Featured Post


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

Sunday, January 31, 2016


The point of #realacademicbios is that academics have real lives, with normal real life problems, that are not present on their academic bios that list their academic accomplishments.

In other words, that academics are human beings.

The problem here is that this only provides a forum for the natural tendency of academics to whine, to moan and groan and make excuses for themselves.

Because, in the first place, everyone has problems, so why are academics' problems so special? Because they work in a university?

Secondly, who would have imagined that simply by working in the university, one was exempt from normal life? That would seem to an academic fantasy. People who post under #realacademicbios are, actually, people who are clinging desperately to that fantasy. Otherwise, their problems would just be the normal problems of life itself.

Thirdly, academia is a place that cares about your accomplishments. I see constantly (lately) the idea that academia should care equally as much about your failures and your inability to get your shit done. So you should have a shadow cv with all your dead-ends, impasses, and rejections. Yes, we all have those, and nobody imagines otherwise. Without those, I would have published three times more. But shouldn't you care about what I've actually contributed?

Friday, January 29, 2016

Three of Four Principles of Translation

In its simplest form, the translation of poetry:

Should be attentive to meaning. It should not mistranslate in explicit ways.

It needs to be good poetry. A bad poem cannot claim to be a good translation of good poem.

More specifically, the peculiar virtues of the original should shine forth in the translation, whatever those virtues happen to be. The stuff that makes the original poem good. So it is poem of verbal wit? Let the translation be so too.

These claims are not extreme in any way, yet somehow I fear I am in the minority.

My plan to translate the Suites has fallen through, since there will be an edition coming out in '17. I want to do something I am calling "Lorca cantabile": an anthology of poems that represent his most singable moments.


Here's a common grammar peeve. People who say that you shouldn't use "that" as relative pronoun with people, where "who" would be more appropriate. To which I say:

"He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty."

It was argued to me that this usage is imprecise, because that implied a non-human antecedent. But that is not really true is it? After all, there is no confusion caused. It was argued that the usage was ugly or crude. I disagree, but that's an aesthetic preference. To me it has a slightly archaic flavor.

You can find this usage in titles of songs and movies and books.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Ear worm

When I first started songwriting, my ear worm became much worse. It was my own tunes repeating themselves in my mind. It was not because they were catchy, I think, but because I needed to play them over and over to write them, not to forget them, and to learn to play them fluently. Now, there is usually a song in my head at any given moment, but it doesn't bother me as much.


I was the unmusical one in my family. My mom plays and taught piano for years. My sister became a professional musician, my dad was obsessed by music. My brother probably has a similar amount of musicality as I do, but he did a little more when younger than I did.

So because of this dynamic, I probably spent less time with music than I would have, if I had been the "musical one." Families assign roles, and I was supposed to be the smart kid, a role I took over once I got to college. So despite the fact that I took some piano, played clarinet in junior high band, and sang in the choir, and was pretty much obsessed with music, I got to be defined as unmusical. Now I play piano or keyboard every day when not traveling. I've played drums too, but I need the keys to write the songs.


You can think of analogies. You turn the faucet on, and the water pours out. Or, a clock is broken, and you take it apart to fix it. You look at what is wrong and how it works, and figure out how to make it work again. Both could be metaphors for writing, but the implications are much different. Writing a song could be improvising a melody on the keyboard, or taking apart a song that's not working and fixing its inner dials. The same for a scholarly article.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Negative Thoughts

My songs are no good. I am wasting time by writing them and am deluded to devote any time at all to them. I will never publish another book or article. I am lazy. My office is a mess. My nomination for Distinguished Professor will come to nothing. I am a bad teacher. I am disorganized and lose things. Nobody cares about what I do: I am an old-faahioned formalist out of step with my field. I have a library book overdue and I don't know where it is. My left ear is clogged with wax. My heating bill is too high this month. I am "privileged" and elitist.

Yes. I am prone to negative thoughts like anyone else. I have no solution to offer you, since I suffer as much as anyone else, if not more.

The only thing I can say, then, is welcome to the club. But notice how the powerful thought itself is. All of this could be true, but most of the suffering comes not from the truth of all of this, but of inflating this into something much more than it is. All negativity is a form of egotism stronger as any arrogance.

