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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, September 29, 2021

Sous rature

 Derrida put certain words under erasure

Questioning their ability to refer to things

In an easy way; we understand his schtick. 

We already knew this, in a way, and if we didn’t

We could have learned it from William Bronk too. 

It must be abstract

 The language of humanities bureaucrats is abstract. There is never to be any mention of actual works of art, literature, or philosophy. What takes center stage is the cliché: what it means to live "the good life," for example. Humanities help us to find the meaning of life. Yay!  Humanities skills, as defined in this sort of think piece, are likewise vague, such that they are no longer specifically humanistic. You would want every scientist and social scientist to master "critical thinking," for example. It is arrogant to claim that only humanists know how to think correctly. In my experience, some people in the humanities cannot actually think very well at all. 

So I don't really like the concept of the "humanities" or "the arts" at all. Once you lump these things together the actual content of them seems to dissipate. I love "art" but "the arts" is a term of abstract bureaucracy. 

Sunday, September 26, 2021

The Triumph of Vagueness

Calls for the renewal of the humanities, such as the one referenced in the previous post, first have to paint the situation as dire. The humanities are in a bad shape.

The answer is always something interdisciplinary.  Individual fields are never interesting (English lit, philosophy, art history), only things that cross those boundaries. But why? My own research is interdisciplinary, and that is a good thing (I think), but I have zero interest in the vague promises that these approaches are supposedly offering. I am always interested in highly specific things (what the article cited calls the "esoteric."). The larger value of these works of art, music, or philosophy has to do with the intrinsic interest of the material, not its vague contribution to understanding "what it means to be human." I imagine in a course about what it means to be human nothing would actually be learned, because the entire premise is wrong. 

We should be orienting everything toward "democracy," or "the human condition." The value is always a pragmatic one (allegedly) of addressing The Problems Afflicting Modern Humanity In These Difficult Times.  But we never see what this actually looks like in real life. The pragmatic lesson always boils down to another vagueness, like "critical thinking" or "compassion."  

Now, I'm not knocking the value of democracy, citizenship, thinking, etc...  I just don't like that self  congratulatory tone of the whole thing. I don't think my being a compassionate person, to the extent I am, has anything to do with my profession as a literary critic or "humanist." Many of us poets and critics are plenty narcissistic, for example. You can also be a formidable intellectual in any field of inquiry, whether it is "humanities" or not. 

To propose a pragmatic approach to the humanities through an abandonment of the humanities themselves, that surely can't be the road forward.  


I think my interest in Bronk is that he is always calling bullshit on these things. Intellectual systems for understanding reality are just arbitrary categories we hold on to for dear life, he seems to be saying. I guess he is a philosophical poet writing about the human condition, but the human condition is that we don't know shit.  

The future

The future of the humanities is .... no humanities.  

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Moderate to severe

 On pharma commercials actors talk

Off their"'moderate to severe" symptoms

Of various diseases.  

But surely moderate and severe are opposites?  


 The astrologers have

"We believe in science"

Signs, in their front yards.  

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

"The Jungle"

 One thing young Mayhew did was to go the rare book room and look at the original periodical publication of a William Carlos Williams poem, and use the earlier version as a point of comparison with the poem as it appears in Collected Early Poems. I don't know how I knew to do this, or how I found the poem, etc... There was no internet 40 years ago. If you put me back in 1981 I wouldn't know how to find this poem in The Dial.  

The version I found of my paper must not be the one I turned in, because I remember making other points that are not in this one, and there are some handwritten corrections. I still think my points are valid ones, but of course I would do it a bit differently now. My analysis gets too thick at times. Overall, I think I make some points very effectively, but I don't draw out the larger implications very well. You might say "so what."  

I begin by saying that Williams's poetry is difficult for critics to write about because it is easy to understand. There is nothing for the critic to do. Unlike, say, Stevens, Pound, Eliot. So I show there is something interesting to do to this poem.  

Monday, September 20, 2021

Bent out of shape

 My key broke and I had to get a replacement. When I wrote to the secretary I said, "The key to my office got bent out of shape."  

Then I had to follow that with: "Maybe I said something to offend it."  

I find shit

 I went into my files to look for some of my grad school paper from the 1980s (when I was in grad school). I found the one on Flann O'Brien, the one on Menard, one on O'Hara, one on Koch, another on Barthes, and an essay on translation. A paper about WCW's "The Jungle." These are 40 years old, in some cases. 

