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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...

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

New Book Outline

 I've decided to go after short chapters rather than two mega chapters. 

The Musical Afterlife of Federico García Lorca

1. Words and Music

2. Why Lorca?

3. Ancient Songs

4. The French Connection: Germaine Montero

5. Singer-songwriters: The Literary Turn in Popular Music

6. Flamenco Variations

7. Orchestral Elegies

8. Lorca in Miniature: Art Songs

9. The Fortunes of Don Perlimplín 

10, Blood Wedding 

11. Coda: Postmodern Lorca

2nd generation PhD

Someone on facebook was surprised that there was a strong correlation between being a professor's child and becoming an academic one's self. I would say it is not surprising. 13 percent of people have advanced degrees (Master or PhD or equivalent). In 2000 is was half that. Wouldn't it be more likely for those with such parents to go into "the profession." 

This is not to say that those without academic parents will not be academics, or that all academics will have academic children; it is simply a correlation. 

It is an advantage: you know what academia is growing up. Your dad might have subscribed to the New York Review of Books, and had academic books around the house, or discussed his work with you. It is a form of privilege, in the traditional sense of the word as well as in the new sense (in which privilege is a bad thing because others do not have it). I know more because I started earlier. What I am is not just the product of my own education, but of my mother and father's too.  My father might not have become academic either, without his mother filling the house with books. 

And here is the other side to that record...


10... or 15?

 I decided to write a chapter just on the canciones españolas antiguas. What I've noticed is a certain slipperiness. 

The core of this collection is 10 songs. 

The recordings with Lorca and La Argentinita contain 12 songs, though, with two extra ones not included in the Obras completas or the sheet music. 

The sheet music contains 13 songs, three of which are not recorded by Lorca and La Argentinita. There are thus 15 songs in total. Subsequent singers draw from the 13 in the sheet music, but not from the 2 extra recorded by Lorca and not included in the sheet music. Or perhaps these two are not accompanied by Lorca at all!  This image says "accompanied at the piano by Inés Gómez Currillo""

Since this pianist was born in Argentina in 1918, it is unlikely that she recorded this in 1930. 


 Oliver Stone was making a movie about Marilyn Monroe. I had serious qualms, objections, and was arguing all night in my dreams about it. When I woke up I almost wanted to google it to see if Stone in fact is making this movie.  

When in doubt

 When in doubt, return to the best, most solid and straightforward method. The Seinfeld Chain, keeping a calendar and trying to accumulate long streaks of continuous work, is helpful when you find yourself working very little, only a few times a week or month. I kind of let things slide, being burned out on days when I have both class and meeting, so I began a chain on Sunday.  

You can always experiment with other productivity methods. Some might work, others not. But Seinfeld works and you can always return there. 

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Bad Actor

 I was an Assistant Professor at Ohio State. A faculty member, about the age I am now, was in an elevator with me in our building. He asked me what language I taught. Spanish. Oh, an "easy language." And then, whether I did literature or linguistics. Literature? Oh, "so all you do is emote." He was a Slavic linguist, and thus proud of his ability to learn difficult languages and to be a hard-nosed scientist, not an emotive humanist. 

I had no snappy comeback for that. I wasn't upset, because I was brimming with confidence in those days. I probably thought of it as an amusing story to tell in the future. I faced much worse condescension from my own colleagues.

 I never thought about the degree of difficulty for entering the field, but about the degree of difficulty of being excellent in it. Probably if you have to assert your superiority over a junior colleague from another department in the elevator, you have a chip on your shoulder. 

I've figured out it was Kenneth Naylor.   It probably is difficult to write the Serbo-Croatian grammar, and I respect anyone's genuine accomplishments.   

Monday, March 29, 2021

Speaking of bad poetry

 A year or two I got an essay to review, with the poems so bad that I rejected the article on that factor alone. Or rather, I would have rejected on that alone, but the article also sucked in other ways, predictably enough.  The poems were not even published ones; the author of the article found them in box somewhere in someone else's house. Where the hell are people being trained as scholars? 


 If you are on facebook you will see in Iberian Studies group fairly soon a link to a talk I am giving next weekend in Buffalo (not in Buffalo, unfortunately) on Germain Montero and Lorca. I made the playlist today in my itunes library. It is part of the "Age of Lorca" series of talks that Elizabeth Scarlett, a prominent peninsularist scholar of more or less my generation, is running.  

Invited lectures on Lorca:

Iowa: 2013

NYU: 2013

Córdoba: 2014

Harvard: 2015

Florida State: 2016

Madrid: 2019

Louisiana: 2019

Buffalo: 2021

Add to that about a half dozen conference talks.  


