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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...

Thursday, June 4, 2020

More on the subject

The creative mind is capable of change. You don't just decide what you think at the outset and then go out and prove it. Instead, you start off with an idea and see if it works.  If it doesn't, modify it, change it, reject it.

As you read, certain ideas will occur to you. You must learn to listen to them as they come up, distinguishing between what is interesting and what is not.

As I read poetry, I cannot not have ideas.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Notes on Creativity in Scholarship: First set of Exercises

1) Extravagant interpretation. Come up with an extravagant or exaggerated interpretation of a text. You won't be using it directly, but perhaps there is some seed in this interpretation that is suggestive of something else. Don't worry about being wrong in this stage, since the point is to be a bit "wrong."

2) Uncreative interpretations. Make a list of "standard interpretations." That is, way in which people habitually interpret certain texts. This would be like Flaubert's dictionary of received ideas. Here the idea is not to interpret texts creatively, but to explore what the standard interpretations are.  Once you get a feel for those, then you know what you are up against.  These interpretations aren't necessarily wrong, but they have become a bit stale.

3) Clichés. Along a similar line, think of clichés of literary criticism, like the idea that there is "anxiety" about something and texts are symptomatic of this anxiety. Is there a way of making something creative out of this, or some other, cliché? Invent your own cliché. What if the common method of interpreting were astrological. What would result in overturning this habit.

4) Comparison. Compare two texts that don't seem to have anything in common. The furthest apart they [seemingly] are, the better.

5) Make up your own. Make up your own exercise.  Make sure it doesn't duplicate one of mine. That would be uncreative.

Notes on Creativity in Scholarship: Intro

I. We can divide things we do into scholarly and creative projects. So a poem, film, or music score would be creative, and the analysis of any of these things would be critical or scholarly.  This is simply a classification, though. An uncreative, derivative film, or an inept play, would still be creative in this classification, just as bad scholarship might still be classified as scholarship.

II. So creativity in scholarship--what is it, exactly? My first idea is that it might be the kind of insight into the creative work that a creator might have. So a musical creator might have insight into the work by virtue of being a composer, that the mere analyst does not have. This does not make the scholarship necessarily creative in its insights. It would depend on whether the composer knew how to formulate insights in this way. Maybe yes, maybe no.  Just being a creative writer doesn't make you a creative thinker. It would depend on the quality of your thought. Still, a skilled practitiioner would now certain things.

III. My second idea is that we know uncreative scholarship when we see it. We call it "plodding. "It belabors obvious points; analyzes in detail with no sense of purpose; provides a lot of information without telling us why it is meaningful; fails to follow up on potentially more interesting points; we read it and don't learn very much of interest. From this sort of unimaginative practice, we can deduce what we mean by creativity.

[IV. But there is another kind of scholarship that tries to be creative, but seems creative in the wrong way (to me!). It is not dull or plodding; it is flashy. It has extravagant interpretations, a shimmering critical metalanguage. It does have a certain excitement about it, but we won't necessarily accept its conclusions and interpretations. It doesn't seem rooted in deep understanding, but in a kind of superficial use of exciting-sounding buzzwords.]

V. So we can reverse the definition of the "uncreative" without falling into the trap of being creative in the wrong ways. Instead of belaboring the obvious, it uses obvious points to set up the more interesting ones; it distinguishes between information and insight; the critic has a nose for what my be interesting and pursues it. He or she would make connections among things that are ordinarily seen as disconnected, or distinguish between things that are falsely seen as the same things, question arbitrary classifications. The originality is based on mastery of the field, and not on bullshit.

VI.  I don't know how to teach this. The student is or is not creative?  But perhaps I could have a series of exercises on scholarly creativity.

Stay tuned...


I listened to a four CD box set of Germaine Montero yesterday. Not just the Lorca / Spanish folksong parts of the CDs. This particular set does not include all the Lorca material she did. I got an even better sense of her performance style and the range of literary and musical traditions with which she engages. She goes back to perform songwriters of other centuries, putting me in touch with traditions I did not know about.

I guess the upshot here is that, instead of viewing declamation as a slightly corny and mostly irrelevant aspect, I can consider it as part of the music.

People like Charles Bernstein and his collaborators on Close Listening do not pay a lot of attention to music per se, even though their subject is poetry as "performed word." But what if declamation and singing were simply two forms of performance? There are musical style, in fact, that are more declamatory: sprechstimme, recitative... A composer can write the instruction parlando in the score. These chanting, declaiming styles are common in Lorca adaptations.

