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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, March 30, 2020

Dreams and Virus update and Yeatts

I read over some other pages of my dreams, dating back to 2013. I am trying to imagine them as a book. There are certainly enough of them, and enough of them are "good enough."  The idea is that they would be prose-poems of a kind, like my unpublished book Beaches of Northern California.

The key would be the selection of them.


I talked to the nurse; she said I had to take my temperature. Of course I have no thermometer and I can't buy one without breaking my quarantine. After I hung up I felt sicker than before the call. She said I could have a fever of 100.4 without knowing it. I don't feel feverish, but am quite tired. I either have a mild case of it / or I don't.


Of course, people who weren't productive in the first place now have a perfect excuse not to be productive. I'm feeling that I can write as well sick as well. A lot of what I view as my great flowing of creative energy has happened in relatively adverse circumstances.


I recreated "The Wild Swans at Coole" when trying to go to sleep two night ago. I was perfect, but I left out the stanza "Unwearied still, lover by lover / they paddle the cold/  companionable streams or climb the air. / Their hearts have not grown old. / Passion or conquest, wander where they will,/  attend upon them still." I know this stanza, but somehow the poem seemed self-sufficient without it.


It used to strike me when people thought studying poetry was an unusual thing. So I would get things like "why not study fiction?"  There is no reason not to study fiction if that is your interest, of course, but nobody would ask the question the other way around. Or they would randomly tell me that they had read a poem in the New Yorker. These are professors of literature I am talking about, not people off the street. It would be like telling a film scholar that you had once seen a movie, as though it were an unusual thing to do.

Or, my department was known for poetry because there were two or three people doing it.

This was when the default was prose, and scholars of poetry and drama were seen as unusual. Know, of course, there is no default to prose, because people don't even see themselves as experts in prose fiction, or any other genre of literature. Maybe the default is that they use novels just to have something to hang their ideology on.

I am not a big reader of fiction. I used to read the standard novelists of the day, who were Bellow, Updike, and Roth when I was young.

I was reading a novel in the airbnb in Granada, by Llamazares. I thought the writing was intolerable. There would be things like: "My girlfriend broke up with me; it was one of the worst days of my life." The plot situations were stereotypical, and the characters barely developed. The main character is a painter, but I didn't actually believe he was a painter. He just seemed too shallow.

Dream of Bland Prose

I dreamed I found a book on my shelves by XXXX, a Spanish friend. I began to read it and it had a good deal of French mixed in randomly at the beginning of phrases. I began thinking how insufferably bland the writing was; then I woke up and realized that was my actual opinion of my friend's writing. I had bought several books by him in Spain on this last trip and realized that I didn't really think he had a lot to say in his prose.

Saturday, March 28, 2020


I have been reading over my dreams from the past year. Some are quite good, while others are devoid of any literary merit. There would be seem to be two steps:

having the dream, the raw material

the writing of the dream

Obviously, the dream can be well-written--or not. What makes a good dream-text, though, is the raw material, since the writing is something I can do well, if I try. It won't work to write with great skill a dream of no merit.

Or the other theory would be that writing can make anything worth while.  I am not quite sure. I am not careful about writing them well, since I can always revise them for style. The writing cannot improve the raw material, only represent it with more panache.

It's like when Denby says there are two parts to being a dance critic: seeing the dance, and then writing the article. This is quite clear.

What I am after is a particular relation to the dream material. It cannot be overly admiring (of my own dreams!) or self-congratulatory. Yet clearly there is some interest there for me; I must be saying they are worthy listening to.

Surely the value is the sheer bulk, not simply the the "greatest hits."


My friend in Granada, one of the major Lorca scholars, was saying; with Lorca, people never seem to realize when the standard has been set. There is a really great production of a play, and then people want to do a worse one....  [paraphrasing].  It's a mystery.

There was a production of "Diálogo del amargo." The text is a short one, so they did it three times, with a different emphasis each time, and with a lot of added material. I was making the point that they wouldn't fuck around with Samuel Beckett in this way. Beckett demanded that his texts be respected. Lorca didn't live long enough for that. The family did what it could, and got criticized, but now everything is fair game. Ian Gibson was there and liked the play, saying that you had to make every Lorca play about historical memory.

But no. The idea of re-purposing all his works to make them about HIS DEATH is the very definition of the Lorca myth.  Paul J. Smith said this years ago.  

You might say that as an expert in creative re-adaptation I shouldn't mind so much... but I do.

This was the last meeting I had in my ill-fated sabbatical in Spain. After that, the country shut down. I went back to Madrid and then flew back to Lawrence.

Prison Dream

I was in a prison movie in this dream. It was clearly a movie so there was no real risk to it. The idea was that we, the prisoners, had collected some weapons, mostly crowbars, and were going to attack the guards. The outcome was clear, that we would lose the battle eventually when enough guards came out, but it was like a game to see what we could do before that happened. We went out, but the guards looked more like maintenance workers, and it was hard to find any to attack.

