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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, March 31, 2022


 I remember people I had taken a strong dislike to, usually mutually, for not very solid reasons. Often, not having met them in person, but only through being on opposite sides of some poetry debate in the days of the Buffalo poetics discussion list, or in the early days of poetry blogs. 

The animosity was not well founded, in most cases. Yet I still feel that I am correct in my assessment of these people. Perhaps something else they did, later on, confirmed my idea about the person. I am no longer invested in these feuds, and barely remember the issues involved.  

Sometimes I was defending language poetry, or flarf. I didn't like people to attack the poetry of people I liked. I became friends with people I didn't agree with always, but I felt their judgments were honest ones. Now, as I remember it, I am beginning to feel those old passions stir.  

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Translator's statement for Nonnus

 A lot of contemporary translation of poetry, to my taste, is bland and colorless, aiming for a kind of unobjectionable literalism—at best. In approaching Nonnus, I had three principles in mind: (1) Every text requires a unique approach from the translator, based on its unique qualities. I would not render Nonnus in the same style I would use for Lorca. (2) A translation of a poem is a poem: it must give pleasure in its own right, without spurious appeals to the virtues of the original. Although we tend to judge translations by comparing them to the original texts, their intended reader is normally someone who does not know the original and thus cannot perform this comparison. (3) A verse translation must have a distinctive prosody, a rhythmic shape. It should not be a prose crib divided into lines.          

With these principles in mind, my version of Book 37 attempts to harness the dynamic exuberance of Nonnus’s verse through a variation on Williams Carlos Williams’s indented tri-partite line, which he developed in poems like “Of Asphodel, That Greeny Flower” in the later part of his career. I came upon this solution almost immediately as I began work, and I was pleased even with my first attempts. I did not try to imitate Williams’s prosody with any exactitude, but instead sought to exploit the elasticity implicit in his concept of the “variable foot.” This allows both for short and relatively long phrases rather than a more uniform movement that might become tedious. Later, I remembered that Williams had used this form for a translation of an idyll by Theocritus, and that my first published article was on Williams’s prosody. 

Nonnus is especially skilled at describing physical movement, as in his quite lengthy, exuberant, and virtuosic accounts of the chariot race and other athletic contests in book 37. A literal line-by-line rendering, I thought, would make him sound too clunky, failing to do justice to his gift for conveying kinetic energy through the movement of his verse. The elasticity of the tri-partite line also afforded me a great deal of lee-way. I could fit a lot of words into some lines, or set apart a very short phrase for emphasis. I deliberately did not make my line divisions correspond to those of the original text.    

It is quite evident that this Nonnus’s epic poetry does not conform to our contemporary aesthetic ideals of concision or narrative economy. In conversations with some other translators in this project, I often heard his work described as simply “bad.” (I’m sure I expressed this opinion myself as well.) Coincidentally, I have been interested in bad poetry for quite some time, writing two unpublished books of deliberately inept poems. This experience came in handy as I was translating Nonnus, because it allowed me a certain freedom from prejudgment. I could allow the poetry to be what it was without trying to improve it or apologize for it. What some might see as the excesses of the Greek original, such as its redundancy and its long-winded, hyperbolic, and seemingly gratuitous descriptions, provide an opportunity for a loose and playful approach to translation. If I have done my job well, Book 37 should be a lot of fun to read in English.

Te vulnero en sueños...

 Te vulnero en sueños, gato equivocado de lugar Para contar mis desdichas bastan unas ínfulas insulsas, insulares Me afeito con espuma del mar, desde un interior insondable, selvático.

Another rescued translation: Lola Velasco

 I. The Hands Speak

This is how your albino hauteur
so bright it is perverse.  


Free of wrinkles, 
with a dazzling 
insolence of forms
you rush your dream 
to the crest,
by golden rays.

You flirt almost always 
in profile,  
and the sun
tosses you missiles
of yellow lust,
alters your color,
trying to confine you
to its dome.  


And the other acrobats,
stupid paper ballerinas,
clear away their final pirouettes
so you can show off 
your lone, aerial
luxury in flight.  


But night will come.
There’s little time left.
And your sophisticated, 
cynical beauty will pour down
false gold.
And you will fall to me,

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

I found this translation of Leopoldo María Panero and Claudio Rizzo, I did at one time.

