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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...

Friday, March 24, 2023

The first Nonnus review: Penelope Wilson

Free verse options in which longer (six- or seven-stress) lines predominate are a common metrical solution, a noteworthy variation being Jonathan Mayhews deployment of the three-part line used by William Carlos Williams for his translation of a Theocritus idyll."

At the feeder

 I refilled the bird feeder. For a few days, I got no visitors, but then they discovered it all at once. Black-capped chickadees, finch, cardinal, starling, blue jay, woodpecker, tufted titmouse. 

The One About...

 I will first have a title that is too general, or a little bit facetious, like "The one about Lorca as musical intellectual." I wouldn't keep that as the title, of course. I had the working title the "Approaches to 'Lorca and Music'" for one article.  It gives me an idea of what it's "about" without much fuss. 

Then comes the crafting of the title. It shouldn't be excessively long. Well under twenty words. It is fine to be formulaic here. I don't like parentheses in titles, too "1980s," the "(Un)masking the ____ " .  The colon is a good device to link two parts of title.  

The title is the beginning of your rhetorical contact with the reader. It should convey information about what kind of scholar you are and your attitude toward the subject matter. I like some of Andrew Gelman's titles, like "I Love this Paper but it's barely been Noticed" or "Statistics as Squid Ink: How Prominent Researchers Get Away with Misrepresenting Data."  It makes me want to read the article, even though it's not in my field and I wouldn't understand it. Sometimes the title is great and the article or book turns out ho-hum. That's a different problem.  

I used to make fun of titles like "Structure, Theme, and Style in ...."  That's telling the reader you can't be bothered to work on your title for at least a few minutes. On the other hand, a title so clever or opaque that it conceals the subject isn't good either. Sometimes I come back to directness: "Lorca as Musical Intellectual."  

What are some of your favorite titles?  

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Another one

 This article appeared in a google scholar alert to which I am subscribed. It is written like this. One wonders a bit, if it is easy to publish in the International Journal of Psychiatry, by writing like this. 

"Leonard Cohen and others recognise that within romances are tempests, and that the course of true love never does run smooth. The path of love can be broken by such dynamics. For some, romance can be enriched by such relational turmoil and can result in an enduring intimate connection. It can turn into a lifelong adventure and bond, a balance within the relational power dynamics and fluctuations. Two can be both two and one.

The lifelong holy bond may incorporate children into the sacred mundane.

The gift of love and caring, mutuality and self-concern may be passed on from generation to generation. For, within our mortal condition, one generation passes on the blessings and frailties of human life. Generations procreate and pass away. The life of humanity as a whole contains blessings and tribulations."

Word salad

It is important to consider Leonard Cohen by looking back though his posthumous collection, The Flame Poems and Selections from Notebooks. From 1967 onward, Cohen came to be known increasingly as a songwriter and singer. In Montreal, and in Canada generally, Cohen was acknowledged as a literary figure, singer, and songwriter. Internationally, particularly in the United States, about the time of his death and after, Cohen’s fame was anchored in music. This article examines two scholarly treatments of Cohen’s work. It is written for Canadian and, especially, American readers, to remind them of Cohen as a poet and novelist because he was best known for his music and songs. Focusing on Cohen’s literary dimension, his accomplishment as a poet, and his creativity as an artist, the article argues that poetry has lyrical origins and that there is a false dichotomy that separates music lyrics from poetry. Cohen’s poetry is well crafted and beautiful and so memorable."

I found this abstract. I wonder, this is published work, and yet we wouldn't accept this level of writing from a student. This was written by CHAT gpt, so we cannot blame that. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

In the music library

Working in the music library, my eyes go over to a shelf and I see a book called Opera and the Uses of Language.  That's a book I need to look at. On the other side, I see some books about Monk and Oscar Peterson. Every book on the shelf required someone like me, sitting in a library, surrounded by other books, most of which are not relevant to the task at hand. I might cite 30 books from this library, writing some articles, out of thousands. And if I wrote a book that would be housed in the music library, it would just be one book among thousands, of interest to maybe one or two other people sitting here in the future. 

That's not depressing; it's just scholarship.  


 If you don't like things that are "woke" you are just again the basic goals of social justice, I am told.

I wish it was that easy. I hate the land acknowledgments because they are meaningless, a way of white people to feel good about themselves with zero cost. I don't like the word latinx. My academic colleagues use it, but my sister's Mexican caregiver does not. I don't like making DEI statements mandatory for tenure or hiring. There's a lot of things that are "woke," which I define as linguistic or performative gestures of correctness in mostly bureaucratic and institutional settings. A lot of people that are not republicans agree with me in private conversations. 

Here's a good article on the Black Arts Movement.  It just tells it like it is, or as he saw it. I wish that wokeness was this, not those other things I don't like. Can you imagine Ishmael Reed having to write a DEI statement? 

I decided

 I decided that I would be a top scholar in my field. With an improbable and breathtakingly arrogant level of confidence, I simply figured out what it would take, and did it. 

I owe some of this to Debicki. He was clearly a top scholar in my field, but it was also clear that his work was not very good, so I thought that I could be better than that, simply because I was already at a superior intellectual level. He would tell me, for example, that I had expertise in philosophy that he didn't have. I took two philosophy courses as a freshman in college; that is my entire expertise in philosophy, aside from reading a little Wittgenstein on the side and struggling to understand Derrida, like everyone else of my generation. It is true that I understood Locke, Descartes, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant at a decent level, just from one course.  

What I did was to read the poetry. I went to the library and checked out books of poetry by all the Spanish poets, and read them. I found the shelf where the general books of criticism were; you have to read 20 books (now it would be 50), in order to know what the field was. My strong points were that I knew literary theory, and didn't just "apply" it. I knew the primary texts and the main secondary ones in my field. I made a list of the journals I wanted to publish in. I hit some mid level ones, like Symposium and Hispania, and some high level ones, like Hispanic Review, MLN, and PMLA, after several tries. I memorized a lot of poems. 

I discovered that there were several styles of criticism in Spain. What I called "altamente poético" talked a lot about "primor lírico" [lyrical beauty] and was mostly just fluff. Then there was a style I called "planteamiento de la cuestión." This style consisted of spending a lot of effort at the beginning by just defining what was to be done, and all the necessary preliminary steps needed to accomplish the task--which never really had a payout at the end. Another style was documenting everything, but not interpreting it. Another style was imitating the poet's own explanations of their own work. What was rare was criticism that was actually literary criticism. Even a good undergraduate education in an English department should prepare you to read a poem and analyze it. Debicki would praise things for being "analytical," which meant the critic was looking at the text itself. It was telling that that was a term of praise, rather than a basic expectation. His own students produced work that was not at a consistently high level, although some were half-way decent. It was clear they didn't have my "philosophy" since they would often just quote the same theoretical texts that Debicki would give them in his seminar.  

I had the kind of brain that was fascinated by prosody. I remember loving scanning French alexandrines in high school, figuring out the silent e. I was taking apart poems when I was 15, figuring out how they worked, just like other kids used to do with mechanical alarm clocks and the like. I naively thought you had to be able to do that to be a poet.  I did the same with critical essays, figuring out the mechanics of that, how to do that myself. 