I remember these papers pretty well, and don't think they are bad at all. I skewered naive readings of "Pierre Menard" by big names in the field, for example. Rodríguez Monegal. I am not uniformly impressed, and don't want to read every word of what I wrote either. I was not a bad writer, but would not write in quite the same way now, either. That probably doesn't matter, too much. It is strangely moving to find this material, sometimes with professors' notes scrawled on them.  

I guess the take away from this is that I had a perspective on things, my own way of seeing things, and was arguing points. For example, many people had written that William Carlos Williams presented static images, and I was arguing that he had a rhetorical perspective, that he was trying to get people to look at things in a certain way, exhorting them, as it were. Thus the images were dynamic and not static. 

Now, whether you think this is an important point or not, I am clearly correct in this.  The same when I argue that O'Hara was writing elegies rather than "casual" poems about every day life, or that Borges was not presenting some facile point in "Pierre Menard."  I think I am correct in arguing that Flann had an ambivalent attitude toward Joycean modernism.  

Saturday, September 18, 2021



"Be a good person..."

 "Be a good person," they say, but you inherit

from your predecessors an unwinnable war,

epidemics, ecological disasters.

Prolonging the conflict would lead to more death

as would ending it, leaving the country

to same  the brutal fanatics as before. 

By all means, though, "try to be a good person." 

Friday, September 17, 2021


 Now my own ideas are being filtered through the faux-Bronk style. I cannot any longer formulate my own idea for a poem, because it all comes out in that mode. But when I go back to read Bronk, his poems seem quite unlike my own; they are more ponderous, heavier.  My knock-offs seem flippant in contrast. 

That is probably a good thing. At some point I will return to my usual style.  

Sunday School

They taught me about people being "wicked," 

Enough to destroy the world in disgust. I was a young child

And couldn't imagine more than schoolboy mischief

Or tracking mud into the house. It didn't add up. 

Now it does.  

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Dream of SF piano race in the rain and call to mom

 There was a race involving pushing pianos down a steep hill in San Francisco, and running beside them. I was a bit concerned, and asked them whether they were using uprights or grands. It was uprights, and then it occurred to me that the pianos would topple over quickly once they gathered speed. 

I was monitoring the race from a midway point down the hill.  It was raining torrentially and the street had a lot of water in it, such that I feared cars would not be able to get through. I had some kind of radio by which I was telling the race organizers up hill about the problem. I felt no water falling on me, though.  

I called my mom to tell her of the dream. I noticed it was 6 a.m. here, so it would have been 4 a.m. where she lives, in California. I apologized for waking her. This phone call, though, was part of the dream: I did not really wake her, I realized, after I woke up myself. 


 Yes, this is true:  

The missions of our colleges and universities have also changed substantially. Today, most of our academic missions include public engagement, student success and DEI. Yet those mission-critical activities rarely receive adequate attention in the assessment of merit. As we know, if a new scholar actually follows the mission of the institution, the majority of her daily work will not “count” toward promotion and tenure.

Say there is a linguistics department. The "mission" of the department could be defined as "doing linguistics."  That would be the traditional academic definition. Doing linguistics could be research, but also teaching other people to do linguistics. "Merit" would would consist of doing linguistics well, and teaching others to do it well. Should the linguist spend most of the day doing and teaching the field, or most of the day pursuing other ideals unrelated to linguistics? If the latter, then why have linguistics at all?If the field is not valuable enough to pursue on its own terms, then it does make sense that we should have our linguists spend most of the day doing other things. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2021


I was following this trial before the semester began. Robert Durst, in California, is being tried for the murder of his friend Susan Berman 20 years ago. It is a bizarre spectacle, with an obsessed prosecutor, Lewin, Ahab-like, going after the elderly Durst for days of intense cross-examination in minute details about things of no pertinence to anything. At one point, there is an exchange about somebody with the last name of "Weiner" or "Wiener." The prosecutor is insistent that this is not the same name, but Durst says, essentially, it is. Now my friend's last name is Reiber, and she pronounces it "Rye-ber," since she knows German, but the rest of her family (her parents, brother and sisters) says "Reeber." A long exchange on this has almost nothing to do with guilt or innocence in the case. I think many people are aware that these German names can be pronounced in different ways. 

The exchanges went on so long, and Durst bested Lewin enough, that it took on a grotesque, eerie feeling. I wouldn't be surprised by a hung jury here. Many of the court TV people were criticizing Lewin for this. They would know better than I.  