 I had a multilingual grad student enamored of the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis. He was absent the day we discussed it in class, with the typically critical attitude we tend to take. The students, perhaps taking their cue from me, were quite harsh with Whorf. My absent student wrote a paper defending the hypothesis. I gave him a good grade, but I wasn't convinced. His arguments tended to consist of colorful examples of the hypothesis, which anyone can accumulate. "In Russian they say.... " He wasn't arguing against the strong arguments against it, but adducing evidence. But nobody denies that we can find colorful things in language that imply an understanding of the world, if seen from a particular angle.  

Sunday, March 28, 2021

House finch

The house finches started to arrive in larger numbers a few days ago, more than the first male / female pair. I have seen as many as four at time. 

The male is light brown with a reddish head and chest, the female is identical in shape, but without the red markings. As with several bird species, only the male is bright colored. Many  birds will come in twos, like the male and female cardinal, and the chickadees and titmice. The sparrows come in threes or fours, the woodpecker, by itself. The sight of the cardinal sends a quick, reliable push to the pleasure center of my brain. It is more spectacular in color, but also larger than the other feeder birds. 

One male finch was chasing the other off the feeder today.  (There is plenty of seed to go around.) These slender birds will defer to the beefier woodpecker. 

One way to think about it is to watch birds for a year: then all seasons are accounted for for the same habitats. 

Blue Note Latin

My smart tv has my apple music connected to it. It gave me a playlist of Blue Note Latin music, essentially Bobby Hutcherson and the like with any song that happens to have a Latin time feel. The combination of avant-garde jazz and Latin jazz really satisfies me by giving me the best of two things I already like, all together. Today was the first time I made this connection: Latin jazz with vibraphone: Cal Tjader, Tito Puente, Bobby Hutcherson. There is something very appropriate about vibes for the Latin beat.  

We think of Puente as salsa musician, but he started off as jazz drummer and went to Julliard after the war. He's about the same age as Tjader, twenty years older than Hutcherson and Gary Burton. 

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Culture Clash

 An association of student affairs professionals invited Suze Orman, a popular financial advice peddler, to give an address at their convention. It did not go well. Orman gave her schtick, which does not include the popular language of intersectional oppression. That is just not what she does. She gives advice (some good, some not so good, maybe) about how to manage one's own personal finances.  Inevitably, the organization apologized for inviting someone like that, since she managed to offend the group. She did not make her money by explaining structural societal barriers to wealth accumulation, but by selling her personal brand of the rags to riches narrative. 

Friday, March 26, 2021


 You can watch MacGyver, Hawaii 5-O, Magnum PI, The FBI. Every network show is a remake of something from a previous decade. There are no new ideas, or else the people who want to do something new now go to Netflix.  

The Solitary Twin

 I read The Solitary Twin by the late Harry Mathews. Mathews was the only novelist among the prominent New York School writers, and the only American member of Oulipo. 

 There are identical twins living in a New England fishing village. A group of several people try to figure out why they have a strange (non)relationship.  They have parallel habits but are never seen together, living on opposite ends of town. The people tell one another odd stories, that end up being (non)coincidentally pertinent to the main narrative.  I can't tell whether there is a concealed Oulipean constraint in the work.  

The whole thing can be read in an afternoon (113 pages).    

Magical thinking

 Magical hispanism is also a form of magical thinking, or superstition?  


 Adam Zagaweski died. Here is part of his homage to Milosz, another Polish poet. I am impervious to this kind of writing. To me it is insufferably bland as it comes to us in translation. Here the effect is spoken about rather than accomplished in the words themselves.  Yes, poetry should transform us and make us believe that every day is sacred, but the trick is to do it, not talk about it.  I'm sure it is different in the original, but clearly people like this sort of thing in English, too, or translations of these poets wouldn't be popular:   

Sometimes your tone

transforms us for a moment,

we believe—truly—

that every day is sacred,

that poetry—how to put it? —

makes life rounder,

fuller, prouder, unashamed

of perfect formulation.

The origins of magical hispanism

 It arises through one of the master narratives: Spain's uneven, problematic relation to modernity. This gives rise to forms of exceptionalism. The idea that the hispanic surrealism is closer to the primitive, hence superior to French surrealism. Lorca and Neruda are more interesting than Breton or Eluard, according to this logic.  