Think of Zukofksy: Lower limit speech / Upper limit music. So poetry can be speech, but not merely speech, and music, but also "speaking music."

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Rescuing Lorca from the folkloric

There is one view of Lorca that I've found sometimes. The person will dismiss Lorca as a "folkloric poet." The more sophisticated version of this is to divide Lorca into two. The good Lorca is the surrealist, the avant-garde artist. The bad Lorca is ... the folkloric... and sometimes the musical Lorca.

(A third position is to like Lorca because he is folkloric.)

But studying Lorca and music, I can't exactly make that separation. Musicians gravitate toward him because of his investment in anonymous lyric traditions. So the sophistication of the approach is in the adaptation of folklore to something that, by definition, cannot be folklore any more. And that is precisely what Lorca himself did.


Stephen Fredman's new book on "transactional" poetry has come out. I think it's a good word for the way in which poetry reaches out of itself to engage with other things. On the first page of his intro he talks about how the poets he knows are so intellectually capacious and engaged. It's really refreshing to overturn the idea of poetry as an art of mere navel-gazing.

I've thought of teaching as transactional in this sense: you don't lecture the students, but engage. You can't just say what you had planned to say, because the faces looking at you make you change your plans. Their comments and questions influence you. This might be a better model than adaptation: the idea that you take an original work and adapt it, so the critic has to study the two things in contrast to each other. That works for a lot of things, like movie adaptations of novels, translations, song settings, parodies... But to bring the transactional into it would emphasize the dynamic quality of the interchange.

What Fredman ways is true of some poets; I know of others who don't seem that way to me at all. I'm not sure it lines up with the avant-garde or non avant-garde division, exactly, though Fredman is in the avant-garde camp. He begins the book with a contrast between Duncan and Antin, and brings Creeley in quickly too. I suspect even the poets whose work I find boring have a lot of interesting intellectual passions.

The Project Shifts Shape

I just ordered a book today that has actual musical scores from Lorca's plays. WTF!  I did not know about this until today. Of course, I should be the expert in this stuff by now, but no.

People remembered the music wrote and wrote it down. They aren't written down by Lorca himself.

Now I realize what Germaine Montero is singing is Lorca's own music. So this explains somewhat why Lorca became such a musical figure. It's not just the poems, but the plays. Specifically, the song from the plays. Lorca meant these songs to be sung, and composed (or adapted) the music for them.

So now, there are two factors I had known about but underestimated by a country mile: Lorca as composer / Lorca as playwright. Now a lot of things are making more sense. My original orientation was toward music other people wrote, and toward settings of the lyric poems more than the plays.

This does not change anything I've already written, it just makes the book more rounded and complete.


"Act of God" is a term for insurance

not theology

or is it?

Monday, June 1, 2020

Lying and Statistics

 We estimate an overall mortality rate of about 1.8 per 100,000 for men between the ages of 25 y and 29 y. This ranks police use of force as one of the leading causes of death for young men. Between these ages, police violence trails accidents (which include drug overdoses, motor vehicle traffic deaths, and other accidental fatalities) at 76.6 deaths per 100,000, suicide (26.7 deaths per 100,000), other homicides (22.0 deaths per 100,000), heart disease (7.0 deaths per 100,000), and cancer (6.3 deaths per 100,000) as a leading cause of death.

So what the hell? What does "one of the leading causes" mean here? It is ten times less than "other homicides." More than one third less than heart disease.  Who the hell dies of heart disease before they are 29? If I gave you a chart with these numbers:







What would you think of the most significant numbers here? I would be more worried about the 3 leading causes.

Not by Lorca

I've become more interested in the Canciones españolas antiguas.  We know they aren't Lorca's own creations, but that doesn't make them less interesting, I've decided. First I was not interested at all, but there are a few enigmas here. People aren't very careful about the way they talk about them or refer to them.

1) They aren't exclusively Andalusian. Lorca was interested in collecting songs from the entire peninsula.  That's why he wrote song-like poems in Galician, etc... Some are Andalusian, but some are not.

2) They are diverse in their style; heterogeneous in their historical origins. They aren't all from one century.  There are songs and ballads. Yet performance styles tend to homogenize them, in the sense that a classical singer will do them all as art songs, or a flamenco singer as all flamenco.  In fact, they lend themselves to many treatments of diverse sorts. Folk songs are not all created equal. This is not even considering the texts...

3) La Argentinita doesn't sing them in a "folkloric" or flamenco style. We read sometimes that she was a flamenco singer. Not true.  She has an operatic-style voice. We can't go back and listen to her for any kind of "authenticity." This is just once style among many. Lorca plays piano behind them and not guitar, so they belong to a kind of parlor music.

