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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...

Saturday, February 28, 2015

3 Buffalo Bill's Defunct

Almost everyone knows "Buffalo Bill's defunct who used to ride a watersmoothsilver stallion" etc.. by E.E. Cummings. I recited this from memory recently at our weekly "poetini" gathering. (Poets drinking martinis.)

Friday, February 27, 2015

2. The Red Wheelbarrow

You all know "The Red Wheelbarrow" by WCW. If you don't have that memorized you shouldn't be allowed to talk about poetry. It's about as long as FGL's "Canción tonta."


They say nobody wishes they had spent more time in the office and less time with family, or on the lake. But does a painter wish she had painted fewer paintings? Does the composer wish he had written fewer string quartets? The poet on her deathbed might ask "Did I do it?" [though that might be more of a male attitude?] In any case, the deathbed regrets are kind of beside the point. What do you want to do now? You have to bumble through life the best way you can.
Both Apocryphal Lorca: Translation, Parody, Kitsch and What Lorca Knew: Fragments of a Late Modernity are studies of Lorca’s influence and reception. The first is narrowly focused on American poetry; the second contains more varied material, including extended close readings of “Play and Theory of the Duende” and “Ode to Walt Whitman.” My third book in this trilogy, Lorca: The Shattered Subject, is an attempt to define the distinctiveness of his own work through a more direct encounter with his poems and plays. I continue to believe that the study of Lorca must be comparative...

Thursday, February 26, 2015

365 Poems. 1: "Canción tonta"

I'd like to do this. Each day feature a poem, one that I have memorized. Today, "Canción tonta," by FGL.

It is a dialogue poem, a genre of Lorca's poetry I want to study.

A child asks his mother to be of silver, of water, and the mother says: you will be very cold. Then he says, sew me into your pillow. The mother agrees: "Eso sí, ahora mismo."

What I like about the dialogues is that there is not poetic "I." There are dramatic, but not dramatic monologues. Profacero posted one on her blog recently from Libro de poemas.

There are two rhymes going on: plata / agua / almohada and hijo / frío / mismo.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


1st persons: I / We

Subject positions. Pluralities & collectivities. Autobiography.

2nd persons: You / You plural

Interpellations, invectives, apostrophes, doublings of the 2nd person. Addresses to the audience.

3rd persons: he / it / she / they

Objectifications, escapes from subjectivity (diffused subjectivity). Alienations.


Dialogues. Dramatic monologues. Masks.


I want to be a Latin Americanist but Lorca won't let me go.

Solution? I could study Lorca in Latin America, compare him to Latin American poets.

This still would make me more a Lorquista. I can't seem to find a project that's only about Latin American poetry.

Monday, February 23, 2015


Why Lorca Kicks Ass*

Preface: Lorca par lui-même?
Chapter 1: Personae
Chapter 2: Lorca, vanguardista
Chapter 3: The Prophetic Voice: Rilke, Lorca, Neruda
Chapter 4: Baroques: Góngora, Lorca, Lezama
Chapter 5: Lorca and Beckett: The Subject of Farce

*Working title.

Ideally, each chapter should be both focused on Lorca and comparative. It still need to find chapter 6, which will be have to be on the theater, to balance out the lyric bias.

10 commandments of Lorca Studies:

It must be intelligent & Imaginative, shunning anti-intellectualism
It must be self-reflective
It must be comparative
It must look to Latin America, Europe, and the English-speaking world (at the very least)
It must also be comparative within the Iberian peninsula
It must address all of Lorca, poetic and theatrical, without making arbitrary divisions
It must not separate avant-garde from neo-traditional Lorcas
The Lorquian subjects must be plurals
It must be highly respectful of the findings of traditional Lorca scholarship, even when that scholarship is done from differing epistemological presumptions
It must show why Lorca continues to kick you in the ass with his transformative power


Preface: Lorca par lui-même?
Chapter 1: Personae
Chapter 2: Lorca, vanguardista
Chapter 3: The Fractured Subject: Lorca, Vallejo
Chapter 4: The Prophetic Voice: Rilke, Lorca, Neruda
Chapter 5: Baroques and Neo-Baroques: Góngora, Lorca, Lezama
Chapter 6: Lorca and Beckett: The Subject of Farce

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Lorca / Lezama

It's coming into focus now. I'm thinking that a comparative study of Lorca and Lezama triangulated to Góngora would be a nice chapter. I know someone's already written about this, if I could find it again. Even though the 3rd Lorca book is supposed to be Lorca par lui-même I still need points of comparison:

Rilke / Vallejo / Beckett / Lezama

I thought of giving the book the title: Why Lorca Matters. La importancia de llamarse Federico?

