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I am posting this as a benchmark, not because I think I'm playing very well yet.  The idea would be post a video every month for a ye...

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


What bugs me about this is that it is an application of English-language concepts of gender to a word in Spanish.

So in Spanish you would say: "literatura latina." That would be literature written by Latinos and Latinas: the adjective modifies the noun, which happens to be feminine in gender. The x is a way of neutering the gender. If the noun happened to be feminine, then you would say "feminismo latino."

From the perspective of speaking English, gender is only applied to persons and animals with a designated sex. So people think of Latino / Latina as only applying to people. Hence you need to say "Latinex" to keep things gender neutral. The word was invented by someone who doesn't think in Spanish.

Monday, November 27, 2017

La La Land

I saw this movie about a jazz pianist, La La Land. There wasn't a hip jazz piano lick in the whole movie. It was a highly acclaimed movie and won awards for its music--which sucked to high heavens.

Razor's Edge

 As part of my project "razor's edge" I outlined my goals as related to music. As you can see, it is not just "get to be a better piano player," but a good deal more than that. I basically want to retire to being a songwriter, as my full time hobbyjob, in 10 years time. I started this project in Sept. 2015, without knowing that it was the start of something. I figure need to be about 80% of where a truly good pianist is, though that is a nebulous concept because 80% of what, exactly?  For me it might mean playing tastefully and tastily within my particular technical limits. I'm about 30% now, realistically. Writing out these goals makes me realize that I need to focus on one thing, like mastering Sibelius, that is holding me back from other things.   

Overall goal:

Be a songwriter able to play and sing my own songs in public and to record own cds. 

Specific Goals

Play piano and sing at 80% level
Compose at 90% level
Record cds of my music

Steps already taken

Write songs  
Take voice lessons
Take piano lessons
Establish piano practice routine
Learn to read lead sheets / basic jazz triadic voicings
Acquire keyboard
Join choir and participate in performances
Experiment with recording self in library
Perform in talent show
Begin to improvise walking bass lines and “rhythm changes”
Use phone app to notate leads sheets of own songs

Next steps

Master Sibelius software
Go to open mics
Improve reading / sight-reading
Work on lyric writing / have lyrics for at least 5 songs

Further Steps

Learn quartal voicings / jazz comping at a fluid level
Improve ear and listening ability
Improvise at high level
Play more with other musicians 
Learn arranging / more sophisticated compositional techniques
More advanced and detailed knowledge of harmony
Write for SATB or other formats 
Lose fear of other recording technologies

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Dreams are Confused

Dreams are confused, yet men seek clarity there

Oracles speak with twisted tongues; men trust them and do not despair

From confusion--dogma, false hope

Through fog, on slick roads--stupid, dismal determination

Sunday, November 19, 2017


By using the tag Popular songs I am able to trace the development of my short and unsuccessful songwriting efforts. I started in September '15, so I have been writing for 2 years and 2 months. I couldn't do song in all the keys that I know now.  I've been able to do more complex things, though complexity is not an end in itself. My playing is far better: I only started piano lesson in fall of '16, or a year after I had started. My new teacher now is teaching me proper piano technique, which makes it much easier to play well.

I need a system to write them down and keep track of them.


The only way to learn improvisation is to do it.  So I set a timer for 15 minutes, choose a set of chord changes, and just do it. You can play many choruses in 15 minutes. The trick is getting to where you can sing it to yourself in your head what you are about to play, just before you play it. If you then go on to play something different than you thought of, you know you are not hearing it correctly in your head.


 I realize I've been holding myself back unnecessarily in many ways, making things harder for myself. It would take me a long time to learn a relatively simple classical piece, when I could be learning it faster, simply by choosing an 8-bar section and practicing only that for 15 minutes at a time. I thought I could only reach an octave and it turns out I can reach a 9th, etc...


I've decided to use Zotero to keep track of references.  That is what I am worst at, so that will make my next project all that easier to complete.   I won't be stuck at the last minute with many incomplete references like I normally do.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Lilt: a theory of melody

A melody has to catch the ear. A lilt is an up and down movement that has to be asymmetrical or surprising in some way. It can go up, and then down. That is fine, if there some surprise there, or some element not completely predictable. It also has to have a shape, and be intelligible as a series of related phrases. I think that everyone, even those with no musical knowledge, understands a melody, everyone could be able to say: it goes down, then up, then down again but to a place lower than where it started. Or it leaps up and then comes down by steps. Or it goes up in smaller leaps and then down on the same notes.  Just as there is a harmonic rhythm (how fast the chords change) there is melodic rhythm, in the same that the same sequence notes will not be same melody if the rhythm is very different.

