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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...

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!

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Mediocrity (iv)

Are we supposed to not notice mediocrity in order to be polite?  We can count number of publications, assuming that every publication is valid in its own way. This is the basis of academic civility.  If you look too closely, you might notice something is wrong.  I've had tenure cases where I've stopped reading because I didn't want to go too negative, and the more I read that worse things seemed.

The quality of the journal is supposed to be the gold standard. Thus if an article is in x journal, then it deserves to be. Then you don't have to read the article itself, you just mention what journal it is in. Scholar A had three articles in journal #1, two in journal #2, and two in journal #3. Then the standard is met; you don't have to go further than that. So by this logic it is not the outside evaluators who decide, but the peer reviewers for those journals. It follows that peer review is the only place where you're allowed to call out mediocrity for what it is.

This is unfair to the brilliant article in the second rate journal. That's too bad. I guess that scholar has to know not to waste that article on an inferior venue.  


So I went to my fourth or fifth music department concert. I never go to a concert without gaining new insights. This was seven music students, grad students I believe though there could have been an undergraduate in there, playing seven sonatas by Beethoven, as part of a series where they will play all of them.  It lasted almost three hours, from 2:30 to 5:15 on a pleasant Saturday afternoon. In attendance were a few friends of the musicians and some representatives of the generation who frequent classical music events: those over 70.

They were playing different pieces, but they also sounded different stylistically. The first woman, who was blind, had an emotional immediacy to her playing.  The last one had a beautiful cantabile feeling. The guy who played the appassionata was very good if a bit more bombastic. He was the only non-Chinese or Chinese American player of the bunch. Another sounded more Neo-classical, etc... Some were as different from each other as a piece of hard wood and a supple leather belt.

This was a bit of reality check for me. I have a good idea that I am still on the other side of mediocrity from these players, but even mediocrity seems well out of my reach today. Another insight is that getting better is about gaining access to more repertory instead of being stuck to a narrow set of pieces that happen to be within my grasp now.

I also saw a percussion concert the other day. There was a piece by Cage on some Conga drums, which was ok, but some of the other pieces were really interesting. I had the insight that composing for percussion allows for a whole nother set of sensibilities to come out.

Mediocrity (iii)

I did a tenure evaluation once. The person's work looked solid from the outside, but it was a marginal case. The tone was very ponderous, as though the person had great and important, ground-breaking things to say, but you kept reading it and it never got to the point.  There was no there there. Quantitatively, it satisfied requirements for promotion, but there was just nothing there as far as I was concerned.

Here's the problem, though. Maybe it was good and I just wasn't seeing it.  It could be that I am so far away from what other people are interested in that I have some giant blind spots. Not spots, really, but whole territories.


I'm reading The Husband's Secret, by Liane Moriarty.  It is way below the level of anything I would normally read. It's got the cardboard characters, the clichéd dialogue, all that stuff.  The device for creating suspense is childishly simplistic. Just open the damned letter already, lady!  Even the attempts at good writing are overdone, like the" two fat tears making snail paths down her aunt's pink, powdery cheek." The startling thing is not that this kind of thing exists, but that it is popular. It even has a reader's guide at the end, for the book clubs, as though anything in the book were not transparently available to be seen.

I'm doing it in order to do something unusual, beyond my comfort zone. Everyone should do this kind of thing once in a while, whatever it is.

Mediocrity (ii)

If you have to pass through mediocrity, it is because you still haven't attained it.  You should aspire to that first.  For my jazz piano playing that would playing something that sounded very conventional and clichéd, but with the idiomatically correct clichés, like the barely audible jazz piano in a movie cocktail party that's just supposed to be there as ambience. The guy or gal playing that is better than I am, so I could aspire to get there.

Thursday, April 18, 2019


You have to pass through mediocrity on the way to excellence. There is no way "around" it.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Good Bait

I was driving home from the airport and the song "Good Bait" (Tad Dameron) in Coltrane's version came on, bluetoothed from my phone onto my car's audio system. Hearing this made me think that I could do something imaginatively bold with my life, even if arguably I haven't done anything like that yet. Coltrane just has a larger than life presence; it's not just seeing something well done, but imagining that all self-imposed limits are artificial creations.  It would follow, then, that part of the transformative power of art is this: empowering the listener or viewer to glimpse something transcendent. This can happen through a transcendent genius like Coltrane (or put in the name of your inspiration in place of my hame.)

