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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.