I know how to write a melody, and I did it well the first time I tried. A melody can be very simple, like the first three phrases of "I got rhythm." A simple melody is not worse than a complicated one, though.  It can have more or less movement, and move across a wider or narrower range. Since my melodies are mine, I like them. They express exactly what I want them to. I work them over until they are what I want them to be. I'm not afraid to repeat a note 5 times in a row.

I generate melodies through tension with the chords, using a lot of ninths and chromatic movement in the underlying harmonies.

Could someone explain why one melody is better than another? I know some melodies are more catchy, some are beautiful. Some are elegant and symmetrical. Some of my favorites are these

The Blessing (Ornette Coleman)
Monk's Mood (Monk)
Wachet Auf... (Bach)
Star Dust (Carmichael)
Lester Leaps Up (Young)
Nessun Dorma

Sometimes I know there is a melody, in a technical sense: notes that move in a way that is intelligible, but I feel that there is not really melody in the sense of something that I would have wanted to write as a melody. It is scrub-a-scrub baroque music of the mediocre sort, or its Clementi equivalent. I get tired of jazz improvisation when it involves a lot of aimless running up and down scales, rather than melodic development. You can have a melody that happens to coincide with a certain sequence of notes of a scale, in fact that is impossible to avoid. But you shouldn't write a melody that's just a scale.

I saw the movie Evita, and, though it is all sung, there are not melodies in the sense I mean. It is like talking, but non-melodically, on designated pitches.


I always liked this word. It follows the morphological pattern of sacacorchos or aguafiestas: third-person singular verb + plural noun. Someone "who spares your life" or allows you to live is a bully, or someone who acts like they are braver than they are.

"Perdonarle la vida a alguien," to spare someone's life, means to condescend to them. So if someone writers that in a newspaper column, someone spares Borges's life, it means they are treating them with condescension, deciding whether Borges can live or die.  It is arrogance, or the arrogation of an authority the critic doesn't have.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017


I've read two books in the past few days, one for a book review, the other for a tenure review. Both deal with several authors, but they are all male. Another book I reviewed for a press this summer dealt with Spanish writers in New York.  Once gain, only male writers appear.

You could guess the genders of the authors of these books. But the last one was written by a woman. So my question is: why not put some women in your books? Why do women authors have to be studied in books only about women, with a lot of other books about other general topics (modernism, translation, etc...) ignoring women completely?

Saturday, November 11, 2017

I couldn't find Hans Josef on my iTunes list.  I guess he was Haydn.

More Bialoksy

Logan strikes again.  

Friday, November 10, 2017

Feeding the Ego

I have a book review to do. The person does not cite me (when he might have???). Although the book will get a good review from me, it will be with less relish. I don't think that he had to cite me, but he might have. I think, egotistically of course, that the kind of ideas that I develop, and that he might have cited, would have benefitted his approach and made his book smarter. It is a smart book in its own right, though, so I have to be fair. Ah well...

(Do you think a book on translations of modernism between US and Spain would cite me, or not?)

I also have a tenure case to do. The person does cite me favorably, and I am favorably inclined to his work. He not only cites me, but makes me sound smart in the process, giving enough of my own words to make me sound that way, and using my point to make another good point of his own. And he does it more than once. This is not the perfunctory, cover-your-bases citation that we perform so often, the citation that only shows that you are aware of the work, that people will expect you to cite it so you do.

What is even more gratifying, is that he cites something that I forgot I had written (not the book but the particular analysis of a poem).

Why should I even need these ego boosting events? Normally, we work long hours writing a book, or several books, and we only hear sporadically about whether anyone likes or appreciates them, or knows why they are good. The institution treats scholarship as items on the cv to be counted. Your colleagues know that you have published, but they work in different fields.

My personal non-academic friends don't read my scholarship. I had an interesting conversation once with some acquaintances, people I see often, in which we were talking about how much we read. At some point, I had to say: do you know what my profession is?

So yes, as far the adulation and ego boosting: bring it on!    

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Why plagiarism isn't "intertextuality".

Suppose I set a novel in Wyoming, and have my main characters be Frodo and his uncle Bilbo. That would set up intertextuality with Lord of The Rings. Suppose Bilbo left a valuable object to his nephew in his will...   Or I wrote a micro fiction in which a cockroach turns into a human being. Bolaño wrote a sequel to Kafka's story of Josephine the mouse singer. Graham Greene has a novel based obviously on the Quijote. Ashbery has a cento in which each line is a line from a famous poem. Koch parodies "This is Just to Say" in a poem called "Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams."  A play called "Lorca in a Green Dress" uses material from Lorca's plays and poems.

