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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...

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Just so...

Like a friend's house you can easily find

because you have often been to the house

you don't now the address or even the names of the streets

and couldn't easily tell someone how to get there

Just so, or maybe this is the opposite of what I have just described,

they have cleared our streets of débris

they have replaced our town with a child's toy version of the town

façades are theater-set façades with nothing behind them

except a backstage area where actors are milling about

they have broken into my closets and replaced the fibers of my clothing

with other, cheaply made fibers


Boxers and Robbers

The boxer trains for his fight like a caterer for a wedding

The robbers plan their heist for weeks,

as inconspicuous as caterers in their catering vans

The boxers are graceful running down the street

They will not hit you outside of gym or ring

Even a sparring partner has little to fear

The thieves are innocuous for most, save the target of their heist

You have more to fear from the Secret Police

They have planned their heist for the night of the prize fight

This is also the night of the wedding

I write a filmscript about this scenario but the studios are not interested

Our film industry has fallen on hard times


It is strange to translate a poet who has been heavily influenced by one's own poetic style, as is the case with me and Mateo Del Olmo. As a consequence, I cannot learn very much from translating his work, since I find only things that I might come up anyway. Oh, well.

Mateo Del Olmo

Del Olmo's poems can be very strange:

I like the word pristine,

it makes me nostalgic

for the hayroads of tomorrow

and snowless storms

The snowroads lead nowhere,

but you already knew this

How could they in this climate?

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Bad poems

My book of bad poems is done. I will send you the microsoft word file if you want to do a blurb for me, though I already have enough blurbs I guess. I could have gone on forever, but then the joke would wear thin quickly. I had to quit while it still had some freshness to it. It's 30 pages of the worst stuff you could imagine.

A first attempt

When Oscar Hammerstein III was writing the lyrics to the "Do Re Mi" song his first attempt was not as great:

Dough, some bread, I'll spend on you
Ray, my cousin Raymond's name
Mi, the State of Michigan
Fa, a nonsense syllable
Sol, the Spanish word for sun
Law, what we must all obey
Tee, on which the golf-ball sits

Which brings us back to dough

Aedh tells his beloved that her beauty is more noble than the beauty of...

Aedh tells his beloved that her beauty is more noble than the beauty of his rivals' beloveds, and that he is a better poet

I have made my songs which praise your hair

And sung of the soft way you close your eyelids.

Other women, of beauty less noble,

Do not have singers as good as me

To tell their children's children how pretty they were.

Friday, July 29, 2016


My friend Bob Basil once wrote "My weaknesses define me." He said he wouldn't have a superpower, because he felt pleasure in his weaknesses, if I am remembering correctly. Without disagreeing in the slightest with this brilliant insight, I would like to offer the following twist.

We all have traits that define us, and to call some of these strengths and others weaknesses seems arbitrary. We can name the same trait with a positive spin or a negative one, like stubbornness and persistence, or dedication and fanaticism. Discipline might be the opposite of flexibility; either could be strength or weakness depending on the context. There is no way of determining what a strength or a weakness is outside of particular contexts of judgment.

So if I want you to be flexible, not rigid and unwavering, in your dealings with me, I see your rigidity as defect. If I want you to hold the line with someone else, though, your unwavering dedication is a strength.

I'd like to Write a Poem


I’d like to write a poem that exorcises demons

like that movie where the priest throws demons out of someone

I’d like to write a poem that gets the angels on our side

like that year the Anaheim Angels won the World Series of Baseball

I’d like to write a poem that anyone could understand

not a difficult one like Eliot’s “Prufrock”

I’d rather write poems about cats

that would become a hit musical, popular for years and years

An even worse poem


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 motorcylists. 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. The reason is that this
hermetic ideal ends up seeming somewhat
solipsistic and uninteresting in its own way, cutting poetry off
from a lot of things poets might care about, since
poets are human beings and not merely soulless artisans of
an arcane dialect. Poetic language understood
as Mallarmé did might even
cut them off from the ecstasy of
their own poetic vision. Some poets

continue to use language more
formal than that of every day
conversation, more lyrical, avoiding
vulgarity. Some would never use 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 good poetry can be written in
all of these modes. I know something about this
after thinking about it since 1971.

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
baggage he didn’t need anyore. 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, not
a minor genre of "literature"
about the poet's personal feelings, so any
conception of poetry that cuts
off any part of this
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 make you feel like
the back of your head was taken off
and I believe that. Koch said "the very
existence of poetry should make you laugh, what is
it all about, what is it all for?"
Think about that for a while. This is not the
cheap laughter of dismissing something, but
the ecstatic laughter of wondering why anything
exists at all, the awe of being alive.
That is what poetry is about.

If you have heard me
criticize poets who I think put forward
this deliberate limitation of imagination or intelligence as their agenda,
I won’t apologize. They are like those music teachers
whose real agenda is to stop children
from playing music
because they are not talented enough. Koch thought
that they should be strangled,
in 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 the dreaded 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.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Love, mirth, praise, constancy

Mary Oliver was asked what her favorite words were and answered with those. This is interesting to me because she is really answering with her favorite concepts. She likes the meanings of those words. How do I know this? I don't, really, but all those words are names for virtues one might like to have. Love is great, but the word love, not so much. Mirth is a little better, because it has a kind of pungency to it, the quick vowel slowed down by two consonants. Praise is ok with its long and sweet vowel and voiced sibilant at the end. It has some power, Constancy is just awful. It's a really ugly word for what could be a beautiful concept. It is ungainly.

I think greasy is good word, because it feels greasy in your mouth. Celery is nice, with liquids and sibilance, cucumber with its internal alliteration and its cool visual look. You might ask another poet for favorite words and get words that interesting as words.

