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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...

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Dream of Herbie Hancock

 Herbie and I were going to travel someplace. We were sitting in an auditorium waiting for our names to be called.  


Later, a bunch of people were taking taxis up and down the street. At one point we stopped for coffee. At the coffee shop, a woman who didn't speak Spanish (we were in a Spanish speaking country) stepped behind the counter to make her own coffee at the espresso machine. I told her in English not to do this. The employees were trying to get her to stop too, and then she accidentally set herself on fire. I put out the fire with my hands as she stepped back from behind the counter. Then another very small woman tried to comfort her by hugging her and kissing her on both cheeks. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Another dream

 There was a Buddhist temple we were supposed to visit, but in an incongruous country. I had a vague memory of it and was going through a field. It suddenly loomed large, like a government building. But we weren't treated well. I noticed I only had underwear on, and the other people I was with were likewise in a state of being half-dressed. My daughter came out wearing a different dress than she had on when she entered... 

Dream of Underwater Dining

 I was walking around a city with people who were interviewing me for a job. We had eaten ourselves earlier; I almost ordered a steak that cost $250 but the waitress warned me not to. We noticed a new trend: restaurants in which the patrons were sitting in water up to their waists. We agreed that this was the stupidest trend in dining ever: flooded restaurants.  I wondered how many cell phones had been ruined.

Earlier, one the people had warned me about the other members of the search committee.  Professor X was distracted, Y was dangerous. Z, shallow, etc... 

Friday, November 19, 2021


 We are being "invited" to do a diversity training.  I suspect it will be mandatory. This by an administration that cannot retain a diverse faculty.  Everyone just leaves.  But I'm sure this training will fix that.  

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Dream of voice

 I was demonstrating some techniques for speaking. A strong, authoritative, baritone voice; then a high pitched head voice. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Dream of Birds

 I was in the backyard (of house I grew up in). There were these fantastic birds there, with bright colors. One, though, was a little man with a high-pitched voice. Then I realized it was a dream and then practice levitating these strange creatures, or using hand gestures that made them collapse to the ground. 

3 dreams

I was being introduced in a fulsome way, in Spanish. I was the greatest critic in Spain, etc... I smiled as the audience applauded. They kept applauding. Then I looked down at the paper I was supposed to deliver and it was in English. I started to talk in Spanish, stalling. It looked like my paper was far from brilliant and I didn't know what to do... 


There was a reservation at a restaurant.  My father was there already, and we were to sit around a table in an uncertain way (two chairs on the ends where only one should really be).  I sat down across from my father and we began to talk. I knew he was dead and hence invisible to all but me. He reproached me for missing other appointments, but I pointed out that he only appeared to me when he wanted. My brother came and was wondering why I was talking to myself. I pointed out that our dad was there. I asked my dad to make himself visible to my brother, but then he (dad) disappeared from my sight as well.


We were grilling in some kind of basement, making food for some kind of event, with B and her sisters. One put the food on the floor before grilling it. I put it on a table of some kind and then found some already cooked potato omelets and used a piece of them to clean off the kabobs that had been on the floor. I mixed the omelets into the snow that was on the basement floor to hide what I had done.   

Monday, November 8, 2021

Estudio crítico de...

 One of my Lorca scholar friends had a seven or eight pages lifted verbatim from his book, published in a book with the unimaginative title: Estudio crítico de Romancero gitano. It could be a series, like those Twayne books of yore. Do they still exist? They would be books written at a low level, for the undergraduate reader, say, and were often known for not being very good. It would have been a good idea to have a series of critical studies easy to understand but also at a high level intellectually, but I guess that isn't the way academic publishing is structured. 

Sunday, November 7, 2021


 A huge hawk landed on my balcony while I was doing zen practice by zoom. I couldn't get a picture of it. 

My brother-in-law is in emergency surgery in California. I thought this hawk could be an omen. 

Saturday, November 6, 2021


 I listened to a video on Beckett, with James Gunn, an editor of his correspondence:  "Hermits don't write 20,000 letters."  


I'm looking at Ill Seen Ill Said again. This is my favorite S.B.  There are several books on Beckett and music.  I always mention this because, well, there should be as many books as you want on this, since it justifies the writing of just as many books on Lorca and music.   


I was moved by a recommendation someone wrote for me, and shared with me. It seemed exaggerated. Who is this fantastic guy they are talking about? But then I figured it out. Certainly other people can be critical of me too, but they don't have access to my own great store of self-denigration. I shouldn't act as though my own flaws were visible to all once I step out the door. 

Thursday, November 4, 2021

The imaginary observer

 I was looking for this quote in Ezra Pound:  

"I have, on the other hand, found also in Homer the imaginary spectator, which in 1918 I still thought was Henry James’ particular property.

Homer says, ‘an experienced soldier would have noticed’."

 I saw this recently in Beckett:  "To the imaginary stranger the dwelling appears deserted."  I use this too in my parody novel.  Beckett has his imaginary stranger knock on the door!  

Going through blog posts

 Going through old blog posts I discover things about how I used to think. It wasn't radically different from now, but I discovered I knew what certain piano voicing were in 2007, when I only started playing piano in 2015. So my preparation must have been a long one!   

I was much more into poetry from the inside, craft and all that. It's not that I don't care about that, but my interest has shifted. I was into "song studies" back then, but did not sing.  

I remember how I used to play conga drum outside on campus. 

Why I am not a Novelist

 The indifferent wind ran through the Aeolian saw-blades of the former mill-town. Thick wet mud left only a few roads passable in the surrounding countryside. Big-boned, intrepid Anna braved narrow gravel passageways to deliver firewood and sarcastic cheer to the acne-scarred denizens of Acacia Country. They bought their guitar magazines and treatises on apophatic theology in the convenience store run by the unenigmatic Miles. Taking off her gloves, Anna answered his muttered greeting with a withering look--there was no other kind of "look" in the county, no other kind of "greeting" for that matter.  

Artificial owls, an ineffective deterrent to English Sparrows, guarded garages and carports. A stranger finding himself unexpectedly in these environs might well be struck by the material and aesthetic impoverishment of the population. Garden-gnomes, rusted pickups, the aforementioned plastic owls, the aforementioned guitar magazines, seemed designed by some callous creator to present the image of a non-too-genteel indigence. Or maybe not... The marijuana farms, the artisanal distilleries, the mountain bike trails (when the mud dries out enough to make them usable), narrate a different account, for the more astute observer, attuned to the allusive repartee of those browsing the wares in Miles' establishment. Two or three weeks suffices to gain a superficial appreciation of the difficulty of the problem. It was three or four months after my own arrival, in fact, that I realized ...


I found this in old blog post. Apparently I wrote it.  


 DQ and Sancho are talking. DQ uses a metaphor for death: the actors in a comedy, after they are finished with play, take off their costumes and they are all equalized, with no difference any more between kings and peasants.  So it is in the grave. Then Sancho says he has heard this before and says that he has a similar metaphor: in the chess game the different pieces have a different status, queens and kings, knights, or pawns. But after the game the chess pieces are just thrown into the same bag.  DQ congratulates Sancho on his discretion: he is getting smarter! Then Sancho attributes his own increased discernment to his travels with DQ. The dialogue is perfectly sane; the two friends seem equally wise and adept at handling rhetorical commonplaces. So Cervantes himself is a compendium of such wisdom, expressed both through Sancho's proverbs and DQ's more erudite discourse. And, of course, many other people with whom the come into contact.  

Dream of "Descent of Alette"

 I was in some kind of literary gathering. A person there, though supposedly connected somehow to NY School poetry, had never heard of Alice Notley's Descent of Alette. I approached this person and was mock-indignant. I happened to have my copy of it in my backpack and I brought it out and began to pontificate in a kind of obnoxious way about it. I pointed out that many people didn't like the quotation marks around every phrase, but that these had a prosodic effect, etc.... 

Monday, November 1, 2021


 I like the kind of reading (poetry) that allow me to read a bit and then ruminate for a long time. The kind of reading that involves being absorbed for hours in someone else's reality (novel) is not as attractive for me. Even novels, I will read in this more ruminative way. I picked up the second part the Quijote, read about his death. Cide Hamete addresses his own pen!  Burying DQ means that there will be no apocryphal version like that of Avellenada, no more sallies. DQ is sane, "Alonso Quijano el Bueno." 