4) I'm still trying to figure out when La Tarara got added to them? And it is often said that there were 5 records, but shouldn't there be 6, with 12 songs total?  I'm embarrassed to ask a real Lorca scholar the answer to this question, but it's hard to do research with the library closed.  

5) The arrangements were not written down by Lorca, but transcribed.

6) Blackburn translates some was though they were Lorca poems, and that practice is continued when performers and composers mix Lorca's own poems with the poems he collected.

etc... I think I almost have enough for an article.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Asking the Right Questions

I was thinking on my walk today that other people don't know the right questions to ask. Now that's my objection to other people's work, but of course, I'm blaming them for not asking the kind of questions that interest me. There is no absolute measure of what an interesting or not interesting question is. Interesting to whom?  What I mean is this:

I'm the first person (or one of the first at least) in the Hispanic field to try to do "word and music studies." I guess that would depend on how this is defined.

I'm the first person word and music studies to do a book that combines classical and vernacular musical traditions in adaptations of a single poet. (or maybe at all, in a comparative perspective).

Almost nobody, it seems, really looks at the music itself very closely when they study popular music in my field.

I was thinking of Linda Hutcheon today and discovered she had a book on theory adaptations, to go along with her theory of parody. I don't remember her as being very interesting: clear and helpful, yes, but I don't remember it having a spark.  I'll have to go back and see. There is a general field of translation / parody / adaptation / musical setting theory that I am in, more or less. Since Hutcheon also has her theory of postmodernism I will have to look at that, since I'm arguing for a postmodernism in musical settings of Lorca. I cannot even remember my objections to Hutcheon, except maybe that she looked only at prose fiction, whereas for me the interest lies in poetry / music. I remember thinking that she missed Kenneth Koch.  So maybe the idea of an interesting question is subjective.  Her idea of historiographic metafiction fits the books she knew at the time (historiographic metafiction) but didn't seem pertinent to what I was interested in.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Translation Prize: Claudio Rodríguez/Philip Silver


Thrombus is a heavy-sounding word

strong and direct like the lethal thing it is

yet colder and more clinical

than its cousin blood clot.

The word thrombus came up in the crossword puzzle today. I didn't know what it meant so I looked it up. Then I wrote this poem on my walk. It is part of my vocabulary lessons series.

LORCA en el Ministerio del Tiempo, visita a Camarón de la Isla

Feel Good Quotes

Feel good quotes are phrases that you quote from other people designed to produce a warm buzz in the reader, except in a reader like me of course.  I am suspicious of them and the feelings that produce.

Dream of an Imaginary Book

I was at a concert hall. The singer had  a book for sale there titled The Penguin Book of Lieder. She was there and I wanted to ask her about it. I was leafing through it and it seemed to be about her own career rather than what the title implied. There was a chapter about her tour of Thailand and another Asian country.


I love the word mawkish

It pops in the mouth and in the ear

It is yellow like a lemon

Nobody knows what a mawk is

So the word seems archaic, made up

Like every other word in the dictionary

But more so

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Don't know much about....

Whenever I have the thought, "I don't know much about..." then I can make a list of what I do know about it. It turns out, then, that I know more than I thought I did.

So today's topic will be orchestration.

My first thought is that you would know have to know the range of instruments. There would be low, like basses and tubas, then medium low, like trombones, bassoons and cellos. Above that there are violas and other things in that range, and then violins, oboes, and flutes at the very top. Clarinets have a wide range. You would have to know the exact range, and comfort levels of each instrument, along with timbres and how they blend or stick out.

Then you would have to know how to write for strings. That is the meat and potatoes level. You'd have to think about functions of other kinds of instruments. Are they soloing or offering timbral richness to a chord? You'd have to think structurally about what the piece is doing at particular moments, and about the total texture you want.

You would have to know harmony, voice leading, and the like. How to orchestrate chords between instruments. Voices can be doubled, or not. You would have to know when to leave out certain instruments.

So I don't know much about, but I know something about what I don't know about it. I know what I would have to learn in order to know about it, or actually do it. Of course, deeper into the subject I would discover more things that I'm not thinking of right now.

Try this with a subject that you don't know anything about.  Or suggest one to me.  I will tell you what I don't know about it.


I ordered a book on Lorca and flamenco, written by a flamenco singer with quite a few books to his name. I had hoped that it would have something to offer, but it is quite bad in many very obvious ways. I feel an almost visceral disgust at a particular kind of discourse, and can barely stand to look at it.