Or it could happen differently through an artist that you might see as a "permission granter," someone who in some way gives you permission to do your own thing.  For me that would be Ron Padgett, a poet who writes in a way that (seemingly) anyone should be able to manage, without being a transcendent figure in this way. The poems by the bus driver protagonist of the Jarmusch film "Paterson" are written by Padgett. The way a song written by a small child might open up your possibilities.

Of course, literature shapes subjectivity in other ways. The reader identifies with fictional characters and thus has access to other subjectivities not one's own. Or the reader identifies with the lyric speaker of a poem or series of poems. This is reading as "self-fashioning" (Greenblatt).  

I found this poem

El susurro de unos cepillos de alambre sobre la piel del recuerdo

converso con las sombras, boxeo, gesticulo en las sombras

el recuerdo ya no es esa piel de tambor

ya no es de piel, podría ser el "cincuentón obeso"

de Cernuda, el "conviene percutir" de José Angel

es un aforismo ingente, atrabiliario, repetido hacia la saciedad

en la compulsión de hurgar en las sombras de alambre


A whisper of wire brushes on the skin of memory

I talk with the shadows, shadow box, gesticulate

memory is no longer that drum skin,

it is not made of skin, it might be Cernuda's

"obese fifty-year old man," José Angel's "time for percussion"

it is an overgrown aphorism, hostile and repeated ad nauseam

in the compulsion to root around in memories of wire 

Saturday, April 13, 2019


In a coffee shop or restaurant there will be someone holding forth in a voice that fills the entire space, or at least one section of it in which you happen to be sitting. The other people at the table will be silent, or at least inaudible in their very brief interventions. The impression is of a continuous, uninterrupted monologue. The content of what they are saying does not matter as much as the capacity to assert a presence. Afterwards if you were to ask them they would say that they were talking to a friend in a coffee shop.


Sometimes the tone of a discussion is such that you know right away that the people at the next table are evangelicals. Before even telltale words appear: Jesus, biblical, church...

Friday, April 12, 2019

Dream of Poetry Reading

My friends Stan and Judy were arranging a reading.  The first act was to be a couple playing some kind of special ethnic music. It turned out to be very dull, disappointing all my expectations. It sounded like generic blues. Then it was my turn.  I read three poems and the event was over. Later I felt I should have read more: there was plenty of time left.

The second board

The second board was much easier.  I knew exactly what I was doing and only needed two grades of sandpaper, 100 and 220.  I didn't waste time strapping the paper into a sanding block; I just sanded with a piece of the paper in my hand. The problem now is that I need something more difficult to make, but not too difficult so as to get discouraged.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019


I completed my first maple cheese board.  The wood should darken over time. All I did was to sand the surfaces and round the edges a bit, and treat the whole thing with generous amounts of mineral oil, so it seems an exaggeration to think that I made it with my hands. I'm going to have to think of some projects that aren't quite as simplistic.


I reject the idea that you should speak in unconfident ways, be afraid of putting forward an argument strongly, without hedges... Are you doing your readers any favors by being suspicious of your own ability to say what you have to say?  This clotted, ultra-meta discourse that so many people use is not necessary. The last two speakers in peninsular we've brought, Jim Fernández and Sebastiaan Faber, gave talks that anyone coming off the street would be able to understand.

Dream of Mute Piano

I was playing in a piano recital.  The notes of the piano would not make a sound when I touched the keys.  I was supposed to accompany someone else, but no sound came out of the piano I was trying to play. This is rather dumb, because even a child can push down a piano key and make a sound, but I had some sort of mental block that made me forget how to do it. The woman who was in charge of it all was getting impatient. I tried another piano close by and it worked. I then played Mompou's Música callada #3. I got through most of it without mistakes. In my dream I was actually playing the correct notes and I knew exactly what they were, and this is in fact the piece I am playing for my recital. I remember thinking that the trick was managing one's own emotions, ones own adrenaline, in order to maintain muscular control.

 I woke before I could play the second piece, my own composition.    

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Dream of Time Travel City

We were lost in a city; it was impossible to retrace one's steps. The other person with me was possibly my daughter. As we wandered around the city began to feel medieval, with people carrying medieval weapons and dressed of that epoch. I concluded that we were in a time travel city where the time was unstable and could shift from one period to the other fluidly. The language seemed to be French, so I pretended to be British. I was curiously free of fear. The people were not hostile, and accepted my pretense and my fake accent.  I went to a hotel; there was an elevator so I had to think the epoch was early twentieth century now.  