So deciding to be a top scholar in a tiny field is kind of a naive thing to do, in retrospect. Only someone without much experience would actually think it was possible to do this through sheer decision-making. If I had known that this was a difficult thing to do, it wouldn't have been as easy as it was for me.  

Tuesday, March 21, 2023


 That peculiar American obsession with prosody does not appear in Spain in the same way. Creeley has been translated into Spanish, but I'm not sure it can be appreciated in translation. There is just something too specific to a particular poetic culture. Not even in the UK, I believe, is his prosody intelligible. I remember Thom Gunn in a poetry workshop reading aloud a poem by Williams, and me thinking at the time he didn't now "how it went." I would tend to put an accent on the first preposition:

BY the road to the contagious hospital 

UNder the surge of the blue 

and then put a pause after the word blue, rather than saying "blue mottled clouds" without a pause, as Gunn did (I think).  Of course, I also think Williams reads his own poetry "wrong," so let's take that with a grain of salt. 

The obsession with prosody comes from Williams, Zukofksy and the objectivists, and then Olson, Creeley, and Levertov, Cid Corman, and other poets of that ilk. The New York school did not obsess over prosody like that. The beats had a longer line, usually, and emulated Whitman (though not exactly). 

Monday, March 20, 2023


 Limpia con este trapo

las fronteras,

los techos de los hombres, escarba

el oro


y reparte

ios bienes


I discovered long ago that Neruda's free verse is pretty scannable:

Limpia con este trapo las fronteras,  [11]

los techos de los hombres [7]

escarba el oro acumulado [9] 

y reparte los bienes escondidos [11]. 

The traditional combination of 11 and 7 goes back to Garcilaso. Modern poets mix in lines of 9 with that, which makes sense. The odd numbered lines usually have that binary rhythm.  

Sabbatical and frame lock

 My first time up for a sabbatical at my present institution.  I was a bit burnt out and wrote a sabbatical application in which I said that I needed to emerge from my "frame lock," a term I took from language poet Charles Bernstein. I needed, basically, to reframe my mind and get it out of conventional academic patterns of thought. 

The department chair ranked my application below that of a colleague, with a more normal sabbatical application, you know, with a project she wanted to do. I agree with his ranking, in fact. I didn't get the sabbatical. Even if would be desirable to allow people to use a sabbatical to recuperate mental health, it is completely correct to give it to a more worthy project.  

Sunday, March 19, 2023

More prosody

 Few people seemed to understand the enjambed free verse of Williams or Creeley. I wrote my first article on this subject 40 years ago, originally a paper for Sorrentino's Williams class. I had been struggling to understand it myself already since I was about 14.  People used the technique in their own poetry, but often without understanding it very well themselves. 

Sort of average, bland free verse without much enjambment, that has prevalent, sounds a bit like this. It isn't really very musical sounding. It might as well be a translation from an Eastern European language. Simic uses imagery and ideas, but not much attention to logos or melos: 

This strange thing must have crept
Right out of hell.
It resembles a bird’s foot
Worn around the cannibal’s neck.

As you hold it in your hand,
As you stab with it into a piece of meat,
It is possible to imagine the rest of the bird:
Its head which like your fist
Is large, bald, beakless, and blind. {Simic} 

Saturday, March 18, 2023


 That particular form of enjambed free verse with short lines, as in WCW or Creeley, doesn't exist in Spanish in a very prominent way: 

As the cat

climbed over

the top of 

the jamcloset...  

The usual forms of free verse in Spanish are long, endstopped lines combining traditional forms of seven, eleven and fourteen syllables. There is also a free verse with short lines, but with mostly end-stopped lines.  

Friday, March 17, 2023


 Hugh Grant, at the Oscars, was interviewed on the runway. It is part of the normal ritual, an attempt to get cute soundbites, etc... Some have called his interaction rude. He was smiling but only minimally helpful. He began by responding to the question about what his favorite part of the Oscars was and he said "Vanity Fair," implying that he enjoyed the spectacle of the narcissism of a self-congratulatory industry. This seemed to go over the interviewer's head. She asked if he was rooting for anyone to win. He said no. Then she asked him what he was wearing, a question that would make sense for a woman wearing a designer gown, but he just said "my suit." She tried to get him to say who designed his suit, and he said he didn't remember the name of his tailor. She was getting desperate by this point and asked him about a movie he was in. He said he only appeared for a few seconds. "It must have been fun, though?" "Almost." The interview ends there. 

So let's say he followed Gricean maxims of conversational cooperation, but not the conventions of the interview, in which you are supposed to make the interviewer's job easier with more expansive and engaging answers. He was honest, but perhaps too much so, keeping an ironic distance from the fair of human vanity. 

Morning work

 In the morning I come up with some ideas between the time I wake up and the time I leave the bed. This could be 15 minutes or 30.  Today it was various ideas about the article I am now writing, and the idea of another article on "Lorca as musical intellectual." 

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

The idea of prosody at Key West

 Take some line from "The Idea of Order at Key West."

Caused constant cry, caused constantly a cry 


Inhuman, of the veritable ocean.  

They don't really go "da dum da dum da dum da dum da dum."  

The first one puts two stronger syllables in "weak" positions of line, and reinforces that with alliteration.  The second only has three stresses, putting weak syllables in strong positions. It also ends with an extrametrical 11th syllable.  In context, these lines sound like this:  

... and yet its mimic motion 

Caused constant cry, caused constantly a cry 

That was not ours although we understood,

Inhuman, of the veritable ocean. 

The sea was not a mask, no more was she...  

Here we see that Stevens allows himself to write in the "da dum da dum" mode in individual lines. He will even produce a sing-song sound with several lines like this in a row. The unit of analysis, then, is not the line, but the verse paragraph. Enjambment, the use of polysyllabic words, the variation of accents (usually between 3 and 5), the used of rhyme and alliteration, combine to create metrical effects across various lines. 

This is English 101 stuff, I know. What I'm after is a way of reintroducing it into my own field at an eloquent level. Prosody is badly taught in my field, where most profs think it is a matter of counting syllables and nothing more.  

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

"Identifies as..."

 You know this phrase is only used when something is not that thing, right? Identifying as something means there is some doubt.  You wouldn't say 

*"Shakespeare identified as English."    


I get weird memory flashbacks. I remembered today that as a kid, once (maybe 14?) I invented an alphabet as a code. Basically, I drew a particular shape that would be the a, the b, etc... and then wrote messages to myself using this code. I have no evidence of this happening, and don't remember why I did this. 

Another, more clear memory.  I read John Hollander's The Figure of Echo and wrote a paper about Robert Frost's poem "For once, then, something..." based on something in Hollander's book. I don't remember the argument of the paper, anymore, or much about Hollander, except that Frost's poem is about narcissism, and that some the Dante professor Freccero had mentioned either Hollander or the Frost poem. I still have the Frost memorized, though probably I rememorized it more recently than grad school.  

More of the sequence

 What if you already knew how to write?

