Featured Post


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...

Friday, May 31, 2019


I was especially struck by the part about "the flamenco artists and bullfighters of Southern Spain, near Andalusia where he was born." This is hilarious, because Southern Spain is Andalusia. If you are near Andalusia but not in it, then you are in Murcia or Extramadura, maybe. Or Portugal or La Mancha. The singer who is doing the duende project contacted me a few years ago to ask me about the duende. We had a phone conversation. She was nice enough, but of course, my perspective is not going to be welcome to people with this kind of approach.


I think people lacking a sense of humor will never get me.  Maybe that's the problem with Venuti?  Humor comes from discrepancy, things that are unexpected.


I thought I knew about bad poetry, but there is a whole 'nother dimension I discovered yesterday, in a poem by Alice Walker cited by one of the commenters on Clarissa's blog. I had a hazy view of Walker, knowing her mostly through the film version of her novel, The Color Purple. Apparently, she has gone off the deep end into anti-Semitic tropes. The poem in question is not only written as inept prose divided arbitrarily into lines, in classic "bad poetry" style, but repeats in all earnestness tropes from medieval misrepresentations of the Talmud, that I guess have found new life on youtube. This is ugly hate speech reminiscent of Hitler.  I can't even quote from it, because I don't want to perpetuate it. But the idea is to claim that the Talmud says certain things about how Jews will control the world and kill and enslave everyone who is not Jewish.  These claims were accepted in medieval times because the texts existed only in Aramaic. Medieval anti-semitism was not some genteel form of social prejudice, but a virulently hateful ideology with often deadly effects running deep through Catholicism as well as early Reformation figures like Luther, who advocated extreme measures against the Jews, even genocide.

There is nothing funny about this, but I am imagining a darkly satirical novel about our times, in which respectable figures get away with this, while others are persecuted for comparatively minor transgressions. I had a strange day yesterday. A younger female relative of mine had been texting me about her new boyfriend; there seemed to be a few things off about him in what she told me, but then I googled his name and found out he strangled a guy, something she hadn't thought to mention. He is a "poet"too, of course, and his blog is all about peace and love, but in a kind of blathering, incoherent way. Reading this, combined with the Walker text, made me see our mental hold on reality as extremely fragile. For example, I am supposedly an expert on poetry, but what passes for such just seems like insane ranting, and not in a good way. What is it that I know then?

I get email

I often get material for my project in my email in the morning:

"We are very excited to be presenting Duende on Saturday, June 8 at San José's Hammer Theatre Center in partnership with San José Office of Cultural Affairs! The event will feature TCP founder/director Carla Canales, guitarist Jiji, pianist Danielle DeSwert HahnChristopher Botta on electronics, and artwork byRosemary Feit Covey.
Duende is an exploration of the Latina identity through a reimagination of Spanish folk songs. For the great Spanish poet and playwright Federico García Lorca, “duende” was the spirit that transfixed and elevated an audience leading them to “the dark root of the cry.” Ineffable, powerful, mysterious, it was a force he saw as essential to the flamenco artists and bullfighters of Southern Spain, near Andalusia where he was born and raised.

This program incorporates Lorca’s original fascination with traditional flamenco melodies, and reimagines them through the use of electronically synthesized sounds. The concert will also feature the premiere of a new song cycle, “Serenade Under the Moon” through which living composer John Villar takes poems from around the world about the moon and sets them for voice, guitar, and piano."

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Mediocre Meditation

The only way to do meditation, I've found, is to embrace my own mediocrity as a meditator. Doing it in a mediocre way, as in not worrying if your mind wanders, is actually the correct way of doing it. Of course, I am getting better at it, in the sense that I catch my mind wandering more quickly than I used to. I should expect not to be "good" at it (whatever that will entail) until I've done a lot more. I've done an absurdly small amount of it so far.

