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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...

Saturday, September 26, 2020

The New Last Name

 I'm still reading Ferrante's story of the new last name. The middle part is sagging  a bit,  without as much narrative energy or forward momentum.  Lila [known before in the novel as Lina] gets pregnant and then has a miscarriage. Lenu, the narrator, is invited by her teacher for a party, and brings Lila with her. Lila feels humiliated because she is not the center of attention and is less educated than anyone else. In the car ride back home she tries to humiliate Lenu, who has had the best day of her life. Lenu's true love, Nino, was there, with his girlfriend, who is the daughter of the teacher. Lenu is now working in a bookstore, and thinks her real friends should the better-educated people associated with her teacher. There is some satire about the intellectual discourse about world peace and the threat of the atom bomb. Lila is smarter and richer, and more beautiful,  than Lenu [Elena], but Lila only has grammar school education and is married to an abusive man. 

There is a wedding, with some disturbing events, in the family of Stefano. There are a lot of characters to keep track of, without much characterization to make you care about them. The novel is pedestrian and brilliant by turns. My attention also waxes and wanes, as well as my comprehension of the Italian. I don't really care about who gets to run which salami or shoe store.   

Lila is supposed to design some new shoes, but is uninspired. She entrusts this task to her brother. If the shoes are a failure, she will take the blame. If the designs are brilliant, the brother will take credit. Apparently, she was a brilliant designer of shoe at the age of 12. 


In a letter to the editor of Inside Higher Education, someone protested an op-ed piece by saying that the author had no "standing" to write it. Instead of simply disagreeing with the points made in the original article, the letter of complaint argued that it shouldn't have been published at all. 

It is never a good idea to start an argument with a logical fallacy. This would appear to be an argument from authority, but in reverse:   

"What standing does Herman have to write on this topic? He appears to be a scholar of the Renaissance. I am confident that if Inside Higher Ed sought to weigh in on the controversy surrounding Jessica Krug’s decision to pass as Black, you could have found any number of scholars who specialize in ethnic studies or fields more closely related to contemporary race identification questions."

Friday, September 25, 2020

Surviving Lorca

 Christopher Maurer apparently has a book in progress with the title Surviving Lorca. I anticipate it will be superb, for several reasons. He knows as much Lorca as anyone else (along with two or three others who are about equal in this respect), he writes well and is thoughtful and judicious, a great human being as well. I don't feel as warmly positive about Noel Valis's book, but I am happy that there are going to be several books about Lorca's posthumous reception, or related topics. Then I get to be part of a trend, not just an isolated guy with my own weird obsessions (cada loco con su tema). 

Canción de autor

 I can't translate "canción de autor."  It seems like this means "singer-songwriter music," but it also refers to setting to music poetry NOT written by the singer / composer him or herself. Those three things go together: singing a folksong, writing a poem and then setting it to music / singing it // Taking someone else's poem, setting it to music and singing it. 

So a folk-singer: sings a folk song

A singer-song writer (who might also be a folksinger) writes his / her own songs and sings them.

A ???, who might also be a folksinger and / or a singer-songwriter, uses texts from the literary tradition as lyrics. 

Thursday, September 24, 2020

The most eloquent disguise

The most eloquent diguise

is to be yourself.  

Storia del nuovo cognome

 This novel by Ferrante, the story of the new surname, is getting good: Lenu is the narrator, best friends with Lina. Lina has married Stefano, the son of the neighborhood gangster-like future. On the wedding night Stefano hits Lina and then rapes her. Apparently their marriage is based on a business deal between their two families, who are in the business of manufacturing and selling scarpe ((shoes). 

When Lina returns to the neighborhood, she is in a convertible dressed like Jackie Kennedy, with a scarf and sunglasses to disguise the bruises. Lenu, who hasn't been going to school, decide to go back and apply herself. Lina offers her a spare room in her house with Stefano to study in the afternoons. The house is luxurious, and there is abundant food. The two women are still teenagers, but Lina, although very intelligent, has dropped out of school. Lenu takes a luxurious bath at Lina's house.   

The scholarly system is based on rote memorization of textbooks. Being "smart" (bravo) means answering questions orally in class. Studying is important for Lenu, but also wholly disconnected from everyday life. 

Lenu's boyfriend is Antonio, but she is really in love with another boy, Lino. Antonio wants to get out of military service, because he is afraid that if he goes away. Lenu will not wait for him. Lina and Lenu go to a bar run by friends of theirs, to buy pastries one Sunday. Lina is dressed to kill, in a way that is unusual for this neighborhood. Lina asks one of the owners of the bar, who used to be her boyfriend possibly (Marcello) if there is a way for Antonio to get out of military service, possibly by paying bribe to someone. Michele, Marcello's brother, asks Lina if they can used a blown-up photo of Lina in her wedding dress in another store that they own. Lina says they must ask Stefano about this. 

