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When students only have read a few poems, in exclusively academic contexts, they often approach poetry with what the li...

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Lorquian Self-Fashioning

There. That's a title I could use. I don't know quite all it entails yet. I guess the question is how Lorca becomes Lorca, how he forms himself, his Bildung. I propose to study this not as biography (though that enters too) but as poetic self-shaping. It is a miracle, of a sort. How he became as good as he was in a very short space of time.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

20. My father in downtown red...

This is a chorus from Mexico City Blues. There's a point in this book where Kerouac hits his stride and can do no wrong.

My father in downtown red
walked around like a shadow
of ink black, in hat, nodding,
in the immemorial lights of my dreams.

One of the lines I like the most is "straw hat, newspaper in pocket, liquor on the breath, barbershop shine." It just defines an image through four associated facts.

Monday, March 16, 2015

19. Oh rose thou art sick

Oh rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm
That flies in the night
In the Howling storm...

I know that I've known this poem since high school. I may have had to rememorize it once, but that consisted of looking at it briefly.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

18. La encina

La encina, que conserva más un rayo
de sol que todo un mes de primavera,
no siente lo espontáneo de su sombra,
la sencillez del crecimiento, apenas
si conoce el terreno en que ha brotado.
Con ese viento que en sus ramas deja
lo que no tiene música, imagina
para sus sueños una gran meseta.
Y con qué rapidez se identifica

This 3rd section of Don de la ebriedad still blows my mind. I've re-learnt it many times since I first read it in the 80s to do my dissertation.


"García Lorca’s 1936 play appears in the collection Three Tragedies, making its genre explicit."

Well, no. Lorca's subtitle for this play is "Drama de mujeres en los pueblos de España." If after his death someone wants to put it in a collection called "Three Tragedies," that is fine, but that is an editorial decision made long after the author's death.

This is an article that points out that one of the similarities between Waiting for Godot and La casa de Bernarda Alba is they are both plays!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The MFA article that went viral on the internet


What are his main points:

Writers are born with talent.

If you didn't decide to take writing seriously by the time you were a teenager, you're probably not going to make it.

If you complain about not having time to write, please do us both a favor and drop out.

If you aren't a serious reader, don't expect anyone to read what you write.

No one cares about your problems if you're a shitty writer.

You don't need my help to get published.

It's not important that people think you're smart.
We might consider a PhD version of this. It wouldn't be the same, because creative writing and critical scholarship in the humanities are not identical. Still, I honestly don't see the objections to this article, aside from a tasteless joke about child abuse.

My list would start like this:

You probably shouldn't get a PhD in literature (foreign language or English) if you only read the books assigned to you by your professors.

If you don't have serious interest both in literature of the past and in your own contemporaries...

From a follow up interview:
People think you're an asshole for saying some people have more talent than others.

In what part of life is this not true?

17. Caminante, son tus huellas

Here's another one I've known for a long time. "Caminante, son tus huellas / el camino, y nada más." A. Machado.

This poem is extraordinary because if its redundancy. It uses about 10 times more words than necessary to make its point, but this is actually a good thing here.

Friday, March 13, 2015

16. Flowers by the sea

Here's another poem I memorized when I wrote about it in graduate school. I also included it in my first published article. I still think that's a good article.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

15. Nothing in that drawer

This poem is by Ron Padgett. It is that line, "Nothing in that drawer.", repeated 14 times. A kind of sonnet?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Different kinds of fractured subjects

It might be that the idea of the "death of the subject" is really two or three different ideas, maybe six.

We can talk about a sort of blank writing, neutral in tone and de-personalized, arising out of Blanchot and the early Barthes. It no longer matters who is speaking or enunciating.

We can talk about skepticism about the unity of the self (Borges, Pessoa). The self is fragmented, doubled. This gives rise to a plural and hence indeterminate self.

We can talk about subjectivity reduced to its bare-bones. One is conscious and that is all. The immediate situation is what needs to be addressed. Say a character in Beckett who is trying to use his cane to pick up an object otherwise inaccessible to him.

There may be others too. An extreme catatonia: "la cosas la están mirando / y ella no pueda mirarlas." (FGL)

I've mentioned the biographical skepticism of Proust and James.

It would seem to me that if I could analyze all these possibilities and associate them with particular writers, creating a taxonomy of some sort...

14, Iris (WCW)

A burst of iris so that come down for breakfast we searched through the rooms for the sweetest odor and at first could not find its source...

