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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...

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Cover art

 I am in a Facebook group of jazz album cover art. The graphic design on some of them is superb, with a youthful Andy Warhol represented (for example). Often I see an album cover and want to download the music immediately, which I do—but as a consequence I have music downloaded I haven’t been able to listen to yet. The visual spicing complements the music, the way the presentation of food makes it more appetizing, or disgusting. I also discovered a channel on my smart tv of vintage jazz videos. Monk, Miles, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah, Art Blakey. It is an internet channel I didn’t even know I had.  

Monday, December 25, 2023

Prologue to Poems of Doubt

I don’t even know enough to know what I don’t know 

yet this uncertainty is oddly comforting (Bronk style). Extreme skepticism

is itself a form of dogmatism, equally perilous, so that’s not it

either, more like a technique of not attaching oneself too hard to

one’s own beliefs, one’s “likes and dislikes,” to quote Wallace 

Stevens. I’ve learned that from Zen, of which I am not too 

serious a practitioner: I lack that element of giving myself

over to a system of thought, even one that leads to a mind of

unknowing. Still, that is the closest set of “beliefs” for my own particular 

temperament. What more is there to say?   

Sunday, December 24, 2023


 Words in English beginning with ph, rh, ps, and ch (when these letters are pronounced as in chasm) are of Greek origin. Some words beginning with th as well. This etymology becomes invisible in Spanish, with its phonetic spelling, so photophobia becomes fotofobia, chaos is caos. I tell my students, many of them premeds, that they can tell the words in Spanish of Greek origin by thinking of the English cognate of filosofía or seudónimo. For medical professions or just to be an educated person it is useful to have a basic Greek lexicon of prefixes and suffixes like phobia, photo, pseudo, phono, psycho, neuro, algia,  bio, gyno, optho, geria, pedi. 

Saturday, December 23, 2023

non sequitur

 One thing following another, but without any real feeling of continuity. Yesterday it was rainy; today, foggy. I sing of walking bass lines, or at least I try to sing along with them. Ashes. My insomnia routine is complex, too detailed to outline here, and with the risk of you falling asleep. The theory comes when it is needed, as the result of trying to solve purely practical problems: how to make the dishes come out at the same time in a cohesive presentation. One is seldom aware of sensation in individual toes. It is difficult, at times, not to make sense: the mind supplies connections where none were actually intended. 

Friday, December 22, 2023

 The 111 word technique has multiple possibilities. It can be a productivity or creativity technique. I can try to write paragraphs as different from one another as possible, or settle into a comfortable routine. They can be prose poems or random reflections that don’t rise to that “poetic” level. I was thinking about variability while hearing some Monk in my car, in fact a version of “Bemsha Swing” with Sonny Rollins. Not only is the music improvised, but each hearing of the music is different, whether it is because it is a different listener, or me myself at a different moment, noticing drums, bass, piano, or shifting layers of these combinations.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

A bookshelf of imaginary titles: Can you spot the actual book title here?

 Dictionary of Atrocious Puns. The Rampage of the Maidens. Jeepers & Creepers. Queering the Straight. Minerals of New Mexico. Lives of the Non Saints. Towards an Imaginary Bookshelf. My Life as a Spelunker. How Not To. Epistemologies Without Apology. Mysteries of the Known. Recipes for Disaster. Insults for the Unwitty. Implied Threats. Starvation Diets and their Discontents. Taboos and Tributaries. Rotary Phones: A Coffee Table Book. Gridiron Scars. Palliatives. Explosive Egos and how to Ignore Them. Poems of Doubt. How to Cook Oranges and other Orange Foods. Surrealist Coffee Pots: An Annotated Catalog. Bibliography of Lost Tomes. How I wrote Certain of my Books. Bodybuilding for the Unwilling. Marks of Cain.   

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Nighttime ritual

 I go through some poems in my head as I wait to fall asleep. I started last night with “The Red Wheelbarrow” and other short WCW poems (“Flowers by the Sea,” “The Jungle,” “This is Just to Say,” “Complete Destruction,” “As the Cat,” “A Burst of Violet”). Usually then I go to Yeats (“When you are old and gray and full of sleep,” “Why should I blame her..”). I was trying to reconstruct “The Wild Swans at Coole” when I finally fell asleep. The last I remember I had gone once through the poem and got most of it, and was trying to make sure of the second stanza: “I have …”  

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Dream of Raymond Williams

 I had an opportunity to meet Raymond Williams, or was in an audience where he was giving a talk. No details about his physical appearance, since I have no idea what he looked like, so my dreaming mind constructed no imagery.  Anyway, I was trying to ask him what the phrase "structures of feeling" meant, since I have always admired that. I couldn't get him to answer.  

Free will

Suppose free will is an illusion, something we experience but don't possess. This may or may not be true; this is a thought experiment. (I don’t have the scientific or philosophical expertise to even decide what I believe.) But if freedom does not exist, then our belief in freedom is itself compelled or determinate: we are not free to think otherwise. And we are not free to give up, in our everyday lives, the distinction between volitional and nonvolitional actions. Even strict determinists do not live their lives as though they had no choices to make. If they did, their lives would be an absurdist parable. That’s what our lives are.         

Monday, December 18, 2023


 I bought some pork ribs and put them in a slow cooker with onions, garlic, ginger, five-spice powder, soy sauce, mirin, honey, rice wine vinegar, and whatever other spices I thought went well with this particular combination, including some Korean hot pepper flakes. I never makes this recipe exactly the same way twice. It should have salty, acidic, pungent, fiery, and sweet elements. The night before, we had gone out and had a Caesar salad and filet mignon at a restaurant that is usually good, but has now fallen into the trap of oversalting everything: the salad dressing, the meat and potatoes, the asparagus. The home cooked meal was more satisfying.       

Sunday, December 17, 2023


 If theology is the realm of the unknowable, then any of its specific or detailed propositions are much more likely to be false than true. The answers to particular questions are simply not to be had. It is, then, the only field of which it could be said that studying more of it is likely to make you know less than you knew at the beginning. Here, more is less; the novice is better than the expert. I’ve often found it amusing that one of its main subject matters is whether the object of study exists in the first place. In literary modernism, theology ends up being a branch of aesthetics. 

Saturday, December 16, 2023

How to do thing to poems

 For my intro to lit course I have decided to do something along the lines of my “how to do things to poems” concept. (With poems standing in for works of literature generally.) The first thing people think of doing to a poem is analyzing it, but that activity is without any explicit purpose, becoming a game of scansion and trope hunting, and resulting in the “nervous helplessness” many literature professor themselves feel with poetry (when they are specialists in other genre and don’t think about the lyric at all). (The phrase was coined by Geoffrey Pullum.) Other things to do to a poem: illustrate, musicalize, translate, memorize, adapt, parody, forget.  

Friday, December 15, 2023

Weight loss

 I’ve lost 10 pounds over 180 days, for an average of 0.055 lbs a day, mostly by cutting out starchy foods (rice, bread, beer, potatoes). My scale measures weight in increments of two tenths of a pound, so daily and weekly progress is not discernible, with up and down fluctuations and the possibility of measurement error. For some reason, linked to my personality, I have a need to have some number to monitor, whether it be birds on my life list, my bank or retirement account, or my weight in unrealistically small and unmeaningful variations. In fact, I probably could not have lost weight without holding myself to account through measurement.   

