]
I will die in Paris — and I don't run — [difference in meaning with reflexive verb?]
maybe a Thursday, like today, in autumn.

Thurday, because today, Thursday, when I prose
these lines, I have forced my humeri on [by saying "these lines" you miss the prose / verse antithesis. Why not "I prose / this verse"?]
unwillingly and, never like today have I again, [unwillingly for "a la mala": not as direct or foreful]
with all my road, seen myself alone. [missing parallelism between "me he puesto" / "me he vuelto"]

Cesar Vallejo is dead, they beat him [has died; the perfective aspect. Don't you think Vallejo used a particular aspect of the verb deliberately? Also, "they used to beat him"]
everyone, without him doing anything to them;
they hit him hard with a stick and hard

likewise with a rope; witnesses are [noose?]
the Thursdays and the humerus bones, [the Thursday days...]
the loneliness, the rain, the roads...

Is this too picky? There is no such thing, unless you think that what gives x its characteristic xness doesn't matter.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


I was looking at some numbers. Suicides in this country are about 39,000 a year. Homicides, about 16,000. But actually, we used to have about twice as many murders, in 1992.

We lack the basic perspective to even understand this reality. A country like Spain has less than 1 homicide per 100,000. We have almost 5. (For perspective, there are 800 deaths per 100,000 by any cause.) I heard about an epidemic of women being killed by their partners in Spain, but the numbers do not bear that out. Spain has 47 million people. Fewer than 400 people die by murder every year, and not all of these are women, not all the women are victims of "violencia de género."


If you asked Dante or Spenser, or any other poet before 1800, whether it was more important to write good poetry or to put across a certain message, you would be met with incomprehension-- the question itself would not make sense. I think the whole dichotomy is the product of the late 19th century, and has done immeasurable damage. Even to my own thinking, at times.

There's an insidious logic here that the worse a poem is, the more effective it is at communication. We are given a choice between aesthetics and politics. The political advocates are worse formalists than the pure formalists, because they use poetic crappiness as a badge of honor. The formalists / aestheticists, on the other hand, have an allergy to only one kind of subject matter, the political. Political poems worked fine before, somehow, but at a certain point they stopped working.

There are a series of reactions and counter-reactions. It is all very mysterious and I haven't figured out yet how it works.


An adjunct at FSU resigned over a face-book comment calling someone an "elitist fagoot" [sic] among other things. (The exact quote, as reported, is "“Take your Northern fagoot [sic] elitism and shove it up your ass.”]

Everyone at KU seemed always to assume that the social media policy would only apply to left-wing opinions. I think it just as likely that such policies might be used to squash this kind of racist, homophobic rhetoric.

Once again, the first amendment issue is the same whatever the content of the speech. There is no freedom unless the freedom swings every which way.

What a deeply stupid woman was doing teaching college classes in business communications is another matter. (I believe that vile freakazoid is the technical term here.) You shouldn't be punished for your obscenely uninformed opinions, expressed outside the context of your job.


There really ought be an alternative to facebook called trollbook. The trolls could just troll one another, accusing one another of being too enthralled with Obama and calling one another fagoots and kwiers. (Actually, this already exists, more or less. Some would call it "the internet." I'm suggesting organizing it better and giving everyone free reign.)


I started to read this novel and it is crap. I can't believe someone could write this badly.


My Lorca seminar was being held in the library. I didn't have much prepared so I found some art books and passed them out to my students, without looking at them, and gave them half an hour. I felt a bit guilty about starting late. In half an hour's time, I found them at a long seminar table. They took turns explicating art works they had chosen. Some were actual paintings rather than reproductions, unframed canvases. The students seemed quite knowledgeable about painters I had never heard of. The paintings were hard to see. The last student was explicating something in a neo-classical style out of a book. At the end I didn't really know what to think. I didn't think the class had really accomplished very much, but it was clear that our first meetings had focused on visual art, with no connection to Lorca himself.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

As one put drunk into a packet boat

I remember reading something by Ashbery, when I was very young, about reading poetry of the past. Poets who read only contemporary poetry do not have the same degree of historical depth, he seemed to be saying. You can't even imitate the poetry of the past, so you can remain more original. That one line struck me: it is a line by the 17th century poet Marvell, but Ashbery uses it for his own purposes. There is defamiliarization. What the hell is a "packet boat" and why would you put a drunk in one? The line means something different in Marvell than in Ashbery. (The Pierre Menard effect?)