I could say: I wrote 8 songs and published 4 books, that's more than you did. Your office is cleaner than mine. So what? You do trendy criticism, but I am still the better scholar. Earwax or the absence of it is trivial... All that is equally true.

A single idea can bring you far...

Songs Happen by Accident

Before dinner I was fooling around and came up with a really simple melodic fragment. It didn't seem to be much. The idea was to have the chords move around a lot with only a few melody notes and create a kind of bluesy feeling, but playing a major seven in the left hand but the first three notes of the corresponding minor scale in the right. After dinner I wrote the rest of the song really quickly. The B section seemed to flow naturally, and the entire song is fairly catchy.

I wasn't planning on writing a song, but it happened. It could not have happened if I weren't at the keyboard, however, which is to base something on the first phrase of the verse of "These Foolish Things." Not the chorus part that is usually sung, but the little introduction part, which is similar to the opening of "I'll Remember April" that I ripped off for my third song.

Against Interpretation

Sontag's classic essay resonates with me, especially her critique of Freudian hermeneutics. I remember first reading this essay and being blown away, because it confirmed my own intuitions about what is important. I am not a great "interpreter" of literature. I am not adept at finding hidden meanings, and any meaning that is hidden seems to me to be a ridiculous imposition of the interpreter. I think I would always get A minuses in English classes as an undergraduate because I was looking for something else, something that I did not yet know how to articulate well.

This is my objection to biography as well. The biography of the artist becomes the source of his meaning. Sontag uses the word "content." This "shadow world" of "meanings" is much less interesting that the art itself.

Sontag interestingly ties the idea of interpretation to that of mimesis. Mimetic theories automatically set up art as an inferior copy of reality, whose value is to tell us something about reality itself.


"The task of interpretation is virtually one of translation. The interpreter says, Look, don't you see that X is really -- or, really means -- A? That Y is really B? That Z is really C?"

"Interpretation thus presupposes a discrepancy between the clear meaning of the text and the demands of (later) readers. It seeks to resolve that discrepancy. The situation is that for some reason a text has become unacceptable; yet it cannot be discarded. Interpretation is a radical strategy for conserving an old text, which is thought too precious to repudiate, by revamping it. The interpreter, without actually erasing or rewriting the text, is altering it. But he can't admit to doing this. He claims to be only making it intelligible, by disclosing its true meaning. However far the interpreters alter the text (another notorious example is the Rabbinic and Christian "spiritual" interpretations of the clearly erotic Song of Songs), they must claim to be reading off a sense that is already there."

"The modern style of interpretation excavates, and as it excavates, destroys; it digs "behind" the text, to find a sub-text which is the true one. The most celebrated and influential modern doctrines, those of Marx and Freud, actually amount to elaborate systems of hermeneutics, aggressive and impious theories of interpretation. All observable phenomena are bracketed, in Freud's phrase, as manifest content. This manifest content must be probed and pushed aside to find the true meaning -- the latent content -- beneath."

"In some cultural contexts, interpretation is a liberating act. It is a means of revising, of transvaluing, of escaping the dead past. In other cultural contexts, it is reactionary, impertinent, cowardly, stifling."

"interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art."

"To interpret is to impoverish, to deplete the world -- in order to set up a shadow world of "meanings.""

Monday, January 25, 2016


Yes, people disagree about what good poetry is. I view my own definition as wholly banal & likely to be accepted by everyone. Strong, memorable images and rhythms, poetry that does something with language--all that. I think it's inherent in the poetry that has become most canonical. The songs of Blake, or the musicality of Campion or Lorca, or the Odes of Keats or Haiku of Basho. The verbal wit of Quevedo.

Yet people disagree with me. I cannot force myself to believe that they are equally right, or entitled to their own taste, since in fact I cannot believe that. Belief is an interesting thing: it does not result from an act of will or decision. I cannot, for example, believe that Nebraska is to the South of me when I am in Kansas. I cannot simply choose to believe in the literal existence of the god Thor. I recognize, intellectually, that aesthetic judgment is subjective, but I know, with Kant, that this recognition of subjectivity has no effect on my actual feeling about such judgments as they pertain to me.