Then you could keep a journal

and not worry too much 


Some monuments seem more important

simply because they are very big


I am a man

without an excuse


They used to tell us not to rhyme in our prose

Now we have bigger problems 


These aphorisms not adding up to much

and not supposed to


 If your thoughts are too loud

you can't hear the birds.

Birds seen today

 At home: starling.  

At the wetlands: crow, Carolina wren, cardinal, song sparrow, goldfinch, red-bellied woodpecker, tree swallow, assorted waterfowl (geese, ducks).  

Dream of failed baseball game

 My daughter and I were in a park, with another father and his kid. We had baseball gloves, a ball, and a bat, and were figuring out how to play a casual two-on-two game. Another father came (without his child, who was at the screening of "a certain movie") and suggested we use the home plate on the baseball field on which we were on. Duh!  We moved over there, and tried to start again. More people came and wanted to play or watch. They set up chairs in the infield. We had to do some paperwork, sign some agreements or something. I was thinking that we would never start to actually play, and getting anxious about it, but nobody else seemed to care. Why should I care if it wasn't a big deal of other people? It was unclear who was on what team, or where the bases were supposed to be. I was irritated by some stuff that people had piled up near the home plate, making play impossible. In order to move things along, I offered to pitch, but a little girl wanted to do it so I let her throw out the first pitch...  

The moral of the story seemed to be: don't let other people complicate your simple ideas; they will just get in your way.  


 1. I am washing a soccer game on tv in Spanish, but I'm getting sleepy so I lay down on the couch and close my eyes, but keep the sound on. Without even listening to the words of the announcer, I know when to sit up and pay attention, by the tone of voice, volume, pitch, velocity of speech to convey excitedness, culminating in the cry of GOOOOOOOOOOOOL.  [PROSODY AS EMOTION[ 

2. I know the difference between a yes-no question and a statement in English, or Spanish, by the way the pitch goes up or down at the end of the sentence. [LINGUISTIC PROSODY] 

3. I say "thanks a lot" with a tone of voice that gives this phrase its opposite meaning [PROSODY AS PRAGMATICS]. 

4. A linguist writes an article about the meter of Shakespeare's sonnets. [PROSODY AS A BRANCH OF LINGUISTICS, USING INSIGHTS FROM BOTH LINGUISTICS AND POETICS.] 

5. A Shakespearian actor recites a soliloquy on stage. There is an awareness of the meter, but also a particular stylized form of trained performance. [PROSODY AS PERFORMANCE]

6.  Bob Dylan sings the phrase "like a rolling stone." He is setting his own words to music, and the particular melody and rhythm of the phrase conveys the exact emotional nuance he wants to convey. It is at once an emotional, a linguistic, a poetic, and a musical use of prosody. [MUSICAL PROSODY IN TEXT SETTING]. 

This is not an exhaustive list, but just a short summary of some of the areas included in the domain of prosody. Why am I interested in it? I guess it's because every one has a certain expertise in it by being a speaker of the language, e.g. being able to understand all of this intuitively [except for 4 and 5, perhaps]. The gap between what everyone can do and the technical analysis of it is huge. That gap also is interesting to me.   

Monday, March 13, 2023


 Also, writing articles will also allow me to publish parts of "Lorca and the Death of the Subject," project I had underway when I began the Lorca and music book.  I have many articles in me that need to get out. 

The Two Spelling Bees: A Cognitive Riddle

 I do the Spelling Bee at the NYT; you find as many words, of at least four letters, as possible with a given seven letters, with one letter being obligatory. One word at the very least, will be the pangram, containing all seven letters. Letters can be repeated. 

There is another version of the Spelling Bee (no longer available on line) which you can print out and solve, instead of solving on the computer.  

The mystery is this: whereas the pangram on the on-line version often takes very long to solve (for me), the pangram in the print-out version would often appear to me in a flash, just by me staring for a few seconds at the list of letters. It is though the seeming advantages of the digital version were nullified.  For example, in the digital version  you can scramble the letters, putting them in different order to suggest other possibilities; you can type out the letters quickly in various sequences in order to stumble across words accidentally.  


 Being a productivity guru does not exempt one from the difficulties. I have had (apparent) lags in my CV. 

I say apparent because if I look back to the fallow years, they are almost insignificant in relation to the overall trajectory. Usually, it meant that was working on a larger project, that eventually did come out, and neglecting to publish a lot of individual articles. Also, in a longer time frame, five years seems short, whereas for someone on the tenure clock, this is a short time to get one's act together.  

My cv looks like someone who does nothing for a while, then has a burst of energy and publishes a shitload. But shouldn't that be a normal pattern? We are always reading and thinking, but some projects require a longer time to reach maturation.   

Then, the flaw is not in me, but in the expectation of continual "productivity." We need to see a lot of productivity at the beginning, for tenure purposes.   

I just looked it up, and my PTR was in 2015-16, so my second Lorca book was after that.  


The problem is not time, it is energy and concentration. Of course, it is often time as well, because hours of energy and concentration are limited.     

Sunday, March 12, 2023


 I am strongly pro-Ukrainian.  On the right, some people tend to like Putin because Trump does, or because Biden doesn't. There is a segment on the left who think Russia is justified because of NATO, which has to be bad because it used to be opposed to a Warsaw Pact that doesn't even exist any more. They appear to take seriously the idea that Putin's war is about getting rid of Nazis in Ukraine.    

The worst are the "realists" who think that Russia just deserves to invade another country because it is in their sphere of influence. Kissinger or Chomsky.  

Ideology is believing or pretending to be believe something obviously contrary to reality because you are supposed to believe it. You might even know it's a lie, and know that everyone else knows it, and know that everyone else knows you know it, but it doesn't make a difference. 

Saturday, March 11, 2023

The March marches on...

 They used to tell us not to rhyme in our prose

Now we have bigger problems 


 The book was an albatross around my neck. I thought we always needed to be working on the proverbial longer book project, but I have had tenure for almost 30 years, and I've already published 5 books. Once I renounced the book, it became clear that I had enough material for an infinite number of articles. It will be finite, because I won't live forever, but I have enough material for the rest of my career in the research I have already done. I also won't have to worry if I write an article about a non-Lorquian subject. 

I awoke in the morning and began to write the first paragraph of the first article in my head, before even getting out of bed. After some coffee and the wordle and spelling bee, I began to write it, and quickly got to 300 words. 

If your prose is not flowing out clearly and beautifully, it is because you haven't defined your relationship to the subject matter and to your own project with enough clarity.  

Friday, March 10, 2023

Kay Ryan on Anne Carson

 "How does smart sound? It isn’t the Greek and Latin references. The smartness is a tone, something light—dry—exact and amused. It makes it a pleasure to listen to her language and thought experiments; they are offered lightly; you are under no emotional obligation to care. Which of course makes it more possible to do so. Noting what a very big audience it is (as though she hadn’t known it would be), she begins differently than she had planned. She’ll start with a thirteen-second (as I recall) interactive love poem relying upon the audience for a small recitative part. She divides us in half with her tiny commanding arm: this million will say this when I indicate (“What a deal!”) and this million will say this (“I’ll take it!”). She says her parts, we roar our briefer parts, and we’re in cahoots, co-creating (we flatter ourselves to think) a heady ambient smartness. It keeps on like that. She does a bunch of Catullus translations—in which she lobs modern references into classical poems (at one point Catullus looks in the “fridge”) the way she lobs Latin into her contemporary stuff—not quite beautiful or exactly amusing, but always out of left field."