Sunday, April 7, 2019


In keeping with my new habit of going to the music department faculty recitals, I heard the Poulenc violin and piano sonata dedicated to Lorca just now.  I had no idea of the pieces they would be playing, I was just going to a random concert.

I am filled with emotion. although the piece does not enjoy a great reputation, I found it incredibly moving.

I also introduced myself to the violinists and to a few sopranos on the faculty who were in the audience.  Normally, I wouldn't talk to anyone, but I figured what the hell.


I sanded down my first cheese board. I dampened it and will sand it again tomorrow if the grain feels rough again.  They say that if you don't do this step then the board will get rough the first time someone rinses it off.

Then I will oil it and it will be done. It seems very easy to make, but the point of doing it is to see where it leads after that.  The surface of the board I got was already fairly smooth on most sides, so it was just a matter of rounding the edges a bit and sanding two ends.

The point of doing it is just to be able to make something by hand. It is a missing piece for me.  I delayed start on this for a while. There is something about confronting emotions here. We are comfortable with the negative emotions we have; we just want to keep them close to us. We are less comfortable with new emotions, even if they may bring positive changes.

Other new things I'm doing: going to free concerts at the music school. I developed a new style of improvising on the piano, consisting of playing very slow chords in the left hand and very fast improv over them in the right.  The slower the harmonic rhythm, the more room for super fast elaboration in the right hand. It is not really a way to play in the long term, simply a device to use to develop a lot of improv ideas.


In dreams we think, try to figure things out, make decisions and act. The dreamer though, has set up the situation for one who finds him/herself in that situation. The dreaming subject, then, is double. We recognize the capacity for acting in a situation one finds oneself from waking life. Also, we have the capacity for conjuring up mentally a hypothetical scenario of a certain type and placing ourselves in it. We might do that when thinking about future or past events, or imagining someone else's experience, as when reading fiction or seeing a movie.

The unconscious is sloppy, not concerned with precision. So two people can fuse, or one separate into two.  Geographies are uncertain too. The acting subject tries to deal with the incoherence set forward by the scenario-projecting subject, who has set things up in a confusing way, simply because the unconscious mind doesn't care about precision in that way. The conscious dreamer can accept reality as it is presented in the scenario, or also question it. I think it's Kafka who best captures that particular incoherence: it's not that the dream is strange, but that we often go along with that strangeness, or our protests are ineffectual when we do question it.  We ought to have freedom to dream what we want, but instead our minds present diminished, less free versions of reality itself.  We are trapped by our own minds.

Dream of Music

My music teacher was going to come over to talk about electric wheelchairs for her father. I. was unclear about why, since I don't know anything about the subject. When she showed up she was a completely different person, a young blonde woman I was very drawn to. It eventually turned out she was not my piano teacher, but a voice teacher I had had before. (Though she didn't actually look like her, either.) She began talking to me about who I had studied voice with. The topic of wheelchairs didn't really come up, though I think my mom had one in the shed... We seemed to be in my house in Davis. I mentioned that my daughter had studied to be a professional musician, yet in the dream my daughter was still an infant.    

Friday, April 5, 2019


There is a guy I don't like very much, former colleague.  His name is sacrosanct around here, and so I just assumed that I was in a minority. I don't really dislike him intensely, even, but I just never felt the level of praise he received was at all merited, and that there was something that rubbed me the wrong way, though I've never been able to define what it was either.  It's fine, since he's far away now and we don't have to see each other. I always tried to be nice to him and not let on at all about how I felt. I haven't bad-mouthed him to others either. He probably doesn't like me either, and he would be justified in that, though to his credit he's treated me cordially on the surface.    

I've discovered, though, that I am not the only one.  Today I finally mentioned to two other people that I never liked this guy, and they agreed with me completely. It comes as a relief. We are in a bit of a tumult here, with our chair resigning after some conflictive situations that have been going on for a year or so. We've had an HR study of our climate, an administrative "minder" looking over our shoulders, and an external review that we haven't seen yet.  I just had to get off my chest that this other guy is not as great as everyone thinks.    

