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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, 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." 

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Vargas Llosa

 The Hemingway documentary uses snippets from Vargas LL.  He disses For Whom the Bell but praises The Old Man and the Sea.  ??  John McCain loves The Bell. Edna O'Brien recognizes The Old Man as "schoolboy writing." The documentary is trying to make The Old Man his late masterpiece. 


 At the football stadium yesterday: a red-tailed hawk. Today I went back, saw it again, along with some rock pigeons, very high on the roof. 

Alvarez Ortega

 Someone wants me to translate some Manuel Alvarez Ortega poems. I'm having a hard time choosing, because his work seems very much of a piece. Every poem has the same kind of rhetoric and diction, the same rhythmic structure. It's a rhetoric derived from surrealism. I like it well enough. 

The volume will be translations of him into various other languages, Italian, French, English, etc...  I'm not sure why they chose to do this. It doensn't fit with the conventional logic of translation for people who cannot read the original.  

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Hermit Crab

 I invented a new form today. 

We first create a "hermit crab" for our play. It is a pre-existing structure like an oral exam, a job interview... We also have premise: time travel, mistaken identity, fantastical transformation... 

person a] writes 10 questions

b] writes 10 questions

c]  answers b's questions

We pair c's answers with a's questions, or with a combination of the two sets of questions. 

Now we write stage directions and a title, and perform our work. My students are doing this right as we speak. I will let you know how it turned out.  

Bald Eagle

 I took almost 13,000 steps yesterday. I saw an eagle right when I arrived at the wetlands. Another bird I'm trying to identify: grey wings, white belly, the size of a blackbird but fatter body; broad but not wide wings, flies around in circles a lot, loud shrill cry. I'm sure it's obvious but I'm just not seeing what it could be, not even the general category. [Update: a small gull, I think]. 

Chuck Epps from Public Administration department was there (as usual) with his wife and kid and two big white dogs. He made a joke about our state motto being "into the gutter, with difficulty" (per aspera ad astra). That's what it feels like at the university these days. 

[UPDATE: got a bird app on phone from Cornell U. I figured out this one duck I like is not a wood duck, but Northern Shoveler. The other thing I've been seeing is a coot, not a duck.] 


 My ear worm is in remission. There are fragments of melody playing in my head from time to time, but I don't let it bother me. It lacks the persistent, bothersome, obsessive quality it used to have, like a radio that can't be turned off. Perhaps it was meditation that made this go away. You realize you don't have to turn off the radio. 


I'm cited on receptivity in this book.  I like the idea of being "hooked" on a literary text. Instead of the conventional idea that we will read a book and immediately forget it, graduating with a liberal arts degree but without ever being fascinated enough with any text to remember its author. My engagement with many authors borders of the obsessive. The memorization and the ear worm relate to this. I've never known people as afflicted with ear worm with purely verbal material as I have been.  


I've noticed that arguments with myself are also diminishing in intensity. When I find myself starting an internal debate, I note what is happening. It doesn't stop the argument, but it places it in its proper perspective. 


 To convict Chauvin, the prosecution is painting the rest of the Minn. police as above reproach. The black police chief is very likable, soft-spoken and gentle. The training the police receive is excellent, very nuanced about how to treat people who might be high on drugs or otherwise unable to comply. The blonde training officer is a highly educated war veteran. Another black officer who was passing by, also very likable. 

The narrative is that the rest of the police are great, and that Chauvin is the rogue cop. I'm sure it's the best strategy. If they depicted the whole police force as institutionally racist, it would be harder to convict the single individual.  [There will be a trial of the other officers too, who stood by and didn't prevent the murder.] 

Monday, April 5, 2021


 I was watching the Hemingway doc on PBS. He says: "I wanted to write about the simplest thing, violent death, so I went to Spain, to watch bullfights." Like having a seat at the war, without the danger.  "He fell in love with Spain." 


 Buñuel could have directed movie about the murder of Lorca in the early 70s, with a screenplay by Jorge Semprún. On declining the invitation, he gave three reasons.

That he was retired from filmmaking. (He did go on to make another movie.)

That if he were to make another movie, it would be what he wanted to do. He had earned that right. (He was in a surrealist phase; I have a hard time seeing him doing a film with a Semprún script.)