What is more: this judgment, and my superior judgment, is actually a finely honed ability of mine, one for which I have trained rigorously for many years. I believe that it is a critical tool. It allows me to perceive other things about literature that would be simply invisible to me if I weren't able to perceive that some poems are aesthetic failures. There is a reason for a failure, a cause, and looking at that cause allows us to make other judgments.

Imagine a musical critic who wasn't able to make judgments. He could (I am using masc. pronoun here because I am imagining him as a version of me) listen to music and analyze it. He could have a vast knowledge of it, in fact, on the theoretical level. Wouldn't we feel, though, that he was handicapped in some way? Even if the ultimate point were not to say what music is better than some other music, we would want him to know what people appreciate in the music of Debussy, and explain why some Debussy works better than other parts of it in producing that effect.

Judgment is neither the first not the last thing. Saying something is good or bad should not shut down a conversation, nor be simply assumed as background information.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Song 7

Song seven is almost done (the music, not the words). The last two bars of the bridge are taking their time. I've tried to rush them but they need to be given time to develop on their own.

It is in Eb and goes: Ab, F, E7, Eb... Ab, F, Eb ... / Repeat that. Then D diminished, Eb... / The bridge starts out in Db minor, then Eb. Then I kind of get lost. I've modulate up a fourth to a key I don't know very well, Ab. Then I have to find my way back to the original key.

The tune sounds chromatic even though it is totally diatonic until the modulation in the bridge.

Go literal first

I've formulated the Hippocratic oath of translators: first, do no harm. (Self-explanatory.)

A second rule might be to try the obvious solution first. The unnecessary embellishment, the explanatory extra word, the more abstract word where concrete word is available (tree instead of elm), the word that's unrelated etymologically to the word your translating (vault for cripta instead of crypt). All this is permitted but not recommended. Try to avoid doing obvious harm to the poem. Is that too much to ask?

By literal I mean something more like close to the letter, not the metaphorical sense of literal, meaning literal meaning. Something close to the original precision of the poem.

I should add that a few of Rothenberg's translations of the Suites are wonderful, almost perfect. Some are ok, but not what I would have done, and some are just not that good.

What I miss is a dedication to Lorca as craftsman, that hard precision.

So I am announcing here for the first time: I will translate Lorca's Suites in its entirety. You heard it here first. Leslie's pointed out to me that JR's translation was 25 years ago. My sense of the passage of time is defective, since I think of the nineties as very recent. Please try to contain your excitement.

The mystique of the poet translator

I. {JM}


There are four horsemen
with swords of water
and dark is the night.
The four swords pierce
the world of roses
and will pierce your hearts.
Don’t go down to the garden!

II. {JR}


There are four caballeros
with four swords made of water
& a very dark night.
The four swords are wounding
a world filled with roses
& will wound your hearts too.
Don't go down into that garden.

[Jardín. Hay cuatro caballeros / con espadas de agua / y está la noche oscura. / Las cuatro espadas hieren / el mundo de las rosas / y os herirán el corazón. ¡No bajéis al jardín!]

There's a mystique about a poet translating, and some poets are fine translators. Jerome Rothenberg I'm sure is fine too, and brings something special to the task, but I think I can do better. I object to fillers: made of / filled with / down into / the very dark night. My version has fewer words and syllables. Every line is more compact, and I'm convinced every decision I've made is the correct one. A world filled with roses is nice, but the world of roses is more absolute: the roses have their world. That garden is that one, over there. The garden is the garden. You don't have to point it out, because you're already in the house where the garden is.

Time zones

I've decide to divide my days into zones. Today 8-10 or so was devoted to showering, breakfast, laundry, watering, cleaning. Then I played piano. Then work after lunch from about 12-3. The idea is to treat time spans as though they were places. You want to not let something from the other zone intrude on your times.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Poetic Yo[u]

The problem of the poetic I and the problem of the poetic subject might seem identical. I would argue, though, that they are closely related but not quite the same thing. Here is where a very technical, rigorous distinction in literary theory becomes relative.

We all know that the speaker of the poem is not the author, per se. The absence of a 1st person speaker, or the separation between this speaker and the author, though, does not mean that the poem does not express the subjectivity of the author on some level. I could express myself through a dramatic monologue, in which the speaker is someone quite different from me, or through a seemingly impersonal painting of a landscape in which there is no 1st-person pronoun.