Music Dream

 A friend of ours was playing piano, a Beethoven Sonata that I myself play. In real life this friend is musician but doesn't play piano or classical music, but guitar. Then he stepped over to a set of drums and began to play a raucous solo; a cymbal came crashing down. 

Earlier, I had thought to mention that my mother was buying musical instruments for all her grandchildren, but I couldn't find the proper break in the conversation to say it. She was buying a violin for my sister (who doesn't play violin), and I was thinking she needed it to compose music for strings. It doesn't make too much sense because in waking life my sister can't do much of anything any more, but she was an accomplished musician before dementia set it.  

Thursday, October 28, 2021

my note

 I have this experiment.  I haven't documented it, but what is basically amounts to is this: I take out my tuner (an app on my phone) and close my eyes and sing the note that I think represents the center of my voice, the note that feels most natural and closest to my speaking voice. Since I don't have perfect pitch it will not be the same note every time. But it is always close to G3, below middle C. Sometimes it is F# or F, something Ab or A. I am not trying to hit G, or any particular note, and I haven't played a G on the piano in the half hour before I do it, or done anything else to orient myself.    

To document it, I would do it every day and see how stable it was. For example, today, after not doing it for several months, I notice it is a lower note, F#. Am I just feeling and hearing my voice a bit lower, or is this random variation?  

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

The Self in Scholarship

 The self in scholarship is implicit, usually. It is a vague professorial presence behind the text. Even if there is a first person, it is not assumed to be the "person" writing. Everyone knows that the "I" is a mask of a sort. Practices like anonymous peer review propagate this idea. It is not that there isn't a self, but the person must be inferred by the reader. The voice that says "I will do this, and prove that..." is not a self, but a discursive position.  

But the self in scholarship behind the scenes is a person, and the way the self is manifested is in the self's investment in the material.  


So let's look at the self in a poem.

My Heart 

I'm not going to cry all the time
nor shall I laugh all the time,
I don't prefer one "strain" to another.
I'd have the immediacy of a bad movie,
not just a sleeper, but also the big,
overproduced first-run kind. I want to be
at least as alive as the vulgar. And if
some aficionado of my mess says "That's
not like Frank!," all to the good! I
don't wear brown and grey suits all the time,
do I? No. I wear workshirts to the opera,
often. I want my feet to be bare,
I want my face to be shaven, and my heart—
you can't plan on the heart, but
the better part of it, my poetry, is open. 

I'm not going  to cry all the time

nor shall I laugh all the time,

I don't prefer one "strain" to another. 

Here the voice is defining what kind of lyric subject he wants to be. The tragic and comic masks. There is a subtle thing about the voice here, in the air quotes around one word. This is typical of Frank O'Hara's voice, in which the speaker takes ironic distance from certain words. This is extraordinary, because other poets were not writing like this, conversationally, at the time, late 50s or early 60s. If you did this today is would be normal and banal. 

I'd have the immediacy of a bad movie, 

not just a sleeper but also the big, 

overproduced first-run kind. I want to be

at least as alive as the vulgar.... 

Here we have the postmodern impulse to celebrate popular culture. The expensively made and exuberantly bad movies. Categories of refinement or taste come under question. 

                                                                                                            and if

 some aficionado of my mess says "that's not like Frank!"  all to the good! I

don't wear brown and grey suits all the time,

do I? No, I wear work shirts to the opera,


 The phrase "aficionado of my mess" is brilliantly witty. The poet imagines he has fans, and his work is a "mess," which sounds self-deprecating but really refers to a different kind of aesthetic, one based on the messiness of real life. The there's a bit of posturing about what kind of clothes he wears. Not just drab-colored suits that he would presumably wear to work, but work shirts to the opera, an invasion of everyday life into the realm of high culture. His readers are on a first name basis with him; there is an intimacy here. 

Note how the enjambments are working, to create "cuts" or shifts of attention. O'Hara does this better than Olson or Creeley, even. I'm counting as enjambments even lines that end with punctuation, if the next line starts with a reversal of attention or emphatic gesture, like "do I?" or "often." 

          I want my feet to be bare,
I want my face to be shaven, and my heart—
you can't plan on the heart, but
the better part of it, my poetry, is open. 

Here the poem enacts the kind of openness that it advocates. 


Now suppose the scholar has been formed as a self by reading O'Hara. Would the same dry scholarly persona work? You wouldn't want to exaggerate it, be sloppy because O'Hara gives you permission. What O'Hara is doing is not sloppy, either! Then, to make the transition to Lorca, you would look at O'Hara's poem about Lorca, in which he wants to distance himself and associate himself with the Spanish poet at the same time. "I've been feeling rather Lorcaeque lately / and I don't like it."  It's the same thing he is doing in "my heart." 

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

And yet

 And yet something dies in me ever time I realize, once again, that my students are so excited by the possibility of studying anything that isn't literature. 


There are two sides to the same problem.  How to realize that scholarship is limited, there is more to the person than what that person writes. 

The other problem is how to put more of that whole self into scholarship. In other words, scholarship is oriented toward a narrow set of problems (in any given instance). Yet the scholar's formation should not be narrow. The scholarship should still have depth to it. If not, the result is dullness. 

By the "whole" self, I mean about 20% of it, instead of 5%.  In other words, you will never get all of it in, nor would you want to, but you want to have four times more. These percentages are obviously invented and have no empirical validity.  

Monday, October 25, 2021

How I can go against my own preferences

 For example: a dissertation that included favorable chapters on Luis García Montero, a poet I have not supported at all. But on the dissertation that issue never came up. 

Approaches that aren't particularly nuanced. My role is to have the student present a strong thesis that is supported, even if I would prefer more nuanced approaches. 

I offered to read someone's book proposal, someone I know on facebook and the field, but not even a close friend. I didn't really agree with this person's intellectual agenda in some ways, but I helped him to shape his proposal so that a publisher might be interested. His book was accepted. 

A student who actually won the dissertation prize here at KU.  Working on indigenous poetry--but in translation--something that I am strongly against.  I just had to get over my own scruples. The student was otherwise brilliant. Just, you can't do a dissertation on translations without knowing the texts in the original. But I probably did the right thing here.  

Are there preferences I have that I would never go against? Yes. Something that was not a mere aesthetic preference, but matter of deeper principle.  

Diversity Statement

 Writing the diversity statement taught me a lot. I could be perfectly honest, not exaggerate my contribution in any way, avoid the jargon du jour, and still do a credible job.  I also had to write a diversity plan for our department's search. I refused the suggestion that I use the word "Latinx." "Latinx" people themselves do not use it. 

Here are some ideas:


 I have to set aside my own agenda when I help someone else. What they might want to achieve is not necessarily something that would be of interest to me, or even something I would agree with intellectually. My goal is not to propagate my own ideas.  

Promoting diversity is doing one's job well:

We ought to be helping each student as much as possible. If we are not, because of preconceptions about the student's abilities, then we aren't doing the job. 

Diversity should be "hard-baked" into the field itself:

Our field (Hispanic studies) is [or should be] naturally diverse in many ways. geographically, ethnically,  linguistically. If it fails to live up to its own diversity, that is our fault. 

The diversity in the field can cause friction:

Conflict occurs between people, and some of this conflict stems from differences of age, gender, ideology, ethnicity, and any other category. A good diversity practice might look like conflict resolution. For example, two student in my course, of the same gender and from the same Spanish-speaking country, had different ideologies. How could I help them tone down their arguments in class? I did with a very simple trick. 

But sometimes the conflicts escalate. It could be Europeans looking down on people from the US, people from different corners of the Spanish speaking world not seeing eye to eye. Native speakers looking down on non-native speakers. Young people resentful of the old, or the old condescending to the young. Men condescending to women. Yet a workshop on "micro aggressions" cautions us not to assume Chinese people are good at math or not to touch black people's hair. Well, thanks for that. It doesn't really do much for us. 