Friday, February 20, 2015


Zarzamora con el tronco gris,

dame un racimo para mí.

Sangre y espinas. Acércate.

Si tú me quieres, yo te querré.

Deja tu fruto de verde y sombra

sobre mi lengua, zarzamora.

Qué largo abrazo te daría

en la penumbra de mis espinas.

Zarzamora ¿dónde vas?

A buscar amores que tú no me das.

A dialogue between two characters. One, a person, another, a plant. Neither speaker is "the poet."

Let's assume that in order to understand the poem, we have to know when the poet wrote it, what he was thinking. Or conversely, that the poem helps us understand the poet's deep psychology. We could come up with something easily. The berry-bush is the sexual / amorous object. The speaker makes his proposal: a branch of berries for him. The bush (the object of desire) answers that the result with be blood and thorns, that he will have a long embrace in her (his) penumbra. Then, at the end, the berry-bush gets up and leaves, to find loves that he (the poem's speaker) cannot give her. Then we could speculate about whether the poem talks about Lorca's inability to be heterosexual, etc...

If we see it as an imitation of a popular, anonymous song, then we don't have to know anything about the author. The speaker becomes the anonymous, generic speaker of the popular anonymous tradition. We can't quite see it that way, because the psychology seems too particular, too Lorquian. Yet the poet has distanced himself from autobiographical content precisely by imitating this popular style.

By the way, it is a beautiful poem. Now I know why I can't leave Lorca behind.

Thursday, February 19, 2015


in a restaurant:

"she don't like him to talk with an accent."


Mi voz de antaño dándome decretos
al revelar el don de mis fatigas.
Yo soy así: disfraz de los secretos
ocultos en maléficas ortigas.

¡Ya no hay más que decir! Los esqueletos
redundan en retoños y amigas
mientras bailan con centenarios retos
los pobres inventarios de mis ligas.

Me niego a contemplar las ataduras
que amarran sin causarme daño alguno.
Flor de heridas. Imperios rotos. Duras

penas sin artificio. Candelabros
de misérrimo pájaro... Luego uno
se despierta tarde entre descalabros.

Ok. That's pretty bad, but I wrote it fast. Metrically, it was not a problem. Rhyming is easy too, in Spanish. I didn't even go for the easy rhymes like -ido / -ado. Parts of it are non-sensical. I guess what I was trying to do was capture that rhetoric of the sonnet, the way that rhetoric conditions what you want to say. There is no way I could have said this without using the sonnet form. There is no previously existent mental state that this poem translates, though you might think it says something about me anyway. I let words pop into my head without intention, that turned out to be pretty good words, like "retoños." The argumentive structure follows almost naturally from the form: a narrative emerges with statement of the theme, the moment of crisis, the second try, the second crisis, and the aftermath.

If I wrote a sonnet a day I could get quite good. I think I improved already just by doing more daring stuff in the last tercet. It makes me respect Spanish poetry a little more... and a little less. What I mean is a bad sonnet, even a mediocre one, is really easy. If you reach for some baroque language it is even easier, because you have more lexical choices. I see how Borges could toss them off blindly, once he got the knack. He recycled a lot of lines. Neruda wrote good sonnets and bad. What's hard is to do one like Guillén "Muerte a lo lejos."

What people think is hard in poetry is not. Like, writing a sonnet. Any idiot can rhyme candelabros with descalabros. (Well, that's one I'm proud of, but it's a meager pride.) What's hard is what people think of as easy, like writing "This is just to say." Everyone thinks they could write that, but they can't.

It's even harder to write a sonnet that sounds like "This is just to say."

