31 dic. 2002

In the NYTBR a review of a new collection by X. J. Kennedy. The point is made that this sort of (metrically conservative) verse is so technically adept that its practitioners can produce only one volume a decade. I think: the troubadours improvised in complex meters. Then: it's not all that accomplished anyway. It's not like it's Niedecker. (I love those little poems written on small pages of daily calendar, in collected poems I have not yet purchased; why did the editor have to transcribe them on the bottom of the page, though? Her cursive is quite legible.)

"As my head moves solid
in its whim rest of flake

The room has turned to
a populous pastnoon, trees

Twigs that chase brain
to a network of cracks"

These lines from Coolidge (Sound as Thought) demonstrate that technical mastery is not inconsistent with prolific writing. After all, if you write more, you will be a more practiced writer. Coltrane practiced night and day. He was so obsessed by music he didn't know who Willie Mays was. Chess masters have played thousands of games. One wouldn't expect them to spend ten years playing one perfect game.


The purest poetic talent I have known personally is Claudio Rodríguez, who wrote very little due to his alcoholism. But what he wrote shows the surest mastery. He had a hit rate of about 90%, the highest I have ever seen in any poet dead or alive. Frank O'Hara's early Edwin Denby-style sonnets are quite awkward, from a metrical standpoint, kind of like X.J. Kennedy. This proves nothing.

30 dic. 2002

Should I explain my remark about cultural studies? It is somewhat of a mantra in my field right now. Conservatives resist it. I'd like to resist it without being a conservative. I never thought the close readings of critics in my field were very astute or interesting, so that is not what I want to preserve. There is an association of scholars of literature who want to preserve literary studies as such. Perloff is a member. I wouldn't feel comfortable there either. I see the need for cultural history written by literate if not literary scholars (usually formerly literary scholars). What happens when you train people to be cultural critics, who don't have a literary formation? Then you get essentially illiterate cultural history.

I shouldn't have explained it.
This blog had made Silliman's list of 11 or 12 blogs he visits at list weekly. Maybe some of his 10,000 visitors will come this way. I'm up to 500, having started counting only toward the beginning of December. Extrapolating, I've probably had almost 2,000 in four months.

My four favorite Kenneth Koch books represent four completely different modes of writing.

"Thank You and Other Poems"
"1001 Avant Garde Plays"
"The Art of Love"
"Hotel Lambosa"

There are several more modes/styles worthy of mention. Examples might be

"Ko" (mock epic)
"Wishes Lies and Dreams" (poetic pedagogy)
"When the Sun Tries to Go On" (Cornball Surrealism).
"Impressions of Africa" (travelogue)
"The Red Robins" (novel?)

These modes or genres overlap to some extent, but even so there is a tremendous variety here. The "Selected Poems" I have in my possession only includes poems from the actual books of poetry (no "Dulications" or "Ko" or "When the Sun"), and thus presents a very narrow selection of Koch's writing. Koch is not considered a major force outside New York School circles. He appears to lack gravitas. Yet as this list of works makes clear, he was definitely a heavy hitter. I am only now making my way through some of his later collections.

29 dic. 2002

--The only thing worse than "cultural studies" is the so-called "literary studies" it is intended to replace.

--No, the only thing worse than "literary studies" is "cultural studies."

Academic, loathe thyself.
Jordan Davis is back blogging with a vengeance. I'd like to play around with his concept of the "mystery genius"--if I were sure of what it meant. The only thing worse that the concept of the genius, he seems to suggest, is the "soul-killing" activity of de-bunking genius. I agree--if this is what he means. Click the link on "equanimity" to the left and enjoy.
"The great poets are the left ones / never the right ones." C.C.

I have always had a visceral sense of repulsion toward right-wing politics. Yet I have also despised the sentimental and idiot left. I never would trust a regime that would throw someone like me into a re-education camp. Intellectuals can sentimentalize (or apologize for) governments that would kill them (people like them) without hesitation. Foucault on the Iranian revolution. French Maoists. Chomsky on Pol Pot. Goytisolo's account of a trip to Cuba. (Being gay helps you see through that regime more quickly, of course.) Account by Semprún, old-school Spanish communist, of mid-night basketball game: every time Fidel drives toward the basket, the defenders on the other team simply step out of the way so he can score.

28 dic. 2002

I cannot read “Seeking Air” as a novel. I can only see it as a supplement to Guest’s poetic work. A scene in which 19th century hoof prints are found in a front yard in Long Island: I think of a poem built around this same image in “Fair Realism.”


Miles was part of at least five movements in jazz. Bebop (marginally). Cool jazz (centrally). Hard bop (masterfully). That whole pre-fusion, early sixties thing: the quintets with Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, Tony Williams, Herbie Hancock. Fusion itself! The Gil Evans collaborations form a separate category. He stood apart from “free jazz,” for the most part, and of course hated the neo-conservative revival of the 1980s.

Yet the early 60s work was avant-garde in its own way. Tony Williams had listened to Billy Higgins and developed an avant style as compelling as that of Elvin, if such a thing is possible.

That Philly Joe rim-click on beat four, creating a sense of space. Miles told Jimmy Cobb to play that too. An interview with Tony Williams in which he says that, once as a kid, he heard someone play the drums so stiffly, with so little feeling, that he started to cry. I always use that story to explain to people why I feel upset about someone writing ineptly about poetry. You can’t disrespect the Bing.

Every significant piano player and jazz guitarist of a certain period passed through Miles’ groups. Almost every white jazz player of significance also. Jarrett, Holland, Scofield...