 From afar, aware of the immense distance, I stifle

il soffio al cuore: abruptly, like a burnt-out bulb.

I passed my hand through your graying hair and
someone said: il mio bambino.

Everything locked behind bars of hard metal. 



This book is coming out this summer, with some translations by you-know-who.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Yet another dream of the same thing

 I dreamed again my sister died. Someone told me and I burst into tears.  

When I awoke I was afraid that I would find a message in my voice mail that it had happened.  My mom texted me, yesterday, this photo of us from, maybe around 2015? 

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

La argentinita

 I bought a book about La Argentinita.  I'm glad someone wrote a bio of her, though I don't like the particular style it is written in, a bit cursi or breezy.  I got more insight about her from a few pages of Edwin Denby, the poet and dance critic.  


There is a grant to get a research assistant.  To apply, you go to an online form, but you have to fill out each page before going on the the next, but you can't see the whole application all at once.  You don't know how many pages there are or how long each one will be. I'm guessing there are only three pages, one with your name and basic info, another for the application itself, and another to finish up.  But I don't think it's a great system.  

Rhetorical Move

 Nussbaum does this rhetorical move that is irritating.  She first says:

humans are not so special for having language:

        language is not that important to being a human

        other animals have language too!

humans are not so special for having metacognition:

        metacognition is not that important for being human, most of our lives are not devoted to that

        other animals have metacognition too!

In both cases, she doesn't seem to realize that the two parts of the argument pull in opposite directions. If metacognition is not all that important for human, then why stress that animals have it too?  Also, there is a matter of degree. We are not supposed to notice that human language is far more complex than any other zoosemiotics. 

It also comes in when she is talking about animals and refers to their "leisure time." The phrase is grating in this context, because it taking something defined in particular ways in some human cultures (probably not all of them) and then treating it as a zoological absolute. 


I've seen other people deploy this move before. You could say: systems of writing are not such a great measure of civilization.  Then, turn around and say, other people have systems of writing too, not just Europeans! In the second argument, you are asserting the value of something that you denied in the first part of the argument.  


 In NYRB in the latest issue, Martha Nussbaum, in laudable defense of animal rights, talks about how language is not so crucial to our everyday life.  After all, she say, we think in images too, and our thoughts do not take the shape of Henry James sentences:  

"This [overestimating the importance of language] is a double error. First, it overstates the centrality of language in human life. Despite what novelists tell us, most of our daily mental life is not lived in words. Often we think in pictures or tunes, and when we think in language it is in choppy fragments, far from the prose of Henry James."

I, for one, do live my life as novelists say, narrating to myself everything that happens. The idea that because the sentences are not well formed, or aesthetically well developed, is hardly the point. (For most people it is more James Joyce than Henry James.) There are probably hundreds of words a minute going through my mind. I notice this when I am meditating, in other words, when there is a deliberate effort to stop, or at least to slow, the narration. This is not easy, or even possible, to do. Not all thought is verbal, but "most" of it is, for "most" people. And I doubt, somehow, that Nussbaum herself is a non-verbalizer, thinking mostly in images or tunes.  

There is more. The very possibility of formulating these arguments takes place in language. Specifically, its capacity to reflect on itself, metalinguistically.  However marvelous bird song is, it probably lacks the capacity to reflect on its own importance. Cardinals don't write articles in the NYRB to compare their song with human language.  

She tries to address this too:


"Then there is what we may call the false lure of metacognition: the idea that reflexive self-consciousness is the be-all and end-all of intelligence, and that we humans are unique in possessing it. Again, this error is double. First, we ourselves reflect about our own mental states much less than we often claim. Most of our lives are lived with simpler first-order awareness."

Once again, I probably reflect on my own mental states every hour of every day. The word "most" is doing a lot of work here.  

Good causes do not need silly arguments. We can recognize that not all thought is verbal, and that other creature have vocalizations wonderful in their own way, without falling into this kind of special pleading.        

Monday, March 21, 2022


 "Gender Trouble tends to read together, in a syncretic vein, various French intellectuals (Lévi-Strauss, Foucault, Lacan, Kristeva, Wittig) who had few alliances with one another and whose readers in France rarely, if ever, read one another."

This claim, from Butler herself in her 1999 preface, seems unbelievable.  Nobody in France who reads Kristeva also reads Foucault, Lacan, or Wittig?  

