Friday, December 30, 2022
Thursday, December 29, 2022
There was a box and we found a book there. A blank book that I had titled ART, filling the pages with poems, aphorisms, photos, collages, and drawings. The date was 1987. I was showing it to my daughter, who wasn't impressed at all by it. I wasn't either. The contents were haphazard, the images without any impact. There was ambition behind it but no execution.
The moon had a sticker of Mickey Mouse on it. It wasn't literally on the moon, but just positioned so that it looked that way from our particular vantage point. There was another cardboard cutout of Mickey Mouse close to the moon, that looked as though it were right next to it though of course it was much closer.
Wednesday, December 28, 2022
My dad was alive again in this dream. No surprise there, because I have had this dream for years. He was sitting in his study and we were talking. I even discussed the dreams with him, telling him I knew he must be alive since I had been dreaming it all these years. This did not feel like a dream because it had been several days that he was back, I felt. I was tears, not really even happy, just puzzled a bit. He had the exact appearance, voice and intonation of himself so I had no doubt about his identity, and made a mental note of this fact. He made some comment about a book. There was a complete works of Thomas Jefferson in the room, and I wondered about how much history you could learn just by reading everything like this.
I tried to get an explanation of it from my mom; she told me some story about "Uncle Jake" (I don't have an uncle by that name). Being away someplace for 20 years or so doesn't make much sense. We were in the car. We went to some memorial service for someone (not my dad, I guess, but someone of his generation) in someone's house. They were all members of a certain organization. I had the new dog Heidi on the leash (that's another story) and she took a cushion near the front next to some other dogs. I found an armchair, but an elderly gentleman came down and said it was his chair. I moved to the other side of the room. People keep coming in. Nobody I knew at all. I realized I had no pants on, but was covered by a blanket. I reached down to pull up my pants, which I found easily enough.
Tuesday, December 27, 2022
There was a short story workshop going on. A guy ended his story like this:
"Nos casamos a los dos meses. No fue una buena buena idea ni para Ana ni para mí. Pero así es la vida."
[We married two months later. It was not a good idea either for Ana or for me. But that's life.]
At leases my unconscious Spanish grammar is fine. Before, in the story, someone had made an unsatisfactory soup with tomato purée and some other ingredients. Somehow this mediocre soup was connected to the mediocre marriage these people were going to have.
There were several other exchanges of idea going on through zoom channels. Nothing was very clear for the rest of the night.
Monday, December 26, 2022
I was in a library reference room, and found an issue of a journal called Berkeley Poetry Review. It was a special feature on Lawrence zen poetry, and a picture of me and my ex-wife and daughter, looking like a young family, on the cover. I was featured with a few poems and an essay on zen poetry. I was puzzled because this was done without my knowledge / permission. I tried to check out the magazine to bring home with me, but was told that reference materials could not be checked out. A tall individual wanted to look at it, so I let him. I was leaving, and realized I had left my coat with my keys and phone in it. I tried out several coats but could not find my own.
The poems were rather silly ones, though I don't remember what they were, exactly. I don't really believe in zen poetry, per se.
Sunday, December 25, 2022
Jeffrey Herlihy-Mera has a book out which seems to repeat an argument he made in a Chronicle of Higher Education piece, about decolonializing the teaching of Spanish in the US. It has a blurb from Mignolo. It came up in my Iberian Studies group on facebook. I'm not going to say anything there. I'm the founder and administrator of the group and I don't use that role to promote my own agenda, but I think his argument is misguided. What is taught in the US is mostly Latin American Spanish, not peninsular Spanish.
Thursday, December 22, 2022
I was on some bus or train... arguing with some Spaniard who admired a poet of whom I am the sworn enemy. He took issue with me when I said said poet was a mediocrity.
Later, reading some essay / memoir thing in which the most important part was left out. That missing part showed that the entire premise of what we had read was wrong. Unfortunately, details cannot be retrieved in waking life.
Friday, December 16, 2022
Tuesday, December 13, 2022
I found an article abstract from a reputable journal that ended like this: "...and that's why Sylvania Fernández's work is so terrible." I was delighted by the unacademic directness and laughed out loud, and immediately started showing people, including a reader of this blog who happened to be there. I knew the name was wrong in the abstract; it was really supposed to be R***** S*****, a woman from Granada in LGM's circle.
It is too bad we can't write like that in academia. We have to say an argument is unconvincing, or unsupported by the evidence. It's not just "terrible," even if really is.
Monday, December 12, 2022
Friday, December 9, 2022
I think I was the only US Hispanist to oppose the poetry of experience. Several reasons: there weren't many of use even studying contemporary Spanish poetry. The idea of being against something, of really doing criticism in the evaluation mode, is not part of this part of the academic world. Usually, you choose what you want to write on (something you like or are interested in) and you don't argue for its value: that is assumed in the fact that you have chosen it.
Friends, and students, would sometime have one chapter on Luis García Montero in a dissertation, but he wasn't the focus of the work of any really good scholar. It was a woman from Argentina, Laura Scarano (who had been a student of ours at Ohio State many years ago, and who would always send me her books over the years), who became the big García Montero scholar, mostly just echoing his own positions and being close friends with him and Almudena. Scarano is smart, but I simply disagree with her in this case. I don't believe in hagiography. Even when I write on Valente I am implicitly critical of certain aspects of his work.
