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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...

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!".


Wednesday, August 30, 2023


 I've found some more things with Bodas de sangre. 

*There was another runaway bride, in Córdoba, in 1928. 

*The second Madrid production featured more "surreal" designs for scenery. 


 I got turned off from Levertov's poetry by a few things. A friend of mine gave a scathing critique of one her books, Candles in Babylon, and I kind of agreed with it. The professor was a friend of hers and didn't like my friend's critique. 

She turned increasingly devotional and political in the later work: I preferred her earlier work by far. Whereas Creeley welcomed the language poets and was generous to younger voices generally, Levertov tried to nix Perloff's appointment at Stanford, distributing a letter to all the faculty of the English department, in part because she championed the language group. Perloff got the job, but the letter seemed nasty to me. We all (the grad students) saw it as well. 

That being said, I did sincerely like her earlier poems of the 50s and 60s, and I'm going to go back and read some of those earlier books. She was an enormously talented writer in the WCW vein, and I think she has fallen out of fashion somewhat, where Ronald Johnson and others once on the fringes of the Black Mountain group are in ascendence. Perhaps the religiosity got in people's way. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

I feel sorry

 I feel sorry for people abducted by aliens

in the Middle Ages.

No science fiction to help them 

frame their understanding

of the sheer terror, 

only Lives of the Saints, maybe, 

witchcraft, or Scholasticism. 

They wouldn't have thought

of medical experiments,

space voyages centuries in the future-- 

everything they thought they knew

irrelevant, useless, inane. 

So it is with us. 

What we think we know

isn't much help. 


Sunday, August 27, 2023

Clear concrete images

 Pretty much, in a "good poem," the easiest short cut is to use a lot of concrete, visualizable images. The Ginsberg poem in the post a few days ago illustrates that. Notice how the "I" of the poem is placed to one side, through the use of colloquialism. We know the subject is obligatory in English, but we can elide it colloquially, as in "found an old coffee poet" or "hid my marijuana." He achieves two things: a colloquial tone and the elision of the subject in order to throw emphasis onto the objective reality. 

Bad poets tend to telegraph the emotion instead of allowing it to emerge from the concrete particulars. Ginsberg doesn't say it was so tedious, or so satisfying, to fix the toilet. We have to infer whatever the emotion might be. The tottering fence, the weeds and vines around the house, the broken toilet, suggest the the cottage is not in good shape, but the poem ends with satisfaction. The more overtly positive emotion only emerges at the end. Imagine if the elements were reversed. An angel rewarded me with plums... after a hard day's work fixing up this decrepit cottage. 

Here's a Spanish poet who telegraphs the emotion:

Luna llena que vas serenamente

haciendo tu camino por el cielo de agosto,

cuánto consuelo al corazón me traes,

qué alivio siento al contemplarte hoy

sobre este mar tan mío... (Eloy Sánchez Rosillo) [serenely, consolation, relief] 

We don't really visualize the moon, because the statement of emotion gets in the way. The image becomes is an excuse for the poet to emote. Note the insistence on the self in "este mar tan mío." There are certain echoes of the poetry of Claudio Rodríguez, who tends to ask those rhetorical questions and place modifiers in odd places: "tan mío." [so much mine]. We know we won't find anything original in a poem of ESR. He is one of the poets who doesn't even try to be original, out of some pseudo-Borgesian scruple.  

 In a workshop, Ginsberg once criticized a poem for being too abstract. I can't find it right now on the Allen Ginsberg project website, but he points out that a lot of people have a good "ear," but fewer can write concretely. 

We don't really need to have "pictorial" elements. For example, we don't need a description of the coffee pot or plumber's diagram of the toilet. What makes it sounds original is that these are not images from stock photographs, like sunsets, moons, swans, roses, or oceans that are already seen as poetical.  

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Ginsberg. A Strange new cottage in Berkeley

  All afternoon cutting bramble blackberries off a tottering brown

     under a low branch with its rotten old apricots miscellaneous under
the leaves,
     fixing the drip in the intricate gut machinery of a new toilet;
     found a good coffeepot in the vines by the porch, rolled a big tire out
of the scarlet bushes, hid my marijuana;
     wet the flowers, playing the sunlit water each to each, returning for 
godly extra drops for the stringbeans and daisies;
     three times walked round the grass and sighed absently:
     my reward, when the garden fed me its plums from the form of a
small tree in the corner,
     an angel thoughtful of my stomach, and my dry and lovelorn tongue.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023


 Te duchabas mil veces, te ponías

fijador en el pelo, y la esperabas

impaciente en la puerta del colegio.