Reading Myself Writing about Washing Machines

I don't read myself very often. Once something is published, that's it. I'm not interested. Yet when I do come across something and read it, I get a strange frisson. Of course I am not objective, but I often find something that I have written that is very good, standing up fine to my own standards. I really ought to do this more often, because when I think about my work in the abstract, I tend to undervalue it. If it is something I have written a long while ago, I can get a sense of its quality in a way I can't for something written yesterday.

 A few days ago, it was an article I published in Spanish in 2010 on a poem by Claudio Rodríguez, "Manuscrito de una respiración." We were all asked by Philip Silver to choose a poem of Claudio to write about. This is not a publication that I am well known for. As far as I know it has never been cited, and I've never even had a conversation with anyone about it, not even Silver. Perhaps some of the other contributors to the book have read it; I don't know. There are other articles in the book, some worse than mine, some on the same level or better.

I used an image I found in a drumming manual about the rhythm of machines in laundromats, how the rhythm of the washers and dryers is regular, but the clothes rise and fall in irregular patterns. This is analogous to the drumming of Jack DeJohnette, whose metaphor this is, and also to the rhythms of Rodríguez's poem. This other article in the book that talks about prosody, but a poet who is also a profesor de métrica, does so in a dull way, basically counting the number of syllables in lines and commenting on that. I will stand behind my washing machine metaphor.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Wrong Answers

In literary criticism there are wrong answers but not right ones. In other words, it is possible to say that someone is wrong in quite specific and definite ways. Yet is is impossible to know that one is right, correct in some definitive sense.

We could say there is a set of potentially illuminating insights that is not limited beforehand. The fact that we don't know what other insights we are missing is one thing, but does not imply that we are unable to rule out some observations as irrelevant. This is not an inconsistent position. In fact, if we were unable to do so, then there would be no point in trying very hard to understand something in the first place. Our effort would meet the same reward as someone who just made something up arbitrarily without thinking about it.

San Pablo

I was driving in San Francisco, though it isn't really SF somehow. One of the streets was San Pablo which is actually in the East Bay I believe. I can orient myself visually by looking down the hills and simply going down, but the slopes are so steep that I have to slam on my brakes almost at the top of each hill. The freeway to get there ends abruptly in the financial district. At one point I end up on a narrow ledge in a park. The car is very small and maneuverable. There is some uncertainty about the hotel we are staying at, where we should eat, etc... The trip is not well planned.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Dream of a road

In this dream I was part of some military special ops thing; we were in a van dressed in disguise with rags around our heads. We were planning an attack and starting to get our gear together. We were stopped by the enemy who were suspicious. We couldn't get our rifles out of the trunk.

Some Chinese people started to appear along the side of the road, unrelated to the conflict. I began speaking to them in French, then in Spanish, trying to distract the enemy soldiers. I ended up wandering off with some of them. Now the road had turned into a kind of outdoor market, with booths and vendors, and people wandering around. I tried to make my way back to my unit, but the landscape had changed. The next change was that the entire space had become an indoor shopping mall, in the same shape as the original stretch of road. At this point I accepted the new reality of things.

Thematically, the dream seems to be about the shifting perception of reality. The road is always a symbol of life's journey, so the other things are ways of perceiving this symbol. Is it a military expedition, a shopping spree?

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Galaxia Gutenberg

In this dream Galaxia Gutenberg had published my complete poems in Spanish translation. This seemed unexpected but at the same time deserved. It was one of those massive tomes of 500 pages, like the collected works of other authors. I felt like a Very Important Person and wondered why I had ever doubted it. I imagined telling people about this book. Of course, I have never published a book of poems in English.

Obviously, this dream is about the anomaly of thinking of myself as a poet or creative person but having my actual accomplishment be in scholarship. It is also about my exaggerated sense of self importance. Galaxia Gutenberg is the publisher of Lorca! and also of all the other poets I've worked on in the last 20 years (Valente, Gamoneda, etc...) I actually know the guy who's in charge of the poetry collection there, so the dream is not wholly implausible.