I wrote about this poem in my first published article and have not forgotten it. Its dynamism come in part from line breaks, but I don't bother to re-memorize those, in this particular case.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

13. Nothing Gold can Stay

This is a poem I disagree with, but it is a perfect little machine of a poem. Nature's first green is gold / Her hardest hue to hold..." It is hard not to memorize it once you hear of it.

It is true that nothing gold can stay, but I still don't like the way the poem cuts off possibilities. Pretty much my 50s have been my best decade so far.

Henry James

James also uses the trope of the two selves: one is in society, the man everyone knows. The other, simultaneously, is in his room writing, like a phantom.

I forget the title of this short story, but I believe similar conceits recurs in several of them. His short-stories tend to be metafictional. [update: it is called "The Private Life."]

The creator puts the best of himself or herself in the work itself. A work can be perfect in a way that a human being never can. Such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make.

The biographer wants to drag the creator back into the muck.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The biographical impoverishment, ii

Biography attempts to explain subjective, internal experience through external factors. The explanation for something very interesting is found in something much duller.


I learn from a preface to one of those black Cátedra editions that Lorca's theatre has three constants. It is poetic, experimental, and has a single theme in every play: the conflict between individual and society, between desire and social convention, or whatever you want to call it. Of course, I agree that it is "poetic," but that can mean almost anything. I also agree that it is experimental, but once again that can mean just about anything. I don't agree that his drama all has one theme.

12. No Second Troy

Yeats here is talking about Maud Gonne. Since there was no second Troy for her to burn, she had to do her damage to Irish politics and to the poet's heart: why should I blame her that she filled my days / with misery, or that she would of late / have taught to ignorant men most violent ways..." The disgust against poor people arising against their betters is palpable. Her mind is "simple." She is simple-minded, not through lack of intelligence, but because her purpose is singular, uncomplicated. Her beauty is stern like a bended bow.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

11. When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes

This I always associate with "When to the sessions of sweet silent thought." They have the same argument. When I am feeling blue, I think of you. Yet the emotional tone is completely different. In one, the poet is wallowing in self-reflective grief, revisiting grievances from the past that should have been put to rest already. In the other, he is besieged by current self-doubt.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

10. "When to the sessions of sweet silent thought..."

Everyone should know this Shakespeare Sonnet. I used to think Proust was thinking of it when he named his sequence of novels "Remembrance of Things Past." Later I learned that this was the translator's contribution. But, really, that sounds better than "In Search of Lost Time," in English that is.

For the series, I'm trying not to list poems I once knew and have forgotten, but poems that I have permanently memorized, a much smaller subset.

Friday, March 6, 2015

My earliest memory

I used to claim that my earliest memory was my sister falling down some stairs. My parents said that this could not be, since I was not born yet when she fell.

Today I was reading a memoir my dad wrote about my grandfather. He came to our house in Michigan and put some non-stick pads on the basement stairs. So that is the memory: it most have been that someone mentioned my sister falling when we were fixing the stairs. My father wrote that my grandfather had us help him fix the stairs. There must have been the idea that we had to do it so what had happened to my sister before I was born would not happen again. I was probably four years old.

9. The Jungle

I wrote a paper about WCS's "The Jungle" in grad school for Al Gelpi. Of course I memorized the poem, and I still know it, though I think I had to re-learn it at some point, complete with line breaks. "It is not the still weight of the trees, the breathless interior of the wood, tangled with wrist-thick vine, the flies, reptiles, the forever fearful monkeys, screaming and running, in the branches..."

I remember I went to the rare book room and compared the original periodical publication of the poem with the final version.

When you forget a poem, a technique for remembering it is to not think about it too much, the word that you have forgotten, just see if you tongue provides it at the right moment.


L'oeuvre de Sainte-Beuve n'est pas une oeuvre profonde. La fameuse méthode, qui en fait, selon Taine, selon Paul Bourget et tant d'autres, le maître inégalable de la critique du XIXe, cette méthode, qui consiste à ne pas séparer l'homme et l'oeuvre, à considérer qu'il n'est pas indifférent pour juger l'auteur d'un livre, si ce livre n'est pas un « traité de géométrie pure », d'avoir d'abord répondu aux questions qui paraissaient les plus étrangères à son oeuvre (comment se comportait-il, etc. ), à s'entourer de tous les renseignements possibles sur un écrivain, à collationner ses correspondances, à interroger les hommes qui l'ont connu, en causant avec eux s'ils vivent encore, en lisant ce qu'ils ont pu écrire sur lui s'ils sont morts, cette méthode méconnaît ce qu'une fréquentation un peu profonde avec nous-mêmes nous apprend : qu'un livre est le produit d'un autre moi que celui que nous manifestons dans nos habitudes, dans la société, dans nos vices. Ce moi-là, si nous voulons essayer de le comprendre, c'est au fond de nous-mêmes, en essayant de le recréer en nous, que nous pouvons y parvenir.

