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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...

Tuesday, August 20, 2019


I had a moment of happiness yesterday, which is not common for me. Not that I am unhappy, but this was almost euphoria. I had done my running and meditation in the morning, after returning at midnight the night before on the train from Chicago. I had some good ideas about the preface to the Lorca and music book, and started in on that in an extremely good mood. The combination of having had a good visit with my daughter in Chicago, the runner's high, and a clear mind from meditating made me approach my work with enthusiasm.

Today, of course, I am not euphoric, but I still feel pretty good.


I have an ivy-league tenure case to do.  They gave the candidate until last week to turn in materials, but expect me to get my letter in at the beginning of October. They ask for a comparison with three specific individuals at other places, so I have to look those people up too. Luckily I have already read this person's book, but I would have preferred to get this out of the way before the semester started.  I have three trips coming up soon.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Some meditation lessons

It is important to know when you are not enjoying yourself and to ask yourself why. Something you generally enjoy can be unpleasant in certain circumstances. It could be the voice of the inner critic, or something that causes frustration or physical discomfort. Yesterday I felt frustrated running uphill, because I have mostly been training on the flat. Running is something that is generally nice to do, for me, but it also has a whole slew of potentially unpleasant aspects to it. So the inner critic was saying "you aren't much of a runner" while the legs were saying, "that hurts." A "mindful" approach to this, if I am understanding this right, would be just to say "Oh, that's inner critic again" and move on. Or to say, yes, "running uphill does hurt a bit."  


During meditation, I felt hungry. Once again, the approach to take is to ask what that is. Is it a physical sensation?  How intense or painful is it?  Is it a craving for food in general, a simple arousal of appetite? A feeling of weakness or loss of energy? What other emotions go along with the hunger? Irritation? Anger? Frustration? Or is it just a physical sensation with no strong emotion attached, like your nose itching.

The hunger doesn't go away by answering these questions, but it is less "I am hungry" than "Oh, that appetite is building," which can be a pleasurable sensation in a way, or a realization that the hunger pangs are of somewhat low intensity.  Just framing it in these ways is helpful.

I often get itches all over while meditating. It is natural because more attention is focused on the body. One itch will arise, be present, then subside. It is really no big deal. I learn to enjoy, not the itching itself, but the ability to see what it feels like and rise above it a bit.

My things

My main things (I can't quite call them "hobbies") now are these.

1. Piano playing, composing music, and singing in the choir.  This occupies about 1-2 hours a day, depending.  For example, if I have a two hour choir practice, or a piano lesson and also practice on the same day, then it will be two hours.

2.  Meditation.  This will be 15-30 minutes a day.

3.  Running, every other day, for 20-40 minutes.  Walking on the days I don't run, for an hour.

4. Various crossword puzzles, etc... This can be 30 minutes to an hour, if I have time.

All are important to me in various ways. I see puzzle solving as a "hobby" in the classic sense, but I think that I am a musician, fundamentally, and that the other two are necessary means of self-support.

Running, I have extended into a more social activity by running in various groups, a possibility that had not occurred to me as realistic before this past week or so.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Simic rage

I remember my rage at Simic for dissing Creeley in the NYRB.  See also here. And here, I guess I don't feel those sorts of rages any more with that kind of intensity. It seems now to me to be an unnecessary attachment or clinging (in the Buddhist sense). I am not a Buddhist but I do think I get this concept at a very basic level.  Of course I am right about Simic and Creeley.  But the level of passion I feel about being right?  The level of investment in the cause. No, just no.  I want no part of that any more.

Giving up that investment is very freeing. I don't have to be identified with certain positions, upon which nothing really depends. I feel the same way about my role in the García Montero controversies. Of course I am on the right side of things, from my own perspective. I don't disagree with myself, but not as much seems at stake. Worrying because people miss out on Creeley and respect someone like Simic is largely pointless. Of course a certain facile kind of poetry will be more popular even in somewhat intellectual circles.  How could that not be the case?

I also take misunderstandings of my own positions as occasions for humor rather than rage.  

So little depends

That would be a good start to a Creeley poem.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Literary Value of cante hondo

I will write for 30 minutes on this topic. Here goes.

When we talk about "literary value," we are talking about the kind of thing literary intellectuals place a premium on. So I don't have to define this value in absolute terms, just say that there is an aesthetic preference among some such literary folk to value what we might call the aesthetics of stark simplicity.

This has a history behind it. For example, a taste for the "popular" might be in contrast to the taste for the baroque, or for literary aesthetics which emphasize how poetic language is supposed to be elevated (associated with higher levels of society.) The symbolist aesthetic of Mallarmé is not a populist one.

The taste for the popular as such arises with romanticism. Specifically, in German romanticism and preromanticism Herder begins to translate Spanish ballads in the 18th century. So the aesthetic of the popular has always been bound up with interest in Spain.

The cante jondo is a sub-set of Spanish folklore.  We have a general sense of Spanish folklore as including romances and canciones, ballads and non-ballad songs, along with their music. Within this general set, there is a privilege accorded to Andalusian folklore, and the cante jondo is a subset of this Andalusian folklore It is important to remember that the general taste for the popular and for Spanish folklore includes other parts of Spain as well, even though Andalusia tends to stand in as a metonymy for the whole peninsula.

Machado y Álvarez mounts a solid argument in favor of the literary value of the lyrics of the cante jondo. He is the first Spanish folklorist and already by his epoch (the 1880s) the cante jondo had become a favored genre within folklore. The value of the cante is its extreme succinctness and directness and the absence of extraneous material, or ripio, filler. There are two kinds of work in folklore: the scientific gathering of material, and the anthology made simply for the delight of literary taste. His Cantes flamencos y cantares is in the latter category.

There are echoes of this aesthetic in the praise for the lírica de tipo tradicional found in Margit Frenk and other later scholars. The idea is a kind of pristine simplicity and directness.

Also, poets like Lorca and Hernández employ this aesthetic in some of their works. The popular has a value as such. I have to confess that I too place a premium on this style, so I cannot be objective. But the point is that this is something that quite a few people have learned to value immensely. My perspective is not some idiosyncrasy of mine, but something I have acquired from others. There is no wrong or right here, in the sense that positive aesthetic values don't ever have to be justified unless there are detractors.

Lorca's poetry exemplifies this tradition, but relates not just to the cante jondo, but to the larger universe of popular, anonymous poetry. In fact, I wouldn't give special priority to the lyrics of the cante jondo, since his view is more expansive than this. The cante jondo is tangential to his work. By this I mean that it touches at one point rather than overlapping substantially. He is writing about the cante jondo, not imitating it directly. (That's another way of putting it.) Yet overall, his contribution is to emphasize the literary value of these poems.

I could easily find examples that are excellent poems, from my perspective. They aren't very similar to Lorca poems:

Flamenca, cuando te mueras,  [when I die, Flamenca]
la lápida la retraten [let them decorate your tomb]
con sangresita e mis venas.  [with the blood of my veins]

Ok.  I have more to say, but the half hour is up...

Wednesday, August 7, 2019


I've been meditating for the summer, and I have a few preliminary results.

The first is a feeling of sweet calmness during the meditation itself. This isn't constant, but intermittent, but it is palpable. This could be one of the main results of meditation, simply an ability to relax mind and body. It is not the only kind of feeling one has meditating, but it is something of valuable.

The second is a kind of "sorting out" process, where unimportant stuff gets to be seen as unimportant, not worth sweating over. It doesn't necessarily make important things less important, but gives a sense of priority and perspective. So minor annoyances get to be seen as minor. This helps in daily life, where you won't be bothered as much by a long stop light or a mosquito bite.

There is greater concentration when doing other, non-meditative kinds of things. Distractions are less distracting, because you can return more quickly to the primary object of attention, and less annoyed with yourself for being distracted.

In a short period of time, I've learned that the meanings we give to things are arbitrary ones. This is enormously freeing, because we realize that we don't have to think of things in certain ways or draw arbitrary conclusions. So thinking of myself as a slow runner I have not run in groups, but I realize now that the groups around town have slow and fast runners and everything in between. I've thought I couldn't join because they are early in the morning, but I am usually awake anyway at those times. You could think that I could have realized many these things without meditation, but in fact I didn't. I do certain things in certain ways because I think it is necessary, but it really is not.

