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Anxious gatekeeping

Analogous to nervous cluelessness is something we might call “anxious gatekeeping.”   This is desire to police the borders of poetry, or of...

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

10 Things about Me

The idea is to guess which 2 of these 10 things is false.  The prize is free lifetime access to SMT.

1. I never graduated from high school.

2. I wear a hat almost everywhere I go.

3. I am a huge opera fan.

4. I have an extensive collection of books from the New York School of Poetry, almost every book written by Ashbery, Koch, O'Hara, Guest, Schuyler, and many of the 2nd generation, like Berrigan, Padgett, Shapiro.

5. I suffered from very intense "ear worm" in adolescence, especially with phrases from poems.

6. I often eat salad for breakfast.

7. I have lived in four states: California, Kansas, Missouri, and Ohio.

8. I have had coffee almost every day of my life since I was 17.

9. While a child of the sixties and seventies, I have had very little interest in Rock music for most of my life.

10. I didn't go to any Spanish speaking country aside from Spain until I was in my 50s.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Frameworks: late night thoughts

There are several models we might consider.

*Your main problem is your enemies.
*Your source of obstacles is your rivals.
*Your problem is a system or set of circumstances that is rigged against you.
*Your problem is your own self or behavior.
*It is something else? Random events? Sheer luck or the lack of it?

Any of these frameworks might be correct for a given problem. I don't think I have enemies to speak of, and if I do I don't think they are doing much harm to me. My rivals aren't hurting me. I might envy Christopher Maurer and Andrew Anderson their superior knowledge of Lorca, but nothing they do holds me back in any way, and in fact it furthers my own ends.

The system is rigged in my favor so it's not that.

So in my case the majority of barriers to productivity are self-generated. And, frankly, I am productive so even here these barriers cannot be all that frightening.  Yet I find that they are... I'm publishing my book later than I thought it would come out, for example.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Barthes on Racine

Racine's theater is highly stylized and formulaic. As formulaic and rule-driven as a soap opera. All Barthes does is point out the patterns. He is not even that psychoanalytic, considering Racine's obsession with kinship, incest, and rivalry (once again, like the soap opera plots). It is hard to see what Barthes would have seemed so controversial: he isn't even applying a structuralist method to Racine, as much as he is pointing out parallelisms and recurring structures. I'm almost finished reading Sur Racine, with only the analyses of the individual plays remaining. Here he intelligently discusses each play and looks for its distinctiveness within the rule-bound structures. Like any intelligent critic ought to do. He never seems to be forcing a plot into a particular interpretative straight-jacket.

What was all the fuss about? Was there really that much difference between Barthes and his detractors?

memorization: a dream

I was surprised in my dream that someone was reciting poems from memory and I was able to match him word for word. So he would be saying "Buffalo Bill's defunct who used to shoot a watersmooth silver pistol and kill onetwothreefour pigeons just like that Jesus he was a handsome man..." and I would be saying it along with him as fast as he could go. We went through several poems. It is unclear whether I or he was initiating the poems, but I was sure I wasn't going to do an easy one like 'so much depends upon the red wheel / barrow..."  I was sitting down talking to someone in the English department and this other poetry reciter was standing near us. Suddenly they left and I woke up.

Competition against the self? After all, the reason I knew all the poems he did was that it was my dream...


I've discovered I can combine two songs with similar concepts into one longer suite. Then I don't have to worry that two songs are too similar to each other: they are sections of the same composition. They can have contrasting rhythms but be linked by being in the same key and by using some of the same harmonic devices.

Then a problem--all my songs written within month or two sound the same--turns into its own solution. I can also add on to songs written in the past.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Neurodiversity case for free speech



How not to Wittgenstein.

In the first place, this is not LW's opinion about whether speech can be violence, as the title of the piece implies. I would be very surprised if he had had an opinion about that!  This is a purported application of Wittgenstein's notion of language games to the problem of whether speech can be redefined as violence.

Secondly, it doesn't really go to what is distinctive about LW's ideas of language games and family resemblance. The article simply says that we can redefine speech acts as acts of violence if we want to because words don't have fixed boundaries of reference. A rather trivial conclusion.

Acts of speech which are violent in nature are already not covered under the first amendment. For example, a threat of violence is often illegal. So the only reason for making this argument is to redefine non-violent speech acts to make them exempt from the first amendment.

Suppose we wanted to redefine any other term. We could use that method to expand any term in any direction we wanted.

--exercise improves physical health
--sleep improves health
--therefore sleep is a form of exercise

Financial tip

Don't go to the ATT site to pay your ATT bill, your apartment complex site to pay your rent, your auto loan company to pay your auto loan, etc... Instead, pay everything through your own on-line banking.  Then you can cancel, resume, accelerate, a payment without having to go through a special process at five different sites.

Making it look easy

My recent discovery of an easier, more relaxed piano technique made me think of my distaste for overly labored styles of prose and verse. I want to read someone who makes it look easy, not the one who wants you to admire the effort of the writing. Even when I am playing on an instrument that is not particularly sensitive to touch, I can still hear more fluidity and continuity, an easier rhythmic flow, than I do when I keep my wrists very stiff.

You can revise, but you should revise in the direction of spontaneity rather than in the direction of revision. Take out bits that sound overworked, even if you are proud of them.

I think polish is an inappropriate metaphor, because sometimes you will want to ruffle up the style, roughen it.

You can study Ashbery or Kerouac for two contrary methods of stylistic spontaneity.  You can also have models of worked-over prose and verse. It is really a preference rather than an absolute: maybe a tighter style is what is needed for you. Where do you situate yourself along that continuum?

My revision of poetry is mostly just cutting out whole poems or sections of poems, or very mildly tweaking fine details.