To think about music is a way of not thinking about poetry 24 hours a day. Yet it is really another way of thinking about poetry.
Fear of "too much poetry" is really fear that you are reading the wrong poetry, that there is something better out there that is escaping notice. This is always, by definition, true: there are doubtless excellent things that I am not reading for sheer ignorance. The idea of Borges' infinite library: there are so many books that any meaningful ones are virtually impossible to find. But most of what you will miss will be not worthwhile either. If you are plugged into a few networks you can find most things by word of mouth. Of course, a reader depending on New York Times Book Review would be totally out of it.
Luckily I've brought "Solution Passage" back with me for the holidays. It's interesting that these poems were written in a period of time (1978-1981) when I was an undergraduate and not aware of the existence of Clark Coolidge. I remember knowing creative writing graduate students at the time who wrote hokey poems about baseball or vegetables. I was told, by prominent feminist critic and poet whose name still appears in Poetry, that WCW was bad influence. Academic year 1979-80 I was in Spain. I think subscribing the the American Poetry Review in those days was a mistake. It was depressing and bewildering: so many poets, writing in so few styles. I hated the emphasis on what the poets looked like.

"I AM a poet." Why did WCW have to insist so much, at a relatively late point of his career, that he was indeed a poet? He didn't really start writing his best work until he was almost 40. Recognition was slow to come.

The poem in which he defined his variable foot "the descent beckons / as the ascent beckoned" (or is it the other way around?) is curiously abstract and Latinate in vocabulary. There are no things. His earlier poetry is more prosodically interesting.

I think of myself as devoted to only a handful of writers. Yet when I make up the complete list, over half a life-time, it adds up to quite a few. About 100 I have read deeply and assiduously. Another few hundred I have read deeply for a less prolonged period of time. Many times more I am professionally responsible for or have read more casually. I am not completely up to date in my reading of the younger American poets--and I probably never will be since more are always emerging. I do like Lisa Jarnot and Susan Schultz. I have books by Jordan Davis, Stroffolino, and a few others, along with Ed Foster's anthology.

27 dic. 2002

Poetry written in English--as professor of Spanish I am not professionally responsible for it, therefore I can enjoy it. If I had to write a book about the second generation New York school poets I would lose this purity of intentions. The sense of wasting time: reading without a professional vested interest.

We call what we do (in academia) "the profession." I am now in the process of missing the MLA in New York City. What if I am not there, and I miss something significant? If I were to drop out of "the profession" I would fear that the field would exist without me, pass me by. Irrational fear, since presumably I wouldn't care any more. It seems to take a tremendous effort to keep one's name in circulation. I'll have to rejoin the MLA, go to the conventions, publish articles in journals that interest me very little. The fact that my wife is now the editor of the scholarly journal I most respect--therefore I cannot publish there anymore--makes me less interested in publishing articles at all. I have a huge backlog from last summer and even before.


Caeli, Lesbia nostra, Lesbia illa,
illa Lesbia, quam Catullus unam
plus quam se et suos amavit omnes,
nunc in quadraviis et angiportis
glubit magnamani Remi nepotes.

This irony, based on simple contrast and incongruity, is still quite legible to the contemporary reader. I love the shift in meaning and function from the first demonstrative adjective "Lesbia illa" to the second "illa Lesbia." We still use the demonstrative adjective placed after the noun in Spanish in that derogatory sense (el hombre ese). I still remember this poem even though I have forgotten most of my Latin. I may have gotten one or two words wrong. What sort of sexual act is "glubit"? I cannot be sure, but I have a pretty good idea.
I was forty before I actually discovered "Birth of the Cool." What a wasted life. White jazz of the 1950s inspired by Lester Young and Miles Davis, who are in turn inspired by earlier white players. Jimmy Dorsey, even Bix Beiderbecke and Sinatra. Classical vibrato-less tone in middle register. Then we have Stanley Crouch to say that Miles is not black enough. Why did he have to record with Gil Evans, Bill Evans? Lee Konitz? For Crouch, "Sketches of Spain" and "Porgy and Bess" are mere elevator music. Of course, Crouch rejects the later Coltrane as well. All in order to exalt Wynton as the salvation of jazz. Wynton, bourgeois and radical in a strange combination of Crow Jim. Ron Carter, in an interview, is asked to compare Miles to Wynton. He replies, basically, that there is no comparison. They aren't even in the same league.

Miles' sense that words, explanation, diminish the purity of the music. His ballad playing is so pure you don't wan't to think of the tin pan alley lyrics that go with the song.

Ambivalence toward Brubeck. He doesn't swing, according to high-modernist jazz critics. Miles himself expressed that opinion. But there is something very close in Brubeck to Miles of the 50s. He backtracked by saying: "You swing, but your band doesn't." Actually Joe Morello, virtuoso drummer, had to keep the tempo. Brubeck himself was reputed to have bad time. Better than I will ever have.

26 dic. 2002

Marcel Duchamp was obsessed with chess, almost beating the French national champion. Miles Davis was obsessed with boxing.


Someone should write a biography of Tony Williams.
Is Billy Collins bad on purpose, a possibility that Ron Silliman entertains in his blog today? In the sense of a deliberate and successful "dumbing down" of poetry, indeed yes. The new version of middle-brow? Terry Gross gushing over him on Fresh Air. Usually you have to have some level of education to get the jokes. Reminds me of how Louis Menand describes the readers of the New Yorker: they don't need to be told who Freud is, but they don't can't be expected to know anything terribly specific about him. I've proposed to talk in Chicago next August about parallels between USA "official verse culture" and the Spanish neo-realist style.


Christmas presents. "So What, A Life of Miles Davis." "How to Beat Your Dad At Chess." "The Adventures of Tintin," (mohawked, 12-year-old neo-colonialist French newspaper reporter and amateur detective), Cachaíto.