He had known Lorca, so he couldn't accept any surrogate actor in Lorca's role.  

The three reasons are contradictory. 1 would be enough. 2 contradicts one. If 2 is the real reason, 3 is otiose. 


 The case for BLM is a statistical one. Police kill people of all different races, so they are also killing white people and plenty of people from other minority groups. The difference is in the numbers of people, in relative not absolute terms. In other words, the police kill more whites than black, but they kill more blacks in relation to the size of these populations. Most people don't think of it that way, of course. White victims of the police don't matter, because they don't fit the narrative. Presumably the lower number of white victims is a matter of "privilege." The police still might shoot you, but not as often.  

Yet the consciousness of it centers around a very few exemplary victims whose names happen to be known to the general public. This is a recipe for confusion. For example, Derek Chauvin might be convicted (or acquitted) of killing George Floyd. Seen from the exemplary perspective, this is going to be extremely meaningful in its impact, because that was the case that came to the attention of the public because of the length of time Chauvin's knee was on Floyd's neck. It is horrible to watch and has had a powerful impact on everyone who has seen it. Yet others have died, and we haven't seen their videos. The real drama is in the statistics, not in any individual case. 

I'm watching the trial, and it seems the prosecution's strategy is to bore the jury to death.  

Social Justice

We are all heirs to the 60s. Civil rights, feminism, gay liberation, Coltrane. By "we" I mean me, and everyone else I know in academia of my generation, a little older, and younger, as well as non-academic ex-hippy friends in my town. What parts of it you like or identify with most I can't say (maybe not Coltrane; maybe you are a hippy but not a pacifist, or you pick and choose your causes. Maybe you don't like how Castro treated the gays, but still aren't happy with conservative Cuban exiles.). I'm too young to have been hippy, and my parents too old, but it was that legacy that changed everything.  

In the larger society, the change happened culturally in many ways, but yet still elected Nixon twice, Reagan twice, the Bushes and Trump, albeit without the popular vote in some cases. I have a deep, visceral reaction to all of them. 


It was natural for social justice to be conceived of as the raison d'être for the humanities themselves, given this culture. If you are a Hispanist, then you like the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War, and you get to celebrate Lorca, Machado, and Hernández. 

So let's also make social justice the content of the humanities, abandoning all those stale old disciplines. 

Here's where it gets tricky, for me, because, well, I kind of like my discipline. I would also point out the difference between a discipline and a field or area. A field is where you work, and a discipline is how. It is a craft or way of knowing. I like interdisciplinary work, but I don't like anti, non, or undisciplined work. I like to dabble seriously. In my music major you still learn to read music. 

Sliding door dream

There was sliding door open four or five inches. Animals kept getting in, mostly large worms, lizards, and iguanas. I kept chasing them out, trying to close the door, but then turning my back, and finding a large monitor lizard or gila monster that startled me. An officious guy is standing by telling me how to do it, telling me the door is not closed all the way. 

This after a night of intense dreams. An over affectionate, talking cat could say the alphabet up to G, then gibberish after that. A criminal crossing a bridge pursued by a lawman... the lawman talks on the radio about how he has caught sight of the perp, but the latter tosses him into the river. This was continuation of another story I can't recall. I was not the criminal but watching it on a screen and identified with him. 


 Even what we most love and admire has huge, insurmountable flaws.

The conservatory you always dreamed of attending

Rejects you. You play no instrument!  The woman you love

Lives in another city and doesn't know you exist. 

You are a "night owl" but afraid 

Of the dark....


A cousin of mine, Stephen Mayhew, who grew up on his father's jazz record collection (my uncle "Buddy") went to college with the thought of being a music major, but very quickly realized that you had to know how to read music and play an instrument, etc... I guess Buddy told my dad and he told me about this. I thought of him after I wrote these lines in my head on my walk the other day. It is a hilarious, endearing, and instructive story because it is something I can see myself doing (something along those lines, I mean.) I'm thinking of being a crossword puzzle constructor. I have no idea whether I could do it (I'm sure I could, but I mean whether I have the patience and perseverance to follow through on it.) Other examples: I became very interested in Lezama Lima at one point. What I really like, though, is the idea of Lezama Lima. There are things I really love in him, but then I also get very skeptical and want to not read him any more. I remember some colleagues making fun of me for even trying to understand it.  

