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I am posting this as a benchmark, not because I think I'm playing very well yet.  The idea would be post a video every month for a ye...

Friday, June 18, 2021


 from our local newspaper:

KU says it won’t use controversial faculty termination policy; 18-year-olds can now conceal-carry firearms


 There was an article about an African script that some of my FB friends highlighted. It was supposed to be a great intervention against Eurocentrism, or the supposition that only Europeans are literate. But then, in the middle of the article, the revelation that the real mistake is to see literacy itself as a great cultural achievement... So the logic... Africans have developed writing systems too (not a great surprise, since Carthage was a Phoenecian city), but writing systems are not a big deal in the first place?? The intellectual incoherence is striking. 

Thursday, June 17, 2021

False quote of Unamuno

 «El fascismo se cura leyendo y el racismo se cura viajando». This was not said by Unamuno. The correct sentence is by Pío Baroja and is ""el carlismo se cura leyendo y el nacionalismo viajando".  

So they have Unamuno sdaying "fascism is cured by reading and racism by traveling."  The real quote, by someone else, is that "Carlism is cured by reading and nationalism by traveling."  I don't even know if people talked about "racism" in Spain in the 1930s. Even in the US growing up in the 1970s I heard more about being "prejudiced" or "bigoted." Unamuno was racist himself, I'm pretty sure.  

There are a lot of people who have read a lot of books and traveled to other places who are racists and fascists.   


 The New York Review of Books quotes poetry in italics. Since the columns are very narrow (four to a page), even many short lines of verse will not fit, and have to be extended to two lines via indentation, so the poetry quoted in any article is nearly illegible.  There is no particular reason to use italics (they quote prose in roman type). The problem of the narrow columns then would be not so bad. 

This mistreatment of verse seems an accidental by-product of a format designed for prose, but it has unintended consequences. When they print a poem as a contribution, they enclose it in a box perfectly suited to its length and width, never breaking a line where is isn't sposed to be broken.   

A short phone conversation

 I once reviewed a book for a press, prepublication. It wasn't bad, just thin in a few places, as though the author had read only the poet sh/e was studying in the book / dissertation. This was a long time ago, before email, I think. I don't recall the poet or the author of the book, but I think it was for Bucknell. They used to publish everyone's dissertation on Spanish poetry, including mine. I did my normal job, trying to be both rigorous and helpful. The editor of the press called me up one day (this is why I think it was before email) and read to me the highly appreciative letter he had got from the author, how helpful I had been, etc... He just read it to me, I thanked him, and he hung up. I didn't think much about it in years since then, but today I was thinking of a harsh review I wrote about a book on Brines, how I would not do that today. 

I like to think I have always wanted to be both helpful and rigorous. Kronik, Fernández Cifuentes, and a few others were know for harsh book reviews. I've done some myself, but will not in the future. I think such criticism is valid and necessary, but I just don't think anymore that I am the one the needs to do it.    

Monday, June 14, 2021

Swimming Dream

 I was traveling somewhere but by water, swimming. I was worried about my devices, apple watch and phone, getting wet and ruined. Other than that, there was no sense of effort, struggle, or danger, and the water did not feel cold or wet in the slightest. 

Wednesday, June 2, 2021


 I will be declogging & unblogging in the next few weeks, until  the Ides of Junes or thereabout.  Then I'll be reblogginging again, as Sumer is icumen in.  

Traje de conserje

 Lorca's King of Harlem is dressed in a "traje de conserje." This is commonly translated as a "janitor's suit." Yet I have pictured it in my mind as a doorman, dressed up a bit with a top hat, almost the opposite image. He's the king of Harlem because he is well dressed? Maybe at a nightclub or hotel?  

The word can mean building superintendent (who does maintenance), concierge, doorman. Don't forget that the word janitor means doorman too, etymologically. Doesn't it come from Janus

How are we picturing the janitor's suit in New York, 1929? I guess I'd have to go back and look at photos or films from the period. In The New Janitor (1914) Chaplin wears a tie but is shabbily dressed.  Same for Buster Keaton in a similar role. 

Could black men be doormen in the 1920s in New York? Surely for Harlem jazz club. Maybe Lorca would have said portero if he meant that, but a portero can also do cleaning tasks. 

Perhaps I'm overthinking it. I'm thinking subservient and out of place, but at the same time a bit dressy.  

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Ultima necat

 I translated some poems from this book, Ultima necat, by Cordoba poet Manuel Álvarez Ortega. The title is ultima necat, so I looked it up. It comes from a Latin saying sometimes found inscribed on clocks: All the hours wound, the last one kills.  Omnes vulnerant, ultima necat.  

The entire book seems to describe funereal rites. 

Neco is a verb that means to kill, but used more metaphorically. Cognate to Greek necro.  


Granada is a Ford. Seville is a Cadillac (gm.). Cordoba is a Chrysler.  So the big three US automakers divided up the three great Andalusian cities?  Shouldn't that be an antitrust investigation.  


 Yay! Our "sonic humanities" seminar has been accepted. I literally read an email from the humanities center, came up with an idea, asked my colleague if she wanted to co-sponsor it with me, wrote the thing up in a few hours, revised it in another 30 minutes based on her suggestions, and submitted it. 

Of course, for all I know nobody else submitted anything. But still I should get points for doing it when nobody else thought of it.  

Froid de limites

 I have this edition of Frío de límites, signed to me by Gamoneda. It is the first edition, with some art work by Tapies, but also the first French edition, since it has a translation by Jacques Ancet, who is French translator / poet / Hispanist. 

Anyway, the French version sounds kind of cool. It is not demonstrably worse than the original. What strikes me about it, though, is that the search for the mot juste is made easier by the fact that translation between two romance languages is going to depend a lot on cognates: 

Gritan las serpientes en las celdas del aire. / Les serpents crient dans les cellules de l'air. 

La ebriedad sube desde las piernas femeninas y tú pones tus labios en los líquidos. / L'ebriété monte des jambes féminines et toi tu tu poses tes lèvres sur les liquides. 

This how is it should be.  A Spanish and French word derived from the same Latin root, and synonymous, like labios / levres (lips), are almost the same word. Not only is the translation virtually word-for-word, but the lexicon is pre-determined. Of course there will be differences. Compare mujer,  femme, donna, words for woman derived from three separate Latin words. But, I must say, this kind of translation is not particularly interesting and can feel almost mechanical. 

Now English has at least three strata: Anglo-Saxon words; French words, entering the language after Norman times; and latinate words taken directly from Latin (without French intervention). So inebriation would be a cognate to ebriedad / ebrieté, but the Anglo-Saxon lexicon is considered more basic and direct: drunkenness.  

The English-language translator, then, often loses the etymological resonance, since the basic directness is more effective. When translating Manuel Alvarez Ortega, I feel that the etymological resonance is important, since his tone is a bit portentous. He is not trying to be colloquial or imaging a speaker actually saying these lines as some kind of dramatic utterance. 

An example. He is fond of the word "oficio." In normal Spanish, this means a trade or craft. In English, it means an office (despacho / oficina), but MAO means it in the sense of ritual. I remember a phrase from a poem by Robert Hayden: "love's austere and lonely offices." That the is mot juste in this poem, a common word used uncommonly. To get to these definitions of words derived from officium, you have to go to the end of the list of definitions in both English and Spanish dictionaries. 

Alvarez Ortega: I was asked to translate some poems....


Friday, May 28, 2021

Sonic Humanities

 A colleague Araceli and I are proposing a seminar at our Humanities Center on Sonic Humanities. I wasn't sure what that was, but the phrase popped into my head and when I googled it, there was very little. The only place I found it was in the description of a podcast. My colleague is a little hipper to these things than I am. We'll see if it gets approved in the competition, and whether we get a lot of interest.  It's worth a shot.  


 My girlfriend wrote an article on the Tulsa massacre

Anyway, I  remember reading about it first in a book of poems by Ron Padgett. Just in the middle of one of his books of poems, there is account of the events, something which is totally surprising given the mostly humorous nature of his works. Ron is from Tulsa, and he and Joe Brainard, with some help from Berrigan, started the Tulsa branch of the New York School poets. Berrigan is somehow involved, despite being from Providence. These writers ended up in New York. 