Thursday, December 14, 2023


 President of Harvard is a plagiarist. But I guess it depends on whom you ask


 What if the big bang set in motion forces that still rule the universe, in the way a pool cue sets in motion the movement of the balls on the table. Under a theory of strict determinism, every single note of Ornette Coleman’s solos on the album “Free Jazz” was predetermined however many years ago the universe was formed. This might be true, but the consequences are worthy of a Borges story. In other words, take seriously a philosophical concept and extrapolate its ramifications. Even people who are determinists in their beliefs do not act in their daily lives as though determinism were actually true. It would be impossible. Fascinating, though.   

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

111 words

 I’m starting a project of writing 111 words a day in a focused way, as Andrew Shields does (I believe). I’ve been thinking this will be a good mechanism to introduce to my students in Spanish 340, "Introduction to Literature," in the Spring semester. My method is to open a word document, write, and stop when the word count arrives at the desired word limit. If I have a few extra words then I will go back and edit so that the exact word count is achieved. I could link this exercise, too, with my world famous “Complete Sentence Game,” in which one speaks in complete sentences as long as possible. 

Monday, December 11, 2023

I am reading

 I am reading a biography of Ashbery, covering only the early years, titled The Songs We Know Best (Karin Roffman). It is quite delightful, and there is a story of how Ashbery learned the word vestibule as a child. This reminded me of how I learned the word recondite, which I found in an Ashbery poem.  Ashbery as a child once formulated the sentence "I regret these stairs" and then found it strange, the slight offness of the word regret in this context. This is a key to Ashbery's entire poetry, the use of words in that off-kilter way. His vocabulary is impressive in size, but the key is in the particular tone he achieves, not in the use of a large number of words in and of itself. David William Foster uses a lot of words, but in some sense to show off the words themselves. 

Friday, December 8, 2023

the self

 There are several solutions to the problem of the self. 

In Calvinism, the worthlessness of the self is simply a given.  You don't have to worry about your worthiness, because all is forgiven if you recognize that you are worthless, and only saved by admitting it.  

It doesn't seem very healthy. It seems, in fact, brilliantly perverse, because it is based on something very real: we are imperfect and know our imperfections perfectly well.    

In modern positive psychology, the self must be bolstered ("self-esteem").  The problem here is that we know our selves too intimately, with all the flaws. Holding up and affirming the self constantly gets very tiring. For people who haven't accomplished very much yet or who have experienced trauma, wounds to the self. the idea of self-esteem seems like a lie.  On the other hand, self-esteem allows narcissists to simply float along with a false sense of merit. (Although they also have to do a lot of work to make sure other people recognize their merit!).   

In zen, the self is unknowable or doesn't exist. You don't have to be bound up, then, with either a sense of inherent depravity (Calvinism) or with a struggle to keep your finger in the dike all night, the existential threat to the self. After all, if you have high self-esteem, then there is always the risk of having low self-esteem, if you don't know how to sustain it on a daily basis. It seems better to put more effort into helping other people than in endless "self-improvement."   

You can still have a basic sense of self-worth based on the idea that everyone has value, and the secondary self-esteem based on real accomplishments. You can be proud of things you've done, or take pleasure in doing things well, that you know how to do. But the self is already beside the point.   

Dream of F'O'H and Taylor Swift

 I was a in bookstore, and saw a book, The Selected Poems of Frank O'Hara (Taylor Swift edition). It had a picture of Taylor superimposed on the original cover.  I was taking a picture of it with my phone, and my friend Tom was asking me what I was doing. 

In my dream the image was imprecise. The actual image on the cover is the drawing by Larry Rivers. I had this book as a kid and wore it out by reading it so much, and later got the original Collected Poems with the same image. It's a funny story: the family didn't like this image, and so the original version is more valuable than subsequent printings with an anodyne cover. If you do a google search for this image it won't come up. 


Later in the morning, a phrase came into my head: "So much power in a single blade of grass."  

Tuesday, December 5, 2023


 I get in the doldrums once in a while. I recently snapped out of it with a sudden realization.  I have been struggling for years with something I call "self-acceptance." How can I achieve that?  It seems impossible.  Today, in the dentist's chair, of all places, I realized that I could not achieve this, ever, because the goal is badly formulated. I don't need to accept myself, but rather turn my attention away from myself to other people.  The focus on the self is itself the problem. 

This does not resolve anything; the same struggle for self-acceptance will persist, I'm sure. But this realization takes the pressure off.  Whether I decide I am good enough is simply not that important an issue. Nothing is really at stake any more, if I can simply find a way to remember this insight and put it to work for myself--and for others.  

Sunday, December 3, 2023

I hate the humanities

 I don't hate the humanities on an individual basis.  I like art history, musicology, literary criticism, philosophy, film studies.  What I hate are THE HUMANITIES as a giant vaguification of all of this. "What is means to be human." "The human condition." "The human endeavor."  Surely nobody is convinced by this kind of verbiage.  Once you lump those fields into one catchall phrase all the specificity disappears.  


A colleague laments that the critical thinking module will be absent from the CORE curriculum.  My response should be that every college course should be about "critical thinking."   

First: hear it

 Suppose you were deciding whether you liked Philly Joe Jones or Jimmy Cobb better.  A precondition to that question is whether you know the difference, whether you could listen and tell who the drummer is without being told. Otherwise, your preference would be meaningless. You would just be saying you liked something because someone told you to. In this sense, what you like is kind of secondary: what you perceive is much more important.  Once you know you are perceiving correctly then taste is just that last little bit.   

I cannot tell always who the drummer is. With a few of them I have some sense of what to listen for.  But at least I try.  

I used to do that on the master's exam. If I give you a poem by Jorge Guillén, how do you know it is by him? What would you look for? 

Saturday, December 2, 2023


 I've been trying to find this passage in Kenneth Burke. A truck comes up to a gate. The truck driver has a conversation with someone manning that gate. The driver backs up and continues down the road, based on this conversation: he has the wrong address.  

So the point was that the symbolic action of the conversation had the effect of turning around his massive vehicle and sending it somewhere else.  

I'm sure that this passage exists, because I wouldn't have hallucinated it, but I can't find it by perusing all my Kenneth Burke books, or by googling Kenneth Burke and truck.  


I've found a reference here: 


Language as Symbolic Action 482.  

Friday, December 1, 2023

finding my own name

 I was looking at some poetry by Alice Notley; I was trying to find something like that as fearless and honest in Spanish poetry, so I thought of Isla Correyero.  I had seen a book by her on my shelf the day before so I took it down. I found that the intro quotes me:

"Está en vanguardia cuando no queda nada de las vanguardias; así lo ve Jonathan Mayhew, quien la cuenta 'entre los que se mantienen, todavía, fieles a las premisas de la modernidad cultural.'"  

The book came out in 2018; I don't know when I bought it, but it looks like it is from La Central (Madrid or Barcelona).  I don't remember if I read the intro and saw my name before now, but it is a weird sensation. It sounds like something I would have written, but I'm not sure where, probably in The Twilight of the Avant-Garde.  

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Fall lyrics

 "All that's left of coherence." --Robert Creeley 

Love pill--

don't take

if allergic!

to love



you can always add more 

you can't 

add less


Two copies of a book--

one to mark up

one to keep pristine 


My disheveled 


and other 



There are the waterfowl

the seafowl and shore-- 

but what of the treefowl?

the barnfowl, the 

street and porchfowl? 


To November

You come in with pumpkin and spice and exit with vulgar gestures, chintzy decor. 