I was instrumental in another dissertation on LGM, written in Spain, but from a perspective critical of him. The student came for a semester to work with me, and then I flew to Spain to be on her Doctoral Defense in Santiago.
But anyway, the number of books in which I am the only US Hispanist cited is quite large. Since I write in English, mostly, I cannot aspire to be more of a part of the conversation, but Laura will never cite me, I fear.
Thursday, December 8, 2022
I tended not to put a lot of energy into promoting or even thinking about my book The Twilight of the Avant-Garde. I spent a lot of time working on it, and a lot of mental energy against the "poetry of experience." Now, re-reading all of this, instead of regretting it, I think I am still right! If anything, LGM is worse than I thought, in every dimension. Even one of his closest collaborators from the early years came out with a diatribe against him.
I was about to give a lecture. The speaker before me was done, and I had to go the bathroom. I woke up and went to the bathroom, and then when I went to sleep again I couldn't recover the topic of the lecture. I was then teaching through a "rebus" method of some kind, connecting ideas one after the other.
Wednesday, December 7, 2022
The Althusserian Granadine professor Juan Carlos Rodríguez. I find him unreadable. I just found out today he was married to Angeles Mora, another poet of the group. Reading him is like a black hole, where you read and never get to the point. He starts off, always, with propositions like "literature has not always existed," and insists always on the historicity of everything. But trying to pin him down on the consequences of what he is saying. He is incredibly prolix.
Someone in my university had died, who happened to have the same last and first name as my father, Leon Mayhew. I was at the funeral, and didn't know whether to mention the "coincidence" to anyone there. I wasn't sure why I was there, since I wasn't related to him, and didn't even know him. There was a display of books that had belonged to him. One was Doña Inés. I couldn't see whether it was in English or Spanish.
I noticed that my nephew and some other family members were at the funeral. I started talking to him. I asked him whether he had noticed that the deceased had the same name as his grandfather. I said I was going to see him in a few weeks (thinking of my trip to California, though he lives in Michigan and I won't see him on this trip.). He told me my daughter and her husband were buying a house. I didn't know that and felt out of touch.
When I woke up, I realized of course that the deceased person in the dream was my father, in that it was my dream, and part of a series of death of father dreams. I had told people in the dream that my father had died 10 years ago (actually 22 years).
Tuesday, December 6, 2022
Monday, December 5, 2022
What is the most average, normal idea of a lyric poem? A 1st-person speaker who is a more or less sincere persona in relation to the poet / implied author. An idealized version of the self. That is pretty much the paradigm behind the "poetry of experience" of the Granada. There was a claim that this was supposedly Marxist. [!!!]
Sunday, December 4, 2022
LGM's line "tú me llamas, amor, yo cojo un taxi" is a kind of anti-touchstone. It was singled out by Mainer ("aquel prodigioso endecasílabo...") and then pilloried by Blanca Andreu, Mayhew, Álvaro Salvador, and José Antonio Fortes. Mainer compared it to Quevedo: "polvo serán, mas polvo enamorado."
Saturday, December 3, 2022
Brecht is an avant-garde writer. The Verfremdungseffekt is derived from Shklovsky, a Russian formalist. Distancing techniques are essentially meta-theatrical, like the breaking of the 4th wall. Of course, anti-realist techniques are not inherently avant-garde, in the sense that other forms of theater (from Asia, for example), are not avant-garde per se. Placed in a European context, however, they become anti-naturalistic.
Distancing that doesn't serve a didactic function is not Brechtian. In other words, you could use those techniques simply for their entertainment or surprise value.
So you need three things: a set of techniques, a cultural context where those techniques would be seen as distancing (not simply the normal practice of a non-naturalistic theater) and a social intent.
Lorca uses metatheater in the work formerly known as "Comedia sin título." I saw a version that combined this play with a new second act, full of Lorquian kitsch. Grrrr.
Thursday, December 1, 2022
They guy who sued Luis García Montero for libel (and won) is this insane communist of the old style. I mean this in the best possible way. He has a rhetoric of invective that reminds me of that old Maoist style. Tremendously repetitive. He doesn't like Lorca because Lorca doesn't put the jornaleros in his rural plays. It is actually a good point. But, he has LGM down pat. He puts me in the bibliography as "Mayhem," but doesn't refer to me as far as I can tell in the book itself.
Ok. I'm almost done with the article taking down LGM one more time. It probably is unpublishable because it takes on significantly powerful people.
Some important points that gelled in my mind this morning as I showered and had coffee and drove to work:
1. The poetry of experience abandons Marxism very quickly. But it is a Marxist formalism in the first place, without any content. For example, you cannot have Brechtian estrangement just because; it has to be in the service of something concrete. This is why right-wing poets can also write poetry of experience.
2. It is this abandonment of Marxism that allows them to pursue power in a society which is de-ideologized. They start out in the Communist party, but the PCE loses voters with every election, becoming Izquierda Unida, also abandoning Leninist principles. The PSOE declares itself socialist, but not Marxist, and Spain joins NATO. They convert poetry, essentially, into an ideological state apparatus (Althusser). This is not only non-Marxist, but anti-Marxist. [rimshot].
This group has pursued institutional power relentlessly. LGM is on every prize committee for 40 years. He gets paid each time, I'm assuming. He is the director of the Cervantes institute. He writes for the El país. He runs for political office. He has imitators and lackeys. The experiencia group has its own publishers (VISOR, Valparaíso).