Ron P. also has a book called Among the Blacks. Half of it is a translation of a text by Roussel with this title, and the other half a memoir of race relations in Tulsa. It is a kind of strange juxtaposition, similar to the account of the race riot in his book of poems. He also has a memoir of his father, who was an Oklahoma bootlegger, after the country as a whole had revoked prohibition but some parts remained dry, including Tulsa and maybe all of the state. (Tulsa Tough). Another favorite Padgett book of mine is called Creative Reading. Padgett also wrote the poems for Jim Jarmusch's Paterson.  

It is an improbable path. To start reading New York school poetry in high school in Tulsa OK and then to become that kind of poet. You couldn't invent that kind of story in a novel because it is not verisimilar.   

Anyway, check out Beth's and forgive the digression.  


 I was reading about how to write (and not write) a diversity statement. I won't have to write one myself, probably, but what strikes me is how it asks the candidate to construct their subjectivity according to certain discursive rules. Literally, that is what it is. The institution (which has already admitted it is white dominated, in a lot of cases), then asks the subject to define themselves in preordained terms. For example, I have read it is not enough to say "I am [name of minority group]."  You must also articulate that identity in particular ways. Certain kinds of diversity don't count, only those defined in terms of under-representation, and the minority subject must understand themselves in the correct framework in order to demonstrate understanding of the issues. An understanding driven by the interests of corporate diversity consultants. That puts an added burden on the minority subject, who must also be able to explain what kind of a minority subject they are and how that furthers an institutional agenda. Where is Foucault when you need him? Or Althusser? 

As white guy, you can't just say you don't discriminate. You can't be too eager, or you will be the white savior. International and immigrant experience doesn't count, because the only relevant perspective is US race relations.     

I would feel insincere writing one of these. I guess I could say I am a specialist on a gay, Spanish speaking poet, that I've mentored women, gays, latinos, etc... My daughter is bi-racial, too. It just seems incredibly self-serving, because it's not something I congratulate myself on. It seems unremarkable rather than meritorious in any way. The person reading it would say that it's the typical white guy looking for points in his favor, but who doesn't really buy in to the exact brand of hyperconscious anti-racism of the past few years. And they would be right. 


An example. My friend, XXXX, is chicano but with Anglo-sounding name because of his Anglo father.  In MFA writing program he tried to study with YYYY, a poet of a different, also non-white ethnicity. This poet wanted my friend to write a certain kind of chicano poems that didn't really reflect my friend's experience or sensibility. It did not go well for my friend, who had to drop out of the program.   


Another example: Englishman interviewing in my department. He couldn't answer the question about how he positions himself in relation to indigenous languages and the people who speak them, in the expected way at least. He was brilliant, but not fluent in American academic diversity language. He actually would have brought viewpoint diversity to our group. It was explicitly said: "He doesn't think like us." 

Thursday, May 27, 2021


 I lose objects--not with great frequency but often enough to cause me some concern. I rarely leave home, and when I do, I bring very few objects with me. Few people enter my house, and the loss of objects is not correlated with their visits. If that's what you were thinking. 

My place of residence is small, with few places where objects can be effectively hidden. I have an office in the university I rarely use. Objects can be lost there, too, but not if I don't go there. 

A book, for example can be concealed on a shelf of books. It is not the needle in the haystack that is difficult to find (contrary to popular wisdom), but the hay in the haystack. I mean, of course, a particular, unique piece of hay, indistinguishable in almost all respects from the others. I have lost books this way, though once in a while a book will reveal itself to me again in the exact place it ought to be. 

Other misplaced objects sometimes appear. Some do not appear and eventually the pain of their loss subsides. 

Wednesday, May 26, 2021


 Bird song is not even a metaphor: it is a catachresis, like when we talk about the "teeth" of a saw or the "legs" of a table. But is not even that. It is more like the word phrase or meter, words used for two separate but analogous things, without one being a metaphor for the other. That is: we view the teeth of a saw as a metaphorical extension of animal or human teeth to something else, but with bird song, this is not a metaphorical extension of human song, but song itself. 

The bright red of the male cardinal. The female cardinal is attracted to it, and we like it too. In other words, we appreciate the beauty of something that already has a functional beauty of its own. 

May 26

 Dickcissel, goldfinch, bunting, cowbird, heron, egret, sparrow, cardinal, wren, blackbird, swallow, grackle... 

And the usual birdfeeder birds... 

To be able to identify 40 birds is to know a few hundred things about birds. If you have seen a bird, you know where you have seen it, what it was doing, how often you see it, whether you see it alone or in flocks. You might also know a few other random facts about it, like its relation to humans (is it popular or hated? what does it symbolize?).  

I love this style:

 A la atención de: Jonathan Mayhew. Buenas tardes. 

Soy J,,,  presidente de la Fundación y te escribo para agradecerte en nombre de la Fundación y en el mío propio, tu disponibilidad y apoyo al colaborar en las actividades de homenaje y recuerdo a [nombre del poeta]. Actividades, que como sabes, tendrán lugar el próximo día 14 de junio, organizadas por la Universidad Complutense de Madrid y coordinadas por el profesor _______ ..

Tanto la Fundación ....  como la Universidad de ... , en el marco de los acuerdos suscritos entre estas dos instituciones, también colaboran y participan en las actividades de recuerdo y homenaje al poeta.


Deseo manifestarte, que me tienes a tu disposición y si me haces llegar tu dirección postal, te haremos llegar algunos libros y publicaciones sobre la obra de  [nombre del poeta].


Muchas gracias por todo


Embrace the struggle--and one step beyond that toward "the good sigh"

 What is the cure for all that ails me? One of my mottos is "embrace the struggle." In other words, see the struggle itself as something of value. Another approach comes from my friend Bob:

'“We realize we have made a friend when in a relationship we are able to suppress that special disappointment which follows getting to know him, her, anyone – even oneself – well,” wrote my old University at Buffalo professor Lionel Abel. It is sweet to remember those first resigned sighs, from my loyal friends. The essence of friendship is neither correction nor therapy.'

Here the idea is to treat oneself like a friend. I have been having a hard time accepting the numerous flaws in my own make up. My lazy and dilettantish nature, for example. I tell myself that these kind of thoughts do not actually do anyone any good. In other words, me, sitting by myself and wishing I had a different nature is of literally no use to myself, or anyone else in the world. The second step is to think that these supposed flaws are actually part of the overall dynamic that makes me tick. 

Unamuno has an interesting take on envy. You cannot really envy someone, because that is wishing for the obliteration of the self. He's not talking about envy of what someone has, but of envy of what someone is. To wish to be someone else is nonsensical, because then one would no longer be one's own self. I am probably summarizing this with some inaccuracy, because I don't have the text in front of me, but that's the idea that's stuck with me all these years, after either reading it or having someone explain it to me. 

So the idea here is not self-acceptance, but a step beyond that. Actively embrace those features of one's self. 

Two caveats here: This does not preclude the possibility of growth. In fact, it is only through embracing deficiencies that growth is possible. Otherwise, the first squack on a violin would be the end of every violinist's career. You could earnestly pick up a violin, try to play it for 15 seconds, and cheerfully conclude that you have no talent. 

I can look back at difficult moments and also remember that that was when I also took up musical composition, so I must have been doing something right. 

The second, related caveat is that this does not excuse being an asshole. "Oh, that's just me! I'm mean-spirited," etc... It doesn't work like that. You can't just embrace your own flaws and be ungenerous with everyone else's.  It's a little bit like the extra clause to the golden rule--for all the masochists out there! "Do unto others..." doesn't work if one likes to be abused. "Love thy neighbor..." implies a certain self-love to begin with. In zen we often say that the assholes's behavior stems from their own duhkha

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

I remember...

 I remember cheaply bound editions of the classics, how their spines would break half way through the first reading, the pages detaching softy in my hands. 

Then, the return to the classroom through clouds of tobacco smoke; fumes of buses.  

The words resounded in my head beneath clouds scattered by the wind.  