Though of the usual length, you seem oddly foreshortened, your body twisted and slouched. 

(Your name means ninth, yet you are eleventh in command!) 

What good are you? leading to even worse times...  

Unlike April, May, or June, you won't make a pretty name for a young girl. 


Odd numbered page

always on the right

flipped to its companion page 

even side it will never see 



triviality, banality, 


and other stupidly

 abstract words 

Monday, November 27, 2023

To November

You come in with pumpkin and spice and exit with vulgar gestures, chintzy decor. 

Though of the usual length, you seem oddly foreshortened, your body twisted and slouched. 

(Your name means ninth, yet you are eleventh in command!) 

What good are you? leading to even worse times...  

Unlike April, May, or June, you won't make a pretty name for a young girl. 

Friday, November 17, 2023

The virtual English department

 We could have several groups of robots:

One group would write poems.

The second would write critical analyses of these poems.  

A third would grade these analyses, and also be programmed to write more sophisticated research articles on the poems. 

Some of the third group of robots would edit the journals in which these research articles were published. The whole process of refereeing the articles would also be robotic.  

This would be the virtual English department. It would hum along perfectly, until a non-robot form of intelligence came around and asked, "What is it all for?"  

Dream of jamming inside / outside

 There was music playing from my apartment and someone outside, a young black man, was jamming along with it with his voice, in a humorous way. I went inside and another young Asian man followed me in and was doing something similar. It was an avant-garde vinyl album but when we looked it said Stan Getz.  I was trying to get dressed and was looking for socks in my sock drawer. The black guy was there too. I thought it unusual that people would follow me in, but I felt good about it. My clock radio was actually playing for part of this dream, at very low volume, and later after it had stopped there was some country music playing from outside, faint at first but later louder; perhaps these music sources were processed into my dream.   

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Dream of Dense Paragraph of Prose


When I woke up my mind--maybe my body--felt like a dense paragraph of prose, with very small print. 

Saturday, November 11, 2023

2 piano dreams


Night before last: I was at a jazz piano camp, but I realized nobody had played piano yet (after a few days). I sat down to play "Bemsha Swing" but someone shushed me.  


Last night: there was a piano keyboard installed in a complicated wooden structure, with the shape of a tall china cabinet. This structure was designed to increase the resonance. If you tapped on the wood it would be like a drum. Someone was demonstrating it by talking about the wood (not playing the piano).  I got up and started tapping the wood and commenting on its density (or lack of density; it seemed very light). 

I tried to play a few notes on the keyboard, but I didn't note any particular resonance. Then I hung around for a while, ending up offering to give ride homes to two other people who lived nearby.  The dream morphed into something else. 

Thursday, November 9, 2023

[untitled original]

 I find words scrawled in the back, blank pages of my books

(no longer blank then, but you know what I mean) 

my own writing from years back, incalculable 

and meaningless, now, numbers and words 

amounting to little, I think 

but it's what's noticed, now 

I still do this, writing notes to future selves 

that may or may not be well received  

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Early Work

302. Early Work. Alice Notley (2023). Here is a delightful collection of the early books and uncollected poems of Alice N, one of my favorite poets. What I like about it is that she uses New York school poetry techniques to talk about her own experience as a person. She never hides behind a style not her own, but uses certain features of that style (or set of styles) for her own ends. For example, she refers to Denby's sonnets. Now those sonnets by a man 42 years older than her are nothing like her own, but she read them in order to get where she is. The same with her influence from her husband Ted Berrigan, or Berrigan's model, Frank O'Hara. When she was writing, she says that nobody had written this kind of poem before, and she is correct. She says nobody had written about pregnancy and childbirth before 1972, and she might be correct. The NY school poets were mostly gay men, like Denby or O'Hara, or men of the other persuasion who were their disciples. Look at this cool cover art. 


Poem with surprise ending

 There was a woman named Susan

but I wasn't in love with her and that was not her name 

Day dream of ruining mathematics

 I dreamed of ruining math 

(more of a day dream, really) 

by saying 1 is a number 

all numbers are divisible by it 

so prime numbers shouldn't be a thing 

Monday, November 6, 2023


 A post by someone on the Thelonious Monk society page triggered a memory in me. I was obsessed by jazz, through a kind of accident, and didn't have money from my allowance to buy records. I would listen to a station called "The music of your life," a radio thing back then geared toward WWII swing era people (who were alive back then in the early 70s, etc...).  Once in a while, amid all the kind of crappy sentimental stuff, they would stick in some genuine swing or some actual jazz, like maybe an Art Tatum.

What this gave me, also, was an understanding of the songs, because I could hear them sung in overly sweet arrangements, but I would still learn the melody and words to the songs of that period. 

Anyway, another way was to go a library and listen to a record using headphones. I listened to a Monk album of solo piano, with a super hesitant feel in the rubato passages. I was puzzled and fascinated at the same time. One of the records I did buy was called Solo Monk, where he uses that style. 

Monk played many of those old-time tunes that were also on that "Music of Your Life" station.  

(Anyway, the post in in TM society Facebook was about someone who didn't know jazz and was staying at someone's house and just listened to Monk without any prejudices and fell in love with the music.)

Curiosity or obsession?

 I used to think the driving force behind my success was curiosity. Now I realized it is obsession.

In other words, curiosity--narrowly channeled. 

Dream of proposition

 A woman I had once known and been attracted to was here in town. I was showing her some articles that could have been of mutual interest, about a poet we had both worked on. I went back to the first classroom where I had left my keys in the overcoat, then went to my office. She came there and I asked her how long she was going to be in town. "Only a few more hours." Then she said if I knocked on her door before she left, "I can satisfy you completely." Then we had a conversation about how a proposition like that could be written off as a joke. I wasn't going to take her up on this. 

Clearly the wording of the proposition was wholly my own, since it was my dream. 

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Dream of Emily

 I was going to introduce a lecture on Emily D. by an eminent critic like Marjorie Perloff. The lines that were to be analyzed were "Tell the truth but tell it slant / Success in circuit lies."  In my dream the lines appeared exactly correct,  but there were other perhaps non Dickinson phrases in my mind as well.  

Thursday, October 26, 2023


 I played drums for years  but was never in a band. It was kind of pointless from one point of view. But I love drumming and drums, cymbals. I love the fact that drummers are obsessed with cymbals and snare sounds. The sound of a good Zildjian Constantinople  is just divine, even though you might not be able to hear it in context, always. 

I am also rhythmically obsessed, and learned complex polyrhythms, like five against four. It is part of my ear-worm / prosody obsession. Neurologically, I am just wired that way. 

Also, just the ability to play bass drum with right foot, high hat with left, ride cymbal with right hand, and snare and toms with left, well, it is just a cool thing to do.  


 My father and I were driving to get some Dim Sum. I realized that he was dead (more than 20 years) and was worried about his driving, but he seemed to be doing fine. I had confidence in him. I suspected it was a dream, so I felt safe. We got to the restaurant and there weren't that many places to sit. We were at some kind of bench without a real table there.  

Tuesday, October 24, 2023


Haiku are not measured in syllables, but in morae. For example, a long syllable counts as 2 morae, or a consonantal ending (n). It is really a quantitative meter, not a syllabic one. 

Japanese words tend to be polysyllabic, so there's that too. And the syllables are typically lighter being consonant vowel, consonant vowel.  