Routine is good and change is also good, and even the temporary breaking of routine can be good.

Routine is good because it is comforting, and can also be efficient if it is a good routine. But stagnation is bad, so the routine should be changed or temporarily altered in ways that do not disturb the comfort level or efficiency. Even a bad routine can have a certain comfortableness to it.

You might want to change your routine every month or so, just because. Not entirely, just mix it up a bit.

Breakfast salad 4

This one has strawberries, boiled egg, bacon, and cheese. It'd kind of ugly next to Clarissa's cucumbers and tomatoes.


People on Facebook complain / ask for advice when an undergraduate does not want to buy into a convenient formula from contemporary parlance like "white privilege." I want to suggest that a pedagogy based on slogans like this is not a good one, even if the topic under discussion is racism.

Paradigms shift. At one time the paradigm was "prejudice + discrimination." Then it shifted toward "diversity." Now there is talk of "privilege." Critical thinking would not just accept the latest version as the best one, simply because it dominates on social media right now.

If you are a good thinker you should actually be able to argue the opposite of what you believe. If you develop really good counter arguments to your own position then you can then refute them all the better.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

For a certain woman

If you think the mirror reverses writing
then write a message in the mirror for me
in lipstick

But you do not wear lipstick
so this poem is not
for you

Here are some changes you can make

Here are some changes you can make:

dietary: become a vegetarian or vegan; give up gluten

you can decide to give up a relationship or even a casual acquaintanceship that isn't helping you

you can begin a practice of something and do it every day for a month, like playing an instrument or drawing

you can stop doing something you feel you need to do, but that you don't really need to do (if you go to 4 conferences a year because you feel that need, but maybe 2 is enough?).

you can retire or quit or decide to look for other job


I don't recommend giving up things that you really love as a faux-askesis. It is better to bring more rather than less pleasure into life. The breakfast salad movement is all about aesthetic pleasure, not giving up on pleasures. The breakfast salad can have potatoes or bacon, or anything else you want. It should be attractive and offer a wealth of contrasting and complementary flavors: acid, sweetness, the fattiness of an avocado. Want you want to avoid is "pleasure" that really actually dulls the senses rather than heightening them.  

Breakfast salad 3

This one is more breakfasty with avocado, grated cheese, and boiled egg atop greens.  I decided to leave the egg whole.  If you think of the same ingredients it could be an egg fried in olive oil with cheese melted on top or a California omelet with avocado and cheese.

I'm thinking of smoked salmon for tomorrow, with cucumbers.


This is a bit embarrassing, but my new piano teacher pointed out to me that I was holding my wrist very stiffly, and pushing down quickly on the keys. This brittle attack produced a brittle sound and I immediately knew why my playing was so clunky.  The real way to play is to drop the hand on the keyboard and have the wrist give way; this draws a rich sound out of the piano. The good news is that I can learn proper technique and that even thinking of having the wrist more relaxed will automatically make my playing more smooth.  Of course feeling like an idiot is a familiar sensation for me.  

Never feeling like an idiot would mean never trying new things or exploring other dimensions. Aren't we child-like and idiotic when trying to learn a completely new language? Advanced students of Spanish have to learn to express themselves in writing as adults, rather than at the intellectual level of middle-school students.

Friday, September 8, 2017


I was looking at Operation Razor's Edge and I saw a goal I could achieve instantly, which is to buy a piano. (What I had is broken.) I just bought a keyboard off the internet and it will arrive tomorrow.  This conflicts with another goal, which is to pay off credit card completely, setting me back a few months from that.

But with this piano, a Yamaha electric keyboard of about $400, I can go to an open mic and play, which will achieve a second goal. I also had to buy a stand for it which wasn't expensive. I can also play at night when I am lazy to go to Murphy hall and find a room. I could have waited until I had money to buy a $1,500 instrument with cash and not credit, but I felt a strong impulse of something I could do right now.  


We think of habits as things hard to change, lose, or acquire.  Yes, this is true. But you can also make a change instantly.  Look at your own equivalent of ORE and find something you can do today.  Many things have happened to me like this. Incremental change is fine, but you also need to do things that will fundamentally re-orient yourself (assuming that you are not well oriented!). You cannot make fundamental changes every day, because there are only so many changes you need to make, and you cannot rush certain things either. I am not recommending impulsiveness as a general rule, but sometimes an impulse must be followed. End a toxic relationship?


How do you know if you are oriented? First, does what you do every day line up with your core values and identity? So if you want to be a professional musician but you are not practicing and playing, then there is a mismatch. If you are doing things to sabotage yourself, prevent yourself from doing what you really want to do.

Secondly, do you feel at ease with yourself, comfortable in your own skin? I have rarely if ever felt this in my entire life, but I feel it when composing music and bad poems, sometimes when lecturing my friends on poststructuralism. I begin to feel it when I feel completely accepted by someone I love, and get some inkling of what self-acceptance would feel like.



I re-read Silliman's What, part of the Alphabet published in 1988. It is pretty much as expected, read without any expectations that it would be better or worse than my preconception. Now I can just read it as a book of Ron's without thinking of it as Language Poetry per se.


I went into full professorial mode at poetini yesterday, explaining the intellectual roots of poststructuralism in Eastern European structuralism / Russian formalism, etc...  I had to stop myself mid lecture. I don't like lecturing out of school.  Well, I do, actually, but I have to do it in very small doses or I will turn into my father.

Thursday, September 7, 2017


I read Paterson while proctoring PhD exam, after many years of not reading it. I found the first two sections a bit dull. The documentary parts & letters overpower the poetry, which is fumbling metapoetics that never quite gets out of the gate. The Marcia Nardi letters increasingly overwhelm everything else at the end of Paterson 2, and are very disturbing, both in themselves and for the fact that WCW had the bad judgment to use them. But more compelling than Williams's own writing.  