It struck me I could repurpose a particular poetic rhetoric, simply putting images from my own experience in place of the original. It is a way of gaining access to these images, which ought to be accessible to me but are not without a particular rhetoric that makes them poetically intelligible.  

I was thinking

 I hate pretentiousness, but then when I was thinking this I thought that having a strong dislike of a quality means, most of all, disliking it in one's self. I cannot do much about the pretentiousness of the rest of the world; I can only control my own. 

I was reading a William Logan review of an edition of Emily Dickinson. He skewers some of the pretentious claims here. When she ran out of room on the page she carried a line over, but this is not a "line break" in the post WCW sense. Her use of envelopes to write on was a common practice when paper was expensive. You would use every possible scrap, so this was not unique to her. Her frequent use of dashes and capitalized nouns was also fairly common in the period, not some pre-modernist gesture. 

Unlike other people who hate Logan for writing [mostly] negative reviews, I like him for skewering a lot of pretentious stuff like this. Even if we see this poet as a precursor of modernist quirkiness, it is significant to see how much of her own time she was as well. I don't agree with Logan on a lot of things, but he comes by his opinions honestly and never pretends to like something he doesn't.  He is insightful about the kind of poetry he does like, and about the pretention of what he calls "the arrogance of style," a phrase he coins about the insufferable Jorie Graham.  

Dream of ice

 I was taking a walk with my mom in a park. We were talking about ice skating. Then the ground was frozen solid and I was skating at an exhilarating pace, with just my shoes on, along with many other people, kids and adults. I seemed very safe, with no fear either of falling, or of the ice breaking. I reversed directions a few times so as not to get too far ahead. At one point I wasn't sure of what direction I was going, or whether I knew how to turn around. At this point, the ice had melted. I turned around and so a group of people, I looked for my mom and she was standing there in the group of people. Then my 6:00 a.m. alarm rang... 

Monday, May 24, 2021

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Adventures in peer review

 I reviewed two articles last week. One, about a figure in Spanish poetry and theory who is very interesting to me, and a personal friend. The article, unfortunately, showed not effort in organization and style. It was written in long, Faulknerian sentences and the argument was impossible to follow.  Rejected, or required major revisions. 

The other one I accepted. It was the second version of a paper I had reviewed earlier, and the author made honest effort to tighten the argument up and followed most of my suggestions. It wasn't brilliant, and not the sort of thing that I would recommend anyone do know, but it solid Derridean criticism we might have seen in the 90s. Well-written and organized.   

Job Interview

 I was on a job interview. My host and I were walking through vast passageways in kind of university or shopping mall with all the buildings connected. We were wearing some kind of martial arts or zen robes. I saw Chris Soufas, and said hi. He was very, very tall, around twice my height. I wondered why they were already interviewing me if Soufas already worked there, but then realized he was another candidate interviewing for the position. That made me reinterpret his words to me. 

A small girl, of 8 or so, opened an envelope and said: "These are the questions: what qualifies you for this position?" and ....?  This was very cute. I was ushered into the room. The four interviewers were sitting very close to one another in a single row. There were very small chairs that I could sit on, against the wall, facing the four or them. 

They asked me the first question, and I launched into an eloquent discussion of my book on Lorca and music: "I've become a specialist in the song," I said. 

I kept waking up, finding myself in bed, and then falling asleep and resuming the dream. I knew, then, that this was a dream, but during the dream I still wanted to do well on the interview. I was somewhat anxious about the clothes, since to sleep I was wearing only boxer shorts. Going through the effort of the interview made my sleep far from restful.  I was wheezing a bit, too. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

I've been working

 I've been working only one morning again on my project, abandoned for a while as I saw the semester through, and already I came up with an idea: music based on Lorca is not really all that oriented toward Lorca himself as biographical subject. It is much more oriented toward the complexity of his work, with all of its possible subject positions.  

Here are two examples

"The most direct answer come from Bizet, Debussy, Ravel... and Glinka, all of whom have 'told' us through their widely disseminated works what they take Spanish music to be."

"the many paradoxes in the musical history of this 'peripheral' country confronting modernism."

These are quote from the musicologist Carol Hess that I use in one of my chapters. She is a very good writer, and her work is impressive. I wouldn't use quotations marks around these words. Either Spain is peripheral or it is not. If it is, drop the quotation marks. If it isn't, rephrase. 

Obviously, (well, obviously to me), this mannerism arose out of deconstruction. All of sudden the "language" we use to describe "things" came into "question."  It seemed "naive" to use words that were "problematic" in this way, so everything had to be put under erasure.  Since we still had to use words to "communicate," we could "signal" our distance "from" them typographically.  

A word like "aesthetic" could be used, but only in quotes, otherwise the reader might think we actually believe in "aesthetics," god forbid. The word in italics functions in the opposite way: here we are saying that this word solves our problems, as in the word cultural

quotation marks

 You almost never need quotation marks, "scare quotes," around a term. When I am editing my own work I almost always take them out. They imply a distance from one's own language and are visually distracting. Like many other things, this is an aesthetic preference. 

I sometimes like to italicize words to give them some emphasis, but that too is to be avoided as much as possible. If the emphasis is not apparent from the sentence itself, change the sentence, or simply trust the reader.   

Saturday, May 15, 2021


 A week ago, I drew a hand very hastily and badly. In frustration, I quit for a week. I started again today, and drew one about as good as the day before my bad attempt. Progress is not linear. It may be that I make no progress at all in a year, or that I already know how to draw the hand, but have to learn to get out of my way by not hurrying the process: making a drawing too hastily in the self-sabatoging belief I cannot do it.  

2nd dream of sister

 I was trying to repeat, by ear, a very simple piano exercise she was playing for me.  It sounded stiff, so I played her one of my own compositions. She asked for the title, and I gave her the first few words: "You and I."  

Friday, May 14, 2021

Dream of sister

 In my dream last night I was talking with my sister and my mom. I suddenly realized that my sister could talk lucidly, with only a slight difficulty. Her dementia was "in remission" for a time. I cannot remember anything she said, but she was very affectionate toward me.  My mom was there, but the focus was on my sister.   

[In real life: my sister cannot talk, walk, or feed or herself. She is advanced stage of frontotemporal lobe dementia.]


 For our new DEIB committee, it was suggested somewhat facetiously that we put x, y, and z on it and let them torture each other. Kind of like on "The Good Place." People who have left the department for other places tell horror stories of some of us. These people could be the reason why some women have left. Some who talk a good equity game are among the worst offenders. 

It won't do to have a training in which it is explained to us that you can't assume a Chinese person is good at math or touch a black person's hair.  People in conflict with one another in my department wage their wars by other means. 

The language of DEIB is really the language of the corporate neoliberal university, according to my colleague. For example, it the COVID statement on annual reviews was made mandatory in the name of equity, but this is asking people to divulge personal information that can be used against them (potentially!), since tenure protections have been weakened. 

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Three kinds of sexists

 I had [virtual] coffee with a former colleague today. She said there were three kinds of sexists in evidence (not in reference to any particular person or persons, though some names may have been in my mind and hers). I am embellishing it a bit, but this is essentially what she said. 

The patronizing uncle.  [Apparently benevolent, but obstructing and making things difficult at all times, slowing things down impossibly, with 3,000 word emails, overthinking every damned thing.]

The strict father. [Impossible to please. Also obstructing, in a "father knows best" mode.] 

The macho asshole. [Arrogant, thinks he is better than everyone else. Everyone knows he is machista, except for him.]

The graveyard of abandoned projects

 There are several books I thought of writing, began writing, and didn't write. Rather than seeing these lost books in a melancholic framework, I see them as part of the inevitable "shadow c.v."  I learned from them all, I published fragments of most of them, and ideas have fed into other projects. 

Just imagine if you didn't have that!  Then all that you know would be in what you've published. You would know nothing more than that.  

Locus solus

 Reading these issues of Locus solus it is fun to see otherwise unpublished poem and stories by classic New York School poets, and poems by the painter Larry Rivers. It is rather shocking to find so much original material... The magazine was published by Harry Mathews in Europe, and has a very bare bones approach. No visual illustrations or contributor notes. Mathews probably funded it, and includes long excerpts from his early novel The Conversions, inspired by Roussel (Locus solus is the title of Roussel novel). 