This is tied to what I feel about Ben Sidran's Concert for García Lorca. It's not even good jazz, and what I don't want to hear an American read aloud from the duende lecture in Spanish in a horrid accent. The Spanish teacher in me shudders. Isn't this the worst kind of kitsch!

From my own dislikes I have something to learn. It's telling me something about myself and my relation to the subject matter.


My solemnity is
dark humor

a scowl on the face
of the sunny sky

my deepest reverence

perhaps that is why
you are so confused

A Dream

In this dream my daughter and I both woke up in the middle of the night and were talking.  Suddenly I realized that the date was different, that we were in the past. I tried to find something to confirm this, and she said, look Dad, I'm 12-years old again! I took a picture of her 12-year old self to prove the reality of the experience. I thought that since we were back in the past we could warn people of the Covid Virus, but I wasn't quite sure how that would work.

Now she was acting like a 12-year old, though really like a much younger child. Daddy! Daddy! The next morning, still in the dream, I was trying to find the photo on my phone to prove its reality, but I could not. I saw other images of my grandmother and others there.

Then I tried to go back to sleep; I was in my dad's study at my parents', and there was a reel-to-reel tape playing on and on. Now it was playing a tape of a solemn funeral oration for my mom's friend Joyce (who is still alive). I got up to try to turn it off so I wouldn't wake the other people in the house, and encountered multiple power-switches in a confusing array of stereo equipment. I finally found the one to turn it off. Julia was coming back into the room to bug me as I was trying to get back to sleep.  It wasn't clear whether she was her 12-year old self or her 24-year old self at this point.

As I was waking up for real I still wanted the experience to be real. I almost checked my phone for the photo.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Anda Jaleo, Jaleo


When I was young, John O'Hara,

novelist and short-story writer,

was better known than Frank--

Frank O'Hara, poet and museum curator.

Now, I think, the situation is reversed.

Frank is more famous every day.

John is still remembered

but with fewer fervent fans.

What comes first, pleasure or understanding (a ramble)

Charles Rosen say understanding comes first. So if you can understand a piece of music, then you can like it. I think that's right.  

I listened to a lecture by Kenneth Koch from Naropa; got there from the Allen Ginsberg project where I was looking at Ginsberg and his views of Blake, Bob Dylan, and Aristide Bruant. Koch says if your students don't understand a poem, then ask them what they like. From the pleasure they derive from it they can arrive at more understanding. I think that is also right.  

[Koch also says that writers don't read as much as scholars because when they start reading, they get inspired and start writing their own poems. That happened to me today reading the brilliant poet Eileen Myles.]

I think you can understand through dislike too, if you don't cling to your dislike too much. If you have too much invested in disliking something, then that will interfere with what you can learn from that dislike. Or, conversely, if you have so much invested in liking a poet's work that you will a visceral reaction to someone else not liking it, then you won't be able to learn from their dislike. 

I'm struggling because I dislike something about Morente, who is one of the main flamenco interpreters of Lorca. If I could put my finger on the source of my irritation, then I could have insight into what he is doing. 

Understanding music is feeling that the way it proceeds is "logical" or makes "sense." I am not that interested in interpretation as telling somebody, in other words, what the words of the poem mean. I mean, I learned how to do it, of course, because I am a professional academic literary critic, but I am not that interested in interpretation. I do interpret when I read, but I am uninterested in defending my exact account of it, or in telling someone else they are wrong. That probably explains my impatience with a lot of Lorca criticism that is trying to decode his work.  Let it alone!  

A lot of interpretations do go wrong, though, in the sense that the cleverer the interpretation, the more likely it is to be wrong. Even if we see interpretation as decoding a secret message the poet encoded there (a view that Koch and I both agree is wrong), then it is unlikely that the real meaning is only revealed to one person, the super-clever literary critic living 200-years later. 

Koch also says that he has his students write bad poems, that end up being good ones. Just like mine. 


Words can't tell you

what cinnamon tastes like

not even the word


What if?

What if there were
no spatulas?
Could we still turn things over?

What if there were no radio waves?
Some things would still work
others wouldn't.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Sunday, May 24, 2020

An illusion

The idea of living at a late date in history is kind of an optical illusion. Every date in history is the latest moment of history so far. The illusion is caused by the fact that we are thinking only of the centuries that have already passed, not of those that are yet to come. So if you were at 1,000 A,D. you would be thinking of everything before you and not everything that would come afterwards. You would be justified in thinking that you were at a late stage of human history. Now this belief seems naive, when attributed to someone of that period, because we know that a lot more came to pass after that.  But it seems justified to us. This could be a story for Borges, a kind of "refutation of time."