By the same token, the poetic I itself can be very strange and stylized. The word I means something different in a poem than it does in other forms of discourse, as Carlos Piera has argued, because of the strange ways that deixis works in the lyric.

The you is even stranger: in many cases the you cannot receive the message of the poem (elegy / apostrophe). It is more normal, in fact, for the you not to be physically present at all in the scene of enunciation.

La estela del grito

Here is a very interesting poem by FGL that I only really start to think about last night. I memorized it, went out to dinner and drinks, and then thought about it in the shower this morning.

El aire

Lleno de cicatrices
está dormido.
Lleno de espirales
y de signos.
La estela del pájaro
y la estela del grito.
Entre la polvareda
de palabras y ritmos
se suceden dos tonos,
negro y amarillo.

[{the air} full of scars is asleep, full of spirals & signs. The wake of the bird and the wake of the scream. In the ball of dust of words and rhythms two tones alternate black and yellow.]

It's characteristic of his Suites because it doesn't try to do too much. It is self-sufficient and beautiful, but you feel you need it to be part of a larger set of poems. The poem is evocative because it doesn't describe the cause of this churning, spiraling, yet sleeping air, only the effect. There are scars (from past violence), indecipherable signs, and the echoes / wakes of screams and flying birds. The poem is oddly calm and agitated at the same time. There is a chromatic effect in the synesthesia. Is the tone a sound or a hue?

Friday, January 22, 2016


Chet Baker is not my favorite singer, but he is the singer whose voice most resembles mine in its sonority and timbre and range. I have to listen to him to find my own voice. I like certain things about his singing and not others. For example, I think his emotional "blankness" or coolness is remarkably and paradoxically moving. I like the sound of his voice, what people have described as its vulnerability or fragility. I'm not crazy about his intonation. I don't think I could afford to sing like that, because people would think I was merely flat. His phrasing would not work for me either. I like the intimacy and conversational tone of this phrasing, and his way around the lyric, but I don't know if I could afford to be that laid back.


It is interesting that I first blogged about singing a long time before I started doing it. I had a master plan to start a couple of years in a row. That was before I took up my new and largely accidental hobby of songwriting. Sometimes things just take longer than you think.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Hard and precise

I'll never get along with people who think of poetry as fuzzy and diffuse when it is actually hard and precise. It's true that fuzzy and diffuse effects can ensue. Those are effects, and their creation is rigorous, involving every aspect of language from sound and typography to grammar and morphology. 

Take this absolutely luminous poem by Lorca:

Primera página

Fuente clara.
Cielo claro.

¡Oh, cómo se agrandan
los pájaros!

Cielo claro.
Fuente clara.

¡Oh, cómo relumbran
las naranjas!


¡Oh, cómo el trigo
es tierno!


¡Oh, cómo el trigo
es verde!

The poem is mysterious, even though the images are ones of clarity and light. The rhyme derives from the refrain, which is repeated four ways. Reversed, shortened, then reversed again: claro / pájaro // clara / naranja // cielo / tierno // fuente / verde. The versification is irregular, but it doesn't really matter given all the other parallelisms. It is rooted in the popular oral tradition, but really doesn't resemble an anonymous poem. 

You don't need to interpret the poem, just feel its images. The symbols aren't there to represent other things, but just because, as Christopher Maurer has argued with respect to Lorca's later poetry.    

[clear fountain clear sky how the birds grow big how the oranges shine how the wheat is tender how the wheat is green]  

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

5 minute tasks

Write a blog post. Play through a song once or twice. Read a short poem over and over again. Memorize an extremely short text. Send a short email of acknowledgment. Read three pages of a novel. Put down on your calendar all the meetings you have next week. Shave. Make coffee. Go to the bathroom. Get dressed. Go to the office and talk briefly with a colleague. Take a five-minute nap.

Start cleaning your office. Find a book you'll need for later. Unload the dishwasher. Straighten the books on one bookcase. Dust off your desk. Water the plants. Make a to do list. A shopping list..

There's a lot you can do in 5 minutes on a low concentration day.  