Lenu tells Antonio that they have inquired about getting him out of military service. He is humiliated, since he has had bad relationships with the Solara brothers, Marcello and Michele, who own the bar. He dumps Lenu. Stefano is also angry that his wife has gone to the bar dressed like that, and put him in a compromising situation concerning the wedding photo.   

What I like here is the complexity of the web of relationships. Since I haven't read all the first book in the tetralogy, it is a bit difficult to keep everything straight, but I think I know who everyone is.  I also like the creation of a fictional world, the rione. I'm thinking this word means something like neighborhood. 

Dream of Musical Scoring

 I was teaching A Midwinter's Day to my students.  I explained the concept to them: a book-length poem relating the events of a single day, written on that same day. I was trying to get them to see why that might be difficult, since logically the poet would have be sitting down all day and writing it, leaving no time for the actual experience of the day that she was writing about.  


Later that night, in a dream that seemed to last all night, I was scoring a film (or the days of my life), but having problems maintaining a consistent approach. Every new measure seemed to require a change in key signature or musical approach. It was labor intensive, exhausting, and perhaps the least restful way of sleeping imaginable.  

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The Fallacy of Tainted Origins

 I coined this phrase this morning.  The idea is that we shouldn't dismiss something because it is associated with something unsavory in the past.  

Since I like questioning myself, I thought that maybe it isn't a fallacy at all. We should read contextually, and see that some things are open to our judgment. When reading Utopia,  I should think that its author went on to burn people at the stake. I shouldn't not read it, but I should at least know that. 

I can't say, well, in those days, they didn't know it was wrong to burn people alive because of religious differences. 

Or let's say that Lutheranism is tainted because Luther was a rabid anti-semite. We could say that Lutheran should should cancel themselves. Without excusing Luther in the least, let's say that contemporary Lutherans don't need to cancel themselves, because most of them don't share this prejudice, I would hope. 

Since I don't tend to put people on the pedestal in the first place, it doesn't bother me to see flaws, even very severe ones, in people I admire for other things. The problem is that if you throw out all the flawed people, you won't have any left at all.  

How do I know?

 I started another Ferrante book today; I could tell from the first few pages that it was much better written. This made me think, though, that I have no right to make these judgments at all. I don't know Italian well enough.  But I do make these calls all the time. 

It could be that I am delusional, that I cannot really tell at all, but I think I must be responding to something in the text. Lila gives the narrator a box with 8 notebooks. The narrator begins to read and describes the contents of the notebooks. I am immediately drawn in, curious to know what it in there, who Lila is, what the relation between the two women is.  

You could say that I can tell the difference because I am a literature professor, and you wouldn't be wrong, but I think I could do this when I was 15 too.  Not in Italian of course, but in French or English for sure. You could say it's because this is what it means to be a reader in the first place: the ability to derive intense pleasure from great writing.  

Tuesday, September 22, 2020


 To practice Italian and also just to read more fiction I've read about half of a novel of Ferrante, La vita bugiarda...  After Almudena Grandes it was refreshing to read someone who narrates a bit more concisely. Nevertheless, I am already a bit bored by this one. 

A 13-year old girl, Giovanni, starts not doing as well as she should in school. Both her parents are teachers and her father is kind of local intellectual figure. She overhears her father say that she is just like Aunt Vittoria. This is wounding, because her parents hate Vittoria, her father's sister. So she goes and seeks out her Aunt. The Aunt has a totally different version: it is her parents who are the awful people, bookish snobs who look down on uneducated people. She meets the widow and the children of Enzo, the man who was the Aunt's lover, and gets immersed in a world where people aren't well educated and speak Neapolitan dialect instead of Italian. 

Then it turns out that her father is in love with another woman, who is also the mother of the narrator's two best friends, and her parents divorce. She wavers back and forth between her parents and her aunt. There is a long story about a bracelet, that belonged to the grandmother, than was passed on to Vittoria, should have been for the 13-year old narrator, but ends up in the hands of the father's lover, who then gives it back the narrator, who then gives it back to Vittoria, who then gives it back to the daughter of the widow, who is engaged to Roberto, a handsome man from Milan that the narrator (by now she is almost 15) is also in love with. I got sick of hearing about the damned bracelet over hundreds of pages. At one point someone points out that it is a symbol.  Well, duh. 

There is a lot of potentially interesting narrative material here. There is some amount of mystery and suspense, but mostly everything is out there on the surface. The prose style is mundane, as far as I can tell, since I don't know Italian to have a super fine discernment about this. We hear about the dialect but never get any of it, so the language is super homogenous and a bit bland. The characterization is so-so. Vittoria is a vivid figure, but many of the others are not well-drawn. The narrator herself is contradictory, so she is not a flat figure, but the different parts of her don't quite coalesce into a single character. The city of Naples comes alive in the book for someone who hasn't ever been there. 

There is some intelligence in the young girl. She reads the "Vangeli" as a way of trying to impress Roberto and wonders why Jesus's miracles are trivial ones, ones that don't help humanity as a whole.  

In short, it's the typical mediocre realist fiction.   