Lorca uses a line by Guillén: "Sí, tu niñez, ya fábula de fuentes." It is the last line of a poem by Guillén, and the first line of a poem by Lorca. I would say that the line means something very different in Guillén than in Lorca. These two poets, unlike Marvell and Ashbery, are contemporaries, yet the distance between them is immense.

Generative Device

I am more interested in writing poems that are ideas for poems,and that could have come out differently. Some are variations on a theme, or a them without variations. In some cases, I begin the poem and include instructions for the reader to finish it: "repeat, with variations." The poem should have its implicit set of rules of instructions, or these can be implicit. Either way works.

So the instructions might say: start with a poem you remember the beginning of, write that down, then once you start forgetting, fill in your own substitute lines.

Contra Lorca / A favor de los maricas

I'm one of the only critics who takes the side of the "maricas" against Lorca. Critics and translators refer to Lorca's maricas as queers, perverts, sissies, cocksuckers, faggots, freaks and frauds, and pansies, among other choice terms.


There was a kind of territory, a map perhaps. To make sense of it we had to treat one part of it as though it did not belong to the whole. Later, an homage to someone. There were four participants, including myself, who had to come up with different approaches to rendering homage. Lastly, a small square or cube of words, some of which were legible, others not. One could look at the cube and extract words, not always the same ones.

Shaving brush (ii)

The shaving brush is designed to make shaving soap into lather, and also to prepare the face for shaving, by spreading the lather onto the face and moistening and exfoliating the skin. The same quality of the bristles that makes it a good instrument for forming lather also serves this second purpose. I'm not sure what this is metaphor for, maybe for the scholar's brain in which the same qualities serve both to do research and also write up the results. It seems like two processes but it is really one. You read with an eye to writing later, and write with the knowledge gained from reading.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Whitman / Borges

WHEN I read the book, the biography famous,
And is this, then, (said I,) what the author calls a man’s life?
And so will some one, when I am dead and gone, write my life?
(As if any man really knew aught of my life;
Why, even I myself, I often think, know little or nothing of my real life;
Only a few hints—a few diffused, faint clues and indirections,
I seek, for my own use, to trace out here.)

Borges's translation

Cuando leí el libro, la biografía famosa,
Y esto es entonces (dije yo), lo que el escritor llama la vida de un hombre,
¿Y así piensa escribir alguno de mi cuando yo esté muerto?
(Como si alguien pudiera saber algo de mi vida;
yo mismo suelo pensar que sé poco o nada sobre mi vida real.
Sólo unas cuantas señas, unas cuantas borrosas claves e indicaciones
Intento, para mi propia información, resolver aquí.)

Borges says there are two Whitmans: "el 'amistoso y elocuente salvaje' de Leaves of Grass y el pobre literato que lo inventó." [the friendly and eloquent savage of LOG and the meager man of letters who invented him.]

Poetry in Transit

When will the grown-ups come home?
The flesh is tired and I've read all the books,
Fleeing, rushing down--how steady the gait of the mule down the abyss!
And who, if I screamed, could hear me from those angelic
orders? At five o'clock in the afternoon.
At five o'clock on the dot in the afternoon?

The sound of water... Sing, muse, the wrath--
Hypocrite reader, among twenty snowy mountains.
I will go to Santiago de Cuba,
With "Romeo y Julieta,"
with ashes, with self-populating seas,
At five in the afternoon.

From rivers north of intention,
In the middle of the the road of my life,
I will go to Santiago--
Exhausted by talk / of the only happy life.
This hill was always so dear to me
At five in the afternoon.