Then Paterson 3 is brilliant, with the library section and description of the fire.

Then Paterson 4 and 5 fall off a bit again, with some brilliant passages intermixed, but with some dumbish Poundian economic pastiche.  

I was reading without preconceptions, not expecting to find anything particularly bad or good. The whole thing seems a mishmash to me, on the whole, despite the flashes of brilliance.

My regimen

Here is what I'm doing:

salad for breakfast (except today when it was gazpacho)

(smoothies will also be an option, but skipping breakfast will be out)

giving up beer for a few weeks, but not other alcohol

running 3.11 miles every other day (5 kilometers)

trying to reach 10,000 steps every day (including running steps in those 3 miles)

weightlifting on days I am not running

piano playing every day

Other than that I am not doing anything differently in terms of diet. The piano doesn't burn many calories, but I have to get myself to the music building and walk down the hallway to find an empty room with a Steinway.    

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Fruits, vegetables...

A breakfast salad could have vegetables such as leafy greens and tomatoes, fruits like berries, nuts, olives, cheese, egg, yoghurt.  I don't conceive it as an askesis, but as a pleasurable experience with a strong aesthetic dimension, not only in taste but in the plating. You can't just throw some ranch dressing on iceberg lettuce and prefab bacon bits.

Fruit salads also qualify.

You don't want to overcrowd the plate, so keep ingredients to a choice few. Once salad becomes a chore to eat it loses its appeal. My salads are quite small.

Breakfast salads can be vegan, vegetarian, or full-on meatatarian.

Another advantage is that then you don't have to have salad for dinner: that frees up dinner for gazpacho or cooked vegetables.

Operation Razor's Edge

I saw this movie a few years ago about a highly elaborate spy operation done by the British in WWII. It had some fancy code name. I don't remember the name of the movie or the details of the spy operation or its name.

So I had the idea of creation my own top secret operation of self-improvement. I want go into all the details now, since some aspects must remain secret, but I called it "Operation Razor's Edge."

Some of it has been achieved. I'm taking voice and piano lessons, have begun to record music. I had the goal of running 5k in under 30 minutes, which I achieved once but now have to re-achieve since I am clocking in at about 33. I have a contract for LORCA II, so I've done that. I have financial, professional, and personal and health goals listed in this top secret document.

Someone said that if you reveal your goals to others you are less likely to achieve them, since others' approval might give you a false sense of accomplishment.

I firmly believe in the destination, not the journey. I'll explain that a little later. My thinking, in brief, is that this excessive emphasis on process and not product prevents us from ever getting anywhere. Of course, the goals are not achieved quickly and the process of working toward them is enjoyable...


I really liked Edward Pechter's "The New Historicism and its Discontents" and essays by Richard Levin like "The Poetics and Politics of Bardicide" that were published in the PMLA early 90s. What really gave me pause was the inability of the critics named in these essays to defend themselves rhetorically. Though I don't see my own work as being conservative, and I certainly am not politically conservative, I do have a certain antagonism toward eco-criticism and certain other abuses of theory in the name of causes I would support politically.

It is something I have to watch in myself because I can take it too far. I need to be skeptical, but also not go into the reactionary mode.

An Evening with Eddie Gomez

I love bass players, and this is a really great clinic by one of the greats. I don't play bass but I learned a lot that I can apply to my piano playing.

Breakfast salad (2)

This one has tomatoes, a very few greens, kalamata olives, Italian cheese blend, and the usual oil and vinegar.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017


I had the Norton Anthology when I was a kid. I did read some Ashbery there, but was more taken with Koch and O'Hara. The Self-Portrait came out when I was 16 and won all the prizes. Then I was a solid Ashbery convert. I remember how people would condescend to him and not get him, during the heigh-day of the deep image school. I argued with people for hours, but even my dad liked him, and his poems stared appearing in the New Yorker and the NYROB almost every week. He wrote book after book, and I bought them all, even when I thought he was repeating himself.

The stupid hostile reviews kept coming, but after a while the trinity of Vendler, Bloom, and Perloff had canonized him, and countless people started imitating him. What a curse. We don't need more people writing Ashbery poems because he wrote enough of them himself: poem after poem, book after book without much variation, it sometimes seemed. But then he would surprise you with something like Flow Chart. There are many peaks in his work.

Salad for Breakfast

Along with Olga and Leslie I am promoting their idea of salad for breakfast. Here is my first contribution: salad mix from Rolling Prairie food coop, cherry tomatoes from Beth's garden, some blue cheese and a blend of Italian cheeses, croutons, a sprinkling of white balsamic vinegar and olive oil.  Accompany with hot coffee.


Variations: you can use hardboiled eggs if you want a more breakfasty salad. Crumbled bacon would be good in small amounts as well, but the idea is to be eating healthfully. I had cucumbers and red and green peppers but I decided to keep it simple for my first attempt.

Thursday, August 31, 2017


I recorded myself at the library today. I will send you a CD for free if you want, but you must promise to donate [however much you want] to hurricane relief. Send me your address and I will get one in the mail to you.

If you've heard me play, you will know that I'm no professional. I'm highly critical of my own playing. But this CD is superior to the last, done two years ago. For one thing, I used the pedal a bit more so it's not so annoyingly staccato.  All compositions are my own, and you might put it in the category of dinner music.

You might donate to the relief effort anyway, even if my compositions hold no interest for you.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017


Picard in his attack on Barthes says that using the language of a discipline without practicing this discipline is reducing this critical language to a set of metaphors (with reference to psychoanalysis). Is this not the entire problem with the edifice of literary theory? Starting with structuralist linguistics as the supposed basis of a scientific structuralism applied to literature.