Luego ibais a sentaros a aquel banco

del bulevar, o a casa de tus padres.

Pasó el tiempo. La magia de la cita

te llenó la cabeza de ilusiones. 

"Estoy enamorado" comentabas, 

orgulloso y feliz, a tus amigos. 

Let's look at this again.  It scans perfectly well as 11-syllables lines. The first line, for example, has accents on 3, 6, and 10, a perfectly acceptable combination:  

Te duCHAbas mil VEces, te POnías... 

Why, then, does it sound so wooden?  Maybe because it has a prose feel. The lines are enjambed (nothing wrong with that) but the enjambment isn't really doing anything. It would be fine as a paragraph of prose:  

Te duchabas mil veces, te ponías fijador en el pelo, y la esperabas impaciente en la puerta del colegio. Luego ibais a sentaros a aquel banco del bulevar, o a casa de tus padres. Pasó el tiempo. La magia de la cita te llenó la cabeza de ilusiones. "Estoy enamorado" comentabas, orgulloso y feliz, a tus amigos. 

But it isn't well written prose. Even literary prose, as in a typical novel, has more metaphors or other tropes than this, is less pedestrian. Has at least some wit or edge to it. It is the banality of what the words are saying and the arbitrariness of the phrasing that makes the poetry so unmusical, not the actual sounds of the words, though I would say "Luego ibais a sentaros a aquel banco" is unmelodious, for example. 

Here's a slightly better poet, no genius, but one who at least understands you have to try a little harder: 

AHORA, juntos, vivimos la hermosura

de esta tarde de junio,

el fulgor de las horas en que nos entregamos

al conocimiento de la verdad del amor,

a la gran llamarada del encuentro.

It's still cliché-ridden, but it's poetic cliché, not mere prosaic cliché. We understand the "el fulgor de las horas" [the radiance of the hours] is more "poetic" than "la magia de la cita." These poets pride themselves on being easy to understand. We understand that the beauty of the June afternoon is beautiful, like the knowledge of truth of love or the great flame of the encounter. 

I was often criticized as being dogmatic for not liking this sort of thing.     

They said a bird

 They said a bird

wasn't really the blue color 

it looked like to the eye

it was an effect of the light

but I said

that's what color is 


The way a crow

Shook down on me

The dust of snow

From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart

A change of mood

And saved some part

Of a day I had rued.

There are four possibilities: no modifier, definite article, indefinite article, some other quantitative or possessive adjective like some or my. The task would be to explain why each option occurs here the way it does.  In other words, Frost does not write: "A way the crow shook down on the me a dust of the snow from the hemlock tree..." Imagine it as a Chinese poem: "Crow shook down snow hemlock / heart change part day regret." A speaker of a language without articles would not find it intuitive to place the articles in the right place.   

Becoming the exceptional learning community

 It strikes me that the title of this email from the provost is grammatically incorrect. It should be an exceptional learning community.  I wouldn't say, I want to be the exceptional professor of Spanish.* Also, what is exceptional about professing the exact same values as every other university? Nobody else talks about being excellent, right?  We are the exception! Of course, I realize this is aspirational.  No administrator is going to talk about how mediocre the school is. At least we're not West Virginia or SUNY Albany.  


*Maybe, though, it's like saying "becoming the complete musician," the ideal Platonic form of something?  

Union busting podcast with land acknowledgment and pronouns


Monday, August 21, 2023


 The relationships among the characters in Bodas de sangre do not correspond to those in the "original events." 

Leonardo is married, with a child, and mother-in-law living with them. His wife is a cousin of the nova. 

The Novia is an only child. 

In the original crime, the Novia's sister and brother-in-law are the ones committing the attack, not her fiancee, who is not killed. 

The cousin the Novia escapes with is not married. 

Literally, every family relation is different in the play, and, I would argue, it is a play about such relations. 


 The movie about Bernstein features Bradley Cooper with a huge prosthetic nose. What makes it look weird is that it doesn't match the actor's face and seems larger than LB's nose. It is fine to have a non-Jewish actor play the role of Leonard  Bernstein, but the effect here is caricature.   


 I got a book in the mail from amazon prime, at my office, sent to me by someone I have not yet identified. It is another attack on the poetry of experience, articles from the 90s but only published as a book now. The first article is an attack on a book by Luis Alberto de Cuenca. The first poem cited has these lines:

Te duchabas mil veces, te ponías

fijador en el pelo, y la esperabas

impaciente en la puerta del colegio.

Luego ibais a sentaros a aquel banco

del bulevar, o a casa de tus padres.