So too our condescension toward the past. Someone posted in Facebook about Unamuno's racism, and then I thought that everyone was racist back then. That is true, that we should understand the context of things like that. But our own moment could be just as prone to error, in other ways, as his. It doesn't excuse me to say, of some erroneous or toxic belief of mine, that others share it at my own historical moment, because who is to say that it is an early or too late time in our historical development? I think about it in terms of the advice I would give to my former self. Well, I can't listen to the advice that my future self could give me either.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Friday, May 22, 2020

Time for another poem I wrote a while back

What is Poetry? Jonathan’s Theory 

Poetry is a special language, elevated and 
strange, rarefied, ethereal, exalted, 
prophetic, visionary, different. Kenneth Koch 
thought so, though his poetry is hilariously 
funny, backing into that ecstatic language 
rather than seeking it head-on. 
Poetry is ceremonial, with a gravitas
suited to special occasions. Hermetic 
and difficult to understand (though 
Koch’s is not), archaic or suggestive 
of archaic cultures. In short, 
poetry has to be poetic.

That’s one theory. But Eliot’s 
patient etherized on the table is un-
beautiful. Williams wanted the 
speech of immigrant Polish mothers 
in his poetry. Ginsberg wrote of being 
fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists. And 
Frank O’Hara’s practiced a studied casualness in his 
Lunch Poems, with the tone of an intimate diary 
or conversation. Think too 
of Jaime Gil de Biedma’s “words of the family, 
warmly worn out.” 
Or Creeley: “As I sd to my 
friend because I am always talking, 
John I sd which was not his name.” So modern 
and contemporary poets 
often seek the anti-poetic, 
like Nicanor Parra’s anti-poems of course, 
breaking down the barrier between 
special uses of language and 
ordinary, instrumental ones. The 
barrier so important for Mallarmé, for example, 
almost like the fourth wall in the theater, which
modern playwrights also tore down. Some poets 
continue to use language more 
formal than that of every day 
conversation, more lyrical, avoiding 
vulgarity. Some would never use the word vomit or can opener
in a poem, for example. Some use 
a neutral vocabulary, free of both elevated and 
colloquial registers, and some don’t seem
to care about language at all. 
I don’t care for those poets, but who am I to say? 
Dull or surprisingly undull poetry can be written in 
all of these modes. 

Still, simply breaking down the barrier 
separating these special poetic languages 
from other uses of language 
doesn’t always work. Doesn’t poetry still 
have to “charge language with meaning,” 
as Pound said, in some way or another? So 
everything anti-poetic or conversational, everything 
vulgar is there in a poem 
because of its poetic charge. Just think for a moment
 about why Ginsberg’s motorcyclists are “saintly.” Koch sought 
the ecstatic Romantic tone of Shelley but 
without symbolism and a lot of other Romantic 
baggage he didn’t need anymore. We all know idiots 
who think a Frank O’Hara 
poem is easy to write, or that 
all poetry should be accessible to everyone.  

Really, the enemy is not one particular 
kind of poetry or the other, but 
dullness. Poetry is the supreme exercise 
of the human intelligence and imagination, so any 
conception of poetry that cuts 
off any part of that 
from consideration is vile. I once wrote 
that it should kick you in the ass 
with its transformative power, 
and I meant it. Of course Emily Dickinson said 
it should makes you feel like
the top of your head has been taken off,
or was it the back? 
If you have heard me 
criticize poets who I think put forward 
this limitation of the imagination as their 
main agenda, 
I won’t apologize. They are like those harsh 
music teachers
whose agenda is to prevent children
without talent from playing 
music by discouraging them
when they are still young. Everyone 
should play music or sing, in my 
opinion. Koch thought that they 
should be strangled, in a poem called “Fresh Air.” 
There is enough violence in the world 
so let’s just say their punishment 
should be having to read their own poetry 
aloud to each other 
for years 
in a sing-song “poet’s voice.” Poetry 
can be as bad as you want it to, as I think 
I’m demonstrating in these poems, but if it’s dull 
or just sort of ok in a 
lukewarm way, you should just 
start again with a fresher 
conception of everything 
of which it might be capable.      

Time to reprise my poem "Delusions of Mediocrity"

Delusions of mediocrity 

I turn 55 in the summer of 2015. My friend the poet Ken Irby dies. 