 It is a complex case, because it depends on Durst's supposed murder of his wife in the early 80s. Berman was supposedly blackmailing him, though the prosecutor also said explicitly that it was not blackmail (very confusing theory of the motive!). Berman had been talking to people for years about Durst killing his first wife, and Durst had given money to her for years too, even before the disappearance of his wife.  Isn't the point of blackmail buying someone's silence? And if that were the motive, wouldn't he have killed her years before, since she was telling people this repeatedly? 

They showed a fictionalized movie about the case to the jury. Durst was also in a documentary, called "The Jinx." He is a creepy character for sure, having dismembered one murder victim (and being acquitted for that!) but the prosecution confused me in their arguments. The judge seemed mostly on the prosecution side, overruling many objections, though he also had to admonish Lewin at several points for yelling and getting out of line.   

At one point in the closing argument, the prosecutor violated the "golden rule" rule, according to one of the commenters on Court TV.  You can't ask the jury to put themselves in the place of one of the parties to the case. That right there would be grounds for a mistrial or an appeal. I didn't know of this rule before yesterday, but you can't directly appeal to the empathy of the jury like that, because that urges them take one perspective over the other rather than being impartial.  


 It is hard to explain why Hutcheon's work resonates so little with me. Clearly, she has written about topics many have cared about, at the right time and in a way that makes her general conclusions valid and "citable" for many in the field. Her writing on metafiction, on postmodernism, and on adaptation comes to mind.  I will cite her at appropriate moments, but her work never really moves me or resonates with my own thought.  

Perhaps it is because he work reads like that of someone who is oriented toward narrative fiction, and barely mentions a poem or poet, ever. 

Meta reaches Hispanism

 The trend for metaliterature in Hispanism arrived in the 1980s and was practically orthodoxy in the 1990s. Kronik saw Galdós as self-reflexive, using El amigo Manso but also other novels. Kronik gave NEH seminars, which spread his ideas across the country. Gustavo Pérez Firmat looked at Spanish experimental novels of the 1920s (Idle Fictions, 1982). My late colleague Bob Spires wrote some books on the subject, inspired by Kronik but without Kronik's critical verve (Beyond the Metafictional Mode, Transparent Simulacra). I did my part with The Poetics of Self-Consciousness (1994).  I don't tend to re-read my old work, but I think it was a good book and it has been amply cited. My first book was on poetic self-consciousness too (Claudio Rodríguez). There was Jill Robbin's book on Carnero, etc... 

If the theme seems stale now, it is because we flogged it to death. Also, if we see the crest of the wave as 1979, the year of both Mulligan Stew and If on a Winter's Night, then it stands to reason that the following decades would see the most amount of criticism. This was also the heyday of postmodern literature, before postmodernism was coopted by Lyotard to mean something completely different.  

I never really stopped working on this, but my emphasis shifted. You can study poetics, as the embodied poetic theory of a major poet, without studying poems that talk explicitly about being poems. Meta gets boring, in other words (Juarroz).  


Wars have been fought over theology.

We might as well have fist fights about the rules of chess

Or philosophical debates,

As Wittgenstein once wrote in jest,

About which coffee tastes the best.*


*"You might think Aesthetics is a science telling us what's beautiful - almost too ridiculous for words. I suppose it ought to include also what sort of coffee tastes well."  ---LW.  




 In dreams I am with friends

Not my actual ones but fictional

Strangers, furnished for me

As though to say: we complete the scene.  


Is is arrogance to think

My imitations are close

To the real thing? Yes,

Arrogance of particularly modest sort.  


Galdós was born the same year as Henry James. His Amigo Manso begins by saying "Yo no existo" [and I don't exist] and explaining that he is a fictional character.  James will never break a fictional level in this way, but he will write metafiction of another type ("The Figure in the Carpet").  

Unamuno's Niebla stages the conflict between author and character in explicit terms. He is anxious to say he has chronological precedence over Pirandello. Niebla has a plot similar to El amigo Manso: an ineffectual man falls in love with a woman who marries someone else. Both protagonists die of sadness after suffering indigestion.  

Cervantes is behind all of this. In the anglophone world it might be Sterne, but Unamuno, Borges, are always thinking of Cervantes (Galdós too, probably).  Unamuno shares the same first name, and is constantly playing with Descartes, Shakespeare ("to be or not to be"), and Cervantes, who writes the dedicatory sonnets in the prologue to the Quijote in the voice of characters from the books Don Q liked to read. Borges chooses this to be the book Menard re-writes, not because it has dull platitudes about "las armas y las letras," but because of this metafictional dimension.  