I'm not saying you have to like the same words I do. That would be strange. But appreciating them for how cool they sound or look, is that too much to ask?

Wednesday, July 27, 2016



I am like the brine in a pickle jar

my own recipe!

like antique honey preserved all this time but

spread on fresh bread

I am a unique individual you would probably want to get

to know


I decided to write a whole book of these bad poems. There will be exactly sixty of them. Please help me come up with a title.


Most poetry is going to be bad anyway, so I thought I would short-circuit the process and go directly for utter badness. Nevertheless, my friends often tell me that I could do even worse, and that there are a few lines here and there that aren't bad enough. They accuse me of trying to write good poetry in the guise of ineptness. Still, I have put in enough ham-fisted line-breaks, awkward similes, and wordy explanatory filler to displease any discerning reader.


I can imagine myself as someone collecting aromatic bitters.

Rubbing alcohol

I dreampt I had drunken some by mistake. While trying to wake up I tried to figure out it this was real or a dream.*

*I do pronounce the p in dreampt, though I realize it's not standard spelling.

Correction of a Poem by Pacheco

"We are no longer everything / we fought against when we were young"*

*[the original poem says the opposite: we have become everything we fought against when we were young. I read it wrong by mistake and then was sorely disappointed that it said ya instead of ya no).

Another Stab at the Bad Poem

My other bad poem was not bad enough, I realize. Here is another attempt. This is about as bad as I can make it.


I am surrounded by beautiful plants, and happy

I have some beautiful works of art on the wall

That have taught me beauty

And about beauty

The plants need watering, which

Has taught me about thirst, the thirst

Not just for water, but for spiritual nourishment and

Perhaps for beauty as well?

As Antonio Machado wrote, we know water quenches thirst

(And that beautiful glass makes good receptacles for water)

But who knows what

thirst is for?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Judgment clouds judgment

Monday, July 25, 2016


Imagine an advanced degree in Youth

taking many years to get!

working toward your degree every year

every year understanding less and less of it


I had a lengthy and elaborate dream, one that was also extremely productive in a way that makes me sorry for saying dreams are dull. It had to do with counterparts or counterweights. That things balance each other out or compensate for each other. I couldn't remember any actual examples when I got up, but one might be that snow is a frequent image in Cuban poetry, even though there is no snow in Cuba. The examples in the dream were more subtle that that, though one did involve snow. You couldn't just say, oh, the cold snow balances out the tropical heat. No, the two things had to be seemingly unrelated to each other, not simply polar opposites. In the dream I learned how to draw these connections, neither metaphorical nor antithetical. You simply had to feel how one thing made up for the other, brought things into alignment again, but in a way that made things better than the first event because you took joy in the process of balancing.

Sunday, July 24, 2016


Though poet, I hate symbolism--

Things always having to mean something else,

The arrogant disdain for the literal,

For the material world.

The teacher's damned

Christ symbols, phallic symbols.

I hate myth too, the predictable

Persephone figures, Christ

Figures. And facile similes,

Transparent allegories, poems about

Mythological paintings

Or jazz musicians...

Friday, July 22, 2016


"Gangsters arriving in cars always arrive from elsewhere"

Bad Poem

One exercise is to write the worst possible poem. This gets you unstuck a bit. You have to resist the temptation of writing it too well or even too badly. It's difficult to explain, because you're not writing a poem that is hilariously bad in every way, but one that might be almost someone else's idea of a way to write a poem.

The idea is to jar something open that wasn't open yet. If you say it's a deliberate attempt to be bad nobody can criticize it. It might even have something accidentally good in it or at least point in that direction.

I associate bad poems with similes, with long shapeless lines & arbitrary enjambments, and with inert language, so here goes:

My Mind

My mind is an interesting place to live—more than yours,
I think. But saying it like that makes it less true. Not just the dumb bragadoccio of it, but

the ignorance. I’ve never been in anyone else’s mind! What’s yours like? Mine
is uncomfortable, choppy like choppy seas, but at the same time arid. What smells

are in your mind? Is it a theater, a living room, or a clearing in the woods?
Is it dark in there? Is it damp and sticky like mine, or does it get ventilation?

Has it been cleaned out recently? Has it been graced with a new idea? Also,
living in a mind is a small, sad thing, I think. Everything there is a goddamn metaphor for

the physical world where we really have to live. That is not so interesting,
is it? That lack of materiality, like a soup in a dream that has no actual taste.

Thinking myself superior to someone else because my mind is more interesting is
garbage. Just because it has some fragments of music that you are probably hearing too…

Other Blog

I'm posting on another blog my introduction to poetry. It's a private blog so to read it you'll have to be added as an author. Just let me know your email and I will add you.

Every Friday there will be something new to read. I welcome your comments.

My reasons for going private here are various. I don't want to write the book on a blog and then have it not be original content when I publish it. I don't want my ideas to be stolen, etc...

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Je ne regrette rien

I don't regret any of my musical pursuits. I do regret that I did not pursue some of them earlier and more seriously, that I let my doubts get in the way, or that I did not see connections quickly enough, or the importance of what I was doing (for myself.)

The Illusion of a lack of progress

I found myself thinking that my piano playing and composing skills had hardly improved at all in a year. This is far from true. Last year, I didn't even have the idea of composing a song and I could hardly play at all. Now I've written 15 songs or so and can play some of them fluently.

What gives?

Things that are easy for me, I can't imagine being difficult, even though I know that there were. I take for granted what I can do and don't think of it as being skillful. Say I can reach for a B7 chord with my eyes closed without thinking about it or what notes it has. Well, anyone can do that, right? It's obvious what that chord is.

Secondly, I tend to hit plateaux, so I don't notice improvement on a daily or weekly basis. Then all of a sudden I will be better, but then I just adjust to that level as the new normal.

