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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, March 29, 2023


 My students don't seem very adept at looking at images. I asked them why they thought the Che poster was so popular and they couldn't come up with very much.  We were talking about a line from a text by Ana María Moix: "Bécquer y Che Guevara: dos sombras para siempre enamoradas." 

I don't have any training at looking at images; I just look and talk about what I see, and the interpretation stems from there. I don't know how to teach this skill.  

Clinton lake

 At an Audubon field trip this morning, horned grebe, savannah sparrow, eastern meadowlark, northern harrier, were new sightings for my life list. When I got back home a cardinal greeted me from a tree, then landed on my balcony.  

Tuesday, March 28, 2023


 At lunch I was thinking of Frank O'Hara (lunch poems). People associate him with a casual mode, but I was thinking of the poem "To the Harbormaster," which has some gravitas. Also, the casual poems are often elegiac, with considerable gravitas in their own right, but without that grave tone. 

You can dash off a poem quickly, and it will feel dashed off, but the trick is that O'Hara's dashed off poems are actually good ones as well. The casualness is not faked, in that he really did write fast, but it is deceptive in the sense that it is hard to achieve that effect. Yeats talks about how you could write and re-write a line, but that the goal is making it seem "a moment's thought." In other words, you can simulate improvisation with a lot of work, or you can just actually improvise. 

There is also confusion because he will give the exact time, "It is 12:20 in New York," that sort of thing, but it is not 12:20 when he is writing the poem. The poem recreates the events after the fact. Really (otherwise) smart readers have not seen that. Ted Berrigan started to do that, but using the actual time he was writing rather than the retrospective view.  

Keep it simple

 A really simple thesis works best. Something you can explain to a non-academic person. 

For example, I am thinking two things about the setting of Lorca in the "art song" genre. One, that the Spanish art song is associated with folk or popular traditions. Secondly, the art song composers gravitate toward Lorca's seven songs for children--or other childlike material. So this genre will highlight two aspects of Lorca's reception more generally: his supposedly "childlike" nature, or "immaturity," and his identification with folklore. These two things seem to go together well. Then, I would explain how this is just one aspect of Lorca's legacy, etc... There are other ways of setting Lorca to music that don't emphasize those two things. 

That's the thesis as I might explain it on my blog (for example). In a scholarly article, it would be expressed without this clumsiness. Writing the paper would involve refining this thesis, coming up with examples, a few examples from non-classical music, historical context. 

Monday, March 27, 2023


 I was writing one article at the pace of 600 words per day; this one now at the rate of 400. It's good to have comfortable pace and be more or less consistent. You want a consistent number of new words in the document, building up to the magic 6,000 over the course of 10 or more days.   

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Waking up thoughts

 I didn't arise right away, and was thinking of some theses on meter before standing up in the morning. 

1) It is universal. Caveat... It could be true that there is some language out there without meter. I am just saying it is "universal enough., e,g. widespread enough to be something significant. The exception does not prove the rule; it is just an exception.  Subthesis: prosody does not require a system of writing. It is preliterate.  

2) Speech prosody is also universal. Every spoken language will have a prosody, that is, a way in which it is spoken with regard to intonation, accentuation, etc... 

3) There will be a relation between linguistic prosody and poetic prosody. Poetic prosody uses features of speech prosody as its basis.  This relation is not always natural or straightforward. For example, Romans adopted Greek ideas of quantity; earlier Latin meter is accentual. However, let's say that there is a relation. It is hard to imagine an English prosody without accent.  Counting syllables might work for a particular poet, and that's fine, but that won't form the basis of a widespread practice. Don't tell me to write haiku in English by counting syllables, because the Japanese haiku doesn't use syllables as its basis, but rather morae. You will say, well that's a pedantic distinction, and I will say pedantry is my middle name. In other words, saying that Japanese count syllables is ignoring the relation in the language between linguistic prosody and poetic prosody.  

4) There will be some constraint, the idea of something that cannot be done in a particular meter, or something that has to be done. The meter is artificial, in the sense that not every utterance that follows the speech prosody is metrical. The meter can also stretch or compact the words to make them fit. So "suave" is two syllables (in Spanish) but it can be "su - a - ve" in some metrical context. "Cae" is two syllables, but in Antonio Machado's poetry it often one. So, combining (3 )and (4), meter is natural but also artificial.   

5) Musical prosody is the setting of words to music. There will be a relation between the meter of the music and the meter of the poetry. Once again, this relation might be a strained one. I'm just saying a natural tendency might be, for example, to sing accented syllables on the musical accents. In strophic poetry, with each stanza being in the same meter, you can sing each stanza to the same melody. 

There are things that are super obvious, but yet spelling them out cogently is not always easy. For example, I am pretty certain that a small child can know the meter of 

"you must never go down to the end of the town if you don't go down with me. " The child won't make a mistake in reciting this line.  But an English professor might call it iambic pentameter.  


 Kendi writes in the Atlantic that the "intellectual" was framed as someone objective and apolitical. I guess I am misinformed, then, because I learned that this concept had to do with political engagement, and dated back to the Dreyfus affair and Zola's "J'accuse." Does he think that Marx is not an "intellectual"? Does he think the Partisan Review clique of New York intellectual was apolitical?  Sartre?  Maybe Baldwin or Fanon? 

Someone on twitter trolls him by saying. "Dis que tu ne connais pas l'histoire des idées sans dire que tu ne connais pas l'histoire des idées."

 "The intellectual has been traditionally framed as measured, objective, ideologically neutral, and apolitical."