3. A populism without any social commitment is simply a form of mercantilism. Whatever sells the most copies is the best. This leads to a sponsorship of the Rupi Kaur type poets.
Friday, November 25, 2022
Tuesday, November 22, 2022
Monday, November 21, 2022
In French, you pronounce Paris "Pahrree," with a global French r. In Spanish, you say "PahrEES." In English, you pronounce it "Pay-riss." The idea that you should pronounce a foreign place name in the original language is pretty silly. When speaking English, I say "muh-drid" or "suhville" or 'Gruh-nah-duh." So I'm not going to listen the New York times to figure out how to say "Qatar."
Ironically, the more unfamiliar the place is, the more likely it is that someone will try to impose some authentic pronunciation. Some words have standardized Anglicized (or Hispanized) versions, so we say "Cologne" instead of Köln, or "Londres" instead London.
Saturday, November 19, 2022
Friday, November 18, 2022
We read from our translation of Nonnus yesterday, at the local bookstore. The guy ahead of me was touted as a theater professor, playwright, voice actor, so I tried to outdo him in my reading of my section of the translation (He's a friend of mine, there was nothing malicious my attempt; I simply didn't want to be worse than the other readers). When I got up, nailed it, pretty much, and got tons of positive feedback from the crowd afterwards. (The bookstore was packed with about 70 people.) The voice actor friend told me I was good, and I said, that's a compliment, coming from a professional. Then he said I could do it (voice-overs) which was nice. I accepted the compliment without either agreeing or disagreeing, but I was secretly pleased, though I have no desire to do this. It's nice to be told you could. I've been self-conscious about my ability in this area. In other words, I think I'm good, but I could also be over-estimating my own ability. I was once rejected by audio reader.
Please don't do this. Don't write a letter for an aspirant for tenure stressing the themes of systemic racism, apologizing for their lack of quantity, etc... Do them the favor of evaluating them the way you would anyone else. That is actually the "anti-racist" tenure letter.
Thursday, November 17, 2022
This dream was super long and lucid, with lots of strong detail. I was teaching in a new job in DC somewhere, and looking for my first class. I went down an elevator with some of my new colleagues, and then realized I had to go back to the 3rd floor, where we had started. Only one student was in the class.
I realized I hadn't found a place to live yet, and hadn't figured in the expense of commuting from Kansas to DC.
When I realized I was dreaming, I started manipulating the environment with my mind. For example, I made everyone in the room fall down.
There was then an incident that I have to censor in this PG rated blog.
The "new sentimentality" wrapped itself up Marxist theory, but that soon dropped away. Without this mooring in theory, the movement became "the poetry of experience," and had no way of distinguishing itself from the consumer society to which it appealed. The logical next step is the Instagram poets, who dispensed with both Marxism and the strategic ties to the literary canon.
Not well-written (yet) but that is the idea. It is kind of the problem of socialist realism. The realist part is simply boring, and also came at the price of killing off any alternatives (literally, in the case of Stalin). The socialist part? Well, that is programatic, the idea that literature should support a certain ideology.
To me, the poetry of LGM has the smell of stale cigarette smoke. It all sounds the same.
Wednesday, November 16, 2022
I never really got the vogue for study Spanish Fascist literature. I suppose everything must be studied, but the idea that we have to give the Fascist authors their due... well, they usually aren't very good, anyway. None of them is in the top 100 Spanish writers of the 20th century. Plus, they are Fascists. It seems perverse. Most writers are mediocre, of any political persuasion, so let's not give extra credit for being Fascist.
I had to read part of my own book, for research. I am pretty good. I normally wouldn't read me, but I have to, now, and I agree with this Mayhew fellow. I am pretty funny, too. I found a part where I find a particularly banal poem in an anthology, and I let him hang himself with his own banality.
--Luis García Montero
[We readers of poetry have often observed how lines of poetry circulating on the internet, spontaneously or signed by aspiring poet, excessively resemble the advertising campaigns of department store to motivate sales for Mother's Day or Valentine's Day.]
So why does LGM himself promote this kind of poets? It is inexplicable.
Monday, November 14, 2022
Once again, one of those people who think you steal something and then just change enough words to make it your own.
In many cases, I end up being the only American hispanist (in one of my particular areas) cited in Spain. Not in the context of Lorca studies, of course, since Mauer and Anderson and a few others are better know as Lorquistas. I am talking about the poetry debates of 1990-2022, as well as a few other things where there are 10 Spanish poet and critics and ... me. I don't have disciples, either.
"hispanistas de universidades menores del medio oeste americano" (Mainer, prologue to Casi cien poemas (Luis García Montero). I had written one article in which LGM was mentioned, and this became the last section of the last chapter of my second book.
Saturday, November 12, 2022
My work on Lorca and my work on contemporary Spanish poetry comes together with the cantautores, who of course are friends with my nemesis, Luis García Montero. In this sense, the use of song to popularize poetry, to bring it into the street, is allied with a particular agenda to favor a certain kind of poetry.
I am tracking down some poetry conspiracies.
There is an anthology of poetry edited by Remedios Sánchez, a professor from the U of Granada, with Tony Geist, a US Hispanist, published by Visor. This anthology was supposedly done by consulting with 200 critics from 100 universities about who the best Spanish-language poets are (born after 1970).