What this means is that the 17 syllable haiku in English has zero to do with Japanese haiku, prosodically speaking. 

Of course, it could work on its own terms, though generally syllabic forms don't work very well in English, because nobody can hear seven syllables in English.  

Monday, October 23, 2023


 A moth landed

on the wine bottle

doing no harm

Another version of outline


1. Lorca the musical intellectual 

2. Lorca and Flamenco (I):  1921-1931

3. Canciones españolas antiguas 

[this will include a tradition of Spanish vernacular art song] 

4. Germaine Montero

5. Singer-songwriters

6. Lorca and Flamenco (II): From Camarón to Poveda

Conclusion: Postmodernism and Middle-brow culture 

Dream of home movie

 We were watching a dvd and at the end we found an old home movie, that began with me as a kid making a spectacular prat-fall on the front porch of a house. Other family members came to comfort me in a theatrical way. I decided it must have been some play I had written and convinced my family to film. My mom did not appear so I thought she must have been the one filming.  Toward the end, my father appeared in a Victorian costume, with a top hat.  Then there was a scene with my baby brother. 

I took a lot of convincing myself that it was a dream. I analyzed it quite a a bit while half asleep.  

Monday, October 16, 2023

The one I love

 The one I love

appears to my in my dreams

disguised as herself

A poem

 From the back deck

of my girlfriend's house

I heard a distant drummer

amid the traffic noise

on October 16th

in the evening 

(she was on a trip to Japan) 

I didn't investigate 

I'd had some wine

and a dog and cat to take care of 

New Book outline

 1, Intro

2. Lorca the musical intellectual 

3. Lorca and Flamenco (I):  1921-1931

4. Canciones españolas 

5. Germaine Montero

6. Singer-songwriters

7. Lorca and Flamenco (II): From Camarón to Poveda

8. Conclusion: Postmodernism and Middle-brow culture 

The new title would be Lorca, Flamenco, and Popular Song 

The idea is to leave the classical legacy for another book, or maybe even another scholar.  I don't mind writing a shorter book. The real story here is the vernacular. Writing about all the operas and ballets would be marvelous, but I'm only one guy.  

I had a line about a medium size book about a vast topic. Now it will be a medium short book about a vast topic. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2023


301. Manifest and Furthermore. William Bronk (1987).

I was just reading Proust and I came across this: "The way Swann, his whole life, loved / Odette and she was not even his type, is the way / contrarily, we each of use have, / in spite of natural inclinations, our lives. / We trust the tact of others because we know / they know and won't speak of it. Things are far / more complicated than we say they are."

North Point Press in San Francisco became Bronk's publisher and put many books of his during this period. You could argue that the poem I have cited is not a very good one. You would be right, but maybe Bronk had to write a lot of poems like this, trying out ideas in various forms, and only once in a while hitting the mark completely. I can still love the tone of voice here without defending it as a small lyric gem. It is like talking with an old friend. 


Exponential dream

 I dreamt of exponents, making sums of large numbers, so large that they could only be easily written as 5 to the 1,000th power, etc...  (I had been doing some random algebra problem in waking life, ones I saw on Facebook that had exponents. I am not strong in mathematics, so it felt a little like stretching my brain.)  

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Own Face

301. Own Face. Clark Coolidge (1978, 1993).  

This is one of my favorites. I bought it in Columbus, Ohio, at a bookstore on High St. across from campus, where they had language poetry books. I marked the poems I liked most, and with two check marks for the absolute best ones. 


Baffling Means

 300. Baffling Means. Clark Coolidge / Philip Guston (1991)

This came out several years after its creation (1972-6). 

Here's another collector's item. I guess would have searched on Abe's Books and paid whatever the asking price was. It has drawings by Philip Guston, as you can see, in Guston's late, cartoonish phase that just makes me laugh with surprise. They seem perfectly complementary to Coolidge's sensibility: 

"Baffling means because we wouldn't know what we'd get. 'Who wants that?," waving his hand toward a window, and you can't have that anyway.'"

Monday, October 9, 2023


 Le premier dîner que M. de Norpois fit à la maison, une année où je jouais encore aux Champs-Élysées, est resté dans ma mémoire, parce que l’après-midi de ce même jour fut celui où j’allai enfin entendre la Berma, en « matinée », dans Phèdre, et aussi parce qu’en causant avec M. de Norpois je me rendis compte tout d’un coup, et d’une façon nouvelle, combien les sentiments éveillés en moi par tout ce qui concernait Gilberte Swann et ses parents différaient de ceux que cette même famille faisait éprouver à n’importe quelle autre personne.

Proust, Marcel. À la recherche du temps perdu: (complète) (French Edition) (pp. 515-516). BZ editores. Kindle Edition. 

We get a lot of explanation about Norpois, Cottard, and Swann before finally getting to the point. The narrator has effaced his own emotions until now, when we realize that Marcel has a particularly emotional relation to Gilberte (Swann's daughter) and the whole family, than everyone else. He associates with seeing Sarah Bernhardt perform Racine's Phèdre in a matinee performance (perhaps one suitable for children). 

My languages

 High School French.

Then, in college 

Spanish 1 (Summer 1977) (I was 16!)

Spanish 2 (Fall 77)

Spanish 3 (Winter 78)

Spanish 27A: Forms Hispanic Lit (Spring 78)

Summer 78: Latin Workshop (UCB)

Spanish 5: (Fall 78)

Catullus: (Fall 78)

Spanish 28: Composition (Winter 79)

Spanish 9: conversation (Winter 79)

Spanish 128: Modern Prose (Spring 79)

Junior year abroad program (79-80) 

German 1-2 (Summer 1980)

Silver Age Latin (Fall 1980) 

French 4 (Fall 1980)

French 6 (Winter 1980)

German 3 (Winter 1981)

French 119: 19th century (Spring 1981) 

German 4: (Spring 1981)

Summer 1981: Greek Workshop (UCB)

It's no wonder my German and my Greek suck!  


Proust and LaRochefoucauld

Mais la principale raison, et celle-là applicable à l’humanité en général, était que nos vertus elles-mêmes ne sont pas quelque chose de libre, de flottant, de quoi nous gardions la disponibilité permanente ; elles finissent par s’associer si étroitement dans notre esprit avec les actions à l’occasion desquelles nous nous sommes fait un devoir de les exercer, que si surgit pour nous une activité d’un autre ordre, elle nous prend au dépourvu et sans que nous ayons seulement l’idée qu’elle pourrait comporter la mise en œuvre de ces mêmes vertus.

Proust, Marcel. À la recherche du temps perdu: (complète) (French Edition) (p. 508). BZ editores. Kindle Edition. 

This seems to be a reflection worthy of a maxim of LaRochefoucauld, but expressed in a long-winded Proustian way. Our virtues are contextual, associated with certain situations; we cannot access them in other contexts. In other situations, we find ourself unprepared (au dépourvu).  

Creeley, 30 Things

299. Thirty Things. Robert Creeley (1974)

Here is a nice collector's item. It has monoprints by Bobbie, Creeley's second wife. Noting this I realize I don't know what a monoprint is. I bought this at the Strand in NYC for $50.  This is number 13 of 250 copies.  The poems feel slight, but in a deceptive, Creeleyesque way:   

A Loop




anyone does

Saturday, October 7, 2023


 Crews's book on Freud, Freud, The Making of an Illusion, is super tedious. I agree with his anti-Freudian bias, mostly from previous books by Crews himself, but the endless slog of mendacious, self-serving actions by the young, incompetent "genius" is almost too much to bear. I'm only up to 44% of the book. 