 Think of a Supreme Court decision that everyone agrees with now, like Griswold or Loving. Something that is (or should be!) beyond controversy.  Now think of how long it would have taken for every state legislature to change the relevant laws.  

Ideally, of course, the democratic process should take care of this on its own. I'm sure eventually Conn. would have made it legal to use contraception, and VA (and other Southern States) would have ended its miscegenation laws. When would this have happened? 1985? 1995? We don't know. 

Democracy is good, but it doesn't even guarantee rights for the majority. For example, the majority of people are women, but women's rights required court decisions as well. It would be very simple to have a democratic majority: 100% of the women, all the ethnic minorities, and 20% of white men could outvote the Republicans quite easily, in every congressional district in the nation. 

A poet I know was posting on facebook that the Supreme Court should represent the population. But this is not a representative institution. I wouldn't care if there were 9 white men on it, if I agreed with their decisions. 

Self Censorship

Of course everyone always censors themselves constantly.  It would be hard otherwise to even get through a day. There are many times that I see someone I agree with on most things repeat a stupid meme on facebook. I will censor myself because getting in a fight with the person would be even worse. I went to a poetry reading two weeks ago on zoom by someone I like personally. If anyone asks, I will say it was great, even if I have a few misgivings. 

It would be nice not to self-censor, but in what kind of universe would that happen? 

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Snare Drum

 I found myself the other night shopping on line for snare drums. I don't play drums, so this might strike you as a bit odd. I do have a set of drums, and some cymbals, so to say I don't play drums is not completely accurate, but it is accurate to say that I rarely play the drums I have. I have never played drums in a band and they are not a solo instrument. I live in an apartment and don't want to disturb anyone else. Playing drums was an idea I had several years ago; I have taken lessons and read books, and I know something about playing them, but not enough to say I am a drummer. 

I am an aficionado of the varied timbres of cymbals, for example, but my hobby lacks any real substance, because the sound of cymbals is only relevant to someone playing them in a musical context, with other musicians. At some point I am thinking of recording a drum track to accompany my singing and piano playing, and putting together an album of my original songs, but I haven't gotten very far with this idea either. In short, drums are one of the several elements of my life that don't add up to much. There a few other things that fulfill a similarly opaque function for me, or perhaps no discernible function at all. I suspect that most other people are not like me in this respect, although I'm sure I am not wholly unique.  

But anyway, I found myself down a YouTube rabbit hole a little while ago, and found a video comparing the sounds of different snare drums, and I went to look at prices on a web site. Soon, ads for snare drums began showing up magically on my facebook page, as well as similar ads on every other website I visited, so I found myself considering different drums, reading their descriptions and specifications. I did not buy one, because I don't need a snare drum: I don't even play the snare drum I do own, not because it is inadequate, but because I do not play drums. Nonetheless, I took a satisfaction in adding an expensive drum to my cart at one of the online retailers, and leaving it in there for a few days without buying it. Even though my mind has been lucid, even though I know perfectly well that I have no real need for this drum, the idea of owning it remains an attractive fantasy to me. I think of entering my credit card information at the website of the drum store, of clicking on a button to buy it, of tracking the shipment every day with great anticipation. When I receive the box with the drum, I will open it and take it out, I can tap it with a drumstick and appreciate its timbre. The only doubt I have is whether the reality of possessing this drum might be, in some sense, superior to this fantasy in any meaningful way. 

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Book Proposal

 I decided to work on my book proposal now. The first weeks of class are over; I haven't touched researched since then, so if I get a book proposal written, then I will have to have a sample chapter in corrected form, ready to go.  

I downloaded the Toronto guidelines for book proposals.  Now I will just go down the list in order. 


Please include the following in your proposal:

1. A working title

2. An overview of the book

  • What is it about? What is its central argument?
  • Why have you written this book?
  • How does your book compare to others in this field?
  • How will it be different?
  • If the manuscript is based on a dissertation, please tell us when it was defended and the revisions you have made or propose to make. 

3. Information about intended audience(s)

  • If the book is intended for course adoption, please list relevant course titles/departments. If you have information about where such courses are taught, or an idea of enrollment, please include here.
  • Is your book for specialists in your field? In a particular area of a larger field?
  • Is there a broader general audience?

4. Manuscript information

  • Anticipated length including word count.
  • Total number of illustrations, figures, and tables (if applicable).
  • Anticipated completion date.

5. For edited collections or multi-authored works, please include a description of how the book will be thematically integrated and how the chapters will be linked

6. Table of contents with a brief synopsis of each chapter

7. Curriculum vitae for each author

8. Sample chapter (if available)

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Mystic Sonnet

I found this sonnet by a nun, Sor Ana de la Trinidad, ca. 1600 in the ABC. There's an edition of her works that's appeared.  She only wrote 19 sonnets, but this one looks great. I'm still confused by its spatial relations a bit, but it has some great lines. 


