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

Thursday, July 29, 2021


 A friend in the English department was talking about how they used African American literature in a fairly literal-minded way to promote anti-racism, like using Rankine's Citizen as though it were just a list of microagressions, with no poetic aspirations beyond that. Only the white canon, then, gets nuanced literary readings. My friend is younger than I am, and tends to take the typical left-wing positions, so coming from her this critique seemed accurate, not motivated by any other agenda. 

My own department keeps losing US Latinas. There are three women who have left, a Dominican, a Puertorican, a Chicana, plus another Latina woman in the library who was the bibliographer for Spanish. Now we'll have a diversity committee, but a less diverse department. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

What I've been doing

 Training for a 5K. Much slower than five years ago.  Lifting weights.  Trying to average 10,000 steps a day. Trying to lose 5 pounds of belly fat. 

Learning the Oscar Peterson jazz exercises. Mompou's Musica callada and prelude for left hand. 

Working on my streak of NY Times Crosswords.

My daughter got married yesterday at home. I was in Chicago last week but she decided to do it the week I wasn't there to see it. 

Drumming up people to be in my faculty seminar next semester. 

Trying to revive my social network. 

Monday, July 26, 2021


Cbops is an interesting metonymy. It means the mouth and jaws, in slang, and thus the brass player's (or sax's) embouchure. (Even singers talk of embouchure.) "the way in which a player applies the mouth to the mouthpiece of a brass or wind instrument."     

Since the embouchure is vital to technical proficiency, chops becomes the favored metonymy for technical proficiency on a wind instrument. The next stage in the use of the word is that players of other instruments begin to use the word for technical proficiency. A piano player or drummer. I can honestly say I have very minimal chops on the keyboard. The word spreads from jazz to other styles of music, and from wind instruments to other instruments.  My dictionary derives chops from chap, but I always thought it derived from choppers, slang for teeth. 

Now we can extend the meaning to non-musical endeavors.  We can have chops taking photos or writing scholarly prose. It all comes from the mouth, or embouchure, the point at which the human voice emerges from the body.   

Friday, July 16, 2021


 I was writing a blurb and trying to find a word meaning sententious in the original sense of wise and aphoristic, rather than the contemporary sense of pretentious and sanctimonious. The original sense was "'full of meaning or wisdom, later becoming depreciatory.'" Portentous also has negative overtones. It would be like trying to make unctuous mean sincerely caring, rather than insincerely flattering. For me, Gamoneda has that prophetic gravitas, that heavy tone: 

"Hubo un tiempo en que mis únicas pasiones eran la pobreza y la lluvia." The statements are absolute ones, with no doubt or irony. Even his paradoxes have the apodictic tone.  [there's another good word!]. He could say "I got up this morning and stubbed my toe" and it would sound important.  


A friend asked me why I was both a Lorca scholar and a devoté of New York School poetry. I guess he hadn't seen that I devote chapters to Koch and O'Hara in the first Lorca book. I'm sure that's an idiosyncratic gesture on my part. Koch's levitas is at the polar opposite from Lorca's tragic sensibility.  I wanted to argue that these were the Lorquian poets, not just Bly or Blackburn.  Isn't the point of having more than one language having an extra perspective?  To read O'Hara through French poetry is predictable (or could be) but to see him through Lorca is potentially more interesting. And Koch is never chosen for those books in which the critic sets up five major figures from different schools of poetry to discuss, like Ashbery, Ammons, Rich, and Wright. I don't know if there's a lot of serious criticism on him at all, so I'm proud I have one of the only book chapters on him.  

Weight, gravitas, lack of sense of humor, are seen as seriousness and majorness, importance. The opposite of frivolity, triviality, minorness. It is easy to see Gamoneda as a major poet, (for those of us who like that sort of thing) because we conflate mass with seriousness (our cognitive metaphor of choice).  A comic genius like Koch will never be in the same category. But I have them both.   

You should be writing...


"You should be writing from the center of your epistemic strength so that you can build your literary chops."

Yes. It seems very simple, but writing about things about which you have deep knowledge produces better results than a very thin scholarship about things only half understood. I like the phrase "the center of your epistemic strength" because we know most things very badly, in general. 

I like Edwin Denby's thinking about dance criticism. You have to divide it into two tasks: seeing the dance, and then writing about it. But both tasks imply knowledge of dance in general. You could imagine someone who is good at observing things, but has never seen a ballet. Or someone who knows about dance, has good perceptions, but is not a particularly good writer. But you need all three elements to be good at the job.  