Gary Sullivan now has a blog. Nada too.

24 dic. 2002

A new book on Miles Davis, by Yale prof. John Szwed. It's a book on Miles for intelligent, literate readers who've already read all the other books on Miles. It quotes Sorrentino, Kerouac, Cortázar etc... Manages to include more useful information and less attitudinizing. Miles studying with Larry Rivers at Julliard. Telling Philly Joe Jones to play a less rigid ride-cymbal pattern--anticipating Tony Williams? I haven't got that far yet. I'm getting definite ideas of what I like in biographies: someone who asks the questions I would ask.


The TJBF (Tijuana Bloguita Front) is about 100 strong. I learned of it just now from the irrepressible Heriberto Yepez. I've got to explore some of these other Mexican bloggers... Cristina Rivera, a novelist teaching in San Diego.


Who are those people reading my blog? Identify yourselves! 19 hits on Christmas Eve.

23 dic. 2002

The necessity to seek alterity conflicts with the tendency, ever more pronounced as one ages, to be more one’s own self. The range of materials to which one is open diminishes in scope. One’s reactions become more predictable. Take the case of the late José Angel Valente, who proclaimed aesthetic openness as a matter of principle but, like everyone else, became more and more rigid. Can openness be a founding tenet of any doctrine? Or can one only commit to something in particular? Stanley Fish argues that any liberal claim to openness, tolerance, is entirely hollow. Perhaps so. Then why do I expose myself to hip-hop beats or drum ‘n’ bass?

I am often accused of dogmatism, because I won’t make purely rhetorical gestures in the direction of “tolerance.” In this case I would like to use the Fishian argument, although I distrust it. I’d like to say, “you too are committed to your own point of view, but make empty claims of respecting others.” On the other hand, I believe that there is such a thing as a commitment to a “negative capability,” and believe, in fact, that I have developed this capability more than most. This would make me more, rather than less tolerant, in the true sense. How convenient for me! I can hold fast to my dogmatism while still believing myself to be superior in my tolerance. I’m not that different in this respect from Valente, whom I also admire BOTH for his intransigeance and for his explorations of alterity.

“The reader” is used as an alibi to promote a certain kind of “easy” poetry. In Spanish the set phrase is “buscar la complicidad del lector.” But the reader in such a sentence is never anyone like me.
You read to find out what other people think, to experience alterity. Why would your concern be with translating everything back into your own system of thought, domesticating all foreign discourse? Why insist on originality/novelty of your own reading? A truly original reading would be one that actually tried to understand something truly different from your self and its preconceived notions. I remember back in the 1970s people started to say that the literary theorists, not the writers, were becoming the real stars. I disagree!


The notion of "mistranslation" recurs continually in David Shapiro's last few books, "After a Lost Original." His translation Juan Ramón Jiménez's "Vino, primero, pura" in "Burning Interior" is acceptable, but nothing exceptional. Jiménez is spelled "Jiminez"! The poem is somewhat trite to me, since I've taught it on more than one occasion.
Death of poet José Hierro, in Madrid. A poet of the 1940s whose work came into view again in the 60s, and reappeared in its final incarnation in the 1990s. He won every conceivable prize--at a moment in which his work was no longer really meaningful. It was as though the Spanish literary establishment could only recognize one poet at a time. Of course, the article in El País this morning is signed by my sworn enemy, Luis García Montero. The "realist" school loves to proclaim its allegiance to Hierro. A good poet? Certainly. Great? Almost certainly not.

22 dic. 2002

To amuse some future version of my self? A strange twist on the idea of posterity. I get amnesia, and discover my own writings, try to connect with him, this person I once was. I am free to admire myself, in this particular fantasy.

Like when I was a child and stared at the ceiling in my father's study in order to memorize a particular moment for future reference. I still remember doing this so it must have worked. All those books on the ancient Sumerians! I still remember a title "History Begins in Sumer." I read a book of my father's on ideas of education in Ancient Greece: Paedeia? Translated from the German, I believe. I don't know what I could have understood, yet I was fascinated by the process of intellectual analysis that went into this book. It was like a window onto a world of intellectual discourse of which I wanted to become a part.
A record of everything I've thought over the space of several years will certainly be valuable for me in the future, as I've noted in this space before. I am interested in how fast (or slow) my thinking changes over time. How similar will my preoccupations be five years from now? I remember a time ten years ago when I was obsessed by the idea of traces of things, indexical signs, etc... This is not my obsession at the moment.

I haven't printed any of this blog. Will do so for my annual review at the end of 2002, though I am not exactly paid to do this. I am more satisifed with what I have written than I ever thought I would be. It's even giving me energy to send my book on recent Spanish poetry to the publisher.

What of the day no poems are written?

If one forgets one has written something, and comes on it years later, and is pleasantly surprised by how wonderful it is... A sort of non-egotistical self-admiration is the result. That is, the pretension that one is not judging the work good in terms of its relation one’s self, but “objectively,” as though it were by someone else and one just “happened” to admire it. As though the intervening act of forgetting made the work somehow not one’s own, so the ego might get a free pass.


Are adjectives used as adverbs unacceptable in English? The new fallen snow, the fresh baked bread. Must we say, the newly fallen snow, the freshly baked bread? I think not. Go slow sounds as good as go slowly. Think different or think differently? Neither sound particularly elegant. The suffix does not improve the phrase. Speak soft or speak softly? Do not go gentle or do not go gently? Dylan Thomas preferred the first, and I happen to agree. One the other hand, you cannot say “She slapped him rude across the face.” Or if you did you would be making a point of it.