Ex tempore

Why is improvisation seen as difficult in music but so easy in speaking?

Suppose we could only speak by reading off a script; we would be very limited in our means of expression. If, furthermore, we never wrote a script ourselves, but only followed scripts written by others. To what extent could we really be said to understand language in such circumstances?  

Yet that is how music is taught.

In vernacular traditions, at least, the player learns to play by ear, or to improvise right away. We know that improvisation used to be stronger in the classical tradition as well.

Thursday, April 4, 2019


When I improvise, I hear the entire next phrase in my head before I play it, so that when I actually play it, even if it is fast phrase, it can feel slow and relaxed: after all I have just heard it in my head much faster than I play it. This doesn't always occur, of course. Sometimes my fingers play things I have not heard first in my head. Those phrases are much worse.

The best phrases will feel very definite, very intentional, not tentative in the least.

Since I am not a very great improviser, I find it remarkable that I can do it at all. Extrapolating to someone far better than I am, I can see that they are hearing things in their head very fast and playing in a relaxed and intentional way when they actually come to play the phrase. It never seems like they are rushed to think of what to play.

The trick is not making things up on the spot, then, but making those improvised ideas sound inevitable in context. To achieve that I improvise hours and hours over a few different chords changes. That would seem to be the way to move forward.


We can all improvise in conversational situations.  That's what conversation is, right?  You might have a script for an interview or a sale pitch, but once you have to answer and unexpected question improvisation comes in.  The sentence you are about to speak can also appear in your mind instantaneously before you speak it, so that the utterance itself comes out effortlessly.  Or you can start to speak and flounder a bit, lose your place. Everyone can converse; some are better than others, but it is not a rare skill to have.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019


In this dream I was with my mother. We were to perform a funereal ritual called the ???? for my father. (The word was very clear in my mind, even after awakening, but I can't recall it now.) We went to one church in Sacramento, and were directed to another one. I wondered why we just couldn't have called to find out where it was supposed to be. At the second church, we went down into a basement area and found the room, after walking through a bath-like area, perhaps suggesting baptismal fonts.

Apparently this was a kind of second funeral, performed several years after the death. My father died in 2000, but in the dream the event seemed closer in time. I found a small slip of paper on which my mother had written of her hardships taking care of my father in his illness. She talked of not having enough protein and having to chew multivitamins to get enough nourishment.  I began to weep, and the rest of the dream was basically me weeping. I felt guilty at not having helped my mother. At some point someone tried to comfort me.


Now my mother helps to care for my sister, who has a rarer form of dementia that hits people in late middle age.  At the same time, she has my niece living there as well, with a caregiver who comes in, so the burden is not all on her. The emotion in the dream is very real to me, even though in real life my mother has dealt with tasks of caring for others quite well.  Between the time my father died and my sister was diagnosed with dementia, she voluntarily cared for several people not even related to her, as well as helping out her own parents.

Monday, April 1, 2019


I try to improve one piece significantly for each piano lesson.  So taking it from sight-reading to being able to play it through fluently, or from that to memorization, or from that to working on the artistic interpretation. That way, with each lesson I improve something tangibly. The other pieces I happen to be working on will stand still, but that is preferable to working on four pieces at once and having no discernible improvement with any of them.

So far, I've learned several from the Mompou "Música callada." The Prelude in C from the Well-Tempered Clavier, and a Chopin Prelude in E minor. I have a few Schumann things I'm working through.  There have also been pieces I've begun but never finished learning well. I'm learning faster now, so there's that.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Stolen Time

One technique I use is to steal time. For example, I am supposed to be working on revising the NEH grant, but instead I am taking the morning to work on the six Lorca lectures. Thus I get two advantages: it is always easier to work on something that is a side project, ignoring what you are supposed to be doing.  At the same time, the stolen time is also productive. The third or fourth book on Lorca will be the lectures, and the music book will still get written.

Lorca and Me
Lorca par Lui-Même
Modernism and the Death of the Subject
The Avant-Garde Dramatist
The American Reception
The Musical Imagination


I like writing in the voice of someone who knows that he's saying, but addresses the reader as an intellectual equal.

So one can avoid the problem of faux-humility, having to over-qualify things that should obvious, hedging every statement in fifteen different ways.