In some ways, it is like knocking a piece of yourself loose, that should have been loose all along and not taut. There are many things I have not done because I didn't see myself as free to do them. I had an arbitrary rule book that I was following.

I'm sure if I keep this up for a year, these results will seem naive or over-hasty, or other, deeper insights will prevail. For example, I might once have thought that the bodily relaxation was the main point of it all.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Career Narrative

Like many bookish kids with literary aspirations, I originally planned to be an English major. Since it was the 1970s, I also got caught up in the prevalent enthusiasm surrounding Spanish-language poetry the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez and other novelists of the Latin American “Boom.” After spending my junior year studying in Madrid, I completed a major in Comparative Literature with a concentration in Spanish. Graduating from the University of California at Davis, I enrolled in the PhD Program at Stanford, with the idea of being a specialist in modernist poetry. I ended up devoting my dissertation—and my entire career—to twentieth-century Spanish poetry, but I never abandoned my interest in English. 
            As an assistant professor I was able to publish in the most prestigious journals in my field. I also published my dissertation, on the contemporary Spanish poet Claudio Rodríguez, as a book, with minimal revisions. Before tenure I wrote a second book, The Poetics of Self-Consciousness: Twentieth Century Spanish Poetry, with the aid of my first NEH Fellowship. One of the secrets of my early success was that I had somewhat of a head start: I went into the field because of my interest in poetry, and began to study it in earnest during that year in Madrid. My single-minded focus on a relatively narrow field of study made me an expert at a relatively early stage in my career. I found extra time to write by teaching short summer sessions at Ohio State in exchange for quarters off during the regular academic year.
            My agenda during this first phase of my career was to use the insights of poststructuralist literary theory to elucidate the implicit theories of language in modern Spanish poetry. My particular generation of Hispanists was the first to see theoretical sophistication as the gold standard by which to judge scholarship. I found myself in an ideal position to take advantage of this development, since I had a rigorous training in theory through the Comparative Literature Program at Stanford. My particular contribution was unique, I felt, in that I saw the literary text itself as theoretical in its own right, rather than “applying” a theory to the text in a mechanical or arbitrary way. While my scholarship has changed in several ways over the decades, I continue in my attempts to understand poetry from the “inside,” as it were, rather than subjecting it to agendas imposed from the outside.    
            After being awarded tenure at the Ohio State University in 1994, I was offered a job at one of the premier Spanish and Portuguese departments in the US, at the University of Kansas, where I continue to work. It was not immediately clear what my next project would be, so I worked on articles on a variety of topics until I decided to focus on recent developments in Spanish poetry. In my third book, The Twilight of the Avant-Garde: Spanish Poetry 1980-2000(Liverpool, 2009), my focus shifted to the question of the cultural legitimation of poetry. The critical problem I was addressing was why the paradigm that had governed poetry from romanticism through modernism had fallen in disfavor among a younger generation of Spanish poets, who disdained the intellectual seriousness and ambition that had characterized Spanish poetry for most of the twentieth century.   
            The articles that I wrote leading up to The Twilight of the Avant-Gardemade me well known among poets in Spain, inserting me in a polemic between those who remained faithful to the avant-garde agenda and those that had broken with it. The result was that I was invited frequently to Spain to lecture about contemporary Spanish poetry, becoming friends with many of the most prominent poets in the avant-garde camp. Although I was not averse to polemics, at some point I began to feel that didn’t want to be known mostly for my position in this particular debate. I turned my attention to one of the figures who had first inspired me to go into the field: Federico García Lorca.         
            My fourth book, Apocryphal LorcaTranslation, Parody, Kitsch(Chicago, 2009) had a transformative effect on my career, while also obliging me to look at the period in which I first developed my interest in Spanish literature. My own decision to enter the field was the result of the interest in Spanish-language poetry in the US, but this episode in literary history had not received a rigorous scholarly treatment. Coincidentally enough, my first published poem, written thirty years earlier when I was an undergraduate, addressed the issue of “apocryphal translation” that I address in my book: It was a response to Kenneth Koch’s parody of translations from the Spanish, “Some South American Poets.” It began like this: “There is no need to invent imaginary / Latin American poets! Real poets exist, / Waiting to be translated!” I was interested in the multiple ways that Lorca had been translated into an American cultural context, but I was particularly interested in poems, like those of Koch, Robert Creeley, and Jack Spicer, that purport to be translations but are really not. This is a well-known trope in literary history: think of Cervantes’s conceit that Don Quijotehas been translated from the Arabic, or Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese. A large number of American poets translated Lorca, but I was especially fascinated by the idea of creating new Lorca translations that had no original texts behind them. This seemed to be a way of accessing the cultural image of Spain in its purest form, without the interference of actual works of Spanish literature.                   
            Being known as a specialist on a very well-known writer brings certain advantages. Apocryphal Lorcawas published by a more prestigious press and was much more widely reviewed than any of my previous work. Because Twilight of the Avant-Gardetook a long time to write and suffered delays on the part of my publisher, both books appeared the same year, and I was promoted to the rank of professor that year. Once again, I searched for a new project. I didn’t intend to write another book on Lorca, and began working instead on a sequel to Twilight of the Avant-Garde. At some point, however, I decided I had many more things to say about Lorca. In 2018 I published a second book on Federico García Lorca: Lorca’s Legacy: Essays in Interpretation, in which I extended my insights of Apocryphal Lorcainto other areas and solidified my knowledge of Lorca himself.           
            In 2015, I began to teach myself jazz piano and to write songs, without any thought of connecting these interests with my scholarship. I have played drums for many years, and had always been an avid listener of music. I discovered that I had also, over the years, learned enough harmony to compose music, despite my lack of proficiency on the keyboard. A few years later, this avocation led to the birth of a third projected book on Lorca, focusing on musical adaptations of his work. The title will be Lorca: The Musical Imagination. I am not a musicologist and the focus of his book is not the technical analysis of music. My musical literacy, however, has given me the confidence to look at scores, to read the secondary literature on the composers I will be studying, and to write cogently about music for the general public. When I realized how much music Lorca had inspired, in both classical and vernacular genres, I realized that there was a book here and that I was the one to write it. I began to explore the field of “word and music studies” and found that there was a genre of books devoted to musical settings of poets like Baudelaire, Whitman, or Celan. A book about Lorca could be groundbreaking in this field, since his poetry has inspired both classical composers and performers in vernacular genres like folk, rock, and flamenco. (Almost all previous work in word and music studies, in contrast, has been restricted to the world of classical music.) 
            The intellectual interest of this material, for me, is analogous to the texts I considered in Apocryphal Lorca. Instead of using translations, adaptations, and parodies to study Lorca’s cultural influence, I am now looking at musical settings and homages from Spain, other European countries, and the Americas. A musical setting, ultimately, is a kind of translationthat provides a window on the cultural imagination. What turns out to be most compelling about this music is the way in which both classical and vernacular musicians use Lorca to convey their vision of the persistent cultural archetypes associated with Spanish culture.    
            When I reflect back on my career I can see that my agenda has remained constant in one fundamental respect: I have always attempted to understand the mystery of poetry itself. What has changed over the course of the years is an inevitable broadening and deepening of perspective. Like most young scholars, I had a relatively narrow range of expertise at the beginning of my career: I was a specialist on Claudio Rodríguez, a poet who was not particularly well known at the time, even in departments of Spanish. My work on Lorca has given me a far broader scholarly base, making my knowledgeable about translation theory and word and music studies. I am still, essentially, a specialist on a single author, but to be a competent Lorca scholar requires a vast amount of expertise. In fact, I did not consider myself a true specialist on Lorca until I finished my second book on him.   
            At the current stage of my career, I want my work to reflect four major values: depth of engagement, intellectual curiosity, humor, and accessibility. Depth is the product of sustained, focused attention over the course of several decades. Curiosity is the willingness to grow intellectually through exploring new ways of looking at familiar materials. Humor involves a sense of humility about the ultimate limits of understanding something as mysterious as poetry. As Kenneth Koch wrote, “The very existence of poetry should make us laugh. What is it all about? What is it for?” Finally, I now place higher premium on accessibility than I did at the beginning of my career. Whenever I have gone back to read something I wrote twenty-five years ago, I have concluded that I was not particularly focused on communicating my ideas to the reader. For the most part my prose was not unclear, but I can see now that I was more interested in mounting a display of my own intelligence. The audience for the kind of scholarly books I am interested in writing is inherently modest in size, but precisely for this reason no reader should be turned away by an off-putting style. Writing for a few hundred interested readers now seems preferable than addressing myself to a dozen scholars in my own field. To this end, I have devoted a lot effort into defining and putting into practice my ideas about accessible scholarly prose. 