I never winked back at fireflies,
Drinking with disgust the water of prostitution.
The barbarians are due here today.
You must change your life.
I will go to Santiago!
At five in the afternoon.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Faux PN

Among unraked leaves, with attic dust,
in the inchoate, from great heaves of entrails,
or else something also unsafe, mulled wine, a damsel's distress,
I muck out this sexual nightfall, with an astronomer's rusted tools, with salt.
Underneath there are bells, redundantly declaiming, prophecies of phlegm.
Escaping arrows, in truth, we enter the piranha's cave,
the fry-pan's maleficent redemption, among other things...

Losing my Fear

I used to be afraid / nervous of not writing well in Spanish. What if I made a grammatical mistake? Recently, I've decided that I can just write in Spanish with the same confidence that I do in English. Spanish requires a certain rhetoric that I would never use in English, almost more Victorian. It is much more fun (for me) to write in Spanish.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

As I near completion...

As I near completion of book 5 I wonder what is next. Ideally I should just spend a year reading Latin American poetry. That was my plan at one point. I could write a third Lorca book, but that's not appealing right now. I do want to, but I need to put some space between it and the other two, so that it will have its own identity. I have another article / book started on poetry translation. It will be the definitive book on this subject if I do it right. I don't know... This is definitely a problem that is not really a problem at all. I have absolute freedom.

The idea of reading Latin American poetry for a year will lead to other things I can't foresee now. I feel like I could be a legit scholar in this field simply by reading for a year and then starting to write articles the following year. I know the canon of Paz, Borges, Neruda, Vallejo, Lezama, Parra, and some major national figures like Varela, Milán, Montejo, Bracho, Gelman... and some personal favorites. I could just fill in the gaps. In fact, I seem to remember already doing some of this. Before Lorca sucked me in again.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Comb / coffee / asthma

This is not a dream, but it could have been. Shortly before the senate meeting, I walked down to the coffee bar in my building to get coffee. Shortly before, I went into the convenience story right there and bought a comb. I have been without one for a while. About to order coffee, I see Jim, my co-president. I ask him if he wants coffee. He say yes but first ducks into the convenience store. When he emerges he says he has just purchased a comb. We have coffee, then drive down to the law school, where the meeting will be held, in his car. On the way to his car, he talks about his asthma and I take out my asthma inhaler to show him. None of these coincidences is very significant, but the chain of them seemed remarkable.

Shaving Brush

Things like this are not hard to depict. You can see a shaving brush, a nail clipper, a folding knife, a computer accessory. (I drew a thumb too as a point of comparison.) Once again, the drawings are quite crude, and it is easy to see what's wrong. With a minimum of effort I could probably do drawings of these objects that are about twice as good.

All children (apart from those with specific disabilities or conditions than prevent them from doing one or more of these things) sing, draw, and use spoken language. Drawing and singing become more specialized activities for adults, who will tell you they can't carry a tune or draw a picture. (What they usually mean by not being able to draw is that they draw about like I do.) Adults continue to use language too. The written language is accessed through academic training, beginning with learning to read and write. Being a good writer is like being able to draw or sing adequately, not in a childlike way. We expect a competence in written language consonant with one's level of academic achievement.

People who are not good writers often think they are. I don't think people who draw as well as I do think they are competent, but people are deluded about their ability to write well. I think it is because they cannot see writing as writing. They think of mechanics (punctuation); avoiding zombie rules (no split infinitives); ideals of concision & clarity (often badly understood), but they don't think beyond those elements.

I am somewhat ashamed of how badly I draw, because I think that everyone should have "college level drawing." What I mean by this is not being a great artist, or even having the level of competence of an average art student, but simply being able to pass an exam in which you had to draw a good three-dimensional depiction of a shaving brush.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Magical Negro

We all know the trope of the "magical negro." It is the wise old black guy, usually played by Morgan Freeman, who will help out the white protagonist of the film.