But if the reader is an intellectual equal, then the writer does not condescend either.  Arrogance is equally avoidable.  It's not: t"his is what I know and you'll never understand the half of it," but, "this is what I've found, and you can do the same thing I'm doing." This is coming from my re-reading of Turner and Thomas, Clear and Simple as the Truth.


I find myself becoming more conservative in this respect.  My politics have not changed per se. I am opposed to Trump and all he represents. But the idiocy of much of the forms that the opposition to Trump takes gives me pause. Surely the answer is not narcissistic identity politics.

But anyway, in academic terms I am conservative in that I like the theology of the classic style more than academic modes of over-qualification and specialized writing. I recognize that this theology is fiction that allows the work to be done. In this sense, I practice the classic style a bit ironically, and probably imperfectly as well.

Friday, March 29, 2019

An end run

By putting the "death of the subject" chapter in my book of Lorca lectures, I no longer have to write the "death of the subject" book on Lorca. At the same time, I can write two books on Lorca for the tetralogy.  Lorca: The Musical Imagination and Six Lectures on Lorca. That will complete the tetralogy and my career as a Lorca scholar.  I'd like to do the lecture book as a podcast.  !!!  Been discussing it with Thomas.
So much in writing is managing your own emotions. I have been noticing this with piano playing: how my goal has to be an emotional one: to establish a relaxed and positive relationship to the instrument. To do that with woodworking would be another step. I feel intimidated just walking into the hardware store.


Barthes says that when he records himself playing piano, and listens back, he can hear the composer himself, whereas listening to other recordings by virtuosi players he hears the performer, not the composer. He is not bragging about his pianistic skill, but saying that his own amateur recording corresponds to the way he hears the music in his head.  I feel the same way.  As long as the recording has no wrong notes, the recording is pretty much the way I understand and interpret the piece. I might not be good, but it is still my interpretation.


This is the kind of insight from "theory" that I value. Let's contrast that with the kind of understanding of "theory" that uses a buzzword in a non-explanatory way.  

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Blackmail of Theory

Barthes talks about this in Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes. The avant-garde text that is written to serve theory, and that thus the theorist (like Barthes) is blackmailed into accepting.  Of course he doesn't!  By denouncing this kind of text he is saying that the avant-garde text cannot be written to order. The avant-garde must come first, not be written by someone who has read a theory of the avant-garde.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

One door opens another

The idea is that doing one thing, like building a chopping board, opens up other possibilities that are unforeseen.  You have to go through that one door first, then you will be somewhere else and other things will become manifest as possible. You don't know in advance what those other things will be.

For example: playing piano = writing a book about Lorca and music.  

Monday, March 25, 2019

I hear voices

I'm not sure why, but once in a while I get a voice telling me to do something. Not anything psychotic, just a suggestion for what I ought to be doing. The voice will say, memorize this poem, or, take piano lessons. It won't be a literal voice, just an idea popping into my head, but with a degree of urgency that is inexplicable.

I have never built anything with my hands, so this particular suggestion is that I should build something out of wood. The easiest thing I could think of was a cheese board, so that will be my first project. I got two small pieces of maple board cut for me at Home Depot, after first going to another lumber store that was not helpful.  I decided to start with two very small ones so that I could learn on those before making a full sized one.  I will make one first, from start to finish, with the first piece.  The second one will be a bit better, I hope.  I watched a few videos and most people seem to cut up little pieces of wood and glue them together.  Instead, I will start with one solid piece, plane, sand, and oil it. After my second one, I will find a bigger piece of wood and make one of proper dimensions.

Clearly, I need to be doing something with my hands that is meaningful.  I do not even own tools to speak of, beyond the typical hammer and screwdriver kind of thing.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Musical Imagination [wrote most of this while proctoring MA exam]

The topic of Lorca and Music comes up with some frequency, but usually in a way that, for me at least, fails to address—or even to identify—the questions of greatest intellectual interest. In Madrid in February, 2019, as part of a Lorca congress where I was an invited speaker, I sat through three presentations by musicologists. Although informative, their approach was almost entirely factual and anecdotal. One, for example, talked about the concerts Lorca might have attended in Madrid in the 1920s. Another listed orchestras, concert venues, guests artists, and repertory in Madrid during this same period, but without even relating it directly to Lorca. A third musicologist introduced a pianist, who went on to play some music that Lorca himself might have played, some Beethoven, Chopin, and Debussy, along with Lorca’s arrangement of the folk song “Tres morillas de Jaén.” None of this was not inherently useless or uninteresting information, of course: the problem was that there was no effort to interpret it, or to explain its significance in relation to the reasons we are interested in Lorca in the first place.   