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Non-Academic Goals

1. To be in good physical shape. I am running every other day, 2-3 miles, and doing a total of 10,000 steps a day. I also need to hit the weight room again. I am trying to get down to 160 (from 166 or so). In some sense I have already achieved this goal if I am actively working toward it, in the sense that being in good shape is not an absolute thing. Being in the gym makes me in better shape than the guy who isn't in the gym. I have a five K run coming up on my birthday later this month.

2. To meditate every day.  I am doing this.  Once again, I have achieved this just by doing it! Everyone's meditation will be fairly mediocre, I have learned. It's almost supposed to be like that, and once you accept that you are a better meditator.

3. To play piano in a way that is enjoyable to me and perhaps to others. Once again, I have achieved this once I have a comfortable relation to my own playing, accepting its limitations. People seem to like what I play or at least are polite enough.

4. To have a satisfying relationship.  Once again, I am in a relationship and am happy.

So I have achieved my goals already. I could go on with other things. I have enough money to live on and travel. I suppose I could set other goals in fitness or finances or meditation, telling myself I won't be satisfied until I weight 150 lbs or can meditate for an hour, or have x dollars in TIAA-CREF account. Those aren't really goals though; they are more like ways of keeping score. Keeping score is convenient and can be motivating, but I have probably done too much score-keeping already in my life.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019


Here are four things I aspire to now:

1. Depth of engagement.

2. But... with a sense of humor, of not taking myself too seriously, and seeing the humor in things with some degree of humility.  

3. Intellectual curiosity, leading to continued intellectual growth.

4. Accessiblity; writing for hundreds of people rather than dozens.

Thirty years ago, at the beginning of my career, I might have said this:

1. Theoretical sophistication; being at the cutting edge.

2. Having brilliant interpretations of texts.

3. Checking off the boxes to construct a CV; publishing in PMLA, MLN, Diacritics... Getting the major fellowships.

4. Being top banana, or at least being in contention for being considered the best in my field.

Of course, I've already accomplished most of those things, so it's easy to dismiss those aspirations as excessively "careerist." Of course, (I now realize that there is no top banana. Not simply because it is a subjective judgment, but because comparisons with others are pointless.)  I still apply to major fellowships, but my career is complete without them.

What are your top values for yourself in your scholarship? These will vary between individuals, and also in one individual at different career stages. My current ones reflect where I'm at now. I realize I haven't reproduced myself, having PhD students in my own image (with one exception) or been particularly influential in the way other people do scholarship. Thanks god there's no Mayhew school.  

(Unfortunately, my scholarship will not create a more just world or alter the climate for the better. Those are valuable things, but I don't see how the kind of work I do will further those ends. Even politically engaged scholarship in the humanities doesn't really do very much. Yet if that is one of your core values, then you should be honest about that.)

BACKGROUND: I am writing one of those career narratives for an application. I actually like reflecting on what I have and haven't done.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

What is your superpower?

It could be the ability to write very well. It could be intellectual brilliance or erudition. It could be an endless stream of energy and motivation, or the ability to focus strongly. It could be consistency of effort, the ability to work for months at a time. The ability to focus on intrinsic motivation and forget about external rewards for scholarship.

You probably won't have all of these things at once. For example, I am not particularly erudite and have a serious lazy streak. I am able to come up with interesting ideas and have a high internal standard for what I want to produce. I can sometimes write very quickly, even though I know that slowness is actually preferable. I think my writing is very good, verging on excellent at times.

So you want to develop two or three things at are your scholarly superpowers. Are you able to organize your research materials super well at all times? Then you have an advantage over me in that respect. It would be easy to be more self-disciplined than I am, or have a better grasp of theory. Maybe you have developed a very strong ability to construct perfectly organized 6,000 word articles with everything in place.

Everything you read is going to have strengths and weaknesses. I do about two tenure or promotion to full evaluation a year; I read articles for journals, and I read book manuscripts for presses. I see work of a wide range of quality. Intellectual brilliance is probably what I see the least of, in terms of these superpowers. I am rarely blown away by someone super smart, though that happens too. A recent book I read was very good, checked all the boxes in terms of erudition, novelty in the field, writing, and organization. I was left strangely dissatisfied, though, because the whole didn't add up to anything exciting to me. I feel that this is almost too much to ask at the point. The book does what it's supposed to do and that should be enough.

Harvest the Wind

There was a musical show called "Harvest the Wind." There was only one song, with the same title, and every time anyone had a problem they just listened to this song again. My attitude toward it was ambivalent: everyone else seemed to love it and expect me to as well. There is no actual music that I can remember after waking up, just the idea of a song called "Harvest the Wind" that in the musical was supposed to be a panacea.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Dream of German Studies

Somehow I had signed up for a study group in German and Central-European Studies. We were in some huge tent with about 50 people. I felt somewhat the impostor, as we moved into a large lecture hall. I was trying to figure out what I was doing there, and it occurred to me that perhaps I would become a Kafka scholar. I found a book on the seat I was to occupy; it was about the coup against Allende in Chile. The woman in the seat next to me asked my why I was lucky enough to find a book on my seat. We were both wearing jeans and it was not clear which leg was whose, as she scratched her leg but on what looked like my jeans. I began reading the book; it explained that the propaganda against Allende's government in the lead-up to the coup was all false, etc... I began to think skeptically about it: maybe Allende was in ineffective leader, bringing economic ruin on Chile? I would have to do further research.


Interpretation:  A dream about impostor syndrome. I was clearly reaching for something beyond my competence. Yet the book I was reading was about something in the Spanish-speaking world. The dream reflects my political positioning: I am against right-wing coups, but I also want to verify things for myself without simply accepting the left-wing line blindly. Logically, a right wing talking point can be factually correct. The facts themselves are not always convenient for one's own position.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Where did the day go? (iv)

8: Got up, did few crosswords and the like, wrote for an hour. Did some meditation and played piano.

Went to lunch at 11.

Read part of a book I need to read for a tenure review.  It was pretty good.

14:40-5: Gym / shower. Had some coffee.

5-- More reading.

Observation: since late afternoon tends to be dead time, I should go to gym then.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Dream of Memorization

I dreamed a few nights ago that I was explaining to someone my super power: being able memorize large numbers of lines of verse. I explained that I had developed this power through practice and that it was one of the keys to my success. My interlocutor was a little incredulous. This dream is true: I can memorize, and I must think of it as significant.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Where did the day go? (iii)

7-8:  Weighed myself: I am 165.6!  Blogged about my dream of Stephen King. Had coffee.  Did kenken puzzle from the NYT. Started the "Spelling Bee" and found about 20 words.

8-9: Wrote 500 words!

9-9:45: Breakfast / ran a load of dishes / meditation.

9:45-10:45:  Piano.

10:45-1: Gym / shower and shave...

13-14:  Lunch. Cleaning. Blogging.  Made a grocery list.

14:45-15:35 Physical therapy.

15:30-16:30: Shopping for food.

16:30-17 Made lentil soup and put it in crock pot. Cleaning.

17-18:  Went to help someone move a mattress.

18-19:  Cooking, cleaning.  Another shower!

19: Dinner.


Yesterday I made the mistake of skipping lunch. Hunger is not good when you trying to lose weight. There needs to be a balance: increasing exercise by so much, and reducing certain categories of food. I already don't consume sodas, desserts other than my daily scone, and most processed foods.

I am in a good rhythm with writing, meditation, piano, and exercise.  Not so much with cleaning, which I do in bursts.

Dream of Stephen King

I do not especially care about King. I am not a fan (particularly) or a detractor. I have seen movies and television series, but I haven't read his books. One day I heard an NPR interview with him and, without knowing his identity at first, I assumed he was a highbrow writer of a different type. In this night of particularly fertile dreams, though, Stephen King and I were having a conversation. I was with a friend who knew King, in a workshop where my friend was doing an arts and crafts project. King was not there, but was being Skyped in. I had to lie on my back to see him, projected on a screen above my face.