Song 1


Song 5


Song 6


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A Game From Another Planet

Take into your class a series of objects. For example, a shaving brush, a glove, an asthma inhaler, a thing that you use to keep a book from opening when lain flat on a table...

Each group of students chooses and object and invents an alternate use or identity for the object, as though seeing it for the first time (as a visitor from another planet unfamiliar with our objects). Then the group passes these on to the professor, who reads them aloud. The winner is the group that invents the most far-fetched definition of the object, while at the same time pointing identifiably to that object. If you object is a glove, you cannot use the word glove in your definition. It shouldn't be having anything to do with a hand, either.

Using all seven chords

So here's a thought. Play CE BD (Cmaj7/9). Now play EGD. That will be eminor7. What do you notice? That's right, these chords share some notes. You can put in an eminor in place of a C major.

I have a progression where I go VII, I / II, I / IV, III / IV, II. Originally I had written his as IV, I, IV, I, IV, I, IV, II.

The VII chord is one I'm using for the first time: it is a minor chord with a flatted fifth to boot. That shares some notes with the II, which in turn shares some notes with IV.

I haven't used the sixth degree (relative minor) very much yet, except as passing chords. But the beauty of this is that if you know one or two keys, and seven chords in those keys, then you will find those chords like old friends in new keys you try to learn.


There is the idea that you can prevent decay in cognitive function by doing inane, mindless games on the computer, such as those peddled by lumosity.

I do the NY Times Crossword most days, and usually try to use five minutes per degree of difficulty (Monday 5, Tuesday 10, Wed. 15, etc...). I do a puzzle called kenken as well. Then I compose music or work on previous compositions. I try to work on my research every day, not breaking the Seinfeld chain. I have to figure out how to teach what I know to groups of students...

I have another goal of being able to read novels in all the romance languages. That's another cognitive stretch. If someone can find me a novel in Rumanian or Provenzal I would appreciate it.

Really, though, my whole life is devoted to the cultivation of intelligence. That's all I'm about. There are two or three ways of doing this. Learning to do novel tasks stretches the mind in different ways. So I have tried to teach myself to draw, to compose music, to read Italian. Delving deeply into a subject matter that is not novel, that you know very, very well, is also good. So writing a third book on Lorca... A third way is to solve puzzles or memorize poetry.

I hate that this sounds arrogant, but if I am intelligent it is because I do these things, not the other way around. If I am stupid about other things, it is because I haven't cultivated thoses sorts of intelligences. Put me in a home depot, and I am a blithering idiot.

Monday, January 18, 2016


This might be behind paywall but it is an interesting read. I found myself distrusting it, but it is short on specifics. I suspect a nefarious hidden agenda. There seems to be an advocacy for a kind of education in which the student gains micro-certificates for very narrowly defined skills.

How can you be against something like individuality? Yet training in any specific thing requires you to train, in that thing. Specifically. Individuality can only emerge from rigorous training; it doesn't precede it. Think of how the beginning poet will write in the least original way: either simplistic rhyme or something that doesn't have anything to do with poetry at all.

The good points the article makes should be made better. I like the idea of the jaggedness of individual difference, for example. What is missing it that a lot of students just are unmotivated, and there is no individuality there to hold on to.

Song #7 / Training everything at once

Song 7 was a dud, sorry to say. The melody just wasn't memorable enough. The chords were ok, and might be salvageable for something else. It didn't work to set a pre-existing lyric to music, as I attempted to do.

The key was Eb, and I started in F, then Abmin, Bb7, Eb, Gmin, Fmin, E7, and Eb. So II, IV, V, I, II, V (with tritone substitution), then back to I.

I would have been happy if this were my first song, but it is not even as good as that one. The last two are the best I have written, so it will be hard match those.


Working in a different key gives me different ideas. I've learned that certain notes have certain character even in different keys, so a D will still be D no matter what. F#maj 7 sounds tangier to me than Cmaj7.


As I work, I train everything at once. So my ear, the facility of my fingers on the keyboard, the connection between my ear and my fingers, my knowledge of music theory, my compositional mind as a whole, etc... are all engaged at the same time. The parts that lag behind, like my keyboard skills, have to catch up with the parts that are more advanced, like my feeling for form and structure. I feel confident enough to say that I can reject a melody that is not memorable enough, rather than having to take what I get.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Affirmative Consent

This painfully stupid article seems to get the issue exactly backwards.