Remedios also has a book about the new internet poets, and in it is an article by Luis García Montero, and articles in praise of the internet poets. It seems to be all about promoting a certain kind of poetry, but also giving it a kind of academic validity, since it's non-academic poetry of a sort. You find the same people behind everything, Chus Visor, the publisher of Visor books, who publishes all these poets, LGM, the chef d'ecole of the poetry of experience. Fernando Valverde is also omnipresent in these discussions.
Friday, November 11, 2022
Thursday, November 10, 2022
Por eso las acusaciones de epigonismo, de con- servadurismo, de falta de ambici6n o de reaccionarismo est6tico, lanzadas por un critico como J. Mayhew (2001) para referirse a los principales poetas de la generaci6n de Garcia Montero y a sus planteamientos de un diilogo revisionis- ta con las convenciones del g6nero y con la tradici6n, resultan en cierta mane- ra desenfocadas. Es posible que Mayhew, en su defensa de la modernidad artis- tica, no repare en que esa modernidad no es ya la misma de hace medio siglo, y que no es coherente tildar de reaccionarios unos prop6sitos y una conciencia estetica que la propia (post)modernidad parece estar reclaman
Wednesday, November 9, 2022
Tuesday, November 8, 2022
In a class we were supposed to write down a definition of "lyric." I was the professor but someone else was presenting in class and so this was an activity they had designed. I wrote "A poem meant to be set to music; a poem associated indirectly or vaguely associated with the tradition of poems to be set to music; any short poem." We all read our definitions out loud. I don't remember what the other ones were.
Monday, November 7, 2022
Several times, I haven't done book reviews, pre-publication evaluations for books, or tenure evaluation when I know I am simply too close to the subject matter and likely to disagree. It would be an ethical lapse to agree to do this, and then either lie (say you agree with something you don't) or to take the opportunity to put forward my own views when someone else's career is at stake.
Friday, November 4, 2022
I guess it is significant that in the same book in which I published my first article (1992) about Spanish poetry of the 1980s, I also published the first book chapter or article in English about Gamoneda. There was article the same year as my book, The Poetics of Self-Consiousness (1994) in Hispanic Review by Antonio Candau, written in Spanish. (Candau works mainly on novel and film. I don't know which was first, but we can call it simultaneous since it was the same year.) In order to orient you, I should mention that my PhD was from 1988, so we are talking about early career JM.
Anyway, I had just randomly purchased Gamoneda's Edad on one of my book buying sprees in Spain. It was in the black Cátedra edition that we all know, scholarly editions of classics, and it had won the premio nacional de poesía. I had never heard of Gamoneda, but something told me that he was important, so I purchased the book. When I was putting together the Poetics of Self-Consciousness book, I thought that I should include a chapter on Gamoneda.
After I wrote the second HR article, I began to get invited to Spain, and met some of the contemporary poets that were on the same side of the poetry war as I was. I was the one yanqui on many panels.
Cuando publiqué "¿Por qué no sirve para nada la poesía? (Observaciones en defensa de una poesía para los seres normales)", quise abrir una discusión algo más profunda de la que luego han planteado algunos poetas vociferantes, muy orgullosos de la diferencia, o ciertos filólogos tan norteamericanos como desorientados, políticamente correctos y defensores de las minorías por amor a las reservas indias. Cometí la imprudencia de esperar que para interpretar mi poética se tomarían la molestia de leer mis libros y no tuve miedo de que la normalidad aludida se entendiese como una defensa de los valores establecidos o como una negación de la disidencia.
I read in the New Republic that Bob Dylan is not an "author." But he is an author of a memoir, and of what the journal describes as a very bad book of poetry. When I click on the link, it gives me the cover of a book called Tarantula, which is not a book of poetry at all but a novel (bad or good is another question!). We can debate the literary merits of Dylan's songs all day, but surely the critic disqualifies himself by using the words author and book of poetry. If he can't even get that right, then how do we trust his judgments?
I published two articles in Hispanic Review in the 1990s. The first was "The Twilight of the Avant-Garde: Spanish Poetry of the 1980s" (1992) which then became the last part of the last chapter of my second book. I used the title The Twilight of the Avant-Garde as the title of my third book, as well. The article begins like this:
"Perhaps the single most significant development in Spanish poetry of the most recent decade is a waning of the avant-garde impulse that has animated modern poetry from the early years of the twentieth century. One anthologist characterizes the poetry of the 1980s as '"una poesia 'moderna'" que por primera vez en este siglo, no se identifica con vanguardia" (Barella 14)."
I used Umberto Eco's definition of kitsch in order to explain the rejection of the avant-garde. The second, in 1999, was "The Avant-Garde and its Discontents: Aesthetic Conservativism in Recent Spanish Poetry." This became the first chapter in the 3rd book, The Twilight of the Avant-Garde. For a while, before my Lorquian phase, I was mainly known as the American Hispanist who was taking the side of Spanish poets who were against the "poetry of experience."
It turns out I was on to something, but the kitsch aesthetic did not really flourish until the emergence of Elvira Castro, who was born the year I published the first article. And other poets of that generation, like Fernando Valverde.
