Featured Post


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

Monday, August 31, 2015

83. Harmatan

Paul Violi. Sun, 1977.

I don't know much about this poet, but somehow picked up this book, a travelogue book of poems, taking place in Nigeria. The book is good without having many good poems; in other words, the writing is good, descriptively vivid, but the poems are not distinguished individually. Still, it seems better to me than most poetry you would come across randomly.

84. Noche abierta

Hugo Mujica, Pre-textos, 1999. I have a copy dedicated to me by the poet. Re-reading it, it seems very calming and nuanced, almost quietistic. Very nice but not stunning.

Fuck Nuance

Here. This is an important paper, and applies to literary criticism as well as to soc. We in lit crit are enamored of nuance. Of course, we should be capable of fine distinction, but sometimes we should go in the opposite direction.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Running & Songwriting

I completed my first official 5k, in 29:55. I was hoping to come close to 30 minutes and I beat that time, coming in 9th out of 26 runners of both genders and all ages. It turned out to be easier to run fast on a set course with other runners, with no streets to cross.


All my songs sound the same, even if I use different chords. So it is not that they sound the same just because of the chords. The one I am starting now begins I IV I IV ii V I. I use part of the first phrase of "I'll remember April." Later, I'll go back on find a different beginning.


Each endeavor is its own thing. The skills are not transferable. Still, everything helps.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Two versions of an event

This is interesting

Version I:

Many nights, Mike [now out of prison] and Steve drove around looking for the shooter, the guys who were part of his crew, or women connected to them who might be able to provide a good lead. On a few of these nights, Mike had nobody to ride along with him, so I volunteered. We started out around 3:00 a.m., with Mike in the passenger seat, his hand on his Glock as he directed me around the area. We peered into dark houses and looked at license plates and car models as Mike spoke on the phone with others who had information about the 4th Street Boys’ whereabouts.

One night Mike thought he saw a 4th Street guy walk into a Chinese restaurant. He tucked his gun in his jeans, got out of the car, and hid in the adjacent alleyway. I waited in the car with the engine running, ready to speed off as soon as Mike ran back and got inside. But when the man came out with his food, Mike seemed to think this man wasn’t the man he’d thought it was. He walked back to the car and we drove on.

Version II:

First, let me say as plainly as possible: at no time did I intend to engage in any criminal conduct in the wake of Chuck’s death. … Most important, I had good reason to believe that this night would not end in violence or injury. …

After Chuck was shot and killed, people in the neighborhood were putting a lot of pressure on Mike and on Chuck’s other friends to avenge his murder. It seemed that Chuck’s friends were expected to fulfill the neighborhood’s collective desire for retribution. Many of the residents in the neighborhood were emphatic that justice should be served, and the man who killed Chuck must pay. But they weren’t actually doing anything.

Talk of retribution was just that: talk.

In the weeks following Chuck’s death, his friends occasionally drove around, ostensibly looking for Chuck’s killer. But these drives, like the talk of the residents, also came to nothing. This was so because it was common knowledge that Chuck’s killer had fled right after the shooting. These drives seemed to satisfy the feelings of anger and pain; they were a way to mourn a dear friend, and showed people in the neighborhood that Chuck’s friends were doing something.

One night, when Mike could not find anybody else to go with him, I agreed to drive. I felt ambivalent, but I went because I knew these drives were about expressing anger and about grieving, not about doing actual violence. I had talked Mike down from violence in the past, as did many other women in his and his friends’ lives.

These accounts are clearly contradictory. If version 1 is correct, then version 2 is an attempt at making it seem like the ethnographer did not commit a criminal act. If version 2 is correct, then the ethnographer wrote up her story in a misleading way. If it was common knowledge that the shooter was not in town, then why did Mike bring a gun to the Chinese restaurant and almost shoot someone?

Campos writes:

If black lives matter, why did no one care that Goffman may have come close to participating in the murder of a young black man? Why was someone who recounted driving a would-be getaway car rewarded with a big book contract and a TED talk that has been viewed almost one million times?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

85. Toner

This book by Ron Silliman (Potes & Poets Press, 1992) and autographed by the author is divided into symmetrical 7 line stanzas over 67 pages, with three stanzas per page. It has blurbs by Kathy Acker, Kevin Killian, David Melnick, Jerome McGann, and Hank Lazer, on the back cover. Then, on the first page, another blurb by McGann, and others by Jed Rasula, Nancy Scott, Barrett Watten, and Keith Tuma. It is part of the Alphabet, Ron's long series. This would be volume T.