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Writing as struggle

 When you speak in everyday life, without a script (you rarely have a script), you are improvising. You have the capability to formulate clear and grammatically well formed utterances. Things can go wrong, of course. You might not say exactly what you mean, or you might be less that clear, or make a mistake in what you are saying. You could change your mind in the middle of a sentence and then produce a grammatically confused idea. You can backtrack, or fill in pauses with filler words. But you know how to speak.  

A similar thing happens with email. For a routine message, you can simply sit down and write it, and it will be more or less ok.  

When writing becomes a struggle, it means that one's relation to it is somehow muddied. I mean, here, for someone who is at the appropriate stage of education for the writing task at hand. Something is interfering with the skill that one possesses already. We call it a "block" for a reason.  

Or maybe someone doesn't yet know how to write. It is not a blockage, per se, but a deficiency in skill.  Then, it should be possible for the person to learn how to write, assuming competence in grammar (in the Chomsky sense of the term). 

What I am trying to say is that you can write the way you want to.  You can achieve elegance and concision, if that that is what you are after, and there is no real limit to how far you can get with those goals. When I ask student what their writing goals are, they usually stop at clarity.  That is a wonderful starting point as well, because it means that they want to be able to say what they mean.  

Dream of bicycle and music lessons

I was riding a smallish bike very fast and easily through the streets of my home town. I had been to my piano lesson and was heading toward my voice lesson, but then I realized I had to turn around and go the other direction, North rather than South. I also realized I had left my music book at the piano lesson so I wouldn't be able to practice for a week. 

The bicycle was technically too small for me, but still comfortable; I had to pedal very fast, but there was no sense of effort.  It was dark, and there was no other traffic on the streets. 


Literally, of course, there was no exertion in riding this bike, since I was lying in bed dreaming. Certain things have no reality in a dream: I cannot taste food, nor do I feel pain when beaten up in a dream. Yet other things are real, like the engagement of the sense of sight, or arousal, or the psychological reality of dread or wish fulfillment.    

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Dream within a dream

 I am renting a room from a woman, about 45, and her adult daughter. I am lying in bed and hear a heated argument between them, in which the daughter refers to me as "your young man." I think this is strange because I am 15 years older than her. I am not involved with the mother, but now she comes in to my room and asks me if I have overheard the exchange.  I say yes (they were speaking loudly) and she then lies down with me and it is clear that she expects us to have sex. We begin, and then I wake up. 

I think this is a "freebie," since it is a dream, but now I have two women who both expect me to make plans with them. I cannot just break up with the dream girlfriend, because we have only just begun, but it also seems unfair to string her along. In the second dream, I order food delivered both households, but both orders are delivered to the house of my original girlfriend. There is a phone message from the restaurant that reveals my duplicity.  Now I spend the rest of the night trying to sort out the details, and to remember the dream sufficiently so that I can write it down in the morning. 

The idea is that what I dreamt has a material existence, and thus holds me to an ethical obligation. I cannot just say, "it was only a dream" and expect to get off the hook.  


Friday, March 11, 2022

Another thing...

 Another thing I don't like so much: an article about a single poem or song, or a book on a poet that only deals with a small part of their work. I'm sure I've done it myself, and it may be justified with super-canonical folks like Lorca. 

My thinking is that this is a lot of weight to exert on a single object: I prefer to learn about many poems and songs, or whatever object of study it is, at the same time, with some comparative ideas thrown in the mix. I think I associate this with the laser focused narrowness of some very young scholars. Or the laser focused narrowness of specialists on canonical authors. It isn't horrible, just not my preference. 

Novels and films, yes, you often will want to write an article or chapter on single novel.  Not so much a short story. It's about a certain sense of proportionality. I remember a dissertation where each chapter dealt with a short story. 

Remember the iceberg approach (Hemingway).  You don't have to say everything you know (and you couldn't anyway). You don't want to give the impression that your knowledge is so thin that you are unaware of the larger picture. 

Thursday, March 10, 2022


 I had two books in the 1990s, two in the year 2009, and one in 2018, and have one in progress now. It amounts to a good career, overall, but I have problems with annual evaluations. The course of my career is not evenly divided.


I published 2 books to get tenure, two more to get full professor. I have to do double what other people do, apparently.    


 ... and the day after I started working in earnest on the book, I got news that I got a travel grant to Spain for the summer.  