His previous work had a sparkling wit and concision to it. This book just goes on and on.  

Still, if you need ammunition to refute your Freudian friends, here it is.  I am puzzled that people are now claiming psychoanalysis is having a "moment."   

Friday, October 6, 2023

Weak broth

"I’d like to think I’m psychoanalytically minded enough to say that, insofar as the idea of psychoanalysis is having a moment, what we make make of this is more important than any correct sense of its import as a theory or a practice, and in that way, I say keep tweeting."

This is an interesting tweet, because of how vaguely worded and weak it is, as though, to say, I don't care whether psychoanalysis is true or not, just as long as it gets to have its moment.

Thursday, October 5, 2023


 Richard Coe was one of my favorites. I took a class on romanticism from him in French. I had previously taken a course on the autobiography of childhood, on which Coe later wrote a brilliant book. 

He criticized my first paper in French, because of the grammatical mistakes. You want to be a scholar, was his tone, you have to have the grammar down.  I never forgot that. 

I remember what I wrote for the autobiography class. It was on how poets writing their autobiographies present the experience of writing their first poem. My idea was this: if they had a condescending attitude toward this experience, they would include the text of the poem. If they presented the experience in idealized terms, then they wouldn't, because the text itself would detract from the idealization. 

I know I talked about Speak, Memory, by Nabokov, who I think idealizes the experience. I could recreate a lit the other books from the course by reading Coe's book.  

He liked my paper.  

Modern Drama

Ruby Cohn was a comp lit prof at UCD where I studied, a prolific expert in Samuel Beckett. In the modern drama class she had us write a paper in three parts. Choosing a theme, and then studying in three different plays. I found that method uncreative. When I heard her give a lecture, I noticed that that was how she worked. She talked about how dramatists portrayed academics and intellectuals, and gave examples from multiple plays.  It was a good lecture, though at the time I kind of thought of her as having a mediocre mind. (Arrogance of youth.) 

I remember how we went from Ibsen to Strindberg. We ended up with Beckett (Godot) and Ionescu, who at the point were still alive. I knew Ionescu in High School from the bald soprano, which we read in French class. 

She corrected me when I said the rhinoceros was absurdist: it was a denunciation of totalitarian conformity. I'm not sure what was between Strindberg and Beckett. I don't remember reading Shaw or Yeats in that class. It wouldn't have been Lorca because I would have remembered that.  

I remember the enemy of the people and the concept of the "well-made play." The course was excellent, in retrospect, because I still remember it today. 



 Ma mère, quand il fut question d’avoir pour la première fois M. de Norpois à dîner, ayant exprimé le regret que le Professeur Cottard fût en voyage et qu’elle-même eût entièrement cessé de fréquenter Swann, car l’un et l’autre eussent sans doute intéressé l’ancien ambassadeur, mon père répondit qu’un convive éminent, un savant illustre, comme Cottard, ne pouvait jamais mal faire dans un dîner, mais que Swann, avec son ostentation, avec sa manière de crier sur les toits ses moindres relations, était un vulgaire esbroufeur que le Marquis de Norpois eût sans doute trouvé, selon son expression, « puant ». Or cette réponse de mon père demande quelques mots d’explication, certaines personnes se souvenant peut-être d’un Cottard bien médiocre et d’un Swann poussant jusqu’à la plus extrême délicatesse, en matière mondaine, la modestie et la discrétion. Mais pour ce qui regarde celui-ci, il était arrivé qu’au « fils Swann » et aussi au Swann du Jockey, l’ancien ami de mes parents avait ajouté une personnalité nouvelle (et qui ne devait pas être la dernière), celle de mari d’Odette.

Proust, Marcel. À la recherche du temps perdu: (complète) (French Edition) (p. 507). BZ editores. Kindle Edition. 

I'm sure I'll never finish Proust. I decided to start with the 2nd volume, since I've started the first many times, and maybe read most of it without ever reading from cover to cover. The words I didn't know here are "esbroufeur" "puant" "poussant"*.  Here we see that Swann, the elegant man of the world, has lowered himself by marrying Odette. Thus his previous existence as the perfect dinner guest has disappeared. Cottard, previously a mediocrity, projects the illusion of being an illustrious savant in comparison to the now lowered Swann. Norpois is apparently a former diplomat, someone that Marcel's family needs to impress. 

I'll never finish because it is just so exquisite that I have to savor each sentence, but at the same time I tend to get lost and need to go back several pages. Here the relative social position of two people have changed, and the young Marcel is observing that from his parents. Swann has had at least two previous personalities and will have more still.   

*esbrofeur is a kind of braggart or show off. Puant is smelly or pretentious. I'm not sure if poussant is forceful or a misprint of puissant, or powerful. 


I saw a twitter thread by Joyce Carol Oates and she was talking about how Woolf compared Joyce negatively to Proust. Then I remembered that she had a similar feeling of condescension to D.H. Lawrence. I found a passage where she uses Proust against Lawrence too, in very similar terms. It is the upper class (Woolf, Proust) vs. the working class (Joyce, Lawrence). The British Isles produced four great modernist prose writers, if we include Beckett, the late modernist. There are no great British modernist poets, only Yeats from Ireland. Yeats, Joyce, and Beckett outnumber Lawrence and Woolf, who didn't even like each other. Eliot, the American, became the British modernist by self-identification.  

Wednesday, October 4, 2023


 I've been fascinated for a long time by the question of how we know what we know, or what makes us believe that we know something with any degree of certainty. I think it started by reading my dad's NYRB when I was a kid. I would see a book review, then the author's response, and the reviewer's response to that. How do we decide who is right? 

With the Maura Dykstra book on Chinese bureaucracy, I do not know for a fact that she is full of s***. I don't read Chinese. The two book reviews make the same kind of argument with the same kind of evidence. If they are truly independent of each other, then it is likely that they are correct. The idea of a "revolution" that was unnoticed at the time and also invisible to historians until now seems implausible. 

I am also interested in whether people sincerely hold the beliefs they claim, and in various forms of cognitive bias and cognitive dissonance. For example, I know that Nebraska is to the North of Kansas. If you claimed I was wrong, but still drove North, not South, to get to Nebraska to Kansas, your behavior would bely your claim. 

A theological belief would seem to be different from a belief in the relative positions of two states on a map. People do not "testify" (or ritually repeat a belief) unless it is a questionable one. We do not send a message about our moral goodness by stating facts.   

This obsession of mine arise long before the replication crisis in the social sciences.  

A reading of Wittgenstein's On Certainty helped me to define my own positions. He points out that we cannot question everything. There is a bedrock. We assume the truth of propositions like humans have been living on earth for thousands of years. 

As a humanist, I have two sorts of things that I can do. I can work empirically, trying to establish facts. And I can tell quasi-fictional stories about literary history, plausible to other people who share a knowledge of the context of this history. 

Dykstra's story is a kind of novel: a vast bureaucracy for tracking provincial malfeasance accumulated so much paperwork that it led to a loss of self-confidence in that very same bureaucracy, producing paralysis and failure. It's a clever idea, but according to those two reviews, unsupported by primary or secondary sources. 

Sunday, October 1, 2023

 Most savage ever book review?  Or this other one of the same book. 