I read it at one sitting. The punctuation disappears after a while, then there is a long section in ALL CAPS, then it's back to no caps, no punctuation, and then the punctuation appears again.

It is a diary of a sort, a series of semi-disconnected fragments of observation--again, like much of Ron's work of the 90s. This is not my favorite of his, though his characteristic wit shines through.

Trigger Warning

Here is a comment I put on someone's facebook feed about a trigger warning. I had objected in an earlier comment to a tone of earnest condescension:

Look, I would use language like this in a warning, if I needed one. "Look, this course is about racism, so we're going to be looking at racist material that's going to make all of us squirm." Or, "This course is about sex and violence, in part, so we are going to see vivid descriptions of sexualized violence. You're going to need to take responsiblity for your own emotional reactions in dealing with this material. You can talk to me about this if you want, or simply find your own solution." What triggered my reaction was the necessity for a mealy-mouthed apologetic earnestness. The tone has to be right, and has to have an educational message of its own. For example, what tone would you use to warn a colleague about something that might be upsetting? How would you address that person as an equal, even accounting for the fact that not everyone is a hipster?

I am Mayhew again

Lorca's Modernist Self-Unfashioning

The premise behind the book on Lorca I am now beginning to write (which will be the third in my Lorquian trilogy!) is strikingly simple: what would happen if we decided to read Lorca from the perspective of the “postmodern death of the subject”? This is a provocative proposal, since Lorca criticism has long been unapologetically biographical. At the end of my talk today, after listening to my arguments, you can, of course, return to more conventional ways of looking at Lorca (if you really want to). I only ask that you entertain my modest proposal as a thought-experiment with some potentially interesting implications, not only for Lorca, but for a larger consideration of poetic modernism and postmodernism.

My title, “Lorca’s Modernist Self-Unfashioning,” with its obvious homage to Greenblatt’s Renaissance Self-Fashioning, poses the question of how Lorca became Lorca. In other words, what enabled a young writer to make the jump from the writer of juvenilia to the mature artist. I situate this jump in his first major work: Poema del cante jondo, which he completed in 1921. His literary self-fashioning entails its opposite: a dismantling of the self, or a self-unfashioning. From my perpective, furthermore, this dissolution of subjectivity runs parallel to that of other modernist writers, like Kafka, Pound, Borges, and Pessoa. My book will sketch out comparisons with numerous other writers as well. My larger argument is that the death of the subject that we attribute to postmodernism has its origins in modernist poetics, and that Lorca is best understood in this way—rather than as an example of subjective plenitude whose biographical vicissitudes completely and unproblematically account for his work.

My approach is grounded (I hope) in the best and most traditional Lorca studies. My respect for the textual and biographical spade-work of scholars and editors like Andrew Anderson and Christopher Maurer remains undiminished. The question, rather, is how to understand Lorquian poetics in light of both philology and poetic theory. I don’t believe these approaches to be incompatible, but certain hermeneutical assumptions persist in Lorca studies and almost nowhere else. Few other authors are read with such biographical servility and hermeneutical naïveté. The first step in my thought experiment, then, is to break Lorca free from the biographical imperative.

Borges advised us to distinguish between Walt Whitman, the semi-divine protagonist of Leaves of Grass, and Walter Whitman, “el pobre literato que lo inventó.” I propose that we introduce a similar distinction for Lorca, separating the Lorca myth from its self-conscious fashioner. Borges is a highly relevant figure here since he is one among many modernist writers who began to question the centrality of the self, in essays like “La nadería de la personalidad.” Fernando Pessoa’s creation of heterónimos is another angle of approach to the modernist dissolution of personality. Still another is Vallejo’s dramatization of the dissolution of the autobiographical self in poems like “Piedra negra sobre piedra blanca” and “El momento más grave de mi vida.” Theories of dramatic poetry and poetic objectivity in Pound and Eliot might lead in still another direction. I am not claiming that all these modernists flee from unitary notions of subjectivity in identical ways. In fact, what is suprising here is the multiplicity of approaches to a central problem.