Borges loved tales of action and adventure, but for various reasons he was unsuited to that life. Many of his works, including "Pierre Menard," echo the locus classicus of "las armas y las letras." So this topos does have a metafictional dimension too: the bookish sort imagines battles, but from the comfort of his own library. Cervantes, wounded in war, puts the speech about the superiority of arms over letters in the mouth of a fictional character. One can believe that he really believed that the life of war is superior to writing books. In Borges, this has to become ironical. A man of Menard's generation cannot express these views with a straight face.  Menard, a devoté of Paul Valéry and of chess, is Borges's alter ego.  

"El sur" is also about arms and letters. The narrator-protagonist is bookish sort. After an accident on the staircase, after buying a rare book, he goes to recuperate in the countryside, and is confronted by a gaucho who provokes him into a knife fight out of Martín Fierro.  

Monday, September 13, 2021


 "Do unto others... " they say. 

I'd like others to tie me up

and perform unspeakable acts on me.

I don't think that's what they had in mind. 



From the New York Review of Books:  

"He is skeptical of the 'opioid crisis' (his quotation marks): he believes levels of addiction are exaggerated and sensationalized, and mortality rates inflated by compounding deaths caused by opioids alone with the far larger number of deaths in which alcohol or other sedatives are also involved."

What would you say?  I'm not doubting addicts might use other drugs, including alcohol, at the same time as they use opioids. But these seems to imply that we should only count as opioid deaths those caused only by opioids. How many die from sedatives alone, unless they are trying to kill themselves? Alcohol is a big killer, mostly through accidents and disease, so I'm not discounting that. What you would want to look for is change, how many more people die when you introduce something new into the mix.  

As in the case of other allegations of "moral panic," we have to look at what proportionate vs. "sensationalized" responses might be. To me, the number of about 50,000 annual opioid deaths seems large compared with about 1,000 police shootings, for example. We could say BLM is exaggerated and sensationalized,  by that logic. We have way more black people dying of opioids than the police, and many more white people too. By a weird trick of racism, there have often been more white addicts because doctors wouldn't prescribe as many pills for blacks.    


 Morel was published in 1940, a year after Flann O'Brien. Borges is behind the boom (Cortázar), but the magic-realism version of the boom was a kind of rival to the more metafictional version. JC's stories are obviously indebted to Borges. Bestiario is from 1951, so that's only a decade or so behind Borges's experimental fiction.  

I recently watched Blow Up. This film, set in London, is based on Cortázar story of the same title, but with a quite different plot, similar to the change from Morel to Marienbad. Foucault would be citing Borges in the 1960s, I believe, in The Order of Things, or Les mots et les choses.  

I haven't watched Marienbad in years. 

Borges and O'Brien

 Borges was aware of Joyce and of Flann O'Brien. He reviewed Swim-Two-Birds in 1939. This is the beginning of "postmodernism" in fiction, surely. Borges's own writing would then feed back into metafiction in English. Both Mulligan Stew and If on a Winter Night come out in 1979. This is probably the high point in the story of "postmodern metafiction." By the time Obabakoak comes out, in 1988, these techniques are super familiar.  Now they are still interesting, but as representatives of a style of the past, not as a new technique. I guess a very young person might be excited by it still. I am excited too, but in a kind of nostalgic way. 

It strikes me that there is not much connection between postmodernism in poetry and in fiction. Someone like Linda Hutcheon can write a whole book on postmodernism, another on parody, and not mention any poets ever. It's true Sorrentino was poet, too, as was Harry Mathews, but these connections are tenuous. People reading John Barth were not interested in poetry, and people reading Frank O'Hara weren't interested in Pynchon, maybe.  Borges was poet, but his poetry appeals to a more conservative, less speculative taste than his essays and stories. I've been reading La invencíon de Morel, too, which has a connection to the French nouveau roman. (Last year at Marienbad.). ?? 

Those novelists Guerard liked were not interesting to me, now or then. I don't remember who they are any more. 

Flann O'Brien

 I re-read At Swim-Two-Birds, since I had it in my office. I remember a paper I wrote in Grad School on it, for Albert Guerard. He was champion of postmodern metafiction, but somehow this novel did not resonate with him at all. He said it was too close to "standard realism," which I found a bizarre judgment. Guerard also said I used too many clichés in my writing, which I suppose might have been true at that time. 