I looked to see if there was any blurbs or prefaces, but no. I found the page where the translator's name appeared. I didn't now who he was.  There was a check for 60 euros or so, dated 2013. I wondered whether the check was still good.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Discrete Segments

I've decided to break the book down into discrete segments. so each one will be 5-10 pages and I will keep a running list and just see how many I can finish a discrete period of time.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019


I've never put a book together so fast as my book of Lorca lectures. I'm still debating about what the fifth chapter should be. If I write there about music, then I am taking away from the Lorca and music book. I think my idea of writing for non-specialists is breaking down, since I am still thinking too much like an academic. But that is a useful heuristic to imagine the lectures that way.

1] Lorca and me
2] Lorca par lui-même
3]The death of the Subject
4] Lorca the dramatist
5] ???
6] What Lorca Knew: Teaching Receptivity

Monday, May 20, 2019

12 bar blues

Thomas told me about a book written attempting to abolish the 5-paragraph essay. He did not approve.

You might as well try to abolish the 12-bar blues, I said.  That is not to say that all music will be in this form, or in some other given standard form like the 32-measure AABA or ABAC form of a jazz standard. But if you are teaching someone to be a rock / r and b / jazz or country musician, that form will come up a lot. The five paragraph essay is simply the shortest form of formal expository prose of more than one paragraph. Four won't work, because then the two paragraph in the middle will be equal to the first and last, and so the structure will be unbalanced.

Lorca par l-m


Lorca par lui-même

There is a popular series of books in France with titles following the pattern Baudelaire par lui-mêmeor Flaubert par lui-même. Barthes, perhaps thinking of these selections from the works of canonical authors, wrote a literary self-portrait titled Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes, one of his most charming books. In Apocryphal Lorca, I laid the ground for my analysis of the uses and misuses of Lorca by American poets in “Federico García Lorca (Himself).” I toyed with using the title “Lorca par lui-même” but thought better of it. Of course, I recognized at the time that we are never really getting Lorca himself, only some version of him that happens to suit somebody’s critical agenda—in this case my own. I was to some degree defining a vision of the author in my own image, as a complex and self-consciously intellectual figure. If, for example, I had viewed Lorca as a naively “folkloric” poet or a mere conveyer of Andalusian kitsch, then my critique of the over-simplifications in his America reception would become pointless.
Despite these efforts to define my position with caution, Lawrence Venuti’s review of my book in the Times Literary Supplement, takes me to task for the construction of a Lorca in tune with my own sensibility and with the exigencies of contemporary literary theory:   
Mayhew's opening chapter brilliantly clears away the stereotypical notions of Lorca, but it also registers a sophisticated awareness that his own interpretation is a personal preference informed by an academic critical orthodoxy, at once post-structuralist and postcolonial. Thus he asserts that “‘Lorca’ is a complex author-function,” whose “own vision of the gypsies is already that of an orientalist.” Yet to expect this sort of interpretation from US poets during the Cold War is anachronistic at best.
Venuti also takes issue with a strictly factual statement about American poets: “Their aim is not the scholarly one of understanding Lorca as he really is, or Lorca in the context of the larger Hispanic literary tradition.” In context, this does not necessarily imply any privileged access on my part to the “real Lorca,” or “Lorca par lui-même.” I was simply stating that the creative adaptations of greatest interest to me were part of a search for an “American duende,” not a scholarly attempt to understand Lorca’s in the context of Spanish language literature.
It is gratifying to me to be conceded some degree of sophistication and brilliance. Yet I find it difficult to make sense of Venuti’s reservations. Every academic, including Venuti himself, has theoretical assumptions informed by some degree of “personal preference.” Venuti is a post-structuralist and post-colonial theorist of translation whose thought has inspired my own. Surely he, too, would have to posit the complexity of the “author-function” in a study of this type rather than relying on older notions of authorship. To approach the topic in any other way would not allow for the required degree of nuance. That is not the same thing as expecting translators from an earlier period to share our current theoretical positions.
Venuti views my use of the word apocryphalin the title of the book as an “ominous sign,” reflecting my “canonical” academic vision of Lorca. He seems not to have noticed a few things. In the first place, the word apocryphalis not wholly negative in its connotations, since it suggests the alluring mystery of esoteric texts—sacred books that have been excluded from the canon. Perhaps with excessive optimism, I was expecting my readers to grasp the contradictions inherent in this word rather than simply seeing it merely as a term of opprobrium. After all, I reserve my highest admiration for “translations” that are apocryphalin the literal sense—that is, versions of poems that cannot be found in Lorca’s collected works, such as those by Jack Spicer.  
Venuti is also wrong to accuse me of anachronism. Post-structuralist and post-colonialist ideas about literature are not alien to the avant-garde or “postmodern” poetry of the period in question. The decade of the 1960s represents the heyday both of the “New American Poetry” and of French poststructuralism. The richest American readings of Lorca during the cold war do, in fact, reflect a sophisticated understanding of the vicissitudes of the author-function (Spicer), or of the risks of kitsch, orientalism, and sentimentality (O’Hara). The existence of parodies of translations of Spanish Language poetry by the late 1960s (Koch) tells us that some readers of the period were already seeing the boom in translations of Lorca and Neruda with jaundiced eyes. This ironic view, then, is not my own anachronistic projection. Needless to say, post-colonialist critiques like Edward’s Said’s Orientalismalso have their origin in this period. Jerome Rothenberg, one of the founders of the “deep image” school inspired by Lorca, began to develop a de-colonizing critique of the Western canon through the practice of ethnopoeticsmore than ten years before Said’s 1978 book.