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Metrical paraphrase as a heuristic

 Metrical and rhymed translation makes paraphrase inevitable. You cannot re-write a sonnet as a sonnet in another language without paraphrasing ideas, expressing ideas differently. This, then, makes possible or even necessary a certain level of inventiveness. It is the heuristic power of meter.  The constraint generates  new ideas. 

I'm not sure that is the right word: when doing something in a more constrained way generates new ideas. 

Friday, September 29, 2023


 Contemporaneous or (near contemporaneous) translation is interesting. Also, translation between epochs, neither of which is our own: so

same century 

two different epochs (say Victorian era translations of the baroque or medieval).  

With our time, we lack the perspective. We are translating for our selves, our own taste. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Homage to Bob B. with Dad joke

The wisest herb is not oregano

but sage

but I prefer Basil 

Anti Whorf

 I don't experience my own language as a Whorfian. I don't see breakfast as a breaking of a fast, or disease as dis-ease or a lack of easiness or comfort.  Languages do not embody world-views. Their metaphors are dead ones. 

I don't think people think differently of breakfast as "des-ayuno"  or unfasting or "petit dejeuner" (small lunch.) It is still just what you eat in the morning.  

I had a Whorfian student, who would just give a lot of examples. "In Russian, blah blah." he was very smart, and had studied a lot of languages, hence the the examples. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Dilution in a translation of Quevedo

 I wrote this once. 

And this

Another translation hoax

 A famous science fiction writer who should know better posts on Facebook about a better translation of the Lord's Prayer from the Aramaic.  My spidey sense immediately pricked up.  There is no Aramaic original, since the text appears in the Greek New Testament first. The claim is that the King James Bible was translated from Aramaic to Greek to Latin to English. But the best scholars of the King James era surely knew how to read Greek.   

Then it starts out 

 "O cosmic Birther of all radiance and vibration." 

It sounds like 1970s era American New Age philosophy! The first word in Greek is "pater," or father.  We can look at Syriac versions too; they don't say "O cosmic Birther."  For Christ's sake! 


 My University is verifying everyone's degrees through a third party vendor. People are suspicious of it for various reasons, because it could turn into a background check with privacy issues. Supposedly it is for accreditation, but wouldn't they have checked this when everyone was hired?  

(It turns out I was already subject to this process in order to be appointed as Acting Chair.). 

Anyway, if you don't want your credentials checked, you can get your own transcript and upload it to the university system. I went online, even though I didn't need to, and ordered my transcripts from Grad school and undergrad just for curiosity. The grades I remembered, more or less, because I had a single B in college and another one in grad school, but I wanted to see what courses I took and when. Anyway, the company that does this, parchment, did not charge me to get these documents, and the process only took a few minutes, with the transcripts delivered in less than 24 hours.  

Friday, September 22, 2023


 I got invited to France for 2024 to talk about translation in a congress organized by three hispanists.  I'm very psyched because I haven't been to France in a long time (and never to Normandy). It's always nice when someone knows your work. 


 The implosion of Kendi's center is probably inevitable. White liberals reached out for the most simplistic ideas in the wake of BLM, so Robin D'Angelo and the like made a ton of money. I always found it amusing that Kendi repackaged his ideas in so many formats: antiracist baby, antiracist teen, antiracist geezer.  

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Stupid motivational math trick

 I'm not good at math, but here is a simple math trick. Suppose you wanted to know 7% of 80? Just multiply seven time eight, with is 56, so we know the answer is 5.6. Since percentages are derived from multiplication, 5.6 is also 80% of 7. 

20% is easy to derive in your head. If the bill is $90 and you want a 20 percent tip, you know it is 18, 13.50 for 15%. 

Suppose you want to know 12% of 35.  The first thing I would do in my head is say that 10 percent is $3.5, and then add .7 to that, for 4.2. 

I think everyone watching a basketball or American football game know how many points one team is ahead of another without pulling out a calculator.    

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Freaky Friday

Andrew Gelman proposed a "freaky Friday" to a Shakespeare Professor. The scholar of the Bard said no thank you. This has always been a fantasy of mine. Let me know if you are up for this (but you cannot be in my own field or anything close.). 

Modern Literatures of Spain

 I've been reading a book of this title that just came out, written by Jo Labanyi, Elena Delgado, with some contributions by three experts on Basque, Catalan, and Galician topics. It is focused on 19th and 20th centuries, going back to the 18th for some background as well. It is a cultural history, but culture mostly means political / sociological ideas, not, for example, visual and performing arts, film, comics. Major figures in poetry do not appear in the index (Valente, Rodríguez). A poet will often only appear if linked to some "cultural" issue. It is difficult to critique a book by "index surfing," seeing what is there or not, how many times something is mentioned. This is a 300 page book (approximately so; I am reading it on Kindle). So even major figures will get a superficial treatment. 

I think it is a commendable book: the coverage of four literatures rather than one is revolutionary, and Labanyi and Delgado are deservedly influential scholars. (Elena is a friend; Jo I know a bit but we are merely acquaintances).  

Diario cómplice


298.  Diario cómplice. Luis García Montero (1987). 

Alberti's widow says that Luis wrote his own prologue for the book, which is outrageous in many respects. We have to lose some respect for Alberti himself for allowing that to happen, also for the cursilería of the prologue itself: "Pero yo amo a Luis García Montero, cada vez más escapado de moldes y vaivenes, todavía capaz del verso y la actitud en medio de una plaza, ante este admirable pueblo que lo entiende y aplaude y lo recibe como una paloma mensajera de also que está ansioso de oír." 

I remain immune to the charms of LGM.  

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

9000 books

 Here is my earlier project, 9000 books. I think I will rename this project "9000 books," and then reorder the 15 entries I've already done. I got into the high 200s with the first project, abandoned more than 10 years ago. 


 297. Canciones para Altair. Rafael Alberti (1989). 

Alberti wrote these poems, and did some drawings, for a much, much younger woman, his second wife. They are skillful if a little slight. I read them because I just read the memoirs of Altair (María Asunción Mateo). The central metaphor is of an star descending from a constellation. "Alta Alair del Cielo, / tú, tan sólo, esa estrella." A little bit cursi?  But Alberti is not among my favorites. When she answers the question of how she can be involved with a man more than 40 years older, she would say, "well, what about the dullard you are with?"  I find it distasteful, obviously. 

Friday, September 15, 2023


 An academic journal decides to study whether to change its name, since it is potentially offensive (really not, though.) Then it gets credit just by taking the effort, whatever the outcome is. They change (or not), but they get to seem like very thoughtful people. 

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Here's another thing that came up

 in conversation. The type of article that has a very detailed, capillary analysis of something, some lofty theory, but nothing in between to bridge the gap. [This was from our colleague from AZ]


Guessing about who the article is by (in peer review) and being wrong... or sometimes being right. 


We were also talking about how writing should get easier with time and experience (this was me talking). Everything in life improves with practiced intention. Why should writing be different?? 

But, said someone else, you have to know who you are writing for, and how to negotiate your own identity as a scholar. 


 296. Las diosas blancas. Ramón Buenaventura (1985, 86).

Two things happened in the early 1980s. In Granada, the group of "la otra sentimentalidad," and this anthology of young women poets. The women became the avant-garde (with a few male avant-gardists along for the ride, and the Granada group, with additions from other parts of Spain, became the poetry of experience--a mostly male movement.

 The anthology is notorious for the outrageous prologue, and the idea that what matters most is the anthologist's personal relationship to the poets. Also, the use of the Robert Graves idea of white goddesses, well, that is an idea from a male poet. 

