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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...

Friday, July 31, 2020

Three reasons your poems aren't as good as you think they are

You can't judge your own poems because they are yours. But I thought I would break it down more precisely. 

1) The first reason is that people tend to judge themselves to be better than they are across the board. So more people will thing they are above average than below average no matter what we are talking about, poetry or cooking....   

2) The second reason is that you confuse your own emotion with the poem that is the result of it. So everything you felt when writing it, you think is in the poem, including the effort or the  excitement of writing it. But the reader just sees the words, with no access to your feelings. If you look at poems you wrote a long time ago, having forgot the emotion of writing it, you will see that those poems from the position of a reader who doesn't know you. 

3) The third reason is that your poem could be good, in fact, but that it is good mostly for someone with your own taste. This third reason is actually not a reason why your poem isn't good, but simply a reason why other people might not share your opinion. They might not only dislike your work, but also your favorite poet. 

For # 3, you probably shouldn't care whether people of opposite preference will like what you write. You can't do much about #1, either. That's just human nature. For # 2, it's just important not to confuse the emotion behind the poem with the possible emotion for someone else reading it. 

Thursday, July 30, 2020


Someone gave me a book of literary criticism and I took it on this last camping trip. I realized that this person is very smart and knowledgeable but the writing, the ideas, everything really, is deadly. If every page of mine just has some life to it, then I will be doing ok.  

Saturday, July 25, 2020


In meditation certain insights come, both over the long haul and in certain flashes. In zen we call things "delusions," so it has to do with delusions that disappear and leave room for more skillful thoughts. For example, I used to have enemies, but I don't need them anymore. In other words, the concept of an enemy isn't particular useful, and not thinking of enemies leaves more space in the mind for more useful ideas. 

Now, there are people I like and people I like less, there are people whom I agree with more, or less, but there is nobody right now for whom I feel enmity beyond that. If someone were to wish me harm, then I would be an enemy for that person, but I am not obliged to wish harm on that person. I would try to protect myself, but that is it. 

 I'm sure I could feel enmity under extreme circumstances, but it would take something very serious to do it. If someone gets angry at me, I don't have to reciprocate; nothing obliges me to. Looking back, having enemies never actually benefited me in any way, even if my feelings seemed justified at the time. 

(I do feel some anger against that poet who passes off his own work as that of others in a kind of reverse plagiarism. People like anger because it gets them excited and hence not bored. I'm no different in that, but often in retrospect it seems stupid. I spent a lot of energy dissing Luis García Montero and defending myself when others didn't like it. It is fairly exhausting!)  

Of course, you could say now that I am powerful, so that few people are in the position to do me harm anyway, so in that sense my letting go of the idea an enemy seems logical and not particularly virtuous. That's a fair criticism. So do vulnerable people need enemies? Does the concept help them. It could. In my experience, when I had enemies it was when I felt vulnerable myself (before tenure), but I think I would have been better off enemyless even then. 


What about Trump, then? Surely negative feelings come up. I should do things to counter his influence and work against the things he promotes. The negative feelings themselves are justified, but they have zero effect on Trump himself or his power. In fact, the seething anger against him just seem to bolster him. 

Friday, July 24, 2020

Growing Pains

I am having intellectual growing pains. I turn 60 in a month, so this might seem strange. Really, though, if you are not having growing pains at every stage or your career, you are not doing things right. For me it is an almost physical sensation of my brain expanding with new understanding. It is closely tied to music, since I'm working on music now. 

Now obviously these will be more pronounced or perceptible at certain times. At other times it will feel like a plateau, or a gradual increase in breadth or depth of knowledge. Looking back on grad school, I see the papers I wrote were very smart. I won't criticize them at all. I became an established scholar at a young age, so I was doing something right. 

Now, however, I am feeling my work getting even better, with a deeper knowledge and engagement with the subject matter. When I look at other people's work, I often notice that it does not have the qualities that I most value in my own work, but I respect what they are doing if is good enough. If I held everyone to my standard it would be lonely and frustrating to be in the field at all. When I do a tenure or full professor case, I just happily embrace the merits of the person. I've decided not to do any except in the cases where I can be 100% positive.  