Sunday, May 19, 2019


What if Lorca really were just a purveyor of Andalusian kitsch? Then all my work as been in vain.

The Fourth Wall

What if there really were a fourth wall in the theater?  So the audience just sees the outside wall of a house, and the actors were inside acting out the play. That would be more interesting than breaking through an imaginary "fourth wall."


At an art opening the artist said to us: "I am a conceptual artist; what I deal with is ideas." Of course, I wanted to say, "I hate that" but I didn't.  She told us to read all the text she'd written about it. Later, she gave a spiel about one part of her work. I like her personally and we are in the same circle of friends, and I had nothing to gain by speaking up.  

It's not really even conceptual art, about the nature of art itself. It's concept art, where the ideological message is there at the forefront. I didn't even hate her work; I just wish she had the confidence to let it speak for itself! The concepts are not over subtle.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Autumn Leaves

I have this thing I'm doing on Autumn Leaves. I play a walking bass on the A section for every key, beginning each knew one at the final chord of the last.  So I go 2/5/1/4/7/3/6.  Then the 6 becomes the two of the next transposition.  I work on this every morning, starting at an arbitrary place. This is my summer project. I'm also improvising over "Bemsha Swing" every day.

What this should give me is a good ability to make walking bass lines, plus an intuitive knowledge of the circle of fifths / fourths. 2/5/1 progressions in major and minor in every key.  The next stage would be improvised right hand lines to go along with the walking bass.


I recently discovered something super obvious that I should have known long ago, and that made an immediate improvement in my improv. This is to make each phrase very purposeful and deliberate, confident sounding, with a clear beginning and end. If you try to do that, you might not be able to.  But if you aren't trying to do this, if you are fine playing tentative sounding things, things that you don't really mean to play, then it will be impossible to achieve that confident sound. Instead of asking whether the phrase is good or bad, ask whether it is what you truly meant to play.

A complex phrase that you don't really mean will sound random to the listener, like running up and down a scale simply because the scale is available for you. That's one thing that people who don't like jazz don't like.

The easiest way to achieve this is to play very simple phrases. You can increase length, speed, or complexity as you progress.

Monday, May 13, 2019

I decided to incorporate this in the first Lorca Lecture...