Thirdly, I have so much further to go, that what I can't do seems more significant, so I can easily discount my progress. I will some day hit a plateau where I won't improve at all without taking lessons or changing my approach to practicing to target specific skills.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

things I did yesterday

Played piano at Beth’s house
Drank coffee three different places
Forgot my clothes at the gym and had to go back
Cooked salmon and squash and got too hot

Monday, July 18, 2016

Every time I read this novel, the same characters die.

Bad Politics

An American supporter of Chavismo tweets about "gutting reactionary poets" (violently responding to a Venezuelan poet living in the US). There is another tweet in his feed about sending people to the Gulag. For people like this, the Gulag was probably justified. After all, the people sent there were "reactionary."

The Dullness of Dreams

What if dreams had a feel and texture indistinguishable from everyday life? Climbing a hill in a dream would take real physical effort. Soup would have a taste. Nothing in a dream would be strange, unreal, or symbolic in that stupid way that dreams are symbolic--or at least not any more so than in waking life. The only real difference, then would be that no action or event in a dream would have any consequence. You could marry the wrong partner and get divorced simply by waking up. In another dream you might be married to a beautiful, tender person, but waking up would divorce the two of you as well, and you might never regain that happiness again in a dream.

Once I have defined dreams in this new way, I lose interest in actual dreams, with their wispy unreality. I remain interested in their inconsequential character, but not in their tasteless food or easy-to-climb hills.


The mind keep going until the moment it falls asleep, talking to itself. The sleeping mind keeps talking too, but now it can't listen to itself any longer. Its chatter is not intentional, nor does it have any one to attend to it. This happens well before the dream stage, when the mind's chatter begins to take on a narrative structure and is embodied in images and landscapes.

If someone could transcribe this chatter it might hold a great deal more interest than the dreams themselves, which only take shape much later in the night.

Sunday, July 17, 2016


I ran a mile race in 9:50. I could have gone faster. Still have a lot of energy. Brought the chicken feed in; after breakfast I will get rid of some invasive honeysuckles. Reading Norwegian Wood again. I couldn't remember anything at all, except that it was a tragic love story narrated by a man who never quite gets together with the main female character.

One of my songs is really coming together, not merely as a song, but as something that can be played with an infectious rhythm. I am practicing playing my right hand louder than my left and getting exact dynamics and phrasing.

Your goodbyes
left me with so much more to say
but your eyes
told me that you'd be back to play...

from your kiss
I knew that you'd really like to stay--
You'd come again and spend the night another day

Saturday, July 16, 2016

conscious / unconscious

The process of composition is both conscious and unconscious, deliberate (intentional) and accidental. For example, I can consciously say that I'm going to go I, vi, ii, V, or introduce a passing chord between vi and ii in this same progression. But then I don't know what melody is going to come out of that. I can set up a formal problem for myself to solve: how to get from there to there, but I need to feel my way through the solution.

Friday, July 15, 2016


Someone being / too emphatic

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Duke meets Sinatra

You would think Duke Ellington meets Sinatra would be brilliant album, right? But "Francis A. and Edward K." sucks.The problem is with the songwritng. For whatever reason, they just did not use great Ellington or Strayhorn songs. Sinatra had better luck with Basie.

Maybe the problem was the title.

Duke had brilliant collaborations with Coltrane and Coleman Hawkins. Ella at Duke's Place is a bit disappointing, but ok. Once again, the song selection is weaker than expected.


A woman makes her living peddling a certain vision of creativity in popular books, a certain ideal image of being an artist, with a lot of new age-style crap and motivational/inspirational hokum. You know what I'm talking about.

She herself is not creative, of course. Her poetry is not good, and her other books are recycled versions of one popular bestseller she wrote many years ago. She never seems to have new ideas, or to change her mind about anything. If she writes a book, she will make more money by creating a workbook that goes with it, or an appointment calendar, or audio supplement.

It is not wonder that the leading scholar of poetry devotes a book to the "uncreative." Advertisers, educators, and hucksters have buried creativity under a thick layers of muck, making it virtually unrecognizable to any genuine artist any more. Who would aspire to creativity when it has become an "any map will do" device for lazy business & educational consultants? It always ends up being a method to increase economic efficiency, somehow.


I go to the hardware store to play their piano. They have moved it to the other side of the door and it will not play anymore: the keys stick with the humidity extreme humidity we've had in the last week and will not come up again. Leaving a piano outside is not good. Now there are two non-functioning pianos that I used to play. I decide I will go to the KU gym this afternoon instead of the city one across town.

I moved my furniture to have the carpet cleaned and am putting it back in different configurations. I will spend a few nights away from the apartment to get a fresh perspective on things.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


That's one of the only typos in Lluis Pasqual's book on Lorca. (The only other one I saw was "vendabal" for "vendaval." So clearly the book was well proof-read over all. But, seriously, "Becket"? One of the most significant stage-directors in Spain cannot spell Beckett's name?


The worst form of elitism is anti-elitism, specifically the urge to keep the products of elite culture away from non-elite groups.


Here's the plan. I will write the book using a private blog. Any reader who is known to me personally can request permission to see the blog. What you get is private access to the book as it is being written. What I get is your objections and suggestions.

Here is my first idea. I define it as a poetic intuition. What I mean by this is not an intuition about poetry itself, but something that is obliquely relevant in an interesting way, that itself exemplifies a poetic vision of in or from everyday life or from an analogous art form.

I'll give a few examples:

Lluis Pasqual in his book about Lorca says that "Vamos a otro asunto" sounds different and has a different emotional force in an Andalusian accent. In Castilian accent it means "Let's change the subject" [shut up, stop talking about this!]. In Andalusian is means "Let's change the subject" [Don't worry, we've talked about this enough; it's all good.]