We know the judge will be a black woman, or an old ugly quirky, cranky, white guy, in a television series in which everyone else is an attractive 30 or 40 something ("The Good Wife"), and mostly white. You get to have it both ways: the protagonists are the attractive white people, but the authority figures are represented in politically correct, ethnically balanced way.

We all know that anti-racism (anti-ageism, etc...) takes these racist forms.

(The misogynist still loves his mother and his sisters, his nieces.)

Walt Whitman, for Lorca, can serve as the magical gay predecessor. He can condemn the gay men he sees in New York, because Whitman.

I am not immune from it. I will condemn my idiot colleagues who give a bad name to all humanists.


The backhanded compliment. In Spain I have gotten this: oh, you are not like the other American Hispanists who come to Spain to do research and don't know anything. Thanks a lot. (Your wife is an elegant woman, not like those other American women...)

I used this joke with a (white) American professor of English I met tonight. "Your English is so good!" It would be like saying, "for a white person, you are very articulate."


At the faculty senate, an outspoken colleague began by complimenting me. I knew it was a set-up from the very beginning. I said: "Thanks for those kind words, I knew it was a set-up... for the difficult question you would ask." I got a laugh out of that.


We teach our students the difference between two prepositions, por and para, both of which are translated as for. One use of para is in comparisons. Big for his age.T That is comparison against expectations. For an American Hispanist, you speak Spanish well / know what you're talking about. "You are tall for a basketball player" makes no sense.

You took advantage of me

Lorenz Hart was one of the greatest lyricists of the "Great American Songbook," especially in his collaborations with Richard Rodgers. Take the song "You took advantage of me."
I'm a sentimental sap that's all
What's the use of trying not to fall
I have no will
You've made your kill
Cause you took advantage of me.
A love song that's not sentimental. Hart really wasn't a sentimental guy. So the first line is about how the protagonist is a "sentimental sap." There's self awarareness here. Making a kill, or a killing and taking advantage of someone are not good things.
I'm just like an apple on a bough
and you're going to shake me down somehow
so what's the use
you've cooked my goose
cause you took advantage of me.
Having one's goose cooked is not a good thing either. It's an idiom that means you've had it, you're done for. Of course, there's a tradition of love poetry in which the lover is basically done for. Love is a destructive force that kills one's will. Hart was up on his courtly love tropes.
I'm so hot and bothered that I don't know
my elbow from my ear
I suffer something awful each time you go
and much worse when you go.
He gets a lot of mileage from idioms like "hot and bothered," which means sexually aroused. I'm putting all the idioms in bold face. Another courtly love, Petrarchan trope: both the presence and the absence of the beloved are troublesome. Back to the final A section of the song:
Here I am I with all my bridges burned
Just a babe in arms where you're concerned
So lock the doors
and call me yours
cause you took advantage of me
Two more clichés / idioms. Burning bridges is cutting off connections with other people. A babe in arms is an innocent, defenseless person. You don't describe yourself that way, so once again, there is an ironic self-awareness here.

Prosodically, it's perfect, with the long couplet / short couplet / refrain structure.

The best love songs are not "you're wonderful," but "I fell for you even though you're not so wonderful, and I'm pretty much screwed." All the negativity here works wonders. All the cynical clichés.

Finding really good quotes

Many quotes you will find in scholarly articles are there just to provide information or to cover bases. That is fine, but these often have a perfunctory feel. I remember being cited like that myself, and feeling disappointed. They are citing me for background, for an obvious point that anyone could have made! Thanks a lot. Why not quote Mayhew at his best?

The second category of quotes are there to add something significant. These are value-added quotes, and make YOUR article or book more, not less, interesting to read.

The third category is what I call the "smoking gun." A smoking gun has been fired recently; it is a good clue for the detective. A smoking gun citation or quote is one that proves your own point better than even you could. Your talent is not only writing articles that others will cite, but finding the best of what others have said. If you are scholar of literature, you have the advantage of being able to quote from the best plays, novels, and poems ever written.