Review of a book of poems by Adam Kirsch in the NYTBR today. The book sounds awful, from the little that was quoted, and the reviewer, Ken Tucker, whom I only know from his entertainment reviews on NPR’s Fresh Air, indicates as much. Why was such a book reviewed at all? Kirsch has become quite a prominent reviewer of poetry in The New Republic and similar venues. Recently on record advocating a return to Palgrove’s Golden Treasury.
I never tire of Art Tatum's Capitol solo recordings. One of the first albums I ever purchased; it retains its freshness for me. And retains a unique place in my memory.

21 dic. 2002

A big, irrelevant controversy over on the poetics list about the validity of blogs. Do they bring back the author in a reactionary way? Who cares? Isn't the pseudo-democratic rise of the reader the real problem anyway? Banal, narcissistic blogs wil be written by banal narcissists. If it doesn't interest you don't read it. I'll stick with my 30 readers.


Other verbs:

"I o'hara-ed my friend" (immortalized in a poem)

20 dic. 2002

I learned a new verb today: to "rilk" is to respond to something in an exaggeratedly sensitive way (Koch, Hotel Lambosa). It works in Spanish too: ¡Déjate ya de rilkear! Stop rilking around already. What would other poets names mean, as verbs? "That poet from the 1950s is certainly worth sillimanning" (rescuing from literary oblivion in great, painstaking detail?). "He schuylered my house." What would that mean? I'm not sure. It's worth thinking about.
Looking over a poetry journal published in Bogotá, it occured to me how trite most poetry is, whether it is in the socio-realist tradition or the "te beso y siento sobre mi cuerpo mil alas de mariposa" tradition. Intelligent people who "don't like poetry" have perfect justification. Yet we constantly hear that if we made poetry MORE trite, more banal, more people would read it! This is probably true, sadly enough.


Hejinian's "Border Comedy," yet another book I failed to purchase yesterday at Border's. It looks as if Jordan Davis is going to be neglecting his duty to amuse me over the next week.

Usually there is nothing I want at Border's. Yesterday, I had a choice of the collected poetry of Lorine Niedecker, Alice Notley, "Disobedience." Juliana Spahr, "Fuck you Aloha I Love You," Haryette Mullen, "Sleeping With the Dictionary," David Shapiro, "A Burning Interior." Of course I wanted all of these books, but I didn't happen to have $100, so I settled for the Shapiro, on the justification that it was a nice looking book for my collection of New York School Poetry. I'll have to go back gradually for the rest, pace myself.

Short Story: The Corrector of Misconceptions

I was reading Kenneth Koch’s book of short stories, “Hotel Lambosa,” while listening to Art Tatum and suddenly got an idea for a short story of my own about a guy lecturing someone else, another guy about the same age, about Oscar Peterson and Nat King Cole. The guy is saying, No, Oscar Peterson’s style is mainly derived from Nat King Cole, a jazz piano virtuoso before (and after) he began his singing career. Sure, Oscar admired Tatum as well, but the real influence is Nat Cole. Then he says, No, the Divine Comedy is not a religious poem, it is a political poem.

19 dic. 2002

Good and bad poetry. There is so much resistance to thinking along those lines! There is no fixed criterion of excellence, we are told. We shouldn’t call bad poetry bad; it might serve some other valuable function, etc... Yet I feel no hesitation about being the scourge of bad poetry. It seems almost an ethical duty. Why can’t I just leave it alone? Why does it make me suffer so? If I knew that I would understand myself much better than I do. In part it is the feeling that appreciation of dreck comes at the cost of appreciation of what I most value. I see this sentiment in Sorrentino’s masterful attack on John Gardner, so I guess I am in good company. I did learn in the New York Times last Sunday, however, that the unexamined life is worth living after all. Tell it to Dick Detective.

Jordan Davis the other day cited my infamous poem on the “Permission Granters,” a category of poets who inspire me precisely because they are not intimidating “great” poets, the type who make you want to give it all up. I had Ron Padgett in mind. I feel, in my heart, that I am roughly as talented as Ron Padgett. That is not an insult to Ron, whose work I hold in the greatest esteem. I just don’t feel intimidated by him. His work gives me permission (persimmon?) to be a poet. That is, in fact, its specific genius. Can anyone be a poet then? Well, that’s the other side of the good/bad argument. “Permission granted, but not to do anything you want,” as John Cage put it. It’s not a license to promote bad poetry. Think of the poem "Poetic License." "This license certifies / that Ron Padgett may tell whatever lies / His heart desires / Until it expires."
The proper nouns in the poem “Poem of the Proper Nouns” function as differential filters. Almost noone could know all of them. Some readers will recognize the majority of them. Vast numbers of people will be almost completely in the dark. If I didn’t know who any of these people were, I would find the poem utterly inert. As it is, I associate each name with a discrete emotion. I also appreciate certain poetic devices in the names: alliteration (Dick Detective/Clark Coolidge); pseudonyms (Mark Twain); reversibility (I used to think Elmore Leonard was Leonard Elmore); ambiguity (Ben Heller could be one of two people, in my mind); gender ambiguity (drummer Shelly Manne is male, not female); alternation between fiction and reality, different linguistic worlds, etc...

We might try to get inside of the mind of the person who put this list together. What was I thinking? I was trying to get at the poetics of the proper name: how does the proper name function in poetry? I wrote this text in order to try to find out something about this. In Ashbery’s and Brainard’s “The Vermont Notebook” there is list of poets that inspired me, in part. I make no claims for the poetic value of the list. Could such a thing have any aesthetic value at all? I was guided by certain principles, however. There had to be an air of mystery. I wasn’t going to include William Shakespeare, Harold Bloom, or John Coltrane.