I’ve been to Argentina that summer and start running when I get back. 

I am no longer President of the University Senate. 

Pet-sitting at my girlfriend’s house while she is on a trip (dog, chickens)

I begin to fool around on her electric piano. I’ve heard there’s something

called a tri-tone substitution, so I try it out. Also, that you can replace

the tonic with the iii chord. Using these simple ideas, I write my first song.

I can hardly play piano—lessons as a kid and all that—but I know elementary

concepts of music theory (apparently). I write a few more songs 

on a cheap keyboard I have in my own apartment. I’m playing every day

by now. My songs all sound similar to one another, because I am exploring 

a few ideas, but I learn more keys and gradually branch out. My lyrics are 

not good. “Like stars emerging on a cloudless night / We got together and

it felt so right. / Let’s live a life together, / in sweet harmony.” I struggle to 

write down the music using free music notation software. (It’s hard to use

that phrase in a poem, isn’t it?). In September I run my first 5k.

I go running on campus one day, though, and have asthma attack. In October 

my friend loses use of both arms in bicycle accident, temporarily.  

I help to nurse her back to health.

 I take her 

to Davis to celebrate my mom’s 80th birthday in November, and to Austin

in January. My sister has Semantic Dementia and lives in Davis too.

She is musician and poet too, but cannot read, or read music, any more. 

She has lost many words, especially nouns and proper names. 

She does not know my name any more.  

Cared for by my mother and by Norbie, she is cheerful. Norbie,

her husband, my new brother-in-law, has loved her for years and 

pokes gentle fun at me, calling me Professor Mayhew and 

exaggerating the importance of my Senate Presidency.       

In 2016 I play piano every day except when traveling. We go

to Austin (as I’ve already mentioned), Tallahassee, and Cuba. Getting back

to my songs, I write more, back from Cuba. One uses the chord changes 

to “Bemsha Swing,” by Thelonious Monk. Another two use the progression to

“Hit the Road Jack,” the so-called “Flamenco cadence.” I have recorded 

some songs at the studio in the public library. My playing is terrible, 

hesitant, too staccato, dynamically insensitive, but I suffer from “delusions

of mediocrity.” The idea that I could play as well as amateurs playing 

in local bars and coffee shops. Those guys are actually good though, 

and I am not, though writing these songs gives me an odd feeling 

that for too long I have blocked myself off from the wellsprings of my own

creativity. That sounds awkward in a poem too. It is too explanatory and 

discursive. Creativity has become a management consultant buzzword 

so all the cool poets now are being deliberately unoriginal. Good thing

I’m not one of them. Anyway, my songs are inspired by Bill Evans-type

sonorities. They are harmonically complex by now, full of colors I find

fascinating. Since I’ve been listening to jazz all my life I seem to have

a lot of good ideas for songs. Now I finally understand Lorca’s love of 

Debussy and Falla. The nuanced chromaticism of his Suites, so different

from stereotypical notions of Lorca as poet of duende and 

Andalusian Kitsch.  I set a few Lorca poems to music. 

I take voice lessons all spring.  I play in front 

of the hardware store where they have a piano where everyone can play.

Record heat and humidity render it unplayable, though, by mid-summer.

Also, in the student union, where there is a grand piano whose keys also

begin to stick. One day I sit in on drums at Martin and Durand’s house 

with a country band (Martin’s band), just with snare drum and wire brushes. 

They are gently tolerant of my playing, which isn’t too bad, I guess. 

I realize I’ve been playing drums for 20 years but rarely in public,

typical for my isolated and bookish existence, typical

of all the ways I get in my own way, sabotaging my own 

happiness through cowardice and asinine, egotistical stoicism. 

It is summer of 2016 now, as you might have guessed. My short un-

successful musical career is almost a year old.  We commemorate a year

of Ken’s dying and I offer to play a song called “Elegy for Ken Irby” 

at Judy’s house. (I once called it “Italian Movie Theme” before I realized

that it was an elegy for him.)  Meanwhile my so-called creativity

is at a high point. I don’t even care that my poems are bad 

and write bad poems on purpose that everyone loves, including this one

that I conceive of in my head this morning as I run five kilometers. 

People like my songs too. Between pride and embarrassment, I settle for

a kind of homespun enthusiasm, the way anyone should be enthusiastic

about their hobbies, things that make them happy to do from day to day. 