Moral Panics

The term moral panic implies that the thing being panicked about is inconsequential. It is easy to see with things like explicit lyrics in pop music, or worries about kids playing Dungeons and Dragons. Here the danger does not seem real enough to justify a panic. But if you used the phrase about the opioid epidemic, then people would rightly object that the epidemic has hundreds of thousands of demonstrable victims. We should be morally panicked about that. Drunk driving really does kill people, so to call MADD a moral panic would be crass, even if the dynamic mimics the way moral panics work. Global warming is not a moral panic.  

 A lot of other things are in the middle of these two extremes. They are real problems, even if the reaction might be exaggerated. If you see cannabis as pernicious, then reaction to it is not a moral panic. If you see cannabis as relatively harmless, then panicking about it is absurd. If you describe outrage over street muggings as a moral panic, then a victim of mugging might have an issue with you. If you see education as more or less ok, then the "Johnny can't read" would seem a moral panic to you. If you see the education system is failing, then it is real problem.  

There could be other things that might be deep problems, but that nobody seems to care about. There ought to be a word for that, too.  Maybe we should have more moral panics, rather than fewer.  Or maybe it is a problem with the dynamics of outrage. Only a problem magnified to a certain degree seems real enough to compete with all the other problems.  

The MIrror has Two Faces

 We saw Streisand's The Mirror has Two Faces.  Jeff Bridges is a math professor who swoons before beautiful women so he decides he needs a sexless relationship, then marriage, with the ugly duckling Streisand, whose mother is played improbably by Lauren Bacall.  Streisand, who also directed the film, is a literature professor, also at Columbia university. After a little while, Streisand tries to seduce her husband; he rejects her, goes off to Paris on lecture tour. Bacall shows Streisand a picture of herself (Barbra) as a child, and she realizes that she is beautiful after all. She hits the gym (montage scenes), wears more make-up and revealing clothes.  Almost goes to bed with estranged husband of her beautiful sister (Pierce Brosnan), then her husband comes back, rejects her for being too beautiful... He liked the dowdy version of her because he doesn't want sex. But then he does. He has been in love the whole time and they get back together, presumably in a marriage that will now include sexual intercourse. 

The cast is full of famous names. The problem with the movie is its insufferable didacticism. And what point is it trying to prove, anyway? It feels self-indulgent, like a vanity project. I didn't feel like the ugly Streisand and the beautiful Streisand were that far apart. Literally, she the same person who is just as attractive one way as the other. Even the make-up she wears is not that different. She goes from being a 7 to an 8 on the beauty scale. Not that impressive. 

One critic calls it "a vanity production of the first order. A staggeringly obsessive expression of the importance of appearances, good looks and being adored,"  

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

To blurb or not to blurb

 I said yes to a blurb today. In my defense, I had somewhat committed to it a few months back. But after this one, I swear I won't blurb again, unless I really believe in you. Also, it's the greatest work of contemporary Spanish poetry, Gamoneda's Book of the Cold

Audubon Aesthetics

 I got my Audubon magazine, which features this issue the photo contest winners. The aesthetic is gaudy and virtuosic. After all, to win a contest an ordinary photo of an ordinary bird will not do. A high speed exposure that captures an unusual movement, or some other unusual or stunning view.  It is not my aesthetic at all, but I am thinking that you couldn't have a contest without rewarding pictures of extraordinary technical proficiency that are also striking to the eye. This is the only aesthetic that any contest of this type could possibly have. 

(Or not...)


 What I am for in my stories is something that is quite literal, not even fictional. They are not even stories. What makes them literary, then, is the exact tone that I am trying to strike, which gives the literal detail a metaphorical resonance. The story about the shirts, for example, is a literal account of my own system of wearing shirts. If it doesn't resonate farther than that, it is fine, but then it isn't a particularly good story either. For example, it doesn't have the revelatory nature of Thomas's example from Saul Bellow, of a man drying himself with yesterday's dirty shirt.  

I've been thinking of metaphors that are not even metaphors.  Like closeness (in physical terms) being emotional closeness, or weight (mass of objects) being metaphorically importance. Maybe resonance is like this too: literally, sounds vibrating, and metaphorically, a story resonating with its reader.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Theory of Shirts

A shirt can be worn around the house, out in public, or for exercise. A suitable shirt already worn around the house for a day can also be used for exercise. Once it has been used for exercise, though, it cannot be used around the house or in public. The exception: cooling off for an hour or so at home before taking off an exercise shirt damp with sweat.