Now you can not like the novel for any number of reasons: any reason except for that particular reason, that is. I probably discovered Flann O'Brien from Frank O'Hara or Gilbert Sorrentino. Sorrentino's Mulligan Stew is obviously inspired in part by At Swim-Two-Birds. The idea of a novel within a novel within a novel, with characters rebelling against their author.  

I interpreted the novel as Bildungsroman. The narrator ends by seeing the humanity in his uncle, who previously was seen as figure of ridicule.  He passes his exams and the uncle gives him a watch as a present. The metafictional writing becomes a mode of self-discovery. I don't think I have the paper any more. My friend at the time Joe Conte also wrote about it at some point in grad school and published an article, if I am not mistaken. 

I went on to read The Third Policeman, possibly even more brilliant than ASTB, and virtually everything else he wrote, but haven't been re-reading him in the ensuing years. O'Brien, whose birth name is Brian O'Nolan, wrote a lot in Irish for newspapers, satirical columns which have been translated into English. 

Now this kind of metafiction seems a bit cliché, but it was not cliché when O'Brien did it. He was writing this when Calvino was still doing "standard realism." It was published in 1939.  


 I know I've said I don't revise.

Equally true: nothing ever remains

The same.


There is an itch we can't scratch:


Friday, September 10, 2021

The Problem

 I could write imitations of Bronk's ideas using Bronk's own language (more or less), or I could put my own ideas in a Bronkian language, or put Bronkian ideas in a language alien to him, or put my own ideas in a language not Bronkian at all. That would be throwing away the crutch.  

Eventually, it will evolve in this direction, just as as my bad poems evolved into good ones. 

My new challenge is a poet we might call facilón.  He's from Granada and teaches in Virginia, has all the prizes and translated by Forché in one of the best poetry presses in the US.  His work is just pretty and super facile, like a Spanish Mary Oliver.  

Thursday, September 9, 2021


     Some call me Doctor Mayhew

But we all know

I haven't cured shit


 I wrote a short, unsatisfactory poem yesterday. 

I could revise it now, but what makes me think

Yesterday's idea needs to be restated in the light of a new day? 


Eternal, beatific stasis appeals to some--

Dreading, by the same token, equally enduring pain and dissatisfaction. 

On this they bet all the have to lose: 

A short, numinous life.  


The world made an obscene proposition to me one day:

Live here a while, have a career, friends, 

Try to satisfy yourself with things or ideas.  

Wednesday, September 8, 2021


Much as I take out the garbage on a regular basis, sift through my books in search of duplicates, attempt to forget insignificant (or inconvenient) details of my past, I tend to accumulate objects and memories of no particular use to me. Various forms of "build-up" or residue are amassed in corners or crevasses, even though I have very few rooms in which this might happen. Fire is not a practical, or legal, solution. 

Short of that, I think of the beauty of a hotel. There one could go with very few things and get by well for a week or so, not missing anything in particular.  

Tuesday, September 7, 2021


 When they told me as a kid Noah walked with God

I took it literally; I saw them in my mind's eye 

taking a walk together. 

If only belief were that


 The world treats you badly;

no raises for years, a mediocre existence.

You might be revered, admired, beloved

but for the wrong reasons; despised, maybe, for the right ones.

Or the world could simply be indifferent to you

not taking note of you as you walk down its corridors. 

It would be comforting, then, it you could pay it 

for its cruelty. Then, at least, the rules of the game would be clear. 

Monday, September 6, 2021

Gender / Beauty Ratios

 I've been looking at some of Andrew Gelman's critiques of Kanazawa's studies of gender differentials in birth. Kanazawa argues that violent and tall men are more likely to have sons. Beautiful people are more likely to have daughters. Things like that.  

Gelman's critique is on the stats. The idea is that the difference in the gender between beautiful and unbeautiful people's first child is indistinguishable from noise. The effect has to be greater than the normal margin of statistical noise to be significant. If the children of beautiful parents are only slightly more likely to be female, then who cares any way?  

It seems to me, you have to look at this on several levels.  First, you have to have a story, a theory of why beautiful people would have more daughters. The idea is that beauty is a more important attribute for women, so it would be a more desirable trait to pass on to your female offspring than your male. In my view this is your standard evolutionary psychology bullshit.  In other words, there is no actual evidence that this story has any validity, but it conforms to the ideology of certain evolutionary psychologists, which Gelman explain as a "schoolyard" mentality: "the idea that, because of evolution, all people are equivalent to all other people, except that all boys are different from all girls."  