Then Latin American literature became modern in the boom, by blending this kind of magic with postmodern narrative techniques.  There is a lot of woo in modernism too, with Yeats and the occult. I have a kind of instinctive repulsion for astrology and things like that. That grist for another mill, I guess. I just don't think you should have a sign on your house saying trust the science if you are also an astrologer. There was this Jungian prof at Stanford, Al Gelpi, who I took courses from, and he seemed the see the modernist interest in theosophy and things like that very sympathetically, whereas for me, it brought down the modernists a notch or two in my estimation. I am much more tolerant now, but I just thought it laughable that a college professor would think that way.  

I was looking back and seeing that I was once planning a seminar on Hispanism, Now I will be giving it, several years later. I'm going to run with this idea of meta recits. I don't think postmodernism did away with them, or that is even one of the characteristics of postmodernism. Surely postmodernism is itself a master narrative of a sort. 

Magical Hispanism

 What if magical realism and Spanish-language surrealism and the duende were all parts of the same thing? We will call it Magical Hispanism, the idea that Spanish-language literature is deeper and more primitive. This cuts to the core of "ideologies of Hispanism" (Mabel Moraña). It is hard to do away with it, because some of us went into the field in search of it. 

My most famous book was a salvo against magical hispanism, though I didn't formulate the phrase until this morning. Its emblematic figure is the mythical writer *Gabriel García Lorca* and the ever-cited Mark Hayes. 

Thursday, March 25, 2021


 There was quite strange story on NPR I heard in my car the other day. They were interviewing an Asian American woman about the Boulder shooting, and trying to frame it in terms of anti-Asian violence?  It was odd because the victims of the Colorado mass shooting were not Asians. It seemed to be a way of linking the Atlanta shooting with an unrelated incident, using the fact that this one family of Chinese-Americans happened to live in Boulder. 

I had to look up the facts later. A Syrian shooter attacked people in a grocery store in a white area of Boulder, Colorado. 

Book Collecting

 I've had hobbies and obsessions in the past, that have faded into the background. My book collecting, for example. I wanted to have every book by every New York School poet. Of course, I do have 200 books in that collection, maybe, but it is far from complete. 

I had an idea for a novel: a man about my own age or slightly older with a "lost decade," maybe his 30s. He gradually begins to reconstruct it in his memory.  It would begin by a statement like, "I have lived so long that  there are certain periods of my life I rarely think about." 


 What if everything I did was a contemplative practice? Reading poetry, watching birds, playing piano? Not to mention meditation itself. 

In this light, it would be interesting to return to Claudio Rodríguez, subject of my first book. What poet is more contemplative? My idea for this book was that CR had two conflicting concepts of language. In one, language separate us from the real. In the other, language is the mode in which the participation in reality takes place. I continue to think I am right.  CR is the greatest Spanish poet after Lorca. He actually does what Valente claims to be doing. 

Steve Reich

 I've always liked Reich's Drumming.  A little while ago I realized that I had heard nothing else by him, so I listened to several other compositions. My general impression was that other compositions were similar, and didn't expand me musically beyond what I had heard in his one of his most famous works. I'm sure I'm wrong from the point of view of a real aficionado. Someone would come and argue that his work has other facets I am not hearing. It doesn't diminish my love for Drumming, either.  If that's all he did, that would be more than most people. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Let's Cancel More...

 Here I think I have come up with some people we should cancel:

Calvin: he executed people for theological differences.

Sir Thomas More. Also, burned heretics at the stake for theological differences. 

Martin Luther. Rabidly antisemitic. 

Paul. Said slaves should obey their masters and women should not speak in church.

Of course, people will say that we shouldn't judge according to our standards. In those days, burning people who didn't agree with you theologically was culturally acceptable. Here's the problem, though. That is cultural relativism, and this kind of religion claims universal, timeless status. It won't do to simply invoke cultural relativism when it is convenient and reject it in all other cases. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The red-winged blackbird

This bird is diurnal, plentiful, and gregarious, getting together in flocks of hundreds, sometimes, but also spreading out over several acres. Once a whole line of them, about forty, landed on the path, as though to block it. It perches in high tree branches and fence posts, visibly, and also flies around a lot between trees and grass. It is loud, wanting to call attention to itself, and with a distinctive call. It is visually unmistakable, black with red and yellow markings on the wing. It is relatively unafraid of people. 

In short, six or seven factors make this bird impossible to miss. Just one or two of these would make it easy to see, so its visibility seems "overdetermined."   

The same goes for the Canada goose. It is large, with loud and distinctive barking honk, plentiful, easy to spot in the air as well as on the water, with its long neck and vee shaped flying formation. 


Today I saw a cardinal in a tree in the wetlands. I see them every day on my own balcony, so this seems a bit odd: I had to walk a long way to see common bird-feeder songbird. 