The dream / movie was part of some other game, a kind of "generation of narrative effects." Its purpose was very clear, though not so much to me now.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

je reviens

I need to go back home now.  Spain is basically shut down.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

A realization

I realized something today. I don't need to make the argument that studying music is a good way of studying "the poetry itself." Instead, I can make a much simpler and stronger argument: that "sung poetry" is itself a great thing, worthy of being studied in and of itself.  That moves the argument to higher ground, much easier to defend against sniping criticism. There are just all these great lieder that exist and happen to incorporate great poems. Hearing these poems sung is as great an experience (or better) than reading them on the page. Who cares if hearing the song makes you interpret the poem in a better way in conventional literary terms?  My argument doesn't take away anything from people who don't want to listen to lieder.  Just don't listen to it; it's your loss. 

I got goose-bumps on my arms and began to weep as this realization struck me.  I am a bit lonely holed up in an apartment in Granada where I know only two people. Needless to say my partner will not be joining me here.  I am not feeling unhappy, but the existence of all these songs made me weep at the thought of how much beauty was there, and largely unappreciated. 

Lieder is this little corner of the musical world that went unappreciated by me until I began this project.  I just knew a tiny fraction of it (I still do, in fact). The immediate occasion was listening to a singer who had done some George Crumb material, and then hearing her sing Aaron Copland's Emily Dickinson cycle. I didn't even like Copland until today!

Brainstorming note taking

What I usually do to write down ideas [before the stage I'm ready to write sentences and paragraphs] is to just make a numbered list. I don't bother with worrying about the order of the list, or the relative importance of the ideas, which might be as simple as statements of facts. There is no argument, yet, in the list of things I have written down. There might be an argument in my head, but I am not ready to commit it to a paragraph yet.  The numbers are not even a structure, but a pseudo-structure. But I like the illusion of organization.

An item on the list can be a single word or phrase or a whole paragraph.  The idea is to generate material.

Friday, March 13, 2020


I did have a productive meeting with Soria Olmedo last night. Two hours with him is like a whole graduate seminar for me, or a month of reading in the library.  I feel wholly as accepted as a Lorquista by him, which is privilege he doesn't grant to just anyone, or so I've been told.

I've realized I need just one idea per composer, to go along with one central idea.

The one central idea is that composers set Lorca to music by referring to elements of the "vernacular" but without imitating it. You can't just use a musical idiom derived from Albéniz to write Lorca music.

The individual ideas:

1 composer does it through use of Mexican, not Spanish music, etc...

One does it through language of atonalism.

Maybe Shostakovich does it through Mahler?  Here I am showing my ignorance.

Today I came up with part of the idea for George Crumb. The element I was missing before was the American vernacular, and how his American songbooks line up with his Spanish ones.


I had hoped to use the library at the Centro García Lorca here in Granada. It closed the day after I arrived. The virus is not strong in Southern Spain yet, but I am feeling a bit stuck without a library to use. I guess I can treat it as a writing retreat of sorts.  I am scheduled to come back on April 15. We will see if that happens as planned. I have this airbnb for a month, and if I don't stay the whole time the university might not reimburse the entire stay...

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Bad at math

Saying you are "bad at math" is like saying you lack critical thinking skills.  I don't mean having trouble with advanced level courses, like calculus.  I'm bad at math by that definition, too. I mean the basic thinking that you would use to figure things out in real life. People whose car payment or mortgage is larger than their monthly salary are not "bad at math." They lack basic numeracy to be adults, maybe. The same is true for someone who thinks that 500 million is enough to give every American a million dollars, with some left over. If that were true, then the cure for poverty would just to be convince a single billionaire to give over half his / her money. Too bad nobody thought of that before!

If you want a math hint here, I will give it to you.  A number divided by itself is 1.  It doesn't matter how large the number is, how many zeroes, it is is still one.  So a million divided by a million is .... 1. A fraction is the same as a division problem so 10/10 (ten tenths) = 1.  
Don't plan a
"celebration of life" when I die
fuck that shit
I want you to be disconsolate

take it hard
"bury me with my guitar
beneath the sand"

"leave the balcony open"
I didn't
"go gentle into that good night"

which isn't so good
play Ornette's
"Lonely Woman"
or "Monk's Mood"

Wednesday, March 11, 2020


On an airplane once I read a Scottish
detective novel, set maybe in Glasgow.
Years later I remember nothing but an opening scene:
a young man thinks to bully, humiliate

a geezer in a pub. Stumbling out hours later,
he (the younger man) gets hit hard
perhaps with coins wrapped in a sock
by the patient older man, lying in wait.

The image stuck with me. The lesson
too obvious to explain, luminous in the facts
as related, even in my second hand account.
In my memory it has the power and immediacy of Homer.


The "real life bride" of Lorca's
Blood wedding dies an old woman,
the newspaper reports.
Not very attractive, lame

from childhood accident,
she ran off with her cousin
the eve of her wedding.
Attacked on the road with shotgun

the cousin was killed;
she survived. But Lorca
takes almost nothing
from this sordid account.