Pasó el tiempo. La magia de la cita

te llenó la cabeza de ilusiones. 

"Estoy enamorado" comentabas, 

orgulloso y feliz, a tus amigos. 

[You would shower a thousand time, put on hair spray, and wait for her impaciently and the door to the school. Then you would go sit on a bench on the boulevard or at your parents' house. Time passed. The magic of the date filled your head with illusions. "I am in love," you would say, proud and happy, to your friends.]. 

Anywhere, it is a hilarious hatchet job.  Very enjoyable.  It is a book of poems so bad that just quoting from it is condemnation.  

Sunday, August 20, 2023


 People being abducted by aliens... I was thinking of this the other day: the idea depends on familiarity with a literary genre, science fiction. That is the only thing that makes the concept intelligible. What I mean is, there are no alien abductions in medieval times. It has to be in fiction first, and the fiction has to extrapolate from existing technology to other forms of technology not yet existent. 

 Suppose, now that alien abductions are real. Then they probably would have occurred in ancient or medieval times as well, but there was no language to conceptualize what was happening. It would be Zeus snatching up somebody and making them a constellation in the sky, or some other explanation consonant with a particular world view. 


 I was listening to a song by Sarah Vaughn in the car. The voice is of incredible richness, of course, but she also uses a variety of timbres and "tones of voice," whether serious, sassy, whimsical. The low notes do not have the same timbre as the high or medium registers. The vibrato is very interesting, because the speed of the vibrato varies: a long note the starts with no vibrato, then a vibrato that accelerates, then disappears at the very end. Normally, singers want a consistent timbre without breaks between registers, but not her. Also, with the vowel sounds, typically singers will alter them to create a more cohesive effect, but she goes all out and makes them sound different from one another. (The distinctive quality of a vowel is its timbre, after all. That's what makes one vowel different from another in the first place.) 

{It is odd, but with some songs that are not very good songs, she is unable to make them sound good. She can sound strangely awful and in bad taste especially if the arrangement is corny too.} 

Variations in intonation are very deliberate, as are melodic alterations. She also could play piano and knew the harmonies. With some other jazz singers, like Abbey Lincoln, I've always felt that the variations of phrasing and intonation were just ... out of synch and out of tune. I know Abbey Lincoln is an icon for many reasons, but it just not the same thing as my top female jazz singers, in no particular order, and hardly very original:  

Sarah Vaughn

Ella Fitzgerald

Billie Holiday 

Dinah Washington 

Decluttering email


For a few weeks, I've been unsubscribing to almost everything. I go through my inbox and junk mail folders and actively do this rather than doing what I normally would, which is just deleting everything whenever I see it.  It is working; I often wake up to nothing in the junk folder, and only actual messages in the inbox.  

Friday, August 18, 2023

Banality of evil

 "I do not think that the GDR population attached as much importance to the Staatssicherheit as is claimed in hindsight. Did people really experience it, or did they read somewhere that they could have done so? It’s all a bit different to what’s said today."

This is the last leader of the GDR talking, Egon Krenz. Just for some perspective. The Stasi had files on a 30% of the citizens, and themselves were 3% of the population. They drove many people to suicide through intense campaigns of psychological warfare, breaking into people's houses and rearranging things to make them think they were crazy. Their friends and family members informed on them, so this meant that more than 30% were affected. If your spouse is informing on you (because of implicit threat: if you don't inform you become a target too), then your spouse is also morally compromised.  

We see in the answer that he is still gaslighting. It didn't really happen; people just read a book about it and thought they might have been victims of it. 

He doesn't want to call it the Stasi, because that creates an equivalence with the Gestapo, so he has to call it by its complete name. 

Left wing totalitarian systems get a pass, because the only genuine threat can come from the right.  

But the banality come in small things, with Krenz's idea that the reason for the collapse of his country was that people wanted to travel. Well, why didn't he let them travel, then?  

Thursday, August 17, 2023


 I cringed a bit in Chairs and Directors meeting one of the deans started talking about diversity as a quality of a person, as though certain ethnic groups were diverse and others were not. Like "retaining a diverse faculty member" Diversity is a quality of a group of people. A group of 10 people of the same ethnicity is not diverse, even if they are all black or latino. I understand how this shorthand usage arose, but I think it is more than a pedantic point to correct it. (Of course, I said nothing.). If we assume a white majority, then undiverse = all white, and the non-whites are those who add diversity, therefore they are the diverse ones.  

Fake Indians

We seem to have some possible Pretendians in my University.  Many people claim Native American heritage, and then it is discovered they are just white people after all. The university isn't really doing anything, since there is no policy here that says you can't lie about your identity.  