One misunderstanding that I have found on one or two occasions is the claim that I attempt to show how Americans have gotten Lorca wrong. In 2016, a scholar from the Netherlands wrote an article in which he used my book as a negative example of an old-fashioned paradigm, according to which the translation is always condemned to be a shadow of the original. Mayhew, according to this critic, even invokes the notion of a “real Lorca.” It is laudable to see translation as a creative act rather than a mere attempt to create an equivalence with the original. In fact, my entire study is devoted to this proposition! In a blanket prohibition of all negative critique of translation, however, Steenmeijer leaves himself no way of discerning between the creativity and mere incompetence. Truly engaging adaptations stand out against a backdrop of mediocrity, as might be expected in virtually any human endeavor. The celebration of the translator’s creativity, logically speaking, requires the same critical acumen used to evaluate a translation in the first instance. Without discernment, a seemingly sophisticated theory of translation simply provides carte blanchefor a variety of practices that might not even be comparable to one another.
Steenmeijer also objects to my use of insulting and tendentious words like apocryphalparody, and kitschin the title of my book. Yet surely only kitschfall into this category. Perhaps a Dutch scholar, writing in Spanish about a book written in English, is not attuned to the connotations that these words would have for my intended audience.. Among the adaptations of Lorca that interest me the most, after all, are the apocryphal ones, like Spicer’s, and the parodic ones, like Koch’s. As for kitsch, it is difficult to write intelligently about Lorca’s reception without some awareness of aesthetic degradation and of the prevalence of easily digested clichés. Lorquian kitsch is prevalent American reception, but is also present in Spain itself, and thus is not a byproduct of translation per se.   

Sunday, May 12, 2019


"La implacable crítica de Mayhem forma parte de un largo y pertinaz paradigma según el cual la traducción y, en particular, la traducción literaria es, por definición, una sombra del original o incluso una falsa versión de este."

This seems to be a false inference. For example, any criticism at all of a translation would seem to follow this paradigm, insofar as it finds that a translation is insufficient in any way. In reality, though, everyone recognizes that translations vary in their approaches, and that even "creative" approaches vary in their success.  

In reality the + [plus] model and the - [minus] model of translation both depend on an ability for the reader to scrutinize the original and the translation side by side. Of course it seems hipper to say that the translation is more than the original, not less, but is this always the case? Just enumerating the ways in which translations fail is quite dull, but that was never my project in the first place. I do find it interesting how they fail in predictable ways, or how these failures line up with predictable cultural oversimplifications. Only a few other people have read my book and concluded that my idea is that Americans have gotten Lorca wrong.    

 I am trying to think of a way I could have written the book without some recognition of Lorquian kitsch in the American reception? This element is one of the main themes running through this reception. 

I'm sure that he knows how to spell my name, since it appears correctly in other places in the text and in the bibliography. It is still a bit funny though, since mayhem is a word that means violent destruction and disorder, and can be found easily by flipping over the last letter of my name. 

Friday, May 10, 2019

Mediocre (x)

It is one thing to say "Mayhew is wrong..."  Then I can just see why I am wrong (or not) and move on. What rankles me is the attribution of a mediocre argument, one I would never make, to me. In particular, the idea is that the American reception of Lorca gets him wrong, and that insufficient translations are an index of that. Of course I analyze translations and comment on specific ways they succeed to fall short. If you aren't able to do that, then you take away a set of analytical tools.

I thought I was very careful to say there's not a real Lorca that they are getting wrong. Instead, I talk about certain emphases, the selection of some texts rather than others, or the emphasis on one dimension rather than another. What emerges is not a deficient or mediocre Lorca, but something else.