We find this elsewhere too: any metaphorical, non-rigorous use of the terms of another discipline...

Similarly, any reference to "zen," to "relativity" used outside the contest of actual zen practice, actual physics...

Tuesday, August 29, 2017


I had this idea for paper once. I'll probably never do it, but it was to collect every off-hand remark in a poetry textbook or anthology or fragment of a critical work about "The Red Wheelbarrow." I had a whole list somewhere. Some were quite dismissive, of course. I would collect all of them and that would be the paper, essentially. It would write itself based on what I actually would find.

You're welcome.


There was a cartoon
of the Tower of Babel

furious activity and singing
bright colors, seen on our family's first color tv

I've never been able to find it as an adult
I remember too the NBC peacock

opening its multi-colored feathers
to that three-note melody

a symbol meaningless
on a black and white screen

This is just to say

The red wheel

is not

all we know is its


People say they are "humbled" when they win a prize

Something the opposite of humbling since it should make them justly proud

of their accomplishments

I think what they are doing is hedging their bets a bit

by going for the opposite emotion

or maybe they really are "humbled" in a way I don't fully understand


A good poem should be visual

Lorca knew this and Allen Ginsberg

Pere Gimferrer thought so too

Not to mention William Carlos Williams

with the red wheelbarrow and white chickens

and the purple striped nightgowns imagined by Wallace Stevens

I think Baudelaire had a strong visual imagination too

But I do not


A good poem must have a penumbra

an evocative or haunting aura

suggesting something not present in the

things mentioned in the poem itself

unlike this poem that just sits

flatly on the page

Monday, August 28, 2017

Ron Padgett Poem

I'd like to write a poem like the ones Ron Padgett wrote

for Jim Jarmusch's movie Paterson

If I get it right, there'll be a certain satisfaction in the imitation

If not, then it will be something of mine, original

If not necessarily very good


I read an avalanche of books today...

Not exactly...

It wasn't today, it was over the course of my lifetime

and they fell on me gradually

not like a sudden avalanche

and were they really books, after all?

They certainly weren't rocks.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The second 25 books

Ours Selves


One Crossed Out

Loose Canons

Poems from the Floating World

Salarios del impío / Carta a mi madre


La perseverancia del desaparecido

The Vermont Notebook

glad stone children


Notes from Irrelevance

The Red Gaze

Rocks on a Platter


Rocks, Solitary apparition


Tienda de fieltro

La civilización del espectáculo

La invención de Morel

El gaucho insufrible




Antigona furiosa


The idea (found this article via Clarissa's blog) is that:   

When white men do more service, women and people of color will have more time to engage in research. We do not have to level the playing field by asking people of color and women to act more like white men. We can level the playing field by asking white men to engage in their share of service, too.

This is from a faculty member where I teach, so I am a little embarrassed at how simplistic this sounds.  On the face of it, it seems logical, right?  There is a finite amount of service, a finite amount of time each person has, so if we shift the burden we will have more research from one demographic.

I am trying to imagine, though, a scenario in which we white men could do more service and magically make our non-white-male colleagues produce more research.  It doesn't work like this. My female colleagues who produce ample amounts of research are also stars in service. A man from my department who has always done a lot of service, while also excelling research and teaching, is now a vice-chancellor, probably perpetuating the white male hegemony in administration in the process.

People who excel typically do so by excelling in more than one area. If those who excel are white men, then of course we should ask people of color and women to do the same thing. In my experience service is valued more in those who also do research, and much less in those who load up on service in order to have an excuse not to get their research done.

Look at the cv of her dissertation advisor.  Should he have done even more service than he has done in his life? Would that have made some other person of a different race and gender into a distinguished professor?  

[Update:  Also, this takes away agency from those who would presumably benefit. Women and POC would have to wait around for the white men to start doing more service.]

Thursday, August 24, 2017

On the Side

The benefits of any side project are likely to be unexpected, side benefits.  As I was cleaning my apartment I thought of the word nettoyage.  Now Racine never uses this word I'm sure, so it only popped into my head because I was thinking in French after reading some things about Racine. So I might learn about the theater in general, about French academic politics, the French language itself, etc... on the side, without any purposiveness.

Now I have to ask myself why I value things with no explicit purpose.  It might be because the results of any such activity will not be predictable. That random quality is valuable in and of itself. I also need to prevent intellectual stagnation.

In Juan Goytisolo's memoir, I remember him talking about some college friends, and the topics they were discussing. Goytisolo goes away for a while, and encounters these friends a few years later... and they are discussing the exact same things. JG had moved on, and they were stuck in holding pattern.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017


My Racine project is wholly gratuitous and has no logical purpose. It will lead me wherever it leads me, and not connect with anything else.  I read an article by Pere Gimferrer about him and now am reading Barthes's Sur Racine, which postulates Racine as the zero degree of criticism: the classic author who is simply blank and thus susceptible to any kind of critical metalanguage. Gimferrer treats  Barthes simply as an anomaly.  I'm half way through Brittanicus now. Then I'll re-read Phèdre and go on to the other plays.

Barthes also has an interesting point about the way Racine is spoken in the theater. This ties in with my interest in the performance of poetry. I don't follow what Barthes says completely.