I am not known for humility, but it comes through in a kind of methodological principle that states that there is always more that I don't know than what I do. So learning something new that I should have known before reminds me that there are other things I will learn tomorrow that I should have learned yesterday or ten years ago.  

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Dream of Guilt

I dreamed I was guilty of having killed X. The details were fuzzy, the but this person had not reappeared when expected and I was quite sure of my responsibility. When I was waking up I was trying to figure out the validity of the dream. I had to actually reason it out, since I know I have not seen anyone physically aside from my friend and some grocery cashiers in several weeks. 

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Starving the inner critic

I've been told that not everybody has a strong inner critic sniping at them all day. This is the voice in your head that tells you you aren't good enough. Here are some ideas I have about starving the inner critic:

1. Give it a humorous name. Mine is Boris, after the cartoon villain the Bullwinckle cartoon. You can even imagine a cartoonish accent, like that of the cartoon. 

2. Give it five minutes a day. I learned this from a therapist.  You sit down for five minutes and just listen to everything the critic has to say, then you ignore it for the next 23:55. 

3. Don't argue with it. Realize that, by definition, this voice will only be critical. It's incapable of anything else.  Don't argue against it, ever. Just say, Oh, that's Boris. If you engage with it you are giving it a kind of legitimacy that it doesn't really deserve. Even if what Boris says has elements of truth, that doesn't mean he's ever right. Listening to the inner critic is just a bad habit. 

Love Letters from God

This guy Ladinsky who does the fake Hafez translations, translating apocryphally from texts that don't exist, also has a book called Love Letters from God, in which he combines some fake Hafez with some fake Santa Teresa and San Juan, Rumi, etc...  It is so obviously fake that it will attribute to some medieval mystic the idea that someone needs "professional help" in the Oprah-era, new age sense of the term. The anachronisms in themselves are hilarious. Every poem is centered on the page in a ridiculous way.

I downloaded it to my kindle just because I needed to see how bad it really was. I don't think there is anything to be done about this, because there is no law being broken that I can tell, not even violation of intellectual property. I am sure there is cultural appropriation galore, but that is a dubious concept because nobody owns a culture. I'm sure I should save my outrage for better things, but this guy should get what's coming to him, whatever that is. I can't even imagine a fit punishment since I do not advocate violence.

Friday, July 17, 2020


Eximeno argues that mathematical theories of music put harmony first, but that melody is really more important. A perfectly harmonious concert "che nulla esprime o significa," would be a "musica vana, somigliante a deliri d'un infermo."  

Antonio Eximeno

I found out today about a Spanish Jesuit musicologist who wrote a treatise, in Italian while in exile in Rome when Carlos III kicked out the Jesuits from Spain, in which he says that music is derived is derived from language and prosody and not from mathematics. Holy shit.  This is the kind of thing that gives me goose bumps.  WHY DID NOBODY TELL ME ABOUT THIS BEFORE!!.  Obviously, well, because probably other people don't know it either. I only found out by accident, when I was trying to see when the term ethnomusicology was coined. I followed a link to him, and then found his entire treatise on line. He is mathematician too, so there are some formulas I don't wholly understand. Of course I don't understand the whole debate in 18th century music theory that I would need to master before I saw the significance of this work in its proper context.

A Variation

I'm trying a variation on my productivity method today. I am doing things for 20 minutes at a time, including blogging, so I will be meditating, playing piano, watching tv, and whatever else I want to do for 20 minutes at a time. So far I have done my "spelling bee" puzzle, studied Catalan, and wrote for 20 minutes on one of the chapters of my book. It is 9 a.m. here in central daylight time zone.  

This is not necessarily a method I would recommend, but just an experiment for the day, because yesterday I realized I didn't meditate or play piano and studied Romanian too much. 