A letter of complaint

Estimado profesor Steenmeijer:  

Espero que no lo moleste que le escriba. Para mí,  la lectura que ha hecho de Apocryphal Lorca, en un artículo reciente, es tan parcial que da una idea incompleta de mi aportación al estudio de la recepción americana del poeta granadino. Mi visión de las versiones lorquianas de Hughes, Blackburn, Spicer, Koch, O’Hara, Rothenberg y otros es más bien positiva, pese a mi crítica muy dura de Belitt. Seguramente el lector que lee el artículo sin haber hojeado mi libro saldría con una idea falsa de mis intenciones y de mis conclusiones, ya que deja fuera la otra mitad de mi trabajo: la celebración de la creatividad en la invención de nuevos “Lorcas.”  Las palabras apocryphalparodia no son especialmente negativas en inglés. De hecho, celebro las versiones apócrifas de Spicer, quien ha traducido poemas de Lorca que no existen en las obras completas. Mi lectura de Kenneth Koch también es bastante positiva, por su parodia “Some South American Poets.” Seguramente Ud. conoce las parodias de Koch de otros poetas, como William Carlos Williams; son realmente maravillosas. Incluso mi lectura de Selected Poemsde New Directions no resulta enteramente negativa. Seguramente la crítica al kitsch puede dar lugar a controversias. La celebración ingenua y antiintelectual del duende lorquiano merece una crítica, a mi juicio.  

Realmente lo que he intentado demostrar es la invención de otra figura, el Lorca apócrifo americano, que dista mucho de ser un poeta “mediocre,” y que arroja luz sobre Lorca mismo. Otra vez, espero no ofenderlo a Ud. con esta rectificación. Como no nos conocemos personalmente, no me siento enfadado sino simplemente perplejo ante una lectura “apócrifa” de mi libro. Por otra parte, su artículo es bastante interesante. Si yo no conociera a este profesor “Mayhem” tal vez estaría de acuerdo con Ud.  

Un cordial saludo,  

Thursday, May 9, 2019

A bad reading of me...

"Sin embargo, por diversa y multicultural que fuera la recepción del poeta granadino en los EE.UU, Mayhew no vacila en deplorar y reprobarla. Es más:según el estudioso norteamericano, este país no acertó a apreciar debidamente la obra de García lorca, como ya sugiere el título de su libro, que incluye pala-bras tendenciosas y estigmatizantes como “apócrifo”, “kitsch” y “parodia”. Para empezar, Mayhew juzga problemáticas las dos traducciones con las que García Lorca llegó a la fama en los EE.UU. La primera es Selected Poems, una antologíade la poesía de Lorca que desde su publicación en 1955 ya lleva vendidos másde 120.000 ejemplares. la otra es The Poet in New York, que incluye, aparte de una versión inglesa del poemario Poeta en Nueva York, una traducción de laconferencia “Juego y teoría del duende”. Mayhew rechaza los dos libros en su capacidad de traducción: el primero por no hacer justicia al tono y las metáforasdel original y el segundo porque el poeta que lo tradujo, ben belitt, habría cani-balizado el texto original en beneficio de su propio proyecto poético."

I don't see the words parody and apocryphal as negative in the least.  Did she miss my praise of Spicer and O'Hara?  


Autumn Leaves in twelve minor keys will mean:

every minor chord
every major 7 chord
every dominant chord
every half diminished chord
every 2/5/1 in major
every 2/5/1 in minor
every tritone substitution

Twelve walking bass lines that use all 7 chords in every key. So far I am working on 3 keys: E minor, A minor, and Db minor. Learning those gives me 25% of all of this.

I like certain things about music for the same reason that I like sestinas. It's that formal, mathematical quality.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019


Most people are not "most people."

Ruin an aphorism by prefacing it with "studies show..."

The hard part is not the blindfold, but the piano.

There is no such thing as an "Ashberry."

All art is "visual art."

The glissando destroys everything that has come before.

After “happy hour” comes melancholy hour.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Autumn Leaves

I want to do "Autumn Leaves" in 12 keys. So far I've done E minor (the key it is in in the fake book) and am starting on Bb minor. It will be interesting to see if the process gets faster as I go along. It will, but I'm going to found out at what pace it goes.

It is basically a 2/5/1 in the relative major of the key, then a 2/5/1 in the tonic minor key. Then the process reverses for the B section, and the C section has a turn around that's really cool.