Hell is other people's writing

 I mean this in the best way... and the worst. Since I have strongly ingrained preferences about how I want to write, having to give a critique of someone else can be painful. My aim is to help, but I cannot just say why didn't you do it the way I like it.  My preferences are for concrete detail, dazzling clarity, but a high degree of information per page. 

I found an old research statement, probably written for a post-tenure review. Reading this I almost feel cleansed after reading some things by other people that dragged me down:   

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

50 books

 I've had this idea for some time. Write 5 pages each on 50 books of Spanish poetry of the 20th and early twentieth centuries. I've called it something Desde mis estantes. It would be my personal canon, with the omissions as significant as what is in there. Of course I need to put in 3 Lorca books (at least) and two Machado, but the rest will be one book per poet. 


"and I shall never make my LORCAESCAS

            into an opera. I don't write opera."  --Frank O'Hara

This will be my epigraph, I think. I rediscovered this poem today, though of course it was the centerpiece of my O'Hara chapter of the first Lorca book.  The implication is multiple.  That O'Hara has some "lorcaescas," in other words, poems in imitation of Lorca. That these could be set to music. That he himself could do it if he wanted, but he won't. It's not his bailiwick, but it could be.  


 I was walking and heard a loud whistle. I turned and there was an indigo bunting. Then a few yards down the woodland path another one, almost as though they wanted me to seem them. Now there is avian life in great profusion. Herons, egrets, sandpipers, and large numbers of blackbirds, swallows, and sparrows. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Discussions not worth having

 Guy on facebook: "When I read the NYRB I visit a world in which only men have opinions."

Me: "I have been reading it for decades, and have been following many writers like Marcia Angell, Helen Epstein, Helen Vendler, Joan Didion, Diane Johnson, Alma Guillermoprieto, etc..." [thinking: these are literally the most opinionated people ever, and in a good way, going back to one of the founding members, Elizabeth Hardwick).  

Him: "It doesn't invalidate a critique like this to point out that something is not 100% white male."  

Me [thinking]: You literally said that women are a non-existent (or negligible) part of the tradition and current incarnation of this journal. Since this mag was and is a major vehicle for all of these public intellectuals, you are essentially writing all of them out of history.  

Yes, it's a biased, New York intellectual kind of rag, an extension of Partisan Review, etc... Everyone knows exactly what it is and has been, its exact strengths and weaknesses. I think having Simic review Creeley is unforgivable. But a world in which only men have opinions? I think not. 

Monday, May 10, 2021


 I probably saw more new and old birds today than any other day. Ibises, herons, egrets. Many songbirds, including what I thought was an indigo bunting. Several species I couldn't identify. Wrens or mockingbirds? Summer tanager?  Numerous sparrows. 

A new bird-feeder bird, a nuthatch. 

I'm guessing it is because it Spring and variety and populations are near their high point. 

Saturday, May 8, 2021


 Sarah Ruden seems like a sincere person. She is the author of the original opening of the Gospel of John, "In the inauguration was the true account." There's too much of the "our daddy who live in the skies" language, for my taste. This kind of breezy tone is combined with transliterations of all the proper names, with diacritical marks.  

Reading her response to someone who took issue with her translation of Augustine, I would say that she is a bit too much enamored of her own ideas about translation, her own expertise. I went back to read the review and it was negative, but in a balanced way. Her style in the Augustine Confessions is sometimes bizarrely awkward: 

"so I stole a thing I had a better sort of in lush supply already, and I didn’t want to enjoy the thing my hand grasped for—the actual stealing, the transgression, was going to be my treat."

"Though she'd heard many extremely bitter statements from either party about the other--the sort of thing that the bloated backup of an unassimilated dissension tends to send retching up, when acid confabs let undigested resentments of an enemy who's not there belch out at a friend who is--she never revealed across the divide anything she'd heard except what had the power to reconcile."

The second one I am quoting from someone's amazon review, the first from someone else's review in another journal. At some point a translator's ideas about translation reach a point of diminishing returns. A very simple idea, like produce a readable version that is also faithful to the original, is actually superior to a very sophisticated idea that produces a jumbled word salad.  

Friday, May 7, 2021

“At the inauguration was the true account.”

 If you can guess what line from the bible this line is a translation of... 

Cliché metapoetry

 My problem with cliché metapoetry is that the ineffability trope just doesn't work very well for me. It's probably not because I don't understand it, but because I've seen it so many times that I want to scream from ennui. The problem is not that language is incapable of capturing experience in all its richness. The problem is much more fundamental than that: that is not even what language is about in the first place. 

If we expect the word cinnamon to smell like cinnamon, and then get disappointed because it doesn't, then we are making a basic mistake! Words are place holders. If we know what the smell is, and associate it with the word, then that is fine. 

So language must be working its magic some other way, not by doing what it cannot do, but by a purely linguistic magic. I look out my window and see the light reflected off new, light green leaves of an oak tree. I'm not going to get very far by trying a nice purple prose description of it and then wondering why it's not as pretty as a photo or painting of the scene. But language is perfectly adequate for what it actually does best. To think of it as a barrier or obstacle, or some kind of clumsy vehicle that could be better, is profoundly dumb.  

Chus Pato

 Every poet teaches the reader how to read her (in this case it is a her). I'm reading her in Castilian, since the translation I received in the mail is not a bilingual edition (original is in Gallego).  The difficulty is not in interpreting the meaning of a poem (though this can also be difficult), but in figuring out what it is all about, how the poem forms part of a larger poetics. Imagine trying to read Keats as though he were Samuel Johnson, or Vallejo as though he were Sor Juana, or Sor Juana as Manrique. 

But, of course, most of time we can rely on strategies we have learned from similar poets. Usually, the topoi are going to be similar (or identical). Such as ineffability (the incapacity of language to capture reality, blah, blah, blah.). Or the relation between the poet's subjectivity and the world outside of her head. How is the poetic voice situated in relation to all of this?  Originality comes in the particular angle of approach to these general problems.  

Sorting out these matters is a complex cognitive task.  We are also defining our own relation to the poet's relation to reality, an intersubjective relationship, of seeing through the poet's eyes, or refusing that sort of identification if we don't like those particular optics.  

Thursday, May 6, 2021

I invented this poetic form...

 I will call it the "joke."  The idea is that the second line must negate the first in a surprising way.  I have written three four of them.  


I handle you carefully, like an antique book...

You are, in fact, an antique book. 


We can choose the attitude we take toward life, he said.

We threw him in a ditch. 


My eye doctor recommends artificial tears...

My real ones do just fine, thank you very much.


Words can't tell you what cinnamon tastes like

not even the word cinnamon

More memorization

 I have memorized most of La voz a ti debida, probably about half the Shakespeare sonnets. Most of Frost's sonnets. Almost all of Claudio Rodríguez. All the choruses from Henry V.  Lorca? Yes, that too, though strangely enough he is not the poet I have memorized the most from.  I think I did all his sonnets at one point.  

I've done a lot of Williams. Many of the poems are short. I can still reel off many of them.  

It is hard not to memorize poetry if that is your specialty. Of course, forgetting is also part of this process. I can probably say I've forgotten more than you ever memorized in the first place, unless you happen to share this particular method of study.

I got a complete set of Locus Solus, the legendary magazine of the early New York School, by purchasing the individual issues from various sellers. The collaboration issue, edited by Koch (#2), begins with a cento by Ashbery, "To a Skylark." I suspect it's all lines that he knew "by heart."   

Wednesday, May 5, 2021


 Someone has asked me to blurb a translation of Libro del frío.  I remembered that at one point I had memorized the whole work at one point.  I also memorized most of a short Samuel Beckett novel, albeit a short one. I'm memorizing less now, but I still know some of this material.  

Filtration systems

 I read a sign in the Baker Wetlands about how this kind of terrain serves as a natural filtration system, burying and breaking down pollutants from air and water.  Naturally, I thought that taking a walk there does the same for my psychic toxins. 

Meditation is also a filtration system. It doesn't make life problems go away, but it certainly cleanses the mind, making trivial problems less bothersome.  