He challenged me to tell a story about my life in two sessions, like we had done before. I said I wasn't a good storyteller, that I didn't have the kind of experiences that leant themselves to being tied up in narrative bundles like that. He scoffed at me a bit, though not in an unfriendly way. Throughout the whole conversation he was a skeptical but benevolent figure. I also told him I was a schmuck, that I didn't do things well, and so that the story would end up being about my various failures. He said something to the effect that we are all schmucks. I didn't want to ask him how he came up with the ideas for his stories, but I said that I mostly wrote poetry, and that occasionally a plot for an entire novel would pop into my head, fully formed.

He said something that implied that that was the easy part. You had to have the self-discipline to write the book. The first example I gave him was of a man who gradually wasted away. He said that had been done already too many times. The second one was of a science fiction novel in which the aliens were taking over the world, but that the reader didn't know it. In other words, the transformation of reality was so subtle that it could be attributed to other causes. This is an idea I have actually had in waking life. Stephen King didn't quite get understand my plot, though it seemed as though gradually we were getting to some meeting of the minds.  

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Where did the day go? (ii)

7-8: Got up, puzzles and coffee.
8-9: Wrote 300 words on the article.
9-10: Some piano; meditation. Blogging.
10-11: Breakfast. Reading. Read an article I have to review for Romance Notes. Watched part of a movie.
12-14: Gym. Shower.
14-15: Some reading. Fell asleep for a bit.
15-17:  Reading. Finished and submitted article review for Romance Notes. (I rejected it; I am tired of these banal articles in my field.). Updated this blog post!
17-18: Chickens, dog, and cat have been fed.Wine purchased.
18: dinner time.


I got earlier and got my writing in quicker. Didn't need a shower early since I knew I was going to the gym.  I don't need to shave today.

An activity has to only occupy its own time. So if I meditate for 15 minutes, I do that and don't have to worry about that. I need 60 minutes of writing, 60 of exercising, 60 of piano playing, 15 of meditation. After that, the effort gets redundant. If I stop writing after an hour, then the next day will be fresh. I am not a serious enough pianist to need more than an hour, unfortunately.


I don't believe in dieting per se, but I need to lose 6 or 7 pounds. I am giving up very precise things until I am down to 160: fries, beer, processed meats. I will only have one hard liquor drink a week, a martini on Thursday, when our martini group meets.  I am adding 45 minutes on a stationary bike to burn 300 calories. I will reward myself with a beer when I hit 159.8 lbs.  I have wine with dinner, a scone or other pastry at mid afternoon to hold me over to dinner.  I am never hungry after dinner, never need a snack after that. If I can postpone breakfast to 10 or so then I don't need lunch.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Where Did the Day Go?

It might be useful to see where the day is going. How many academics' summers have simply faded away without anything to show for themselves?

8-9:  Got up, showered, coffee. Read a few pages of Norwegian Wood. A little piano. Kenko puzzle. Went to Beth's house to feed chickens and cat.

9-10: Re-joined the gym.  Meditation. Made breakfast; emptied and loaded dishwasher, ran it,

10-11: Writing. Wrote 420 words on an article!

11-12: Put a load of laundry in. Played piano.

12-14: Laundry in the drier. Gym. Second shower!  Sorted socks and put clothes away. Blogging.

14-15:30:  Reading at coffee shop. Finished Norwegian Wood.

4:30 : Picked up vegetables at store; other shopping.

19-20: Dinner. Watched a few movies.


Gym takes two hours.
10 is relatively late to start work, but I only needed an hour.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Serial Selves in the Suites

During my vacation I sang at Carnegie Hall (as a part of the choir to which I belong, which joined other choirs to form a large singing group, with representation from Hungary, Germany, and Switzerland), and visited my brother in DC. My partner got a debilitating joint and muscle pain disorder which made it difficult for her to walk, but we made it to many museums, Arlington cemetery to her grandfather's graven, and home on Tuesday. Yesterday was devoted to taking her to doctor appointments, etc...

Today I returned massive numbers of library books. I will have to re-check some out, but that's ok. I had to take three trips from my office to the library and pay $20 in fines, so it was clearly out of hand.  I couldn't renew them in time on my vacation so I guess I will consider that an added cost of the vacation.

[How do you get to Carnegie Hall?  Practice, as the joke says. In my case, it was join a choir that would eventually get invited there. We had to pay a registration fee individually to sing, so the singers from around the world were essentially subsidizing the concert itself. It is a kind of pay-to-play scheme that takes away some of the bragging rights, I guess. Maybe I will just leave that part out of it. I also had to fly to NY, stay in a hotel, and fly my partner there and buy here a ticket to the concert. But that was our vacation this year so it was worth it.]

Also, during my vacation, I figured out what would be the missing piece in my book of Lorca Lectures: "Serial Selves in Lorca's Suites." I deliberately didn't bring a computer on the trip, but I had a notebook and pen, and that's all I needed to sketch it out, even without a copy of the Suites on hand.  I have poems I can analyze like this one. I will translate it into French in case you don't know Spanish:

Tú tú tú tú
yo yo yo yo
¿Quién? . . .
¡ni tú
ni yo!

Toi toi toi toi
moi moi moi moi
Ni toi
ni moi 

Wednesday, June 5, 2019


My daughter is visiting from Chicago.  She had an audition for the Kansas City Symphony on Monday. It is a highly codified process. You play the exposition to the first movement of the Haydn trumpet Concerto, then orchestral excerpts from Pictures at an Exposition, Petrushka... She didn't make it past the first round but it is her first audition with an orchestra.

She is 5' tall and weighs 105 lbs and can bench press 90 and do 10 pull-ups. She also does rock climbing in the gym.

She likes reading and listening to podcasts about top performers in sports. What she is trying to get into is a competitive profession with 20 jobs opening a year with many trumpet players trying for them. Really, though, the competition is not the hundreds of players auditioning, but the dozens that really have a chance at them. You audition behind a curtain playing the same excerpts as everyone else, so it as close to a merit-base system as exists. She is extremely analytical about her strengths and weaknesses.  I wonder where she gets that from?

We watched a cooking documentary on Netflix called SALT FAT ACID HEAT that was pretty good. We watched part of the NBA finals but got bored and so we finished the last episode of the documentary.


Tomorrow I am going to New York. My local choir in Lawrence is part of a larger group of choirs singing in Carnegie Hall on Sunday. Then we will visit my brother in DC.  I won't be blogging from now until mid June or so.


I read a short novel Las batallas en el desierto by the Mexican poet (and I guess novelist) José Emilio Pacheco.  A kid in post WW-II Mexico City falls in love with the mother of a classmate (Jim) who is the mistress of some politician. His family treats this perfectly normal infatuation, one that every heterosexually inclined adolescent boy has had for an older woman, as some great sin and psychiatric disorder.  He has to confess to a priest AND go to a shrink! The family takes him out of school, and later he finds out that the mother of his friend killed herself, but doesn't quite believe it. He end by saying that Mariana (his love) would be 80 years old now.  


I found this notebook where I write down every book I read.  For some reason I haven't been doing it since last December, so I made note there of the Pacheco book and resumed my record of my readings. I started in 2017 and have read 161 books, but that isn't counting the times I have forgotten to keep track.

The Trick

The trick of being good is to set your own internal standard and measure yourself against that. You can set that far higher than the standard of your field. If you try to meet an external standard, then you will be aiming fairly low.  For example, an article could be publishable, in the sense that someone might publish it, but it might not be up to your own standard. Someone could still reject your article, but it is unlikely you will get mostly rejections if you are meeting your own, high, self-imposed standard.

My minimum is to have something well written, that makes an intelligent, non-trivial point, that engages with a genuine critical problem of interest at least to me.  I don't allow myself to use sign-posting.

This does not mean that what I write will be flawless.

Crisp Immediacy

In this dream there was someone using words and phrases of crisp directness, naming things as they really are rather than being abstract or roundabout. I can't remember any of the language itself, but I was struck by its unstuffy, outdoor feel. It was not obscene or taboo language, but we felt that a barrier had been broken down. They were ordinary English words, but the effect was extraordinary.

