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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...

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.