You know / you know

 Someone on facebook posted a link to a recent lecture on Olson. So I watched it, and it was horrible. The speaker was rambling and inarticulate, constantly saying "you know" and 'um." I don't think he even knows he says "you know" every other sentence. There was no central point or organizing principle. At one juncture the lecturer read aloud another short text he had written, receiving applause from the audience. They were probably relieved to hear complete sentences. This was not some inarticulate teenager, but someone older than I am, and quite well known.    

Some interesting points emerged sporadically. Being a nice guy, maybe, I didn't post my objections to this style of lecturing on facebook. I wanted to say something like, "I feel sorry for his students."  

I'm sure I use conversational fillers too, but I try not to do it too much. 

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Interview with Carmen Mompou with English subtitles

Lorca song at minute 15 of this video.  

The Act

 We have many ways to name it--

making love, sleeping or going to bed

with someone, making whoopee.  

None, though, seems to name the Dirty Deed 

without euphemism, clinical coldness,

or vulgarity. Fucking, too, 

is metaphor for a hundred other things we do.  

Thursday, October 21, 2021

The Dreaded Diversity Statement

 I had to write a diversity statement. I think it will be ok. I didn't think I had much to say, but I wrote 800 words at a single sitting. 

Here is my philosophy:  don't be an asshole. (I didn't use those words!).  But in a negative sense, you refrain from doing certain things. But that isn't enough. 

So my second idea is: help people, especially through mentoring. 

So what I don't do: reflect on my privilege, talk about the fact that our university stands on native ground. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Freedom and Nebraska


Freedom: a great concept

but nobody knows what 

to do with it.  


Suppose there were a law

forbidding travel to Nebraska? 

That would be a bad thing,

even if you didn't want to go to Nebraska! 


Freedom is about things not yet even 

desired or imagined. The highest freedom, then, 

is the freedom of the imagination: freedom is the surreal

Nebraska, the Nebraska of undreamt dreams.  


Sunday, October 17, 2021

No niños

 'No niños en la canasta," according to my local grocery store. Ouch. People who think you can translate word for word.  

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Not selling myself short

 This phrase occurred to me the other day. I shouldn't sell myself short. I don't know the full extent of what that means, even, but immediately when I made that decision a professional opportunity presented itself to me. A coincidence.  

A non-professional example: thinking that I am not good at piano playing is an artificial constraint on getting better. Not selling myself short would mean getting as good as I can realistically--a lot better than I am now.  

I wrote in one of my false Bronk poem that we didn't really have a choice about being modest. Anybody should be able to see his or own defects, more or less, as well as a kind of cosmic insignificance. The only choice aside from modesty is a kind of foolishness, then. Within this essentially modest framework, though, there are certain gifts that should not be squandered. It is not arrogant to know one can excel in a certain area. 

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Ode to Words

 I've always had a love affair with words.

I remember recondite and desuetude, I remember

when I first learned them, that is: the fuzzy feeling 

in my head and gut, much like being in love.  

I've never managed to learn the meaning 

of contumely. I look it up once in a while

and learn its meaning, but somehow it never "sticks." 

It seems like it should be an adverb but 

it is not. That may be the confusion there. 

That's a word I cannot love. 

Using words well is more vital than knowing them

in the abstract. A word misused causes a hiccup

or shiver in the universe

of words. But only through these mistakes

does language change like a vital organism.

Some think the words are mostly names of things,

objects or categories of things.  But this is 

not true. Who has seen a therefore or an at 

lying in the street? Who has seen a why?  

No, words are not names (though some are!)

But functions, ways of doing things

like writing a poem or asking for help.  

You would think poets would be good with words.

Some are, indeed, and those that aren't aren't really

poets, are they?  

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Bad art friend

 Two women are locked into a legal battle. The first, Dawn Dorland, donates a kidney, not to a family member but to the general pool of recipients. She documents this process on a private group on facebook. She asks the second woman, Sonya Larson, why she (second woman) doesn't "like" her posts. DD wants to not only be this heroic person, but also to receive adulation for it, which is not forthcoming from her Facebook friend SL. Dawn thinks that they are friends, but they are really not, according to Sonya. 

Both women are writers, though Dawn hasn't published much of anything. Sonya L, who has a Chinese father, writes a story satirizing Dawn D as a "white savior." In doing so, she takes a letter from the kidney donor to the donee, posted on the Facebook group. In later drafts of the story, the letter would be altered so it is no longer plagiarized, but in easier drafts she simply used the letter. In later drafts she also changes the name "Dawn" to something else. Clearly, Dawn is the inspiration for the story, and not in a good way. 

Dawn gets increasingly angry, and starts to interfere with Sonya's career by writing letters to people about being plagiarized. They sue each other, for the plagiarism and for the career interference. In the discovery process, Sonya's mean group texts about Dawn come out. 


How you view this story will depend on the framework with which you come to it. Do you see it as a matter of intellectual property? (plagiarism).  As the white woman "Karen" wreaking havoc? As what any artist would do, take real life and making it into something else? As the betrayal of a friendship? 

Viewing it purely from the plagiarism angle, the status of the original letter comes into play. If it has no literary value in and of itself, then is Sonya free to use it? If you alter it enough, then is it no longer plagiarized? I guess if earlier drafts had not circulated, then the plagiarism would be harder to prove. Is changing the wording of the letter evidence of innocence or guilt?  I'm posing these ideas as questions because, while I have opinions, I cannot see the answers very clearly.  

Monday, October 11, 2021


The idea that "forms of copying are foundational to creativity" is one of those deeply confusing ways of defending plagiarism. Here's why. What is really a whole lot more "foundational to creativity" is not copying. Note, also the weaselly way this is stated: "forms of copying."  If he were to write "copying is foundational to creativity" it would be obviously false. 

Of course we see imitative, derivative work as less creative, because it is, and copying something verbatim is even less "creative." That why we call conceptual writing that copies other texts verbatim "uncreative writing."   

Most poets will be imitative, not wholly original, and that is to be expected. If you can't tell one poet from another, because they all write the same way, we call that being unoriginal. We know that originality is possible because some poets write in a distinctive voice, and we can tell them apart from others. 

Now, none of this implies any sort of deep romantic belief in "creativity," etc... It works the same for any kind of writing. We can just look at how similar or different it is from other forms of writing that came before, or at around the same time. For example, John Donne comes before romanticism was invented, but he has a distinctive poetic voice.   

A whole range of imitative practices, from parody to translation, are also interesting and have their own value. Also, imitating a model is good practice to learn how to write, etc... None of this is new. 


 I've spent a bit of time with Barbara Guest's poetry. There's a bit of preciosity there. I still like enough of it to keep going. I realize that I don't really like the poetry or poetics of Charles Olson. I realize you are supposed to like him, but I just don't respond well to his earnest self-importance. Duncan is also precious, self-indulgent, self-important, etc... I'm not in that camp.  I find Zukofsky stiff and uninspiring. I love Creeley's work in many ways, but the part that comes out of Zukofsky and Olson, not so much. 

I've defended the language poets. Some are rather dull, though. I'm more interested in the individual talent of those I like than in the group project, based on iffy interpretations of literary theory and linguistics.  

A poet I like can write a bad book, or change directions in a way I don't like too much. You almost never find any rigorous critique of poetry from within the avant-garde camp. Everyone is supposed to admire everything the same, it seems. I'm not saying my opinion is the last word, but that the debate almost never happens, except in private.     


 Here's the typical defense of plagiarism. Those poor poets up at night, worrying whether Ira Lightman is going to discover some small, unintentional borrowing!  The article doesn't name Lightman, but makes a snide remark about how poetry doesn't need the plagiarism police.  

I would say we do need the plagiarism police if people are going to plagiarize.  In other words, we need detective work to discover the culprits.  

The problem is this: believing plagiarism is unethical, in the normal sense of plagiarism and the normal sense of ethical, does not commit one to a romantic view that poetry as some deep expression of one's individual soul. It's just saying that one cannot take a poem written by someone else, change a few words, and pass it off as one's own, or borrow whole stanzas at a time without attribution.  