A la región do anhelas remontado

huye ligero en tu secreto nido,

donde estarás seguro y escondido

de las tormentas de la mar airado,

que siendo el crudo invierno ya pasado

cuando el campo de verde esté vestido,

aunque de mar a mar la mar crecido,

podrás entre las olas ir a nado;

o te traguen o suban hasta el cielo,

quedarás como pluma levantada,

y el tiempo breve pasarás en flores

vestido del color de tus amores;

divisarás tu patria deseada,

si altivo permaneces en tu vuelo.

Monday, September 14, 2020


 We have two lives: waking life and dream life

In dream life we take the accoutrements of real life,

the houses and people, but mostly the psychological gunk 

and re-write it into ritual dramas or films 

Everyone in the drama is the self: the priest

the sacrificial scapegoat, helper or enemy 

the drama doesn't need a plot, beginning or end 

just enough conflict or anxiety

never in short supply!  

For me dreaming cleanses, rinses out

some of that psychological gunk 

I read somewhere that that is its biological function 

In waking life we try to remember these filmscripts

write them down if we do remember 

though many don't remember or care to write

we interpret the fuck out of them

use them to write poems, plays, and other film scripts 

We can prettify them, straighten them out

 or keep them messy

I like the the messy option 

They are realer than real life because they 

are psychologically real

pure products of the mind and everything is mind 


We interpret the bejesus out of these scripts 

whatever we write down and remember 

I have a PhD in this and teach others to do this 

then fall asleep again the next night  

The Poetry Hierarchy

 I just began to read a poem by Alice Notley called PUT SOME OBSCENELY CONCRETE NOUNS BACK IN YOUR POEMS.  The first section of the poem is this:

the house is full of 

garbage is on fire,

a new house made 

of blonde wood. The 

father our teacher is sleeping.

Wake him up and tell him,

get a bucket, I 

say to small children. 

I was trying 

to clean up the pizza boxes 

and crumpled pages of typing when

the outside corner of the house

caught on fire again.

Everyone knows a lot of obscenely concrete nouns, so it should be easy to write with them. That just makes the poem automatically have something the reader can visualize. That being said, people fail to do this, or deliberately don't, for some very good reason, I suppose. You don't have to even do very much with this concrete language, you don't even need a large or very elaborate vocabulary. Here there are only a few surprising turns of phrase, like "blonde wood."  

Most people can't do much with the sound of words; this is very difficult. You either try too hard to make something happen, or not hard enough. It takes a musical intelligence not many people have. 

What not as many people have is a distinctive attitude toward everything, a distinctive reason why this is being told to us. I take this to be a narrative of a dream (considering most of the poems in the book do this). The relationships of the characters is hazy. The male figure is the father, "our teacher" (who is us?) and the children might be his children. She doesn't ruin the effect by putting quotation marks around the dialogue. The two things wrong, the garbage and fire, seem to compete for her attention, even though the fire is more urgent. The tense of the narration changes to past at the end... 

So, the poetry hierarchy is: concrete language ought to be easy (but isn't); prosody ought to be hard (and it is), a distinctive attitude is why we even care about it in the first place. And the other elements of the poem have to be in harmony with that attitude. We don't need a lot of word play, unless it is a poet who goes in that direction. 

This short poem (or section of a poem) is perfect in its own way, but without seeming gemlike in the way a lyric from another century would. Think of how many ways it could have been ruined. 

The Film Hierarchy

 I watch a lot of B movies on Netflix, a lot of low budget things, or movies with stars in them that are vanity projects and not very good, in various ways. 

This leads me to my theory of the movie hierarchy.  

It isn't hard to have pretty people in the movie; that's a given. It isn't hard to have beautiful scenery or nice cinematic effects. There are plenty of editors and directors who know the basic cinematic language of conventional film. The music can be fine, too. There are enough people who can create music that will serve its proper cinematic function. (An exception was LALA land, a movie about jazz that had almost no good jazz in it.) So at the minimum we will have something to look at and something to listen to.  

Next comes acting. This will be of more variable quality. There are enough good enough actors to go around for the secondary roles, but there could be casting problems, or the typical wooden performances by big name actors like Nicholas Cage or Keanu Reeves.

But the rarest talent in cinema is writing and plotting. The screenplay can be weak along several dimensions, in its narrative structure and/or its dialogue, which can be so bad that it doesn't give the actors enough to work with. So a bad movie is usually bad not in its musical score or art design, but in its screenplay, directing, or acting, or some combination of these. A solid or brilliant screenplay will give the actors something to work with.  


 I don't think my scholarship is less creative than my creative writing. I despise the term creative writing, partly for this reason. It is an academic term meant to shoehorn writing in a particular direction. Now, in writing programs they have the category of "creative non-fiction." But isn't literary criticism and scholarship creative non-fiction too? I would even go so far as to say that literary criticism is fictional: we create new narratives by weaving together our readings of fictional texts. No two narratives will be the same.  

This doesn't mean a literary critic should just go and write a bad novel or bad poetry. Plenty of us do, but I think the bad poetry by the poetry scholar might be bad because he is not a good scholar either. It could be the same failure of the imagination in both cases. 

