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.
Scholarly writing and how to get it done. / And a workshop for my own ideas, scholarly and poetic
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, September 29, 2022
Monday, September 26, 2022
Dream of Art Tatum
A child of mine or younger sibling was playing exact transcriptions of Art Tatum's recording of "Dardenella." I was envious of this. Waking up, I realized that I did know every note of this in my head, even though I cannot play it.
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
The found manuscript trope
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.
Dream of magical editor
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
Here's my original "Delusions of Mediocrity Poem"
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
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.
I hate pretention
I tell myself
but do I?
In other people, sure
I root it out in myself
too, won't say certain words
the pretentious ones
but is that enough?
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
2nd epilogue to "Delusions of Mediocrity"
Thursday, September 8, 2022
Lirio or limo?
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
The guy who did all the iconic Blue Note covers was not a fan of jazz. Somehow that doesn't bother me.
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.
Delusions of Mediocrity
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.
Sunday, September 4, 2022
Song: Some Hypotheses
1. The first model is that the song is a single entity, with words and music essentially inseparable.
2. Second idea: a single song (words and music together, as in the first model) can be adapted, harmonized, performed, in multiple styles. A folksong becomes a Lied, or is sung in the flamenco style. Every iteration is different, occurs in a new context. A new context of performance/recording and a new context of reception.
3. A third conception. There is a poetic text, that may or may not have characteristics of the popular song tradition (however that is defined). Someone sets that text to music, in a style that may or may not refer to any particular style associated with that kind of text. Song is an artistic hybrid, the combination of two artistic media. The music overrides the original text, supplants it.
4. Should we then view the transformations of (2) as instances of (3)? Changes in the performance / reception of the song introduce a kind of analytic separation into the union of music and words. The song is no longer organically vernacular once it enters into all these other channels of reception.
I wonder what came first, the words or the music? Did someone
"set" the words to music, or was the tune always there? It seems
dumb to ask, but I'd really like to know.
why bacon sizzles in the pan. I understand how the drumstick
hits the drum head, causing the air inside the drum
to move, the other dream head vibrating sympathetically
and the air around the drum carrying the sounds waves, but
I don't know what vibrates in the pan. Is it the grease?
(I decide not to worry about the "flat' language
of my poems, not to worry about my poor
powers of observation. I hate epiphanies
anyway and "fine writing.")
Why do we need a theory only
of difficult things? Zen cured my ear worm, I might say.
Tunes still rattle in the rafters, but I don't care about them.
Other emotions, too, ebb and flow, dread, regret, rancor.
Insomnia is just the fear of insomnia, nobody says they
have insomnia at 11 in the morning, after all. Earworm is just
the fear of the persistent tune, not the tune itself.
Thursday, September 1, 2022
Adding: seeing where something is missing, something needs to be expanded.
Subtracting: seeing where you've gone on too long on a topic, or expressed something in too many words.
Reorganizing: seeing where the parts are not in proper order.
Rewriting: seeing ideas that need to be better expressed. Clearing up confusion. Giving paragraphs a proper shape. Smoothing transitions.
I get to do another search committee
I agreed to chair the next search committee, this time for a VAP [visiting asst. prof]. I wanted a small committee, to make it easier to manage, but then we have to have each interest group represented, then they'll probably ask for additional volunteers, so the committee will be half the department once again.