It's kind of an open secret that many famous poets can't necessarily write a poem. We all agree, though we all can't agree on which ones can and which ones can't. There's a solidarity effect, so that nobody will say so even if everyone knows. The same with once good poets who stop writing well.

[My ancient voice gives me decrees as it reveals the gift of my tribulations. That's what I'm like, a mask of the secrets hidden in malignant nettles. Nothing left to be said. Skeletons echo in offshoots and {female} friends while the poor inventories of my leagues dance with centenary challenges. I refuse to contemplate the ties that tie me without causing me harm. Flower of wounds. Broken empires. Hard pains without artficice. Candelabras of miserable bird... Then one wakes up late amid ruins.]

Borges / Whitman

He advertido que en general la aquiescencia concedida por el hombre en situación de leyente a un riguroso eslabonamiento dialéctico, no es más que una holgazana incapacidad para tantear las pruebas que el escritor aduce y una borrosa confianza en la honradez del mismo. Pero una vez cerrado el volumen y dispersada la lectura, apenas queda en su memoria una síntesis más o menos arbitraria del conjunto leído. Para evitar desventaja tan señalada, desecharé en los párrafos que siguen toda severa urdimbre lógica y hacina­ré los ejemplos.

No hay tal yo de conjunto. Cualquier actualidad de la vida es enteriza y suficiente. ¿Eres tú acaso al sopesar estas inquietudes algo más que una indiferencia resbalante sobre la argumentación que señalo, o un juicio acerca de las opiniones que muestro?

Yo, al escribirlas, sólo soy una certidumbre que inquiere las palabras más aptas para persuadir tu atención. Ese propósito y algunas sensaciones musculares y la visión de límpida enramada que ponen frente a mi ventana los árboles, construyen mi yo actual.

Fuera vanidad suponer: que ese agregado psíquico ha menester asirse a un yo para gozar de validez absoluta, a ese conjetural Jorge Luis Borges en cuya lengua cupo tanto sofisma y en cuyos solitarios paseos los tardeceres del suburbio son gratos.

No hay tal yo de conjunto. Equivócase quien define la identidad personal como la posesión privativa de algún erario de recuerdos. Quien tal afirma, abusa del símbolo que plasma la memoria en figura de duradera y palpable troj o almacén, cuando no es sino el nombre mediante el cual indicamos que entre la innumerabilidad de todos los estados de conciencia, muchos acontecen de nuevo en forma borrosa. Además, si arraiga la personalidad en el recuerdo, ¿a qué tenencia pretender sobre los instantes cumplidos que, por cotidianos o añejos, no estamparon en nosotros una grabazón perdurable? Apilados en años, yacen inaccesibles a nuestra anhelante codicia. Y esa decantada memoria a cuyo fallo hacéis apelación, ¿evidencia alguna vez toda su plenitud de pasado? ¿Vive acaso en verdad? Engáñanse también quienes como los sensualistas, conciben tu personalidad como adición de tus estados de ánimo enfilados. Bien examinada, su fórmula no es más que un vergonzante rodeo que socava el propio basamento que construye; ácido apurador de sí mismo; palabrero embeleco y contradicción trabajosa.

This is extraordinary. Borges's prose style is more Latinate than normal, a little "rebuscada." "Leyente" for "lector" is a nice touch.

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.)

I found this Whitman poem in Borges's essay on Whitman! Borges is more radical. Where Whitman ways the biography might not get at the truth of a life, since even the subject of the biography does not have full access to it, Borges go one step further. "No hay un tal yo de conjunto." There is no such thing as the "I" in totality. [hat tip to profacero]

Titles [brainstorming]

Lorca's shattered [fractured] subjectivities
Lorca, modernism, and the dissolution of the subject
Lorca and the death of the subject
The Subject of Lorca
Lorca and the fracturing of the subject

Broken subjectivities: Lorca, Vallejo, Beckett [title chapter]

The Biographical Impoverishment

It seems to me that if you really love literature, you will find biographical explanations otiose, reductive, distracting. I mean, there are a lot of asthmatics, but not many of them was Lezama Lima. Only one, in fact. There are plenty of Andalusian señoritos, but only one turned out to be Lorca. Life, friends, is boring. Art is interesting.