Another example: the way a person's profession makes a physical mark on their body. Someone hunched over a table, or the "carriage" of a women who's been in the military at a high rank, her sharpness of posture.

The way I can hear someone's voice when they are not present. I can play that voice in my head saying something with an exact intonation or inflection, without necessarily hearing the words.

The complexity of a situation: there is the movement of the pitcher's delivery to the mound, with its ritualistic stages, the interplay between pitcher and catcher, between pitcher and batter. The umpire is there too, like a shadow of the catcher. If there is a runner on first, the pitcher is involved in another three way interaction. The first baseman can catch his toss to tag out the runner. There is a first base umpire and first base coach visible as well. Watching this happen, the spectator then is absorbed in a complex rhythmic interplay, all relative to a context; how many strikes, balls, and outs are there, what is the score, what is at stake in this game.

You look at a Warhol soup can painting in person and it's much more painterly than you thought it would be. Not flat and commercial, but with a more "fine arts" vibe.

You see someone doing something easily that would be difficult for you. They are doing it faster but at the same time more carefully. You realize this can help your dexterity in a completely different activity, just by having seen this once.

So your assignment is to give me an example of your own. I will either say, yes, that's exactly the kind of thing I had in mind, or, no, your idea of the poetic intuition is different than mine. Or else, yes, that's something different, but it stretches my concept of the intuition in useful ways.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Old woman's / girlish gesture


I go to the "Rock Chalk" gym on the West side of town. It is a ten minute drive, so I spend twenty minutes driving in order to run inside for 33 and a half minutes. I do a 5K around a 1/8 mile track, then cool down by walking another half mile. My fastest mile this month is 9:56, so my 5K mile times are just barely slower than that. I'm running in an official 1 mile run on Sunday.


I went to the music department yesterday. A harsh sounding electric piano in a practice room. Unsatisfied, I went to the student union. The piano there is in a corner and in bad shape. I don't last lonsg. Some keys don't work, and it sounds as though the sustain pedal were always on. Today, I go back to the music dept. There is a yamaha upright that sounds ok, though not the exact sound I like. Some of my songs sound ok on it. I need a sweet sound, not too bright.


My other article for August is on teaching poetry, for a volume Jill K. and another colleague are editing in the MLA series, on "teaching ..." I'd like to follow a similar process as with my other article. Today is just a day to think about it.


We think of poetry as signs on the page to be deciphered through a mostly intellectual process called "hermeneutics." We think if it too as a genre of so-called "literature." The idea is to interpret and "analyze" a verbal text. Analyzing something means taking it apart in order to see how it works. Nothing wrong with that, but

I'd like to contrast that with another vision of poetry that starts at the other end of things, so to speak. Poetry is deeply embodied. What if reading a poem were more similar to learning a certain kind of dancing or singing, or learning to draw a picture of your hand? It's true that analysis could be a significant aspect of learning to dance & any other kind of performing art.

The first step is a kind of sensorial analysis. The five senses, taken together, make up a kind of encyclopedia of response. Sight has a series of associations: with "vision," with reason and intellect, but sound, feel, smell, and taste are also key.

Take a poem and see what's going on with the five senses. That might take all semester!

Prosody. Students cannot hear accents even in English (Lucy Ferriss.)

Teaching through performance.

The approach to poetry is good pedagogically, because it opens up students' response to poetry, which may have been deadened by years of bad pedagogy. Nevertheless, it doesn't provide a clear path toward academically cogent arguments.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Here's how I get myself in trouble

I had an idea today for a "popular" book. It would be a book taking as its starting point Lorca's idea that the poet should be "a professor in the five bodily senses." It's an intro to poetry, but coming at it from the opposite view of hermeneutics and new critical "analysis." The first chapter is called "the audiovisual professor." It would be pure Mayhew, channeling what I know of Lorca, and taking as the starting point my essay on teaching receptivity through Lorca.

It would have a chapter on memorization, say; a chapter on visuality, on performance; on translation. The premise is that poetry is a visual and performing art, not a way of encoding secret messages on the page. Interpretation (what does the poem mean?) would come at the very end. Analysis would be more like the way a piano player would listen to what another player is doing so she could do it herself. Finally, ideology would come as kind of final horizon. Ideology in poetry is not the ideology of the poem or poet, but the way in which it is situated as a genre in the cultural field. In other words, a certain kind of orality, or visuality, or linguisticality, gets associated with a certain position vis-a-vis cultural hierarchies.

It would not argue specifically for my kind of poetry, but it would kind of be obvious what kind of poetry it favored implicitly.

It would be popular in style and accessible to your grandmother.

This is how I get myself in trouble, since I have more on my plate already than I could ever finish. This is how I get myself in trouble.

This is how I get myself in trouble.

A Melody

A melody can up or down, or some combination of the two, and it can move by steps or arpeggiated, as you like it. It can even stay still for a moment, it can create and resolve tension. It has a logic: there is a phrase, and then another phrase that repeats it or answers it. It all makes logical sense. All this is something anyone knows. A melody is not a random collection of notes, but a series of phrases in logical succession.

But what I think a melody needs is a lilt, a hitch, or a catch; a knot or point of some kind. Something that makes it not just a logical succession of notes, but some other little element that catches on the musical brain somehow.

Imagine that a hand moves over smooth silk. Any rough, uneven spot on the hand will catch on the smooth surface, so there are not two smooth surfaces interacting but one (partially) rough instrument testing itself on another with sensitive fibers.

facebook friends

Facebook suggests that I become friends with my former therapist, with a lawyer for my university, with a friend of my girlfriend's, with a young woman I have taken voice lessons from, and with my own daughter.

Art Tatum

Tatum rocks!