Or take my whole profession. I thought people would be interested in trying to figure out how poems work, because that was how I got into it, but this was a mistake on my part. It turns out nobody knows how poems work, it's a complete mystery, and nobody even cares very much about it except me and maybe three other people. This is almost the opposite story of my cousin, because it would be like me majoring in music and being the only person there who could read music. 

Saturday, April 3, 2021

The Triumph of Vagueness

"If we want to teach students that human life is not organized into disciplines, then we should not organize our curricula into disciplines. If we want to teach students to see historical connections across differing conditions of global power, we should not organize our literature departments exclusively around modern languages, whose effect is to reproduce over and over again the knowledge and aesthetic work produced in a period of European dominance. If we want students to take a humanistic approach to problems outside the traditional humanities, we should not feel the need to “fit” topics of political or social justice into our courses on the history of the Ming dynasty, but rather be open about the fact that humanist reason can teach us a great deal about social justice or histories of violence, and teach courses that have those things right in the name."

Human life is not organized into disciplines, but academic knowledge is. If we bypass disciplinary thinking and go straight to the meat of what we really want, "social justice," then we are leaving the students without the intellectual skills to think critically about anything at all. I agree that shoe-horning some facile point about contemporary politics into a course on the Ming dynasty is lame. 

Another paragraph:

"The time horizon for that teaching is not the single semester or the course. It’s the student’s lifetime. And so I don’t care too much whether students remember anything specific about most of the books they read with me, or about what they can do by the end of the semester. I care that, in 20 or 30 years, those students will have had a richer and more responsible life than they would have had otherwise. And I hope that the kind of thinking about the world that I helped them learn will have empowered them to do so."

God forbid you ever know anything specific about anything, or remember it a second later. The humanities are justified by generalities like "a richer and more responsible life" or "thinking about the world." It's not that I don't believe in these things at some level, but that I become distrustful of the vague language of enrichment.   

A lot of what Hayot proposes sounds very cool and forward looking. There are specific things in this proposal I like, as well. But I'm cynical...  

Friday, April 2, 2021


 People keep citing this Forbes story that academics are more likely to have academic parents than random people from the general population, or that academics are more likely to come from wealthier than average families.  It is supposed to be bad that there are families in academia for more than one generation? Also, if you are trying to make money, academia is not the best of the genteel professions, so maybe you feel you can do it if you have more of a cushion, with wealthier parents. Probably if we were poorer my daughter would not feel the possibility of trying to be a classical musician.  

A lot of things are "family businesses." I'm sure Wynton (or Branford) Marsalis had a head start with Ellis Marsalis as his father, vs. another person with non-musician parents.  Joshua Redman's father was a also a jazz sax player, etc... Not to mention Mozart or Bach, Beethoven, etc... We just can't expect accomplishments to occur in a vacuum. Musicians emerge from a musical culture, not just from schooling. 

Madonna studies

 People did a lot of academic work on Madonna back in the day, when she had emerged as a formidable pop star. It seems a bit embarrassing now. Not that she is not a formidable presence in pop music, with a well-deserved career, but that the sort of claims made for her sound exaggerated, like deconstructing Western civilization as a whole {"rewriting some very fundamental levels of Western thought"]. Feminist readings of her had to actively discount the way she played into male fantasies. One feminist musicologist claimed that she didn't appeal to the male heterosexual imagination at all, to which I wanted to say, 'how would you know?'  It would be like me claiming that she never had an empowering effect on any woman listener. 

It's also embarrassing that it is only Madonna. In other words, she became a kind of token object of study, adored by people who had no interest in any other form of popular culture. I remember people being skeptical even at the time Madonna Studies was emerging as a field. African Americans and some feminists resented the attention paid to her. She gets lionized for something that African American women had already done, in a kind of 'great white hope' narrative. McClary: "what we do need: a white woman musician who can create images of desire ... " Ouch.  

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Birds learning to fly

 I was lying in bed, but outside, at the house of some friends of mine. I was watching some birds learning to fly, some tree swallows being pushed out of their nests by their parents. I would cheer each one's efforts. One landed in the bed next to me, and I tried to launch it into the air myself.