What about parody?  Well, I think parody is parody, not plagiarism. For example, my false poems of Bronk are advertised as such, and do not contain Bronk's own, literal language. In other words, I wouldn't pass off a real poem by Bronk as a fake one by me.  In fact, parody is a kind of anti-plagiarism in this sense. If Spicer writes a poem and lets us be confused about whether it is his or a translation of Lorca, then we have that confusion, but this is virtually the opposite of Spicer translating and not telling us it is a translation. 

Likewise, other kinds of intertextuality don't belong in the same discussion.  Usually, these plagiarists aren't playing some cool postmodern game, but simply stealing. 

Sunday, October 10, 2021

The Hatred of Poetry

 In The Hatred of Poetry Ben Lerner argues

We like poetry, the idea of it, more than actual poems,

Disappointing in a number of ways and rarely

Possessing the grandeur we associate with the concept. 

He is mostly right. Speaking only for myself

Here, I find even poetry I am supposed to like,

In my own tradition of avant-garde and

Experimental poetry, to be dull 

Or else pretentious, overly precious, clever,

Or self-indulgent in innumerable ways. 

Other poetry I perhaps ought to like is too jokey

Or too earnest, overwritten, too "poetic" 

in predictable ways, or too prosaic, 

Like this poem I am now writing, 

Woodenly written, 

Simply dull or not extraordinary in the way that

"Poetry" is supposed to be. Not to mention 

The poems of trite civic platitudes and 

Overheated political rhetoric. 

All this is true, and fairly well-known too,

To anyone with minimal powers of observation.  

Yet I feel Lerner is writing. 

I do not feel this way at all 

About poems like Keats's "To Autumn." 

In this case, the poem is superior to any abstract 

Or honorific, aspirational idea of Poetry with a capital P.  

Moreover, the experience of reading poems like this 

And even some others that are not quite so great,

Or great in unkeatsian, unpredictable ways, 

By Clark Coolidge, Alice Notely or my friend Tony Robinson

(You can put in your own names here) 

Far surpasses any disappointment I feel 

At the the vast swaths of crappy poetry and

Has given my life the little meaning that it has. 

Saturday, October 9, 2021


"Providing people with tools and strategies to help them bring into alignment how they act both inside and outside of the gaze is key to freeing individuals from the fear of external condemnation or disapproval. There is a need to embed curriculum and processes within educational systems that will support the inner development of people to fortify themselves against the growing influence of negative side effects of the gaze. This will help to build up a refusal of people to be bounded by the limitations that others or the broader society try to thrust on them."

This is an article with commendable sentiments, but it suffers from a wooden style. It's all abstractions. I cannot envision what it means to "embed curriculum and processes within educational systems." What does that even mean? The basic idea, here, is that a black student won't think of him or herself as an attorney or physician because society doesn't see him or her that way [the gaze]. That's a profound insight. But the article never manages to say that. It's all  "tools and strategies" or "the growing influence of negative side effects." Sheesh.  

Friday, October 8, 2021

The thesis and the smoking gun

 Let's not make too big a deal out of the thesis. It is simply a guiding idea, susceptible to being phrased in a sentence. I learned that a piece of scholarship should have such an idea. Not all of them do, and I think those that don't suffer from that.  It's sort of like saying a play should have a central action, like Aristotle thought.  

Now I think a good thesis has to be true and significant. There are plenty of ideas that are true about a work of literature, that might be too self-evident, i.e., not significant enough. We can't just point out the obvious. There are also ideas that are counter intuitive, or surprising, but that aren't true either. Ideas without evidence except, "I think so."  It is easy to see that these ideas are not interesting  or significant either, because they are not true (backed up by evidence). So truth is a condition of significance. 

Suppose my idea is that space aliens dictated 100 Years of Solitude to its author. Highly significant, if true, but just an irrelevant fantasy if not.  

My late colleague Debicki  used to say he would rather be interesting than correct. But you cannot be interesting unless you are first correct. 

Here's one: in two novels, Miguel Delibes refers directly to the reforms of Vatican II, and puts the critique in the mouths of conservative characters. (Cinco horas con Mario / Los santos inocentes.) That would be a good thesis for undergraduate paper, because, while not counterintuitive or surprising, it it worthy of note and development. You would have a read-made organization for the paper. Explain Vatican II, explain the support of the church for Franco regime, and vice-versa, and then write two separate sections on the characters who criticize it: the conservative Carmen who narrates 5 horas, and the cruel Señorito Iván of Los santos inocentes.  

There could be some wiggle room around the edges. We want students to be a little bit daring too. There could be a thesis that is arguably true but won't convince everyone. In those cases I like to see the "smoking gun," in other words, the piece of evidence that tips the balance to the validity of the argument.  

As I like to say

 Suppose  I hear a simple melodic phrase and then can sing it back. That's rather mysterious, because many people can do that. We aren't consciously producing a certain series of notes, but just able to mimic what we've heard. Then someone who can play a melody on the piano for a song they already know. I can do it somewhat, but not perfectly in all cases. Now that unconscious ability to mimic, we can do with an object exterior to the body. The process is still unconscious, in some ways, because people who can do this naturally aren't thinking, oh, "that's a minor third up." They just know how to exteriorize that pitch matching with a keyboard. Of course, conscious thoughts can occur too; I'm just saying that the process is not overall a conscious one. 

Then, improvising, I can hear a phrase in my head and then play it. I'm not sure how I do it. As I like to say,  the thing about it that surprises me is not that I can write great songs, or improvise very well, but that I can do it all. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Churchill, Bergson, Russell

 I was idly speculating about the Nobel prize, to be announced tomorrow. I was thinking that some people who are not primarily littérateurs have won it, most notably Winston Churchill, Henri Bergson, or Bertrand Russell. The puts Dylan's prize from a few years back in a different light, I think. Maybe literature is not even a category with any firm boundaries, or rather, a category with shifting outer boundaries. We know the central core is works of imaginative literature like poems, plays, and novels that are susceptible to enjoying cultural prestige. At the outer edge are ways of thinking in and through language that don't look like what's found in a novel or a play. 

I asked my undergraduate students what a play without a conflict would be, and one student said, "a podcast." That was a pretty good answer.   

Meeting in the Middle

 My approach is [often] to help people to unlearn some of the bad habits of academic writing. Recently, though, I've realized that the first goal is to gain some useful habits to get by on. So the student at an early stage still does not have a bad academic style to unlearn. They have a non-academic style, for example, or barely master the basics. 

*Students who write in short sentences or paragraphs and can't develop an idea in a fluent paragraph. 

*Students who write the way they talk. 

*Students with inadequate Spanish language skills.   

A little bit of academic pomposity would be an improvement in some cases. My own style is formal, but then with enough informal touches to make a nice point once in a while. That is different from someone who simply doesn't understand the difference between formal and informal registers, or has no experience with the former.  

We can meet in the middle perhaps: the middle would be a formal yet plain and clear style,  one without any particular flair or elegance but that didn't call attention to itself. 

Yet another dream of father still alive

 This one had a twist. My father was still alive, but had been hiding someplace for 20 years. Instead of being happy to see him, I berated him for having let us think he was dead the whole time. I told him about my dreams: "I thought I was dreaming you were still alive because I could not accept your death, but now I realize the real reason is that you actually were alive the whole time!"  He had reappeared, but we didn't really have time for a conversation. I had to go someplace and back before my 11 a.m. class. 

The owner of the piano studio where I take lessons yesterday gave me the key to the place so I could play his superb new grand piano on weekend and when nobody else was around. It was very nice of him and I hadn't even asked him for it, or even thought about asking. 

Anyway, this bit of waking life also worked itself into the same sequence of dreams. I went there, but then realized I had to go another floor. There was a woman playing some kind of spinet, and I was waiting there patiently for her to finish. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Rigor (ii)

 Rigor, etymologically, is a kind of stiffness. My rigor would be more like a strong, sinewy, supple feeling instead.  

If we throw out the concept of rigor, what are we sacrificing, exactly?  

*The idea difficult things are worth learning. That worthwhile skills come after a difficult process of mastering them.  