That seems better than wondering every day whether I am talented

or just a fuck-up.  I am happy and in love with life itself, despite

intermittent depression that makes it hard to get through the days, 

sometimes. I love my friends and family too, some “hid in death’s dateless 

night” but most still living, and of course I love Beth, the 

woman I wrote those songs for. Life seems uneventful, at times, but is 

actually crammed full of events, good, bad, small, momentous, 

I realize. I realize that the next year might be eventful too and 

decide to keep my radio dials tuned to as many stations 

as possible to see what might happen.    


I emailed a Lorca scholar with a very specific question.  He said, "I'm afraid I cannot be of much help" and then proceeded to answer my question with extraordinarily precise information.

Thursday, May 21, 2020



I want to be all about generosity and gratitude. This is what belonging to the zen center for four and a half months has instilled in me. When you meditate alone, you are doing therapy for yourself, but if you are part of the sangha then you will be thinking beyond the self. There is nothing wrong with therapy either; in fact, deeply unhappy people have a hard time with generous or grateful feelings toward others, so you might want to get yourself together as well.

I feel uncomfortable with this, because I am not trying to boast about being generous, or even tell you what you should do. Most of what I feel I ought to be doing is to decrease social isolation so I took these steps:

I started a facebook group for scholars in my discipline.

I am giving an article-writing workshop for our graduate students in June, with 5 sessions.

It isn't very much, but I feel that people can be generous with what they are best at. People ask me to review scholarly articles for their journals, and ask me again after I have done one, so perhaps editors feel that I am good at that.


To this end, and because I am feeling generous today, I will offer an article critique for the first 3 people who email me at jmayhew@ku.edu. Please nothing longer than 8 thousand words, and no astrophysics or botany. English, Spanish, Catalan, and French only.

The Three Stages of Academic Writing

1. First, the writer doesn't know that you can't just write the way you talk. There is no effort to make the writing sound "academic" at all.  I never went through this stage, because, well, I had already read enough not to do this. But I have had graduate students who write like this.  

2. The second stage is when the writer is trying to sound formal, academic, and professional. They have an academic voice in their head that they are emulating. Their writing will be formal enough, now, and hit the proper register. Their prose blends in with that of others. It doesn't seem out of place in an academic journal. This does not mean it is good. In fact, it might very well be bad in the typical ways that academic writing is bad. They might jargon, heavy-handed sign-posting.

3. The third stage is when the writer decides to pursue a personal style. This can be any style sh/e wants, but it is the writer now who makes the decisions, no longer worried about sounding academic enough. How do we balance the different stylistic ideas we have in our heads?  Clarity, elegance, concision, precision of meaning, specificity... What exact tone do we want to convey? Confidence, friendliness, humor? Notice that I am not giving a formula for how you should write, but simply saying it is up to you to decide. So many writers do not even know that there are choices to be made. Once you know what you want, you can pursue it. Your writing will start to move in that direction, and will improve along the axis that you have chosen. Writing "better" is a useless goal; you want to move in a particular direction that you have chosen, like writing "clearer," or "more elegantly." Or "sounding less stuffy."

For me, the third stage has meant sounding a little less academic, more like the tone of everyday speech. It is not a reversion to step 1, but a reconsideration. I have tried variations on the plain style and the classic style.

It is the same way in the writing of poetry. An inexpert writer either writes just prose, without realizing that the poem is something different. Or else they will write stupid sounding rhyming doggerel. The next stage is to sound "poetic" on purpose, with a lot of lyrical writing, or writing imitative of what wouldn't seem out of place in a literary journal of the day. The third stage is to decide what style you will pursue of your own accord. Maybe this style will make your poems unpublishable, because they don't fit what people expect to see in a journal.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Federico Garcia Lorca - TRECE (13) CANCIONES ESPANOLAS - Teresa Berganza

Noces de sang

How I became an Agnostic

A leaf fell from a tree, but I didn't see which one
I felt a stirring in my loins, but I don't know why

I felt deep urges
I heard the train whistle from a distance at night

Was it from the mind of God
or from the workings of random chance?

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Getting it backwards

I found a reference which said, essentially, "Germana Montero, who would later become famous under the stage name of Germaine Heygel." But of course, Germaine Heygel is her birth name, and she became known as "Germaine Montero." She was billed at times as "Germana" in some films, according the imdb.

Friday, May 15, 2020

There are no astronauts

There are no astronauts
in the Flat Earth Society

no pilots, no mapmakers,
only the odd land-surveyor

No beautiful women belong
no birdwatchers, no tenders of plants

There are no gravediggers
in the Optimist Club

There are no astronauts
in the Flat Earth Society

Only the odd landsurveyor
only the odd grave-digger

Or it's possible that this was the second one

Chant profond

Her second Lorca album was in 1960, Poems del cante jondo.