Intertexuality depends on the reader recognizing the source. It so happens I don't know the origins of all the lines in Ashbery's poem, but I can tell very early on that it's a cento (and even labelled as such!).  A concealed "intertextuality" with an unknown text is plagiarism. Concealing the origins, and using a "intertext" that most people would not recognize, means that there is no longer any intertextuality at work, because you don't have two things playing off each other.

Most intertextuality is with the canon. I'd say more: by using a text as intertext, if it is not already canonical, one is canonizing it, or treating it as a work that ought to be recognized by the reader.

As the cat climbed over the top of the jamcloset

Silent, upon a peak in Darien

To soothe a time-worn man

Silent, upon a peak in Darien

Caminante, son tus huellas el camino, y nada más. Caminante, no hay camino

Silent, upon a peak in Darien

As I sd to my friend, because I am always talking, John, I sd, which was not his name

Silent, upon a peak in Darien

Stout Cortez!

Silent, upon a peak in Darien 

First the right forefoot carefully

Silent, upon a peak in Darien 

Yo quiero ser llorando el hortelando de la tierra que ocupas y estercolas 

Silent upon a peak in Darien

Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art, not in mute splendor

Silent, upon a peak in Darien...

Tuesday, November 7, 2017


An otherwise good book I'm reviewing but has Castile as the "central province" of Spain, and the "annexing" Catalonia, Galicia, and Asturias over the centuries. He has Castile rising to prominence in the 15th century. I'm pretty sure that Castile was prominent under Alfonso X two hundred years before that.  

(He also has Pierre Menard trying to become Cervantes, when that is the initial approach that Menard rejects.)

There was never an annexation of Catalonia by Castile.  Catalonia was essentially part of the kingdom of Aragon, and the marriage of the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabel was the first main step of unifying Spain politically.

And of course Castile is not and never was a "province." That's a bit like calling England a province that annexed Wales and Scotland.

It is hard to state facts accurately.


The plagiarist writes a self-pitying memoir about being found as a plagiarist. She calls it one woman's search for an authentic voice.  I guess, that, yes, you would need to search for authenticity in this circumstance. A plagiarist is the least authentic person in the world.   

Monday, November 6, 2017

Plagiarism as a systematic practice, or, banana peels

I propose to look at plagiarism as a system or a structure, not an isolated, accidental event. People often get distracted by wondering whether an act of plagiarism was intentional or not. They look at the issue of mens rea. This ends up being confusing, because a lot of plagiarists do not commit this act intentionally.

What I mean by structural plagiarism is the following. This poet who had plagiarized very extensively wrote down other peoples poems in her own notebooks, along side her own work, and often reworked someone else's poem extensively over a long period of time. Then, when sending out work or assembling a collection of poems, she sometimes used a poem that was not altered very much at all. This is a virtual recipe for plagiarism. It is like littering a path with banana peels, walking down the path, and then calling your falls "accidents." Maybe you did not intend to fall, and tried hard not to slip on those peels, but you did intend to litter the path with banana peels or ball bearings. The fault is one stage earlier in the process, but it is nonetheless your own fault.

Ira Lightman says that "Plagiarists never do it once." This is because plagiarism is the result of a method of writing in which the writer refuses to keep track of what words are his or her own.

Now I can see someone accidentally not closing a quotation mark at the end, or slipping up in a minor way with a brief sequence of quoted words. I think this kind of mistake, though, is not greeted with howls of outrage. What makes people made is the serial plagiarist, the person who makes a systematic practice of laying down banana peels on the road and slipping on them.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Gospel Writers

"The Gospel writers nicked stories from each other verbatim "

That's a phrase I found in a Facebook comment thread.  This is how people like to defend plagiarists. Plagiarism is not so bad, because Jesus, Shakespeare...  It pretends to be historically savvy but is quite the opposite.   


What bothered me most in people defending their own plagiarism was the appeal to their status as victims and the use of the vocabulary of self-love and empowerment.  

Saturday, November 4, 2017


Now, I would also like to bring up how I was treated in this affair. I have been bullied, victimised and abused by a number of ‘poets’ who thought it was necessary to act like a lynch mob. One ‘poet’ wrote “Head ———> Pike” in a Facebook comment about me. Another ‘poet’ suggested I be put in the stocks and alluded I should be put to death. Such behaviour really isn’t on. I have become extremely depressed by their actions and don’t deserve it. There is no excuse. I have written somewhere between 5 – 600 poems over the last eight/nine years. I intend to write more. I do not believe I should have to throw away several years worth of work over isolated incidents which I deeply regret. I am not, for the record, a compulsive plagiarist who gets a rush from doing it. I’m not that person. Please believe me…. I am not the complete monster that a lot of people think I am. I am a human being and deserve better.