Also, at the last minute, he had to exclude a few originally included. He lists their names and apologizes to them. One of them, Concha García, ended up being one the better ones. 

Despite these flaws, this is a landmark book. 

Compás binario

295. Compás binario. María Victoria Atencia (1984)

The title means "binary rhythm," basically. Her lines are in alexandrines of fourteen syllables, breaking up nicely into two parts. 

The poetic subject is under siege, threatened by ominous unnamed forces. 

El pabilo se agobia en la cera fundida

y en las sillas se apilan efímeros ropajes

que un rostro sostuvieron más allá de la cerca. 

Después de haber tejido tantas horas del día

cuando tiendo las manos fuera de su recinto

solo palpo mi nombre en su pared desnuda. 

[The wick is smothered in the melted wax and on the chairs the ephemeral clothes pile up that sustained a face beyond the fence. After having woven so many hours of the day when I extend my hand beyond its enclosure I only feel my name on its naked wall.]


OF course

 I assigned a chapter from my book to my class, since it was unavoidable. The only thing I objected to in my own writing is the over use of "of course." 

Being around smart people

 makes you smarter. Yesterday I had drinks with a colleague and a prof from U of Arizona we have invited. We started riffing on Borges, and I realized I could give a course on Borges without even reading anything new, practically off the top of my head We could do

Borges and scifi. 

Borges as translation theorist.

JLB and Cervantes: a misunderstood relationship.  


We agreed that reading a lot makes you smarter. There is no substitute. 

The guy from AZ wrote a book about a Catalan jazz pianist that I gave him a blurb for last year,  and it turns out my jazz erudition is quite extensive too, as we discovered just by comparing notes. We started on Cortázar's Johnny Carter. 

We started talking about pronouns and DEI. My colleague, who is more committed to diversity than anyone I know, started pointing out that someone with multiple marginal identities feels put on the spot to have to rehearse and perform all of them in a written statement. This can make someone feel very vulnerable. My colleague won't put pronouns in her email signature; it feels like an institutional demand to her. She works a lot in the community with immigrants, with another friend of mine who is a retired Venezuelan sociologist.  

The most "woke" people I know are the most against the abuse of these "woke" practices, or at least demand a great deal more nuance. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Descripción de la mentira

 294. Descripción de la mentira. Antonio Gamoneda (1977, 2003). 

I was more impressed with this when I first read it, because Libro del frío did not yet exist. Now it seems a little portentous. It is interesting that, even though Spanish is Romance language, some vocabulary seems more Latinate than others. In Góngora's day, mozo was used instead of joven. Now joven is perfectly colloquial, whereas mozo is antiquated. Gamoneda's expresses gravitas through his diction. 

At the end of this edition is a critical essay by JJH, which takes the unusual form of a glossary, in alphabetical order by word. 


 293. Ferocidades. Néstor Vidal (2023). 

I have done the first ten in this series, so I only have to do this 9999 more times. I'm down to four figures. This is not a book of poetry, but a savage denunciation of the poetry of experience, represented here by Luis Alberto de Cuenca, Juaristi, Villena, etc...  He practices the technique of denunciation by quotation. 

Ya nunca, nunca,

sucederá de nuevo 

la tarde aquella:

una muchacha,

que eras tú, me miraba

por primera vez. 

I love to hate the poetry of experience. It gives me great satisfaction.  

Tuesday, September 12, 2023


 At the state fair yesterday, the woman demonstrating how cows are milked kept saying the "mammarary" glands instead of the "mammary" glands. 


 New citation of Apocryphal Lorca. 

Friday, September 8, 2023

Oculta transparencia

292. Oculta transparencia. Ángel Crespo (1997) 

This is selection of poems Crespo wrote in the 1950s. I'm not convinced by him at all. He's the kind of poet who can use the phrase "sumamente importante" without any irony.   


 291. Trasluz. Antonio Méndez Rubio (2002). 

Méndez Rubio and I would probably agree about what kind of poetry we like in the context of Spain. I think he has an interesting mind in his prose, whereas his poetry is a bit too much in the Valente mode of "poetry of silence." 

Failures of the Poets

290. Failures of the Poets. (Anthony Robinson) 2023

Tony is a friend of mine and I am in the acknowledgments. He is a good poet, surprisingly good because I'm always surprised when someone is this good, and also because his poems are full of surprises, not predictable at all. He is my friend in part because we share a certain aesthetic, though he is far better.

"A poem is a collection of words used improperly."  I like that. 

He was getting an MFA and his teacher insisted he write out of his ethnic experience. (Tony's mother is Mexican.) They clashed because that isn't the type of writer he is. 

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Decir la nieve

289. Decir la nieve. Menchu Gutiérrez (2011)

Not a book of poetry per se, but a meditation on a poetic image, snow, that goes from Kawabata to Morton Feldman to Rilke in unpredictable ways. She is one of my favorite novelists / poets / essayists in Spain. I've only met her once, but I've been a fan for many years. She has other books that are similar meditations on a single image. 


The Anger Scale

 288. The Anger Scale. Katie Degentesh (2006)

Here is a classic flarf book, exploiting the inherent surrealism of google search non-sequiturs. I met Katie on a trip to New York. She had studied with Gary Snyder in Davis. 

The anger scale is a psychological test. All the poems have titles based on questions in the survey, so "I sometimes tease animals" would be a statement that you would agree with or strongly disagree with, etc... Out of context, these questions also acquire a surreal air. "I believe I am no more nervous than most others." 

I was a defender of flarf back in the day, not a member of the group but friends with several who were. I guess I would still defend it, for its wit and fearlessness. This book is a good example of that, along with some Drew Gardner work from about the same time. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2023


287. Valley of the Many-Colored Grasses. Ronald Johnson (1969, 2023) 

Reading Levertov and Hollo, and now Johnson, I am struck by how white poets of this period could use American Indian culture quite unselfconsciously--something I would not do myself now, for example. Anyway, this is RJ just before he embarked upon ARK. Some very good things here, including the letters to Whitman. The back cover calls it "an underground classic of visionary and queer poetics." But you wouldn't know Johnson is gay until the letters for WW, the next to the last poem in the book. Mostly, he is a great naturalist, immersed in plants and the earth itself. 


285. Paseo de los tristes. Javier Egea (1990)

286. Raro de luna. Javier Egea (1982, 1986).

I've been curious about Egea's work. He was associated with the García Montero group and killed himself in 1999. Paseo de los tristes is more interesting, with drawing by Alberti and a Lorcaesque feel. Paseo de los tristes is very 1980s Granada. I'd like to think it's better than LGM, but is it really? 

I am restarting my project of reading 10,000 books of poetry [update: now 9]

 283. O Taste and See. Denise Levertov (1964) 

284. The Coherences. Anselm Hollo (1968) 

Two poets associated with American poetry, but Levertov is British, Hollo Finnish. The Levertov is more religiously based than I had remembered, including in the title poem. I like her fresh earnestness and sense of daring at this stage in her career, occasionally a bit pretentious even. Hollo is closer to my own sensibility, though. He notes that Vallejo had a special way of walking so as not to wear out his shoes. Hollo, in large stretches, can seem a bit inconsequential. 

Manuel Terrín Benavides

 This person, in his 90s now, has won more than 2,000 literary prizes. Once he won more than 80 in a single year. They accused him of being a "cazapremios," hunter of prizes. 