Before I present my possibly controversial argument that Lorca, too, belongs in this conversation, I need to contrast my understanding of modernist poetics with a simpler (and only partially correct) notion of modernism as a unitary movement with a certain heroic view of the literary genius as privileged subjectivity. This may be somewhat of as strawman view. (Does anyone really believe this anymore in its simplest form?) But it tends to lurk in the background, especially when what is at issue is the contrast between modernism and postmodernism. I am not denying the existence of a prophetic mode of larger-than-life heroic subjectivity in modernist poetics—in Rilke or Juan Ramón Jiménez, for example. To some extent this view results from a subsequent lionization and canonization of the “great moderns” that occurred after the heyday of historical modernism itself. What I am saying is that this orphic or prophetic mode, with its very familiar grandiosity and ambition, is only one facet of modernism, and that even when it occurs it entails a certain separation of the poetic self into more than one self.

But what about Lorca? The publication of his extensive juvenilia has provided us with a goldmine of material—lyric poems, prose effusions, and dramas—from which to interpret his mature work. This is unfortunate. For many writers, maybe most of them, we lack this extensive archive…

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Time Design: Fall 2015


8-11:30: Exercise (1) / Research (1).

1-5: Class prep, grading, (office hours: 1-2).
Clean office.

House cleaning (1)


9:30-10:45: Spanish 453. Learned 2115.

1-2:15: Spanish 424. Wescoe 4012.

2:30-5: Research (2).

5: exercise (2).


8-11:30: Exercise (3) / Research (3).

1-5: Class prep, grading, (office hours: 1-2).
House cleaning (2)


9:30-10:45: Spanish 453. Learned 2115.

1-2:15: Spanish 424. Wescoe 4012.

2:30-5: Research (4) /meetings
Clean office.

5:30: poetini


8-11:30: Exercise (4) / Research (5).

p.m.: house cleaning (3) / music

Friday, August 21, 2015

Crippling Self Doubt

When I am not writing regularly I suffer from crippling self doubt. Once I open up a document and start working on it this disappears. I am able to do it with virtually no transition time. I simply do it. All my past successes count for nothing if I am not working right this moment (or have worked within 24 hours)) And the doubt extends to all other areas of my life too. My sense of self is profoundly affected. I cannot even give you good advice on getting your projects done.

I am not recommending this attitude. I am trying to change it, in fact. Let's just say that for now the solution will be to write.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

5k Dream

I was to run a 5k race. I was in some kind of huge tent. The first problem was that I had already run 5k that morning (as I had in real life that day right before I had that dream. The second problem was that I had the dog with me, and was responsible for it. Would she be able to keep up with me? I didn't have a leash. (I had been taking care of this dog for about 12 days this month, also in waking life.) The dream stopped before the race began.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

86. Ten Versions from Trilce

This is a translation from Vallejo done by Charles Tomlinson, the British poet, and Henry Gifford. I read it at one sitting, aloud, and was quite moved (San Marcos Press, 1970). It is a beautifully printed book, and lacks the Spanish original: less distracting. These poems are haunted by the maternal presence.

Here is 77:

It hails and with so much zest
as if it wanted to have me wake
and augment the pearls I gather
from the very snout of each tempest.

Let it not dry up, this rain.
Grant me this grace at least
to fall int its place now,
or that they might lay me in earth
soaked in the water
that would spout from all the fires.

How far will it reach into me, this rain?
I am afraid I shall be left with some flank dry;
I am afraid it will go away without having proved me
in the droughts of incredible vocal chords,
by which
to harmonize,
one must rise always - never descend!
(Don't we rise perhaps to go down?)

Sing, rain, along that coast that still no seas attend!

Compare Mayhew's translation here.

[UPDATE: Aug. 26: Tomlinson has died]

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Song (iii}

I'm writing another song to procrastinate from starting on class preparations. The harmony is a bit more sophisticated, at least I use more chords, with a melody almost as simplistic as my first one. I had avoid having the exact chord progression as in my first song. Certain chords are addictive, though. I learned about the tritone substitution recently, and it just sounds very cool, but then I realized I didn't have to use it every time.