This conception of scholarship as the sheer accumulation of information, without a very minimal presence of critical argument, pervaded the conference as a whole, with only a few notable exceptions. Still, the study of Lorca and music, in my experience, is particularly prone to merely anecdotal approaches. Most musicologists nor literary scholars, it turns out, are not very adept at studying the relation between music and literature in a meaningful way, perhaps because they lack a depth of knowledge in both fields, or a methodology for bridging the gap. It is not intuitively clear why it might be interesting to look at the question of “Lorca and Music” beyond its biographical interest, or to examine musical settings of his work in greater depth. Many scholars have been content with merely mentioning the existence of compositions based on Lorca, without thinking about what the existence of this material might reveal.        

My subject of this lecture is what I would like to call “the musical imagination.” The questions that interest me fall into two categories: (1) Lorca’s deep engagement of music as in integral part of his own poetics. What was it about music inspired him, and why did he privilege musical metaphors in defining concepts key to his understanding of poetry? (2) The engagement of musicians (composers and performers) with Lorca’s musical and literary legacy from the time of his death up to the present day. Why has Lorca been a favorite among musicians, and how have they used him to create new creative works? I am less interested in chronicling Lorca’s own musical activities, or his friendships with musicians, since those have been the focus of much previous research into the question of “Lorca and Music.” It is true that at least two of the most prominent Lorca scholars, Christopher Maurer and Andrés Soria Olmedo, have devoted considerable attention to Lorca and music in non-trivial ways. Still, I feel the need to explore these questions myself, on my own terms.      

The obvious question is whether there is a connection between the first and the second set of questions. In other words, are composers drawn to Lorca because of his own musicality? It would be difficult to argue for the lack of connection here. Even if not every composer has been fully aware of Lorca’s musical knowledge, the extent and frequency to which his work evokes music is obvious from even a superficial knowledge of his work. A brief look at his work reveals book titles like Poema del cante jondoCanciones,Suites, Romancero gitano; poems with titles like “Canción,” “Balada de los tres ríos,” “Madrigal,” “Vals en la ramas,” “Son de los negros en Cuba”; and lectures on the Spanish lullabiesthe cante jondo, and the duende. Lorca arises out of a culture in which music and poetry are deeply intertwined, in both the folkloric and learned tradition. This historic connection, very strong in the medieval period, was renewed in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, through the efforts of folklorists like Manuel Machado y Álvarez (1848-1893) scholars like Ramón Menéndez Pidal (1869-1968), and composers like Manuel de Falla (1876-1946). Lorca himself formed a part of a revival of popular Spanish balladry and song, and other poets of his time, like Rafael Alberti and Miguel Hernández, worked in a neo-popular style. Even some of Lorca’s more avant-garde poetry—seemingly distant from popular forms—has found its way into musical settings. Although preferring Lorca’s songsto less ostensibly musical poems, musicians have taken a wide view in looking for material.   

The poetry of Lorca (and Hernández as well) is eminently singable. It almost demands musical setting, since it arises out of a culture in which lyric poetry is meant to be sung to stringed instruments. Such is the case with the lyric poetry of Ancient Greece (the word lyric derives from the lyrice) and, indeed, with many other cultures around the world from the historical and anthropological perspective. Seen in this light, poetry meant to be read silently is the creation of literate societies in which music and poetry have undergone a separation. Familiar arguments about whether or not song lyrics are really “poetry” can only occur in a culture in which the connection between music and poetry has been reduced to the status of a conventional metaphor. Of course, what is really at stake in this debate is a question of cultural hierarchy: are lyrics to popular songs good enough to aspire to the condition of elite art?       

It is clear that, for Lorca, music is a master metaphor for poetry itself, if we look at his statements of poetics like the duende lecture, or his use of musical structures in Poema del cante jondoand Suites. What makes music morethan a metaphor, though, is Lorca’s deep understanding of a musicopoetic tradition in which music is usually vocal music, and poetry always has the potential to be sung.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Dream of Pain

I was in bed in some kind of room with a bunch of beds. Someone was saying that if our pain level was a ten we should go the emergency room.  I wanted relief from my pain without going to the ER,;  I raised my hand and said it was an 8. A man came over and gave me a morphine shot in my shoulder, near where in fact I have the actual pain, which is probably a torn rotator cuff.  I woke up and my shoulder hurt like hell.  