The real story, though, is simply the proliferation of prizes. For one person to win so many, there must be too many of them,  because, without reading a single line he has written, I am already convinced that the most laureated Spanish writer must be a mediocrity of the worst sort. If the number of prizes were not so absurdly high, I might think he was simply a provincial writer of the typical sort. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Non verbal

"Nonverbal" must be a thing

reality before it's talked about 

or after, still hanging around 

when words aren't  

Once we speak  

the jig's up 

lemon is nonverbal

until lemon 


People earnestly 

talking to me 

about the duende 

and me 

pushing back gently 

two books about it

against that exact 

flavor of earnestness 

on my shelf

written by me


Here is a rather ill tempered attach on Luis García Montero. He is accused of being a professional widower. Boy, this gets better and better. 

Las tres viudas por las que te acercaste a los maestros (Alberti, Ayala, González) te hicieron el dibujo exacto: tramposo, arribista, interesado. El saqueo fue inmaterial (también material porque algunos cuadros ajenos fueron bien vendidos) pero es que ese mismo aire envenenado, oxígeno macilento, es hoy el que obliga a algunos pañuelos a proteger boca, nariz y oídos, en su simple trato o contacto.

Angel G.

 The LGM group did exactly the same thing with Angel González's widow after his death (bickering over the poet's legacy and foundation) that they did with Rafael Alberti's. Susana Rivero commented on FB about this, in a post about Alberti's widow's new book. 

In both cases, it is a younger woman marrying an older luminary, and then getting in a power struggle with the group of poets who want to control the older poet. El País will probably not comment on the new book. Gossip? Well, yes. But I have been fed up for years with the behavior of these people who give each other prizes. 

Imagine if poets A, B, C, and D are friends. D is married to novelist E.  Then, on the prize committee, we will have one year in which ABC are the jury that gives the prize to D. Next year, the same jury gives the prize to E. Then BC and E give the prize to D.  Then a new person, F, is on the jury with E and A, and C gets his long awaited prize. We could predict that F could get the award for playing along with this system. This is basically how it works, except that there are several awards, and more than five people involved. 

Old Poem


I found this old poem of mine. I don't remember writing it, but I think it might be a disguised pantoum.  

Saturday, September 2, 2023

Dream of MFA

 I was at the University of Chicago. I had been accepted to the MFA program in creative writing and was going to do that as my retirement project. We were in the gym first, and I was looking for the front desk. I was wondering whether they would let me in, but the person I was with said: I have a card for you.

We went to see the director of the program. I asked him how the program worked. There was an introductory course to take with 700 students! He showed me some student work. There was a visual poem that consisted of dice with small pictures in pastel colors instead of numbers. He showed me student handwritten manuscripts that had been heavily edited, with words crossed out. He asked me what my job was, and I said that I had retired from KU, where I had been a Spanish Professor and specialist on twentieth century poetry. He made some ironical remark about me being the "baby" of the program. There were other people sitting around the table, but I am not sure who they were. I guess a dream can have "extras" like a movie. 

At some point, I was thinking that I did not know what poets I was to study with. I should have researched that before entering the program. I also didn't know if I had to pay tuition, or any other details. I remember thinking "I can't wait to be a student!" But then I was ambivalent about losing my titles, Doctor or Professor. 

We went into a large room, where the temperature was comfortable. The place where we had been was stifling hot. A large number of people were there, and I looked around and announced that this was my dream, that everything that had happened had arisen out of my mind. The people near me agreed with me and I woke up.  

I stayed in bed a while to contemplate the dream and try to remember as much as I could. This is the first explicit retirement dream I have had, so it is interesting that it involves me being a student again, as though that were the best alternative. I've thought about getting a degree in music composition. 

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Read and ruminate

 The rhythm for reading poetry is to read a short time and then ruminating much longer. It is different from the rhythm of prose fiction which is getting lost in a long flow, being absorbed in a different reality. 


 When did books of poetry

start having 70 pages?

or 67?  You know what I mean

Who decided that? 

Who reads one


Not a student

unless forced to  


 A bookshelf is an autobiography. The books there and their order have private meanings. Books seemingly out of place have a reason for being next to strange bedfellows. I've apparently lost a few books that belong to the library, perhaps caught up in the chaos of my own collections and irretrievable.  


 I remember thinking of Ted Berrigan as just an O'Hara imitator. Then I got into his work more and discovered that there was more there, partly through her connection to Alice Notley, a poet I admire also. 

Berrigan didn't realize when O'Hara wrote "It is 12:53" or something like that that he was narrating an episode in the past. Berrigan would look at the clock and write down the time it actually was. So what is seemingly the same technique becomes different in the "imitation." 

I'm reading some Anselm Hollo. I purchased the $55 dollar collected poem for myself for my birthday. I ordered it from a local bookstore and they gave me a discount  because the spine looked a bit weak, but what could you expect from a book of eleven hundred pages? I'm reminded of this because one of the sons of Ted and Alice is Anselm, also a very good poet. Hollo was Finnish and came to the US and knew Creeley and other US poets. I'm enjoying getting into a poet I hardly knew (knew mostly by name) for many years. 

You can't really regret lapses in your past taste. If you didn't like someone when you were younger, that was just you being you. Or if you over-estimated a writer due to your inexperience, that's the same thing. I think it is bad to pretend to like what you don't. You can  be polite, but just going along with the crowd... no... 

Dream of job offer

A black woman was recruiting me for a job. It would pay $100,000 more a year in private industry. Why I was qualified, or what the job actually was, was rather vague. We ended up in an apartment complex, as if to say, this is what you could afford on this salary. The furnishings in the apartment were nice, with a high top table. It was suggested we watch some old movies together. Then the dream morphed into other vague, unmemorable events... 


 María Asunción Mateo married the poet Rafael Alberti after his return to Spain from a long exile. (He was born in 1902, she in 1944.) She clashed with young group of poets who wanted to use Alberti for their own purposes. Things got very ugly. Now she's coming out with a book outlining the events. Alberti erased the García Montero group from his memoirs. He had bugged Alberti for a prologue to a book, and Alberti finally said that he (LGM) could write it himself and Alberti would sign off on it. Of course, he would write something great about himself! Alberti said that he wouldn't even say those kind of things about Neruda.  




Gossip aside, it is clear that there is no respect for the LGM group. I've always felt that skewering mediocrity is kind of sacred duty.  I've always been uncomfortable with the emperor's new clothes situation, where everyone knows the truth but nobody wants to say it. 

Mateo cuenta que "al haberle pedido insistentemente un prólogo para un poemario suyo" García Montero a Alberti, éste "que no disponía de tiempo ni tampoco de ganas, le dijo que se lo escribiese él mismo utilizando su nombre, con pleno permiso. El entonces muchacho, solapado de falsa bondad, contaba con su afecto y con determinado respeto por su actividad intelectual, aunque no así por su poesía, de la que en privado comentaba que 'le faltaba temblor' (Rafael siempre sostuvo que el mejor poeta de ese grupo, con abisal diferencia, era el malogrado Javier Egea)".

"Una vez acabado el prólogo, vino a casa -la de Madrid- para leérselo. Rafael se quedó atónito al escucharlo, casi sin saber qué decirle y salvó la difícil situación con una sonrisa irónica, exclamando: ¡Caray! ¡Qué barbaridad! ¡Eso no lo he dicho yo ni de Neruda!".