I came up with the phrase "crisp immediacy" after I was awake, just to be able to remember the dream. But this phrase doesn't really convey the concreteness of the language.  

Saturday, June 1, 2019


Bemsha Swing has a simple structure.  A single phrase that repeats four times (the third time in another key), in a shortened AABA form. It is in C.  Yet it has 10 separate chords, including 6 of the  12 dominant-seven chords. Autumn Leaves has about 9 or 10 ten chords too, including the 7 chords related to its key, E minor. I Got rhythm has numerous chords as well, and is in B flat.  So overall, I can play just about any chord, theoretically, just by learning these three songs, plus a few of my own in D flat and other odd keys.  Let's say there are 48 basic chords (major, minor, dominant 7, and half-diminished). It sounds like a lot, but I feel the need to know every note on the piano in relation to every key.


Lorca's main impact on Flamenco before the late 1970s is attributed to a work that

1) is not by Lorca, in the conventional sense, and

2) has nothing at all to do with flamenco.

I think that is what I love about scholarship. Finding something anomalous and then having to explain it. Of course, once you investigate it, it makes perfect sense. The popularity of the folk songs that Lorca collected, arranged, and recorded persists to this day. They are not flamenco music in their origins, and Lorca is not the composer or author of the verbal texts. But you can simply make them "aflamencadas" by singing them in that style. They are folkloric; they have that existential connection to Lorca; you don't have to write new tunes for them, or approach the dense symbolism of Lorca's own poetry. This is Apocryphal Lorca all over again and I'm loving it.

Friday, May 31, 2019


I was especially struck by the part about "the flamenco artists and bullfighters of Southern Spain, near Andalusia where he was born." This is hilarious, because Southern Spain is Andalusia. If you are near Andalusia but not in it, then you are in Murcia or Extramadura, maybe. Or Portugal or La Mancha. The singer who is doing the duende project contacted me a few years ago to ask me about the duende. We had a phone conversation. She was nice enough, but of course, my perspective is not going to be welcome to people with this kind of approach.


I think people lacking a sense of humor will never get me.  Maybe that's the problem with Venuti?  Humor comes from discrepancy, things that are unexpected.


I thought I knew about bad poetry, but there is a whole 'nother dimension I discovered yesterday, in a poem by Alice Walker cited by one of the commenters on Clarissa's blog. I had a hazy view of Walker, knowing her mostly through the film version of her novel, The Color Purple. Apparently, she has gone off the deep end into anti-Semitic tropes. The poem in question is not only written as inept prose divided arbitrarily into lines, in classic "bad poetry" style, but repeats in all earnestness tropes from medieval misrepresentations of the Talmud, that I guess have found new life on youtube. This is ugly hate speech reminiscent of Hitler.  I can't even quote from it, because I don't want to perpetuate it. But the idea is to claim that the Talmud says certain things about how Jews will control the world and kill and enslave everyone who is not Jewish.  These claims were accepted in medieval times because the texts existed only in Aramaic. Medieval anti-semitism was not some genteel form of social prejudice, but a virulently hateful ideology with often deadly effects running deep through Catholicism as well as early Reformation figures like Luther, who advocated extreme measures against the Jews, even genocide.

There is nothing funny about this, but I am imagining a darkly satirical novel about our times, in which respectable figures get away with this, while others are persecuted for comparatively minor transgressions. I had a strange day yesterday. A younger female relative of mine had been texting me about her new boyfriend; there seemed to be a few things off about him in what she told me, but then I googled his name and found out he strangled a guy, something she hadn't thought to mention. He is a "poet"too, of course, and his blog is all about peace and love, but in a kind of blathering, incoherent way. Reading this, combined with the Walker text, made me see our mental hold on reality as extremely fragile. For example, I am supposedly an expert on poetry, but what passes for such just seems like insane ranting, and not in a good way. What is it that I know then?

I get email

I often get material for my project in my email in the morning:

"We are very excited to be presenting Duende on Saturday, June 8 at San José's Hammer Theatre Center in partnership with San José Office of Cultural Affairs! The event will feature TCP founder/director Carla Canales, guitarist Jiji, pianist Danielle DeSwert HahnChristopher Botta on electronics, and artwork byRosemary Feit Covey.
Duende is an exploration of the Latina identity through a reimagination of Spanish folk songs. For the great Spanish poet and playwright Federico García Lorca, “duende” was the spirit that transfixed and elevated an audience leading them to “the dark root of the cry.” Ineffable, powerful, mysterious, it was a force he saw as essential to the flamenco artists and bullfighters of Southern Spain, near Andalusia where he was born and raised.

This program incorporates Lorca’s original fascination with traditional flamenco melodies, and reimagines them through the use of electronically synthesized sounds. The concert will also feature the premiere of a new song cycle, “Serenade Under the Moon” through which living composer John Villar takes poems from around the world about the moon and sets them for voice, guitar, and piano."

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Mediocre Meditation

The only way to do meditation, I've found, is to embrace my own mediocrity as a meditator. Doing it in a mediocre way, as in not worrying if your mind wanders, is actually the correct way of doing it. Of course, I am getting better at it, in the sense that I catch my mind wandering more quickly than I used to. I should expect not to be "good" at it (whatever that will entail) until I've done a lot more. I've done an absurdly small amount of it so far.

Reading Myself Writing about Washing Machines

I don't read myself very often. Once something is published, that's it. I'm not interested. Yet when I do come across something and read it, I get a strange frisson. Of course I am not objective, but I often find something that I have written that is very good, standing up fine to my own standards. I really ought to do this more often, because when I think about my work in the abstract, I tend to undervalue it. If it is something I have written a long while ago, I can get a sense of its quality in a way I can't for something written yesterday.

 A few days ago, it was an article I published in Spanish in 2010 on a poem by Claudio Rodríguez, "Manuscrito de una respiración." We were all asked by Philip Silver to choose a poem of Claudio to write about. This is not a publication that I am well known for. As far as I know it has never been cited, and I've never even had a conversation with anyone about it, not even Silver. Perhaps some of the other contributors to the book have read it; I don't know. There are other articles in the book, some worse than mine, some on the same level or better.

I used an image I found in a drumming manual about the rhythm of machines in laundromats, how the rhythm of the washers and dryers is regular, but the clothes rise and fall in irregular patterns. This is analogous to the drumming of Jack DeJohnette, whose metaphor this is, and also to the rhythms of Rodríguez's poem. This other article in the book that talks about prosody, but a poet who is also a profesor de métrica, does so in a dull way, basically counting the number of syllables in lines and commenting on that. I will stand behind my washing machine metaphor.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Wrong Answers

In literary criticism there are wrong answers but not right ones. In other words, it is possible to say that someone is wrong in quite specific and definite ways. Yet is is impossible to know that one is right, correct in some definitive sense.

We could say there is a set of potentially illuminating insights that is not limited beforehand. The fact that we don't know what other insights we are missing is one thing, but does not imply that we are unable to rule out some observations as irrelevant. This is not an inconsistent position. In fact, if we were unable to do so, then there would be no point in trying very hard to understand something in the first place. Our effort would meet the same reward as someone who just made something up arbitrarily without thinking about it.

San Pablo

I was driving in San Francisco, though it isn't really SF somehow. One of the streets was San Pablo which is actually in the East Bay I believe. I can orient myself visually by looking down the hills and simply going down, but the slopes are so steep that I have to slam on my brakes almost at the top of each hill. The freeway to get there ends abruptly in the financial district. At one point I end up on a narrow ledge in a park. The car is very small and maneuverable. There is some uncertainty about the hotel we are staying at, where we should eat, etc... The trip is not well planned.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Dream of a road

In this dream I was part of some military special ops thing; we were in a van dressed in disguise with rags around our heads. We were planning an attack and starting to get our gear together. We were stopped by the enemy who were suspicious. We couldn't get our rifles out of the trunk.

Some Chinese people started to appear along the side of the road, unrelated to the conflict. I began speaking to them in French, then in Spanish, trying to distract the enemy soldiers. I ended up wandering off with some of them. Now the road had turned into a kind of outdoor market, with booths and vendors, and people wandering around. I tried to make my way back to my unit, but the landscape had changed. The next change was that the entire space had become an indoor shopping mall, in the same shape as the original stretch of road. At this point I accepted the new reality of things.