Saturday, March 16, 2019


There is a new site up called universolorca. I learned that you can tour the house of Bernarda Alba in a town in the province of Granada. The only problem is that Lorca's Bernarda Alba is a fictional character. I don't understand the urge to see Lorca's works as fact rather than fiction. It just seems so literal minded. Yes, I know that based plays on actual people, but that doesn't make them non-fictional.

The Breaking Point

We sat at a restaurant and we went around the room to talk about "the breaking point"--the point where each of us knew that a divorce was inevitable. (Out of six of us, all but one had been divorced.) Everyone told a compelling story, and there wasn't that much difference in people's ability to narrate, characterize, set the scene, define the decisive moment. Everyone was just about as good at analyzing one another's stories, understanding motivations, etc... There was no advantage, necessarily, to being a scholar of literature or a fiction writer. I was probably not the best narrator of the group. Everyone was highly educated, but I'm sure that people without formal education can also narrate things effectively.

Everyone, then, is an expert on the raw material of fiction: human behaviors and motivations. Everyone understands basic narrative principles too. There are people at one end or the other of the curve: very bad at telling stories or understanding motivations, or very, very good, but most people are probably in the middle, with a very good ability to do this.

Not sure where I'm going with this. Maybe that literary criticism is not that hard. What is difficult is to come up with something that is not simply in the middle of the bell curve. If a pro critic just points out basic things that every reader will get anyway, what is the point?

Friday, March 15, 2019

Little Children's voices

My acupuncturist has her studio next door to the piano studio where I take lessons. There studios share a wall; they are office suites in an apartment complex. She told me she liked hearing the music from next door, and that the little children, when playing simple pieces on the piano, had the same quality of little children singing, as though they were singing through the piano.  

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Dream of ACLU

In this dream I was lying in bed and on the other side of the room Ira Glasser, retired director of the ACLU, was explaining something to someone. (I had seen this person on "60 Minutes" on Sunday so that explains the origins of the dream, I guess.)

Ira was talking about an attorney who was making a bad argument about something.  He said: "Once an attorney takes a client, I can tell with the first three words out of their mouth that they are being dishonest. Their beliefs become a crazy mixture of their former beliefs and what they need to say to represent the client." The context wasn't clear, but he had just interviewed someone, an attorney, who wasn't making sense.

Something like that. It wasn't the argument the Glasser was making on TV, which was that the ACLU should not air partisan political ads. Still, my point, which I channeled through him in my dream, has a certain intrinsic interest to it.  I'm going to have to think about it.

I wanted to go talk to him about it, but I was naked in bed so I couldn't do it. Of course, I actually was naked in bed, and staying in a hotel.  

Friday, March 8, 2019

The first lecture begins...

Book series addressed to dummies and idiots have their particular niche in our culture. Without questioning the utility of such books, my aim here is a different one: to address those who might not know anything about Federico García Lorca, but with the presumption that my audience will be a highly intelligent one. Introductions to Lorca abound; I have one on my shelf in the form of a comic book. Numerous other books take on narrow aspects of his life and work, and are of interest mostly to other academic specialists. What is lacking, I have often felt, is a broad introduction for the general public that gives the author his due. A dumbed-down introduction to a complex subject will fail to convey anything essential about it, and thus will be an act of betrayal rather than of homage. At the same time, however, I believe, perhaps naively, that it is possible to present complex material without concessions to idiotsand dummies, but in a manner utterly accessible to reasonably bright non-academic readers. 

In this spirit, I am presenting this book of six lectures (or perhaps “nonlectures,” in E.E. Cummings’s coinage). For the most part they are not, literally, lectures that I have given or hope to give. All, however, are based on my experience of writing about Lorca and presenting my ideas to a variety of audiences, mostly in an academic context. Lectures have the reputation of being dull, of course, but in comparison with texts meant to be read silently they have the potential to be dynamic and performative. The lecture, not the essay or book chapter, was Lorca’s own favored genre of expository prose, and I imagine that he was able electrify his audiences. I am hoping, then, that this conceit will help me to shape my exposition in the Lorquian spirit. 