Now, I want to write an "I was right" article. I posed about it on facebook. These younger poets are sponsored by LGM and Benjamín Prado, and are cast in the role of "rock stars." I looked at Sastre's instagram, and it had a post in which she brags about Joaquín Sabina and Almudena Grandes calling her an "estrella de rock." What could be kitschier than Elvira Sastre, who is the official translator for Rupi Kaur?
The problem is that it cannot be an anonymous article. I have to explain it in terms of what how my own thoughts developed over a thirty year period. You can't do a palinode anonymously.
"Es lo más parecido a una estrella del rock que tiene la poesía actual. Llena con sus versos estadios y teatros en España, México, Colombia y Argentina. Vende tantos libros como camisetas con sus reflexiones. Sensible e inconformista, su mensaje está lleno de amor, dolor y verdad."
Thursday, November 3, 2022
"Ahora mismo, cualquier impulso a la cultura es una ayuda descomunal. Estamos pasando momentos muy duros y el apoyo de una marca como Cervezas Alhambra cae como agua en un desierto. Además, la poesía siempre ha estado relegada a un segundo plano y esta visibilidad estoy convencida de que va a ser un impulso precioso."
Right now, any nod to culture is a rare help. We are going through very difficult times and the support of a brand like Alhambra Beer is like rain in the desert. Besides, poetry has always been relegated to the back burner and I am convinced that this will be a precious impulse.
In this dream I was in a house, perhaps my own house in which I grew up. There were two Muslim women living there, and someone else who objected to their presence. I was told by someone [not clear who it was in the dream] to tell the person who was intolerant of the women in Hijabs to move out of the house. I didn't think that was my job, but it clearly was, so I went in and told the person [gender unknown] that they had to either change their attitude or move out of the house in seven days.
The dream surprised me because I am not particularly interested in defending this style of dressing, which in fact I view as a visible sign of oppression.
Tuesday, November 1, 2022
In Spain someone I am friends with complaining about Elvira Sastre and whole banalization of poetry, the way the LGM and Benjamín Prado group promotes the worst poets of the newest generation. Now I learn from a student that Sastre is the translator for Rupi Kaur. How perfect is that? Bad poetry outruns my capacity to satirize it.
Tuesday, October 25, 2022
I was talking with a guy in this dream. We found many points in common, an interest in poetry in Spanish, French, and English. A taste for jazz. I asked him how old he was; he said 58, even though he looked younger than that. So I commented that we were in the same age range. "Surely you don't like Thelonious Monk!" I exclaimed. Of course he did.
Monday, October 24, 2022
I was in the airport. I realized I didn't have my suitcase, only my backpack, and tried to backtrack to where the baggage claim was, but the entire place had become a giant consumer mall and I couldn't find the part that looked like an airport. I keep asking people, and nobody could tell me, or gave my bogus directions. The shops looked very vivid and exciting, but since I was focused on getting my luggage, I cannot remember any details. When I woke up I realized I was in my own bed and had my suitcase from my recent trip.
I was inspired by even some not-so-hot presentations about pedagogy I witnessed at a recent conference. In other words, the people presenting seemed to have a limited awareness of the potential of the materials they were using. They somehow invited that it would foster creativity among their students, but they were very uncreative in looking at this. For example, a presentation on the libro-objeto (artist book) had very little consciousness about what this tradition actually was.
Saturday, October 8, 2022
Imagine, then, somebody getting most things wrong, but insisting on overthinking everything that is more or less simple, and yet sticking to dogmatic positions for more complex, nuanced matters.
For example: insisting that something has single cause, when there are many causes, some stronger than others. It has to be either / or, all nature or all nurture, or whatever.
For something that does have a simple, overwhelming cause, like the cause of a war being one nation invading the other, then trying to muddy the waters with all the other, supposedly nuanced reasons.
Now, we could say that this is difficult. We don't know when to use our nuance, and when to stick to the simplest solution. It would be like the song says: "He knows when to hold them, knows when to fold them." A bad poker player would do the opposite of what is required in any given situation. Or, say, following a rule or principle. Generally, you would follow a rule (if it is good rule), but also know the appropriate time to bend or break the rule. Breaking the rule always would mean that the rule itself has no utility.
I sometimes find myself on opposite sides of people who basically have the same politics as I do, because I want to nuance when they want to be dogmatic, and vice-versa.
Friday, October 7, 2022
[Yes, I know you don't use nuance as a verb in that way. Apparently it is only passive.]
On the one hand, there are things that seem clear-cut and are really not. We need a more nuanced view of them. On the other hand, you can take something relatively simple and then over-think it, or try to weasel yourself into a position where you are upside down from where you should really be. The prime minister of Finland said that the solution to the Ukraine war was for Russia to withdraw. It's not a nuanced position, but it is the terse and correct one. Once you try to say, "but NATO expansion," "but Russia's sphere of influence," then you are losing focus.
Everyone has something about which they will not take a nuanced position, and rightly so. There are also conundrums that nobody has figured out, and taking a cut-and-dried approach to those will also fail. The trick is knowing the difference. For me, nuance can either enrich our understanding, but allowing us to consider more factors, or it can cloud the issue that is really not that difficult to understand.
You know when the issue is being clouded [remember that nuance come from a French word meaning cloud] when the verbiage starts piling up, when it gets more difficult to understand the points being made. Ideally, then, nuance should be used only to clarify, to make things easier to understand, not to muddy the waters. It should bring to light things that are essential, not minor things or mere clutter.