Thematically, the dream seems to be about the shifting perception of reality. The road is always a symbol of life's journey, so the other things are ways of perceiving this symbol. Is it a military expedition, a shopping spree?

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Galaxia Gutenberg

In this dream Galaxia Gutenberg had published my complete poems in Spanish translation. This seemed unexpected but at the same time deserved. It was one of those massive tomes of 500 pages, like the collected works of other authors. I felt like a Very Important Person and wondered why I had ever doubted it. I imagined telling people about this book. Of course, I have never published a book of poems in English.

Obviously, this dream is about the anomaly of thinking of myself as a poet or creative person but having my actual accomplishment be in scholarship. It is also about my exaggerated sense of self importance. Galaxia Gutenberg is the publisher of Lorca! and also of all the other poets I've worked on in the last 20 years (Valente, Gamoneda, etc...) I actually know the guy who's in charge of the poetry collection there, so the dream is not wholly implausible.

I looked to see if there was any blurbs or prefaces, but no. I found the page where the translator's name appeared. I didn't now who he was.  There was a check for 60 euros or so, dated 2013. I wondered whether the check was still good.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Discrete Segments

I've decided to break the book down into discrete segments. so each one will be 5-10 pages and I will keep a running list and just see how many I can finish a discrete period of time.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019


I've never put a book together so fast as my book of Lorca lectures. I'm still debating about what the fifth chapter should be. If I write there about music, then I am taking away from the Lorca and music book. I think my idea of writing for non-specialists is breaking down, since I am still thinking too much like an academic. But that is a useful heuristic to imagine the lectures that way.

1] Lorca and me
2] Lorca par lui-même
3]The death of the Subject
4] Lorca the dramatist
5] ???
6] What Lorca Knew: Teaching Receptivity

Monday, May 20, 2019

12 bar blues

Thomas told me about a book written attempting to abolish the 5-paragraph essay. He did not approve.

You might as well try to abolish the 12-bar blues, I said.  That is not to say that all music will be in this form, or in some other given standard form like the 32-measure AABA or ABAC form of a jazz standard. But if you are teaching someone to be a rock / r and b / jazz or country musician, that form will come up a lot. The five paragraph essay is simply the shortest form of formal expository prose of more than one paragraph. Four won't work, because then the two paragraph in the middle will be equal to the first and last, and so the structure will be unbalanced.

Lorca par l-m


Lorca par lui-même

There is a popular series of books in France with titles following the pattern Baudelaire par lui-mêmeor Flaubert par lui-même. Barthes, perhaps thinking of these selections from the works of canonical authors, wrote a literary self-portrait titled Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes, one of his most charming books. In Apocryphal Lorca, I laid the ground for my analysis of the uses and misuses of Lorca by American poets in “Federico García Lorca (Himself).” I toyed with using the title “Lorca par lui-même” but thought better of it. Of course, I recognized at the time that we are never really getting Lorca himself, only some version of him that happens to suit somebody’s critical agenda—in this case my own. I was to some degree defining a vision of the author in my own image, as a complex and self-consciously intellectual figure. If, for example, I had viewed Lorca as a naively “folkloric” poet or a mere conveyer of Andalusian kitsch, then my critique of the over-simplifications in his America reception would become pointless.
Despite these efforts to define my position with caution, Lawrence Venuti’s review of my book in the Times Literary Supplement, takes me to task for the construction of a Lorca in tune with my own sensibility and with the exigencies of contemporary literary theory:   
Mayhew's opening chapter brilliantly clears away the stereotypical notions of Lorca, but it also registers a sophisticated awareness that his own interpretation is a personal preference informed by an academic critical orthodoxy, at once post-structuralist and postcolonial. Thus he asserts that “‘Lorca’ is a complex author-function,” whose “own vision of the gypsies is already that of an orientalist.” Yet to expect this sort of interpretation from US poets during the Cold War is anachronistic at best.
Venuti also takes issue with a strictly factual statement about American poets: “Their aim is not the scholarly one of understanding Lorca as he really is, or Lorca in the context of the larger Hispanic literary tradition.” In context, this does not necessarily imply any privileged access on my part to the “real Lorca,” or “Lorca par lui-même.” I was simply stating that the creative adaptations of greatest interest to me were part of a search for an “American duende,” not a scholarly attempt to understand Lorca’s in the context of Spanish language literature.
It is gratifying to me to be conceded some degree of sophistication and brilliance. Yet I find it difficult to make sense of Venuti’s reservations. Every academic, including Venuti himself, has theoretical assumptions informed by some degree of “personal preference.” Venuti is a post-structuralist and post-colonial theorist of translation whose thought has inspired my own. Surely he, too, would have to posit the complexity of the “author-function” in a study of this type rather than relying on older notions of authorship. To approach the topic in any other way would not allow for the required degree of nuance. That is not the same thing as expecting translators from an earlier period to share our current theoretical positions.
Venuti views my use of the word apocryphalin the title of the book as an “ominous sign,” reflecting my “canonical” academic vision of Lorca. He seems not to have noticed a few things. In the first place, the word apocryphalis not wholly negative in its connotations, since it suggests the alluring mystery of esoteric texts—sacred books that have been excluded from the canon. Perhaps with excessive optimism, I was expecting my readers to grasp the contradictions inherent in this word rather than simply seeing it merely as a term of opprobrium. After all, I reserve my highest admiration for “translations” that are apocryphalin the literal sense—that is, versions of poems that cannot be found in Lorca’s collected works, such as those by Jack Spicer.  
Venuti is also wrong to accuse me of anachronism. Post-structuralist and post-colonialist ideas about literature are not alien to the avant-garde or “postmodern” poetry of the period in question. The decade of the 1960s represents the heyday both of the “New American Poetry” and of French poststructuralism. The richest American readings of Lorca during the cold war do, in fact, reflect a sophisticated understanding of the vicissitudes of the author-function (Spicer), or of the risks of kitsch, orientalism, and sentimentality (O’Hara). The existence of parodies of translations of Spanish Language poetry by the late 1960s (Koch) tells us that some readers of the period were already seeing the boom in translations of Lorca and Neruda with jaundiced eyes. This ironic view, then, is not my own anachronistic projection. Needless to say, post-colonialist critiques like Edward’s Said’s Orientalismalso have their origin in this period. Jerome Rothenberg, one of the founders of the “deep image” school inspired by Lorca, began to develop a de-colonizing critique of the Western canon through the practice of ethnopoeticsmore than ten years before Said’s 1978 book.

Sunday, May 19, 2019


What if Lorca really were just a purveyor of Andalusian kitsch? Then all my work as been in vain.

The Fourth Wall

What if there really were a fourth wall in the theater?  So the audience just sees the outside wall of a house, and the actors were inside acting out the play. That would be more interesting than breaking through an imaginary "fourth wall."


At an art opening the artist said to us: "I am a conceptual artist; what I deal with is ideas." Of course, I wanted to say, "I hate that" but I didn't.  She told us to read all the text she'd written about it. Later, she gave a spiel about one part of her work. I like her personally and we are in the same circle of friends, and I had nothing to gain by speaking up.  

It's not really even conceptual art, about the nature of art itself. It's concept art, where the ideological message is there at the forefront. I didn't even hate her work; I just wish she had the confidence to let it speak for itself! The concepts are not over subtle.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Autumn Leaves

I have this thing I'm doing on Autumn Leaves. I play a walking bass on the A section for every key, beginning each knew one at the final chord of the last.  So I go 2/5/1/4/7/3/6.  Then the 6 becomes the two of the next transposition.  I work on this every morning, starting at an arbitrary place. This is my summer project. I'm also improvising over "Bemsha Swing" every day.

What this should give me is a good ability to make walking bass lines, plus an intuitive knowledge of the circle of fifths / fourths. 2/5/1 progressions in major and minor in every key.  The next stage would be improvised right hand lines to go along with the walking bass.


I recently discovered something super obvious that I should have known long ago, and that made an immediate improvement in my improv. This is to make each phrase very purposeful and deliberate, confident sounding, with a clear beginning and end. If you try to do that, you might not be able to.  But if you aren't trying to do this, if you are fine playing tentative sounding things, things that you don't really mean to play, then it will be impossible to achieve that confident sound. Instead of asking whether the phrase is good or bad, ask whether it is what you truly meant to play.