The journalist's realm is fact--
mine, like Lorca's, is fiction,
whether drama, poem, or novel.
Paca, this woman, is not in fact

the bride of the play,
nor is the dead cousin Lorca's
"Leonardo" nor the cousin's mule
Leonardo's mythic horse.

Absent from "real life" accounts
are the bridegroom's fierce mother
and her fear of knives,
her hunger for revenge

for her husband and son, slain
by Leonardo's kin. How then,
is Lorca's play not a work of fiction?
What idiot wants to see it as "real life" in disguise?

Monday, March 9, 2020

My new style of poetry

Reading some Robert Creeley poems one day a voice
popped into my head--earnest,
direct, sincere--not my "bad poetry"
voice, not a parody of anything else.

It didn't (doesn't) sound like Creeley--
fortunately I am a bad mimic, but
reading him lodged loose an obstacle
in my head, let me speak, so to speak,

as myself. Still, it is a "persona"
deliberately assumed, among
several possibilities. But a persona
allowing the expression of sincere beliefs

along with some insincere ones,
I suppose. Then I got to thinking
all poems should be prose poems
except the ones that aren't.

To not be prose, it would have to rise
to the level of being cantabile. This would
be a rare event, and
very welcome.

Saturday, March 7, 2020


Here in Madrid I saw a Lorca play, "Diálogo del Amargo," last night.  Ian Gibson was there, so I got to meet him, along with the director and the actors. Anyway, the Lorca text on which this was based is very short, so to make a play of an hour with it involved repeating the text three times and adding material to it, much of it from other Lorca works, and making it a play about Lorca's own death (big surprise). Gibson seemed to like the idea of making it about historical memory.  That is his thing, of course.

I didn't say anything to anyone there, but I tend not to like making Lorca's work about Lorca's own death. Paul Julian Smith talks about this tendency. I also don't like padding Lorca texts with other Lorca texts to complete them. It ends up as a kind of pastiche, right? I saw another play like this in Feb. of 19 that does a similar thing. The added bits will be un-Lorca like and sentimental, and the bits from other Lorca texts will be de-contexualized. What's wrong with putting a phrase from Ode to Walt Whitman into Bodas de sangre?  Everything, I would say. Would you put extra material from Waiting for Godot or Watt into Ohio Impromptu? Doesn't a work by Lorca have as much integrity as a work by Samuel Beckett?

The director is a good one, and the actors did a good job with what they were given. I just happen to disagree with the entire premise.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Ambient Noise

On the plane to Spain I saw a movie called "The Sound of Silence." The premise is that there is "house tuner" with obsessive personality who solves people's living discomfort by correcting the ambient tuning of their apartments, including the hum of appliances and such. It has some of the typical drawbacks of indie films: it is underlit (I could hardly see some scenes), without a strong narrative arc, and the main character is a bit passive. There is supposed to be some romance / sexual tension with the woman who's apartment he is tuning, but this doesn't get very far. But some of the screenwriting, sound design, and acting is excellent. I really bought into the premise, though it is the kind of movie that doesn't get much beyond its brilliant premise. The main character assigns a specific key to each neighborhood in Manhattan, so that Central Park is G Major. I loved that so much I wished it could be true.  

In my hotel I put on some stupid gossip show on the tv in the background. The voices had that very identifiable Spanish intonation, so different from the Mexican soap opera I turned on later. A dubbed show in Spain will have very stylized intonational patterns, idiomatically correct but still unnatural sounding. I am wondering what the exact pitch relations were in these different dialects.

In a bookstore later in the day I saw a book called "Bird Therapy," by Joe Harkness. (The book was in English). He talked about stepping outside and listening to the birds.  Everything in my day made me tune into sound in new ways. I bought a book in French by Michel Serres on music.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Cardboard Sky

Behind Proust's fictive sonata with haunting melody
some try to identify the "real thing," as though
Proust--of all people!--could not make something up.
What piece could he have been thinking of?

They wonder... But isn't Proust's music more real
than what they hope to find? If fiction is cardboard
cutout of something of thicker substance
what good is it anyway?

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Art Song

The "art song" is both the most "literary genre" and the most "vernacular."  From a post from Kyle Gann's blog, "The Epistemology of Elitism."

The only pop/classical distinction that ever made sense to me was the one Bob Ashley told me on a bar stool in Chicago in 1986: “Over five minutes it’s classical, under five minutes it’s pop.” Accordingly, I’ve always thought of Schubert’s songs as really, really good pop music. And of Brian Eno’s Evening Star album, with its long tone poems, as utterly classical. Imagination is near the top of my virtues list, and I hear more imagination in almost any Eno song than in all the Elgar I’ve ever heard put together.

Now this is very helpful to me. Doesn't the Lied flourish in romanticism, with the interest in folk music? One feature of the art song is its brevity, which also means that there is not going to be the complexity of form that comes in longer forms. The brevity is a direct consequence of the brevity of the lyric poem itself.