A shirt suitable for the house might also be suitable for public wear, later in the same day. By the same token, a shirt already worn in public can be worn the next day at home, but usually not on two successive days in public. A shirt worn briefly at home, before being exchanged for a shirt serving another function, can be worn the next day at home as well. Can it then be worn in public, too? It can, if free from stains and odors. There is a choice then: change to an exercise shirt, saving house shirt for later, or keep the same shirt on?   

The overlap between exercise shirts and shirts for public usage is more substantial than might apparent at first glance. A clean, unstained exercise shirt is suitable for less formal situations, or for errands like getting gas or shopping at a hardware or garden store. In most cases, doing yard work or other outside chores will fall into the same category as exercising, and thus require a shirt with a similar function.               


 I could write a poem like this: I take the titles of Ashbery's 20 part series based on Czerny exercises. I read a poem by Ashbery, with a certain title, and take that title as my own, writing my own poem. It can't be a variation of the Ashbery poem, or take anything from it, but must be my own response to his title, which he in turn borrowed from a book of piano exercises.   

Then--and this is the crucial step--I give a new title to it, using something suggested to me by my poem, so no trace of Ashbery is left any more. So why do I need Ashbery in the first place? I don't, but I wouldn't have started without this particular poem of his. I'm neither imitating his style nor trying to avoid it; it's merely Ashbery-adjacent. 

Sometimes the best ideas happen like that. There is no remaining connection to the original inspiration, but the idea would not have occurred without that stimulus.  

Imposter Syndrome

 I've made the point before, but you should feel like an imposter. You probably don't know what you need to know to do research in your field at an early stage as a graduate student, and even later there will be times in which your expertise is lacking. The way to deal with imposter syndrome is to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills. I could give your embarrassing examples of things I didn't know when I was 30 and with a PhD and already publishing in top journals. 

Nevertheless, if you feel you are an imposter and everyone else around you is not, you are wrong. You are probably all in the same boat. The person who does not have imposter syndrome is probably deluded. 


I am writing about a version of some Lorca songs with two guitars.  One if the most famous flamenco guitarist, the other is another guy. The first thing I notice is that there are two stereo tracks. Aja!  So one is probably Lucía, the other Modrego. The left channel seems to be more accompaniment, and fewer high notes. So is Modrego, the older guitarist, accompanying the 18 year old prodigy, Paco de Lucía? That is my guess. But that could be because I know that he later became the most famous one ever.  What would be obvious to a flamenco guitar expert is just beyond my expertise. I've heard him play a lot of guitar on record, but I couldn't reliably pick him out of a lineup.  

Wednesday, July 7, 2021


 Imagine there's a scale, like the old fashioned kind with two suspended plates balanced against each other. On one plate we place THE MEANING OF THE WORK, on the other, THE TEXT ITSELF IN ALL ITS MESSINESS.  It is tempting to put one's thumb on the scale on the side of meaning. But this is an absurd image, if you think that mess is more interesting than some simplistic statement about the meaning. 


 Coming back to work on my book after a few months of not, I felt a shock of recognition. This is how I write. This is the approach I take.  It doesn't mean that I am happy with everything I've written, but all of it bears the unmistakable stamp of having been written by me.  I feel that nobody could write the kind of thing I want to write, better than I do. There could be other books on the same subject that are better or worse, but I don't think there would be a book of the same type that would be better, avoiding the pitfalls I want to avoid more deftly. Conversely, I am dissatisfied with people who have not set themselves the same tasks. 

Everyone should work to being like that. It should be an achievable goal to meet your own standard, to get to do what you want to do.  

Tuesday, July 6, 2021


 Emily Skillings, in her intro to the Ashbery book, ways that he would grade the poems in a projected book, A, B, or C, or with some pluses and minuses I guess. The finished book would consist of A and B poems. He would even have others grade for him, like the poet and art critic John Yau. A B poem might still add a needed element to the collection, by complementing other poems, without being brilliant in and of itself. 

I felt a sense of warm affection and admiration for Ashbery from Skilling's introduction. It seems very genuine to me. I got a different sense of his work, too, from these unfinished projects, something more charming and quirky, more forgiving.  


I've done this myself, with translations. I give them grades and then work to get the C translations to a B level, and the Bs to A, etc...  Or course, since we are grading ourselves, we have no choice but to be honest, because there is no point in giving ourselves all As. The point is to be able to see what is good and not, and why. Grading someone else is punitive, but we have to be able to perceive our own work on some level. 