Affirmative consent, asking your partner at every moment what sh/e will allow you to do to him/her, is not a standard people will actually follow in the real world, but it is something that will be used in the adjudication of complaints.

The Perfect Lyric

This is a guest post by my good friend, the French poet Jacques Restif:

Everyone is against the idea of the gem-like, perfect lyric poem. Everyone except me. That's all I really care about: the small, perfect, radiant lyric, like "Rose-cheekt Laura, come..." If my own poetry doesn't resemble that at all, it's because that is a rare thing. When I hit something close to that, I am happy, "like cellophane tape / on a schoolbook." Or the poems of Reverdy or Miguel Hernández.

People hate beauty, as though beauty would diminish them. It doesn't diminish you at all that someone else is more beautiful, or has created more beauty than you. As my friend Jonathan says, you must take beauty where you find it.

Language Poetry

I spent years defending language poetry. It wasn't through any indiscriminate love of all language poetry. I had my favorites and others I thought weren't as good or interesting. I was no member of the movement. What I objected to was simply the utter stupidity of people who were attacking it. If you were attacking language poetry in the 90s, you were probably of low intelligence, or of malicious bad faith. When I look back now, I am glad I defended it, because I was right. I did the same with flarf. There were friends or acquaintances of mine in both movements.

I won't attack the new conceptualism for the same reason. Everyone wants to attack poetic movements, anything, really, that anyone want to do, creatively, or uncreatively, will be attacked.

Nothing anyone creates does any damage. Nobody can ruin poetry because poetry is above all of us.


What if aesthetics were more a matter of perception than of judgment? (I'm thinking of the old Myers-Briggs paradigm, doubtlessly discredited by now.) In other words, if we are arguing about what bass player played better with Bill Evans, we would first have to learn to distinguish between the players in question. If we could pass the blindfold test, and then describe in words the differences between the players, then we would have a right to participate in a discussion. In any case, the results of the debate (who is better?) would be less interesting than the discernment on which it is based.

By the same token, someone who admires all of poet's work as a piece, rather than preferring one poem to another, would not really be exercising any perception

Judgment does not follow directly from perception: two people perceiving the same thing might still disagree. But someone who cannot tell the difference between two bass players has no business in the bass-player contest judging box.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

One more thing...

Not every chord has to be all that complex. I changed one from a 7th to just a minor triad, and it is fine. I don't have to omit the fifth from every chord: sometimes the chord needs that note to sound fuller. These things took a while for me to discover, because my default chords are always the 1st, 3rd, and 7th. That works fine, but not for every single chord. I was a bit afraid of sounding simplistic, but my real temptation is to go overboard on chord extensions.

I also discovered I could use a maj 7 in place of a dominant 7. The dominant seven tastes slightly tart and tangy to me, whereas the maj 7 is a bit ethereal.

The minor is not "sad." Especially the minor chord based on step III of the scale of the key you are in. This chord to me feels triumphant, as a substitute for the tonic.

Use the notes of the scale, but in an unusual sequence. The melody has to either go up or down, or up or down in arpeggios. There are only 12 notes to work with, and seven in any given scale, so you'd think all the melodies would be taken by now.

My favorite melodies are probably "Monk's Mood" and "I'll Remember April," plus a few by Bach. Bemsha Swing is up there too. And Lullaby of Birdland. For me, melody is the equalizer. By this I mean that a melody is as good as it sounds, irrespective of its authorship or provenance, or how easy or hard it was to write.

There's a composer/pianist I really like a lot, Andrew Hill. I have a lot of his Blue Note albums. They have a good texture for listening to while working. But I don't find that he has a talent for melody per se. I've never had an ear worm for one of his songs. A lot of music is very nice, but doesn't have that melodic quality to worm its way into your brain and make you want to listen to it forever.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Uses of prosody 8 (visual/ typographical)

8. visual

Prosody is not originally a literate creation, but once people started writing it down, that created the possibility of visual structures, dependent in the first place on the symmetry of the lines.

Songwriting problems

So what are problems in my songwriting, and what are not problems?