Melodies can be rather simplistic. Look at one note samba or c jam blues, or thelonious. You can repeat the same phrase and put a different chord under it.

The process is infinite, because even after the song is written the arrangement needs to be refined.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

87. Infamous Landscapes

This book by Prageeta Sharma (Fence, 2007) is the kind of poetry I like, though I do not like this particular book as much as I should. Too often, she misses by a narrow margin, being clever in all the wrong ways. Yet still it resonates with me by stretches because it is my kind of poetry. For some reasons I have a review copy of uncorrected proofs.

Song (II)

Thinking about my song, the amazing thing is that I could write it at all, not its quality (or lack of). Just doing the thing is what's fundamental, making the thing, whether it's a soup, and oil painting, a scholarly article, or a song.

Though it doesn't sound particularly bad, it bothers me that I use the same chord 3 times in the bridge. I think I should find a chord substitution for the second time around, maybe Ab minor?

88. Concierto animal

I reread this book by Peruvian poet Blanca Varela (Pre-textos 1999). I decided to translate the final poem in the book:

the animal rolling around in the mud
is singing
love growls in his throat
and wrapped in filthy light
he goes partying

this makes the slaughterhouse
the arc of triumph
for this adventure
and health and harmony
hide in the guise of a star
and the black hazelnut
buried in his throat
lance blue beams to the winds

exhausted in the grime
singular diamond star in penumbra
he finds and loses god
in his hide
nuptials of choked melody
and blissful agony

what gift is needed
to enter the pond


Notes on the translation: I had to decide between "in the mud" and "in mud." I went with what sounded better in colloquial English.

I had to decide between "it" and "he." I thought the animal should have a gender, making it more personal. There could be advantages in "it" since I wouldn't have had to choose a gender.

I had to decide between dirty and filthy for sucia. I went with the intenser word.

For "se va de fiesta" I used a convenient English-language idiom. Too colloquial? Yet it is literal and makes sense at the figurative level too.

For "arco triumpal" I wanted to convey a monument such as that in Paris. English gifted me with an alliteration in "health and harmony."

For "apariencia astral" I used an interpretive translation: "the guise of the star" rather than the word-for-word "astral appearance."

I used a more active construction "makes..." in place of a logical connection in the original, "de allí que..."

For "connubio" I first used "marriage," losing the advantage of a rarer word. I chose among union, matrimony, etc... and then settled on nuptials.

I chose between joyful and blissful and went for intensity once again.

For "se necesita el don" I used "what gift," to intensify a bit the idea of the gift.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Song & Problem Solving

I wrote a song, kind of a Bill Evans type song. It goes from a D minor 7 with flatted fifth to a D flat dominant 7, up to E minor, then F minor, then back down again to D, D flat and Cmajor7. It took a while to come up with the bridge.

Anyway, I don't actually know how to write songs. This is my first one and I'm sure it's not very sophisticated. The funny thing is that I can identify flaws in it and work on them or find better solutions to problems I perceive. Since I'm writing it on the piano I also have to work within my limitations, since I don't play piano very well. I have a sense of what sounds good, and can substitute a better sounding sequence of notes within the general framework. For example, in the bridge I had started three phrases in exactly the same way and I realized that the third phrase had to go in a different direction. Also, the bridge could not simply end on the tonic.

I don't have a lyric for it, but the process would be the same: trying things out and finding better solutions. Isn't 90% of work problem solving? You could write an article and reading it, notice that there are problems in the structure & organization, in the transitions, in the prose, in the argument.

In my case the song is 32 measures long and in the AABA form. Curiously, I didn't have to count measures, because this is intuitive, since I've listened to hundreds of songs in this form.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Conga & Not my Girlfriend's Breasts

I was playing conga with a band. I also had a some hi-hats and I clicked them together with my left hand on 2 and 4. The conductor showed me why that was a cool beat. But when we actually had to play the song was a country one with lame rhythm. The conga was smaller than in real life and I didn't know what to play so I sat out. There was another drummer to my right who had started playing another instrument instead, and a third drummer somewhere on the other side of the bandstand, who I thought might carry the beat. When I did start to play some notes I supposed that they would be inaudible.