Bass (ii)

I realize that bass lines use the root and the fifth quite a bit. So all of sudden, without having played very much bass, I start hearing those lines with a bit more clarity, just by intending to play it. And, what should have been obvious: the piano doesn't have to play the root and the fifth very much, because the bass has that part covered, so the piano concentrates on the third and the seventh.


A voice in my head says: your songs rely on easy harmonic and rhythmic tricks, and they all sound similar to one another. I answer this voice by saying, well, I am a hobbyist, but honestly I don't feel my songs are inferior to those of anyone, except Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Richard Rodgers, and about three dozen other songwriters.


I'm hearing a song I wrote play through my head over and over for hours as I lie awake at night. I try to construct a walking bass line in my head for it but I can't hear the pitches in my head for this line well enough.


I think of the first real book I read, Of Human Bondage. I remember three things: Philip is an artist, but mediocre. The book seemed to be saying that you either have it or you don't, and he doesn't. Very depressing. Secondly, a scene in which he inadvertently declares his love for an older woman, who then dismisses him. I went back to re-read this scene more recently, and it was not as sexually suggestive as I thought it was when I was 11. Thirdly,there is no God. He prays as a kid for God to cure his club foot, and nothing happens.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Me veo obligado

Me veo obligado a evaluar la obra de un profesor incoherente, que no logra escribir una página que me convenza.


Leo el libro de Lluis Pasqual, De la mano de Federico. Es un director catalán de teatro especializado en Lorca. Me encanta su estilo de escribir, su léxico, su admiración por "Federico." El libro me lo regaló Enrique y fue una sorpresa total. Cita mal el subtítulo de La casa de Bernarda Alba, diciendo "un reportaje fotográfico" en vez de "un documental fotográfico." Le perdono, pero no a sus editores.


Inexplicably, I've decide to play bass. Bought an electric on line and the amp will come in a few days. I have to trust myself in these things, because I am rarely wrong.


Is there a category more incoherent than "the irrational" (lo irracional)? That neutered article, the, or lo, wants to take into its purview everything that is not rational, but this depends on a previous definition of what rationality is.


Someone used the word "berm" and I asked what it meant. Then I realized that someone with a relatively large vocabulary (like me) is someone who learns new words every week, compensating for other words lost every week to oblivion.


I mentioned to someone that I was going to take an argument from another article I'd written and see if still held up. At that moment I realized that non-academics do not use the word argument in that way as often as we do.

The Long & Short of It (Variations on a Theme)

Even a long day / seems too long

Short / it was not short enough

A short night is never short enough / or long enough

What once was short / is always short

Long short long / short long short

Long / that is not long

Short / Still not long / not even lengthy

Too long / he sd

[the singers continue to improvise on this theme, separately or in unison, until the poem is short enough]

Saturday, July 9, 2016

In rotation

I am listening to "Tierra de calma," a flamenco record by Miguel Póveda, basically one of the major stars today in the genre (2007). After that is "Now he sings, now he sobs," a Chick Corea trio recording with Roy Haynes (!) and Miroslav Vitous, a wonderful bassist.


I saw a bird / in distress


The gesture / felt empty


Even a long day / seems too long


The tension / of that wire


I was given (in a dream) a stack of papers about two inches thick with my medical diagnosis of a skin cancer on my waist toward the lower back. I couldn't understand why they had to give me so many papers. About half way into the stack there was a page urging me to take urgent action. It seemed a very inefficient way of giving me that message. As I was trying to wake up and have other dreams, I tried to figure out whether it had been a dream or not. I had to retrace my steps during the day. I realized I hasn't been out of the house since 5 p.m., and had not checked my mail, so that there was no way I could have received these papers.

1st paragraphs

I decided to write an article in 14 days. I have to because I have two articles due in August. I'm starting with the one due later, because that will give me a strategic advantage.

1: think about it. 2: outline. 3: 1st paragraphs 4: "encerrona." 5: Let it sit. 6. 1st version, as complete as can be. 7. Let it sit. 8. Penultimate version. 9 Let it sit. 10. Final version. 11: sleep on it. 12: send it in.

Where are the other two days? They are there in case I need more time. I'm on day 3 now. If you've noticed I've given most of the time to the beginning and ending phases. Those are more crucial than the middle parts.

Sería una equivocación suponer que la función de lo visual, en la poesía visual, es única o unitaria, o que la poesía visual en sí se fundamenta en una poética invariable. La manipulación de la apariencia visual de palabras, letras u otros signos tipográficos y caligráficos puede responder a necesidades artísticas de índole variable e incluso contradictoria, incluso dentro de la obra de un solo autor. En este respecto es igual que otros recursos poéticos, como la versificación o el uso de lenguaje figurado: sin ver cómo se utilizan estos recursos en un contexto creativo específico, es imposible llegar a ninguna conclusión definitiva sobre su función o valor.

En otro artículo, "De la luminosa opacidad de los signos: el texto visual de José-Miguel Ullán" propuse que la función principal de lo visual en la poesía de Ullán era la supresión del hablante poético. Sin habla, no puede haber hablante lírico. Los garabatos de Ullán, en muchos casos, son literalmente impronunciables. Son signos gráficos que se parecen a la escritura de un idioma extranjero desconocido o puramente imaginario. Tal es el caso de sus "agrafismos". Esta ausencia se vincula, según este artículo mío, a la ausencia o reducción de la voz poética en toda la poesía de Ullán, no únicamente las obras clasificables como "visuales." El "yo poético" de Ullán frecuentemente desaparece por completo y el componente confesional de su poesía, como consecuencia, es prácticamente inexistente. Rompe, por lo tanto, con una faceta central de la poesía lírica: la primacía de la voz como simulacro de la subjetividad poética.

