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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...

Sunday, June 27, 2021


 Today I was listening in my car to my itunes library in alphabetical order. In due time, I heard myself reading choruses 91-101 99 (or thereabouts) of Mexico City Blues. I wasn't even concerned with the various imperfections of my own reading; this is just an amazing stretch of poems. One chorus carries through to another, and you probably shouldn't pause between them, even.  

It was an amazing 15 minutes. I hadn't remembered recording it, though I know I memorized one chorus of this section. 

Covid hobbies

 I started zen shortly before Covid--not a Covid hobby, then, and not really a "hobby." My true hobby was birdwatching, which I started early in 2021. I kept with piano throughout, but played less when doing more birdwatching. Now I'm doing a bit more, and looking for a piano teacher again. 

 I'm taking my first out-of-town birdwatching trip tomorrow, to Great Bend Kansas and environs.  

I've started running again. I had some gout a year ago, and a little hip pain, but I have no excuses left. My starting time is 9:48 for one mile, and 12:50 a mile for two.  I got faster at crosswords. I abandoned all other puzzles but the "spelling bee." 

I went through a jaunt of reading Italian novels. My friend in the Italian dept. gave me some high brow ones, because I was reading Elena Ferrante, to his horror. 

I went in for comfort foods: lasagna, chili, gazpacho. My cooking did not improve, but stagnated a bit.  

I wrote short stories for the first time. 


 I saw Nomadland last night. I had remembered a critique I read about the movie not being anti-capitalist enough, in a strong way. But I don't think that was what the film was trying to do in the first place. The people who wanted the movie to be the movie they wanted it to be are correct as far as thatgoes,  but I was happy with the movie it happened to be.  What is wasn't, and wasn't trying to be, was an anti-capitalist documentary.  

God knows we have enough unsubtle didacticism out there. 

Saturday, June 26, 2021


 I'm reading Christopher Small's Musicking. I"m pretty sure I'm allergic to this kind of writing, which actually tells me nothing that I do not already know. It's pretty much how we are supposed to feel about music, that it is a process rather than a product, that the Western tradition reifies it in often unhelpful ways.  I just happen to hate every sentence of it.  

For example, a parenthetical aside: "there is evidence that many of the early producers of sound films deliberately used classically trained musicians to compose music so as to enhance the social prestige of their product." This seems reasonable enough, but on closer examination it collapses. Almost everyone who could have or would have composed music for films in this period was "classically trained" in the trivial sense. It is not easy to compose a film score without such training, in the absence of later electronics generated by computers. Even Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn didn't write a jazz soundtrack for a full length feature until 1959.  

The "deliberately" sounds off to me, as does the implied motive. Maybe the movie producers simply had no different or better ideas of what kind of music to use. I even dislike the phrase "there is evidence" in this context. It lends almost too much weight to the insight, which otherwise might seem banal. 

Refusal to blurb

 I said no to blurbing a book yesterday. The publisher asked for a review, by July, and it seemed more like asking for a blurb than a "review," which would be typically solicited by a third party, not publisher or author. The publisher referred to the book as an "anthology"; it is not, it is a unified collection by a single author. The translation did not please me, either. It is true that in Spanish the word antología is used for what we would call a "selected poems" in English, but this was not a selected poems and we don't use the word anthology like that in English. 

I've decided not to blurb books that I do not love, any more, or that are only marginally good. I always feel that I am being nice rather than sincere, and the praise often sounds lukewarm anyway. I'm surprised people even use blurbs by me that say that a book is kinda ok. I also think I won't review books any more. I often make exceptions if I want the book or would read it anyway.  

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Bad Dreams

 Dreams intensely bad. I was being skewered for all my flaws by loved ones. An Ex was talking to me about her love for another woman, "Diana," that had occurred when we were married.  

Then driving a VW Bug that I had purchased for some reason; the car had no roof and I couldn't see much. I regretted buying it. Drove into a weird construction site. Getting out of my car, I was inside a building; someone called me by my name, something that happens rarely in my dreams, and said that I had been through a lot in the last few days. First mugged, then ambushed, in no shape to drive home. I was supposed to play some psychological games with people in this room...


 When people talk about language being inadequate, I have to wonder. My idea is this: language is perfectly well suited to what it is supposed to do, so the idea that is falls short, somehow, is based on a misapprehension of what language does. If we think language is supposed to solve all sorts of non-linguistic problems, or represent reality in some transcendent sense, then of course it will be found wanting, since it cannot possibly do any or all of this in the first place. 