Maybe I'm looking for the antithesis of Lorca?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017


After someone has died we see his life in a conciliatory light. His life appears to us with outlines softened by a haze. There is no softening for him, though. his life was jagged and incomplete. For him there was no reconciliation; his life is naked and wretched. (Culture and Value, 46)

The 1st 25 books

The Collected Works of Billy the Kid

The Year as Catches

80 Poems

Times Alone

There is no road

Selected Poems of Machado

A Preface to Translation

El movimiento de las flores

The Torches

Una poética para Antonio Machado

Solitudes, Galleries

The Best of It

Some Spanish Ballads

Some Trees

Areas lights heights

The Fighting Spirit of the Walnut

La recepción literaria de San Juan de la Cruz

The Poems of St. John of the Cross

Acercamientos a Juan Gelman

The Poems of Saint John of the Cross

The Poet and the Mystic

100 Poems

Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror

Counting on Planet Zero

Short poems

--There's nothing to do

--So do it


"Western Civilization?

It would be a good idea"

But what if Gandhi never said it?


Monday, August 21, 2017


It turned out I had books by Schuyler everywhere. His art criticism, letters, novels, diaries, and books of poems. So for this reading project I am becoming an accidental expert on him.  I guess I already was.  Re-reading A Nest of Ninnies now.

Sunday, August 13, 2017


I read my first Racine, an early work reputed to be be weak called Thébaïde.  (I've read Phedre before too, but I mean with my new Racine project.) My idea is to be a silent expert on Racine. In other words, just do everything an expert would do except write about it (except on this blog).

I guess I'll have to read other neoclassical dramas, since a Racine specialist would have done this. The logical first step though would be to read the primary texts in chronological order, then figure out what Racine scholars think about it.

The characters just sit there and talk. They argue their positions. Everyone dies in the end, ignoring the incidents in Sophocles's Antigone. The women pursue peace (Jocasta, Antigone); the men war.  Creon is in love with Antigone and kills himself after she kills herself, so all the major characters are gone.  Not an elegant solution, since then you can't write another play in which Antigone tries to bury Polynices.

The vocabulary is easy. Everything is pretty clear and self-evident.

Friday, August 11, 2017


In a long interview DeBoer uses "sort of" as conversational hedge / filler more times that I can count. He is otherwise articulate, never at a loss for words, confident of his opinions. The hedge doesn't really hedge anything, since its distribution seems random; it doesn't fill time, since it is spoken very rapidly and if taken out would not reduce the duration of the utterance in any significant way. He doesn't seem nervous, so that's not the explanation. He has a few more "uh..." "right?" but they aren't intrusive like the omnipresent "sortofs."

It must be very hard to get rid of a verbal tic like that. My students, when speaking Spanish, put in the word like (in English!) constantly, without even any awareness that they are doing it.


I will read hundreds of books while writing one. Most will not not even relevant to the one I am writing. I am not complaining about this ratio: it seems correct to me.

Writing is time-consuming and intensive. I only expect to write two more books after turning in Lorca II. Seven books is a respectable career, but someone writing those will have read thousands of other books.  

Today I came across a quote by James Schuyler about Lorca's "tedious lament for a dead bullfighter, whose every second line is 'a las cinco de la tarde.'" This is hilarious to me. At least one American poet could find Lorca tedious.  What a relief!  Of course I wish I had come across the quote earlier, since it was in a book I owned the whole time I was working on Lorca's impact on American poets.  I think I'll have to worm it in somewhere in another book.


To say of the young man he is ambitious...

Yet none is able to say what those ambitions are...

Virtue as a contest

I was listening to a recent FIRE podcast, an interview with Freddy DeBoer.  DeBoer makes the point that virtue is competitive in social media. To compete with others to arrive at a more virtuous position involves evolving to ever more "ridiculous" positions. One example he uses is the idea that the phrase "I see what you mean" is "ableist" in its exclusion of blind people.

If virtue is a competition, it is a competition for social status. DeBoer also points out that contemporary "intersectionality" on college campuses tends to leave out class. Why? Because these are people who are in a privileged, largely upper-middle class cocoon.  

Another point he makes is that the university administrator's cause is not social justice, but the avoidance of conflict and legal liability. Thus the administrator might give in the social justice demands, but usually for the wrong reason.

It is refreshing because many defenses of free inquiry have been coming from the right, recently. We need to insist that freedom of speech is a left-wing cause. What good does it do to censor pro-Trump views on campus when Trump is actually the fucking president?  

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Google thyself

I guess I missed this book by Stephen Kessler when it came out.  I should check out this book from the library:

Like Frida Kahlo, a perfectly good painter turned into amarketing gimmick for t-shirts, co ee mugs and other kitschytchotchkes, García Lorca—as Mayhew demonstrates—has been diminished and caricatured through his conversion into a domestic American icon, reduced to a duende-driven folksy Gypsy Negrophilic primitive hipster gay surrealist whom various factions and individuals jump to exploit at their convenience for their own sectarian and personal purposes. Lorca the actual poet and his work, meanwhile, remain unplumbed even as they are appropriated tirelessly by their admirers. While I was read-ing Mayhew’s book a journal arrived in the mail, the Coe Review,a student-edited publication from Coe College in Iowa, which included a poem by Lyn Lifshin—a prolific  small-press poet published widely over the last four decades—called “Sleeping with Lorca,” which begins: “It’s not true, he never chose women. / I ought to know. It was Grenada [sic] and / the sun falling behind the Alhambra was / aming lava...” The poem goes onto recycle “green I want you green” and “5 o’clock in the af-ternoon” and various other now-cliché Lorquismos including“gored bull” metaphors for sex, as if to illustrate the half-baked stereotypical Lorca exploitation Mayhew spends much of hisbook exposing, and which, as Lifshin proves, continues. 

Lyn Lifshin used to send us a packet of poems every week, when I was a student on the editorial board of my college literary journal, California Quarterly.  

