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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...

Monday, August 26, 2019

Self Improvement

Fairly soon after I started running, I ran in a 5k and recorded a decent time for a guy my age. Yesterday I came up with a chord progression of some sophistication, but I realized I was using similar ideas shortly after I started writing songs in the first place. Once I started doing these things, I was simply doing them and haven't necessarily improved much since. So, too, with meditation: I probably won't be all that much "better" at it in five years than I am now. That's ok, though. Establishing the habit is the thing, not necessarily improving it every year.

There are improvements too. For example, I can now play piano a bit better, even if my songs are basically of the same quality. I'll take those, but I think the main thing is just doing it in the first place.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

4 years

All my running and piano playing, choral singing, has been since 2015. I guess I didn't have as many hobbies before. I've made good progress, running a 5k charity event this morning on my birthday in 31:27. I was faster in 2015 but I've only restarted running this summer, and I've only lost a minute and a half since I was 55, so that's not too bad. I would probably have to train just to keep under 35 minutes looking ahead to my sixties.

All my scholarly interest in music dates only to 2018. I've only played classical since fall of 2017. I'm thinking late 50s, early 60s can be a good age with good physical and mental health.

I've only meditated daily starting this summer, too. Once a habit becomes permanent, it seems like it has been in place longer than it really has. There was a time four years ago I didn't run, meditate, play piano, or sing in the choir.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019


I had a moment of happiness yesterday, which is not common for me. Not that I am unhappy, but this was almost euphoria. I had done my running and meditation in the morning, after returning at midnight the night before on the train from Chicago. I had some good ideas about the preface to the Lorca and music book, and started in on that in an extremely good mood. The combination of having had a good visit with my daughter in Chicago, the runner's high, and a clear mind from meditating made me approach my work with enthusiasm.

Today, of course, I am not euphoric, but I still feel pretty good.


I have an ivy-league tenure case to do.  They gave the candidate until last week to turn in materials, but expect me to get my letter in at the beginning of October. They ask for a comparison with three specific individuals at other places, so I have to look those people up too. Luckily I have already read this person's book, but I would have preferred to get this out of the way before the semester started.  I have three trips coming up soon.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Some meditation lessons

It is important to know when you are not enjoying yourself and to ask yourself why. Something you generally enjoy can be unpleasant in certain circumstances. It could be the voice of the inner critic, or something that causes frustration or physical discomfort. Yesterday I felt frustrated running uphill, because I have mostly been training on the flat. Running is something that is generally nice to do, for me, but it also has a whole slew of potentially unpleasant aspects to it. So the inner critic was saying "you aren't much of a runner" while the legs were saying, "that hurts." A "mindful" approach to this, if I am understanding this right, would be just to say "Oh, that's inner critic again" and move on. Or to say, yes, "running uphill does hurt a bit."  


During meditation, I felt hungry. Once again, the approach to take is to ask what that is. Is it a physical sensation?  How intense or painful is it?  Is it a craving for food in general, a simple arousal of appetite? A feeling of weakness or loss of energy? What other emotions go along with the hunger? Irritation? Anger? Frustration? Or is it just a physical sensation with no strong emotion attached, like your nose itching.

The hunger doesn't go away by answering these questions, but it is less "I am hungry" than "Oh, that appetite is building," which can be a pleasurable sensation in a way, or a realization that the hunger pangs are of somewhat low intensity.  Just framing it in these ways is helpful.

I often get itches all over while meditating. It is natural because more attention is focused on the body. One itch will arise, be present, then subside. It is really no big deal. I learn to enjoy, not the itching itself, but the ability to see what it feels like and rise above it a bit.

My things

My main things (I can't quite call them "hobbies") now are these.

1. Piano playing, composing music, and singing in the choir.  This occupies about 1-2 hours a day, depending.  For example, if I have a two hour choir practice, or a piano lesson and also practice on the same day, then it will be two hours.