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Nostalgia for an Enemy

 I saw a puzzling post on facebook. A poet well known for her poetry of witness said that she's rather fight neoliberalism than fascism. I couldn't even process it as first, and thought she had said the opposite of what she meant.  Then I got it: she wants Biden to win, so that then the new (old) enemy will be his neoliberal policies rather than Trump's fascism. I sympathize and will not argue with her.  

But we had so many years of calling the neocon warmongers fascist, that it rings a bit false to say, now, Oh we were wrong, the neoliberal Bushes were not fascists, it's Trump!  I do hate Trump, but is he more fascist than the Bush family? Or were they metaphorical fascists and he is the real thing? To the left Trump and Biden are both contemptible, though in different ways. 

 This whole way of thinking seems wrong to me. You have to be fighting for what you think is right, not worrying so much about defining what name to call your enemy. Why can't you say, these are our policies, vote for them? 

It seems that only the fascist label is motivating enough for real opposition, otherwise you get a contrast between two kinds of bad. It seem the Republicans always win when they can define the race as between two kinds of right wing politics! Then there is no motivation for the left democrats to show up at the polls. 

This is why I despise politics. 

Dream of Writing Group

 In my dream last night there was a writing group I was thinking of signing up for, some kind of retreat was involved, and I discovered almost at the last minute that I knew almost everyone in the group already: they were you, commenters on the blog. There was one other woman I didn't know. I think Thomas was organizing it. So I began to write my application out on an index card in fountain pen. I was worried it wouldn't get there in time, and was worried about how to address the envelope and get to the post office in time. 

Later in the dream I was there (indeterminate location) and camping overnight  a sort distance from the retreat itself. A guy camping next to me, whom I didn't know, said he had brought some things for breakfast to eat and share with me, he listed them, and mentioned pumpkin bread, which I also had brought by coincidence. I felt gratitude, but thought that giving him my pumpkin bread would be redundant since he had his own. In fact, I had bought this in real life earlier that evening for breakfast today. 

This dream seemed to go on a lot longer, but unmemorably. When I woke up I thought that I should have this group in real life, though I am not sure what the format would be. 


I was reading Alice Notley's Disobedience yesterday. A lot of it takes place in dreams, and I was thinking of a book of stories by Lydia Davis I had recently finished, that contains a lot of dreams. Davis's dreams are well-narrated, after the fact, as coherent events. In Notley's poems we are in the middle of a dream with her and struggling, with her, to make sense of them. These are both favorite writers of mine, so I'm not saying one way is better, although I can't imagine either one doing what the other does. I like leaving the narration of the dream a little messy. 


I was thinking of some of my favorite women writers as I was awake last night in long fit of insomnia. Some poets of the New York school, like Notley, Eileen Myles, Bernadette Mayer, Barbara Guest. Some other in the Language poetry group. Lydia Davis. Kay Ryan. The Peruvian poet Blanca Varela. The Spanish women poets of the Diosas Blancas generation, several of whom I know personally. Also, a bit older, MV Atencia.  I can't say I prefer women writers over men writers. Because, well, the facts speak for themselves. You just have to look at my CV. And there are many I despise of both genders. I also don't read them, necessarily, in a feminist key. They are just part of the universe of writers to which I respond as a reader. If I have 100 favorite writers, some percent of them will be women. There are women I know in the profession that work only on male writers. I think that's fine, even if I don't wholly understand it. Nobody should tell someone else what to like or work on. It is damaging to pretend to like things you don't, or promote writers for the wrong reasons. Agreement is overrated. If you have the exact same list of 100 writers as I do, from Antin and Ashbery to Wittgenstein and Zukofsky,  then something is wrong. 

This literary universe of moi is both large, Spanning languages and cultures, but also restricted, in the sense that isn't going to include many many things that appeal to many people. Also, I won't pretend to like things I don't. I have always disliked Gloria Fuertes, though I don't feel strong in this any more. I struggled to get into María Zambrano, and even wrote an article about her and translated a chapter of a book of hers, but I am not in the Zambrano club, even when I feel I ought to be. These spaces of resistance are as vital as the spaces of receptivity.  

Friday, September 11, 2020



I've been trying to learn to use Musescore. The first day I was able to write 6 measures of music, an introduction to a song setting of Lorine Niecker, learning how to do key signatures, time signatures, dynamics, tempo, some articulation marks, accidentals, and of course the notes themselves. It's kind of a childish pleasure.  

"You had one job"

 The "You had one job" meme is a bit deceptive: "You had one job: block Messi's penalty kick." It's not surprising that the goalie, with one job to do, which is to block goals, will not block all the goals directed his way. Even focusing on this one task, and devoting all one's attention to it, is not enough. 

Language is deceptive in this way, or can be used deceptively. Here the implication is that with one job to do, and no distractions, there are no excuses for failure. But if Messi is kicking the ball and trying to score, even the best goal tender would fail more often than not.  