I discovered a few days ago that someone is working on Lorca and music in a way quite different from me. He is basically collecting all the songs, of which there are reportedly 3,000! I guess this is ultimately good for me, not a competition, because the problem of scale comes in. On the one hand, it justifies my project, because quantity in itself becomes significant after a certain point, even if not all the music were interesting. On the other hand, if your goal is to look at everything, then you can't really look at anything in any depth. Imagine 3 pages on each song, that would be a 9,000 page book right there. 

Anyway, I've been blogging since 2002. Now blogging is not such a thing. When I started, everyone was doing it, and there was a network of people, with Ron Silliman, me, Jordan Davis, many people from the old Buffalo poetics list, etc... I got many poetry connections through blogging, and invited Silliman here, and several others. After the poetry blogging thing collapsed, then I started the SMT. At the beginning, it was a blog for professional mentorship, but then lost focus a bit and became a diary of my own life and work. There are only so many productivity tips I can give. 

But as a consequence of blogging since 2002, I now have diary of my life for the last 18 years. I sometimes look at my old posts, but not much. Still, I have all this material. I am happy that almost nobody reads the blog, because I can use it as a personal journal without too much fear. 

I am not a depressive, but something a bit different. The depression is rarely severe, not bad enough to be a disease, but persistent enough to bother me over the long term. When I go to a therapist, I tend to be cooperative and want to please them, and sometimes there is not a lot to do, because I am not depressed enough. Zen is not exactly therapeutic, but it does help to even out the worst of it. I can feel the depressive thought arise almost before they do, and recognize them as such. For all of this year I have been part of the zen center here, and done four retreats.  

I could be very fearful now of being "cancelled," but I am not. It is a strange moment because I am the same liberal democrat I have always been, but I feel the slightest political utterance on my part will have weird consequences. I just have to keep my mouth shut. I think part of it is just not being on social media much: that will insulate me from most of it. There, the timer went off, that's 20 minutes. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Dream of French class

I was taking a French class. At the end of the class I just started speaking perfect French, or at least what I perceived to be perfect French in this particular dream. I would say things like "C'est la même chose, n'est-pas?" Nothing too fancy, but I was dreaming in French.  

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

de mica en mica

I have this thing where I want to have reading knowledge of every major Romance language & German, maybe modern Greek if I get to that. Anyway, I judge this by being able to read a novel in the given language. I can do this in Spanish, French, Italian, Catalan, and Portuguese, more or less. I have ordered a Romanian novel and it will arrive soon. I'm studying Romanian on duolinguo, which is not the best, but it is ok.  Novels are good because you can spend a long time with them and get absorbed in them. I actually like the experience of not understanding everything, so that my understanding of the plot depend on an imperfect understanding of the language. I am not fond of novels anyway, so this provides an extra cognitive interest, like trying to discern objects in the darkness. 

Anyway, I remembered recently that while in Spain the first time being 19 I went to Barcelona and on the way back read a novel in Catalan. I had blanked out on the title, but then I remembered it was a detective novel called De mica en mica or something like that. It is some proverb or something. Googling that I found what novel it was fairly quickly, though unfortunately it is expensive to buy on amazon.  I remember the revelation I had when I realized the helping verb anar (to go) is used not to mark the future, but the past. So vaig anar means I went, not "I am going to go." Reading along, your brain processes things. The two thousand most common words are repeated relentlessly; there are other cognates; and you assimilate grammatical concepts as well. Words you don't know you either guess from the context or ignore. It doesn't work if you know nothing of a language; you have to at least have enough to follow a plot.   

Perfect Strangers

Your poems fail because there is not enough you in them

But you solicit the opinions of perfect strangers

Dream of Misogyny

In this rather intense dream, a graduate student of ours, N, who is working on a dissertation on rock music in Latin America, had found some intensely misogynistic texts by a musician (?) saying that women should not play rock. She and I were going over the texts together, or I was turning them around in my mind. Neither of us was visibly upset; we seemed to think of it as an opportunity to learn something, though the misogyny itself was unsurprising.  