Here is some good prose. You feel that she appreciates Anne Carson for highly specific reason; no uncritical admiration here. She sees through it, but still gets into it. I feel before Kay Ryan's writing the same way that she does in  relation to Anne Carson's writing.    


What does it mean to have an "ear"?

 It is odd, because what an ear is more literally is a capacity to hear, not to produce sound. So, listening and hearing come before producing. (An ear for verse, a musical ear.). If you can't hear Milton's blank verse as blank verse (not just prose, as some people thought when he started writing like that) then you probably couldn't write blank verse. 

I remember a famous poet telling me "Ashbery has no ear." William Logan writes that Brodsky had "a wooden ear" (in English, not in Russian).  I think I have an ear (passively, in my reading; actively in writing, I'm not so confident.).  What's interesting is that you have to be able to hear what you yourself are doing, like hearing a melodic phrase before you play it on your instrument.  

I dislike Hopkins, but he heard things in a particularly unique way and was able to write that way, to put that on the page. With other poets I can't hear anything. 


It was funny looking back at that Andrew Gelman post, that someone in the comments said that I didn't know much about poetry, because I was obviously unaware of the genre of the prose poem.  But prose poems still have prosody in them (by the way, no etymological connection between the pros of prose and the pros of prosody.). They still have to do something to charge language with meaning.  Think of the first page of Beckett's Ill Seen Ill Said.  It is though the division of lines into verse could prod the reader's attention to rhythm, with the same readers being deaf to the sound of a paragraph of prose.  

Book or articles?

 I think I need to do the Lorca book as articles instead of a book. The reason is that there is simply too much material, and I can't see a scenario where a book will be defensible in terms of what it will include or exclude.  

So I can do a total of 10 articles. That justifies my existence for the next four years, until I retire.  

Here are the first six. 

1. Lorca and Flamenco [I have done that one already]

2. Lorca and Flamenco 2 [case studies]. 

3. Germaine Montero

4. Popular Songs 

5. Singer songwriting / Lorca as middle brow. 

6. Lieder 


 I have to go get the opportunity go through PTR [post tenure review] in 2024-25 Academic Year. It was a royal pain in the ass good experience last time. I felt that it gave me some validation that I wouldn't have gotten otherwise, and I always welcome the opportunity for self-reflection about how great I am where I am in my professional development, even though I am an old and still vibrant mother fucker nearing the end of my kickass moderately successful career. 

Since I am retiring at age 67, that will be only two years later than this, so it seems completely ridiculous a little silly to go through this process.  

I remember the self-evaluation I wrote back a while for me first review, in the fourth and most interesting category. In other words, the main categories of teaching, service, and research don't cover the extra stuff, the shadow cv.  Here is what I wrote:  

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education referred to the concept of a “shadow cv.” Disappointingly, this turned out to mean a list of failures and rejections, of scholarly dead-ends, of grant proposals that weren’t funded. Like anyone else in the profession, I have had my share of those. Nevertheless, my notion of the shadow cv is different and much less negative. I see the shadow cv as consisting of a list of other activities that are not quite “academic” enough for the cv, but that enrich one’s personal and creative energy in ways that sometimes end up contributing to scholarly productivity and excellent teaching over the long haul. I am not certain that this is what item (4) is requesting, but I will give a partial list of some of the items that might appear on my shadow curriculum. 

•I have been blogging since 2002. My first blog “Bemsha Swing” was named after a Thelonious Monk tune and contained my reflections on jazz, poetry, translation, prosody, and whatever else interested me. It was one was one of the first poetry and poetics blogs in existence, at a moment when these blogs were becoming a significant medium of communication among American poets. My current blog is called “Stupid Motivational Tricks,” with the subtitle “Scholarly Writing and How to Get it Done.” Many readers in and outside of academia have found my advice and reflections useful. “I now use “Stupid Motivational Tricks” as a forum for other subjects as well. I have written more than 2,000 posts on this blog alone. One faculty member at another institution credits her implementation of my advice for her successful tenure.  

•Since August of 2015, I have been composing songs on an electric keyboard and writing out the music using Finale, a music notation software program, as well as taking voice lessons. My goal is to incorporate music more actively into my research interests and find a way of using it more astutely in my courses on oral traditions in the Hispanic world. While this may seem as though it were a non-academic interest for someone not in the music school, it dovetails with my interest in Lorca, who was an accomplished musician as well as a poet, playwright, and visual artist. I am moving toward a view of his work that involves a larger conception of his poetics of performance. (Coincidentally, an opera singer recently contacted me and asked me to be a consultant for a multi-media project she is doing on Lorca’s duende.) I read recently of a study that found that Nobel-prize winning scientists were far more likely to be involved with creative activities like painting or music composition than non-Nobel scientists. It could be that the Lorquian model of creativity has something to teach all of us. 

•I also continue to write my own poetry and song lyrics. I have book of poetry with the title Mayhew’s Mood that I have not yet published, and have given poetry readings in Lawrence. Some people have also told me that I am an adept translator of poetry. This is a long-standing interest of mine, and I have published translations from time to time, but my long-term scholarly projects are demanding of my time. Still, I plan to translate a book of Lorca’s poetry, possibly Canciones. I have very well-defined ideas about how this should be done, and I believe I have the ability to do it well.  

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Course description

 Spanish 722: Special Topics in Spanish Literature

“Intersectional Lorca”


Instructor: Jonathan Mayhew


Course Description: 


This course will examine the broader artistic and political legacy of Federico García Lorca using concepts derived from several overlapping theoretical domains, including the following:


•Reception Studies 

•Adaptation Studies

•Translation Theory

•Word and Music Studies


The result will be an intersectional approach, one that looks at Lorca and his rich “afterlife” in varied artistic media (translation, dramaturgy, novel, film, song, opera, graphic novel, etc…), through multiple interpretative prisms, involving the construction of authorship, national identity, and sexuality in a variety of cultural contexts. Of particular interest is the way in which adaptations of Lorca reflect the intersection of popular and elite culture that is one of the most salient features of postmodern art.  


Students will write their final papers on specific translations / adaptations, drawing on theoretical concepts as well as the extensive scholarship on these issues in Lorca’s reception. 







Intersectional Lorca

 Here is the course. Seeing Lorca's word through these overlapping and intersectional interpretative frameworks, more or less in this descending order of specificity:  

Reception. Adaptation, etc...  

Translation. Musical setting. Staging. Illustration. Novelization, Apocryphization, etc..  These are specific types of adaptation / reception.  

Including too: the intersection of popular and high culture (postmodernism).  The intersection of national cultures in reception and adaptation.  

