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I am posting this as a benchmark, not because I think I'm playing very well yet.  The idea would be post a video every month for a ye...

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Flamenco Blues / Statement of poetics (two poems by Icarus Jonson)


Check the jails and the morgues
for my soul

¡Ay, madre!  

Check the bars
bars and hospitals
for it

¡Niña de mi corazón!

Check my usual places
haunts and homes
for my body

¡Ay, madre,
niña de mi corazón!  



There are few things on earth--softer

than--a hard-boiled egg--

if you think about it--

my heart--too--is soft--

underneath this hard shell--

my impregnable--poems.

Friday, September 29, 2017


Phyllis Phyllis is often denigrated as a humorless disciple of Jorie Graham and Jack Cashberg, but the poem "Haunting Beauty" is certainly a masterpiece. Harold Bloom once called it "a poem of haunting beauty."

Haunting Beauty: In Memory of Jack Cashberg

I am haunted by beauty; it haunts me. It: strange sexless pronoun for it,
epicene like nothing else under the sun. What if I and you had a gender in English?
Then we would better know the identity of lovers
in old love letters! I sit down at my desk to pay the bills,
but what of the bills of more transcendent sort?
Who will pay them while iridescence dissipates in advance of the storm?
Out the window there is something that still lingers, haunts if you will,
(but what you are we talking about? the masculine you would ruin the mood
though you were masculine singular in life, to my feminine plural)
or is that only a figure of speechlessness,
an alabaster figurine amid my own haunting ruins.
I sigh awhile, reflecting on the loss of such a significant voice
in American poetry. Who could find a ghostly houserhyme for that?  

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Given Name

I had to fight for my name

though I was given it

[with little right: Pa warn't no Daedalus

though handy with the jigsaw and the chainsaw

{¡Bulging Muscles! though saw the wild look to my eyes

and shirked away (then I knew I was crazier than Jesus

Icarus Jonson founded the hard-boiled school of American poetry sometime in the late 40s. He is known for his unconventional and expressive punctuation and unsentimental view of life, as well as his feuds with Jack Cashberg and Valance Fullerton. Biographical details are sketchy.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Phyllis Phyllis

I've decided to collect an anthology of six of my favorite undiscovered poets:

Jack Cashberg

Sincerity Kincade

Icarus Jonson

Chaplin O'Mallus

Phyllis Phyllis

Valance Fullerton

Stay tuned...

Each poet will be represented by 7 poems of variable length.  There are two male poets here, two female, and two whose gender I have little idea about.  I still need a title for the anthology, but the idea only occurred to me 10 minutes ago so don't rush me.

Yes, but what have you done recently?

I'm quite adept at discounting my own achievements. Maybe you are as well. You can always say...

I haven't done a whole recently.  (My achievements are in the past: who's to say I'll ever do anything else?)

I'm just a literary critic. (Not a real poet, or a physicist.  I'm not even a real scholar because I don't do archival research.)

I haven't submitted and published a peer review article to a journal blind (not being invited) in quite a while.

No major grants or awards in the last five years.


Yet a look at my cv does not reflect this negative opinion of myself.  I wonder...

Monday, September 25, 2017

Late Ashbery

It is known that Ashbery didn't revise much, instead preferring to write many poems and throwing out  those that didn't match up to his standards. Here's one of the uncollected poems of Ashbery, that I found once written on a napkin in a New York City restaurant shortly after he had dined there. I can't prove that he wrote it, but I'll offer it to you anyway, just to set the record straight. It certainly is not one he would have wanted to save:    


Roses are red, and that disquiet among the almond leaves
like antique shelves, told you the gig was up. Meantime
Elmer sold his last possessions, you know the type, always
looking for an angle of repose among angelic figurines.
He didn't dig it, he said. That was that. I on the other hand
foreign to that lexicon and the start-ups it implied, could
not finish anyone else's sentences, much less my own.

You think it's easy being this uptight. Singing for my supper was ok
as long as this was understood as a lame excuse for a metaphor
but what then? More derivative gargling in the movie set saloon?
Hot cakes? Merchandise returns? In the routine
rambling there is a certain snapping point, one you'd
have to be a fool not to improvise on your own while
unseen forces move into position, just before the fall.

Après moi...  But how did this end, really? Not like this
surely, as afternoon gathered its forces amid crumbling icons.
We turned the page, and there was nothing written there.
But the expected result turned up anyway, as though
they had forgotten to cancel the newspaper for their trip,
and the seedy music died down once again, but not for good.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

It's De-Lovely: Fragment of a Treatise on Aesthetics

and loveliness... what of prettiness, is that the same thing?

Being easy on the eyes? (But that won't apply to the lilting tune.)

Glamour? Sex appeal? Those are separate streams

Like attractiveness and the handsomeness of a "handsome woman,"

applicable only to human beings and other living creatures

where sexual attraction needs strikingly gorgeous visual feasts.

 Beauty itself is none of these things, though not separable from them either...


Saturday, September 23, 2017

MY JA (2)

Ashbery published acclaimed books of poetry in 7 separate decades:

[50, 60, 70, 80, 90, 00, 10...]

What is not quite as remarkable, but is remarkable for me personally, is that I bought and read books by him during 5 of these decades, over and approximately 40 year span of time.

I am a poet

I am a poet

but care little for my archives


The way liar and lyre are pronounced the same way

is like the way I once used to confuse "In a Mellow Tone" with "On Green Dolphin Street"

Or "On Green Dolphin Street" with "Stella by Starlight"

as forgivable as losing one's train of thought in the crowd

as the misuse of baking soda


Writing bad poems was no defense

just a defense mechanism

he said

when people were yearning for quality


So it is with you

Mary McCarthy

Mary McCarthy

read my poems aloud

in her Dublin accent

and made them seem

not written by me

in my dream

including this one

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Cleaning Poem

What if cleaning was your hobby?

You could subscribe to magazines, take classes,

(maybe teach them yourself in night school

once you got really good),

indulge in fine cleaning materials

and tools, treat it like any other pastime

like bridge or mountain climbing,

crossword puzzles or playing a musical instrument,

with the added benefit of cleanliness.

Why do we call some things work and other things hobbies?

You might think I'm being facetious, but this might be a good one for you

or, if not, for someone utterly unlike you in all respects.

“Let me just say that nearly every academic I know — this includes feminists, progressives, minorities, and those who identify as gay or queer — now lives in fear of some classroom incident spiraling into professional disaster,” Kipnis writes in her book. “A tenured female professor on my campus wrote about lying awake at night worrying that some stray remark of hers might lead to student complaints, social media campaigns, eventual job loss, and her being unable to support her child.”

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.