2.  Meditation.  This will be 15-30 minutes a day.

3.  Running, every other day, for 20-40 minutes.  Walking on the days I don't run, for an hour.

4. Various crossword puzzles, etc... This can be 30 minutes to an hour, if I have time.

All are important to me in various ways. I see puzzle solving as a "hobby" in the classic sense, but I think that I am a musician, fundamentally, and that the other two are necessary means of self-support.

Running, I have extended into a more social activity by running in various groups, a possibility that had not occurred to me as realistic before this past week or so.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Simic rage

I remember my rage at Simic for dissing Creeley in the NYRB.  See also here. And here, I guess I don't feel those sorts of rages any more with that kind of intensity. It seems now to me to be an unnecessary attachment or clinging (in the Buddhist sense). I am not a Buddhist but I do think I get this concept at a very basic level.  Of course I am right about Simic and Creeley.  But the level of passion I feel about being right?  The level of investment in the cause. No, just no.  I want no part of that any more.

Giving up that investment is very freeing. I don't have to be identified with certain positions, upon which nothing really depends. I feel the same way about my role in the García Montero controversies. Of course I am on the right side of things, from my own perspective. I don't disagree with myself, but not as much seems at stake. Worrying because people miss out on Creeley and respect someone like Simic is largely pointless. Of course a certain facile kind of poetry will be more popular even in somewhat intellectual circles.  How could that not be the case?

I also take misunderstandings of my own positions as occasions for humor rather than rage.  

So little depends

That would be a good start to a Creeley poem.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Literary Value of cante hondo

I will write for 30 minutes on this topic. Here goes.

When we talk about "literary value," we are talking about the kind of thing literary intellectuals place a premium on. So I don't have to define this value in absolute terms, just say that there is an aesthetic preference among some such literary folk to value what we might call the aesthetics of stark simplicity.

This has a history behind it. For example, a taste for the "popular" might be in contrast to the taste for the baroque, or for literary aesthetics which emphasize how poetic language is supposed to be elevated (associated with higher levels of society.) The symbolist aesthetic of Mallarmé is not a populist one.

The taste for the popular as such arises with romanticism. Specifically, in German romanticism and preromanticism Herder begins to translate Spanish ballads in the 18th century. So the aesthetic of the popular has always been bound up with interest in Spain.

The cante jondo is a sub-set of Spanish folklore.  We have a general sense of Spanish folklore as including romances and canciones, ballads and non-ballad songs, along with their music. Within this general set, there is a privilege accorded to Andalusian folklore, and the cante jondo is a subset of this Andalusian folklore It is important to remember that the general taste for the popular and for Spanish folklore includes other parts of Spain as well, even though Andalusia tends to stand in as a metonymy for the whole peninsula.

Machado y Álvarez mounts a solid argument in favor of the literary value of the lyrics of the cante jondo. He is the first Spanish folklorist and already by his epoch (the 1880s) the cante jondo had become a favored genre within folklore. The value of the cante is its extreme succinctness and directness and the absence of extraneous material, or ripio, filler. There are two kinds of work in folklore: the scientific gathering of material, and the anthology made simply for the delight of literary taste. His Cantes flamencos y cantares is in the latter category.

There are echoes of this aesthetic in the praise for the lírica de tipo tradicional found in Margit Frenk and other later scholars. The idea is a kind of pristine simplicity and directness.

Also, poets like Lorca and Hernández employ this aesthetic in some of their works. The popular has a value as such. I have to confess that I too place a premium on this style, so I cannot be objective. But the point is that this is something that quite a few people have learned to value immensely. My perspective is not some idiosyncrasy of mine, but something I have acquired from others. There is no wrong or right here, in the sense that positive aesthetic values don't ever have to be justified unless there are detractors.

Lorca's poetry exemplifies this tradition, but relates not just to the cante jondo, but to the larger universe of popular, anonymous poetry. In fact, I wouldn't give special priority to the lyrics of the cante jondo, since his view is more expansive than this. The cante jondo is tangential to his work. By this I mean that it touches at one point rather than overlapping substantially. He is writing about the cante jondo, not imitating it directly. (That's another way of putting it.) Yet overall, his contribution is to emphasize the literary value of these poems.