I think it will work. No graduate student currently taking classes was in my last Lorca class, or my inter artistic approaches to literature course. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2023


There's an artist, retired from KU, NG I will call him, who invites us to his house to watch sporting events.  We have seen KU basketball, some KC Chiefs football, the Royals when they were in the World Series.  He is a friend of my girlfriend's father, so she has known him for at least 50 years. Anyway, I was looking at rather large picture he had up on the wall near his front door (a door they never use, since parking is in the back on a  busy street).  It had to be a drawing of Lorca, and indeed it is. He explained he had studied with the Beat poet Michael McClure in the Bay Area, and that McClure had told him about Lorca, so he bought this drawing years by someone who was an art student at KU. I told NG I was a Lorca specialist, so he offered me the drawing. I'm suspecting he wants to downsize a bit and get rid of things, and other people at the party told me I should accept the offer, but my first impulse was to say no, since I didn't want to make it seem like I was coveting it. 

Random thoughts

 I'd like to conceptualize adaptation studies under the category of reception, and have it include everything from translation to illustration, musical setting, and apocrypha.  It seems Hutcheon just perceives it in a conventional way, as novel to film, or film to video game, or things in that paradigm. Mostly larger narrative structures.  


I was reading Carlos Piera's dissertation on Spanish metrics, from 1980 or so. It still stands up pretty well. I just had a random email in my box with a link to download the pdf.  It humbled me a bit because he begins with the distinction between prosodic rules and metrical rules, and I couldn't figure out what the difference is! 

Anyway, I was thinking of metrical patterns, and you could think of the metrical paradigm easily seen in a line like this---

"Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow" 

--as being rare.  In other words, a line of zero complexity is both rare and somewhat bad (of course, if is not bad here, because it is used on purpose, and almost as a kind of metrical joke!).  

So the next category would be the statistically average, or the rhythmic instantiations most frequently found. What is the "average" degree of metrical complexity? The corpus would have to be, say, a particular poet or a long work.  

The next category would be "optimal." This might overlap a bit with the "average," in the sense that the most skillful verse will also fall somewhere in the middle of the complexity range. 

Metrics itself cannot tell us what optimal means. We would have to first agree on what poets we thought of as optimal, according to our own ears, and then see what their averages are.  I might like a poet of more complexity, or less, than you do.  Also, you would want to see what happens from line to line, the movement of the verse, and what we might call the prosodic intelligence. Poets, to me, have a certain metrical "signature" that I can visualize with my eyes closed. It is the overlay of the sounds of words, the syntax, and the particular rhythms.  

So what is the exact relation between the "average" and the "optimal"?  That would be the question.   

Tuesday, March 7, 2023


 I also detest:  "It does not exist in a vacuum."  It is such a tired cliché, like "and _____ is no exception." 

It is another straw man.  Nobody has every claimed that anything, ever exists "in a vacuum" (i.e. context free).   


 I had some riddles for my class like "you tire" [in the category of States].  [Kansas {cansas}]. 

or, what do a call a Hippy's wife [Mississippi]. 

I didn't think they were that hard... 

For "snowy state," one said "Montana," not "Nevada" as I had thought. At least they got "arid zone." 


 This is not a criticism of Hutcheon per se, but the most dated reference in her book is to the "CD-ROM," a newish technology when she was writing, but one that has been superseded since. Things that make your writing relevant at the moment (references to contemporary events and technology) are also what makes it date the fastest.   

greatest hits

 This post came to mind recently. I still read Andrew Gelman's blog (though I don't understand the actual math of his field in the least) and at the time I was flattered that he had mentioned me in his blog (even though disagreeing with me). Agreement is kind of overrated, anyway. He attributed to me the idea that "the purpose of a poem is to be wonderful," and, though those weren't my words, it is what I believe.  In fact, I don't know what the objection to this statement is. I was amused by a recent post about "poetry is everywhere, even in a box labeled poetry."  


I'm reading A Theory of Adaptation, by Hutcheon, always a knowledgeable and deeply frustrating theorist. She claims that "the creative process itself in all its dimensions is still  taboo or at least out of critical fashion." But is this really true? I know the book was written in 2006, but was this true even then? I never thought creative process meant "intentionality," though that is the concept she is debating here.  (p. 108).  

In actual practice, people write about what they want to.  Biographers write about biography, and perhaps about the process of creation.  As far as I know, writing biographies has not been taboo, or we wouldn't have tons of biographies of every single significant author.  

"By their very existence, adaptations remind us that there is no such thing as an autonomous text or an original genius that can transcend history, either public or private." (p. 111) 

Not really. So if I set to music an ode by Keats, then Keats is no longer a genius?  How does that work, exactly? The poem is still there, autonomously.  I detest this kind of thinking, its smug knowingness. "There is no such thing!"It's like the kind of people who will remind you that cinema is a collaborative art, so we should watch the credits to the end, and not give too much credit to the auteur.  Yes, we know this. Transcending history is, of course, a straw man.   


 Some monuments seem more important

simply because they are very big


I am a man

without an excuse

Monday, March 6, 2023

Right to read


Friday, March 3, 2023

Why use passive voice in a passage denouncing passive voice?

 "An opportunity to scan for active voice should be taken as an opportunity to root out implicit bias toward status quo systems of power by naming the actors of oppression, whether human, institutional, or cultural."

Progressive guide to language

 Justice vocabulary.   

This guide discourages us from using terms like "multicultural" and even "diverse." Then do all the DEI offices have to change their names? Sheesh.  The Orwellian euphemizing and sanitizing of language is exhausting and also deeply confusing, and I'm sure that things will change in the next 10 minutes, so that BIPOC (replacing BAME?) will be replaced by some other term. Look, nobody is in favor of overtly offensive language, like the n- word or its equivalent for other groups, but, for example, I know Indians, and they call themselves that (not "native Americans."). The guide encourages us to use the language that members of a group actually use about themselves, but then turns around and forbids that very same language.  I could forbid "Latinx" since that is not how people self-identify (typically). This double-standard runs throughout the guide. 

We cannot say "immature" or "childish" because that is agist.  We cannot say "child pornography," but rather  "child abuse content."  !!!  Who benefits from this change in terminology?  Do blind people object to colloquial expressions like "turn a blind eye," or is this just a conspiracy to make people tongue-tied and unable to object to things. If you are suffering from "famine," do you object to the word "famine"?  

At certain points, the guide says that a word is forbidden, except in reference to a person who uses it of themselves.  So we cannot talk about a "victim," but a "victim" can refer to self as such. Deeply confusing.  

The words "alcoholic" and "addict" are also on the list of words that should not be used. But that is what the 12-step people use in self-reference. This is not a guide based on the preferences of groups, but on the preferences of activists who purport to speak for the groups themselves.  

Could we make the case the euphemism, while not overly evil in all cases, is put in the service of evil in many cases?  With great intentions, of course.  


Thursday, March 2, 2023

An obvious thing

 A very obvious thing, but Cortázar in a long, long interview talks about the fact that literary writing is not "higher" than other forms of writing, in register, but more exact, stylistically fine-tuned, so that Roberto Arlt's tales of street life in Buenos Aires are written in the exact language they require, being colloquial in this particular instance, but different depending on each writer and the particular world vision. So Cortázar himself does not want to publish anything that isn't exactly right. 