Meeting with my full professor mentor group also works in this way. By venting to one another we get relief, much in the way that we can air out a room by opening the windows. 

Sleeping and dreaming also filters the mind. I don't feel rested until I get my REM sleep. Even when my dreams are psychically taxing, they have this cathartic function.  

On the other hand, being on facebook, reading student papers, or attending a department meeting has the opposite effect.  

Tuesday, May 4, 2021


Here is day 10 of hand drawing. I'm seeing some shapes being more or less the right size proportionately. A tiny bit of three dimensionality. Sloppy details. Imprecise or confusing foreshortening above the second knuckle. I would say it's a drawing of someone trying to learn to draw. In other words, it shows a kind of effort that I like. For example, in the shape and relation of the four fingers to one another, in the shape of the fleshy part of the hand below the thumb.    


more lucid dreaming

 Last night was intense. I was lucid dreaming again. I was amazed at the detail, because I didn't know how my brain could produce that many precise and detailed images in so short a time. I was in bed with ____ and _____ , and we [censored].  After leaving the party, I was walking down the street, invited a random woman to have dinner with me. We walked into a restaurant, and the food was quite bad. Apparently my all-powerful mind could only produce these doughy, unappetizing appetizers. 

The recounting of the dream makes me seem a bit of an asshole. On the street I could randomly levitate someone or make them collapse by pointing at them. Realizing it was a dream made the normal moral consequences of actions moot. It was rather tiring. I woke up at my normal time 7:15 and was again quite exhausted. 

Monday, May 3, 2021


NYRB books are publishing Spicer's After Lorca.  I wonder it they will review it?  The name of Jack Spicer has never appeared in the NYRB. They are now reviewing books that they themselves publish, so that would be interesting.  Maybe I should volunteer? 

Some blunt pretense to safety we have

 Someone asked one of our zen teachers about "safety" and he replied that there is not such thing. I won't tell you his full response, but it brought to mind the concluding lines from Ashbery's "Pantoum" 

Some blunt pretense to safety we have

eyes shining without mystery 

for they must have motion

through the vague snow of many clay pipes

I've always been fascinated by this poem, the way it makes vagueness, bluntness, and the absence of mystery into something mysterious after all.  A lesser poet would write "eyes shining with mystery." None of the lines give us anything graspable.  

baby geese

 I looked through my binoculars at some geese, and saw that they had some babies with them, yellowish and looking quite unlike their long-necked parents. I also saw the cormorant again, flying to the same tree as before. 

It struck me that I could be unsure about the identification of a bird, but never unsure about a species that I have seen repeatedly and well.  The "garden variety" birds of everyday are simply too familiar to be mistaken for anything else, but I could easily be wrong about the vireos and warblers that I don't know well at all. Even if I get a very good look at something, I am just too inexperienced with genera and species. 

Underground cartoon mall

In this dream I was in some kind of a subterranean shopping center filled with weird shops, selling mostly unidentifiable items. The colors were saturated and the visual effects were cartoon-like. It was a lucid dream, and I realized that all these vivid and fantastical images were the product of my own imagining mind. Even a quite detailed map of the mall, an architectural drawing far more detailed and precise that I could diagram myself. I looked around for a woman to kiss, but the imagery was not quite life-like enough. After a few failed attempts, I became a bit uncomfortable with the situation and forced myself to awake.

When I did awake, though, I was still in a dream. I was in bed, but surrounded by an unfamiliar household. I had to struggle through this other, grayer dream for a long time before I truly awoke in the morning, quite unrested. 

Sunday, May 2, 2021

"A ruthless catalog of sorrows"

 I have mixed feelings about the poem "C.V." in the last NYRB, by Iman Mersal (trans. from Arabic by Robyn Creswell). The first line is arresting and resonant. The topos is "pathé mathos," perhaps, knowledge through suffering (la letra, por la sangre entra). An academic career is based on renunciation of real life. 

At the end, she writes "A life overstuffed with accomplishments / scrubbed free of dirt / proof that she lived / has cut all ties to the earth." I understand the sentiment, and to the extent she is writing about her own experience in the 1st person, I can't argue with it.  

It is the notion of the shadow c.v., all the things left out: "Where are all the wasted days?," she asks. I think of this poem, now, being listed on her C.V.  !! You can imagine the conversation.  

"Hey, my poem just came out in the New York Review of Books!"

"Great! That will look good on your c.v.  What's it  about?"

"Its title is 'C.V.,' actually. It's about the vanity of having a c.v at all."

Where I resist the message of the poem is in my feeling that one ought to own one's accomplishments rather than seeing them as stuff or "stuffing."  


Keys to the abundance model of time

 Don't multi-task. You are trying to "save" time by doing it, but each activity requires its own attention. Take your time.  Multi-tasking is cognitively taxing, and even people who think they are good at it are actually not.  

[exceptions: listening to music while cleaning or cooking. You can also think about a problem while walking. I take a walk (exercise) while also looking at birds. We could call this "complementary multi-tasking," where one activity reinforces the other rather than being a distraction.] 

Segment time if you must, but only for a deep purpose. It's fine to set a timer to get the laundry out of the machine, or for meditating for a certain number of minutes. 

Don't fret about time. Impatience means you are undervaluing the moment you are in right now.  

Stay off facebook / twitter for most of the day, or for whole days at a time. You won't miss a whole lot.  

 Festina lente

Friday, April 30, 2021

Gacela del amor desesperado

 I was listening to Marta Gómez, a pop version of this Lorca poem. The music is upbeat and happy, unlike the poem itself. I laughed out loud at the discrepancy. If you didn't know Spanish, you would think she was singing a happy lyric.  

A theory of kitsch popped into my head, nothing too original but an extension of my earlier ideas. I've been thinking about this since the 1990s, at least.  The word kitsch is in the title of my first Lorca book.  

We take a work of art associated with high culture. Kitsch is not mass culture itself, but a degradation of high culture. 

The next step is a fossilization into an easily recognizable and reproducible stereotype. 

Now the stage is set for popularization. 

Not all popularizations are kitschy. We know when they are because they somehow forget to engage with the work itself. The problem is not even raised. It's as though any melody could be used for any poem. WTF!  


Thursday, April 29, 2021


Apple music is offering me a minimalist play list. Let's listen. I don't know much about this kind of music. I have an open mind. I am open to finding something I like as much as Reich's Drumming. I also think I am bound not to find it all very satisfying.  

 I don't get bored with Triadic Memories, by Feldman, but Pärt's Spiegel im Spiegel is hard to listen to to the end, and it is only 8 minutes long, as long as single section of Feldman's work. Maybe because the Estonian is only using major triads and Feldman uses major and minor sevenths.

Glass.  String Quartet 4, movement I. Of course looking for something interesting is not really the point? At least I am interested in this, if only in my reactions. It has some of that scrub a scrub quality of some baroque music. He's interested in one or two intervals. It should have a more meditative effect but it doesn't. 

Movement 2: It's got a plaintive quality. It uses similar techniques to Movement 1, but it provokes more engagement, with an enigmatic character. This would be the adagio?  For a movie scene I would use for a guy sitting alone in an apartment in the evening in a melancholy mood, as I am doing now. I like that the movements are connected. 

Movement 3: It starts off with some resonant chords, then we here the scrub a scrubba motif. Apparently I made up this term because a search on google only give me my own blog. I'm sure though that I heard it from someone else first. I don't hate this string quartet, but I would have faint praise for it. Some of it is pretty-sounding, but not in an interesting way, with exception of movement 2. 

Hamburg by Richard Bundy. It has the same interval as the Glass piece, just the major 2nd. I've already discovered a minimalist cliché. The piece has a "new age" feel, though some saw-like sonorities would keep it out of the spa.  

More Glass.  "Tissue #7." It has an appealing romanticism to it. I can imagine a woman of 45 sipping red wine at sunset on a verandah. She is worried about something that isn't an immediate threat. 

More Pärt, arranged for solo guitar again. "Für Alina." It is a pretty piece. 

Detritus by Sarah Neufeld.  Hypnotic, repetitive rhythms, with repeated intervals. It's pleasant without being overly calming. 