Thursday, October 6, 2022
There was an article in the New York Times, an interview with a conservative Christian therapist. The comments were
*Didn't read the article, but therapists shouldn't be conservative.
*Politics shouldn't enter into therapy the first place (and therapists shouldn't be conservative).
*Healthy eating is a classist concept. Same with "resilience."
*Conservatives have no empathy, therefore shouldn't be therapists.
*But Trump! January 6! White privilege! Conservatives want a therapist to tell them their world view is correct. Reality has a liberal bias.
*We liberals are nuanced and complex, not like those simple minded people who think in terms of us and them.
A few people had a different take, and thought the woman in question had something of value to offer. The number of people, though, who seemed to lack all self-awareness, was astounding. The willingness to say that basic human concepts, like making good use of one's time, do not apply to poor people, is absolutely condescending. Some of my friends understand that we cannot be so smug.
Sunday, October 2, 2022
I was going to a prostitute, but without much enthusiasm. I had no desire for her, and was unsure what would happen, since I had heard that prostitutes did not kiss on the mouth. We lay down together very briefly, and it turned out that it was some way of getting information about me. There was a small square at the corner of the box we we lying in that was associated with eccentric local artist WP. It was felt that this square contaminated our local group of meditators. Then it turned out that W had joined our group, and that his presence was accepted, not a contaminating element at all. [We define karma as kind of the rough edges of individuality that get evened out in the group, so someone who does not fit in as well is actually good for the health of the overall group.]. The dream went on from there, very vaguely...
Thursday, September 29, 2022
I had written a story with some erotic twist with the title "The Q of the Queue." I was surprised to see it was ranked #1 on a particular website called *********, since I did not remember having uploaded it there. I was trying to read the comments on the story, but I couldn't find them.
Monday, September 26, 2022
Thursday, September 22, 2022
Combine the found ms. trope and the apocryphal translation trope in DQ. That is a powerful device. Does Cervantes also invent the unreliable narrator, when he questions Cide Hamete's perspective? When he says that the Arab author might be lying because he is an Arab? Would that perspective been taken ironically, or at face value, in the 17th century?
Saturday, September 17, 2022
I was thinking of this with the Quijote, which purports to be a translation of a found manuscript written in Arabic. Where did this trope come from? Was Cervantes the first to use it?
Well, it is actually a feature of the novels Cervantes was parodying, like Amadís de Gaula. I should have thought of this first. But, by parodying this trope, rather than using it in earnest, Cervantes was the first in using it to highlight rather than diminish fictionality. His is the first metafictional use of the device, then.
I'm probably wrong about this, since I haven't read Amadís.
This dream was quite long and involved, about trying to track down a magical editor, who had the capacity to see your work for what it was and offer just the right comment about it, even in rejection. The editor was also a kind of writing guru, and at the end we were taking a workshop from him.
(There were other stages in the search. One person who we thought it might be was William Something, and the woman I was working with on the search met with someone of the same name under false pretenses, pretending there was a scholarship opportunity. It turned out to be someone else of the same name as this editor. At times in the dream, I myself was this woman, or was seeing things from her perspective.)
There were several exercises in the workshop. One was thinking of something disgusting, and then retaining that image in the mind for a few seconds. Mine had to do with chewing gum, something I do find disgusting. At the end of the dream, I was holding forth about how I wanted to pursue insight or intuition in my writing, not style. That you could never just take all you had learned from past writing and then produce a new poem out of it (a bag of tricks) but had to start afresh with each new poem. Of course, you can use techniques or stylistic devices you've practiced, or used before, but you cannot just rely on those completely.
Sunday, September 11, 2022
Delusions of mediocrity
I turn 55 in the summer of 2015. My friend the poet Ken Irby dies.
I’ve been to Argentina that summer and start running when I get back.
I am no longer President of the University Senate.
Pet-sitting at my girlfriend’s house while she is on a trip (dog, chickens)
I begin to fool around on her electric piano. I’ve heard there’s something
called a tri-tone substitution, so I try it out. Also, that you can replace
the tonic with the iii chord. Using these simple ideas, I write my first song.
I can hardly play piano—lessons as a kid and all that—but I know elementary
concepts of music theory (apparently). I write a few more songs
on a cheap keyboard I have in my own apartment. I’m playing every day
by now. My songs all sound similar to one another, because I am exploring
a few ideas, but I learn more keys and gradually branch out. My lyrics are
not good. “Like stars emerging on a cloudless night / We got together and
it felt so right. / Let’s live a life together, / in sweet harmony.” I struggle to
write down the music using free music notation software. (It’s hard to use
that phrase in a poem, isn’t it?). In September I run my first 5k.
I go running on campus one day, though, and have asthma attack. In October
my friend loses use of both arms in bicycle accident, temporarily.
I help to nurse her back to health.
I take her
to Davis to celebrate my mom’s 80th birthday in November, and to Austin
in January. My sister has Semantic Dementia and lives in Davis too.
She is musician and poet too, but cannot read, or read music, any more.
She has lost many words, especially nouns and proper names.
She does not know my name any more.
Cared for by my mother and by Norbie, she is cheerful. Norbie,
her husband, my new brother-in-law, has loved her for years and
pokes gentle fun at me, calling me Professor Mayhew and
exaggerating the importance of my Senate Presidency.