I woke up next to a woman that I had admired in high school. I looked into the mirror at my pecs, and realized, from the disparity of size, that I was really looking at the reflection of her breasts. It was strangely asexual situation (we hadn't had sex nor were going to), and I apologized to her for looking, or else pointed out that they were on view. She referred to herself as a former girlfriend but I corrected her, because she had not been my girlfriend.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

89. Literalmente y en todos los sentidos

Miguel Casado sent me this book (libros de la resistencia, 2015) which is really just a short lecture on Bolaño's poetry. It is interesting for me to see the connection between a Latin American novelist with whom I have spent a lot of time, and a Spanish poet-critic with whose point of view I strongly identify. I wouldn't have put them in the same mental drawer before, although I did know that Miguel and Olvido were friends with Bolaño.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

MLA paper notes

Vallejo leads right to Gelman and Milán: logopoeia, verbal poetry. The anti-modernism of US poetics, of a certain stripe, wanting to save only a very narrow (and misunderstood) surrealism, devoid of both logos and melos. This is the type of thing I mean, quoting Charles Simic:

"In the early poems, the idea was to make poems entirely of images, not caring too much about sound, using the simplest possible vocabulary." Yes, that's why I can't stand him.

The anti-modernist argument in Milosz & Davie. The Eastern European dissident turns to realist (social realist) aesthetics. The right and the left unite in disliking modernism. This goes back to Lucacks on Beckett. (I know, I can never spell his name.)

Vallejo's Marxism never leads him to social realism, even if he wanted to do that he wouldn't have been able to.

My MLA paper is looking to be too long. Michelle Clayton's book is turning out to be very useful, since it is always better to have someone else make your background points for you.

Dead Skin

I had abundant white, loose skin on my feet, that was easy and painless to pull off.

90. Winter's Bone

This is not the sort of book I normally read, but I picked it up and read it quickly, after have seen the movie a while back. I suppose my reading of it was too conditioned by the cinematic version.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Dinner with a painter

I had invited R., a painter, for dinner, through facebook. He accepted but refused to publicly say so on fb. I didn't have much food in the house but I had some cold chicken in the fridge (as in fact I do). I was somewhat nervous, because there were an indeterminate number of people in the house and I wasn't sure who was eating. (I do know R. in real life, with a large group of mutual friends, but we are not close.) He arrived and we didn't have much to say to each other. Then he began to look at the art on my walls, asking questions about a book attached to the wall with a black and white photo. I didn't know what it was, but I somehow enjoyed the process of my taste in art being critiqued by this famous painter. (There had been an earlier, waking conversation in which another artist W., told an anecdote featuring himself, R., and another friend, B. In the house where I am staying this week to dog sit there is a painting by R.)

Dinner was taking shape, I had some cherry tomatoes that I was making into some kind of relish or miniature salad, but it kept shrinking before me since the tomatoes had gone bad. My mother was in the house and was also cooking, so I felt relieved that there would be a dinner of some kind. The dream took another course and consequently we never actually had dinner.

"We, who have no recourse to the original..."

I was struck by this phrase in a book by Donald Davie, poet, critic, and translator. All his translations from the Polish, his book on a Polish poet, etc... All his strong opinions about other translators from the Polish... and yet he did not have a reading knowledge of Polish sufficient to have "recourse to the original." It looks like he did know Russian, but still, I find this astonishing.

Davie was not a half-assed guy, in general. In fact, he pretty much held translation up to an impossibly high standard. He could have learned Polish if he already knew Russian. Granted his book on Milosz is short, but I don't know of any other critical books on poets written by people who don't know the language.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

91. The Lichtenberg Figures

Ben Lerner (Copper Canyon, 2004). I'm glad I re-read this one. I remember how much this struck me; reading a few poems the prodigious talent is evident, in a mode similar to what a lot of people were doing post-flarf, with humorous non-sequiturs, but better than that. Reading too many of the poems all together the brilliance dissipates a bit, as you see how easy it is for him to write like this. But still...