I was thinking of this yesterday, in relation to a Bob Dylan song. It is exactly the language that we would have used in real life in the 1970s or 1960s, like "It's such a drag." 

DEI training

 I took the DEI training today. It was mostly bland, inoffensive, and well-intentioned. There were a few instances of compelled speech, where you had to guess correctly the answer they wanted you to have. The guessing is pretty easy.  The little scenarios seemed contrived to be both obvious and fairly inoffensive. There were little trigger warning [content warnings], etc... It was the product of a private consultant, that comes up with these trainings for large institutions:  Vector Solutions.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Hand speed

 I'm doing a thing where I play one metronome tick a day more than the previous day, while playing triplets and 16ths over chord changes to Autumn Leaves. So I am at 118, and so the triplets are going by at 354, and sixteenth notes at 472.  I'm going to have to slow down the sixteenths and start over at about 100, because they aren't well controlled.  The idea is to gradually increase finger speed, but also mental speed, since you have to be able to decide what to play as well as moving your fingers.  At lower speeds, I would find myself jumping ahead of the metronome, but now the triplets feel like they are a nice velocity. The ideal is to be locked in and relaxed. If I get up to the high 100s, then I will be at 500-600 notes per second--and beyond. It is not just to be fast, but to be clean and articulate at whatever the tempo is.  [I got this exercise from a video by Dave Frank.]  

I'm also learning Waltz for Debbie off a transcription I purchased. This is practice for voicing, or playing different voices at the same time or alternating with various degrees of touch.  Extraordinarily challenging.  


 I'm keeping a verse journal in March inspired by Creeley's book Hello, a journal he kept while traveling in 1975 or so.  What I like about this Creeley book is that many people reading might not think it adds up to very much. I myself think that sometimes when I read it. It has many nice moments in it, but it is not loading every rift with ore.  If you edited it and only got the nice bits, you would lose a lot. This, I think, was what the late poet Charles Simic missed about Creeley. I won't even defend Creeley against you if that is not your thing.  Berryman thought he was dull, but really Creeley offers a different quality of emotion from what Berryman was going after. He (Berryman) also thought Wallace Stevens was cold, but I think that is based on an inability to respond to a certain register of affect.  It is like thinking Koch is funny, or O'Hara is casual, or Ashbery is abstruse.  It is not wrong, but it doesn't really get to the thing that you are trying to get at.  


Vallejo and Hernández both wrote Civil War poetry, in España, aparta de mí este cáliz and Viento del pueblo. Both are great poets, but Vallejo manages to write propaganda poetry that is also great, whereas Hernández falls into rhetorical propaganda, as in his sonnet in honor of the international soldier fallen in Spain.  Vallejo imagines wild scenarios, like the bombing of a cemetery bringing the dead to life again.    

My next class

My next graduate course will be on adaptation, translation, reception. I will be acting department Chair in the Fall, so there is that.  It will merge the concept of a Lorca class focussing on things derived from Lorca (songs, plays, cartoons, translations) and the "interartistic approaches to literature course," which I gave before, but without as strong a focus.  

Reception:  reception often occurs through adaptation. For example, every performance of a play is, in a sense, an adaptation of it. 

Translation.  Translation is also, always, an adaptation. We think of adaptation as novel to film, for example, but that is just case, and not necessarily the paradigm.  

PART ONE: theoretical introduction

PART TWO: canonical authors have a reception; they are canonical because of their reception, including numbers of adaptations.  Example of Lorca. 

PART THREE: Translation theory as applied to Lorca. Apocryphal translation. 

PART FOUR: Ekphrasis and illustration. Visual inspiration for literature, and visual illustration of literature (before and after). Buster Keaton.  

PART FIVE: Dramaturgy.  

PART SIX: Song settings.  

PART SEVEN: Novelizations and films. Plays about Lorca.   

March poem journal

 What if you already knew how to write?

Then you could keep a journal

and not worry too much 


Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Solutions to the sock dilemma

 Socks are lost in the washing machine or dryer, resulting in "orphan" (or more accurately, "twinless") socks.  We need to come up with some solutions. 

1. Buy 30 pairs of identical socks.  Some socks will be lost, but your socks will always match.  At a certain point, buy more socks identical to the first set of 30, or begin again with a different color or pattern. This solution is expensive but irrefutable.   

2. Wear socks that do not match. Make that your personal style. "Life is too short to make your socks match." If your socks do happen to match on any given day, that is fine too. Nobody will complain, in my experience.    

3. Wear no socks. 

4.  Continue your current pattern of losing socks, but decide not to care about loss of socks. Discard twinless socks, or keep them as dishrags. Whatever...   

5. Continue your pattern of losing socks, but continue, also, your laments for the loss of socks. Realize that your complaints about the loss of socks fulfills a psychological need, scratches an itch otherwise unscratchable.   

6. Worry about other stuff.  The problem will disappear because it is not very important. 

7. Place socks in a laundry bag with zipper before doing laundry. An elegant but dull solution. This is the one I have ultimately chosen, despite being tempted at times by solutions 2 and 3.     

I had more hands then

 Keith Jarrett had a stroke (or two), and cannot play piano with his left hand. There is a nice interview with him by YouTuber Rick Beato. At one point, Keith says, after they listen to a brilliant performance by Keith from many years ago "I had more hands then." Then: "But only one more." He can still play cool improvised lines with just his right hand, and comp at the same time with the same hand. 


I realized at one point I had many, many CDS of Jarrett's trios with Jack DeJohnette and Gary Peacock. Your favorite musician is not the one you say is your favorite, but the one that is objectively your favorite, based on your actual listening history.  


When I play piano, it's fine. I am within my modest abilities. When I listen to someone really good, I could despair.  But that is a dumb attitude to take. Being able to play at all is a miracle. 


My dad gave me Amphigorey for Christmas one year. I think I was 14 or 15. I had no idea about what it was really about, but I liked it.  I recently repurchased it, along with Amphigorey Too. I don't remember much about it from then. I do remember The Curious Sofa, a pornographic but very innocent book, in its own way.  "To beguile the the tedium of the journey, Albert read aloud from Volume Eleven of "The Encyclopedia of Unimaginable Customs." Or "The party split into two and threes before retiring." 

Now I have seen pictures of Gorey, I know that he depicts himself in his books in regular fashion. I probably didn't wonder if he was gay, at that age. I've since learned that he attended virtual every ballet there was in NYC.  

The Doubtful Guest is brilliant.  

Giovanni interviews Baldwin

I wish people were as smart now as back then.   


 My fb friend Bob Archambeau has some notes on how to give a conference paper. It boils down to "don't waste time" and treat the audience well, and ends with the gem: "Work the room, not the text."  

Sunday, February 26, 2023


 Most people are in favor of cancelling.  For example, I am in favor of newspapers canceling Scott Adams' Dilbert strip, if they want too. I am in favor of having Kanye West face the consequences of being anti-Semitic in an open way. Practically nobody is against it, as a matter of principle. People just differ on what kind of cancelation is legit, what specific offenses count. 