In 2016 I play piano every day except when traveling. We go
to Austin (as I’ve already mentioned), Tallahassee, and Cuba. Getting back
to my songs, I write more, back from Cuba. One uses the chord changes
to “Bemsha Swing,” by Thelonious Monk. Another two use the progression to
“Hit the Road Jack,” the so-called “Flamenco cadence.” I have recorded
some songs at the studio in the public library. My playing is terrible,
hesitant, too staccato, dynamically insensitive, but I suffer from “delusions
of mediocrity.” The idea that I could play as well as amateurs playing
in local bars and coffee shops. Those guys are actually good though,
and I am not, though writing these songs gives me an odd feeling
that for too long I have blocked myself off from the wellsprings of my own
creativity. That sounds awkward in a poem too. It is too explanatory and
discursive. Creativity has become a management consultant buzzword
so all the cool poets now are being deliberately unoriginal. Good thing
I’m not one of them. Anyway, my songs are inspired by Bill Evans-type
sonorities. They are harmonically complex by now, full of colors I find
fascinating. Since I’ve been listening to jazz all my life I seem to have
a lot of good ideas for songs. Now I finally understand Lorca’s love of
Debussy and Falla. The nuanced chromaticism of his Suites, so different
from stereotypical notions of Lorca as poet of duende and
Andalusian Kitsch. I set a few Lorca poems to music.
I take voice lessons all spring. I play in front
of the hardware store where they have a piano where everyone can play.
Record heat and humidity render it unplayable, though, by mid-summer.
Also, in the student union, where there is a grand piano whose keys also
begin to stick.
I realize I’ve been playing drums, too, for 20 years but rarely in public,
typical for my isolated and bookish existence, typical
of all the ways I get in my own way, sabotaging my own
happiness through cowardice and asinine, egotistical stoicism.
It is summer of 2016 now, as you might have guessed. My short un-
successful musical career is almost a year old. We commemorate a year
of Ken’s dying and I offer to play a song called “Elegy for Ken Irby”
at Judy’s house. (I once called it “Italian Movie Theme” before I realized
that it was an elegy for him.) Meanwhile my so-called creativity
is at a high point. I don’t even care that my poems are bad
and write bad poems on purpose that everyone loves, including this one
that I conceive of in my head this morning as I run five kilometers.
People like my songs too. Between pride and embarrassment, I settle for
a kind of homespun enthusiasm, the way anyone should be enthusiastic
about their hobbies, things that make them happy to do from day to day.
That seems better than wondering every day whether I am talented
or just a fuck-up. I am happy and in love with life itself, despite
intermittent depression that makes it hard to get through the days,
sometimes. I love my friends and family too, some “hid in death’s dateless
night” but most still living, and of course I love Beth, the
woman I wrote those songs for. Life seems uneventful, at times, but is
actually crammed full of events, good, bad, small, momentous,
I realize. I realize that the next year might be eventful too and
decide to keep my radio dials tuned to as many stations
as possible to see what might happen.
I dislike your inspirational quotes
though I don't dislike you
I dislike your facile memes
your taste for abstraction and sentimentality
"creativity" won't save anyone
from desperation and rage
on a bad day
a song might be written
a painting painted
it's still a bad day
It is a silver morning like any other. I am at my desk. Then the phone rings, or someone raps at the door. I am deep in the machinery of my wits. Reluctantly I rise, I answer the phone or I open the door. And the thought which I had in hand, or almost in hand, is gone. Creative work needs solitude. It needs concentration, without interruptions. It needs the whole sky to fly in, and no eye watching until it comes to that certainty which it aspires to, but does not necessarily have at once. Privacy, then. A place apart — to pace, to chew pencils, to scribble and erase and scribble again.
It was Mary Oliver's birthday yesterday. Here is an example of an attitude I don't identify with. If this is your attitude toward creativity, then you will aspire to write that kind of poem, with pretty, pseudo-profound ideas. I mean, solitude is good, but maybe the interruption will bring its own stimulus. And who wants certainty?
I don't have a name for it, but when there is a particular beat or horn figure in popular music, with associations from television sit-com theme songs, or top 40 songs from a particular epoch, and they are used for setting to music the poetry of Miguel Hernández, there is a bit of a jolt of disjunction. I want to say "no, no, no, that's not right."
So musical forms have particular meanings, right? If an opera singer is singing "Anda jaleo," in the style she is accustomed to, that has a meaning, an association. You can like, or not like, anything, but some things seems stylistically incompatible.
It is hard to theorize, because one's personal reactions are getting in the way. Yet those reactions are the antennae that show me that something is wrong.
Saturday, September 10, 2022
A modern prejudice, peculiarly modern, that sees song lyrics and lyric poetry as separate genres, and the setting of a poem to music as an unusual "hybrid" of two separate art forms. Since my prejudice skews in the opposite direction, I sometimes exaggerate the prevalence of the view of song as a unitary art form, of music as song even when instrumental, and of poetry as musical in quite literal ways.
If think of revising as "polishing," then are you thinking the poem as a shiny metal object or a pair of shoes? What if you chose another metaphor, like "weathering," exposing the poem to the elements to make it look a bit weather beaten? My point is that we have a choice of how to think of it. You are not stuck with one metaphor, "polishing."