1st conclusion. It goes after prettiness, not complexity (duh). It was an original style in world in which everyone wanted to reach for a complex music that people don't like very much. Minimalism can be disliked for other reasons. It does not emphasize melody, everyone's favorite musical dimension. Ir can fade into the background and its repetiveness can irritating, provoking either nervousness or a too easily achieved new age coma effect. Some of it is considerably less engaging than a Keith Jarrett free improv.  Arthur Kaassens's New York Counterpart is on right now, probably one of the more interesting pieces.  



 On the side of Beth's house, built on top of a wreath, a house finch nest with tiny baby birds. 


Swallows are abundant, even in downtown Lawrence. Hawks are also commonly seen this time of year. 


It looked like it was going to rain so I cut my walk on the wetlands short. I stopped to get birdseed, and it was raining by then. By the time I drove home, the rain was torrential. I had to wait in my car five minutes before going inside, and I still got wet just in those 30 seconds from car to front door.  


A bird with yellow markings I didn't see long enough to identify. Some kind of warbler? Also, a reddish sparrow (or something). I got a good long look at them, as there were several on the path and nearby bushes, but they didn't look like anything on my bird app. There was some kind of cormorant (or something) in a tree. It looked somewhat like a crow, but with a much longer neck. Not being able to identify birds, or making erroneous identifications, is an inevitable part of the process.  I can embrace my ignorance because it simply is information about how much I know, or don't. 

Tuesday, April 27, 2021


Hair and Makeup

 Movies that win academy awards for hair and make up, costumes, or production design, will have those things in great, attention seeking quantity. Yet I feel that in the best movies these aspects are invisible and only have a subliminal effect. I don't like super "costumey" period piece films. 

Monday, April 26, 2021

Hands in the key of C flat minor.

Thomas clued me in to Oliver Senior's instructional book on drawing hands several years ago. It is called How to draw hands, and the first sentence and paragraph is "This is an instruction book." I purchased a used copy and have had it around for a while. I recently did a drawing course on line with a delightful teacher, the Spanish illustrator Puño, who recommended drawing your own hand on successive days, so I am doing that now.  I'm on day four. 

When I look at the drawings, I see that they give me information. Most of the information is about how bad I am at drawing. I say this non-facetiously: I know what my hand looks like, and I know what a good drawing of a hand looks like, so I get very concrete, objective, and detailed feedback about where I've gone wrong. Once in a while, some small detail will be not horrible. I also know how much time and effort I've put into a particular day's work. At some point I will want to use and eraser and try to correct things and arrive at some less rough approximation.  

The thing about the hand is that we are familiar with it, we have a model close by (my right hand, since I draw with my left), we can draw it in real life size, or even trace in on paper, and yet it is difficult to draw all the same. That is, the difficulty is not due to a lack of familiarity, but to the fact that in some sense we are not seeing it as it really is.  

Since I don't expect myself to be able to do this well at an early stage, there is no negative emotion around the information. I could even give myself some jocular grades, like D plus plus or F triple minus or C flat minor. 

Scarcity model of time

My therapist said there was a scarcity model and an abundance model. I couldn't find a lot about it that wasn't sort of Oprahesque. Obviously if a resource is, objectively, scarce, then the scarcity model will be in effect no matter what our desire to think differently about it. 

We think of time as a resource. (Time is money.) We use it, waste it, use it efficiently or not. It is exchanged for money in various ways (labor). A feeling of scarcity is not inconsistent with the misuse of time (procrastination?). 

What would an alternative to the scarcity model look like? No clocks or timers, in the first place. You can get up any reasonable time without an alarm, go to sleep when tired. Work would get done without thought to exact quantities. There would be more flow-like states of concentration. 

How would I achieve this for myself? I probably wouldn't, but it would be nice to imagine. First, reduce internet and facebook. Keep the blogging, but not check to see if there are comments until I write the next post. I already have my life organized so there is little or no commuting, house work is small because I have an apartment, and do yard work for someone else only once a week if that. I have no "tenure clock" any more and can do what I want when not teaching or grading. 

If it is difficult for me, then it will be even more difficult for someone not in my privileged position. I cannot advise, but I wish I had rejected the scarcity model earlier, since it doesn't fit my objective conditions of life.  

Dividing things up

There are all these ways of combining things. Iberian studies would be all the languages and cultures of the Iberian peninsula, including Portuguese, Catalan, and Arabic for the period before1492. 

Transatlantic Studies is Iberian studies plus the new world.  In other words, Spain and Portugal seen through the colonial and neocolonial lens. 

Hispanism traditionally is just Spanish (Castilian) but also in the New World. Latin American Studies includes Brazil, though the Brazilians don't always know it. Lusophone studies includes parts of Africa too. 

I am in favor of all these things. I do read Portuguese and Catalan, and can suss out Galego using my Portuguese. Yet is won't usually be one person doing all of it at once. After all, we don't only have to be transatlantic and multilingual, but also multidisciplinary. In practice, we can't all be great philosophers, art historians, musicologists while specializing in all parts of the world where three languages are spoken. I'd rather do a few things well. 

Sunday, April 25, 2021


Here is my daughter playing a kick-ass trumpet etude.  


 This is the title of a song by Charlie Parker.  So the first joke in the title is the reference to Parker's nickname, "Bird." 

The second joke is the intellectuality of bebop. Bebop musicians adopted a self-consciously intellectual pose, and were fond of polysyllabic words. It's a joke because it is a bit jocular in tone, and part of the public face of the movement, as reflected in media portrayals. Of course, they were intellectuals in their approach to musical complexity, so the jocular persona did in fact correspond to something genuine. The beatnik fan of the music also saw him or herself as smart in this way. There are other song titles that do this like "Anthropology," or "Epistrophy." 

Polysyllabic words and titles also have an onomatopoetic value, referring to the fast phrases consisting of many notes. 

The song itself is a contrafactum of "How High the Moon." It uses the same chords. A new composition on old chords: making it new. This requires a new title as well.  

thinking poetically 1

 Thinking poetically would be thinking 




These would correspond to Pound's three types of "charging language with meaning." 

A little child acquires the prosody of a language before anything else: intonation and accentuation. Little kids respond well to rhyme and to pounded out accentual rhythms. So prosodical thinking is inherent in language acquisition itself. 

Yet I had a high-school teacher who couldn't scan Shakespeare. There is a higher level, of being able to feel the variety of the iambic pentameter line in tension with the abstract pattern. 

Then an even higher level: being able to achieve originality in one's handling of prosody. 

Saturday, April 24, 2021


Writing the book is a practical matter. How long it should be. What should be individual chapters be? What citation system to use. What to include or exclude, what to emphasize? Where to publish it? There are infinite combinations of these factors--without any single correct solution. Many potentially wrong paths to go down. To say there is no one correct solution is not to say that there are no wrong answers. The intellectual problems are of less concern, because I know I can come up with interesting and compelling arguments. 


It occurred to me that I could blog all day long one day. I would simply sit at the computer, write a post. Then write another one. I could simply transcribe all that I am thinking of on a particular day. It would be like the "complete sentence game." If you recall, there are two rules: you must speak (write or think) in complete sentences, and the sentences must be about the rules of this game. 


The Catalans, Mompou and Montsalvatge, seem better than the Madrid composers. I listened to Halffter's trademark Sinfonietta and it seemed rinky-dink to me. I'm probably missing something. 


What part of the Quijote does Pierre Menard reproduce? A speech on "arms and letters." This is a persistent theme in Borges's work. He is a literary guy with ancestors who fought in significant battles. He was losing his sight and wasn't cut out for battles of any kind. Descriptions of violence by Gauchos or bandits on the outskirts of Buenos Aires are very attractive to him. Remember that Cervantes, wounded at Lepanto, writes that arms are superior to letters. So Menard / Borges rewriting Cervantes has to do so in an ironic mode. Arms are still superior, but bearing arms can only be nostalgic and "literary" at this point, as in "El sur." Boloña has a great parody of this story, "El gaucho ..."  

Borges in "Pierre Menard" seems to ignore all the Cervantes metafiction (the subject of other essay like "Magias parciales del Quijote," but clearly this is part of the joke here too. Menard / Borges are not adding this new postmodern dimension to Cervantes: it is already there. The first great novel in the Western tradition is also the first metanovel. 