My interest in this topic dates back to my intensive readings of Frank O’Hara many years ago. To use your friends’ names in poems seemed a wonderful thing to me. But it also depended on your friends’ being identifiable figures, poets and painters, which my friends in High School obviously were not. So my poem includes some “anonymous” friends along with New York School poets and painters, and miscellaneous names that occured to me along the way. Bill Berkson is famous, in part, because he appears in so many F O’H poems.

I know I shouldn’t have to explain it! In some way, however, the explanation IS the point, since I wrote it in order to reflect on a specific poetic problem. That is how literature should be taught. Dick Detective, by the way, is a name that appears in several of Gilbert Sorrentino’s novels.

18 dic. 2002

Poem of the Proper Nouns

... Joseph Cornell. Dick Detective. Clark Coolidge. Ron Silliman. Eleanor Sterling. Jonathan Mayhew. Heriberto Yepez. Barbara Guest. Kenneth Koch. Jordan Davis. Art Blakey. Ramón Gómez de la Serna. Gertrude Stein. Edward Gorey. Julia Tsuchiya-Mayhew. Isla Correyero. Ornette Coleman. Paul Chambers. John Woodfill. Don Francisco de Quevedo. Frank O’Hara. Jacques Ancet. Pere Gimferrer. Thelonious Monk. José Angel Valente. Tony Towle. Ben Heller. Tony Williams. Raymond Roussel. Pierre Janet. Jim Rome. Marjorie Perloff. José Lezama Lima. Kenneth Irby. Jack Spicer. Bob Basil. Sarah Vaughn. W. Somerset Maugham. Leopoldo María Panero. Eugenio Trías. Eduardo Subirats. Judy Roitman. Roy Haynes. Dewey Redman. Ben Riley. Monica Frame. George Gordon. Laura (Riding) Jackson. H.D. Edith Sitwell. Julian “Cannonball” Adderly. Larry Rivers. Joe Brainard. Eileen Myles. Chris Stroffolino. Elmore Leonard. Bernadette Mayer. William Carlos Williams. Thomas Hardy. Willa Cather. Shelly Manne. Carter Beauford. Denardo Coleman. Sam Beckett. Antoni Tàpies. Edward Dahlberg. Don Knotts. Harry Houdini. Antonio Saura. Camarón de la Isla. Mark Twain. Elvin Jones. John Ashbery. Isabel Archer. Edward Kennedy Ellington. Charles Mingus. Edmond Jabès. Jonathan Williams. Ezra Pound. Ovidius Naso. Lisa Jarnot. Art Tatum. Robin Blaser. David Schubert. Henry Green. Willem de Kooning. Bill Berkson. Robert Creeley. Buddy Rich. Walt Whitman. Jorge Luis Borges. Américo Castro. Jaco Pastorius. Jack DeJohnette. Cindy Blackman. Ansel Adams. Maruja Mallo. Elizabeth Taylor. Clyde Stubblefield. Santiago Calatrava. David del Puerto. Antonio Gamoneda. Ildefonso Rodríguez. Marcel Proust. Amy Lowell. John Whitcomb Riley. Roland Barthes. Jimmy Cobb...
I was reading some essays by David Mamet, when I suddenly started thinking in Mamatese. You know, when you STRESS one or two words of every SENTENCE.


I later learned that Lowell used to regularly beat up the woman for whom he wrote the poem beginning "Remember our lists of birds?" Yet I cannot link my revulsion to this fact, since I knew nothing of Lowell's personal life when I was first exposed to the poem.


Forms of poetic diction: 70s elemental: stone, earth, fire, woman, death. The "shimmering," overwrought style: lots of words like shimmering, opalescent, crystal, luminous. (Like Sandra MacPherson's poetry.) Ashberyese: a huge range of vocabulary and tone. William Stafford: plain speech faked, complete lack of any positive qualities. I was always afraid of writing too "well" and cultivated a deliberately flat style. Was this through fear that I would not be able to compete on the basis of talent? If I held back, I would have to find a more arduous way of writing well. Anyone can use a lot of words that sound "poetic" and lots of concrete images. I have often dreamed of the poem entitled "Conventionally Good Poem."


Coming soon: "The Poem of the Proper Nouns"

Other works I read when I was fairly young: Berryman's Dream Songs. Wallace Stevens. My father once read me some poems from Robert Lowell's "For the Union Dead," including the title poem and one that began "Remember our lists of birds?" I felt instant revulsion.

We learn from The New York Times Book Review about a "primitive" Siberian language that lacks the capacity for abstraction. I guess the reviewer missed linguistics 101. Alll languages are abstract. "Tree" is abstract and so is "birch," to a lesser extent. The poetics of the proper name, the name of the individual not the species. To understand a poem with a lot of proper names you must know or know of the actual people involved.


When the New York school of poetry got started, there was no previous concept of being a New York school poet. For Ron Padgett, David Shapiro, Joseph Ceravolo, Ted Berrigan, Tony Towle, Frank Lima, there was such a concept or model. For Anselm Berrigan...


I remember when my father checked me out copies of Willliam Carlos Williams' complete works (Collected Earlier Poems, Later Poems, Picture from Breughel) from the University Library. I was probably 13 or 14. Before that I had mainly read in anthologies. The process of finding which poems were of value on my own was so much more rewarding than being given a preselection. Of course, there is disappointment. Most of the poems did not seem very good to me at the time. Finding new poems that were not in the anthologies, however, more than compensated for this. Our pedagogy of literature is based on the anthology. This deprives the student of the independence needed to truly be an active reader. I still know poems of Williams that few people seem to have read. "The Jungle" for example. I've done the same thing with Frank O'Hara's Collected Poems. There are many, many extremely interesting poems that are virtually unknown, lurking within those pages.