Turkey vultures, a pair of wood ducks. Mallards and white-billed ducks. Other species I couldn't identify. This is still bird-watching 101.  

Bad social science?

 In Gelman's formulation, there seems to be the idea that "good social science" is the product of academic research, whereas "bad social science reasoning" would be the ways in which human beings reason about society in other contexts.  It could be bad social science within an academic context, or folk beliefs about society, culture, economics, psychology found in non-academic settings. 

In any case, the idea that the goal of social science is to correct delusions about ourselves is an attractive one. We can correct error... whether we get to the truth is another matter. The formulation is strikingly negative. I'm not sure that academic beliefs are superior to folk wisdom. Don't they just boil down to another kind of folk wisdom? We all know academics who post some stupid meme on facebook in an uncritical way if it bolsters their political convictions. 

As for humanities research... the only justification that's made sense to me is that products of the human imagination, like films, symphonies, epic poems, or paintings are rewarding to study in their own right.  It seems like a weaker justification than the utilitarian ones given for hard science and social science, but it is actually stronger.

For that matter, the idea that science is only valuable because of its utilitarian uses is also questionable. The universe is awe-inspiring and that ought to be reason enough to study it. 

Why Study Social Science? (Andrew Gelman)

 Here’s my answer. We study the natural sciences because they help us understand the natural world and they also solve problems, from vaccines to the building of bridges to more efficient food production. We study the social sciences because they help us understand the social world and because, whatever we do, people will engage in social-science reasoning.

The baseball analyst Bill James once said that the alternative to good statistics is not no statistics, it’s bad statistics. Similarly, the alternative to good social science is not no social science, it’s bad social science.

The reason we do social science is because bad social science is being promulgated 24/7, all year long, all over the world. And bad social science can do damage.

In summary: the utilitarian motivation for the natural sciences is that can make us healthier, happier, and more comfortable. The utilitarian motivation for the social sciences is they can protect us from bad social-science reasoning. It’s a lesser thing, but that’s what we’ve got, and it’s not nothing.

Monday, March 22, 2021


 We saw Mank yesterday. It is the back story of how the screen-play for Citizen Kane got written. It was historically dense, with Louis B. Mayer, Upton Sinclair, William Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies, and Orson Welles being discussed. As cinema, it was a bit disappointing, due to that heavy didactic character. We were talking about how someone unfamiliar with the history of that period would be pretty much lost. 


 Birds seen from balcony or at feeder in last two weeks: 

Mourning dove








Blue jay 



Maybe another warbler?

Deep Reading

 Here are some low tech practices of deep reading. I'm sure there are more, or variations of these ideas. 

1) Close reading, or analysis, is one form of deep reading, but not the only one. It tends to be the only one common in academic practice. I emphasize deep over close because I think sometimes analysis can get banal or unimaginative. 

2) Memorization. I once memorized most of Samuel Beckett's short novel Ill seen, ill said.  Memorization is a way of internalizing the text, making it one's own. 

3) Making a glossary or dictionary, as Jiménez Heffernan has done with some books by Gamoneda.

4) Translation. 

5) Song setting. 

6) Immersive reading: reading all of an author / going to school with that author.

7) Reading everyone who has influenced a given writer. I can't be the only one who read Henry Green because Ashbery was into him. 

8) Imitation, parody. Write your own Borges story. 

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Other examples of simplicity

Other examples: things that require no technology newer than 2,500 years. 

Exercise that requires only the human body itself (running, pushups). 

Meditation. Requires only a floor and a pillow. 

Singing: no equipment required. The instrument is yourself. 

(Dance, too).  

High School

 In this dream I had to finish my last year of High School. The school secretary was trying to look me up in a database of Spanish teachers, but could not find me. I was trying to explain that I was going to be a High School student, not a teacher. There was difficult in figuring out what credit I would need.

The I was a singer-songwriter, but confined to a few letters of the alphabet. I could use words like the and there

Saturday, March 20, 2021


 The structure of a poem is more factual than a matter of opinion. Students will tell me that in their opinion, there is no rhyme in this poem--when the poem actually has a rhyme scheme. I don't care whether I agree with a student's interpretations. They can still do fine even if they don't happen to agree with me. The reason is that we, the professors, disagree with one another all the time about interpretations. It would be unfair to penalize a student for not reading my mind. But it is an objective fact that viene rhymes with muerte (assonantal rhyme, according to the rules of Spanish prosody). 

I end up wanting to teach them very basic things. Which words rhyme with which other words, not to call every work of literature a "cuento" or, even worse, a "cuenta." That the word tema is masculine in Spanish. Not to center every line of a poem. 