*Problem solving. The student has clear instructions and can follow them. The task is highly structured, ideally. But students can't follow instructions either, it turns out. Even clear instructions turn out to be opaque. And do we want to judge students on ability to follow instructions? I would probably not have had success in a system that valorized instruction following over thinking.  In fact, I did not do well until I got to college and realized my professors wanted me to master the material rather than follow bullshit instructions. 

*You can't any longer say, just give me your best response to this assignment.  The students will blame you for not being clear enough. For example, I gave grad students assignment to analyze a poem. They wanted to list all the rhetorical figures in it. They claimed I had told them to do this, but I had given them a guide to analysis in which the identification of tropes was only a small part.  

*It would be fine to say that at a certain level, rigor is not the point. You wouldn't want to impose it on small children. (Except that small children can work hard too, and certain skills require you to start as a small child to learn them at all, like being a concert pianist.)  Now we even want to infantilize "junior" faculty. Yes, they cannot understand the tenure requirements. At what point do you want to treat people as adults? Someone brought up in a system in which there is no rigor will then complain that the peer evaluators for an article are mean, for wanting to impose standards of freshman composition. The resistance to rigor then doesn't allow me to say there is an exacting standard for those at  the very top. 

*Then, the standard in rigorous fields will still be rigorous. The Nobel prize in physics still goes to a significant achievement, usually with some degree of "rigor." The abandonment of rigor, then, is hypocritical. We still want to do the best work we can do, and we still respect people who do things well. But we have to be so cautious about our advocacy of any kind of worthwhile achievement. We are implying that those who don't have those achievements are not as good. But we all know they are not as good (at that particular thing at least). 


After Lorca and Bronk: "Cuando yo me muera..."

 When I die

My love for Ben Webster's saxophone 

Goes to the grave with me 

Monday, October 4, 2021


 It's time to cancel rigor. The word, and presumably the concept as well. Lowering standards enough will certainly lead to more "student success." Where does it stop? Why even have education. then?     

Voiced and unvoiced dentals

 I did not say what they said I said;

And if I did

I didn't mean what they thought I meant.  

More sofismas

 The world is a daily invention. 

Slowness is only a privilege of the speedy. 

He died of the disease he himself baptized.

Every reading of a text is valid, except that of its author. 

You hammer me with stupidly soft words. 

If you win, you have not yet played. 

He who edifies, destroys. 

What can they know of wars, those who've never lost one?  

I want to go to where they recognize I'm a fugitive.  

Those who shave too close are making a mistake: smoothness scratches.  


Any selection of the sofismas made by me would be biased: in favor of the ones that resonate with me, or that I can understand or easily translate. Thus the parts I would be leaving out would be aspects of his thought that are not attractive or comprehensible, a systematic bias, then, not an accidental one. 


 Vicente Nuñez (poet from Cordoba, 1926-2002) has these aphorisms that he calls "sofismas." I'm thinking of doing a translation of some of them. But I don't understand them all. There are several thousand...  Maybe this will bring me out of my Bronk obsession.  

The conversation of a rich man has never been enriching. 

Consumer society tries to bite the archaic coin--something it cannot do. 

You are who you ought to be when you are with the one you ought to be with.*

Every day I unknow you less.

Excessive proximity is always aggression. 

Everything is a fossil, even language.  

True elegance is the false kind. 

Without language there is no behavior. 

All friends are friends because they are enemies of themselves. 

They cough, therefore they speak. [or, they cough, then they speak?]. 

I know who am am not, but I am not who I do know. 

God help us from sleeping far from our insomnia.  

We speak the same tongue, but not with the same tongue. 

I still have not been able to find my ablative absolute. 


*"Se es quien debe ser cuando se está con quien se debe estar." The translation conveys the idea but not the wit the unusual use of reflexive construction. 

Steam roller

 My approach to jazz improv is the steam roller. I take one 2 or 4 measure section and improvise over those chords for a long time. I can find ideas I like and repeat and very them; I can develop very simple ideas or try to go out on a limb. If I get bored with an idea then I have to try something else. If I play notes that don't work, then I learn what notes are verboten over a certain chord. It's really about developing my own taste, what I like or don't like. For example, I might like some pretty-sounding diatonic ideas, with not so much chromaticism, for a brief period. I could find some Gershwin style licks and like them, or find them a bit too corny, as the case might be. Maybe I like doing a lot of quarter note triplets. 

This is not my original idea, of course. I've seen people do this on YouTube. 

Sunday, October 3, 2021


If I become a mourning person 

Some day 

It won't be because I like the a.m. hours.   

Saturday, October 2, 2021

More Magical Realism

 Here is an excellent overview of certain misconceptions about Magical Realism.  

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Sous rature

 Derrida put certain words under erasure

Questioning their ability to refer to things

In an easy way; we understand his schtick. 

We already knew this, in a way, and if we didn’t

We could have learned it from William Bronk too. 

It must be abstract

 The language of humanities bureaucrats is abstract. There is never to be any mention of actual works of art, literature, or philosophy. What takes center stage is the cliché: what it means to live "the good life," for example. Humanities help us to find the meaning of life. Yay!  Humanities skills, as defined in this sort of think piece, are likewise vague, such that they are no longer specifically humanistic. You would want every scientist and social scientist to master "critical thinking," for example. It is arrogant to claim that only humanists know how to think correctly. In my experience, some people in the humanities cannot actually think very well at all. 

So I don't really like the concept of the "humanities" or "the arts" at all. Once you lump these things together the actual content of them seems to dissipate. I love "art" but "the arts" is a term of abstract bureaucracy. 

Sunday, September 26, 2021

The Triumph of Vagueness

Calls for the renewal of the humanities, such as the one referenced in the previous post, first have to paint the situation as dire. The humanities are in a bad shape.

The answer is always something interdisciplinary.  Individual fields are never interesting (English lit, philosophy, art history), only things that cross those boundaries. But why? My own research is interdisciplinary, and that is a good thing (I think), but I have zero interest in the vague promises that these approaches are supposedly offering. I am always interested in highly specific things (what the article cited calls the "esoteric."). The larger value of these works of art, music, or philosophy has to do with the intrinsic interest of the material, not its vague contribution to understanding "what it means to be human." I imagine in a course about what it means to be human nothing would actually be learned, because the entire premise is wrong. 

We should be orienting everything toward "democracy," or "the human condition." The value is always a pragmatic one (allegedly) of addressing The Problems Afflicting Modern Humanity In These Difficult Times.  But we never see what this actually looks like in real life. The pragmatic lesson always boils down to another vagueness, like "critical thinking" or "compassion."  

Now, I'm not knocking the value of democracy, citizenship, thinking, etc...  I just don't like that self  congratulatory tone of the whole thing. I don't think my being a compassionate person, to the extent I am, has anything to do with my profession as a literary critic or "humanist." Many of us poets and critics are plenty narcissistic, for example. You can also be a formidable intellectual in any field of inquiry, whether it is "humanities" or not. 

To propose a pragmatic approach to the humanities through an abandonment of the humanities themselves, that surely can't be the road forward.  


I think my interest in Bronk is that he is always calling bullshit on these things. Intellectual systems for understanding reality are just arbitrary categories we hold on to for dear life, he seems to be saying. I guess he is a philosophical poet writing about the human condition, but the human condition is that we don't know shit.  

The future

The future of the humanities is .... no humanities.  

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Moderate to severe

 On pharma commercials actors talk

Off their"'moderate to severe" symptoms

Of various diseases.  

But surely moderate and severe are opposites?  


 The astrologers have

"We believe in science"

Signs, in their front yards.  

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

"The Jungle"

 One thing young Mayhew did was to go the rare book room and look at the original periodical publication of a William Carlos Williams poem, and use the earlier version as a point of comparison with the poem as it appears in Collected Early Poems. I don't know how I knew to do this, or how I found the poem, etc... There was no internet 40 years ago. If you put me back in 1981 I wouldn't know how to find this poem in The Dial.  

The version I found of my paper must not be the one I turned in, because I remember making other points that are not in this one, and there are some handwritten corrections. I still think my points are valid ones, but of course I would do it a bit differently now. My analysis gets too thick at times. Overall, I think I make some points very effectively, but I don't draw out the larger implications very well. You might say "so what."  