17 dic. 2002

A wonderful diatribe today by Heriberto Yepez against the overvaluation of the role of the reader, in literary theory beginning in the 60s and 70s. The great thing about this diatribe is its exaggeration, its overkill. A mere reader is nothing more than a consumer of texts, with no creative element at all. He is only interested in readers who are also writers. I would tend to agree - with allowances made for the exaggeration of course. What I always resented was that all readers were presumed equal. So that the effort I made to be a better reader over many years counted for naught. Someone else picking up the text and reading casually or with diminished skill had an opinion that was, in theory, equal to my own. Then why bother teaching literature at all?
I am seized by anxiety as classes end and I turn in grades. What books should I bring back to St. Louis for the holidays? Will my graduate class next semester be success? Am I spending too much time with this bloggistry?


A bilingual edition (French/Spanish) of a book by Jacques Ancet, a French Hispanist and poet. "on cherche quelqu'un." I don't know what his reputation as a poet is in France. I know him as translator of Gamoneda and scholar of Valente. (Gamoneda's daughter [a professor of French] is the translator here). Translations between French and Spanish aren't very interesting, usually, because the languages are too close: the possibilities and dangers are limited. Ancet's Gamoneda translation is excellent, but perfectly predictable. I've always felt that translation should be a rigorous search for the absolute best solution to a particular problem. One should be able to demonstrate the superiority of one's solution.


I didn't have many readings in Spanish in my translation course. The "target language" in Second Language Acquisition is the language one is learning. The "target language" in translation is the language into which one is translating. This put me in the awkward position of making English the "target language" in a course in the Spanish department. I will have to write essays in Spanish myself in order to teach the class again. It is not that I disrespect other translators and what they have had to say (well, sometimes!), but that I am not interested in the conventional wisdom: that's what I've been trying to escape my whole life. I believe the conventional wisdom on translation is mistaken. When I try to articulate this difference, I often have a hard time making myself understood.


You would think that I would be perfectly adapted to academic life, since I have never really left the University, but I have often found myself at odds with the dominant culture of the university and my department. It is hard to define this difference. I guess it is because I have a hard time pretending to be comfortable with the low standards of intellectual discourse that ultimately prevail, despite everyone's best intentions, in a large, mediocre public institution. The sort of person here who is most successful is the one who not only is comfortable with mediocrity, but openly embraces it. I have published very little (by my own standard) in the past few years. I have a hard time bringing my articles out into the open. Fear of not fulfilling my own high standards? Depression and anxiety?

16 dic. 2002

In the mail today, "Hotel Lambosa," which I had never read, incredibly enough. I remember leafing through it in a bookstore when it first came out and deciding not to purchase it. Had I turned my back on Kenneth Koch? Looking at the copyright page I notice the editorial assistance of Jordan Davis.


I discovered today that Eleanor Sterling, an old friend from my home town, is a specialist on a small Madagascarean beast called an aye-aye, works at the National Museum of National History in New York, and is married to a poet, though exactly which poet remains a mystery.
I've read Andrew Epstein's article on O'Hara's "Translation Game" in Raritan. Apparently O'Hara lifted those phrases directly from a bilingual dictionary. Everything in the poem is an idiomatic expression. "J'échorche l'anguille par le queue" doen't mean "I peel the eel by its tail," but "I begin at the wrong end." Dedicated to Ashbery, the poem expresses a playful sense of "sibling rivalry."
"Las fechas de lo que compraron.

Van a estar listos para tenerlo. Pensamos que sí. Parece un hombre joven envejecido. Esa es una oración de que podrían servir.

Me sobrecogió el remoridimiento. Yo tenía la culpa de que mi esposa no tenía vaca. Esta es una oración de que no se podrían servir.

Una repetición de la lindeza la hace repetida. Mientras miran.

Una repetición de la dulzura no la hace repetitiva sino atractiva y cocinadora de sopa y soñadora con coincidencias. Una oración no se salvará."

This translation is from from the beginning of Stein's "Sentences and Paragraphs." So much depends on the grammatical structure, that the translation only works in proportion to the grammatical similarities between the original and the "target language." La lengua de llegada.

I take back what I wrote about chance-generated works. They are fascinating precisely because of admixture of randomness and intentionality. Double-blind clinical trials.


We translate according to a "domestic" agenda, in other words, for our own needs. That is why we don't habitually translate contemporary poetry into Ancient Greek or Sanskrit. So when I'm translating into Spanish, I am thinking primarily of an audience in Spain. Do they need to know Barbara Guest. I think they do!


The aphorism has always been a favorite form of mine. Blake and Gertrude Stein: "I write for myself and strangers." "What's the use of being a little boy if you're going to grow up to be a man?" "Stop, I did not drag my father past this tree!" I founded an avant-garde movement when I was in High School called "schmoe" and wrote "The proverbs of Schmoe," now lost. I came up with the name by sticking my finger randomly into a dictionary of slang. I was the only member of this movement, needless to say, though a few of my friends were amused bystanders. Virtually everyone I knew in High School now has a Ph.D. in some scientific field. Why did Jim change his name to Ned? Did he ever return from Nepal?

An email this morning from my Argentine correspondent Laura Scarano. We take opposite sides in the debate over "realism" in Spanish poetry of the 1980s and 90s. She defends it, I attack it. As scholars we are somewhat above the fray, she much more than I, I'm afraid. I tend to react emotionally, get myself worked up into a fervor. I love controversy.