Melody is not a problem. I come up with melodies that I like and that other people like well enough. They are songs, they have melodies.

Harmony is difficult, but not problematic. I just use the harmonies I know.

Rhythm is not a problem. Notating rhythm can be hard for me, but that is a notation problem. I have a natural sense of what the rhythm of a song should be.

Simplicity and complexity. Is that a problem? Well, a very simple song can be good, and making it more complex doesn't make it better. I can make my songs a little more complex than they are, and at least have that option, but I don't need to use as many chords as possible in every song.

Lyrics are difficult, but not a problem. The difficulty of lyrics is that they always seem perfectible to me. You can change them to make them better and they always seem provisional when they aren't brilliant (as mine haven't been). Perhaps I have higher standards, being a poet and not a musician, so that my music satisfies me easily, but my lyrics don't.

Structure is a problem. I have an intuitive sense of what it should be, but the song tends to break down during the bridge.

Notation is difficult but not necessarily a problem. I can notate pitch and rhythm, but it is tedious and I have to go back and fix mistakes constantly.

Performance is a problem. I have a hard time getting through a song without mistakes. I am not a good piano player at all, and having to sing on top of that is very hard.

Recording is also cumbersome.

Uses of prosody 7 (neurological)

7. neurological

By this I mean all the uses of prosody associated with memory and language processing. Its associations with the prosody of language itself (linguistic prosody). I find it interesting that a meter teaches us to read itself. It is self-generating.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Uses of prosody 6 (meta)

6.Prosody is metapoetic: it refers to the codes of form and genre.

Uses of prosody 5 (numerical)

5. By numerical I mean: "numbers" used to be a word meaning prosody, or versification. Here the pleasure is in symmetries and asymmetries of mathematics.

Uses of prosody 4 (structural)

4. structural

By this I mean the use of prosody to create edifices, constructed objects with a determinate structure. Here the metaphor is not of a movement in time and space, but of a building just sitting there.

I realize these "uses of prosody" are overlapping. I'm just trying to list as many as I can. Then, when I'm done, I will figure out what I'm going to do with all of this.

Uses of prosody 3: auditory

3. auditory

Well, all prosody is auditory, but what I mean here is the sensory effects of sounds, soft or shaggy.

A deaf person can experience rhythm, so rhythm itself is not auditory per se. The sound is simply the medium through which the rhythm is conveyed.

Uses of prosody 2 (kinetic)

2. Kinetic.

Kinetic, having to do with movement. Prosody implies movement, tempo (slow or fast), and involves bodily movement as well.

Uses of Prosody

1. Musical

By the musical use of prosody, I mean simply its direct connection with music itself (not its "musicality" in a more abstract sense). Its ability to be set to music, or its derivation from other poems set to music.

How to write a book in four months

Say a book is 60,000 words. You should be able to average 500-1000 words a day. So that's 60-120 days, or four months, writing one to two hours a day.

Why doesn't this happen?

1) People don't write every day, or even four or five times a week. They spend whole months without doing anything on their projects.

2) What about research time? It's possible that the writer doesn't know enough about the subject to write a book yet. I'm assuming here that this book is about something that you know something about, or could research in about a year. So, if you want, give yourself a year and four months, to research and write the book.

Research time is not trivial, of course, but you can't even talk about writing a book unless you know enough about a subject-matter to conceive of the book project. If you imagine spending most of your research time for a year on a single subject, you will know enough to write a book by the end of the year.

A few caveats here. I am also assuming that, by reading and researching, you will come up with worthwhile ideas. I don't know how to tell you how to do that. When I read, almost anything at all, I naturally generate ideas, because I have an active intellectual engagement with the subject-matter. I've learned that you can't take that for granted.

Secondly, many people seem to think that you can simply make the pages pile up without sitting down to write them, as in some Henry James story. Many people will complain that they cannot write every day, and hence my plan is unrealistic. Yes, it is unrealistic if you can't do this.

Thirdly, you might not want to write a book every two years. I certainly haven't done so in my career. I have had time to write more, certainly, but I think you need to think about your contribution and what that entails. I could have written more, but with more repetition of ideas and patterns of thought.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Song #6

This song is in Eb. I prepared by writing the bridge of #5 in this key. It begins with an unusual set of intervals, rising to the tonic from the third, fourth, and sixth notes of the scale. I am very simplistic, in that, since I notice a lot of my songs emphasize falling patterns, I am using more "rise" in this one.