I don't revise much, and a friend said yeah, but that's because you write those Frank O'Hara type poems. Thanks a lot, friend. I realized that you can't make a fetish out of not revising. The way you originally thought to phrase something might be quirky, and you might like that quality of quirkiness, so you keep that phrasing. Or not. You could just write the poem down from memory again and there would be changes. "I know I said I don't revise much but it is also true: / nothing remains the same."
I am working on poems that just change shape as I add more things to them. I could sit down and write, repeating things (imperfectly) from memory from previous versions. Long poems would seem to work from accretion. Material is added, but also some layers of sediment are compacted or eroded, though a "weathering" process.
Friday, September 9, 2022
Thursday, September 8, 2022
There's a line from a Lorca sonnet: "en doble lirio de caliente espuma." Early edition had "limo" [slime] instead of "lirio" lily. We can visualize how the ri can look like an m. Double lily of hot foam [semen?]. Or double slime [silt] of hot foam? I prefer lirio here. The poet is taking about a lot of white things, like snow, lilies, whiteness itself [blancura]. Limo is more like mud, usually, not white.
There is a whole poetic trope of white on white, or black on black. Riffaterre talks about it.
Wednesday, September 7, 2022
I was wondering about the sizzle of bacon
but that is just the sound that kind of thing makes
no more mysterious than any other
just like green plants reflects light
that looks green to us
that's our name for that kind of chromatic "sizzle" in our brains
I was hearing people's "vocal fry"
and "up talk" on the radio
then some nasal person being interviewed too
and judging them for those qualities
in their voices
I probably shouldn't do that
even if I don't like it
it will be ok
it's like judging the odors of herbs when I come in the house
Tuesday, September 6, 2022
Monday, September 5, 2022
Chilean voters emphatically rejected an ultra-progressive constitution, enumerating 100 rights. The constitution was drafted in a process in which conservative voices were not needed. So now Chile is stuck with its Pinochet-era constitution. 80% of Chileans voted in an earlier election (2 years ago) that they want a new constitution, but this is not exactly what they wanted, I guess. Maybe a run-of-mill centrist constitution would be better than either the Pinochet constitution or the pie-in-the-sky progressive wish list. All the great stuff in the rejected document, the abortion rights and recognition of indigenous rights, will now have to wait until they can get their act together.
I remember when I wrote my poem
"Delusions of Mediocrity." It was rejected by several
fine magazines. It was part of my "bad poem" project
so the editors were not wrong. They could have realized
that it was bad-on-purpose, not bad because I couldn't do
any better--or not--but it didn't matter. They were
right either way.
I don't care anyway for
"fine writing" or lyric epiphanies, and have poor
powers of observation. I can't carry a notebook around
and observe interesting things. That's
not how my mind works. Mostly in poems, I've found,
the interesting things in life don't fit, they get left out
along with the boring stuff that holds everything together.
For example, I suffered from horrible "earworm" as a kid, with
the line from a translation of Breton, "Jersey Guernsey
in sombre and illustrious weather." And with the opening of
Pound's "Seafarer": "May I for my own self / song's truth reckon /
journey's jargon." The suffering was intense
and persistent, but I had nobody to complain to
since it was of my own doing. (Now this example,
I don't know if it is interesting or dull,
or whether it belongs in this poem at all.)
Meditation cured my earworm
many years later. There are still tunes and phrases
rattling in the rafters, but I don't fear them
anymore. Perhaps the syndrome is the fear of catchy
musical and verbal cadences, not the words,
harmless in themselves.
Regret for the past is pointless, I decided
in a fit of insomnia last night. Regret implies that
we can do better now--something far from certain.
We should "regret" only the present, but try to change it
at the same time, by making it better, somehow.
Does that make any sense to you?
So much introspection is without value,
anyway, like keeping score
for a game no longer being played, moving pointless
mental tokens from one column to another, then never being able
to come up with the same count on successive attempts.
You get the idea.
I spend years introspecting in the wrong way
without gaining much insight into myself or others.
is a name for something not bad in and of itself. (Sleep
comes as a relief, sure, but we never experience
that relief, waking up groggy much later.) After all,
insomnia gave birth to this poem, "Delusions of Mediocrity," a second
attempt to write a poem with this brilliant title.
Once I read
an article about how not to be a mediocre jazz pianist, but
since "mediocre" means average, then for me
that would be a vast improvement, right?
A Chopin waltz
lies abandoned on the music stand,
then it is not, as I come back to it again. It is not
difficult, maybe, but it is unforgiving. Why do my fingers
fly, improvising over "Bemsha Swing" but stumble over themselves
here? Yet I can't play those bebop clichés that sound so good
when other people play them.
I think of my childhood fantasies.
I wanted to play jazz piano, publish poems
in magazines (see above), and have a wife who wore lipstick.
Nothing too ambitious; most of that I've done, though
not exactly in the way I thought it would work out.
None of those things is really what I thought it was
going to be. They are subtly different, but in a way that
robs them of some portion of their inherent joy
Sometimes I wonder, too, why bacon
sizzles in the pan. I know sound is vibration
but what is vibrating here, the grease? I understand
how a drum makes noise, two drum heads vibrating
sympathetically and making the air inside
hum too (when struck with stick), and then
sound waves emanating from there.
The bacon, though,
I do not understand, I'd really like to know, but
it seems dumb to ask.