Next, you have to have a biological mechanism for translating the advantage of female offspring into the reproductive process. In other words, how do the reproductive systems of the parents know  they are supposed to produce female offspring? Beauty is not a single genetic feature, like red hair, but an amalgam of multiple biological and social factors, including access to healthy food, dentistry, or gymnasia. Does the beautiful woman's fallopian tubes know how to select which sperm get to enter? How exactly does this work, anyway? Does the pretty boy dad produce more x chromosome sperm than the tall, violent dad does? 

Then, you would have to have the solid data to make a significant result. It seems to me, though, that the weakness of the initial story, and the lack of a clear biological mechanism, is at least as serious as the lack of statistical significance.  

Put another way: normally, science should work the other way around. We should observe something strange and then try to explain it. Suppose it was true that pretty people produced way more daughters than average folk, so much so that everyone knew this to be the case. Then a scientist could come along and try to figure out why, both the theory (the story) and the mechanism, the way it actually happens biologically. Ideological science starts the other way: you have a story, and then you try to find empirical confirmation of it after the fact.    

Subirats on Castro

 "Fue paradójicamente Américo Castro, el mismo que cuestionó los principios constituyentes del nacionalcatolicismo español, quien formuló el concepto de una hegemonía moral y lingüística de España sobre Iberoamérica en un sentido que no difería en lo fundamental de la unidad heroica y católica de la Hispanidad formulado años antes  por el fundador de la Falange, Ramiro de Maeztu."

The fallacy of the one-sided bet

The fallacy of the one-side bet is the presentation of something with very small odds as though it were more or less a 50/50 proposition, with evidence for and against that one would have to weigh. So suppose you thought there were only two colors, red and black, and were trying to calculate the odds of a card turning up red or black. But this deck of cards has a million colors. Once you get locked on the binary opposition, then you are tricked into a particular way of thinking, looking at lottery tickets as though they were coin tosses.  

One example Andrew gives is the idea of "opportunity cost" in economics. Sure, everything has an opportunity cost, because doing something, or spending money on something, means not doing something else, or not spending the money elsewhere. But since the other things I could be doing instead of what I am doing now are infinite, how do we conceptualize what I am giving up? I'm not sure if this is what he means by the idea that opportunity cost is a fallacy, but this is what I have always thought of the concept.  

Sunday, September 5, 2021

William Bronk

 William Bronk, 1918-1999


This store sells many kinds of drums and cymbals,

sticks and brushes, drum hardware. 

We come in to look at new products, glossy brochures,

vintage snares. We are happy and engaged.   

Often we make small or large purchases;

children, and some adults, take lessons in the basement.  


Afterwards it is as if none of this had mattered.

[Here's a poem I found in my files.  Probably it is my first fake Bronk poem. ]


 Sleep is urgent, pursued with violent desperation 

and only attained in surrender and relaxation 


 Coming back to the real poems of Bronk

I find them more varied, more full of a life not my own

and richer than my own, possibly. 

They are less abstract than I had imagined, 

stranger, and more beautiful even in their abstraction, 

resembling very little my crude caricatures. 

I like the way he fools you with what I might call a "dullness around the edges" 

then hits hard with a poem you never saw coming.  



Fancy pens and notebooks will not make these poems any better. 

Who said they would? 

At least we will enjoy using our supplies while they last.


We call them grand and petty...  


As though we had a choice in the matter.

Moot Court

 People dress up to try imaginary cases. 

Judge and jury, prosecutor, defendant and defense attorney,

Witnesses to the made-up events, witnesses who have seen nothing. 

So we testify, too, in our abject ignorance.  


 I just read an interview with Bronk. He didn't revise much; Ashbery was the same way. I won't revise a poem much, either. A friend of mine said, yes, well, but you write the casual Frank O'Hara style poem, so that's why. I guess he is right, though it sounds a bit dismissive too. It implies a lack of effort, but effort does not really mean anything. Is a poem that is harder to write better, or worse? No, there is not correlation at all, though the illusion of effortlessness certainly is more attractive to me.  