I could easily find examples that are excellent poems, from my perspective. They aren't very similar to Lorca poems:

Flamenca, cuando te mueras,  [when I die, Flamenca]
la lápida la retraten [let them decorate your tomb]
con sangresita e mis venas.  [with the blood of my veins]

Ok.  I have more to say, but the half hour is up...

Wednesday, August 7, 2019


I've been meditating for the summer, and I have a few preliminary results.

The first is a feeling of sweet calmness during the meditation itself. This isn't constant, but intermittent, but it is palpable. This could be one of the main results of meditation, simply an ability to relax mind and body. It is not the only kind of feeling one has meditating, but it is something of valuable.

The second is a kind of "sorting out" process, where unimportant stuff gets to be seen as unimportant, not worth sweating over. It doesn't necessarily make important things less important, but gives a sense of priority and perspective. So minor annoyances get to be seen as minor. This helps in daily life, where you won't be bothered as much by a long stop light or a mosquito bite.

There is greater concentration when doing other, non-meditative kinds of things. Distractions are less distracting, because you can return more quickly to the primary object of attention, and less annoyed with yourself for being distracted.

In a short period of time, I've learned that the meanings we give to things are arbitrary ones. This is enormously freeing, because we realize that we don't have to think of things in certain ways or draw arbitrary conclusions. So thinking of myself as a slow runner I have not run in groups, but I realize now that the groups around town have slow and fast runners and everything in between. I've thought I couldn't join because they are early in the morning, but I am usually awake anyway at those times. You could think that I could have realized many these things without meditation, but in fact I didn't. I do certain things in certain ways because I think it is necessary, but it really is not.

In some ways, it is like knocking a piece of yourself loose, that should have been loose all along and not taut. There are many things I have not done because I didn't see myself as free to do them. I had an arbitrary rule book that I was following.

I'm sure if I keep this up for a year, these results will seem naive or over-hasty, or other, deeper insights will prevail. For example, I might once have thought that the bodily relaxation was the main point of it all.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Career Narrative