Pardon my French

Au départ, ces deux critiques étaient animés par un mouvement d'hostilité à l'égard de l'histoire littéraire lansonienne (de Gustave Lanson, le promoteur, à la fin du xixe siècle, de l'histoire littéraire à la française), dont ils contestaient la domination dans les études littéraires à l'université. Ils s'opposaient à la littérature considérée en relation avec son auteur, ou comme expression de son auteur, suivant une doctrine résumée dans le titre courant des thèses de lettres : X, l'homme et l'oeuvre. Avant Lanson, cette vulgate était identifiée depuis longtemps à Sainte-Beuve, le premier des critiques au xixe siècle : Proust s'élevait contre sa méthode biographique dans le titre bien connu de la première ébauche de la Recherche : Contre Sainte-Beuve. « Qu'importe qui parle », s'écriait assez brutalement Foucault pour commencer, « quelqu'un a dit qu'importe qui parle ». Ce faisant, il citait Beckett, non sans ironie puisque, au moment de proclamer l'anonymat de la parole dans la littérature contemporaine, il en empruntait la formulation à un auteur canonique. Ainsi la prise de position critique de Barthes et de Foucault, si elle les dressait contre la descendance de Sainte-Beuve et Lanson, signalait-elle d'emblée qu'elle se voulait en phase avec la littérature d'avant-garde, celle d'un Beckett, ou encore d'un Blanchot, qui avaient décrété la disparition de l'auteur, défini l'écriture par l'absence de l'auteur, par le neutre, environ deux décennies plus tôt. Foucault continuait en donnant un tour politique à une idée très blanchotienne : « l'écriture d'aujourd'hui s'est affranchie du thème de l'expression » (Fpucault, 1994, p. 792-793). Une théorie littéraire a souvent tendance à ériger en universaux de la littérature ses préférences ou complicités du moment. L'opposition à la tradition critique, l'adhésion à l'avant-garde littéraire : telles étaient donc les deux prémisses de la mort de l'auteur.

Alors. Il est utile penser que la mort de l'auteur (la mort du sujet) forme part d'une réaction contre le "lansomisme." Aussi, "Contre Saint-Beuve" de Proust et le nom de Beckett. On peut noter l'ironie d'associer ce critique avec les noms des auteurs canoniques, comme Beckett ou Proust.

L'écriture de Lorca n'est pas "neutre" ni anonyme. Mais le lansonisme est la méthode de plusiers lorquistes. Peut-on associer l'oeuvre de Lorca avec la critique moderniste des méthodes de Saint-Beuve? Chez Proust? Chez Borges. C'est autre façon de postuler la mort du sujet, non comme neutralité mais comme la dissolution ou crise (rupture) du "moi."

I probably made tons of grammar mistakes in French. I never quite got the "des" thing down. My browser corrects me when I make a spelling mistake, even in French. I don't know why it doesn't recognize "Proust" though! It does when I'm typing in English but not in French?

Thursday, March 5, 2015


El mar
sonríe a lo lejos.
Dientes de espuma,
labios de cielo.

--¿Qué vendes, oh joven turbia
con los senos al aire?
--Vendo, señor, el agua
de los mares.

--¿Qué llevas, oh negro joven,
mezclado con tu sangre?
--Llevo, señor, el agua
de los mares.

--Esas lágrimas salobres
¿de dónde vienen, madre?
--Lloro, señor, el agua
de los mares.

--Corazón, y esta amargura
seria, ¿de dónde nace?
--¡Amarga mucho el agua
de los mares!

El mar
sonríe a lo lejos.
Dientes de espuma,
labios de cielo.

Snow Responds to Frost

What jerk is this
who's stopping by
to take my bliss
and make it die.

8, Breakfast

This poem by WCW is unforgettable:

Twenty sparrows

a scattered

share and share

For some reason it is not as famous as the wheelbarrow. Ah well.

Dumb Postmodernism / Smart Postmodernism

In wanting to study Lorca through the prism of the postmodern "death of the subject" I have to distinguish between dumb postmodernism and the smart kind. Essentially, the dumb kind just sort of asserts the death of the author, the intelligent kind works through the entire process, showing exactly how biographical constructions oversimplify, and how a more complex reading works.