This is surely the most misunderstood work of literature ever (PM). Made into a facile allegory of translation. 

Friday, April 23, 2021

Another reason academic debates can be dull

 Often the issue at debate is one of terminology. What to call something, how to classify things, what buzz word we like. There is too much pressure on the language itself. Of course, these debates are necessary, because there are real issue behind the choice of a lexicon, but the illusion is that a correct set of terms will resolve and intellectual issue. It won't. We know this, because the terms keep shifting. What is really behind the debates is legitimation and power. Who gets to decide, who's perspective is legitimate.  

It is dull because it is internal to the field itself. Imagine trying to teach those debates to undergraduates who aren't going to be professors later. Why should they care about some professor's pet terminology? I'm happy if they don't call a play a short story

{We got in a debate the other day about the basic language program. The word basic come under fire because it is demeaning, supposedly. We need a more dignified language to talk about students who literally cannot speak the language yet. The students are incompetent at speaking Spanish, or they would be in a higher numbered class, and there is nothing wrong with that either.}

Thursday, April 22, 2021


 There's a new mental health buzzword, languishing, where you're not thriving but you're not in actual depression either. Of course, this will catch on because almost all of us have been feeling this for the past year--those who aren't doing worse than "languishing."  It's a brilliant label, you have to admit.  

Short, uninteresting curves

 In a poetry workshop when I was 17 and college freshman, Thom Gunn had us read Rilke's famous panther in the zoo poem and then go off and observe an animal. It is a perfectly good creative writing exercise, but we weren't Rilke. I looked at some birds flying around and wrote a poem about that contained a phrase about them flying in "short, uninteresting curves." Understandably, he criticized this line, which was a kind of dig against the assignment. This kind of thing is bound to produce pale shadows of a great poem. I defended myself with reference to Creeley, a taste for the ordinary, etc... To his credit, Gunn ceded a bit to my point, but obviously my poem was not very good.  

A good prompt can be useless to me. Not that I am better, just different. 

Now I notice that the movements of small birds are inevitably quick and jerky. They are incapable of anything slow. There can be stasis or jerkiness, nothing in between, except for very brief moments in flight when the bird glides a bit between ultra-fast wing beats.  

Mayhew's Fallacy

 I would have done

it better


 something occluded, something postponed, pushed off to the side

or never thought of, inchoate, unrepentant

with nothing to repent, something not yet possible

in the imagination, in the bowels

of the universe, something rumbling 

in the distance... 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Why is academic writing dull?

 1. Overspecialization. We are so focussed on very narrow questions, that the big picture often disappears from view. The overspecialized writer knows so much about the subject matter that it becomes impossible to tell what the audience knows or doesn't. He or she doesn't put himself in the position of the reader. (Pinker on the "Curse of Knowledge.") 

2. Low Information.  There will often be a small amount of actually significant information per page. All the findings are there, however insignificant. The same points will be repeated endlessly, using similar language. I often start reading a book on page 101. By then the writer has to have gotten into the subject matter. 

3. Low stylistic intensity.  Writing is dogged, perfunctory, lacking in energy. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

New York School

 I have a somewhat unusual relation with the New York School of Poetry. I am not from New York, and my devotion to these poets experienced certain phases. 

Working through the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry in my teens, I soon became a devotee of O'Hara and Koch. I still remember the O'Hara poem that begins "The eager note on my door said “Call me," It really had a strong effect on me. And all Kenneth Koch books. Ashbery won all the prizes for Self-Portrait and I became a big fan. The people around me did not care much for Ashbery, who was still considered somewhat a fraud in some quarters, but by the early 80 he had the imprimatur of the three major poetry critics, for different reasons: Perloff, Vendler, and Bloom. Perloff saw him as avant-garde, Vendler could read him thematically, and Bloom could canonize him by associating him with the great romantic tradition. I wrote a long paper on Ashbery as an undergrad, and my first published poem was a Koch knockoff that also prefigured my first Lorca book. It was about translating "imaginary Latin American poets."    

I was also a fan of the 2nd generation poets, like Padgett and Berrigan. I didn't quite take them as seriously, but they were part of my reading. I probably thought of Berrigan as an O'Hara knockoff, which he isn't, really.  I have books by Berrigan's sons, Anselm and Edmund.   

The Schuyler poems in the Norton had left me cold. I couldn't understand them at all. It was when I was assistant professor that I became big Schuyler fan, not only with the short lyrics but with those marvelous long poems. I still bought every Ashbery book that came out, but he was beginning to repeat himself a bit. 

In the early 2000s, I became a huge Barbara Guest fan. She was not in the Norton, and her work can be a little difficult to get into, but she became increasingly important in this period for many younger poets, both women and men. It is kind of ethereal. She never gets her due from the other New York school poets. Padgett and Shapiro leave her out of their anthology, unforgivably to my mind. 

In 200? I became friends with David Shapiro, and had him come to Kansas. He provided the epigraph to the first Lorca book. He was a bit exhausting to have as a friend, because telephone conversations could last two hours and he spoke at double the normal pace. He is brilliant as a poet, in a quite different way from other poets who belong to the same school. 

At some point in this century I also became interested in Alice Notley, who is still one of my favorite poets. I'm sure I had not heard of her in 1980. There are other I should mention too, like Ceravolo, Eileen Myles. A single post is not enough to talk about all of them.  

At some point, I became interested in the music of Morton Feldman, but this was decades after first reading about him in an essay by O'Hara. It is a curious kind of lag. 

I wrote separate chapter on Koch and O'Hara in my Lorca book. This was kind of daring, because the New York poets were not known for being Lorquistas. They were associated mostly with French poetry. No other person aside from me would have written about either of them in relation to Lorca. 

So my relationship to this "school" of poetry has undergone permutations during parts of six separate decades, and I am only 60 years old. Part of it was that their careers were developing as I was developing as a reader, with the exception of Frank O'Hara. 

It is not really a school, then, but a number of approaches to poetry allied with one another through sets of personal relationships beginning when Koch, O'Hara, and Ashbery met at Harvard, extending toward the group of 5 in New York (adding Schuyler and Guest), then getting a second generation from the Tulsa group of Brainard and Padgett, and from Koch's students like Ceravolo.   

Friday, April 16, 2021


 So how do I put together these two things:

a] Lorca is the modern poet (and the Spanish) most often set to music. 

b] Lorca was a poet/musician who formed part, or was associated with, a musical "generation" that renovated and modernized Spanish music. 

First I thought of these as essentially separate things. As researched deepened, I saw b more as more as the cause of a.  

Now I want to look at how many composers of Lorca's own group set his work to music. That is a missing link. At first, I didn't know of much, but more is emerging into view, for example, María Teresa Prieto, a Spanish composer who wrote all her music in Mexico. She is never mentioned as part of the "Generation of 27," but she was part of it later by one degree of separation. 

The thing that comes to play here: Spanish music is not known. Falla overshadows everyone else. Even people who work on Falla hardly mention his disciples.  Orringer, in his book on Lorca and Falla, doesn't bother to mention the musicians of Lorca's own generation. I hardly know them myself. Scores and recorded performances are hard to find. 

A second factor, related to this. The civil war and exile had a disastrous effect on these composers.  


Thursday, April 15, 2021


 In our reading club today, the Uruguayan poet Ida Vitale. I've always liked her work; what struck me today was the idea that "what we call chance is a failure of the imagination." 


 Spanish musicologists refer to composers of Lorca's time as "la generación del 27." We tried in vain to get rid of this generational classification in literary studies, but then the music people took adopted it as a matter of course. The main difference is that Lorca, Aleixandre, Guillén are internationally known whereas as Pittaluga, Halffter, Baracisse, not so much. They are in Falla's shadow. There are also the "grupo de Madrid" and the "grupo de Barcelona." Since most of the attention goes to Madrid, they usually don't consider Mompou part of the "generation of 1927." 

Two musical dreams

Two nights ago: I was given a guitar to play. I hoped it had been tuned, but some strings were very loose and I had no point of reference with which to tune the guitar. (I don't even play guitar).  