It's not really arrogance. I am arrogant about some things, maybe, but I don't think my reluctance to revise comes from there. My poem could very well be of inconsequential value, or fall flat in any number of ways. It's more that a poem that I think is not very interesting in the first place is not worth revising either. I've never taken a bad poem and improved it into a good one. Wouldn't that time be better spent writing something else more interesting in the first place?    

A line or concept pops into my head. The words with which the idea presents itself are pretty much the words I want to use. I can add more to the initial idea, or group similar short poems together, or tweak a line or two. Re-writing long sections, though, is foreign to my concept of writing poetry.  

It is the opposite with non-fiction prose, which I will be constantly reworking.  Here is a poem inspired by Wittgenstein on the impossibility of giving money to oneself (Why can't my right hand give my left hand money? -- My right hand can put it into my left hand. My right hand can write a deed of gift and my left hand a receipt. -- But the further practical consequences would not be those of a gift.)

I hire myself as a housekeeper

I arrive when I know I will not be there

and let myself in with a key that I have given myself

I am dressed in women's clothing

I know how I would like it to be cleaned, though I am not a good cleaner

I clean for myself, and for the salary I am paying myself

When I come back later I see that I have cleaned the house

I transfer money from one account to another and return the key to myself


The origin of parody

 For me, parody arises as I read a poet and then begin to think in phrases that are reminiscent of that poet's style. Then the next poem that occurs to me will fall into that particular cadence. The humor will be secondary, a product of the distance between my imitation and the object being imitated. I can play up this distance, for more comic effect, or simply let this distance be what it is.  There is nothing disrespectful about parody, in the way I practice it. I love Bronk's work, and have been reading it since the late 1980s, I would guess. Even the things I recognize as being not conventionally good as poems elicit my appreciation--for example the excessive use of abstraction or the flatness of tone. What I like is his ability to get away with it, or to play by his own rules. 

I also don't mind being derivative. Why not take all the world offers to you?     


I see cardinal visit backyard feeder 

or in the field, a flash of red among other wild birds.

One sighting is not better than another.  


These poems are derivative--

imitations of another's work,

more or less good at being that, but nothing more. 

Why not take all the world offers you? 

Saturday, September 4, 2021


 Stuart Hall made a famous argument that public and institutional response to mugging was a "moral panic." So called "muggings" were increasing at a slower rate than in the years immediately before, so the response had to be disproportionate to the problem, hence a panic.

 Yet Waddington points out this is a fallacy. Even though the rate of increase was slowing, this increase came on the heels of a substantial increase and thus led to a higher overall rate in ultimate terms. 

For example, if I gain weight at 10% a year, and then slow my weight gain to 5%, I am still getting fatter. Maybe I hit the point of obesity after a year of only gaining 5%. You could argue that my overweight panic should have started earlier, maybe, but you can't point to the 5% rate as being an improvement over 10%. It's simply things getting worse, but at a slower rate.  It's also 5% of a higher overall number, so it is more in quantitative terms. So 5% of current weight in 8 lbs. 15 years ago it would have been 5 lbs.   

I just think people are bad at thinking.  I was discussing this last night with some friends, who were trying to figure out why conservatives are bad at thinking. Well, I think we are bad at thinking too, just not in ways obvious to ourselves.  

Thursday, September 2, 2021

La peculiaridad lingüística rioplatense

 I'm reading the book of Américo Castro that Borges skewers in his review of 1941. It is quite as bad as Borges says. I hadn't seen from Borges's review (a more famous text than the book itself) how Castro's theories of hispanidad relate to his disdain for the Spanish spoken in Buenos Aires. It's that Argentina is even worse than Spain in its failure to be modern, as an imperial backwater. 

Theories of linguistic decadence are always suspect. The is supposed to be modern and educated, the vos a sign of decay.  But why?  Borges seems infinitely more intelligent than Castro, because he is capable of seeing that gaucho poetry is not a threat to civilization or an accurate rendition of the actual language people spoke, but simply a convenient literary construction that had its day.  

Castro reminds me a bit of the anti-flamencos in Spain, with a kind of visceral fear of the urban underclass. Borges points out that Spain, too, has a slang developed among criminals. It seems arbitrary to castigate lunfardo as a representative of how everybody speaks in BA.  Castro's inability to recognize parodic language, used for comic effect, is itself hilarious.  The fear of linguistic play is amazing, as is the moral panic over sexual matters: "La obsesión sexaul se apodera del niño rioplatense desde bien temprano." He gets upset because the word "concha" has sexual meaning in Argentina.