Sunday, July 12, 2020


From "Vocabulary Lessons"

Dull little
words too have
their uses

Friday, July 10, 2020


The letter A is red for me

so I prefer to write grey instead of gray


I was reading my complete poems of J. Ceravolo and I came across his translation of a poem by St. John of the Cross, "Muero porque no muero." Clearly I had read it before because I had marked it in the table of contents as a poem to come back to, but I had no memory of it. It totally floored me. 


I was talking to a friend of mine, Tony, about the first poems we had read. He asked me the first poem I had read of Frank O'Hara, and I remembered it was "The eager note..."  and Wallace Stevens "The Disillusionment at 10:00 O'Clock."  Tony said I was nice to him, treated him as an equal, when I was established academic and he was beginning grad student. That is nice to know. Of course, I would want to treat people well always, but I am not always successful.

Anyway, Tony and I are going to do a poetry workshop. Let me know if you are interested. I will be advertising on facebook since nobody reads blogs any more. 

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Art of the Improvisers

I am listening to Ornette Coleman's The Art of the Improvisers on my new tv, which allows me to access my entire music collection by internet. First, I discerned that it was Eddie Blackwell on the drums and not Billy Higgins. Then I was reading things and paying only intermittent attention. I noticed that every time I began to listen again it was on a Don Cherry trumpet solo, never on Ornette's own solo. Now I'm wondering whether it is Scott LaFaro or Charlie Haden on bass. I am going to say Haden, but I'm not 100% positive.  The most traditional part of this avant-garde jazz is the solid 4/4 time on bass and drums. 

Now looking it up, it looks like one song is called "The Alchemy of Scott LaFaro," but the other ones have Haden (with one by Coltrane's bass player Jimmy Garrison.).  A few cuts have Higgins on drums, too. 

I'm going through my albums alphabetically, not listening to everything, but hitting the high points. For some reason I am digging Cherry more than Ornette this evening. 


Just like traveling alters your feeling for time, so staying home aggressively, hardly leaving the house, also has an effect on time itself.  Deep concentration, on the one hand; on the other deep distraction. I am learning Romanian and Irish!  I can watch Netflix for 4 hours straight or not at all.  

Paul Dessau - Guernica

A Dream or Two

This dream had a bit of the structure of If on a Winter's Night a Traveller. There was a video we were watching.  Every time the video was stopped and restarted, the narration changed, and the whole decor of the house too. We went in an out of several rooms, with vibrant, colorful new furniture and decorations with each new segment. Somehow, these decorations seemed to be generated by my own mind, since I was the dreamer.  

Then I wondered out loud about the production costs of the movie, because it couldn't be cheap to redecorate the space for each five minute segment of it. I was contrasting it in my mind to another movie we had just seen, a black-and-white affair with a single setting.

Earlier in the night, in another dream the artist Wayne P, an acquaintance of mine, had invited me by email to come make art with him at his farm.  I was a bit apprehensive because I do not know how to paint...   


One of the main instigators of the Harper's letter is a black intellectual, Thomas Chatterton Williams. My facebook is alive with people attacking it, though I am encouraged that not everyone is.

Of course, I agree that we can each have our own opinions about it, and I myself was irritated by its weak verbiage and the obligatory swipe at Trump. That is part of the point of the letter, that opinions will differ. There are irritating and hypocritical people who signed it, and I was struck by how some wanted to withdraw their support for it once they saw who else had signed! Well, that is like saying that I could not sign a letter saying the grass is green if X also thinks the grass is green and the sky is blue. Isn't the point of the letter that we should be able to talk to people we disagree with? 

My version of the letter would leave out the passive voice and say:

Cancel culture is dangerous bullshit. If you think they won't come for you because you are one of the good guys or gals, then you are wrong. If you don't defend people now, then nobody will be left to defend you when they come for you?  

On one of the facebook threads I read this comments and felt a chill to my bone: 

I think people should be given the opportunity to apologize and atone. If they don’t take that opportunity, then cancelling is a viable option.