I propose, then, six chapters of six thousand words each, on subjects that I predict might be of interest to my hypothetical audience. Wherever possible I have decided to avoid cannibalizing my already published scholarship on Lorca: I am not rewriting my books, but riffing on my previous ideas and presenting them with a few new wrinkles. The title of this first lecture, “Lorca and Me,” might sound a bit narcissistic at first blush. My intention, though, is to bring my own biases to the forefront from the very beginning rather than making a pretense toward objectivity. In each of these lectures I propose an argument rather than a compilation of information. For this reason, it might be useful to begin with an explanation of the experiences and perspectives that have shaped my view of the Spanish playwright and poet over the years. The reader (or listener) deserves to know how the author of his book is positioning himself with respect to Lorca. One’s own unique relation to the subject matter can be a source both of blindness and insight. I have often been disheartened to realize how little of one’s own deep knowledge makes its way into    

I began to define myself as a poet at the age of eleven. Naïvely, perhaps, I thought that a poet should know everything there is to know about the art form itself, so I began a systematic study of it, one that I have not yet concluded, nearly fifty years later. Gradually over the years, I discovered that most poets do not share my assumption. My more scholarly attitude would lead me in another direction, away from the purely creative attitude that would have made me a poet in the professional sense. In any case, I was going to be an English major, but I began to study Spanish during the summer before my freshman year, and progressed rapidly through the courses. The opportunity to study abroad in Madrid for a year made me change my major to Comparative Literature. My PhD is also in Comp Lit, although my primary professional identification has always been as a hispanist. 

I was interested in Spanish and Latin American poetry because of the wide number of translations being produced at the time, as a consequence of the prevalence of the deep image school and the Nobel Prize for literature awarded to Pablo Neruda and to Vicente Aleixandre in the 1970s. I bought into the notion that the best Spanish poetry was surrealist in the mode of Aleixandre’s books of the 1930s, Neruda’s Residencia en la tierra, and, of course, Lorca’s Poet in New York. I wanted to understand and translate this poetry. This was my primary motivation for learning Spanish, in fact. I assumed, at one point, that my trajectory would have been a fairly typical one, but I have actually never met anyone else who became a professor of Spanish in order to read Lorca or Neruda in the original. This was also the period in which the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez and other “boom” writers was hugely popular in the US. In some sense, this concept was the equivalent, in prose, to the poetic idea of Spanish-language surrealism. Both are exoticizing lenses through which to view the cultural other.       

My main poetic interest in the English language was the New York School, a group of poets who were inspired by French, rather than Spanish poetry. (Later I would discover that Frank O’Hara and Kenneth Koch owed more to Lorca than most people realized, but that is getting ahead of myself.) I liked some of the deep image poetry of people like James Tate, but I didn’t necessarily like most the work of American poets inspired by the Spanish poetry I was studying. This split in my own consciousness is important to note because it explains how I took a more suspicious view when I began to write on this topic. Not only would I would never celebrate Lorca’s duendein an uncritical way, but I would actively criticize those who do. 

My first published poem, with the title “Poem,” was based on my experience of reading Kenneth Koch’s parody, “Some South American Poets,” in his book The Pleasures of Peace: “There is no need to invent imaginary / Latin American poets! Real poets exist, / Waiting to be translated!” This poem is obviously very derivative of Koch, but it provides evidence that I was already fascinated to the practice of apocryphal translation, to which I would return more than twenty years later in my first book on Lorca.    

In Spain, I took a course on Lorca, Aleixandre, and Guillén from the poet José Luis Cano. He presented these poets in a very straightforward way, emphasizing Lorca’s Andalusian origins. Carlos Bousoño, the most prominent critic of poetry in Spain at the time, gave a course on “Theory of Poetic Expression.” During the first class session, he devoted more than an hour to discussing the first line of a Lorca poem, “Romance de la guardia civil española.” His point was that this was poetry because Lorca wrote “Los caballos negros son” [the horses black are] rather than using the normal word order “Los caballos son negros.” I did not return for the second day of class. I was put off by his display of pedanticism. He expected students to take down his words verbatim in their notes, even repeating sentences so make it easier for them. Cano, or perhaps another professor, told me about a course taught by Claudio Rodríguez, perhaps the greatest Spanish poet of the time. I enrolled in that course, dropping Bousoño’s, and went on to write a dissertation on Rodríguez.