In May 2015, the unspeakable happened to me. There was a public shaming. My whole world fell apart the day I was accused of being a plagiarist on Facebook by a ‘so-called’ friend and fellow poet. He wrote that he’d found whole scale “borrowings” from other writers’ words, phrases, and structures within my latest collection of poetry. He said that he was just doing his duty for the poetry community by bringing it to everyone’s attention. What followed was what I chose to call a public lynching of me as a writer, poet and person. This was the unspeakable that happened to me. But funny enough, I am speaking about it here, as well as writing a creative non-fiction book about this whole experience. Everything I knew, all I was, how I thought myself to be was taken from me in that public posting. I issued an apology regarding my unintentional mistakes and withdrew from the public realm. At one point, death looked a very promising course of action, but I had my family and some supportive friends who helped me.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Religious Freedom

Religious freedom seems to be mostly about being able to discriminate against gays and deny women funding for contraception in health care plans. If those are the only areas in which people and institutions are not religiously "free," then I would say that religious freedom is fairly robust. The entire legacy of Christianity apparently depends on a few issues like this. It's not as though the Baptist mayor of a small town is shutting down the Methodist church. No, the entire issue is that religious institutions don't get to regulate other peoples' (non-members of the religion) sexuality. And now, apparently, they do get to do so.

It's rather strange because contraception is not a big issue in the Bible. Maybe Jehovah at one point didn't want Onan to pull out too soon, which he did so as not to impregnate his sister-in-law, but that's all I remember. Most churches don't force people to marry their dead brother's wife any more, so this might not be all that relevant.


Protests don't shut down universities that are actually politically conservative. Only liberal institutions are vulnerable to the kind of implosion that has occurred recently at Reed and Evergreen.  If an administration tries to affirm its commitments to social justice, it might increase student dissatisfaction about these issues.


They say a liberal is someone who can't take their own side in an argument. I've seen it attributed to Robert Frost: "A liberal is someone too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel." What this means, in practice, is that I spend a lot of time considering arguments I don't agree with, both from the left and the right of my own positions if we must imagine every issue along a spatial continuum we inherited from the French revolution.  There is a danger I might be convinced by a right wing argument, or have my positions not entirely line up the way they ought to. I certainly cannot shield myself from arguments I don't like. What would be the fun in that?  


There is an irritating Facebook group called teaching with a sociological lens, or something like that. A person reported that a student had written an email to her saying "we only hear liberal views in class, how about a debate with people on different sides of the issue." Of course, virtually everyone on the group responded that sociology is a science based on empirical research, so of course there are no sides to these issues, only facts. Now the student, whom the group immediately labeled a privileged white guy, may have been misconstruing the field of sociology.  But surely these sociology professors know that "facts" are socially constructed? Surely there are issues about which people, seeing the same set of data, disagree, and not necessarily from ideological differences. There have to be things that nobody knows for sure, open questions. There have to be implicit biases in the field, and specific ways in which researchers attempts to hold their biases in check, or ensure that they haven't put their thumb on the scale when gathering and interpreting data.  The purpose of the sociology class should be to teach students to think like sociologists, not to simply provide a set of incontrovertible facts about society.  

As a literary critic, I never know what my conclusions will be before I engage with the text. My conclusions are not aligned along a right / left axis. If I knew in advance what I would find, then my reading of the text would be worthless.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017


Symbolism is tremendously important. Don't let anyone tell you ever that an issue is "merely symbolic," because we put a lot of store into symbols. American flags, confederate flags, statues of confederate generals.  Words are symbolic and we need to be careful to use the right words at all times, those that are "symbolically correct," so to speak. People can go to war, ostensibly at least, over the right to use their own symbolic code, rather than that of the oppressor.

We cannot disparage interest in symbolism, then. Both Trump and NFL players seem to agree on the importance of the flag. There is no position that views it simply as a piece of cloth of no significance. In this sense, revering and burning a flag are acts invested degree of deference to an identical symbol.

Yet we can win all the symbolic battles we want, and nothing will change. Aren't we always told that racism is "structural"? High rates of incarceration and poverty among African-Americans are hugely more significant than some statue of Robert E. Lee. We can ban symbolic expressions of racism all day long and have structural racism run rampant. People who are overtly racist and fascist, etc... are only a small part of the problem.

Yet people seem to only understand problems in symbolic or iconic fashion. It's always some outrage over something someone said. Even a problem like police killing of civilians is reduced to a few iconic cases, when it is really a structural and statistical problem.