Sunday, July 5, 2020


I remember the first person I knew who used the word problematic to mean simply objectionable. To me, the word had always meant complex and difficult to untangle. This person's use of the word sent a shiver down my spine, because it seemed almost the opposite meaning. Slavery, for example, is not "problematic," it is wrong. I feel the same way about "inappropriate." To me, the word should be used for burping at the table, not for violent, harassing behavior. You shouldn't use the word fragility to describe racism, either, while I'm at it.  The problem is not people feeling defensive when you accuse them of racism. Who wouldn't be defensive in that situation? Please stop using these words wrong. Thanks. 

Saturday, July 4, 2020


In a radio interview I listend to, Montero mentions that the Song of Belisa from Perlimplín is the same text as the poem "Serenata" from Canciones. Sure enough, it is, with the name changed to "Lolita." I didn't even know that myself. 

Phrygian dominant

Take the Phrygian mode, change the minor third to a major third, and you have the scale Lorca used for the Canción de Belisa and "Depierte la novia" from Bodas de sangre. It's called the dominant Phrygian. It's found a lot in flamenco. You can find it on the piano by playing all the white notes from E to E (that's the Phrygian mode), and then putting in G# instead of G. The melodies of these two songs are very similar too. Germaine Montero sings them on radio and record BEFORE the publication of the sheet music in 1960, in transcriptions by Pittaluga. Her musical arrange and conductor for for these songs is Bacarisse, who along with Pittaluga belonged to the Grupo de los ocho, disciples of Manuel de Falla and friends of Lorca. I'm sure other people aside from me know about these things, but I had to go into deep research mode to find them. I ordered a copy of the Pittaluga book of Lorca songs, and the bookseller sent me something else. Then I ordered it again from another seller, and it came. A lot of the secondary sources on Lorca and music don't even cite this book, and I didn't even know it existed until a year and half into my project.

Thursday, July 2, 2020


I'm finding some conflicting information when researching Germaine Montero. I think it is a good thing when you find inconsistencies. It means you have consulted independent sources and that you have noticed when things don't line up exactly and care about small details.  You don't always have to decide what to believe; you can state factually that the information is incomplete or inconsistent. If it is a minor point, then don't belabor it. I find it necessary not to make assertions of which I am not confident.  

I haven't found that she exaggerates her closeness to Lorca. He was important for her, whereas for him she was one of many people that came under his sway. Choosing her for the female lead in Así que pasen cinco años was a vote of confidence for a young and not yet very experienced actress, though she had performed as a child. 

Rearranging the furniture

I found another radio interview with Montero. She says that Lorca, one day, at some friends' house, moved the living room furniture to the bedroom and vice-versa as a practical joke. I had to listen several times to get the story right with my imperfect comprehension of spoken French. I need to just listen to French for hours to practice. 

Germaine Montero's pronunciation is so clear that it helps a lot. She speaks with as much confidence as though she were reciting a dramatic speech that she had memorized. It is quite amazing. She never hesitates, misspeaks, goes back to correct herself. She never uses conversational "fillers." I wish I could speak like that in any language. 


Another anecdote from Lorca's  biography.  He called the oil and vinegar cruets "Ortega" and "Gasset." 

"Anfistora" was the humorous name he gave to the theater club. Lorca's humor is often overlooked. Someone should write an article about that. What I like about it is its witty, metaphorical quality. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Not a Hybrid

Song is not a hybrid genre, a weird and problematic combination of two separate art forms, poetry and music. Song is song, and always has words and music. If words are prior to music in some sense, it is because of the weight of a certain understanding of the literary tradition. We are always thinking of setting preexisting words to new music, but this ignores the fact that these words are already musical, already inscribed in a musical and / or performative tradition. We are always thinking of "Song" as the title of a poem a kind of purely conventional nod in the direction of music, but what if songs actually were songs?


Now I'm coming to realize the importance of Falla's neoclassical period. That was what influenced the Grupo de los Ocho. That is the context for understanding Lorca's own musical context. It is not just Andalusianism.