Accurate statements of fact are very difficult. My friend wrote an article about a small town in Kansas for AAA magazine. An editor changed the wording enough to introduce 4 or 5 factual errors in a short piece. My friend had to then correct the editor so that these mistakes wouldn't show up in the final product. We've all seen journalism about things we actually know about, and notice how inaccurate it tends to be. Of course, journalism about things we don't know about will also have the same errors, but we won't be in a position to correct them. 

Consider the student who takes basic factual information from a wiki. The student must read the source, summarize it accurately, cite the source, integrate that information into his or her own paper in a meaningful way. I get tired of reading from my students how Lorca is writing about a dictatorship that did not yet exist during his lifetime. 

Friday, March 19, 2021


 Technologically simple things. Meeting in a room to discuss a book. Writing a poem with a pen and paper. Looking out the window and seeing a bird. What makes these things efficient is that all the attention goes into the thing itself. 

La cultura del espectáculo

 I found this book on my shelf by Vargas Llosa, denouncing the banality of contemporary culture. I remember reading it before and hating it, and I thought I had written this post many years ago, but I'm not finding it.

It seems the perfect example of a book that forms part of the very culture it is denouncing. He doesn't ever engage with any aspect of contemporary culture. Novels, films, musical compositions, the visual and performing arts. None of this appears any place in his work. "Culture" is a pure abstraction for him, a stick to beat up aspects of contemporary life he doesn't like. 

 Nor does he do any well-developed essayistic writing: these are all just newspaper articles of the kind that famous authors write in Spain for El País on a daily basis. Of course, his reactionary political stances do not win him any favor with me, but I would have liked to read a reactionary thinker who can at least develop ideas in a more sophisticated way.  

A similar decline has occurred in his novelistic writing. My brother gave me a signed copy of a MVLL novel after he won the Nobel Prize, and it was unreadable. I mean even worse than the Tía Julia and Elogio de la madrastra.  If he represents high culture, then what hope is there? 

Thursday, March 18, 2021


 I was walking along the path and suddenly saw a juvenile bald eagle sitting in a tree. It didn't move as I walked by. I also saw a heron, assorted water fowl, along with the usual suspects.

I a

Lucid Dreams

 I had a fairly long lucid dream. I was in Spain, but hadn't made hotel reservations. I rapidly became friends with a family that had some kind of middle-Eastern restaurant. The characters were quite distinctively individual, and of different ages and genders. At one point I realized I didn't need a hotel; I could stay with them. 

Later, in a café with several people, I announced that we were all in my dream, and that I had absolute control over the situation. Some people scoffed at me, including a middle-aged businessman in a suit. To demonstrate my powers I levitated, then lifted the man up from the ground using only the powers of my mind. 

What was extraordinary about this dream was not the events, but the general feeling of living for quite a while in this alternative space. 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Max Roach

 The radio came on in the morning. I heard tenor saxophone, and as I focussed attention a little more, I recognized Sonny Rollins. Then I tried to identify it. I coouldn't idenity piano or bass. The drum solo was Max Roach, very obviously. The phrasing and the melodic contour, the sonority. As I was almost awake I realized that the song was "Moritat." Then I remembered I had once tried to transcribe part of a solo by him. It is not so much that I was able to do it, but that I even attempted it. That kind of close attention to what I am hearing is something I have worked on for two decades now. 

All the things I am

 Everything I do seems half-assed to me, in a certain mood. My drumming, piano playing, singing, and composition. My drawing and birdwatching. My zen practice. My writing of poetry and short-stories. 

To varying degrees, this is true. The mistake is in thinking that it should be otherwise. All these activities are windows into the world. Observation of birds arose because I got my eyes operated on and can see better. It seemed logical and easy to begin, since I can see six or seven species of birds just by having a cup of coffee by the window in the morning.  

Tuesday, March 16, 2021


 I use baskerville as my default font on word documents. Today I see cited a study that says it make your prose sound smarter. Sans serif fonts make you sound dumber. 

Feeder birds

 I looked at a web site for "bird feeder birds," and it coincides to a large degree with my own experience over the past two weeks. Today I saw everything I normally see, plus blue jays and mourning doves near by, but not actually on the feeder or balcony. 

I learned today that doves and woodpeckers are not passerines, but other families of birds. Blue jays are corvids, which I didn't know until today.  


I knew the word urraca, and had a vague idea of it. I am making my passive bird vocabulary more active.  

Here is our first pantoum...


Monday, March 15, 2021

Hot pepper bird seed

 The squirrels were going through my seeds very quickly, so I bought some hot pepper seed. The birds cannot taste it, so they still will eat it, but it deters the rodents. 