To Leslie's question on the post below: is there anything special about Vallejo and Lorca that makes them difficult to "unify"? Or is this a more general problem?

I think what grates on me is that this reduction goes against the grain of these authors' work itself, their poetics. It is a way of containing the energy of their work. So, in a general sense, it is a problem with anyone. I think any writer who is a slave to a biographical legend ends up suffering. Sylvia Plath, say. With a writer who deliberately plays with this, like Borges, this should be taken into account as well.

Biographers are even worse than translators. They are vampires trying to suck the life out of literature by reducing it to a biographical symptom. Ian Gibson's bio of Lorca is one of the only ones I own, because, well, I have no choice. But I find Gibson to be a grotesque figure.

There is a lot interesting going on with subjectivity in modernism. It takes two extremes: exalting the subject, or emptying it out. So there's Beckett and Kafka, or Proust and Rilke. I'd like to situate Lorca between Beckett and Rilke, in a way. What's interesting is how these two things happen simultaneously. Vamos a ver.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Lorca III (3)

My working title is Lorca's Shattered Subjectivities

That title works with my first chapter, on the persons of the verb; and with a Vallejo chapter, and with the Beckett material.

The other chapter was on avant-garde Lorcas, That fits with the idea of making him an avant-garde rather than neopopular poet, even in his neopopular works.

A very simple idea, that the biographical construction of Lorca as a unified autobiographical subject just doesn't work. It's a way of unifying something that isn't capable of being unified.

One of the sections of the first chapter will be on interpellations, second person addresses. Another will be on third person objectifications, distancing effects of converting the I to a he / she / it.

I'm thinking of a shorter book, an extended essay rather than a series of discrete chapters.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Take this. Please, take it. (Hat tip to TB.) The idea is that something called "postmodernism" taught us once and for all that it is impossible to have a theory about anything. Such as theory would be "totalizing," essentialist, and a residue of enlightenment thinking." Any "generalizable theory of how something works is misguided in that such narratives inevitably deprivilege the local, even though it is precisely the local where useful 'knowledge' is generated" (8). Of course, theories end up being sexist, racist, elitist, or whatever. They are probably complicit in the intersectionality of privilege, or some such bullshit.

Talk about totalizing! This is a bastardization of postmodern theory. Usually, to critique a theory you need to critique it, actually, not just call it out for being a theory or narrative in the first place, or "generalizable account of how things work."

Only the local can produce useful "knowledge." (Olson's scare quotes.) "Inevitably." That is, you don't have to distinguish between the times when generalizable accounts might be good, and when local accounts are better. You just know the local is always better because you are so fucking postmodern.

By the way, the Enlightenment was (is) bad-ass. You can't just dismiss it with a flick of your postmodern wrist. Well, you could, but then you would show that you're an idiot. People who think we're so much smarter than Descartes and Voltaire, that we know better now, have probably never read them.

That being said, the process theory that Gary Olson critiques is also bullshit, though not for the reasons he says. Any method that teaches someone how to write works, by definition, whether it is backed up by a neatly "generalizable" theory, or not. You could have a theory that was good, or improve and existing one, or whatever. What you can't do is just decide in advance that you can't have a theory.

This is what happens when a field like this takes sophisticated literary and philosophical theory and simplifies it. They think they are being theoretical but they haven't a clue. Really simplistic feminist applications in musicology are similar.


Olson's main attack on "assertion" is bewildering. Once again, assertion is called out as being not postmodern enough. We are supposed to do other things that aren't that. But, actually, assertion is fine. Olson does it in his own article, as Basbøll points out. Birds do it, bees do it. Let's do it. Let's not worry about it. If you want to do something else, then do it, just don't be a blithering idiot.

Monday, February 16, 2015


Here are some posts of mine in which I argue that we should emphasize product, and productivity, over process. (At least the first two posts.)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Double words

Words that have an alternate dialect spelling:

creek / crick

wrestle / rassle

curse / cuss

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

I wrote a poem

today in my head while reading the New Yorker:

I wrote a poem
that doesn't sing

It sits there like a log

Others sing it
when I pay them to

I wrote it hard
and pure, and sweet

It sits there like a log

on a hill
or a jar of jam

You should read the poem out loud first in the "poet's voice," then as a small child reciting doggerel. Take it to be the anti New Yorker poem.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Two elitisms

There is a kind of elitism that is pernicious. It says that already elite people have a monopoly on good things, and that other people are too dumb to appreciate them. Give us our elite education, it is beneficial to us, but for the masses... mass, cheap education is fine.