For me, however, Mayhew’s identi cation of Frank O’Hara as perhaps the truest American avatar of Lorca—not so much in the poetry itself as in their “kinship” as charismatic, mercu- rial, gay, jazz-infused, risk-taking, elegiac, prematurely mortal personalities each at the center of a vibrant creative scene—is one of his shrewdest observations. This kind of intuitive leap makes for the liveliest and riskiest criticism. One of Mayhew’s strengths is that he’s not afraid to be wrong; he has a distinct point of view and acknowledges his personal angle of vision. For all his deeply felt conviction, he makes no Harold Bloomian or Helen Vendleroid pronouncements from the peak of Parnas- sus. His style is refreshingly free of intellectual pomposity or jargon. Not least important, for someone interested as I am in the subject, his book is fun to read. 


Counting syllables is one way of keeping track.

Some care whether you skip a beat or not.  

There are treatises.  

Others talk endlessly of measure

But don't seem to keep tally of amounts or quantities.  



I never needed mythopoetics.

It wasn't that the myths weren't real;

What's real, after all?

But that it was hard enough to believe in the reality of a shoe.

Still, I clung to the messages of dreams.


We "take a dump" but it seems more like leaving something behind.

So does language betray.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Lawn Mower

The lawn has no purpose, but the mower does.

Usefulness is a convenient fiction to hold up

The value of otherwise useless objects.

Simply by reading

Simply by reading, one can develop a secondary field. For example, I could become a Balzac expert, and all it would take is reading Balzac as my primary reading interest for a few years. I could get through a lot of novels that way, and then read the secondary literature.

I recommend finding something that is not directly relevant to your field. Otherwise it is just an extension of what you should be doing anyway. It should be a different genre, language, or period from your normal tendency in reading. The time to do this should be taken from time otherwise spent binge-watching Netflix, or whatever else you do to kill time.

The purpose?  You won't know in advance what the purpose is. You need to listen to a voice inside yourself that tells you what you need to be studying as your hobby-author.  The purpose will be revealed much later, if at all.  But the larger precept here is to be intellectually curious outside your normal zone of comfort. (It is the same idea as sleeping on the other side of the bed, as Clarissa suggested.)

The beauty of it is that all you need to do is read. If you are already reading, then you just have to redirect your reading in a particular direction, with a purpose in mind. You can get through all the plays of Racine in a year, easily, or whatever it is you want to master. Once you've read the primary texts and some secondary literature, you know about it.  You can think about it and generate ideas.

I'm going to have to think about what author to read in depth.  I think it's got to be one whom I don't know much about, in French because that is the language that I can work on most easily.  It should not be a poet, and it shouldn't be from 20th century.  


Tuesday, August 8, 2017


Is is how we verb it

But what is is?

There never was an is in the history of being.

There wasn't even a was.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Not a paradox

Here’s the paradox. Most of the consistently productive scholars I’ve known in my more than 30 years as a professor, at three different universities, have also been caring teachers and active in academic service work. And, you guessed it: Most of the angry, embittered, and problematic colleagues I’ve known have been toxically stalled writers.

Of course, this is correct, the only incorrect thing about it is that the writer frames it as a paradox. In what other profession do we assume that people must trade competence for one part of the job for competence in some other part of the job?


We think time is a sum, that getting to a higher number is somehow better.

Low numbers are "tragic" and high ones fulfillment

(Of what we'll never know).

Better to think of it as subtraction.

The result, though, in the end, is the same.

False Poems of Bronk (ii)


We hire proofreaders and copy editors;

Spelling things right is important, though somehow

things are never spelled right in the end...

Enough of them are, maybe.

Enough for government work.

They care about it, getting it right, and we do,

But it doesn't care, and never will.

Friday, August 4, 2017

A curious thing happened...

In Chicago in September I bought a notebook. I began recording all the books I read, and this, coinciding with my absence from other activities like aimlessly surfing the net, led to my reading far more books than I would normally read. I am arranging my books at home and at the office in some semblance of order and thus, of course, taking down more books from the shelves to read.

 I have finished over 80 books since the latter part of April. It is an extraordinary thing because it is unleashing a kind of controlled mania. Some of the books are extremely short books of poetry, but still it seems a dangerously high number. I'm not sure what the end result of this process will be. Perhaps a form of madness, if this hasn't set in already.

False Poems of Bronk


In book after book, poem after poem,

many of them very short, Bronk reminds us

the ways we have to keep score don't count for much.

He doesn't call them foolish; he doesn't have to.


I think I understand, but if my understanding of Bronk

is a few degrees off, say 10 in a circle of 360,

these poems will not be false poems of Bronk

but real ones of Mayhew.


Many of these poems are not great, awkwardly written

and not memorable in themselves; there are a great many of them

and they seem to be saying the same thing over and over.

Yet someone pointing this out to us would be regarded as dumb.

Whatever Bronk was after, it is not what this person thinks.


If there were such a thing as "the human condition"

you'd think we'd be in a good position to understand something about.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

What if we thought of music as the imperfect imitation of other kinds of noise

Dick van Dyck

The Dick van Dyck show is an imitation of the reality we might call the Allen Brady show. Yet the Dick van Dyck show exists and the Allen Brady show does not.
 Words create a mental image in the mind. The words are real but the images fake. Why then do we call these words imitations of reality?


Pornography is not fake sex imitating the real but real sex
acts mimicking fantasies of what they might be

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Middle Earth

Where does the represented world of the fiction exist?  In the reader's mind and nowhere else.  The is where Middle Earth is.

The Limits of my Curiosity

The first time I lived in Buenos Aires it was on Borges Street

The second time, two years later, on Lafinur

I didn't even know Lafinur was a poet

Until I came back home

and read Borges's sonnet dedicated to him

Friday, July 28, 2017


We think of a poem (or novel or play) as something unreal that imitates something real.