I begin by saying that Williams's poetry is difficult for critics to write about because it is easy to understand. There is nothing for the critic to do. Unlike, say, Stevens, Pound, Eliot. So I show there is something interesting to do to this poem.  

Monday, September 20, 2021

Bent out of shape

 My key broke and I had to get a replacement. When I wrote to the secretary I said, "The key to my office got bent out of shape."  

Then I had to follow that with: "Maybe I said something to offend it."  

I find shit

 I went into my files to look for some of my grad school paper from the 1980s (when I was in grad school). I found the one on Flann O'Brien, the one on Menard, one on O'Hara, one on Koch, another on Barthes, and an essay on translation. A paper about WCW's "The Jungle." These are 40 years old, in some cases. 

I remember these papers pretty well, and don't think they are bad at all. I skewered naive readings of "Pierre Menard" by big names in the field, for example. Rodríguez Monegal. I am not uniformly impressed, and don't want to read every word of what I wrote either. I was not a bad writer, but would not write in quite the same way now, either. That probably doesn't matter, too much. It is strangely moving to find this material, sometimes with professors' notes scrawled on them.  

I guess the take away from this is that I had a perspective on things, my own way of seeing things, and was arguing points. For example, many people had written that William Carlos Williams presented static images, and I was arguing that he had a rhetorical perspective, that he was trying to get people to look at things in a certain way, exhorting them, as it were. Thus the images were dynamic and not static. 

Now, whether you think this is an important point or not, I am clearly correct in this.  The same when I argue that O'Hara was writing elegies rather than "casual" poems about every day life, or that Borges was not presenting some facile point in "Pierre Menard."  I think I am correct in arguing that Flann had an ambivalent attitude toward Joycean modernism.  

Saturday, September 18, 2021



"Be a good person..."

 "Be a good person," they say, but you inherit

from your predecessors an unwinnable war,

epidemics, ecological disasters.

Prolonging the conflict would lead to more death

as would ending it, leaving the country

to same  the brutal fanatics as before. 

By all means, though, "try to be a good person." 

Friday, September 17, 2021


 Now my own ideas are being filtered through the faux-Bronk style. I cannot any longer formulate my own idea for a poem, because it all comes out in that mode. But when I go back to read Bronk, his poems seem quite unlike my own; they are more ponderous, heavier.  My knock-offs seem flippant in contrast. 

That is probably a good thing. At some point I will return to my usual style.  

Sunday School

They taught me about people being "wicked," 

Enough to destroy the world in disgust. I was a young child

And couldn't imagine more than schoolboy mischief

Or tracking mud into the house. It didn't add up. 

Now it does.  

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Dream of SF piano race in the rain and call to mom

 There was a race involving pushing pianos down a steep hill in San Francisco, and running beside them. I was a bit concerned, and asked them whether they were using uprights or grands. It was uprights, and then it occurred to me that the pianos would topple over quickly once they gathered speed. 

I was monitoring the race from a midway point down the hill.  It was raining torrentially and the street had a lot of water in it, such that I feared cars would not be able to get through. I had some kind of radio by which I was telling the race organizers up hill about the problem. I felt no water falling on me, though.  

I called my mom to tell her of the dream. I noticed it was 6 a.m. here, so it would have been 4 a.m. where she lives, in California. I apologized for waking her. This phone call, though, was part of the dream: I did not really wake her, I realized, after I woke up myself. 


 Yes, this is true:  

The missions of our colleges and universities have also changed substantially. Today, most of our academic missions include public engagement, student success and DEI. Yet those mission-critical activities rarely receive adequate attention in the assessment of merit. As we know, if a new scholar actually follows the mission of the institution, the majority of her daily work will not “count” toward promotion and tenure.

Say there is a linguistics department. The "mission" of the department could be defined as "doing linguistics."  That would be the traditional academic definition. Doing linguistics could be research, but also teaching other people to do linguistics. "Merit" would would consist of doing linguistics well, and teaching others to do it well. Should the linguist spend most of the day doing and teaching the field, or most of the day pursuing other ideals unrelated to linguistics? If the latter, then why have linguistics at all?If the field is not valuable enough to pursue on its own terms, then it does make sense that we should have our linguists spend most of the day doing other things. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2021


I was following this trial before the semester began. Robert Durst, in California, is being tried for the murder of his friend Susan Berman 20 years ago. It is a bizarre spectacle, with an obsessed prosecutor, Lewin, Ahab-like, going after the elderly Durst for days of intense cross-examination in minute details about things of no pertinence to anything. At one point, there is an exchange about somebody with the last name of "Weiner" or "Wiener." The prosecutor is insistent that this is not the same name, but Durst says, essentially, it is. Now my friend's last name is Reiber, and she pronounces it "Rye-ber," since she knows German, but the rest of her family (her parents, brother and sisters) says "Reeber." A long exchange on this has almost nothing to do with guilt or innocence in the case. I think many people are aware that these German names can be pronounced in different ways. 

The exchanges went on so long, and Durst bested Lewin enough, that it took on a grotesque, eerie feeling. I wouldn't be surprised by a hung jury here. Many of the court TV people were criticizing Lewin for this. They would know better than I.  

 It is a complex case, because it depends on Durst's supposed murder of his wife in the early 80s. Berman was supposedly blackmailing him, though the prosecutor also said explicitly that it was not blackmail (very confusing theory of the motive!). Berman had been talking to people for years about Durst killing his first wife, and Durst had given money to her for years too, even before the disappearance of his wife.  Isn't the point of blackmail buying someone's silence? And if that were the motive, wouldn't he have killed her years before, since she was telling people this repeatedly? 

They showed a fictionalized movie about the case to the jury. Durst was also in a documentary, called "The Jinx." He is a creepy character for sure, having dismembered one murder victim (and being acquitted for that!) but the prosecution confused me in their arguments. The judge seemed mostly on the prosecution side, overruling many objections, though he also had to admonish Lewin at several points for yelling and getting out of line.   

At one point in the closing argument, the prosecutor violated the "golden rule" rule, according to one of the commenters on Court TV.  You can't ask the jury to put themselves in the place of one of the parties to the case. That right there would be grounds for a mistrial or an appeal. I didn't know of this rule before yesterday, but you can't directly appeal to the empathy of the jury like that, because that urges them take one perspective over the other rather than being impartial.  


 It is hard to explain why Hutcheon's work resonates so little with me. Clearly, she has written about topics many have cared about, at the right time and in a way that makes her general conclusions valid and "citable" for many in the field. Her writing on metafiction, on postmodernism, and on adaptation comes to mind.  I will cite her at appropriate moments, but her work never really moves me or resonates with my own thought.  

Perhaps it is because he work reads like that of someone who is oriented toward narrative fiction, and barely mentions a poem or poet, ever. 

Meta reaches Hispanism

 The trend for metaliterature in Hispanism arrived in the 1980s and was practically orthodoxy in the 1990s. Kronik saw Galdós as self-reflexive, using El amigo Manso but also other novels. Kronik gave NEH seminars, which spread his ideas across the country. Gustavo Pérez Firmat looked at Spanish experimental novels of the 1920s (Idle Fictions, 1982). My late colleague Bob Spires wrote some books on the subject, inspired by Kronik but without Kronik's critical verve (Beyond the Metafictional Mode, Transparent Simulacra). I did my part with The Poetics of Self-Consciousness (1994).  I don't tend to re-read my old work, but I think it was a good book and it has been amply cited. My first book was on poetic self-consciousness too (Claudio Rodríguez). There was Jill Robbin's book on Carnero, etc... 

If the theme seems stale now, it is because we flogged it to death. Also, if we see the crest of the wave as 1979, the year of both Mulligan Stew and If on a Winter's Night, then it stands to reason that the following decades would see the most amount of criticism. This was also the heyday of postmodern literature, before postmodernism was coopted by Lyotard to mean something completely different.  

I never really stopped working on this, but my emphasis shifted. You can study poetics, as the embodied poetic theory of a major poet, without studying poems that talk explicitly about being poems. Meta gets boring, in other words (Juarroz).  


Wars have been fought over theology.