Sunday, March 14, 2021

surrealist pantoum

 Here the game is the we start with a grammatical description of 12 lines, then have people write lines according to that description. Like: noun phrase, prepositional phrase, command, transitive sentence in the third person, curse, etc...  Combine the lines into stanzas and then we have a pantoum. 

3 new feeder birds

House finch, bay-breasted warbler, some kind of wookpecker? There are 7 species I have seen so far at the feeder. Most of the seeds go to the squirrels, though.  

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Surrealism and Abstraction

 Surrealist visual art has to be representational, figurative. Its basic technique is a kind of realism. "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" does not work unless you recognize the pipe. 

2 poetics (or 3)

 There are two kinds of poetry, for some of my Spanish friends. One is super-explicit political poetry, or banal realism, the other is minimalist metapoetry in the Valente tradition. Those who do the second option want to be considered just as left-wing as the others. Yesterday we were reading a poet I thought was derivative of Valente, who is already a derivative poet to my mind. I was told he or she was unique, a rarity in contemporary Spanish poetry, but in terms that could be applied to any number of poets in the Valente school. I feel I have some authority to opine, because I specialized in the Valente school for years. I've written the equivalent of a book on Valente (several book chapters and articles). 

The work I really value now is the kind of "cutting through" aesthetic I see in Vallejo or William Blake. It just cuts through the bullshit on a visceral level. Perhaps my zen practice comes in here, though I am a novice. We say "delusions are endless, we vow to cut through them all." Humor is also common in zen. There can be nothing over solemn in a false way there.  

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Buster Keaton

 I watched a few Buster Keaton movies today. I was working all day, even through meals, it seemed. I watched one at lunch between two classes, another later between class and a meeting. Then took a walk to my office, returned some books. Ate dinner, worked on the course proposal. 

Anyway, Keaton is delightful. He makes his physical smallness work for him, and the visual gags are funny even when you know exactly what is coming. It comes, but always better than you would anticipate. I'm working on an idea for the theater chapter of that other Lorca book. I would consider the three surrealist short plays along with two other dialogues that aren't really recognized as plays, so I've been reading El paseo de Buster Keaton

Intro to Hispanic Studies

 I'm putting together an intro to Hispanic Studies for Graduate students. I have a description from a colleague who taught it, but it is not my style at all, so I have to redo it from scratch. 

I am thinking about talking about the master narratives of the field. Beyond that I'm not sure. The focus is on interdisciplinary work, but also on the field itself as a discipline with its own intellectual history. 


 When we think of birds generically we are usually thinking of passerines, birds in the songbird / sparrow classification. That is over half of the total number of bird species. It takes its name from the Latin passer, from which comes the Spanish word pájaro. Passer (the actual sparrow) is only one genus of passerines [passeridae]. 

{The four birds at my feeder typially are cardinal, titmouse, sparrow, and chickadee.} 

Corvids is a family that belong to the the passarines, but are not sparrows. 

Dream of drum playing

 I was playing drums, but every time I came in it was too loud, and the other musicians complained. I couldn't get it right, crashing the cymbal each time as I began to play. 


There was some elaborate word game played by all of us at the same time, with a given set of permutations for the game.  It involved more than words but the details escaped me after I woke up. It lasted what seemed like most of the night (after the drumming dream.)


I ordered a book, Rita Felski on the concept of a literary character. It came, but to my father's name. He thought it was a present I had given him. I was happy to have him read it first. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

¿Hay cantautoras?

 It seems that the entire singer-songwriter tradition in Spain skews heavily toward males. It is not surprising, since many things skews male. Entire genres like rock music, as well as many subgenres of rock. I don't mean that there are no women in these genres, but that there is a heavily male gender marking. 

I don't know enough about Latin American singers of this genre to reach a conclusion. I would guess it skews male here, too, with Violeta Parra as the exception. Folk music had more women involved than hard rock. 

The poets sung by these singers are also male, aside from an odd poem by Gloria Fuertes or an album dedicated to Rosalía de Castro. 

(In classical music, you would tend to find women singers more often singing Lorca Lieder, including his popular songs that he first recorded with Encarnación.)  

It seems to me that we have to recognize these patterns when they are so strongly marked. Classic rock is also strongly white. The reason is that there was the industry was itself segregated, so that black artists were classified as R&B and white artists were rock, with a few notable exceptions. In jazz, the cool musicians were white, and the hard boppers black, although arguably the most fruitful music of this period was Miles Davis's collaborations with Gil Evans (with Lee Konitz) and Bill Evans. 