Like many bookish kids with literary aspirations, I originally planned to be an English major. Since it was the 1970s, I also got caught up in the prevalent enthusiasm surrounding Spanish-language poetry the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez and other novelists of the Latin American “Boom.” After spending my junior year studying in Madrid, I completed a major in Comparative Literature with a concentration in Spanish. Graduating from the University of California at Davis, I enrolled in the PhD Program at Stanford, with the idea of being a specialist in modernist poetry. I ended up devoting my dissertation—and my entire career—to twentieth-century Spanish poetry, but I never abandoned my interest in English. 
            As an assistant professor I was able to publish in the most prestigious journals in my field. I also published my dissertation, on the contemporary Spanish poet Claudio Rodríguez, as a book, with minimal revisions. Before tenure I wrote a second book, The Poetics of Self-Consciousness: Twentieth Century Spanish Poetry, with the aid of my first NEH Fellowship. One of the secrets of my early success was that I had somewhat of a head start: I went into the field because of my interest in poetry, and began to study it in earnest during that year in Madrid. My single-minded focus on a relatively narrow field of study made me an expert at a relatively early stage in my career. I found extra time to write by teaching short summer sessions at Ohio State in exchange for quarters off during the regular academic year.
            My agenda during this first phase of my career was to use the insights of poststructuralist literary theory to elucidate the implicit theories of language in modern Spanish poetry. My particular generation of Hispanists was the first to see theoretical sophistication as the gold standard by which to judge scholarship. I found myself in an ideal position to take advantage of this development, since I had a rigorous training in theory through the Comparative Literature Program at Stanford. My particular contribution was unique, I felt, in that I saw the literary text itself as theoretical in its own right, rather than “applying” a theory to the text in a mechanical or arbitrary way. While my scholarship has changed in several ways over the decades, I continue in my attempts to understand poetry from the “inside,” as it were, rather than subjecting it to agendas imposed from the outside.    
            After being awarded tenure at the Ohio State University in 1994, I was offered a job at one of the premier Spanish and Portuguese departments in the US, at the University of Kansas, where I continue to work. It was not immediately clear what my next project would be, so I worked on articles on a variety of topics until I decided to focus on recent developments in Spanish poetry. In my third book, The Twilight of the Avant-Garde: Spanish Poetry 1980-2000(Liverpool, 2009), my focus shifted to the question of the cultural legitimation of poetry. The critical problem I was addressing was why the paradigm that had governed poetry from romanticism through modernism had fallen in disfavor among a younger generation of Spanish poets, who disdained the intellectual seriousness and ambition that had characterized Spanish poetry for most of the twentieth century.   
            The articles that I wrote leading up to The Twilight of the Avant-Gardemade me well known among poets in Spain, inserting me in a polemic between those who remained faithful to the avant-garde agenda and those that had broken with it. The result was that I was invited frequently to Spain to lecture about contemporary Spanish poetry, becoming friends with many of the most prominent poets in the avant-garde camp. Although I was not averse to polemics, at some point I began to feel that didn’t want to be known mostly for my position in this particular debate. I turned my attention to one of the figures who had first inspired me to go into the field: Federico García Lorca.         
            My fourth book, Apocryphal LorcaTranslation, Parody, Kitsch(Chicago, 2009) had a transformative effect on my career, while also obliging me to look at the period in which I first developed my interest in Spanish literature. My own decision to enter the field was the result of the interest in Spanish-language poetry in the US, but this episode in literary history had not received a rigorous scholarly treatment. Coincidentally enough, my first published poem, written thirty years earlier when I was an undergraduate, addressed the issue of “apocryphal translation” that I address in my book: It was a response to Kenneth Koch’s parody of translations from the Spanish, “Some South American Poets.” It began like this: “There is no need to invent imaginary / Latin American poets! Real poets exist, / Waiting to be translated!” I was interested in the multiple ways that Lorca had been translated into an American cultural context, but I was particularly interested in poems, like those of Koch, Robert Creeley, and Jack Spicer, that purport to be translations but are really not. This is a well-known trope in literary history: think of Cervantes’s conceit that Don Quijotehas been translated from the Arabic, or Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese. A large number of American poets translated Lorca, but I was especially fascinated by the idea of creating new Lorca translations that had no original texts behind them. This seemed to be a way of accessing the cultural image of Spain in its purest form, without the interference of actual works of Spanish literature.                   
            Being known as a specialist on a very well-known writer brings certain advantages. Apocryphal Lorcawas published by a more prestigious press and was much more widely reviewed than any of my previous work. Because Twilight of the Avant-Gardetook a long time to write and suffered delays on the part of my publisher, both books appeared the same year, and I was promoted to the rank of professor that year. Once again, I searched for a new project. I didn’t intend to write another book on Lorca, and began working instead on a sequel to Twilight of the Avant-Garde. At some point, however, I decided I had many more things to say about Lorca. In 2018 I published a second book on Federico García Lorca: Lorca’s Legacy: Essays in Interpretation, in which I extended my insights of Apocryphal Lorcainto other areas and solidified my knowledge of Lorca himself.           
            In 2015, I began to teach myself jazz piano and to write songs, without any thought of connecting these interests with my scholarship. I have played drums for many years, and had always been an avid listener of music. I discovered that I had also, over the years, learned enough harmony to compose music, despite my lack of proficiency on the keyboard. A few years later, this avocation led to the birth of a third projected book on Lorca, focusing on musical adaptations of his work. The title will be Lorca: The Musical Imagination. I am not a musicologist and the focus of his book is not the technical analysis of music. My musical literacy, however, has given me the confidence to look at scores, to read the secondary literature on the composers I will be studying, and to write cogently about music for the general public. When I realized how much music Lorca had inspired, in both classical and vernacular genres, I realized that there was a book here and that I was the one to write it. I began to explore the field of “word and music studies” and found that there was a genre of books devoted to musical settings of poets like Baudelaire, Whitman, or Celan. A book about Lorca could be groundbreaking in this field, since his poetry has inspired both classical composers and performers in vernacular genres like folk, rock, and flamenco. (Almost all previous work in word and music studies, in contrast, has been restricted to the world of classical music.) 
            The intellectual interest of this material, for me, is analogous to the texts I considered in Apocryphal Lorca. Instead of using translations, adaptations, and parodies to study Lorca’s cultural influence, I am now looking at musical settings and homages from Spain, other European countries, and the Americas. A musical setting, ultimately, is a kind of translationthat provides a window on the cultural imagination. What turns out to be most compelling about this music is the way in which both classical and vernacular musicians use Lorca to convey their vision of the persistent cultural archetypes associated with Spanish culture.    
            When I reflect back on my career I can see that my agenda has remained constant in one fundamental respect: I have always attempted to understand the mystery of poetry itself. What has changed over the course of the years is an inevitable broadening and deepening of perspective. Like most young scholars, I had a relatively narrow range of expertise at the beginning of my career: I was a specialist on Claudio Rodríguez, a poet who was not particularly well known at the time, even in departments of Spanish. My work on Lorca has given me a far broader scholarly base, making my knowledgeable about translation theory and word and music studies. I am still, essentially, a specialist on a single author, but to be a competent Lorca scholar requires a vast amount of expertise. In fact, I did not consider myself a true specialist on Lorca until I finished my second book on him.   
            At the current stage of my career, I want my work to reflect four major values: depth of engagement, intellectual curiosity, humor, and accessibility. Depth is the product of sustained, focused attention over the course of several decades. Curiosity is the willingness to grow intellectually through exploring new ways of looking at familiar materials. Humor involves a sense of humility about the ultimate limits of understanding something as mysterious as poetry. As Kenneth Koch wrote, “The very existence of poetry should make us laugh. What is it all about? What is it for?” Finally, I now place higher premium on accessibility than I did at the beginning of my career. Whenever I have gone back to read something I wrote twenty-five years ago, I have concluded that I was not particularly focused on communicating my ideas to the reader. For the most part my prose was not unclear, but I can see now that I was more interested in mounting a display of my own intelligence. The audience for the kind of scholarly books I am interested in writing is inherently modest in size, but precisely for this reason no reader should be turned away by an off-putting style. Writing for a few hundred interested readers now seems preferable than addressing myself to a dozen scholars in my own field. To this end, I have devoted a lot effort into defining and putting into practice my ideas about accessible scholarly prose. 