I was trying to figure out when the earliest Germaine Montero Lorca recording was.  So I did a search  for her name in the catalogue of the French National Library. They have 25 pages of listing of her recordings. Anyway, so I came up with 1955. Then I looked to see when the LP was invented, which was 1948. 

The LP format created the possibility of the album. (The album before that was a literal album that you would use to store individual 78 rpm records).  The album is the origin of the "literary turn" in popular music, I hypothesize, because it allows for projects of greater scope. The length in and of itself just creates the possibility that the album is not a collection of single songs (singles), but something more conceptual. A lot of things wouldn't have been possible, like "Kind of Blue," etc... or Ray Charles's country music compilation. Of course, there are still albums that are just collections of singles with no particular cohesiveness, but going from 4 minutes a side to 20 is huge. 

I hadn't really thought about this before no, but I'm doing to have to mention it. Montero's recording might very well be the first Long playing Lorca record in any genre.  Whoopee!  

{So if there are any earlier Germaine Montero Lorca recordings, they would have to be between 1948 and 1955.  


My daughter has a productivity system. On the vertical axis of a spread sheet are things she wants to work on, on the horizontal axis are the days of the month, 1-31.  Then she can put a check mark on what she works on every day. She puts her priorities at the top of the chart, so she can monitor if she is working on those almost every day, like long tone studies. She has things like exercise and meditation on the chart, because those are part of what she needs to be to be a good trumpet player.

At the end of the month, there should be more check marks at the top of the chart than the bottom.

She records herself, listens back, critiques herself, and then repeats the process until she is satisfied. She then posts the video on a facebook group of classical trumpet players.  Everyday they give themselves a different assignment. She shared with me a video of the head to "Confirmation," which she recorded 12 times in order to get it the way she wanted.

There will be an opening in the St. Louis Symphony, and in the Army Ceremonial Band that she can audition for. Her goal is to have a job and not just a gig.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Days of not @#$%ing around

I am sharing these productivity notes with you. I now keep my log in inverse chronological order, so I  can open the document and write in it immediately.

I use ! to mean something I have accomplished that impresses me at the time.

I came up with a new term today, "quarter final." This means that the document is not in a form to be published (final) or submitted (semi-final) but that it is ready to share with a colleague.

What I call a day of not $%^&ing off around is a day I am committed to the writing and piano playing. I use the vulgarity as a kind of response to my inner critic who might want to talk to me in that language. As you can see, there are two recent days I didn't work on my project. One was an all-day zen retreat, the other was a weekend day when I mowed my girlfriend's lawn. They weren't exactly days of doing nothing either.

When I am writing a chapter that is not complete yet, I like to write 400 words a day. Once the chapter is in revision phase then the word count will not increase by much, and might even decrease.    

May 14 (Thursday): day 16 of not fucking around

Had idea for article workshop / blog post about this / wrote Alesha and Araceli about it
Interchange of emails about this
Revised intro to quarter-final stage / shared with Areceli! 
Looked at “Words and Music” chapter to see what is missing for completed chapter
Completed this chapter in “quarterfinal form.”  

Morning zen practice

Walking bass / “Anthropology” / Rhythm Changes 

May 13, day 15 of not fucking around  

Worked on intro / preface: shifted material around; considerable progress! 
Wrote blog post 
Checked “enroll and pay” numbers for Fall semester for my classes
Emailed Araceli 
Worked on facebook group 

Blue skies / Bass lines 

Liquor store / ran dishes 

May 12, day 14 of not fucking around 

Flamenco chapter, 16,000 words! 
300 words on preface!  
Natalia’s oral exam!
Cleaned off computer desktop / deleted old documents!
Emailed Araceli about reading each other’s work! 

Zen practice: 6:45 a.m. / called Fae

Downloaded pro tools / practiced bass lines 

May 11, day 13 of not fucking around 

Flamenco chapter, 15,600 words!  

Called apartment about crows nest on my balcony / emailed to follow up. 
Rolling prairie pick up 

Piano: continued figuring out chords to “Blue Skies”  

May 10 

Listened to Enrique Morente’s Lorca 

Lawnmowing / helped with chickens / cleaned kitchen / called mom

Figured out melody and some chords to “Blue Skies” 

May 9

zen retreat by zoom

May, 8, day 12 of not fucking around

Flamenco chapter: 15,200 words!

Ran dishes / laundry /beef stew / bought ,,, stock

Piano: 2 hours / performed for Friday night group by zoom.