Women in jazz were mostly singers and pianists, too.  White composers of the classical American songbook were mostly Jewish, taking away Cole Porter and Hoagy Carmichael.  

I guess the lesson is that society is segregated, and gender roles strongly differentiated, it would be unusual to find random distributions in cultural expressions.  

Surrealist Games (ii)

Although I thought my instructions for the Surrealist game were clear, some groups of students were resistant. A lamp became a machine to attract moths. I thought that was not so much in the spirit of the game, because it is too close to the real life effect of a lamp. Headphones used to shut out outside noise... 

The game works best when the professor brings in objects that look somewhat enigmatic. I have, for example a leather strap with weights designed to hold a book open. It is not obvious what it is, so the invented uses come more easily, without interference from its real use.  

Another surrealist game is exquisite corpse.  You can use the formula 

adjective  / singular noun / transitive verb / adjective / noun  / adverb 

The first person writes a an adjective without showing it to anyone, etc... and you get a random sentence. 

The visual version: you draw a head and neck on the top third of a sheet of paper, then fold to make only the bottom lines of the neck visible. The next person draws the torso without seeing the head, and then folds again with only the tops of the legs visible. 

Another is to invent imaginary definitions of words, like arugula as a sea-serpent. Paul Eluard invented that in a poem called something like "Some of the words whose meanings has been veiled to me until now".  To me, the word arugula sounds much better as a mythological beast than as a vegetable. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Surrealist game


Miles to go before I sleep....

 KU and head football coach Les Miles have agreed to part ways. Our football program is horrible in football terms, but also badly administrated. They hired Miles, and it has come out that he was a sexual harrasser at previous job at LSU. He wanted to hire blonde women with large bosoms as student assistants, and had inappropriate contact with some of them to the point where he was prohibited from being in the same room with any of them. Recently, KU football hired an offensive coordinator for about 6 times my salary, where the previous coordinator had made less than half that. All this, when our department has to choose between firing lecturers and still having graduate students. 

Titmouse and Heron

 At the wetlands yesterday, two herons sighted about two miles apart.  One picked something out of the water (a fish?) and took it to shore eat. At feeder this morning, tufted titmouse, along with the usual cardinals and sparrows. Squirrels, too, will come. It is pointless to chase them away, though feeding them is quite expensive. 


At one point, I noticed that the majority of the words I would need to look up when reading Spanish poetry were names of birds or plants. I conceived of the project of a "poet's ornithology." I wouldn't be the one to do it, because I'm not very experienced. There are four main directions. 

1) Bird song is the closest and most familiar natural analog for human song, hence the main natural metaphor for song (poetry) itself. 

2) Bird flight is a prime metaphor for freedom and aspiration. 

3) Individual species are conventionally associated with certain qualities or personalities, like swallows with constancy or owls, crows, hawks, swans, falcons, eagles, peacocks, with their folkloric and literary attributes. The average non-poetic or non-ornithological person will be familiar with several of these associations. 

4) Birds live in proximity to humans, in urban, suburban, rural areas as well as the wilderness. They are part of the lived experience of nature for almost everyone. Birds are close to human, while also alien. You would think simians would be the prime metaphorical analog for humans, but they are too close. We think of them as "aping" human behavior, as being uncomfortably similar. We don't always like to be related to them biologically, because of course we are. Birds are not superficially similar at all, so there is more metaphorical play possible. The variety of species means there is a template on which different personalities can be projected. The symbolism of the sparrow, for example, comes its actual behavior, close to the ground hunting for seeds in a humble, skittish way. 

Monday, March 8, 2021


 I watched La novia, film version of Bodas de sangre.  The Bride sings "De los cuatro muleros" and "La Tarara," and there is a version of Leonard Cohen's "Take this Waltz," so three Lorca songs that aren't part of Bodas de sangre at all. The Hungarian opera also cites "De los cuatro muleros." The Argentine film uses "Anda jaleo" too.  So these extra Lorca songs work as "fillers" in films and operas. 


 A particular set of Bluenote jazz musicians, often appearing on each other's records in the 1960s. Andrew Hill, Bobby Hutcherson, Joe Chambers. With the bassist Richard Davis on many of these records. I gravitate toward this music, somewhere between hard bop and avant-garde. Curiously, none is among my favorite instrumentalists on their particular instruments, except for Bobby H, on vibes. It's just that particular epoch and style I like. 

Since today I am listening to a Hungarian opera on Bodas de sangre, I will listen to these as my reward after work. I don't even dislike the opera, but it is work to listen to it. 