Wednesday, September 9, 2020


 There's something I just thought of, though it's a version of things I've considered before:

What if the problem is an extreme version of it-is-whatecver-you-want--it-to-be-ism colliding with old-fashioned essentialism. So on the one hand we have extreme social-constructionism that says we can define reality however we want to. That's great, in theory. But then that gives great power to whoever we assign to the reality construction business. Also, reality doesn't usually abide with our wishes. We want the Trump rallies to spread disease but not the BLM protest, so we only listen to the evidence we like.  

Then we get an extreme form of biological racism, that wants to define everyone by Ancestry.com DNA texts and antiquated classifications (the one drop rule, mulattoes and octaroons and that other out of date garbage. "passing" as white.). Then the individual doesn't get to decide "their" race, after all. We have to have a Nazi-era way of defining ethnicity. The last thing I want to do with a colleague or prospective colleague is to scrutinize their body for ethnic authenticity. "What is your actual parentage," I ask, and I get written up for a micro aggression. 


 I remember I had written some brief prose called The Beaches of Northern California. I wasn't in my dropbox but I found it my computer on campus, after several months of not coming in at all. It was a shorter document than I expected it to be, but that's ok. I can probably take some of it and integrate it into my short-stories.  The idea was to describe books of poetry that don't exist, but each one would be a kind of mini-fiction in its own right. 

 The Beaches of Northern California:


Forty Books of Poetry that Might Have Been









Jonathan Mayhew



The Beaches of Northern California


A highschool dropout roams the beaches of Northern California, meeting a series of strangers who propose contests of strength and absurdly specific wagers: what pieces of detritus will the next wave carry away? He is in no position to refuse any suggestion offered to him. He understands the literal meaning of the words spoken to him but he will never understand the rules of the game.

The Blurbs


A middle-aged professor imagines forty unwritten volumes of poetry and comes up with descriptions of the circumstances under which their virtual speech-acts might have come into existence. Is this text the fortieth or the forty-first?      


Estate Sale  


A woman in her late twenties peddles the belongings of her late stepfather—the usual collection of knicknacks—to well-meaning neighbors and “friends of the family” of less reliable intentions. The poems here are the songs she sings to herself in her car as she goes from appointment to appointment, to the accompaniment of Bach’s unaccompanied cello suites: 


Fuckin’ netsuke, who the hell cares? 

Uncle Robert will pay five cents on the dollar. 

With uncles and aunts like him, who needs rivers of tears?   


My Little Brown Book


A young boy whose father has recently died, and whose alcoholic mother has entrusted him to an indulgent but distracted governess, copies down random passages from his father’s vast library into a small brown notebook, without comprehending anything.     


The Tattoo Artist 


A tattoo artist in an unidentified city inks slogans and proverbs onto the arms, legs, and backs of his clientele: “Eat grit or die.” Arranged in a certain order, this “wisdom literature” becomes the surprisingly translucent epic of life in our times.  


Hyperbole and Its Discontents


An amazingly eloquent hitchhiker of indeterminate ethnicity delivers lectures of spectacular brilliance and scope, on a dizzying array of subjects, to the husband-and-wife truckdriving team who have picked him up on the way to Cleveland. 


Diner Bill 


Diner Bill standing behind the counter of his diner just can’t shut the fuck up.  


The Instructions  


The first page of this tour-de-force of experimental writing contains detailed and exacting instructions for reading the second, the second contains similar instructions for reading the third, and so on. (The last page, of course, gives instructions on how to read the first.) No reader can obey these instructions, since he or she is always learning how to read the next page while trying to remember the complex instructions from the previous one. No page can ever be correctly read, since the pages before and after compete for attention with the page being read, obliterating it. Didacticism was never so liberatory.  




The Very, Very Long Day


A diary entry chronicles every thought, every event, every observation during a very, very long and very, very eventful day.  







Mayhew's Law of Borges

A citation of "Pierre Menard" in relation will give a mistaken version of Menard's process, or will use the story in a lazy way to say that "all writing is trsnslation" or some similar point. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020


 I was reading some poems by Mary Oliver. I downloaded a free sample on kindle. Not my favorite poet, as you know, but I had not remembered just how bad it was. So here is my latest bad poem, inspired directly by her sympathy for the natural world. 

Does the bluebird

offer us food

for thought?

No, that is regurgitated

worm for

her bird babies.

Do the starlings 

invading my balcony 

alert us to a more alert way

of being in the world?

No, they don't give

a fuck about me.  

Does the hawk circling

the chicken yard

give me a new poem to write.

No. What kind of stupid

do you think I am?

Does a rock feel sorry for itself?

Citation Rings

Apparently there are "citation rings" in my field: scholars who cite one another just to get more citations, even when writing about unrelated subject matter. I don't tend to get gratuitous citations, so you know that I am not part of one these rings, but my god... 

Sunday, September 6, 2020


 I woke up early and while still lying in bed was working on something on rhyme in Kay Ryan's work, but without writing anything done. Without being my absolute favorite poet, she is someone whose work I enjoy more than most. It is witty and intelligent, well put together. 