We might as well have fist fights about the rules of chess

Or philosophical debates,

As Wittgenstein once wrote in jest,

About which coffee tastes the best.*


*"You might think Aesthetics is a science telling us what's beautiful - almost too ridiculous for words. I suppose it ought to include also what sort of coffee tastes well."  ---LW.  




 In dreams I am with friends

Not my actual ones but fictional

Strangers, furnished for me

As though to say: we complete the scene.  


Is is arrogance to think

My imitations are close

To the real thing? Yes,

Arrogance of particularly modest sort.  


Galdós was born the same year as Henry James. His Amigo Manso begins by saying "Yo no existo" [and I don't exist] and explaining that he is a fictional character.  James will never break a fictional level in this way, but he will write metafiction of another type ("The Figure in the Carpet").  

Unamuno's Niebla stages the conflict between author and character in explicit terms. He is anxious to say he has chronological precedence over Pirandello. Niebla has a plot similar to El amigo Manso: an ineffectual man falls in love with a woman who marries someone else. Both protagonists die of sadness after suffering indigestion.  

Cervantes is behind all of this. In the anglophone world it might be Sterne, but Unamuno, Borges, are always thinking of Cervantes (Galdós too, probably).  Unamuno shares the same first name, and is constantly playing with Descartes, Shakespeare ("to be or not to be"), and Cervantes, who writes the dedicatory sonnets in the prologue to the Quijote in the voice of characters from the books Don Q liked to read. Borges chooses this to be the book Menard re-writes, not because it has dull platitudes about "las armas y las letras," but because of this metafictional dimension.  

Borges loved tales of action and adventure, but for various reasons he was unsuited to that life. Many of his works, including "Pierre Menard," echo the locus classicus of "las armas y las letras." So this topos does have a metafictional dimension too: the bookish sort imagines battles, but from the comfort of his own library. Cervantes, wounded in war, puts the speech about the superiority of arms over letters in the mouth of a fictional character. One can believe that he really believed that the life of war is superior to writing books. In Borges, this has to become ironical. A man of Menard's generation cannot express these views with a straight face.  Menard, a devoté of Paul Valéry and of chess, is Borges's alter ego.  

"El sur" is also about arms and letters. The narrator-protagonist is bookish sort. After an accident on the staircase, after buying a rare book, he goes to recuperate in the countryside, and is confronted by a gaucho who provokes him into a knife fight out of Martín Fierro.  

Monday, September 13, 2021


 "Do unto others... " they say. 

I'd like others to tie me up

and perform unspeakable acts on me.

I don't think that's what they had in mind. 



From the New York Review of Books:  

"He is skeptical of the 'opioid crisis' (his quotation marks): he believes levels of addiction are exaggerated and sensationalized, and mortality rates inflated by compounding deaths caused by opioids alone with the far larger number of deaths in which alcohol or other sedatives are also involved."

What would you say?  I'm not doubting addicts might use other drugs, including alcohol, at the same time as they use opioids. But these seems to imply that we should only count as opioid deaths those caused only by opioids. How many die from sedatives alone, unless they are trying to kill themselves? Alcohol is a big killer, mostly through accidents and disease, so I'm not discounting that. What you would want to look for is change, how many more people die when you introduce something new into the mix.  

As in the case of other allegations of "moral panic," we have to look at what proportionate vs. "sensationalized" responses might be. To me, the number of about 50,000 annual opioid deaths seems large compared with about 1,000 police shootings, for example. We could say BLM is exaggerated and sensationalized,  by that logic. We have way more black people dying of opioids than the police, and many more white people too. By a weird trick of racism, there have often been more white addicts because doctors wouldn't prescribe as many pills for blacks.    


 Morel was published in 1940, a year after Flann O'Brien. Borges is behind the boom (Cortázar), but the magic-realism version of the boom was a kind of rival to the more metafictional version. JC's stories are obviously indebted to Borges. Bestiario is from 1951, so that's only a decade or so behind Borges's experimental fiction.  

I recently watched Blow Up. This film, set in London, is based on Cortázar story of the same title, but with a quite different plot, similar to the change from Morel to Marienbad. Foucault would be citing Borges in the 1960s, I believe, in The Order of Things, or Les mots et les choses.  

I haven't watched Marienbad in years. 

Borges and O'Brien

 Borges was aware of Joyce and of Flann O'Brien. He reviewed Swim-Two-Birds in 1939. This is the beginning of "postmodernism" in fiction, surely. Borges's own writing would then feed back into metafiction in English. Both Mulligan Stew and If on a Winter Night come out in 1979. This is probably the high point in the story of "postmodern metafiction." By the time Obabakoak comes out, in 1988, these techniques are super familiar.  Now they are still interesting, but as representatives of a style of the past, not as a new technique. I guess a very young person might be excited by it still. I am excited too, but in a kind of nostalgic way. 

It strikes me that there is not much connection between postmodernism in poetry and in fiction. Someone like Linda Hutcheon can write a whole book on postmodernism, another on parody, and not mention any poets ever. It's true Sorrentino was poet, too, as was Harry Mathews, but these connections are tenuous. People reading John Barth were not interested in poetry, and people reading Frank O'Hara weren't interested in Pynchon, maybe.  Borges was poet, but his poetry appeals to a more conservative, less speculative taste than his essays and stories. I've been reading La invencíon de Morel, too, which has a connection to the French nouveau roman. (Last year at Marienbad.). ?? 

Those novelists Guerard liked were not interesting to me, now or then. I don't remember who they are any more. 

Flann O'Brien

 I re-read At Swim-Two-Birds, since I had it in my office. I remember a paper I wrote in Grad School on it, for Albert Guerard. He was champion of postmodern metafiction, but somehow this novel did not resonate with him at all. He said it was too close to "standard realism," which I found a bizarre judgment. Guerard also said I used too many clichés in my writing, which I suppose might have been true at that time. 

Now you can not like the novel for any number of reasons: any reason except for that particular reason, that is. I probably discovered Flann O'Brien from Frank O'Hara or Gilbert Sorrentino. Sorrentino's Mulligan Stew is obviously inspired in part by At Swim-Two-Birds. The idea of a novel within a novel within a novel, with characters rebelling against their author.  

I interpreted the novel as Bildungsroman. The narrator ends by seeing the humanity in his uncle, who previously was seen as figure of ridicule.  He passes his exams and the uncle gives him a watch as a present. The metafictional writing becomes a mode of self-discovery. I don't think I have the paper any more. My friend at the time Joe Conte also wrote about it at some point in grad school and published an article, if I am not mistaken. 

I went on to read The Third Policeman, possibly even more brilliant than ASTB, and virtually everything else he wrote, but haven't been re-reading him in the ensuing years. O'Brien, whose birth name is Brian O'Nolan, wrote a lot in Irish for newspapers, satirical columns which have been translated into English. 

Now this kind of metafiction seems a bit cliché, but it was not cliché when O'Brien did it. He was writing this when Calvino was still doing "standard realism." It was published in 1939.  


 I know I've said I don't revise.

Equally true: nothing ever remains

The same.


There is an itch we can't scratch:


Friday, September 10, 2021

The Problem

 I could write imitations of Bronk's ideas using Bronk's own language (more or less), or I could put my own ideas in a Bronkian language, or put Bronkian ideas in a language alien to him, or put my own ideas in a language not Bronkian at all. That would be throwing away the crutch.  

Eventually, it will evolve in this direction, just as as my bad poems evolved into good ones. 

My new challenge is a poet we might call facilón.  He's from Granada and teaches in Virginia, has all the prizes and translated by Forché in one of the best poetry presses in the US.  His work is just pretty and super facile, like a Spanish Mary Oliver.  

Thursday, September 9, 2021


     Some call me Doctor Mayhew

But we all know

I haven't cured shit


 I wrote a short, unsatisfactory poem yesterday. 

I could revise it now, but what makes me think

Yesterday's idea needs to be restated in the light of a new day? 


Eternal, beatific stasis appeals to some--

Dreading, by the same token, equally enduring pain and dissatisfaction. 

On this they bet all the have to lose: 

A short, numinous life.  


The world made an obscene proposition to me one day:

Live here a while, have a career, friends, 

Try to satisfy yourself with things or ideas.  