 Just as the bird book says, the chickadees pick a seed out of the feeder, then fly to a near by tree branch to eat it. They will do this all day. 

Cutting through

 There's a quality I miss when it isn't there, and that I strive for myself in a poem. I call it by the phrase "cutting through." It's an urgency, maybe a refusal to compromise with bullshit. When I see a random poem in the New Yorker or the New York Review of Books, the two magazines I'm likely to have on hand in print, I notice how rarely this quality appears, so that it must be that most poets and people choosing poems don't care about it. It might be difficult to achieve, but if it isn't there, I have more difficulty caring about the poem. 

It's like when Jesus makes some sassy comeback at some stupid or impertinent question, in the Gospels. Or WCW: "I bought a dish mop / having no daughter, / for they had twisted / fine ribbons of shining copper / about white twine..."  

It is the immediacy of the perception. A poet who notices something, and then tries to come up with a simile after the fact to describe it, is putting things in the wrong order. I hate that kind of junior high school simile, where you put the simile in just because you think poems have to have similes. Maybe that's the only kind of figurative language you know. It just seems lazy to me. 

Friday, March 5, 2021


 Nothing much new ornithologically speaking at the wetlands, but I did see some muskrats mating in a pond.


I spilled some birdseeds on the balcony while filling my new bird feeder. The male and female cardinal came this morning and spent 5 minutes eating seeds from the floor--not from the feeder itself. 


Other birds have discovered the feeder. Junco and chickadee. Once a bird discovers it, it will likely come back, as the cardinal pair has several times. 

Thursday, March 4, 2021


 Some of the objection to Trumpism is aesthetic in nature. This is not a bad thing, because aesthetic failures sometimes give insight into moral ones. 

Short poem

 La medianoche se aproxima

y yo sin puta idea

Dream of Haydn

 We were singing something; I didn't know the words. When my turn came, I was singing in unison with a woman (an octave lower than her). I somehow thought she was my sister (pre-dementia).There were a lot of coloratura effects. By the end, there were five or six of us all singing and we came to a rousing conclusion.

When I woke up, I realized that the piece was the first movement of Haydn's trumpet concerto, which I know very well since my daughter is classical trumpet player, and it is the standard audition piece. That's probably why the words were fuzzy to me in the dream. 

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

More Blackbirds

 What I thought was a different species of bird sharing a tree with the red-winged blackbird is the female of the species, which is grayish and drab. There were an abundant number of them all together, making a lot of noise and other isolated ones elsewhere. They like heights. 


 I found another opera on Bodas de sangre, by Argentine composer. (Sigh). On the one hand, I need one more opera to make a chapter, on the other hand, it sounds kind of pedestrian at first listen. 


 I'd like to be in the acknowledgments of many people's books. Not just to see my name there, but to remember having helped someone. Sometimes it will just be thanks to an anonymous reviewer. It would be nice to think of peer review as giving assistance to the author, rather than merely exhausting gatekeeping. 

I don't remember anyone leaving me out of an acknowledgments page. People are good about this, generally. If someone doesn't thank anyone, I get suspicious. Either they never talk about their ideas with anyone, or they are ungrateful. Writing is a solitary activity, but it takes place in the context of intellectual exchange, what Creeley called the "company." 

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Dream of Lazarillo

I was teaching Lazarillo de Tormes. My students hadn't read it (nor I, in the past 20 years), so I was improvising a lecture. I explained that it was a book about people too poor to have servants, who still had servants, and that the theme of the book was extreme poverty. Specifically, how not to starve to death (morir de hambre). I'm sure my lecture was wildly inaccurate in its details. After all, it was improvised with no preparation, and I gave it literally while sleeping. 

Monday, March 1, 2021

Red winged blackbird

 Many red-winged blackbirds in the wetlands this evening. Assorted waterfowl, ducks and geese, gulls. At first it seemed like I wouldn't see anything but the odd sparrow. 


 At the wetlands on Saturday, seven or eight gulls with dark-tipped wings flying circular and oval patterns over the ponds.  

Come on!


Dutch publisher Meulenhoff had announced Rijneveld, winner of the International Booker prize, as the translator of the Joe Biden inaugural poet’s forthcoming collection, The Hill We Climb, last week. But the move quickly drew opprobrium. Journalist and activist Janice Deul led critics with a piece in Volkskrant asking why Meulenhoff had not chosen a translator who was, like Gorman, a “spoken-word artist, young, female and unapologetically Black”.

So the translator has to share the same identity as the translatee?  The point of translation is to transcend identity, or, if that sounds bad to you, to negotiate differences in identity.