Es posible que esta hipótesis sea acertada, pero puede haber otras explicaciones sobre las funciones de lo visual en Ullán. Sin contradecir las observaciones que desarrollé en "De la luminosa opacidad de los signos", me atrevería a decir que mi tesis era demasiado sencilla, y que pecaba además de una negatividad excesiva. La función de un recurso tan rico en posibilidades estéticas no puede ser simplemente la supresión de una voz lírica más tradicional. Es cierto que a Ullán le interesan las tachaduras, las borraduras y los signos indescifrables, pero estos recursos tienen funciones múltiples.

En esta segunda aproximación a la poética de lo visual en Ullán, por lo tanto, se explicarán tres tendencias dominantes en la poesía visual de este poeta. [take out sign-posting later!]. En primer lugar, las imágenes en Ullán tienden hacia la abstracción y la materialidad, tomando como punto de partida el entendimiento de estos conceptos de dos figuras clave para este poeta, Antoni Tàpies y José Ángel Valente. La segunda tendencia es la tachadura, la eliminación o supresión de signos gráficos. Estos signos, no obstante, tienen que mantenerse parcialmente visibles o legibles: el juego está en el ocultamiento parcial de las letras. Finalmente, esta tachadura se enlaza con un impulso lúdico e irónico: Ullán utiliza las capacidades materiales de lo visual para explorar las contradicciones dentro de propia poética.

1. Abstracción y materialidad

Friday, July 8, 2016

Outline of Ullán

I'm going to try something: write a sketch of an article in exactly an hour. Trying to overcome my natural laziness. Here goes.

José-Miguel Ullán: hacia una poética de lo visual

Intro: Sería una equivocación suponer que la función de lo visual, en la poesía visual, es única o unitaria, o que la poesía visual en sí se fundamenta en una poética invariable. La manipulación de la apariencia visual de palabras, letras u otros signos tipográficos y caligráficos puede responder a necesidades artísticas de índole variable e incluso contradictoria, incluso dentro de la obra de un solo autor. En este respecto es igual que otros recursos poéticos, como la versificación o el uso de lenguaje figurado: sin ver cómo se utilizan estos recursos en su contexto estético concreto, es imposible llegar a ninguna conclusión definitiva.

En otro artículo, "De la luminosa opacidad de los signos," propuse que la función de lo visual en Ullán era la supresión del hablante poético. Sin habla, no puede haber hablante. Los garabatos de Ullán son literalmente impronunciables. Vinculaba esta ausencia a la ausencia o reducción de la voz poética en toda la poesía de Ullán, no únicamente las obras clasificables como "visuales." El "yo poético" de Ullán frecuentemente desaparece por completo y el componente confesional de su poesía, como consecuencia, es prácticamente inexistente. Es posible que esta hipótesis sea acertada, pero puede haber otras hipótesis o explicaciones sobre las funciones de lo visual en Ullán. Sin contradecir todas las observaciones que desarrollé en mi primer artículo sobre este poeta, me atrevería a decir que se trata de una idea demasiado sencilla, que peca además de cierta negatividad. La función de un recurso tan rico en posibilidades estéticas no puede ser simplemente la supresión de una voz lírica más tradicional. Es cierto que a Ullán le interesan las tachaduras, las borraduras y los signos indescifrables,

En este artículo, por lo tanto, propongo tres funciones. Para concluir voy a sugerir que puede haber un impulso común o compartido en estas funciones.

¿Cuáles son estas funciones?

1. Rechazo / borradura / tachadura

Pensando en mi idea previa, voy a sugerir, siguiendo la idea de Miguel Casado, que la poética de Ullán se funda sobre un gesto de rechazo. Tomar un texto y destruir su significado.

Por ejemplo: un libro suyo que consiste en las páginas de otro libro con grandes tachaduras negras que ocultan, casi por completo, el texto original. A veces el poeta ha dejado sin tachar algunas palabras o frases sueltas. Leyendo entre líneas (o entre tachaduras) se puede ver que el libro, redactado en castellano, contiene capítulos sobre el conflicto palestino-israelí y sobre la política social de la iglesia católica. (O tal vez se trata de dos libros, pero con una tipografía idéntica, tal vez provenientes de la misma casa editorial?). En cualquier caso, ¿cuál es la postura de Ullán frente a estas cuestiones políticas? No propone una perspectiva política definible. No es que el autor no tuviera ideas políticas serias, pero aquí propone un rechazo del debate serio.

Semejanza con Ronald Johnson: Radios, un texto creado por la borradura del texto del Paraíso perdido de Milton. A diferencia de Johnson, Ullán utiliza una obra ...

2. Ironía / contradicción / humor

El espíritu lúdico es muy fuerte en Ullán. [Anécdota sobre mi ponencia.] La ironía es la puesta en manifestaciones de contradicciones. El encabalgamiento ...

3. Abstracción

4. Minimalismo

La filiación de Ullán con la pintura abstracta es muy evidente. Comparación con Tàpies. Jugar entre significar y no significar. No simplemente

Conclusiones: Ahora que hemos analizado estas funciones, ¿hay algo que estas funciones tengan en común? Poner en movimiento el impulso...

Ok: that's as far as I got. That's enough work for today!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Old and New Dreams

I saw Old and New Dreams once in person, when I was in college. It is like Ornette without Ornette: Dewey Redmon, Ed Blackwell, Charlie Haden, and Don Cherry, if I remember correctly. I'll google it later to make sure. Anyway, it is nice that they are coming up on my rotation now, right before the Ned Rorem. I'm going to have to see if they have other albums aside from the one I have, called simply "Old and New Dreams."

UPDATE: I was right about the personnel. The wikipedia article depressed me by telling me all the members were deceased. Even though I knew that (except for Dewey R.). Redmon is the father of Joshua Redmon, also a prominent tenor sax.