Adams has been semi-loco for a while, with Trumpism and other kinds of weird things. His strip is funny, I guess, if you work in an office, though he cannot draw. I don't believe in saying he is not funny, simply because he is also racist. In the past I have enjoyed his strip, and I find most comics today not particularly good, but it is not in the same class as Calvin and Hobbes

The first amendment is about the government. A newspaper can cancel a comic strip that it publishes, and it is not censorship.  On the other hand, I can put a Dilbert panel on the door of my office, and the University cannot tell me to take it down. I'm not going to do it, because I don't have things on my door, and if I did it wouldn't be someone who just came out explicitly as a racist.  

Private universities can censor, since they are not governmental, but many of them claim to follow 1st amendment principles, and in that case they can be called out on that. 

Thursday, February 23, 2023

You can't make this up...

 A daughter of the infamous Koch family, as profiled in New York Times, in relatively sympathetic way:  

As she worked to untangle her knots, she did a lot of searching. She was an editor for a literary humor magazine called Opium. She tried to write a novel. (She’s still trying. “It’s about 1,400 pages with 24 major characters and 30 plot lines.”) She went to Peru to experience ayahuasca, the vomit-inducing hallucinogenic tea. Another time, she found herself at a nudist colony. In 2015, she started a book imprint called Catapult. “Cries for Help, Various” was its first title. (This month, Catapult shut down its online magazine and writing program to “ensure a successful future” for its core book business.)

Advice columns

 I like some advice columns and read one regularly now.  (Ask a Manager.) My theory is that I'm using them as "equipment for living." In other words, I run them the questions through my mind in order to process my own life. I especially enjoy it when the commenters adopt funny pseudonyms and overthink the questions being asked. 


There was something else that I also use in this way, that I was thinking of the other day, and that I actually prefer to the advice columns, but now I can't think of what it is! That is ironic, since I supposedly think that this is a better thing than what I am actually doing. 


Lynda Barry (cartoonist) suggests that when we write an obituary, we talk about the external life (was born a certain place, etc...). When we write in a journal, we write about "feelings." But to write a story (she suggests), begin with an image. 

Imagine your teenage room: what posters do have on the wall?  

I know I had a full length Bogart with fedora on the inside of my door.  Dalí's persistence of memory, Picasso, 3 musicians, and a very large Brueghel of people ice skating outside. I had probably been reading Pictures from Brueghel by WCW. There, that already is more interesting than either "feelings" or external life.      

Mayhew gets confused

I am confused by the "butterfly effect." I mean, I get the concept.  A butterfly flapping its wings causes something else of more amplified dimensions, which in turn causes other things, leading up to a giant storm of some kind.  

What I don't get is this: there are many other tiny things, microclimate-wise, that also happen along the way. A woman slams her car door.  I breathe too heavily for a while after a jog. A small child frightens a wren, which then flies off. You can't have such a linear account of the pitiful butterfly causing something else, since that something else is going to have other causes and effects quite apart from the butterfly. The model only works if you posit perfect laboratory conditions with no other interference--which is kind of contrary to what the butterfly effect is supposed to be. 

And, generally speaking, bigger events are going to have bigger consequences than small ones, so the idea of something small having such an outsized effect would be the exception, not the way things normally worked. What makes that one butterfly so special?  

[Curtain closes while Mayhew continues to rant about the butterfly effect, to no effect.]


 Although I disagree with conservatives and would never vote for a Republican, my instinctual reaction to so-called "wokeness" is attuned to what a conservative would react to.  The constant linguistic and performative posturing, etc... 

Put in another way, it is what would bother an old style liberal too: the lack of nuance, the dogmatism, the denial of basic reality.  I'm noticing this too in others of my age or older. Our bullshit detectors are just stronger, maybe. 

I don't believe in organized politics--I'm a Democrat (attributed to Will Rogers) 

A liberal is someone who can't take his (or her) own side in an argument.  (Robert Frost?). 

[A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel.]

Wednesday, February 22, 2023


 I loved the work of Edward Gorey, after I got Amphigorey as a present when I was young. I didn't think about him very much in the years since. Reading a biography of Frank O'Hara, I discovered he was a friend of Gorey's. That seemed appropriate. He also was active in doing cover art of books, including the comic poems by T.S. Eliot that later became the musical "Cats." 

He is a skilled draftsman, and possesses a gift for writing as well, with a mordant and macabre sense of humor, multi-layered intelligence. His visual style is the perfect vehicle for his somewhat twisted sense of humor. His characters often meet unpleasant fates, but we sense there is nothing truly mean about him.  I like the fact that he never condescends to his audience. He is not a children's author; if a young person likes his work, it is because that young person enjoys being spoken to as an adult. The Curious Sofa, for example, is a work of pornographic sensibility, though without anything explicit. It is all pure innuendo.    

While he seems to be eccentric, many people like his work, which shows that his aesthetic is not one that deliberately narrows its audience. Not everyone will like him, but quite a few of us do.     

What is an interesting person.

 What is an interesting person?  

I guess when I start to think about that, I think of things that I like to do. I actually don't think I am interesting, although some of what I find interesting about others also applies to me. What is not so interesting about me is that I don't have a lot of varied work experience outside of academia.     

  An interesting person will know languages, music styles, will have traveled a bit. Have a wide range of interests, exploring some of them with some degree of depth. They will have interesting minds and varied life experiences. They will have read a lot and thought about what they've read.  

I guess, too, being interested in other people.  Narcissists are not interesting, nor pontificators.  

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Master class

 I love masterclasses on youtube.  It doesn't have to be an instrument I play, even. The interaction between the student and the teacher can be priceless. The teacher is rarely trying to put the student down, in any way. The mutual respect is palpable. The master pulls something out of the student that was already there.   

[Hank Jones / Ray Brown / Pablo Casals / Barry Harris, Schiff.]. 

I wish there was something similar I could do.  Writing doesn't seem to lend itself to this treatment. 

An exchange

 In a theory course in grad school, 1981.  

Other student:  In a capitalist society, scientific fact are produced like products of the capitalist economy.  

Me:  Example? 

Other student: racist science about IQ...

Me:  [shuts down]. 

I could not go on and point out that this was a total misdirection.  Of course, racist science is deplorable, but it has nothing to do with "capitalism" to the way science is actually done. The example given had nothing to do with the assertion.  I learned then that I could not debate with people like that. 



 The censoring of Dahl is particularly insidious, because it will be invisible to readers of the new text. There is a certain meanness to his writing, and that's what gives it its particular flavor.  A sanitized version takes away some of that.  The company hired by the Dahl estate to advise them specializes in "inclusion." People doing evil often use nice words to describe what they are doing. Dahl's refusal to euphemize is one of the things that make him valuable in the first place.  

Sunday, February 19, 2023


 Vanderbilt's DEI office used the AI Chat to send out a message of reassurance about the Michigan State shootings, thus touching on the trifecta of modern ailments:  DEI bureaucracy, mass shootings, and Chat GPT.  

I can just imagine the next generation of advice columns: help, I just discovered my boyfriend's marriage proposal was written by AI!  

Saturday, February 18, 2023


 A great Gershwin program here.  

Friday, February 17, 2023

From the Grey Lady

"Newspaper coverage of the incident, though, had focused only on the dog feces, he said, whereas he wanted to start a debate about what should be allowed in arts criticism."