I blogged about my original impression of the book. I crushed an anonymous commentator who wanted to shit on the book. This person had the audacity to call me a dick when he was the one who used the asinine expression "kiddie-pool deep."

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

92. If so, tell me

To have a favorite book by Barbara Guest (Reality Street Editions, 1999) one must first know who she is. Then, you must have read at least two books by her, like at least one of them, and then you must feel strongly enough to have an opinion, and feel that that opinion is relevant to someone else. I know I translated two poems from this book and published them in Spain, at some point. I once spent considerable effort collecting her books, reading them all and having opinions about them. I still value that experience, and the volumes I collected, returning less frequently. I learned what I needed to from her.

My countdown is skewing toward women writers, for no particularly good reason.

Trilce 77

Here is my translation:

So much hail falls, that I think
to multiply the pearls
gathered from the very jaws of
every tempest.

Don't even think of letting this rain dry up!
Unless it could be given to me to
fall for it, or they buried me
wet from the water bubbling up
from every fire.

How far will the rain follow me?
I'm afraid one flank will still be dry,
that it will leave me without having tested me
in the droughts of its awesome vocal cords
which for harmony always make us rise, not fall!
And aren't we always rising down?

Sing, rain, sing, in this still sea-less coast.

Here is one by Brotherson & Dorn, which I find a bit stilted:

It hails so much, as if I should recall
and increase the pearls
I've gathered from the very snout
of every storm

This rain must not dry.
Unless now I could fall
in her cause, or were buried
steeped in the water
which spouts from all fires.

How much will this rain get to me?
I fear I am left with a flank dry;
I fear it might break leaving me untried
in the drought of incredible vocal chords,
over which
to bring harmony
one must always rise, never descend!
Do we not rise downward?

Sing, rain, on the coast still without sea!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

In my present sleeping pattern

In my present sleeping pattern I only know that I have been asleep in the early morning hours if I have dreamt. I pronounce this word as though it contained the letter p.

Madrid, Argentina

Madrid was now in Argentina. This was achieved not by transporting Madrid to South America, but by declaring it to be Argentine territory. Now it was kind of a Buenos Aires / Madrid hybrid, though honestly it seemed more like BA than like Madrid.

93. Salarios del impío / Carta a mi madre

Juan Gelman (Seix Barral, 2000). I got this in Argentina while I was teaching Gelman. Salarios is a book of lapidary, "short form" poems. Carta is a letter Gelman wrote after his mother's death. They are very different works and nothing justfies putting them together except a coincidence in their years of writing and the them of exile. Well, I guess that's enough.

94. The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

I have read this before (FSG, 2009), close to the time when it came out. I enjoyed re-reading it, but not always as much as the first time. The rather uniformly bland style, the arch tone, become tedious; the humor less sharp. I skip over some of the longer stories. Davis peaks (for me) in her 2007 collection Varieties of Disturbance, though by the time I get to this I am a bit fatigued. She is an important enough short-story writer to merit a Collected, weighing in at more than 700 pages. I am among her admirers, and now remember a time at "poetini" when I read aloud some of the short stories to the group. Perhaps because I am not reading them aloud, to a group, they have less effect on me. I am not getting the approval of listeners. Some remain quite funny on re-reading, and my reservations about her style have partly to do with the effect it has on my one thought processes. I begin to express my internal thoughts in a way reminiscent of her bland, arch style.

The story "Mrs. D. and her maids" is quite amusing. Also, a story in which get well letters from a class of children are analyzed in dead-pan style. I don't quite make it through my re-reading of a highly descriptive story about two old women who retain their health and vitality. Still, I have pleasant memories of reading it, and don't want to spoil those memories with the possible tedium of repetition.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

95. A Gold Orchid

Many of these books are by people I know. This is The Love poems of Tzu Yeh (Tuttle, 1972) translated by Lenore Mayhew (my aunt) and the Sinologist William McNaughton, her frequent collaborator. The translations are very elegant, mostly iambic tetrameter and pentameter written out as though it were free verse. There are very few false notes here.

96. Mélange Block

This book, by Denise Low (Red Mountain Press, 2014), has a deep sense of history and landscape. Denise is a good friend, so it is impossible to be objective. I think I feel an influence of another Kansas poet, Ronald Johnson, in her language.