Haden is one of my favorite bass players ever, next to Paul Chambers & Mingus. I am hearing a solo by Haden as we speak.

Is it a coincidence?

Is it a coincidence Is it a coincidencethat at the very moment our world is saturated in visual media — a recent study found that children gaze at screens on their TVs, computers, and mobile devices an average of six or more hours a day — we are also seeing a devaluing of the expertise needed to understand the intricacies of that media? Is it coincidence that the gig economy arrived at a time when we champion how the internet has given everyone a voice and a platform, an internet filled with millions of content-creators — like that lovely woman and her Chewbacca mask — all working for free? Is it coincidence or the result of decades of micro-erosions of a labor force and the creation of a hope economy?
Well, it might be. We know this is not my favorite lazy-ass trope anyway. I fail to see what the exact relation being posited here is. The "is it a coincidence" is a favorite of pop culture scholars, because they always want to find some correspondence between two things without actually proving their point. You are supposed to answer by saying that no, it isn't a coincidence, and therefore there is a causal relation or hidden connection there. But what if there isn't?

I love "the very moment." How spurious is that? It isn't something that happens in a single moment, but two things happening in tandem over the course of many years. But "at the very moment" seems to assert something much stronger.

Look, we are all experts on popular culture. Even those of us who are not think we are. Most people, including most journalists covering the subject, are not going to defer to academic expertise. The entire argument has me thinking that they made their own bed, let them lie in it. If you write abstruse articles behind fire walls don't expect pop journalists to come knocking.

The condescension here is enormous. Do we really need people to explain to us the intricacies of the new media? If the article had a single good example of a cogent analysis that would help us to understand all of this, better than some lame-ass journalistic explanation, it would be nice.


I once gave a talk in Spain on Ullán's visual poetry. I had the audience laughing uproariously at several junctures in my brief talk, and the talk went over extremely well. I was told that Ullán (who had died a year before) would have liked it.

I am now writing another article about Ullán's visual poetry. I went back and read my talk, and there is nothing at all funny about it. It doesn't even attempt to be humorous. Some of the laughter was evoked by my spontaneous witticisms, which didn't make it into the talk, but some remarks were just taken as humorous by the audience, a small group of people who were friends of the poet and/or specialists in his work. Once I realized I was having this effect, of course, I played into it and became even more witty. I think the main reason was that my style of presentation is different from what is expected in that context. I made jokes that I didn't even know were jokes, or that were slightly above my own actual linguistic competence in Spanish. I didn't plan any of my wit, that's why it is wit. I am not good at telling jokes and in fact abhor them.* True wit is contextual, the response that is relevant to that particular moment.

I can only remember one of my jokes that day, in which I dedicated my talk "y la afición..." This quotes a poem by Jaime Gil de Biedma, which in turn cites a phrase used in bull-fighting, I think. It is funny contextually, because we aren't in a bull ring, I guess.


*There are some jokes I do like, individually. Yet I don't like the joke as a genre, or else I don't like people sitting me down and telling me a joke.

One joke I like is that there are two idiots on opposite sides of the river. One yells to the other: "how do I get to the other side?" and the other yells back "You're already on the other side!" I like jokes that are metaphysical.

Reviewing the Library

As I listen to my music purchases in order, I remember parts of my life. Right now I have a recording of The Goldberg Variations, which my friend Bob Basil turned me on to. I have no idea of the year, but apparently it followed my Morton Feldman phase and a desire to repurchase music I had owned a very young person, like Solo Monk, and some Sinatra that my parents owned. It also followed my very belated discovery of the string quartets that Mozart dedicated to Haydn, which I know David Shapiro had told me about. I see Gidon Kremer's Bach unaccompanied violin pieces are coming up soon, though I can't remember whether it was Bob or David who told me to get those.

After that will some Ned Rorem songs sung by Susan Graham. I love her voice, though I don't always love Rorem's songs. If I have a particular relationship to the original poem that Rorem is setting to music, like a Frank O'Hara poem, then I sometimes think he is doing it wrong. I just don't love his style either. I think he is excellent but not superb, in a word. I must have been listening to these songs when I was exploring the relation of words to music in my own mind.

After that is Adagio for Strings (Barber). I know I listened to that first after reading a book by the New Yorker music critic on classical music, Alex Ross, The Rest is Noise. This had to have been a classical music phase in which I was trying to remedy some of the more glaring holes in my knowledge. I downloaded a recording of a symphony I have very well since the sixth grade, though, around this time. Beethoven's "Pastoral." I still listen top Adagio for Strings fairly often, because I have it as my alarm.

After that, Johnny Hodges and a recording of the Art of the Fugue that I never liked very much.

Hey ho, hey ho

When Jesse Jackson led some Stanford students in the chant, Hey ho, hey ho, Western Culture as got to go, the world got a little dumber, a little crasser. There was no wit here (unlike the remark attributed to Gandhi: a journalist [probably apocryphally] asked him what he thought of Western Civilization, and he was reported to reply "It would be a good idea.") The context was a Eurocentric reading list for a Western culture course at Stanford, but what the world heard was "Western Culture has got to go." Not a course of that name, but the thing itself.

Any kind of music, poem, painting, architecture, is associated with the culture which produced it. So everything is tainted from the outset, because culture is an evil thing. All known cultures have invaded other people, been misogynist, etc... 'The exceptions are a few held out by Western people as examples of the trope of noble savage.] Where Benjamin says every document of civilization is a document of barbarism, this is exactly what he meant. But isn't there a kind of fallacy here? Or several fallacies? Since everything is tainted, we are left with the actual products of the tainted civilizations and cultures that have produced them. We won't have any actual cultural products that we can love any longer, except those of the past five years, maybe. We must live in a perpetual present, where works go out of date really because of their tainted legacies. I love bebop, but it was very male dominated & a bit elitist to boot. You can play this game with everything. More powerful, influential cultures spread their influence wider and created more complex forms, so the more culture there is associated with a given language, the worse it will be.