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

How Auto-Tune DESTROYED Popular Music

Dylan vs. Autotune

 I watched two Bob Dylan documentaries done by Scorsese. I'm not a Dylan super-fan, so in a way that made it more enjoyable, because I don't have anything invested in liking or disliking anything associated with him. Both movies are long and have delightful footage. The genuineness of the singers who inspired Dylan in the beginning, and his contemporaries, like Joan Baez, is wonderful to see. Allen Ginsberg appears in both films.  (I also watched a Leonard Cohen documentary that was not quite as good.) 

I watched the Grammys and the Super Bowl half time show. The excessive spectacle, the lack of emphasis on the music itself, the autotune and lip syncing, the sheer narcissism, the mutual admiration among mediocrities, etc... was very off-putting. It was nice to have Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder, and some of the historic rappers, but the best part of the Grammys was, in, fact, the more nostalgic part.  (Showing my generational bias here.) 

Rick Beato has a good video on autotune. We can compare it to the AI program infecting writing. Beato says that when AI writes all the songs, we won't even notice, since we are already so used to mechanized music production. My objection to autotune is not that it makes people more in tune than they otherwise would be (so that anyone can be a pop star without even singing in tune), but that it flattens out the music, robs it of vibrancy.  

The beginning of the end

 From The Bride and the Bachelor (Tomkins).  

Some disciples of Merce Cunningham "arrived at a sort of non-dance aesthetic that could dispense with such rudimentary requirements as dance training and physical technique. Cunningham himself has never been willing to dispense with technique, and as a result he is looked upon by some of his former disciples with a respect that is slightly tinged with condescension."  

Here the logical consequence (reductio ad absurdum) of an avant-garde practice is to condescend to the founder of such a practice. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2023



We thought putting wisdom in short, memorable chunks was a good idea

We called them "proverbs" and found them satisfying to repeat 

All cultures have them, many of us have had this same good idea in different times and places

Some of transparent and obvious, others are mysterious, opaque to an outsider 

If space aliens had proverbs, we wouldn't understand them 

Or maybe we would, the way we understand this one from Spain:

"If the jug hits the rock, it's bad for the jug

And if the rock hits the jug, it's bad for the jug."  


 "Jonathan Mayhew is a contemporary literary scholar who has written about Federico Garcia Lorca's concept of "duende" in his essay "Lorca's Theory of the Duende." In this essay, Mayhew explores Lorca's idea of duende as a force of artistic inspiration that exists outside of human control or reason.

Mayhew argues that Lorca's concept of duende represents a rejection of rationalism and a celebration of the irrational, instinctual, and emotional aspects of human experience. Mayhew sees duende as a powerful, unpredictable force that can be channeled by artists to create works of great emotional depth and intensity.

Mayhew also discusses the relationship between duende and flamenco music, which Lorca saw as a prime example of the power of duende. Mayhew suggests that Lorca's ideas about duende have influenced a wide range of artistic practices, from poetry and music to painting and theater.

Overall, Mayhew's essay provides a valuable analysis of Lorca's concept of duende and its significance for the arts."

Pretty much a mishmash of misinformation and cliché.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Two February Poems


I found this poem by Creeley today by accident, literally pulling a book off the shelf and opening it at random, and it made me remember I had a February poem too.  There is no comparison possible (genius vs. amateur poet), but there is a poetry too in juxtaposition.  In mine I don't like the Yeats echo and the cliché in the last line (biting wind!). The rest of it is good, insofar as I can judge my own work. If I changed "lacked all conviction" to something else or took out the word "biting,"or stale language like "openly confess," it might upset the balance of the poem in another way. There is also a lack of syntactic continuity between the first and second line, but that I think makes the poem better. 

I invented the "friend" in order to give voice to my own feelings about this month, if I remember right.  

Creeley's has that endearing "humanity" to it, and the lightness of touch.  "small month's meagerness" is wonderful. He isn't afraid of the set phrase either (against all odds, bitter cold). 

February (Mayhew)

It was your hatred for February that first endeared you to me, old friend
What you called its impertinent brevity, its indecisiveness and squalor
Though the heart of winter, it lacked all conviction  

Now it is February again and I wonder if you were speaking in earnest 
Perhaps there was something else under your skin that you couldn't openly confess 
Something colder even than the biting wind of that month you despised 

Hearts (Robert Creeley)

No end to it if
"heart to heart" 
is all there is

to buffer, put against
harshness of weather,
small month's meagerness--

"Hearts are trumps,"
win out again
against all odds,

beat this 
drab season of bitter cold
to save a world

Murky dreams

 This was rather murky. In one part, I had found a copy on vinyl of Kind of Blue for my mother. I left it in the car, and had to retrieve it, but the backyard of her house was flooded and water came up to my ankles once I got to the carport. I had placed one turntable over another and was trying to play the record.   

There was a part of the same night's dreaming that took place in a bar.  I had a girlfriend named Julie, younger than me, and when she left a man said he was her brother. I said I hadn't met her family, and he said there was a good reason for that.  Then eventually I realized that maybe I hadn't been dating her after all. I moved discreetly to the other part of the bar. The woman had an indistinct presence and my visual imagination failed to provide her with any definite features. 

I was explaining this dream to someone (in a metadream).  Later in the the same bar, I wondered if I was dreaming or not. It seemed that I wasn't, because I tried my telekinesis trick and it didn't work. I tried to make people levitate but nothing happened. I looked out the window to see if reality had that detailed "reality look" to it, and it seemed to have it. Since I thought things were real, I didn't do anything daring. 

Obviously, though, it was a dream because I woke up in bed and it was 8:30 a.m.    

Greatness in clusters

 What do you think is really great? For me it comes in clusters.  I like all the historical avant-garde, and the ideas of Duchamp.  I like modernism in many flavors, like Pessoa or Proust, Cavafy, Borges.   

There is a cluster of things around the time I was born, say from Miles's early cool phase until the death of Coltrane. It was a highpoint in jazz, when old-timers were still around, as well as be-boppers and avant-garde jazz. Rock and roll is about to take off, too. Soul music was a vibrant trend.  Ray Charles recording an album of country music. That's the kind of period it was. Hitchcock... 

Everything New York school in poetry (and painting). Other branches of "New American Poetry," like Creeley, Spicer... 

I think Keats, and the best poetry of that time was great. 

French symbolism if very great, especially Baudelaire.  

I'm never jaded. I never take it for granted.  Someone on facebook was saying Saura's movies have aged badly. I disagree, but even if an opinion changes, I still respect my older self's enthusiasm.  

I spent a lot of time studying Valente, who my Spanish friends think is the great ever. He is genuinely good, at his best, but I think people like him for the positions he takes in the poetry wars. Even though I study Lorca, he is not even my favorite poet.  (That would be Frank O'Hara.). 

Anyway, I think people recognize that these clusters exist, and that consequently there are relatively barren periods. I don't have problem if your cluster is different than mine.  For example, if realism is your thing, then the 19th century is your cluster.  I don't get the idea of not being impressed with greatness, though, whatever that greatness looks like for you.