1) Her verse is heavily enjambed, with very short lines of what seems like free verse, but she uses rhyme frequently. So the first thing to say is that she decouples rhyme from line-endings. Internal rhyme is nothing new, but she can put rhyme at the end of a phrase or sentence, or a line, in unpredictable ways. 

2) Secondly, she likes off-rhymes and assonance more than perfect ones. These two factors together make her rhyming unconventional. It rhymes, but imperfectly and not usually at the end of lines. 

3)  This use of rhyme is in the support of her aphoristic wit. It gives just the right degree of emphasis to the words that stand out. 

Here is an example


A cat can draw

the blinds

behind her eyes

whenever she

decides. Nothing 

alters in the stare 

itself but she's

not there. Likewise

a future can occlude

still sitting there,

doing nothing rude

It's not really free verse, though, is it?

A cat can draw the blinds behind her eyes [iambic pentameter]

whenever she decides [3 iambs] 

Nothing alters in the stare itself [iambic, with one anapest to start] 

but she's not there [2 iambs] 

Likewise a future can occlude [iambic, with trochee to start] 

still sitting there [iambic] 

doing nothing rude [trochaic]. 

Some Jokes to Lighten the Mood

 I saw a suggestion on facebook for cutting onions underwater to avoid your eyes tearing up. Then I thought I wouldn't be able to hold my breath for that long. 

A friend said they were going to do something they rarely do: eat meat for dinner. I said, oh, some rare meat.



My identity as a Yanqui scholar of Spanish literature is inherent in everything I've ever done professionally. I am part of the generation who got hooked on Gabriel García Márquez and Pablo Neruda and Lorca in the late 1970s. The Study abroad experience marked me strongly. It never occurred to me to try to pretend to be something I'm not, a white middle-class heterosexual Bill-Evans-admiring second-generation college professor from a Mormon family. 

Following a comment by Leslie on another post of this blog, identity does matter. Even specializing in something unconnected to one's identity involves that identity. My ex-spouse would get that a lot too: why is woman born in Japan and raised in San Diego a Hispanist? Well, why not? Why is it normal for me to be Hispanist and not her? 

My understanding of Spanish culture will never be identical to that of Spaniard. Or course, that is also true of any Spaniard in relation to some other Spaniard who has a different experience of that culture. 

Saturday, September 5, 2020

La madre de F

 I finished La madre de Frankenstein. The novel is long and tedious, and I only could finish it because I dared myself to. The narrative material with which Grandes is working is inherently interesting. It is not as though she chose a dull subject. My problem is that the novel doesn't do much with it in narrative terms. Since the book is based on real events, it runs the risk of not being as interesting as a nonfiction account of these same events might have been. For the murder of the child, we only get the self-serving justifications of the insane mother, no real reckoning in ethical terms. 

The comparison with Galdós that she is inviting by calling these books "episodios de una guerra interminable" is misleading, because Galdós's episodios are quick to read and vigorously written. Grandes is just interminable. The didactic set pieces are unbearable, but too intermittent to add up to very much. 

Everything in the novel is explicit, right there on the surface. There is no narrative mystery, suspense, or tension, no doubt about what we are supposed to think about the characters at any moment, or about the political situation in Spain. The central character, Germán, can do no wrong. All of his motives seem pure, even in his sexual adventures, and he is not convincing in the least. María is better developed as a character than he is, but there is almost too much packed into her, in contrast with the other characters. 

Once again, the problem is not a lack of narrative inventiveness. What happens in the novel is memorable, but it simply is not well narrated in structural terms.  There are a lot things that the reader (this reader at least) simply does not care about, like the side-plot of the Jewish woman Rebecca (Germán's wife) and her Nazi soldier lover.  

It could be that I am not a patient reader of fiction. This is true, but I do love Galdós. I think there has to be something hidden from the reader, what Henry James calls the figure in the carpet. Doña Perfecta only works in narrative terms because Pepe Rey is a bit of a prick. 

Friday, September 4, 2020

Dream of Awakening

 I dreamed I was running on a gravel road in the rain and I suddenly had a moment of awakening, in the zen sense. I was totally in the moment and felt wonderful.  But, of course, it was not such, since in the literal sense I was asleep. 

Jess La Bombalera - NYC City Council Testimony 6/9/20

Here is the fake woman with her fake accent. 


 I am interested in frauds and falsifications. There was a novelist who claimed to be of Cuban origin and turned out to be from Detroit. There is a white woman GWU professor from suburban Kansas City who just outed herself as such, after having claimed to be a Latina from the Bronx. She basically cancelled herself, since apparently she was about to be outed by others. 

Unlike gender, racial and ethnic identity cannot be entirely performative. Black face is so taboo that someone could be cancelled simply for questioning why it is taboo, or for comparing it to performative notions of gender identity. 