... and we have a snow day today, so I don't have to teach and can devote the day to writing.  In fact, have essentially two weeks off from teaching, since it is Spring break. 

Since I wrote and submitted the grant proposal, I must take some credit here for making things line up in my favor.  

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Restarting the book

 I realized that I hadn't been working on the book for several months.  Under the guise of giving myself a break.  These breaks are necessary, perhaps, but they also entail a separation from the work that can be depressing.  

I have remedied that today...  


 At my bird feeder today:

house finch (5 or 6)

downy woodpeker (2)

starling (1); wasn't at feeder per se, but stopped by

black-capped chickadee (2-3)

cardinal (2); male and female

tufted titmouse (1-2) 

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Dream of Sister's Funeral

 My sister Debbie has a form of early onset dementia. I won't go into details, but this is not Alzheimers and is a malady that typically has its onset at a younger age. At this point she cannot use language or feed herself, can barely walk. The prognosis is usually that someone will die 5-10 years after diagnosis, and she was diagnosed 10 years ago. She receives exceptionally good care, in a home setting, living with her own mother, and her daughter now too, so she has lasted longer than anyone could have hoped for.  

In this dream, I was texting B. about Debbie's funeral, but suddenly realized that I had not told her about the death itself. There are very few other details I can retain, though this was a long dream that began in another way and went through several stages of development before ending with this. There was one part where I was discovering a running path near an ocean, that then became a suburban street. Another part, a series of painful arguments with X.  


I was thinking, the other day, that I used to think of the euphemism of "passed away" or "passed' as appropriate for peaceful deaths, like "he passed away last night in his sleep." It came as a shock to me to realize one day that many people use it for violent or sudden deaths, like "She passed away in an automobile accident." At first, I just thought the person using this expression, who was talking about a war casualty in Iraq, was just wrong, mistaken in how this is supposed to be used. But then I kept hearing it in these "inappropriate" ways and realized that I did not appreciate how widespread it is. For some people, this is simply the normal way of speaking about any kind of death. I still do not use it myself, even for quiet, peaceful acts of buying the farm.  I would never, ever use it in cases where its euphemistic character clashes overtly with the nature of the death:  *"Lorca passed away in 1936." In other words, I experience a little shudder when I perceive the utter futility of the euphemism. Someone I knew once wrote that nobody is afraid of "passing away," only of "dying."  

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Some observations

 Throughout the talk:  "I argue that..."  Or "I see blank as blank."  Not just in the initial signposting phase of the introduction, but all the way through. This takes away a bit from the proper function of metadiscursive markers like this. 

After every question:  "Thank you for that question."  / "That is a very good question." It is fine to do spontaneously once in a while, but I get the idea that the job candidate was taught that you always had to do this, with every. single. question. You feel that the person would say "that is a very good question" for even a ridiculously bad question. 

I had a student once who would put a tag in front of every source, like "cultural critic Fulano de Tal," or "Lorca specialist Jonathan Mayhew."  

These are not major transgressions, but minor tics.  I'm sure I have my own I'm not even aware of.   


A few more: 

 What would you teach for a graduate course?  [DISSERTATION TOPIC]. How about an undergraduate course? [DISSERTATION TOPIC].  

List of "research interests" on the CV includes 15, mostly overlapping and currently popular things. It would be easier to list what you aren't interested in.  

Friday, March 4, 2022

The Challenge

 How fast can I go from "I don't know if I'm qualified to write this book" to "Nobody else is qualified to write this book." 

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

have went

 My grammatical peeve:

"I had went... "

"I had came..." 


Nobody makes this mistake in reverse. 

"I gone...."  

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Dream of Class

 I was teaching my class, on Bodas de sangre.  I had a power point up, but just then a student took over the screen with his power point; apparently I had forgotten that he was going to give a presentation that. My girlfriend was visiting the class this day too. The student's presentation began with a cartoon or claymation version of Cortázar's "Axolotl," I guess cribbed from youtube, then went on to another similar version of Cronopios y famas. Then he finally went to Bodas de sangre, via a connection he made with the concept of karma as it is associated with both Cortázar and Lorca. My friend asked the class "how do you like Professor Mayhew?" I kept waking up, looking at my clock to see what time it was, and then going back to sleep to resume my dreaming. Since I had been awake for several hours in the night, I let myself sleep on, and arose rather late.