The bad kind of anti-elitism simply disdains these good things, because they aren't available to all. If not everyone can have them, nobody should. You should feel guilty about taking your children to the museum and symphony, because you are perpetuating "privilege." Such people should be subjected to [the least violent punishment possible.] I will never tire of ridiculing their horrific hypocrisy. Feeling guilt is stupid. If you think that doing this is wrong, just don't do it. If you do it and feel guilty, the wretched of the earth feel no relief from your idiocy. They probably would feel contempt for your guilt, if they could even understand it. Does the sweetness from the sugar I don't put in my coffee accrue to their account? No.

Flawed premises?

Suppose a high school student, or college freshman, has to take a foreign language, some advanced mathematics, etc... There are some justifications for this.

a] Utilitarian. The student will need to speak another language to get a job / travel, etc... Will need math for further science study.

b] The "mental exercise" theory. It's a way of becoming smarter, even if you forget all your French later. Indeed, you assume that most of the content of education is forgotten, but that it is still better to have had it because you will have stronger mental muscles.

c] Credentialism. Showing you can do this, that you're smart enough to master Latin or Calculus, assures people of your intelligence or competence. You learned a particular set of cognitive skills in a very structured environment and so you have a piece of paper that says that.

d] The "well-rounded" theory. You need to have been exposed to a little bit of everything to be a well-rounded educated person.

All of these justifications seem weaker than a more general sense that it is intrinsically good to study these things. I don't know anyone who complains about knowing another language.


Middle-class college students should have more opportunities to "get the best skills possible," as quickly and cheaply as possible, and making community-college tuition free would help achieve that goal, President Obama said on Friday during an address at Ivy Tech Community College in Indianapolis.
That's great, because that's exactly what Obama himself did, first going to a private prep school, then Occidental College, Columbia University, and Harvard Law School. I am assuming that his daughters, though, will go to Community Colleges and also avoid those expensive Ivies. I see auto-mechanic school for Malia. All the right-wing pundits who sneer at intellectual curiosity also want their kids to get into the best schools as well.

(It's fine if you want to quickly and cheaply acquire skills to do whatever you want to do. I think free two-year college might work for many, though I worry that it could have unintended consequences. How does a free but not cheap college compete with free? I have a better idea: free four-year college for those with true intellectual interests.)

On a face-book page for the Chronicle there were people ranting about an article that suggested that every college professor should be a researcher, that the teaching-only jobs were few and far between. The community college community exploded with accusations of elitism. Well, if you think elitism is bad, then you probably shouldn't be allowed anywhere near higher education. Also, those teaching-only jobs are likely to be adjunct / part-time / badly paid ones. It is hard to respect education / educators if you are paying them below minimum wage.

Everyone admires elite athletes and musicians, elite surgeons. In every area of life, being better is better than being worse. The race is in fact to the swift, and admiration does flow to the pinnacles of human achievement. Education is the major pathway to this excellence. We lie when we decry elitism, because we want it for our children. The middle-class kid that gets her skills on the cheap will never be a Barak Obama.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Lorca III (2)

So this is what I have so far.

Title: "Lorca par lui-même" [that's just a place-holder one until I get a better title. Obviously I won't have a French title for my book]

I. Introduction. I will explain that this is a book about Lorca, unlike my first two which were about his reception. My aim is to integrate the study of the poetry and the theater.

II. The persons of the verb: a study of enunciatory positions in Lorca's poetry and theater, his use of 1st person, 2nd person, and third person. Relation between poetry and theater. This will be about 15,000 words, a very long chapter.

III. Avant-garde Lorca. Here the idea is to look at Lorca as an avant-garde figure in both poetry and theater. 10,000 words.

IV. Lorca / Vallejo. Fractured subjectivity.

V. Lorca / Beckett. What does it mean that these are two of the most influential playwrights? etc...

That's all I got. By using the Lorca III tag I'll be able to track my progress (or lack of).