We have to distinguish between plural subjects and ones that are diminished, fractured, and reduced in other ways. In Vallejo, for example, it is the presence of pain, an emotional pain felt almost physically, among other things...

Quevedo's "Presentes sucesiones de difuntos." Being alive means being a different, soon-to-be-dead person every day. I think Borges must have been a very astute reader of Quevedo, despite his suspicion of writers who are primarily stylists.

Language Poetry

I was trying to remember the name of a language poet. It wasn't Lyn Hejinian or Rae Armantrout, whose names I did recall in my dream, but someone whose work fell in that general category.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

7. When you are old and gray and full of sleep and nodding by the fire take down this book and slowly read and dream ...

This poem by Yeats is also easy to memorize. I probably learned it 18 years ago. It is based on another by Ronsard:

Quand vous serez bien vieille, au soir, à la chandelle,
Assise auprès du feu, dévidant et filant,
Direz, chantant mes vers, en vous émerveillant :
Ronsard me célébrait du temps que j’étais belle.

Lors, vous n’aurez servante oyant telle nouvelle,
Déjà sous le labeur à demi sommeillant,
Qui au bruit de mon nom ne s’aille réveillant,
Bénissant votre nom de louange immortelle.

Je serai sous la terre et fantôme sans os :
Par les ombres myrteux je prendrai mon repos :
Vous serez au foyer une vieille accroupie,

Regrettant mon amour et votre fier dédain.
Vivez, si m’en croyez, n’attendez à demain :
Cueillez dès aujourd’hui les roses de la vie.

Recipe (ii)

There are four things you need in order to get the work done.

1. Time.

2. Energy & motivation.

3. The talents, abilities, etc... that are required.

4. The fourth factor is the organizational ability to put those three things together in a consistent way.

People typically think they don't have time, and many people are not confident in their abilities. Typically, lack of time is simply lack of organization. You can have a lot of time and still not get things done, or you can get things done in a narrow, finite span of time.

Recipe for success

Success in academic research will come about when three things line up perfectly:

Your passion: what you care deeply about.
Your abilities.
What other people care about.

If you can find something that you really care about, that others care about as well, and if your talents match up well with what you want to do with this thing, then you are likely to be successful. I can give examples from my own work where I was passionate and had the ability to do what I wanted to, but where the third factor was missing. It is hard if nobody else cares.

If you care, and your audience does to, then you still need the means to get it done. If the task at hand is ill-suited to your particular package of talents and abilities, you won't get far.

If don't care about what you're doing, then nothing else matters. Why do scholarship on something you don't give a hoot about?


I also like to say that the recipe involves pointing out something that should have been obvious to everyone, but is not. You point out the obvious, and other people will ask themselves why they didn't think of it first. My third book on Lorca, for example, will approach him through the idea of the "death of the subject." This is super obvious to me (though I didn't think of it before now). The reason why it hasn't been done is that the biographical subject reigns supreme in Lorca studies.
Chapter 1: Introduction: The Dissolution of the Subject

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 poetry in the US; the second contains more varied material, including extended close readings of “Play and Theory of the Duende” and “Ode to Walt Whitman,” a study of American plays that feature Lorca as a character, and an examination of his influence on José Ángel Valente and Antonio Gamoneda. My third book in this Lorquian trilogy, Federico García Lorca: The Shattered Subject, attempts to define the distinctiveness of his own work through a more direct and sustained encounter with his own work. The focus throughout will be on the variegated models of subjectivity presented in Lorca’s poems and plays. My method will be largely comparative: other major modern figures, including Whitman, Cavafy, Rilke, Jiménez, Pessoa, Borges, Neruda, Vallejo, Lezama Lima, and Beckett, offer complementary and contrasting approaches that frame the distintiveness of Lorca’s poetics.

The central idea of this book is that Lorca is best approached through the perspective of the postmodern trope of “the death of the subject.”

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

6. Prologue to Henry V

Oh for muse of fire, etc...

I performed this at the Spanish dept. talent show recently. I learned it probably 19 years ago. It is a hymn to the imagination. It also works fine as a prologue to the play.

Monday, March 2, 2015

5. Siempre la claridad

I memorized "Siempre la claridad" by Claudio Rodríguez in the early 80s, and I have never forgotten it. Seeing the poem the first time in 1980s was like getting hit by a bolt of lightning.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

4. Descaminado, enfermo

Góngora's sonnet "Descaminado, enfermo, peregrino..." was recited by me recently at our department talent show. I have long know that one by memory. We will see in a year whether I know 365 poems.