Wednesday, August 16, 2023

On being interesting

 When I was thinking about what makes someone interesting, I started coming up with a list, like knowing languages, playing instruments, traveling, but then I realized I was making a list of what I value in my own life. Doing one thing really well doesn't foster a great deal of interestingness. For example, Paco de Lucía, I heard an interview with him. He was not dull, but he mainly played the guitar in his room from the age of 9 or 10. Didn't go to school after that. It is a tremendous depth but a narrow channel. That's how tennis players are. 

I am not particularly interesting though, because I lack one key ingredient: varied life experience. 

I  do think I have an interesting mind, but once again, I am am biased because I am interested in what I am interested in.  

From my own perspective, I find a lack of intellectual curiosity in some of my earlier development. Maybe it's that narrowness of youth. 


 Trying to decide what kind of chair to be. It's only for a semester as interim.  

Answer emails promptly, but well. Be firm, direct, and exceedingly polite. Consult with relevant on anything major, just follow best policies on minor issues. Project confidence. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2023


 People like the canon. For the elite, it is good as a reinforcement of elite education. For the middle-brow taste, it is aspirational. So think of Harold Bloom's books on the canon, marketed to a middle-brow public. 

The canon brings familiarity: people prefer the familiar to the unfamiliar. The fact that it is popular increases its popularity even more, because people like things that they know other people like already. It provides for easy social connection.  It is like liking Patrick Mahomes where I live. It is pretty safe, because if I meet a stranger, the fact we both like him creates a bond (even if we both just say we like him because that is expected.) 

People can claim not to prefer canonical or popular things, but then they are usually choosing the most popular thing of a given subculture, so a metal fan will like the most popular metal bands. 

I'm not being judgmental.  I don't think there is anything wrong with following these urges toward canonicity, familiarity, and popularity. It's a little like Yogi Berra's joke: "Nobody goes there, it's too crowded."  

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Cifuentes reviews Francisco GL


Entre tantos retratos acabados, la figura de Federico resulta dispersa, de perfiles menos definidos o más difíciles, o acaso de una complejidad menos abarcable para alguien tan próximo como un hermano. Francisco llega a incurrir en contradicciones (o en imprecisiones que lo parecen): en la página 139 Federico "hubiese sido incapaz de leer un libro de filosofía, incluso el más accesible a un hombre de cultura media"; en la página 99, "Federico estaba entusiasmado con los Diálogos de Platón, que leía en ediciones de la biblioteca del propio don Fernando [de los Ríos]"; en la 161, "no es de extrañar que su inspiración reflejase entonces algunas lecturas de filosofía india, que se cruzaban con otras de místicos españoles". Francisco cree en un momento determinado que Federico "nunca se vio a sí mismo con humor" (p. 159), pero recuerda más tarde que era una de sus cualidades "saber reírse a tiempo de la propia imagen" (p 248) Con todo en el desarrollo de las memorias, estas contradicciones, si no pasan desapercibidas no llegan a sorprender como descuidos ni menos aún afectan a la verosimilitud del relato. 


 The origin of metafiction is in the spurious truth claims about the "truth" of the made up story. In other words, the tropes that try to convince us that the story is real are metafictional, like the found manuscript. Once this trope (or anything like it) is laid bare or parodied, metafiction is born. 

So it isn't fictionality that is highlighted, but truthiness. 

Saturday, August 12, 2023


 I found this novel, Masks, by Fumiko Enchi, at B's house. It seems typical of Japanese novels to use Japanese high culture as a metaphorical system to weave an incestuous plot. Here is it No drama and Tales of the Genji.  Murakami, who seems an un-Japanese type of writer, does this in Kafka on the Shore. Kawabata does it too, in Beauty and Sadness, where he uses the tea ceremony.  

There are two generations. A creepy woman of the older generation sets in motion a plot in which the younger generation is manipulated. It seems ripe for a structuralist analysis. 


 I made eggplant parmesan the other day. Then I had an epiphany.  I had layered some slices of tomato on top, and then topped with last layers of cheese. The combination of tomato slices and cheese was great, so I invented another dish, which is slices of tomato topped with crusty parmesan and mozzarella and fresh basil. Think of it as a crustless pizza. I am staying at B's house to take care of her animals and she has a basic plant that is producing abundantly, along with tomatoes I already had.  

You could put any other pizza type topping on it, or serve is as a side dish.  

Friday, August 11, 2023

Another sighting

 There is also this. I did not invent this idea of the importance of "Mil Federicos."