A complex phrase that you don't really mean will sound random to the listener, like running up and down a scale simply because the scale is available for you. That's one thing that people who don't like jazz don't like.

The easiest way to achieve this is to play very simple phrases. You can increase length, speed, or complexity as you progress.

Monday, May 13, 2019

I decided to incorporate this in the first Lorca Lecture...

One misunderstanding that I have found on one or two occasions is the claim that I attempt to show how Americans have gotten Lorca wrong. In 2016, a scholar from the Netherlands wrote an article in which he used my book as a negative example of an old-fashioned paradigm, according to which the translation is always condemned to be a shadow of the original. Mayhew, according to this critic, even invokes the notion of a “real Lorca.” It is laudable to see translation as a creative act rather than a mere attempt to create an equivalence with the original. In fact, my entire study is devoted to this proposition! In a blanket prohibition of all negative critique of translation, however, Steenmeijer leaves himself no way of discerning between the creativity and mere incompetence. Truly engaging adaptations stand out against a backdrop of mediocrity, as might be expected in virtually any human endeavor. The celebration of the translator’s creativity, logically speaking, requires the same critical acumen used to evaluate a translation in the first instance. Without discernment, a seemingly sophisticated theory of translation simply provides carte blanchefor a variety of practices that might not even be comparable to one another.
Steenmeijer also objects to my use of insulting and tendentious words like apocryphalparody, and kitschin the title of my book. Yet surely only kitschfall into this category. Perhaps a Dutch scholar, writing in Spanish about a book written in English, is not attuned to the connotations that these words would have for my intended audience.. Among the adaptations of Lorca that interest me the most, after all, are the apocryphal ones, like Spicer’s, and the parodic ones, like Koch’s. As for kitsch, it is difficult to write intelligently about Lorca’s reception without some awareness of aesthetic degradation and of the prevalence of easily digested clichés. Lorquian kitsch is prevalent American reception, but is also present in Spain itself, and thus is not a byproduct of translation per se.   

Sunday, May 12, 2019


"La implacable crítica de Mayhem forma parte de un largo y pertinaz paradigma según el cual la traducción y, en particular, la traducción literaria es, por definición, una sombra del original o incluso una falsa versión de este."

This seems to be a false inference. For example, any criticism at all of a translation would seem to follow this paradigm, insofar as it finds that a translation is insufficient in any way. In reality, though, everyone recognizes that translations vary in their approaches, and that even "creative" approaches vary in their success.  

In reality the + [plus] model and the - [minus] model of translation both depend on an ability for the reader to scrutinize the original and the translation side by side. Of course it seems hipper to say that the translation is more than the original, not less, but is this always the case? Just enumerating the ways in which translations fail is quite dull, but that was never my project in the first place. I do find it interesting how they fail in predictable ways, or how these failures line up with predictable cultural oversimplifications. Only a few other people have read my book and concluded that my idea is that Americans have gotten Lorca wrong.    

 I am trying to think of a way I could have written the book without some recognition of Lorquian kitsch in the American reception? This element is one of the main themes running through this reception. 

I'm sure that he knows how to spell my name, since it appears correctly in other places in the text and in the bibliography. It is still a bit funny though, since mayhem is a word that means violent destruction and disorder, and can be found easily by flipping over the last letter of my name. 

Friday, May 10, 2019

Mediocre (x)

It is one thing to say "Mayhew is wrong..."  Then I can just see why I am wrong (or not) and move on. What rankles me is the attribution of a mediocre argument, one I would never make, to me. In particular, the idea is that the American reception of Lorca gets him wrong, and that insufficient translations are an index of that. Of course I analyze translations and comment on specific ways they succeed to fall short. If you aren't able to do that, then you take away a set of analytical tools.

I thought I was very careful to say there's not a real Lorca that they are getting wrong. Instead, I talk about certain emphases, the selection of some texts rather than others, or the emphasis on one dimension rather than another. What emerges is not a deficient or mediocre Lorca, but something else.

A letter of complaint

Estimado profesor Steenmeijer:  

Espero que no lo moleste que le escriba. Para mí,  la lectura que ha hecho de Apocryphal Lorca, en un artículo reciente, es tan parcial que da una idea incompleta de mi aportación al estudio de la recepción americana del poeta granadino. Mi visión de las versiones lorquianas de Hughes, Blackburn, Spicer, Koch, O’Hara, Rothenberg y otros es más bien positiva, pese a mi crítica muy dura de Belitt. Seguramente el lector que lee el artículo sin haber hojeado mi libro saldría con una idea falsa de mis intenciones y de mis conclusiones, ya que deja fuera la otra mitad de mi trabajo: la celebración de la creatividad en la invención de nuevos “Lorcas.”  Las palabras apocryphalparodia no son especialmente negativas en inglés. De hecho, celebro las versiones apócrifas de Spicer, quien ha traducido poemas de Lorca que no existen en las obras completas. Mi lectura de Kenneth Koch también es bastante positiva, por su parodia “Some South American Poets.” Seguramente Ud. conoce las parodias de Koch de otros poetas, como William Carlos Williams; son realmente maravillosas. Incluso mi lectura de Selected Poemsde New Directions no resulta enteramente negativa. Seguramente la crítica al kitsch puede dar lugar a controversias. La celebración ingenua y antiintelectual del duende lorquiano merece una crítica, a mi juicio.  

Realmente lo que he intentado demostrar es la invención de otra figura, el Lorca apócrifo americano, que dista mucho de ser un poeta “mediocre,” y que arroja luz sobre Lorca mismo. Otra vez, espero no ofenderlo a Ud. con esta rectificación. Como no nos conocemos personalmente, no me siento enfadado sino simplemente perplejo ante una lectura “apócrifa” de mi libro. Por otra parte, su artículo es bastante interesante. Si yo no conociera a este profesor “Mayhem” tal vez estaría de acuerdo con Ud.  

Un cordial saludo,  

Thursday, May 9, 2019

A bad reading of me...

"Sin embargo, por diversa y multicultural que fuera la recepción del poeta granadino en los EE.UU, Mayhew no vacila en deplorar y reprobarla. Es más:según el estudioso norteamericano, este país no acertó a apreciar debidamente la obra de García lorca, como ya sugiere el título de su libro, que incluye pala-bras tendenciosas y estigmatizantes como “apócrifo”, “kitsch” y “parodia”. Para empezar, Mayhew juzga problemáticas las dos traducciones con las que García Lorca llegó a la fama en los EE.UU. La primera es Selected Poems, una antologíade la poesía de Lorca que desde su publicación en 1955 ya lleva vendidos másde 120.000 ejemplares. la otra es The Poet in New York, que incluye, aparte de una versión inglesa del poemario Poeta en Nueva York, una traducción de laconferencia “Juego y teoría del duende”. Mayhew rechaza los dos libros en su capacidad de traducción: el primero por no hacer justicia al tono y las metáforasdel original y el segundo porque el poeta que lo tradujo, ben belitt, habría cani-balizado el texto original en beneficio de su propio proyecto poético."

I don't see the words parody and apocryphal as negative in the least.  Did she miss my praise of Spicer and O'Hara?  


Autumn Leaves in twelve minor keys will mean:

every minor chord
every major 7 chord
every dominant chord
every half diminished chord
every 2/5/1 in major
every 2/5/1 in minor
every tritone substitution

Twelve walking bass lines that use all 7 chords in every key. So far I am working on 3 keys: E minor, A minor, and Db minor. Learning those gives me 25% of all of this.

I like certain things about music for the same reason that I like sestinas. It's that formal, mathematical quality.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019


Most people are not "most people."

Ruin an aphorism by prefacing it with "studies show..."

The hard part is not the blindfold, but the piano.

There is no such thing as an "Ashberry."

All art is "visual art."

The glissando destroys everything that has come before.

After “happy hour” comes melancholy hour.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Autumn Leaves

I want to do "Autumn Leaves" in 12 keys. So far I've done E minor (the key it is in in the fake book) and am starting on Bb minor. It will be interesting to see if the process gets faster as I go along. It will, but I'm going to found out at what pace it goes.