Of course, people on the right reacting to Jesse Jackson share one significant thing: a belief that culture / civilization are good proxies for political positions. Nobody in the culture wars of the 80s cared about culture at all. They just saw it as a good stand-in for politics. It is easy to see why literature is particularly vulnerable, because it is made of words. There is no pure literature, because words are soaked through with meaning. Even the most die-hard partisans of poetry which destroys meaning only read poetry in languages they know.

[The other joke from this period was that the Duke English department was a group of people who hated one another but were united, at least, in their common hatred of literature.]

Now, conservatives below the age of 70 don't even care about the Western Canon, even as a proxy for other values. We can almost be nostalgic for the old style conservative.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


Actual Poems

So there are actual poems that embody the ideals of Poetry (capital P.) Most poems will not. Who gets to decide which ones they are? Nobody and everybody. That is to say, I won't argue with you if you have a different set of poems that do it for you or think mine or lousy. I will argue if you think that almost every poem you read does it for you, or if you have never felt it at all. If you've never felt that with a poem, then you have no business in the conversation at all. It's none of your business.

My professor Claudio Rodríguez (also the poet I wrote my dissertation) would say simply that there were whole centuries in which there was no poetry, or that a certain poet had simply stopped writing poetry (while still writing things that looked like poems on the page.) He would use the example of Jorge Guillén. Poetry is not "vitalicio," he said. You aren't appointed for life. There is a hilarious poem by Guillén about some loudspeakers at a picnic. It is very bad though technically competent.

Suppose there was a small midwestern town with four Chinese restaurants. I could say I don't like them, and someone would say, "oh, you don't like Chinese food." No, I do like Chinese food, but I do not like these restaurants. However, to say I like Chinese food there must be some Chinese food somewhere that I like.

Poetry ought to be something like a skill, that can be learned. Then poets would get better and better at it and older poets would write better than younger, since this is not a skill that declines like athletic speed or manual dexterity. You can get better at writing poetry, but you can also lose it.

You could also lose the ability to respond to poetry. I think responding to poetry is also something that you have in a rather mysterious sense. Suppose you felt indifferent (as I do faced with poetry I feel to be good but not great), but faced with poetry you know everyone oohs and ahs over. It is not just the Chinese restaurants in town you don't like, but those in San Francisco.

A more talented reader is probably more receptive, more responsive than I am. They will have more poems and types of poem that give them that poetic frisson. There are people who claim that music by the Marsalis brothers gives them the same frisson as Coltrane or Bird. It is good to be as receptive as possible, but you can't fake it. In other words, you shouldn't pretend that something is poetry for you if it is not.

In a class I gave, I had students translate (many years ago). A student brought in poems by a guy who taught in the English department of the same university. These poems wouldn't work for translating, because they simply did not have enough substance. The questions you might ask about the relation of the translation to the original would not work, because the premise of the questions was the attribution of a certain value to the original.

The frisson is a kind of thing that "catches" in your brain, like a musical phrase that you have to listen to over and over again.

This being said, the type of person I can learn from is often someone who thinks differently, not someone who agrees the most with this theory of mine.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Hatred of Poetry

Ben Lerner in his recent book of this title claims that we overvalue Poetry with a capital P, all of our dreams about what Poetry can be, and undervalue actual poems, those imperfect and hence detestable reminders of our failure.

The gap between poetry I (our ideal of what it is) and poetry II, actual poems, produces a syndrome called poetry hatred.

I would like to suggest a different twist. I believe Lerner is correct, but only partially. There is a poetry III: actual poems that do exemplify what we think of as poetry I. The hatred of poetry surges in me because of hundreds of poems one encounters, only a few are actually fully present enough to justify the grandiose claims of poetry I. Your friends' poetry is not going to be very good, on average, and neither is your own. The whole social aspect of poetry, the idea of having a community, falters on the fact that you are betraying poetry all the time by allowing poetry II to stand for poetry I and III, when it really does not.

Social and institutional pressures force us to recognize vast swaths of mediocrity by famous poets as poetry III when it is really poetry II. But poetry cannot exist at all unless we have enough of it, even the bad and mediocre stuff. We need it to produce the conditions in which real poetry can emerge.

Lerner admits at one point that he is not going to look at the actual good things good and great poems can do. That is the missing piece in his argument.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Marks on Paper

So I have broken down what I want to do in several steps.

*Make marks on paper

[I've done that]

*Keep doing it enough so that it becomes habitual.


*Find something interesting in the marks I've made.

[Starting to do that]

*Develop some techniques or procedures for doing something of interest.

[Starting to do that]

*Define a particular project. It could be a series of visual poems, or a comic book.

*Actually do this project. Produce something.

*Publish or diffuse it in some way.

At no point does the question of something being good or bad enter into it. I prefer to think of it as interesting or not interesting. It would be fine to learn to draw realistically, etc... that may or may not be interesting, and "badness" would be synonymous with a lack or realism, right?

Friday, July 1, 2016


Someone requested an article of mine from academia.com or a site like that from 1993, on Gil-Albert. I found it, sent it to the woman who requested it, and re-read it for the first time in probably twenty years. It is actually pretty good. It just lays out an argument and goes through the steps needed to demonstrate its point, in a very straightforward way. I remember how I wrote it: after doing the readings, I sat down in one day and wrote out a sketch of the argument in longhand. Another day, I wrote the article itself on my computer. A guy I knew happened to contact me saying he was putting together and issue of a journal, did I have anything. I sent it in and it was published with no further ado. It is well enough written and the argument is coherent and easy to follow.