I was never too interested in chance generated works. Randomness is a human invention. There is no perfect pair of dice or computer in nature to generate truly random numbers. Thus there is no getting around the intentionality of the poet. I like the Cage of "How to improve the world (you'll only make things worse)" more than the Cage of the mesostics.


Who is Arthur Sze? I read a poem by him in Conjunctions that knocked the breath out of me.

15 dic. 2002

A nice mention in Heriberto's blog the other day:

"Hoy amanecí pensando en la traducción y desde la madrugada me puse a escribir algunas cosas al respecto en mi blog en inglés: The Tijuana Bible of Poetics. Curiosamente en mi blog favorito (Jonathan Mayhew) apareció casi simultáneamente esto:

"Pequeños trozos de lenguas extranjeras resultan comprensibles para el lector educado. Pero, ¿qué tal un poema que consistiera únicamente de esos trozos? Para estar escrito en 'Inglés' dicho poema tendría que excluir cualquier palabra en inglés. El resurgimiento del género macarrónico".

Y pone como ejemplo este poemínimo:

"Aurea mediocritas?
"Qué coño. "

A big fuss over Baraka's anti-semitism. Of course, if New Jersey had bothered to READ, it would have found that Baraka was spouting hatred against the Jews back in the 60s and 70s. It shows what happens when politicians without any real interest in poetry attempt to appoint a "poet laureate." What the >>>> did they expect, odes to Christie Todd Whitman?

Of course, Baraka claims to be a former, not current anti-Semite. Kind of like Trent Lott: a "former" racist nostalgic for the formerly racist policies of a former racist. Baraka defended his statement about the 4,000 Israelis by saying "it must be true, I read it on the internet." Once he turns 100 can we turn nostalgic for his attacks on the Jews? I'm sure his marriage to a Jewish woman could have some role in this discussion.
Silliman writes today: "Jonathan Mayhew the other day in his blog characterized H.D.’s Hellenism as “kitsch” – yet its function during her lifetime was diametrically opposed to that very idea." How true! How do we deal with her astrology and mythopoesis? Albert Gelpi, with whom I studied H.D my first semester of grad school, was heavily into all the theosophy, astrology, numerology, etc... in Pound, H.D. He took it seriously in a way I could not fathom. I wasn't about to reject Mormonism in order to go in for astrology.

"about the historical Arthur
about the passing of Arthur

the wild sea (his lair) War
the throwing away of Excalibur

Through secret parables through
books of dark necessity

along a line of legend winters old..."

These lines from Susan Howe would not have been written without H.D.

14 dic. 2002

A section from a work I wrote in Spanish, entitled "Cuaderno de infamias"

La insufrible cursilería de la poesía,
desde los tristes ayuntamientos de León
a la burguesía culta de Andalucía,
los manicomios de Guipúzcoa
y las confiterías catalanas.

La imagen que formo es la de un líquido viscoso,
color café, amargo cuando no dulzón, más preciado
cuánto más despreciable parece.
Los degustadores de esta sustancia se odian mutuamente
y a sí mismos, y con mucha razón,
poquísimos pero ubicuos, apelmazados, fantasmagóricos.

La decantación, la depuración, la vuelve peor que nunca.
Lo que duele aquí no es la mezcolanza, lo extráneo,
sino su entrañable esencia cursilona; no se salva...
Nadie piense en ejercicios de lavandaría, inútil purgación....

This is better than the prose poem above. When I write in Spanish my style, though perhaps inept by any measure, is actually MINE. No poet in Spanish would write like that (fortunately I'm sure). I particularly like the line "poquísimos pero ubicuos, apelmazados, fantasmagóricos." For my readers who don't know Spanish, "very few but ubiquitous, lumped together, phantasmagorical."
Prose Poem

Like an earnestly posed question that receives a "technical" rather than a "cosmic" answer. Dissatisfaction sets in, and stays awhile, until much later when you actually come to prefer this kind of technical solution, and even begin to wonder what other kind of answer you could have expected. Yet this newly found complacency gives rise to a nagging sense of loss, as though the inability to imagine a more satisfying alternative were itself an index of irreversible psychic damage.

I remember when I first learned the word "sojourn," in a book by Carson McCullers. It is not a word I have much occasion to use, though I have always liked it quite a bit.


The most obvious defect of this so called "prose poem" is that it is entirely derivative of John Ashbery's Three Poems. What I like about it is that it shows I know how to express myself in this "Ashberyian" language with some proficiency. If I were a less able mimic I might be a more original writer.

A translation of a poem of Barbara Guest, "Gravel," from "Moscow Mansions." Not perfect by any means, but the poem shines through:

La grava

“La grava suena como nieve cuando un coche
la atraviesa crujiendo como nieve,
mas contiene un palo para saltar
si hubiera saltos aquí en invierno.”

La grava
es severa, no obstante. Una asperidad. Un erizo,
ni siquiera una tos como jaspe veteado
ni harina de maíz descuidada ni la superficie
adorable del pórfido ni una frente de marfil
con rizos de encaje; algo así como portuguesa.

De ninguna manera un suelo de guijarros
ni el oscuro sabor del musgo.

La grava es una costumbre que vuelve a repetirse;
y me desagradan mis propias actitudes
como los nativos en invierno o principios de de
verano antes de que la luz anaranjada
empiece a ensombrecerme con los demás;
entonces nuestros brazos no se debatirán
tan completamente como la grava.
Cuando nos caigamos no se no doblerá la rodilla;
rodearemos en la hierba sobre la humedad de las cadencias;
unos caminos serenos a la luz de la luna
pasarán por soto y umbral con una pequeña risotada
hacia lo que antes hacía daño.