Last night, I was trying to find someone to collaborate on songs with me, someone to write the lyrics. I was introduced to a black woman, and was somewhat intimidated, could not explain to her what my musical ideas. This happened again with a second black woman, in almost exactly the same way. But my musical ideas were coming together somewhat, in my sleep the rest of the night.   

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Non academic friends

 Alberto M. has almost no non-academic friends in the US (not a big surprise). I was like that for many years myself, and thankfully not like that any more. I'ts not that I have a lot of close friends at all, but my general social circle is not mostly academic. It adds an oddness to life to have only academic friends. He blames being an expatriate for that.  


I found this today.  I sense a new chapter coming on.  

Golden Mediocrity

There is an article on a writer named Bette Howland, in the latest NYRB, which deflates her reputation. Elaine Blair, the author, offers a balanced and fairly critical assessment of this writer, a friend and disciple of Saul Bellow, whom I hadn't heard of myself. (I've heard of Bellow, but not Howland). Howland is not terrible, according the article, just not wonderful either. 

It might seem counterintuitive to devote so many words to a forgotten and mediocre writer, if that's what Howland is. Part of the point, though, is to counteract the excessive praise Howland has gotten (though I was unaware of this praise myself, and many other readers are also unaware, I would guess.).  The larger point is that not every forgotten figure deserves rescuing. 


The problem with mediocrity is not that it exists.  By definition, more things will cluster around the statistical mean (or below it) than will be excellent. We can't all be above average. A mediocre scholar will still be in the top 2% in terms of educational attainment, but within this 2% most of us will cluster in the middle. People who publish a lot will be the top percentiles of that 2%, and within that group there will be a statistical distribution once again. So maybe just being a scholar in the first place is enough. 

As an accusation, mediocrity only makes sense if something is overpraised in the first place. So maybe Mayhew's first book on Lorca has all this praise, and I read it and it's ho hum for me. So Mayhew is overrated. I'm sure that within the select category of books published by U of Chicago P, mine falls somewhere in the average range.  

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Purple Martins

 Another swallow species, the purple martin, abundant on the campus today. They get all their food in flight, by eating insects out of the air. 


An article in NYRB, on a woman who made friends with swans. Helen Macdonald. My friend Megan Kaminski has a book, Birds of a Feather, that will be distributed in state parks in Kansas. 


 Science fiction imagines life on other planets to be humanoid, or simian in some cases, but not as avian or apian, or maybe cetacean.  So planet of the apes, not planet of the crows. It is a rather sad lack of imagination.  We could imagine intelligent plant or fungal life, for example.  


Poetic and prosaic. Metaphorically, poetry is: 

 a quality of beauty and intensity of emotion regarded as characteristic of poems: poetry and fire are nicely balanced in the music.  something regarded as comparable to poetry in its beauty: the music department is housed in a building that is pure poetry.
Prose and prosaic mean: 
 plain or dull writing, discourse, or expression: medical and scientific prose.
having the style or diction of prose; lacking poetic beauty: prosaic language can't convey the experience.  commonplace; unromantic: the masses were too preoccupied by prosaic day-to-day concerns.
 Here is some language from a poem by Mary Jo Bang in the latest NYRB:  "The question is not whether we have free will, but what choices history offers us. The strongest force is conformity, not passion, not even greed for possessions."  There's nothing new about prosaic language in a poem, which is familiar from some modernist poetry. It should be good prose, though, or else used ironically. I thought of this because in the first two articles in this issue the prose writers independently used poetry in the honorific sense. 

Je ne regrette pas les aigrettes

 I saw three white egrets yesterday. A hawk with blue wings. I am moving from the unconscious incompetence to the conscious incompetence phase of the learning curve. 

Monday, April 12, 2021


 I believe the study about faculty with PhD parents is mistaken in its inferences. 17.2% of Black faculty's parents have a Phd. and 16.9 of Hispanic faculty (compared to 23% generally). But, according the the 1997 census data, only 0.3 % of blacks in population had a PhD, and about 1% of whites. Thus a black person on the faculty is much more likely to have a PhD than is a black person who is not a professor. For 2017, about 2% or whites and 1% of blacks have PhDs.  

So that .3% (or around there) accounts for 17 percent of black faculty. I'm taking that as the number because the study uses .9% of the population having PhD. That means that that group is 57 times  more likely to be a tenure track professor than the average black person is. That is more than twice the benefit for the general population. I disagree then that "the racial gap in PhD attainment is an intergenerational impediment that limits the proportion of Black and Hispanic scholars who become tenure track faculty." I mean, technically it is true (23.4 of whites have PhD parents, vs. 17.2 of blacks), but this 6.2% advantage seems less significant to me than the fact that a black faculty member is much more than 50 times ore likely to have a PhD parent than is a black in the general population. 

It seems to me like we should want to have multi-generational educational achievement in all ethnic and racial groups. Put another way, if you made a law that said you had to skip generations in academia, you would lose 23% of whites and 17% of blacks. That seems like it would be an increase in diversity, right? You'd lose a ton of Asians, though, and it would be devastating for other minorities too. Why, because you are eliminating people from the pool who are 50 times more likely to go into academia.  Some of that 17% would be replaced mostly by 1st generation Asian students and the white children of relatively well edducation and affluent but not academic families. 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Gustavo P F

 I remember, after reading the facebook thread, about an article by Gustavo Pérez Firmat on poem 20 of Neruda's 20 poemas, in Hispanic Review of 2007.  (I remembered something about it so I found it pretty quickly on jstor. It's a nuanced reading and productive approach to poetry that seems sentimental, like "Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche." 


 Grackles were loud and ostentatious at Beth's house while I was mowing the lawn. She pointed out to me that this is a bird, with its purplish head, different from the starling. Hers were going to the feeder. Larger birds, like robins, starlings, blue jays, are not feeder birds per se, but the grackle is pretty large. 

The Cornell bird app is good. It asks you when, where, size, colors, and behavior (e.g. swimming, sitting in a tree.), then gives you a list to choose from. The references for size, in ascending order, are sparrows, robins, crows, and geese.  

20 poemas

 In Babelia a Spanish critic and poet notes that Neruda's 20 poemas de amor present an outdated idea of love between men and women. In a facebook thread, of course, some Spaniards attack this criticism of Neruda, trying to say you want to throw out Catullus too (irrelevantly).  

But it's super-obvious. Who hasn't noticed that "I like you when you're quiet, because it is as though you were absent" was not exactly a feminist sentiment? It's a sentimental and cursi book, and long regarded a little bit embarrassing, despite some nice lines. 

But of course, Neruda is objectionable at many stages of his career. His bad political poetry at the end (and the middle). In his memoirs he describes a rape that he committed. These are not unknown things. C;mon people. 

He had prodigious talent, and has many powerful poems, but there doesn't seem to be any point in making him beyond reproach. 

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Tree Swallows

 It was raining most of the day. After I recovered a bit from my Buffalo lecture and talked to my daughter on the phone, I went to the wetlands. It was sunny by then, and I saw dozens of tree swallows, small, agile aerialists, flying from birdhouse to birdhouse (these are spaced at strategic distances along the path). I saw them other places too after I left that section. There must be hundreds, based on the scores I saw. 

Saw some of my normal bird-feeder birds in the wild (cardinal, hairy woodpecker), walked to far end to see my favorite, Northern Shoveler, only to see one close to where I had parked, on the way back. 


 I gave my talk in Buffalo today on Germaine Montero and Lorca. Two of the other lecturers in the series also attended by zoom, which I greatly appreciated, since they had questions for me. You don't bet much of a sense in that format of "the room," but I think it went ok. The two people I saw were the other who had already lectured on to the same group, and I could tell I was holding their attention. I think I earned my speaker's fee. 

The class I was addressing was in person, so I didn't see the students themselves, only a few rectangle of people not in the class, some with their video off. 


 Everything expelled from Lorca's work as being too "folkloric,"  musical, middlebrow, or cursi [kitsch] returns with a vengeance in his popular reception. 


 The word music from the word 


The arts of the muses. So these arts are everything presided over by the muses: poetry, drama, music, history... 

So the musical arts are ... the "humanities."