Wednesday, September 8, 2021


Much as I take out the garbage on a regular basis, sift through my books in search of duplicates, attempt to forget insignificant (or inconvenient) details of my past, I tend to accumulate objects and memories of no particular use to me. Various forms of "build-up" or residue are amassed in corners or crevasses, even though I have very few rooms in which this might happen. Fire is not a practical, or legal, solution. 

Short of that, I think of the beauty of a hotel. There one could go with very few things and get by well for a week or so, not missing anything in particular.  

Tuesday, September 7, 2021


 When they told me as a kid Noah walked with God

I took it literally; I saw them in my mind's eye 

taking a walk together. 

If only belief were that


 The world treats you badly;

no raises for years, a mediocre existence.

You might be revered, admired, beloved

but for the wrong reasons; despised, maybe, for the right ones.

Or the world could simply be indifferent to you

not taking note of you as you walk down its corridors. 

It would be comforting, then, it you could pay it 

for its cruelty. Then, at least, the rules of the game would be clear. 

Monday, September 6, 2021

Gender / Beauty Ratios

 I've been looking at some of Andrew Gelman's critiques of Kanazawa's studies of gender differentials in birth. Kanazawa argues that violent and tall men are more likely to have sons. Beautiful people are more likely to have daughters. Things like that.  

Gelman's critique is on the stats. The idea is that the difference in the gender between beautiful and unbeautiful people's first child is indistinguishable from noise. The effect has to be greater than the normal margin of statistical noise to be significant. If the children of beautiful parents are only slightly more likely to be female, then who cares any way?  

It seems to me, you have to look at this on several levels.  First, you have to have a story, a theory of why beautiful people would have more daughters. The idea is that beauty is a more important attribute for women, so it would be a more desirable trait to pass on to your female offspring than your male. In my view this is your standard evolutionary psychology bullshit.  In other words, there is no actual evidence that this story has any validity, but it conforms to the ideology of certain evolutionary psychologists, which Gelman explain as a "schoolyard" mentality: "the idea that, because of evolution, all people are equivalent to all other people, except that all boys are different from all girls."  

Next, you have to have a biological mechanism for translating the advantage of female offspring into the reproductive process. In other words, how do the reproductive systems of the parents know  they are supposed to produce female offspring? Beauty is not a single genetic feature, like red hair, but an amalgam of multiple biological and social factors, including access to healthy food, dentistry, or gymnasia. Does the beautiful woman's fallopian tubes know how to select which sperm get to enter? How exactly does this work, anyway? Does the pretty boy dad produce more x chromosome sperm than the tall, violent dad does? 

Then, you would have to have the solid data to make a significant result. It seems to me, though, that the weakness of the initial story, and the lack of a clear biological mechanism, is at least as serious as the lack of statistical significance.  

Put another way: normally, science should work the other way around. We should observe something strange and then try to explain it. Suppose it was true that pretty people produced way more daughters than average folk, so much so that everyone knew this to be the case. Then a scientist could come along and try to figure out why, both the theory (the story) and the mechanism, the way it actually happens biologically. Ideological science starts the other way: you have a story, and then you try to find empirical confirmation of it after the fact.    

Subirats on Castro

 "Fue paradójicamente Américo Castro, el mismo que cuestionó los principios constituyentes del nacionalcatolicismo español, quien formuló el concepto de una hegemonía moral y lingüística de España sobre Iberoamérica en un sentido que no difería en lo fundamental de la unidad heroica y católica de la Hispanidad formulado años antes  por el fundador de la Falange, Ramiro de Maeztu."

The fallacy of the one-sided bet

The fallacy of the one-side bet is the presentation of something with very small odds as though it were more or less a 50/50 proposition, with evidence for and against that one would have to weigh. So suppose you thought there were only two colors, red and black, and were trying to calculate the odds of a card turning up red or black. But this deck of cards has a million colors. Once you get locked on the binary opposition, then you are tricked into a particular way of thinking, looking at lottery tickets as though they were coin tosses.  

One example Andrew gives is the idea of "opportunity cost" in economics. Sure, everything has an opportunity cost, because doing something, or spending money on something, means not doing something else, or not spending the money elsewhere. But since the other things I could be doing instead of what I am doing now are infinite, how do we conceptualize what I am giving up? I'm not sure if this is what he means by the idea that opportunity cost is a fallacy, but this is what I have always thought of the concept.  

Sunday, September 5, 2021

William Bronk

 William Bronk, 1918-1999


This store sells many kinds of drums and cymbals,

sticks and brushes, drum hardware. 

We come in to look at new products, glossy brochures,

vintage snares. We are happy and engaged.   

Often we make small or large purchases;

children, and some adults, take lessons in the basement.  


Afterwards it is as if none of this had mattered.

[Here's a poem I found in my files.  Probably it is my first fake Bronk poem. ]


 Sleep is urgent, pursued with violent desperation 

and only attained in surrender and relaxation 


 Coming back to the real poems of Bronk

I find them more varied, more full of a life not my own

and richer than my own, possibly. 

They are less abstract than I had imagined, 

stranger, and more beautiful even in their abstraction, 

resembling very little my crude caricatures. 

I like the way he fools you with what I might call a "dullness around the edges" 

then hits hard with a poem you never saw coming.  



Fancy pens and notebooks will not make these poems any better. 

Who said they would? 

At least we will enjoy using our supplies while they last.


We call them grand and petty...  


As though we had a choice in the matter.

Moot Court

 People dress up to try imaginary cases. 

Judge and jury, prosecutor, defendant and defense attorney,

Witnesses to the made-up events, witnesses who have seen nothing. 

So we testify, too, in our abject ignorance.  


 I just read an interview with Bronk. He didn't revise much; Ashbery was the same way. I won't revise a poem much, either. A friend of mine said, yes, well, but you write the casual Frank O'Hara style poem, so that's why. I guess he is right, though it sounds a bit dismissive too. It implies a lack of effort, but effort does not really mean anything. Is a poem that is harder to write better, or worse? No, there is not correlation at all, though the illusion of effortlessness certainly is more attractive to me.  

It's not really arrogance. I am arrogant about some things, maybe, but I don't think my reluctance to revise comes from there. My poem could very well be of inconsequential value, or fall flat in any number of ways. It's more that a poem that I think is not very interesting in the first place is not worth revising either. I've never taken a bad poem and improved it into a good one. Wouldn't that time be better spent writing something else more interesting in the first place?    

A line or concept pops into my head. The words with which the idea presents itself are pretty much the words I want to use. I can add more to the initial idea, or group similar short poems together, or tweak a line or two. Re-writing long sections, though, is foreign to my concept of writing poetry.  

It is the opposite with non-fiction prose, which I will be constantly reworking.  Here is a poem inspired by Wittgenstein on the impossibility of giving money to oneself (Why can't my right hand give my left hand money? -- My right hand can put it into my left hand. My right hand can write a deed of gift and my left hand a receipt. -- But the further practical consequences would not be those of a gift.)

I hire myself as a housekeeper

I arrive when I know I will not be there

and let myself in with a key that I have given myself

I am dressed in women's clothing

I know how I would like it to be cleaned, though I am not a good cleaner

I clean for myself, and for the salary I am paying myself

When I come back later I see that I have cleaned the house

I transfer money from one account to another and return the key to myself


The origin of parody

 For me, parody arises as I read a poet and then begin to think in phrases that are reminiscent of that poet's style. Then the next poem that occurs to me will fall into that particular cadence. The humor will be secondary, a product of the distance between my imitation and the object being imitated. I can play up this distance, for more comic effect, or simply let this distance be what it is.  There is nothing disrespectful about parody, in the way I practice it. I love Bronk's work, and have been reading it since the late 1980s, I would guess. Even the things I recognize as being not conventionally good as poems elicit my appreciation--for example the excessive use of abstraction or the flatness of tone. What I like is his ability to get away with it, or to play by his own rules. 

I also don't mind being derivative. Why not take all the world offers to you?     


I see cardinal visit backyard feeder 

or in the field, a flash of red among other wild birds.

One sighting is not better than another.  


These poems are derivative--

imitations of another's work,

more or less good at being that, but nothing more. 

Why not take all the world offers you?