Dullness will result from having a lot of perfunctory quotes, a few of the second category, and none of the third. I try to use mostly 2, with a few background information citations, and one or two smoking guns per article or chapter. You'll want to put the perfunctory stuff in notes, mostly.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Nonsensical Literary History

I dreamed I had cut myself symmetrically on both side of my face while shaving: right on the sideburns part. There were red horizontal gashes. I noticed one side first, then looked the other, thinking that I had made the same mistake on each side. This seemed to make sense. I do cut myself in waking life, but never in that spot. Later, I awoke with a phrase of nonsensical literary history in my head: "La epopeya en prosa la creó Espina."

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


Following Thomas's suggestions, I have looked at my hand a bit. Now the first thing that is obvious is that, even though I can't draw worth beans, I can easily see what mistakes I've made. In other words, I have the ability to look analytically and see what I've done wrong. The flatter hand drawn underneath the one with the prominent thumb has a ring finger thicker than the middle finger, when my hand is not like that at all. The sleeve of my shirt and sport-coat is all wrong, etc...

I could obviously practice until I got to where the errors were not so blatant. I could use a pencil and erase and re-redraw. I could study books on drawing or take lessons. A lot of this is straightforward.

It seems to me, though, that my perception that the drawing is not how I want it to be is primary. Everything else, all other efforts to improve, depend on that. It is said you can't edit your own writing, and it is true that another set of eyes might see something I don't, or correct errors invisible to my own eyes. But suppose I were an expert draughtsman: then I would also be even better at seeing and correcting what I've done wrong. An editor who is a much worse writer than I am is not likely to help me much, because I've already seen obvious things and corrected them. My first "sketch" is also going to be better with more practice.

It seems, too, that you should be able to sketch out in words what you want to say even if you know you will change them later, and that your sketching will be useful to yourself.






Monday, December 1, 2014

Birmingham, Vietnam

If you were raised in the 1950s or 1960s, and grasped how scary the world could be, in Birmingham, Vietnam and the house on the corner where the daddy drank, you were diagnosed as being the overly sensitive child.
I was thinking, hey, Birmingham is not in Vietnam. Then I realized that what the writer meant to say was
If you were raised in the 1950s or 1960s, and grasped how scary the world could be, in Birmingham, Vietnam, and the house on the corner where the daddy drank, you were diagnosed as being the overly sensitive child.
Yes, the Oxford comma comes to the rescue.

Out of the cradle endlessly rocking

Out of steel apothecary jars sealed against the cold;
out of razor blades (I must go to the drugstore to get some);
out of the capacious digestive systems of ants, the remorse of wasps;
out of the tiny hairs of large men; the thick, remorseless stubble;
out of milk;

out of salted wounds, the fireman's carry;
out of candle-wax and walking bass-lines, the brittles of yule; imperious clicks;
never mind Quevedo's itch: out of bad surrealism and the other kind; out of bombast and bile;
out of arks and arches, arms, arrows, and horrors; out of all this;
out of what has not been mentioned: the sparrow's supercilious escape--
comes this new day...
This is part of my series "popular songs." The idea is to come up with generative devices and give examples of what they might look like. Here, obviously, the device is to improvise on the pattern of Walt Whitman's "Out of the cradle endlessly rocking." I was trying to remember it when I was still in bed:

Out of the cradle endlessly rocking, out of the mocking-bird's song, the musical shuttle;
out of the ninth-month moonlight...

That's as far as I got, and even that is probably wrong, so I just continued the poem in my own poetic voice. I got through the phrase "tiny hairs" by the time I was in the shower. I was thinking of the surprisingly small hairs of elephants, but that seemed off so I changed it.

Then I wrote it down just now and added another stanza. What I like about the form (not necessarily my use of it here, though I try) is the ability to improvise rhythmically. You can repeat any rhythmic pattern you want, like "the fireman's carry" has the same pattern as "the musical shuttle." But you don't have to. Lines can be any length. You can use polysyndeton or asyndeton as you like. Whitman's peculiar mixture of bombast and down-to-earthness provides ample material for parodic play.