The bridge only has three chords, but I stole a melodic motif from Stravinsky's Firebird to make it more melodic.

Being unafraid of beauty is very important. When I write something beautiful, I keep it. I don't have much choice, since I have only myself as ear. I am in thrall to easy chromaticism and cheap tritones, but this new piece doesn't overuse the tritone substitution, at least. I stick to straightforward dominant 7 chords.

I wish my playing and improvising were keeping pace. I was told I had a Chet Baker voice, so there's that. I'm sure playing for an hour or so a day can't hurt my finger speed.

This latest piece will be in the Lorca series. Trying to hit that sweet spot between catchy and intellectual-sounding. If this one works out I will try another key, moving through the circle of 4ths.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The tenth

Play the following notes in ascending order


That's the chord C major with a 7 and 9. Now play the whole chord. Now take away the fifth (G). You don't need it. Now take away the E (3) and put another E on top, as a tenth, or a third an octave higher.

Now the chord is C BDE. It sounds really sweet. The tonic is down there as a bass note and there is a succulent cluster of chord extensions on top. Now do the same with a dominant chord: C BbDE. That also sounds good, but it will be tangy instead of just sweet. Try this in all 12 keys. You can put the sixth in there too, I've discovered, but then I had to remove the ninth so the chord could breathe and not feel so cluttered.

Each chord, or each voicing of each chord, has its own expressive potential. It's not really true that minor = sad. For example, I can use a III chord in place of a I and it often sounds triumphant, even though it is based on a minor scale. I have the chord analyzed above, in Bb, lead to a Cmin79 chord with C Eb G Bb D [natural]. Far from being sad, the chord sounds rich, meaty, and satisfying in context. For some reason this chord has to have the 5th expressed in it for added fullness of sound. The 9th adds just the right color on top.

Sunday, January 3, 2016


I was reading this book called Flow, that my daughter had when she was visiting me last week. Anyway, it made me realize that the best hobbies are those that produce active, creative experiences. My relatively new hobby of writing music is one such activity. I'm less interested in the purity of the flow experience than in the general mechanism.

The book explained why unstructured free time makes so many people unhappy, including academics. Having to schedule one's own days is very difficult. I have decided to optimize this by spending almost all my time writing, composing & playing music, cleaning & organizing, socializing, and exercising.

Down with random internet surfing. I will still do crossword puzzles. I will listen to music, but in more structured ways.


I am setting my own version of a Lorca poem to music. I took the images from a poem and wrote half of the lyric from that, using a melody I have already. I plan to do this with several poems and make that into a cd, recording piano and drums parts and singing.

My other cd will be a combination of Rodgers & Hart songs with my own originals.

My idea is to connect the impressionist side of Lorca (his interest in Debussy etc...) to a Bill Evans style harmonizations. This is a nuanced, graceful Lorca, where subject positions ebb and flow (the Suites). The music is related to an idea I am developing about the subject positions in his poetry, his use of pronouns and deixis. I think this Lorca should be approached chromatically, through a lot of shifting, nuanced, tight-knit harmonies.


The challenge is formidable. I have to develop keyboard skills to the point where I can play what I write. I have to teach myself some more harmony, and learn the other keys I don't know. I have to learn to sing better, figure out music notation (& music notation software), and recording technology. This all seems doable to me, once I put my ego aside. Contrary to popular belief, where ego most interferes most is when you are bad at something. The fear of being perceived as inept prevents further progress. Oddly enough, when I am composing music I have no such fear. Instead of thinking, "Why am I so bad at this," I think "why does that chord sound wrong there?" Or, "did I write that down right or not?" Or "how can I do something more interesting in these two measures?" Other people seem to like my songs, so there's that. The song seems to be exactly what it is whether other people like it or not. The challenges are what makes it fun. For example, I notice in the second half of the bridge I am always at a loss for good melodic ideas while trying to resolve back down to the final chord. I get stuck in a kind of harmonic "crunch" and as a result I repeat ideas from one song to the next. There are many other problems that I could describe to you quite cheerfully.