On facebook people were talking about their distaste for bad poetry, and I thought, well, most of us write bad poetry, after all, including most participating in the thread, probably.  We have to exempt ourselves from the category of bad poetry just to write at all, to claim something of the art for ourselves.  We have to have a happy relation to our own art, even if an A+ poem by me would be a D for Ashbery.   

New Ashbery

 I'm reading the new Ashbery book, Parallel Movement of the Hands. He's been deceased for several years, but the archive includes unpublished or unfinished works, and these are being presented to us as "Five Unfinished Longer Works." They are a bit more interesting than the endless succession of books with very similar poems in them that he was publishing until the very end. He was always one of the most interesting practitioners of the long poem. The idea of unfinished works is very attractive in a writer like this. A poem promising 21 sections only has 18. Instead of changing the title to make it conform to the text, the editor has highlighted its incompleteness.  

The title comes from a (more or less complete poem) based on the titles of Czerny technical exercises for the piano. I like the idea of writing about music in this way, abstractly. The poems are not about the music or piano technique at all, except obliquely.  It is a good finger exercise for the poet.  

Monday, July 5, 2021

You are now reading

You are now reading an article by Jonathan Mayhew. Get comfortable, adjust the thermostat as you see fit. Don't get too comfortable, though. You might want to brew a fresh pot of coffee before you proceed, in fact, to ward off the inevitable afternoon sleepiness. Don't worry; the article will still be there, unchanged, when you return. Silence notifications on all your devices. Or better yet, leave them on, as an escape hatch for when the article starts to become tiresome. Like others of its ilk, this article is an awkward length: too long to read in one sitting, but not quite long enough for two complete reading sessions.

You're already into the second paragraph. Phew! Now is the time, after the idle throat clearing gestures of the first paragraph, when the author performs several crucial steps before entering into the meat of the matter. He must convince you of the importance of the subject he is studying and of the significance of his findings. He will quickly establish his authority by worrying to death certain specialized terms. He will invoke several revered authority figures, beginning, of course, with Pierre Bourdieu. He will reflect on the enormous difficulty of his task. He will skillfully size up the competition, finding previous scholars rather unsatisfying, despite their "valuable contributions." 

In the third paragraph, Mayhew enumerates for you the steps of his own original argument. Now you should probably pour yourself a cup of the coffee you have just made. After all, these rhetorical tasks, while crucial for the author and perhaps for the editors of the journal, are not really addressed to the reader at all: all you really have to do is to come away with the vague impressions that the game is being played with all of the proper formalities in place. You're not expected to be paying much attention yet, though you should watch for breaches in scholarly decorum. You could view the second and third paragraphs, too, as a preliminary exercise in throat clearing. By convention, the article cannot do anything of substance until these boxes have been checked.    

By this point, at the beginning of the next paragraph, you are getting impatient. When is the real thing going to start? You are eager to dive in, but now you see a lengthy footnote addressing tangential, but somehow urgent, details.1  At this point, any engagement with the subject matter itself, any concrete ideas about anything, would be a huge relief. If you can only get far enough into this paragraph, the time you have invested so far will all be worth it...       


1. You are torn between skipping the note and reading it right now. It is probably not too important, but what if it is? After attending to the note, you return to the body of the text, feeling you have done your duty.  

Saturday, July 3, 2021

ME to MY

 I was listening in the car to my entire music library. I was on the ME section and many hours later, driving from Colorado to Kansas, I was on MY, so I heard several versions of My Funny Valentine and My Favorite Things, My Foolish Heart, My Heart Stood Still. I skipped through several complete versions of Música Callada, because I didn't want to fall asleep driving. I also skipped some Mozart quartets for the same reason. 

Friday, July 2, 2021


 I'm in Breckenridge, CO. My daughter is in an orchestra here (NRO) and I drove from Kansas to see her play, stopping to watch birds in central KS. 

Tonight, they played the enigma variations by Elgar and a romantic-sounding and inventive harp concerto by Gliere. The harpist was fantastically good. (Two days ago, they played Dvorak 8, which had a lot of trumpet solos, admirably performed by JTM.) All the musicians are between about 21 and 30.  

Before the Elgar, a woman behind me was saying to her husband: "There are 15 of them; I hope each one is not too long; it is 7:25 already!"  The concert was over by 8 p.m., so I bet she was happy. Where else better did she have to be?