It would be a bit like finding music inadequate to cure cancer. 

The gap between language and reality is so gaping that it is not even a gap. Take the word Colorado and the state of Colorado. There is no way a word could represent the geological, biological, and human history of the state. Adding a few more syllables to the word or tweaking it in some way to make it a more adequate name for all of this would be pointless, because that's not the function of language. All the poets are wrong, is what I'm saying.   


 An epoch cannot think of itself as archaic or ancient, or even the middle. If it has a conception of historical time at all, it will see itself as coming at the end of something, since literally this will be true: any moment in time is the last one so far. It's hard to think that the medieval period thought of itself as sandwiched between two other periods. 

People can think of themselves as starting something new, at the beginning of something, but this consciousness will be one of being modern.  

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

A bad / good reader of poetry

 Someone in our Spanish poetry reading group said he was a bad reader of poetry; he read slowly and inconsistently, couldn't read all that many poems in a day...  I said that actually that meant he was a good reader of poetry.  

There are people of great erudition who have read a lot of poems. Usually, that means decades of reading, not a few months. Part of the experience, probably for most of us, is passing one's eyes over many texts without really reading them, if reading means getting something out of them.  

It follows that when you do really read, you get something out of the reading of great significance. 

I realized that I had read Edward Dahlberg's memoirs simply because he was important for Charles Olson, when actually I haven't really read Olson himself. I've technically passed my eyes over some of his work, but I can't say anything intelligent about it based on really having read it.  I was reading Guy Davenport's essay where he talks about "The Kingfisher," listing many people who have told him how great it was. It turned out that nobody who had recommended the poem to him had the least idea of meaning or provenance any of its allusions.  

Tuesday, June 22, 2021


A sundial has no moving parts.

I resent my watch for telling me to breathe.  


 Oddly, when I do not go bird watching on a particular day, I play piano and write short fiction: my previous hobbies come back intact.  Or: this is not odd at all, since there is not time for every past-time every day. 

Lost Objects

The lost object has often been where it belongs the whole time, people will tell you. "Did you look in the drawer where you normally keep it?" "Where was the last place you saw it?" Almost by definition, though, something lost will not be in its proper place. You can always trying looking there again; in rare cases, you will have overlooked it, in haste, due to a perceptual error, misremembering its color, say. Maybe someone else will have replaced it in the cabinet in the interim. It is not lost, then, but merely borrowed. These cases, however, do not go to the heart of the problem.  

If you tell the loser of the item to look in an improbable place, he will tell you he already knows it is not there. "I haven't been in that room in months." "Why would I have put it there?" Thus the seeker insists on looking repeatedly in the places where lost things ought to be, when clearly something misplaced is, literally, not where you think it is. There is no arguing with such people.    

One way objects can be lost is through use. To use an object one takes it down from the proverbial shelf; loss occurs through failing to put it back. The other way is through disuse: if something is not used for several years it tends to go missing through processes we do not fully understand, or simply by being tossed out with the trash in a moment of inattention. 



 I was reading Bob Dylan's novel Tarantula in my office, all just to find a few Lorca references. It is an insufferable pseudo-beatnik word salad. Wikipedia describes it as a collection of prose poetry. It's not exactly that, or a novel either. 

Nonetheless, I imagine a literary form based on the sections of chapters of it. Each ends with a kind of letter signed with a jocular name. 

Saturday, June 19, 2021


 Nobody can ever think of their own times as "ancient." Because time moves in only one direction, every new day, indeed every moment in time, is the latest so far.  This is a trivial and obvious fact. The pretensions to modernity of 100 or 1,000 years ago seem quaint, but that is only because those dates don't seem as late any more. For every generation, it seems as though it were 23:59.  

Now people will write in and say that our times really are late ones. I don't disagree with that at all. It seems that way to me as well. How could it not seem that way. I'm only pointing out that this perception is the inevitable product of any linear notion of history. 

Friday, June 18, 2021


 from our local newspaper:

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


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

Thursday, June 17, 2021

False quote of Unamuno

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

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

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


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

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

A short phone conversation

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

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

Monday, June 14, 2021

Swimming Dream

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

Wednesday, June 2, 2021


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

Traje de conserje

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Ultima necat

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

The entire book seems to describe funereal rites. 

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


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


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

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

Froid de limites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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