In the case of Jessica Krug, the most recent case, her false claim to be from the Barrio will now mean that her scholarship will also be under a cloud of suspicion. If her scholarship is sound, this will be unfortunate, because scholarship does not depend on the ethnic identity of the scholar. 

Thursday, September 3, 2020

I found this doc on my computer: Bly vs. Machado

I found this document on my computer while searching for something else. I would guess that the numbers refer to page # of Bly's translation of Machado. Some translations here might seem unubjetionable, but they add to up to an approach of flattening the language.  

Bly vs Machado


he abierto muchas veredas / I have opened paths through brush                 17


soberbios y melancólicos / angry and melancholy 

[soberbios = haughty]                                        


pedantones / academics   

[pedantes = pedants, pedantones is the augmentative form]                                                                               


tabernas / ordinary bars


gentes / men

[why make it gender specific?]. 


que no son amargas / not really serious                                                         23

[amargas = bitter.  The adverb "really" is just weak] 

se eterno / cristal de leyenda // its eternal / fountain of story

[legend is a more marked term than "story"]


borrada la historia / the history lost

[erased is more vivid that "lost" 


sobre la orilla vieja / here on the beach                                                         29

[the image here is implicity the river Styx; there is not beach]. 

criptas hondas / deep vaults                                                                          31


y quimeras rosadas / and mythological beasts, rosy ones 

[loss of specificity]. 

y las campanas suenan / bells are asleep                                                       33

[Bly confuses the verb sonar (to sound) with soñar = to dream

but then confuses that with dormir = to sleep]


Crece en la plaza en sombra / el musgo                                                        35

In the shady parts of the square, moss / is growing


nuestra sola cuita / our only concern                                                             37

[cuita is an archaic, literary noun] 


el agua cantaba / the water was composing                                                  39


divino / religious


gran cantar / marvelous lines                                                                         41


los poetas míos / poets I admire

[my poets is more intimate] 

Colmenares / ¿ya no labráis // have those beehives stopped                       45

 [Bly changes second person to third]. 

enjauladas / that were in cages   

[wordy]                                                                    49


la voz querida / the voice I loved so much                                                    51

 [wordy; why not just the beloved voice?] 

la mano amiga/ the hand that loved me

 [same thing: the friendly hand] 

tu pobre huerto / the garden entrusted to you                                              57

 [your poor garden] 

ni vagamente comprender siquiera / I don’t even have a general 

understanding                                                                                                 65


estrella / guide

[stars can guide, but the image is less concrete] 


el alma niña / the soul like a young woman                                                  69

[wordy; uses a simile where the original is simply an adjective]  

y la pequeña historia / and the history not long


Incomprensibles, mudas,  /nada sabemos de las almas nuestras


We know nothing of our own souls / that are ununderstandable and say nothing


Tal vez la mano, en sueños / It’s possible that while sleeping the hand        71

 [sueños = dreams, not just sleeping]

 Gotas de sangre jacobina / A flow of leftist blood                                        83

[ Jacobins are more specific than leftists]

la mansion que habito / the house in which I live                                         85

 [Machado shifts gears for an ironic effect: the mansion I inhabit] 

cabalgando contigo a tus entrañas 

ride with me, as far as I go, deep into you                                                      87


quién sabe / lo que se traga la tierra


Is it certain / how much the earth actually eats                                            103

[actually? really? how weak]. 


Está el enigma grave / there is a third serious puzzle                                    107

[where does the "third" come from?] 


la palabra / human language

 [what's wrong with 'the word"]. 

junto a su tomate / next to his darling tomato                                              147

 [reallly, what the fuck, the darling tomato?] 

siempre al son que tocan bailan

When the sound is heard people dance                                                          149

 [people dance to the beat they hear, in other words,

they are conformist]. 

un corazón solitario / a heart that’s all by itself


it’s ok                                                                                                              151



es mejor soñar / then it’s better to be asleep dreaming                                 153

[Bly doesn't seem to get that soñar is dreaming]  

y reposó, que bien lo merecía

and rested, which rest it certainly deserved                                                    155

[those weak adverbs again] 

rapaz / speedy                                                                                                157

 [rapaz = young man]. 

sent out for punishment to attack constantly                                                 


chopos de frío / cold poplars                                                                          165


a estos jardines de limonar  /to these gardens with private lemons               167

[what the fuck are these private lemons?]. 

But not for me - Sonny Rollins' Solo

Wednesday, September 2, 2020


 There was not color photography in Lorca's day. All photographs of him are in black and white. But on facebook I'm starting to see these color photos of him, which are black and white photos colorized after the fact.  They give me the creeps, but other people don't seem to mind. 


 My irritation is around the edges of things. I don't like the language being used nowadays. I don't like 


'of color'



the listing of pronouns in email signatures 

I don't like "-phobia"; homophobia is accepted usage, of course, but is fear the way we should define prejudice of other sorts?  

I don't like euphemisms or Orwellian newspeak / doublespeak. If you are cutting my salary, don't call it a "salary saving's plan." That makes it sound like I get to save money.