It is basically a 2/5/1 in the relative major of the key, then a 2/5/1 in the tonic minor key. Then the process reverses for the B section, and the C section has a turn around that's really cool.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Selling myself short

I now officially know how to improvise.  I just did it enough over a few tunes so that the harmonies became second nature. Then I learned "Autumn Leaves" in twenty-four hours and I can improvise to that. So I could theoretically do that with any song that I learned. Whether I can improvise well is another question, but what I mean is that I don't play wrong or unintended notes and don't get lost in the form, and that I can even camouflage mistakes when I do make them.

I can figure out a walking bass line for a chord progression.

I still play too basically in terms of left hand technique and putting extra voicing notes in the right hand. I am still at the level below mediocrity but I can play things that sound ok to people who don't know jazz very well or are not over critical. On Easter I played at a family gathering for a while and people thought it was good.


I have noticed that I sell myself short in a lot of respects. I have a desire not to seem arrogant. But this desire also causes me to not excel in certain areas or to take full ownership of everything I do, even in my scholarship. It's very odd. I imagine that many people also sell themselves short in many ways, perhaps not even realizing it.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Dream of Black Cats

We were in a large building with many black cats, trying to find our own. We would approach each one to try to see if it was the right one. Some responded aggressively and were definitely not him. Finally, I had the idea of calling our cat by its name, which I did, and he came to us immediately.


Real life context: I was cat-sitting for a month, the black cat that was the subject of the dream.  My friend is back now and we were sleeping in her house when I had this dream.

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Ripple Effect

I found this concept in a drumming book (Secrets of the Hand) and am applying it to piano. If you start a phrase with a few fast notes, the whole phrase will appear faster, so you don't have to lay four sixteenth notes, you could play just two and shift to 8th notes, and the effect will seem almost as fast because the listener's ear will be lagging behind.

You can also play explosively by moving suddenly into a faster sequence of notes and then resuming the slower subdivisions. I hear this a lot in Coltrane, when he plays at a slower tempo. Really fast runs in the context of a slow tempo have an explosive power to them that's a little different from the steamroller effect when everything is super fast.  Having space between phrases also can make them more explosive.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

The postulation of reality and the classic style

Borges defined the classic style in an essay called "The Postulation of Reality." He even uses the word "classical" several times in this essay and contrasts this style with the romantic style. I discovered this yesterday (I knew the essay before but hadn't made the connection) in my weekly conference with Thomas.

As is typical with Borges, he makes something very ordinary into something deeply strange-sounding. The classical trick of representing reality is not to represent or describe it, but conjure it up out of purely abstract schemata. This works because you don't actually need to paint with words or be expressive to make the reader imagine things.

Mediocrity (ix)

Perhaps other people are simply interested in other things than I am. What seems to me to be mediocre cultural / literary studies might be excellent history.  Not that I'm uninterested in history, but I think writing history through plot summaries of a lot of novels isn't the best approach.  Still, I extend that benefit of the doubt to research that is ok but not breathtakingly interesting.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Mediocrity (viii)

So the psychological costs of living in a mediocre environment are very high. Arrogance, resentment, hypocrisy, inauthenticity, depression. Complaining about how hard it is for me to be smarter than other people is not likely to evoke much sympathy. I also have to be careful when I lash out in frustration.

But consider the opposite situation. You are surrounded by intelligent people. They consider your ideas and don't make dumb objections to them. They might have points where they don't agree, but the level of discourse is high. Then all that resentment dissolves.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Mediocrity (vii)

I read something today for work, something I wouldn't have otherwise read except for a work requirement, etc... I was probably above the "mediocre" level, more of a B level. I could skew it either way, talk it up and explain why it is ok, or look for every flaw in it.

I guess what I would say: no imaginative flair, no "brilliance" in evidence.  Quotes dull (or wrong) things from other critics. A few obvious mistakes, but very few. He quotes someone else who talks about someone's reaction to an imminent historical event, something that hadn't happened yet, and that presumably nobody would know would happen. I would have to track down the original quote to see what the first critic said.


Whenever I talk about something like this I make sure I alter some identifying details to make it unidentifiable.  If I say I read something today, it was a year ago.  If I say it was a year ago, it was today. If I say he, I  mean she, etc...  

Monday, April 22, 2019

Mediocrity (vi)

What rankles is not the existence of mediocrity; by pure statistics, certain things will be in the middle range of quality. That is just the shape of the curve. What rankles is the holding up of the mediocre as some kind of model, and the social pressure that's involved in that. There was a guy in my department who was supposed to be great, etc... I guess that was the social fiction that we were all supposed to hold up. It was churlish of me to think he wasn't, since he somehow held a social status as being excellent, even though a view from outside that consensus might come to another position.

So the problem is not Billy Collins, but that idea of holding up Billy Collins as something special and exceptional.  He's just not. When you point that out, people will say you hate him because he is too "popular.' Well, yes. that is why. If he weren't popular I would never have heard of him so I couldn't hate him.  It is the lack of proportion between the merits and the reputation.  That is what rankles.


The late Merwin translates the poem like this:

Not he who in spring goes out to the field
and loses himself in the blue festivities
of men whom he loves, and is blind to the old
leather beneath the fresh down, shall be my friend always

but you, true friendship, celestial pedestrian who in winter
leave your house in the breaking dawn and set out
on foot, and in our cold find eternal shelter,
and in our deep drought the voice of the harvests.

It's fine; there are a few things I don't like, like the "of men whom he loves" of the third line, the unsingable tongue-twister "celestial pedestrian." "in the breaking dawn" isn't idiomatic to me. "Field" is ok but "fields" or country / countryside sounds better.

Siempre será mi amigo

Siempre será mi amigo no aquel que en primavera
sale al campo y se olvida entre el azul festejo
de los hombres que ama, y no ve el cuero viejo
tras el nuevo pelaje, sino tú, verdadera

amistad, peatón celeste, tú, que en el invierno
a las claras del alba dejas tu casa y te echas
a andar, y en nuestro frío hallas abrigo eterno
y en nuestra honda sequía la voz de las cosechas.

--Claudio Rodríguez

I want to set this to music, but I want to use my own translation.  

He will always be my friend, not the one who in Springtime
goes out into the countryside and gets lost in the blue festivities
of the men he loves, and cannot see the old leather
under the new fur, but you, true

friendship, celestial walker, you who in Winter
leave your house at break of dawn, and start 
walking, and in our cold find eternal shelter
and in our deep drought the voice of the harvests.  

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Mediocrity (v)

There is a kind of tedious book about intellectuals in the late Franco period, called El cura y los mandarines, by Gregorio Morán. The protagonist is a guy named Jesús Aguirre, priest turned into a Duke, an "intellectual" who actually never wrote anything of substance but seemed to be at the center of everything. The book is a bit tedious because it is longwinded and ultimately I don't care very much about Aguirre. It is useful because it has information about the founding of El País and about the inner workings of the Real Academia. Morán is constantly pointing out the mediocrity of this intellectual ambience, especially seemingly major figures like Julián Marías. This also gets tedious because he rarely explains why someone is so mediocre: it's just supposed to be self-evident. And what has Morán done to make us think he isn't mediocre as well?  There are valuable things in the book, but it isn't quite as great as I expected it to be. It offers that vicarious pleasure of feeling superior to people like Francisco Umbral or the elder Marías, but I am suspicious of that.


Carlos Bousoño was the best known critic of poetry in Spain. His whole system was based on a classification of metaphors, with his own terminology with labels like "imagen visionara."  I don't remember the other ones. I guess he was a disciple of Dámaso Alonso, the main philologist of the previous generation. I came across Bousoño when I was first in Spain. In graduate school I discovered that A. Debicki was the best known critic of Spanish poetry in the US.  I immediately saw his intellectual thinness.  It was self-evident to me, though a lot of other people seemed to think he was great.

I knew that I could be one of the top scholars in my field, because people like this were just not at a high level. The bad thing, obviously, was that this fueled my arrogance. It also wasn't good to be in a field that other people did not respect that much, or were not interested in.  I could be as good as possible, and people would still see me as a Debicki disciple, not reading either of us.  Or they could know I'm good but see me as exceptional within the field.

I'm still working on my arrogance. I'm sure these posts on mediocrity are not helping!