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Non-Academic Goals

1. To be in good physical shape. I am running every other day, 2-3 miles, and doing a total of 10,000 steps a day. I also need to hit the weight room again. I am trying to get down to 160 (from 166 or so). In some sense I have already achieved this goal if I am actively working toward it, in the sense that being in good shape is not an absolute thing. Being in the gym makes me in better shape than the guy who isn't in the gym. I have a five K run coming up on my birthday later this month.

2. To meditate every day.  I am doing this.  Once again, I have achieved this just by doing it! Everyone's meditation will be fairly mediocre, I have learned. It's almost supposed to be like that, and once you accept that you are a better meditator.

3. To play piano in a way that is enjoyable to me and perhaps to others. Once again, I have achieved this once I have a comfortable relation to my own playing, accepting its limitations. People seem to like what I play or at least are polite enough.

4. To have a satisfying relationship.  Once again, I am in a relationship and am happy.

So I have achieved my goals already. I could go on with other things. I have enough money to live on and travel. I suppose I could set other goals in fitness or finances or meditation, telling myself I won't be satisfied until I weight 150 lbs or can meditate for an hour, or have x dollars in TIAA-CREF account. Those aren't really goals though; they are more like ways of keeping score. Keeping score is convenient and can be motivating, but I have probably done too much score-keeping already in my life.