But nothing could be further from the case. A novel is real, it exists. What it represents is a fiction, something that does not exist in real life. Therefore it is useless to say a novel copies life.

Or a poem, it is an utterance that is real in and of itself, but that other utterance it seems to be copying never happened. It is an impossible utterance, or one whose only possible framework is the poem itself. Can we think of Keats copying copying another utterance of some other imaginary subject addressing himself to "Autumn." Does not that introduce an extra step that is wholly extraneous? Where is the model that is being copied? In Keats's head?  But it cannot be there unless he first invents it, and what we call inventing it is the same act as writing the poem.

I am not being facetious about this at all. I firmly believe that this analysis is correct, even intuitively correct. It is not even a paradox.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Teólogos y poetas

A los teólogos, incluso a los teólogos-poetas como Thomas Merton o el Papa Juan Pablo II,

les ha interesado poco San Juan de la Cruz como poeta,

a pesar de su admiración por su pensamiento.

En cambio, los poetas poco aficionados a la teología

no prestamos mucha atención a los fatigosos comentarios del Santo

a su propia obra poética, los comentarios que de hecho

forman la base de su fama teológica,

escritos para explicar el significado de estos poemas

a petición de unas monjas.  

No existe, que yo sepa, otro caso igual en recepción

de una figura tan trascendente dentro de dos campos

que al fin y al cabo no deben estar en alejados entre sí.

El realismo no existe

Lo que llamamos "realismo" son unas convenciones literarias contingentes

que poco o nada tienen que ver con lo real

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

My favorite kitchen appliance

My favorite kitchen appliance:  time

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Contra Pessoa y Aristóteles: el poeta no es un fingidor

Si hago una declaración de amor, por ejemplo,

¿qué sentido tiene decir que estoy "imitando"

la declaración de amor de un sujeto ficticio?

Ni siquiera es una paradoja concluir

que yo, poeta en carne y hueso,

soy más real que ese amante irreal que supuestamente imito.

Monday, July 24, 2017

La sed

Se me dirá que el lenguaje es insuficiente para comunicar la experiencia mística

De acuerdo, pero ¿el lenguaje acaso sirve para transmitir la frescura de un vaso de agua?

y si no, la experiencia mística no sería caso excepcional sino un ejemplo más

de la insuficiencia lingüística para cualquier experiencia

en cuyo caso se puede concluir que el lenguaje no está encargado

de transmitir experiencia alguna

That's not its job


Tuesday, June 13, 2017


I'm going to be out for a while: my daughter's graduation this weekend and then a month in Argentina.  I have plenty of time to post from there, but I just want to take a break just because I don't want to be on the internet at all except for my teaching.  I'll read your comments in my email but I won't answer them on the blog.

I'll be back on the blog by late July.


I found this encyclopedia of literary translation.  The list of authors provides a kind of approximation of the corpus someone (like me) would study. A few major omissions: Teresa de Ávila, Luis de León, Garcilaso de la Vega,  The romancero.  Pedro Salinas.


I bought this notebook to keep track of what I was reading. Of course, the act of keeping track of this changes the activity being tracked, since it makes me more likely to read and finish books.

Bee Webs

Bees weave webs of silk
trapping unwary sailors
"drunk and asleep."
Oh, you thought it was spiders

trapping unwarranted sailors
with salt in their veins?
Oh, you thought it was spiral
but the staircase was a straight shot down.

With saltpetre in their veins
they shat on virtue,
but the strums were straight thoughts.
Thus the gods of flamenco decreed.

They shat on virtual lawns,
bees warning of webelo stirs.
Thus goons of Flanders repealed,
drunk in their boots.

Monday, June 12, 2017

More virtue signaling

When the president of Evergreen began a statement by saying "I am George.  I use he / him pronouns" it rang false with me. If he is not trans, and a cis-gendered guy, then he doesn't really need to tell people what to call him. And if he uses those pronouns, why does he say "I"?  Shouldn't he say "He am George"? Don't people talking to him use "you"?

He continues the talk by mentioning how the land of Evergreen State was stolen from the Indians. Yes, and so is the apartment complex I live in. It's not like he's taking steps to give it back to them, so it's an empty gesture of virtue signaling. He said he would say this at the beginning of all his speeches.

The Human Sensory Apparatus

I came across this article on the human sense of smell. It is pretty phenomenal, almost dog-like.

This got me to thinking about other human senses, in light of the Lorquian ideas that the poet should be "profesor en los cinco sentidos corporales."  

Vision: Our vision is intensely chromatic.  We make very fine distinctions between very small variations in color.  We have a very developed ability for secondary visual representation, beginning with the cave paintings and whatever came before that. We can extend and correct vision mechanically, and we can use the part of the brain devoted to vision to "see" with other senses, as I read about recently in the New Yorker. Vision can be used as vehicle for language (reading and writing) and even for musical notation.

Hearing: We have ability to hear with great specificity, and can train the ear to recognize relative pitches. We can process extremely complex semiotic systems (language) through what we hear. A dog can hear higher frequencies, but so what? We don't pine after those frequencies far above the soprano range (I don't at least.)

Taste:  I don't know much about this one yet.  Sorry.

Touch: I don't know much about that either.

A couple of things are key: the senses are cognitively, aesthetically, and affectively rich. We can talk about small gradations of difference because they matter to us. They are the entryway for information necessary for cognition.

There are secondary cognitive tasks that take sensory information as their foundation. The way an architect designs a building for example, through manipulating space in the head. This is a visual task, but it is not mere seeing (if there is such a thing).