And this

Mil Federicos

 The motif of the multiple Federicos occurs in prose texts (letters and prologues) not in poems and plays. These are more likely to be texts in which the poet declares an intention. 

It indicates a pluralistic sense for the creative self, the generator of poems and plays.

Also for the personal self, the biographical subject. 

We can see it in Lorca's own thought.

And we can read apply it to our own reception of Lorca. 

The other one continues... which one is more interesting? I am nearing 3.000 words for each

 The first instance of this motif in Lorca’s critical reception is in the introduction to the first edition of Poema del cante jondo (1931), “Palabras de los editores”:  

Federico García Lorca ha hecho teatro recientemente; se ha asomado a la vorágine neoyorquina; ha sido repetidamente conferenciante—de un tipo, naturalmente, personalísimo—. Sus actividades tienen cada día mayor multiplicidad; por eso su poesía—sentido y norma—es una y varia. Lo mismo que el poeta que, a diario, se desmembra en cuatro o cinco Federicos García Lorca, urbanos, tránsfugas, cosmopolitas, indolentes, sensuales, tristes o cerebrales, siempre dentro de la piel morena del Federico García Lorca visible…

The idea of a multi-faceted creator in several genres corresponds to a multifaceted sense of the personal self, described by a series of seven almost random adjectives, all contained within a single physical person. Although not signed by Lorca himself, this editorial note is consistent with the poet’s desire to emphasize the multiple facets both of his personality and of his literary accomplishments. It echoes the prologue to Impresiones y paisajes (“es preciso ser uno y mil / “es una y varia”). The literary directors of Ulises, where this volume appeared, were Julio Gómez de la Serna and César M. Arconada, both intellectuals of Lorca’s own “Generation of 1927.” (Julio was the younger brother of Ramón Gómez de la Serna, who had given the inaugural lecture at the Concurso del Cante Jondo in Granada, in 1922, an event also mentioned in the editorial note.) Presumably one (or both) of these editors would have written this prologue, whether with the direct input of Lorca or not. The implication is they travel in the same circles as these four or five “Federicos” and have perhaps attended lectures by the poet. 

Last lines of "Puñal de claveles"

 Necesitaban dominarse para retener el impulso de sus corazones ansiosos de latir unidos, pero era preciso apresurar aquella carrera, de la que dependia toda su vida.

Solo respiraron al comprender que llevaban ya delantera bastante para poder escapar hacia otro continente, hacia la promesa de una vida nueva, olvidados de todo, cegados de luz, en una ingratitud suprema para el pasado y envueltos en la ola de aquella pasi6n duplicada por el triunfo sobre todos los convencionalismos por el puñal afilado del aroma de los claveles. 

They needed to control themselves in order to hold back the impulse of their hearts to beat together, but it was necessary to rush along that road, from which all their lives depended. They could only breathe once they understood that they had enough of a head start to be able to escape to another continent, to the promise of a new life, forgetting everything, blinded by the light, with a supreme ingratitude toward the past and wrapped up in the wave of that passion duplicated by a triumph over all conventionalism and by the sharpened dagger of the aroma of the carnations.  

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Exuberant kitsch

 Nothing in the criticism I read about Burgos prepared me for her style:  

Esto distingue á las gentes honradas de las que no lo son. La mujer

casada ya no tiene que agradar á nadie, y desde

el día siguiente de la boda la cabellera, lisa y tirante,

se oculta bajo el pañuelo moruno, en vez de

lucir trenzas, flores y rizos, como hacía Dolores.

¡Cualquiera se atrevía á decirle algo! ¡Había

echado unos humos! Como que su Víctor la mimaba

igual que á una niña y no le importaba cuanto

murmurasen. Sus manos, cuidadas y finas, eran

blancas, como harina de flor. En su casa no se acababa

en todo el año el pan de trigo y las cuerdas

de longaniza y de jamones. No tenían que decir de

dónde les venía el dinero; Víctor no trabajaba ni

había salido á Orán, á pesar del acotamiento. Era,

sin duda, el contrabando lo que alimentaba aquel

lujo; y el odio de las vecinas, envidiosas de Dolores,

hallaba con esto ocasión de desatarse. ¡Qué

mujeres, que tuvieran valor de exponer así á su

‘hombre al presidio ó á un balazo por llevar lujo!


 I was never impressed with bow-tie wearing Gordon Gee. He has no scholarly achievements of his own, but somehow thinks of himself as educational leader. He was our president at Ohio State for a while, when I was there, and then moved on, as he has several times. He just moves from one job to another. Now he is at West Virginia and is eliminating all language departments.