Thursday, February 5, 2015


What Lorca Knew is done.

I still have some footnotes to supply, and a few things to follow up on in some of the chapters, but it is done. Thanks to all of you who have commented on my blog, a kind of laboratory for this book.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Mental Flexibility

The insights here in this post on music could be applied to anything else. Not everyone has to like every manifestation of avant-garde art or music or poetry. But the flexibility of being able to open oneself up to new experiences: is there any more valuable quality to have?

Monday, February 2, 2015

Just teach?

Good Article here.
But has any reliable correlation ever been established between research productivity and poor teaching? To the contrary, nearly all of the reliable studies “clearly indicate,” in the words of John Hattie and Herbert W. Marsh, that “Good researchers are neither more nor less likely to be effective teachers than are poor researchers.” (Such studies reinforce my own local observations that the least-committed teachers very often prove to be the least-productive researchers, and many of the most dedicated researchers are terrific teachers.)
There are several possibilities here.

A researcher is low in productivity, but is an excellent teacher.
A researcher is high in productivity, but is a poor teacher.
A researcher is strong in both research and teaching.
A researcher is weak in both areas.
A researcher is mediocre in both categories, or moderately strong in both, or slightly better in one than the other, depending on the exact measuring device...

For those weak, or strong, in both areas, the cause is likely to be similar. They might be strong conscientious performers in whatever they do. Or not. Even in the case of negative correlation, we don't know if this is a coincidence or a causation. For example, is the good teacher good because she neglects research, or because she is simply better at one thing than another? Is the bad teacher bad because he cares too much about research?

If it possible to excel in both areas, shouldn't that be encouraged?

Of course, teaching fewer classes frees up time for research, but I am talking more about quality rather than quantity. Another myth is that those who publish more write articles of less quality.

More PC

Discussions of political correctness are meta-discursive. In other words, they concern speech acts and responses to them, mostly. These responses, and the responses to the responses, are also meta-discursive. It's language about language about [whatever category is being contested.]

For example:

He said the word _____. People reacted by calling him on it. They said he was _____ -ist. The counter-reaction comes when he claims to be a victim of political correctness. His speech was curtailed because he was called a _____ -ist for saying the word _____.

But those who call him a blank-ist have their right to speak just as much as he does. In groups where everyone wants to be perceived as virtuous, being called ____-ist is the worst thing possible. Things can spiral downhill fast. The left's concern with comfortable spaces cannot be maintained, because the right can mimic the discourse of victimhood, insult, and comfort level. Even within a group of like-minded people, the right to speak becomes contested. Easy for me as a white male to say, right? But that's the whole problem.

Once the question gets to be: who has the right to speech, and how much, and in what tone, then the debate becomes absurd posturing.

It's not "politically incorrect" to perform actual acts of racism, like not hiring someone because of her race, or incarcerating a large portion of members of a certain racial group, but only to intervene in a debate by saying the wrong thing. It is a very limited power of critique, because the racist has to out himself by saying something foolish in the first place. Social media makes the problem worse, because you get more opportunities for gaffes, and a shorter news cycle.

It was a huge mistake to make all these political debates about the symbolic politics of speech acts.


That being said, suppose you had a purple elbow. Your whole life, people are commenting on it. "You throw a football pretty well for a guy with a purple elbow." "How'd you get that purple elbow, anyway?" "Hey, purple-elbow, go back to Purpleelbowstan." "How does it feel to have a purple elbow?" "Can I touch it?" "Some of my best friends have purple elbows."

Some people are cruel, some thoughtless, some indifferent, some naive, some well-meaning. Some have dedicated themselves to not be prejudiced against you. But each person's interaction with you is just one interaction, for that person. For you, though, that one interaction is part of a never-ending pattern. Even the relatively innocent comments are part of a pattern of harassments. To dismiss them as micro-agressions of no importance shows an astonishing lack of empathy.

5. Nothing Gold Can Stay

I don't particularly like the sentiment behind this poem, but it is a perfect little machine of a poem. It is hard to forget. Nature's first green is gold her hardest hue to hold...