Even the deprivation / repression of the senses is cognitively interesting.  The ascetic poet must still talk of "mil gracias derramando."

The senses are the realm of poetry in all its cognitive, affective, and aesthetic richness. We cannot separate out these three aspects from one another. The human sensory apparatus is the base of the anthropology of aesthetics.

Procrastination as Askesis

Another interpretation:

By procrastinating, you are depriving yourself of the pleasure and satisfaction of getting something accomplished. It could be a small pleasure, like that of having a clean stove top, or a very significant one, like publishing an article.

So procrastination is a way of punishing yourself. You do not deserve such satisfactions, in your mind.

The pleasures of dolce far niente are also real ones, but can they be fully enjoyed when tinged with the askesis of procrastination?

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Confident Authority

"The author projects a voice of confident authority."

That was my favorite line from my reader's reports, especially since it was from the reader who had more substantive suggestions / things sh/e found that needed to be addressed. Reading that phrase I realized that I do try to sound like that.

Saturday, June 10, 2017


A little bit of organization goes a long way.  15 minutes of getting organized is probably as productive as 2 hours of substantive work. As long as it doesn't take so much of your time that it crowds out the substantive work.

It clears and focuses the mind, makes things seem simpler by removing artificial impediments.

It is actually substantive, in the sense that these are tasks that need to be completed.

It is not inherently time consuming. For example, take the task of figuring out which dates your class meets. You can sit down with a calendar and figure this out in a few minutes.  At the same time, it frees up time later by increasing efficiencies.

It doesn't necessarily require great intensity of concentration.

The Emotions Behind Procrastination

Procrastination is rooted in emotion. It is really a fear of some other emotion. You don't want to confront the emotion that you will feel upon beginning a certain task. Will it make you feel unorganized, inadequate, guilty, foolish. You might fear the shame of having procrastinated in the first place. Maybe you dread the frustration of doing something tedious and dull. Maybe the reactions of someone else when you do something that needs to be done.

So it might work to give a  name to the emotion you are afraid of facing.  Maybe you don't want to face resuming a project you began and left in a chaotic state. Once you know what emotion you are dreading, then you can ask yourself whether it is worth it to face the emotion in question.  You might decide that no, this emotion is to scary to face.

What if it were a choice

Suppose I had a choice about how well organized I was?  I could see it as something beyond my control, thinking I'm not very well organized, but isn't that the result of choices I make? You could call them habits, I suppose, but habits are just choices repeated until they are habitual.


This does not quite correct the problem, because it is a choice that has some motivation behind it. In other words, I must be telling myself that it's ok to be disorganized, or even that it's advantageous in some way.  For example, "I can start work in the morning without wasting time getting organized and thus produce more than other people." Or I can make it my excuse: "oh, well you know Jonathan is not that well organized..."  "Imagine what I could accomplish if I were organized, if by being disorganized I've already risen to the top of my profession." Or "creative people are just not as well organized."  Or "It always works out in the end..."  If I articulate these excuses they sound very stupid.


What else is a choice, but feels like an inherent feature of one's personality? Persistence? Resilience?  Self-discipline?  I am not trying to argue that everything is a choice, but that once you decide that something is open to change, that give you the opportunity to change it.


Say that there is one number, your iq, that is invariant. You are born with it, and will die with it (if it doesn't diminish with dementia). This magic number may correlate with accomplishments.  Thus, if a composer created brilliant, long-form compositions of great complexity, or a physicist made important theoretical contributions, you might say "Gee, I bet their magic number is very high."  Yet when you think of it, this is a very strange way of evaluating accomplishments: by comparing them to an innate ability to solve certain kinds of problems, as evaluated on a timed test. For the sake of argument, I'm assuming that the test is valid, and that the magic number is invariant, but of course those assumptions are also up for debate.


If we see the magic number as invariant, then we cannot make decisions about it. It is the least important factor to consider. Why bother changing something that cannot be changed?  Yet a lot of what we take to be intelligence is the cultivation of abilities.  So the complex symphonic composition is the result of someone who's learned orchestration, harmony, the structure of long-form composition, and also has creative ideas, a knack for melody, an original musical sensibility, a sense of herself in relation to music history (what's been done already?  what is left to do? how do my ideas fit in with all of this?). None of this is possessed by a musical genius who was born two days ago.      

Friday, June 9, 2017

Something will not get done

I have the Lorca book under consideration, a third book on Lorca begun, and then like an idiot I had to start this new project on translation. This means that something will not get done this year.  I know I should first work on the revisions of the book that is actually finished, to get that out of the way.

Then, logically, I should finish Lorca III.  I shouldn't have started this other project. It would take two or three of me to do all these things, not to mention that I should also publish my poetry in book form, etc... and do a translation. I would collaborate and have other people help me do these things, except that collaborative work is more labor intensive, not less.  I guess in an ideal world I would have a research assistant.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

James Baldwin

Thousands of such tracts were published during those years and it seems to me I had to read every single one of them; the color of my skin made me an expert. And so, when I got to Paris, I had to discharge all that, which was really the reason for my essay, “Everybody’s Protest Novel.” I was convinced then—and I still am—that those sort of books do nothing but bolster up an image. All of this had quite a bit to do with the direction I took as a writer, because it seemed to me that if I took the role of a victim then I was simply reassuring the defenders of the status quo; as long as I was a victim they could pity me and add a few more pennies to my home-relief check. Nothing would change in that way, I felt, and that essay was a beginning of my finding a new vocabulary and another point of view.
There was virtue signaling back in the day too. Here's how Baldwin responded, google the Paris Review Interview with James Baldwin for the context. See also the very funny essay "Everybody's Protest Novel" in which he skewers those social issue novels of the mid-century period.