Ecribía él
que aguardaba aquel color anaranjado
más fuerte que el egoísmo gris de la lluvia;
los paraguas de la casa del párroco
mandan emisarios de los propietarios
de la grava.
Cesta del “Art Brut.”
¿Que es “Art Brut” sino grava?

“La grava me revienta
el cristal del oído,” agregó. Un hombre tira grava
contra la ventana de su amada. Baja ella para saludarlo
debajo de la ventana con su herida de grava.
Ella tambíén será el blanco de su puntería.

En la grava
no hay consuelo.
Andrew Epstein tells me he has an article in Raritan about O'Hara's French poem "Choses Passagères," back in 2000. I'm going to look it up as soon as I get back to the library. Michael Brownstein, in "Strange Days Ahead," has a French poem, "Les lésions en éspace." The French appears deliberately garbled at first glance, but I haven't studied the text in detail. Other things to look up: Ashbery's French poems in Tel Quel in the 1960s. Perloff's article 'Traduit de l'américain."

13 dic. 2002

The main problem with translations of poetry is a sort of metrical incoherence and half-heartedness. That is to say, the translation is not thought through as a metrical structure. Weak blank verse. Off-rhyme (used half-heartedly, as in Pinsky's Dante). Prose lineated as free verse. This is not a problem with Pound, or, looking on the other side of the aisle, with Richard Wilbur. Is verse merely a marker of genre? In that case, a minimalist approach would be justified. Can a translator assert own metrical approach? I don't see any other choice.


Interesting comment by Silliman today on ability to "hear" poetry (with analogy to music). British readers cannnot hear American poetry, though they can be taught. On the other hand, I have no problem hearing what the British and Irish poets are doing, though the results are not always rewarding. Does American cultural nationalism still feel defensive toward poetry of British Isles? It must, or there would be no such thing as American cultural nationalism. That is why I am a Hispanist. I'm still looking for a blog written in Occitan.

12 dic. 2002

Project: an anthology of poetry written originally in French by American poets of New York school. Could I find enough texts? "J'écorche l'anguille par le queue, peut-être un noeud d'anguille, ou il y'a anguille sans roche..." So begins a poem by Frank O'Hara, of which I understand very little. Is an anguille an "eel" as I seem to assume? "On a laissé des raisons secs." (Ron Padgett). Pessoa's English poems are very interesting, as are those of Leopoldo María Panero. Writers using their non-native language more extensively: Nabokov, Conrad, Beckett. Stuart Merrill became a French symbolist poet. Does Gimferrer count? Not quite in the sense I mean. More of a true bilingual in catalan/castellano.


I'm getting twenty-five to thirty-five hits a day on this blog. Thanks to my readers: Ron, Jordan, Kevin, Glenn, Heriberto, and anonymous passersby.

"Nobly his hands fold together in his repose. / He is proud of me, believing / I have done strong things among men and become a man / Of place among men of place in the large cities." (James Wright). It sounds like Wright is writing as if translating from another language. Thus he writes stiffly, unidiomatically, since that is what translators tended to do at the time he was writing. "Men of place" is plausibly the literal translation of some idiomatic expression in some other, unidentified language. In American English we say "big cities," not "large cities."

Translation theory would have us believe that this is a good thing, to allow one language to work its magic upon another. But here Wright sounds like a contemporary of Tennyson, but without Tennyson's prosodic skill. Venuti defends Pound's archaisms. I demur.

I'd love to read contemporary Occitan poetry, if it exists. What would be their relation to the Troubadours, to Pound? Do they still write sestinas?

I found some great sentences in Beckett's "Molloy": "Je dors peu et le peu que je dors je le dors le jour." 14 monosyllables, nine of them with the same vowel sound! "Le Supplément Littéraire du Times était excellent à cet effet, d'une solidité et non-porosité à toute épreuve." (Molloy, sleeping outside, uses newpaper to put under his blanket to keep warm and dry at night.) "La vision béatifique ne serait-elle pas une source d'ennui, à la longue?" Beckett is not necessarily better in French--I find Moran's disgust of the body and contempt for his offsprping more harrowing in English--but I find it "easier" to read because the foreignness of the text slows me down. I can still appreciate its Frenchness as a quality. The more one knows a language the less one sees it as having a distinctive quality in and of itself.

I discovered yesterday that I can read Occitan at a basic level, since it is so close to Catalan. In fact, barely distinguishable in many instances. That means I probably know Gascon as well. I must improve my Italian reading skills. Is Montale a sort of "generic" modernist poet, or is there something in his poetry that one cannot find anywhere else?

11 dic. 2002

Tolkien imagines his work to be a translation from some language or languages of middle-earth. If we took this seriously, we would then have to ask exactly what sort of translator Tolkien was. His idea of "literary" language owes everything to Alfred Lord Tennyson: Victorian faux-medievalism. Since there is no "original" text, can we imagine alternative translations? Or is the entire project defined by this particular style? Tolkien's conception of evil is also curiously simplistic. Evil is not human frailty, or even alienation from divinity, but a metaphysical force arising out of a single magical personage in the East.
Have I ever read anything with pleasure that was actually an "assigned reading"? Probably not. The obligation to read, the foundation of any literary pedagogy, made any text suspect for me. Any author that was marginal, not part of the canon, was always much more attractive. I could enjoy Henry Green because he was so much in the shadows. I could never read Pynchon because he was the canonical "postmodernist." Is this a form of snobbishness: not wanting to read what everyone else is reading? Undoubtedly!! That's what I loved about Asbhery's "Other Traditions." He wasn't going to write about Wallace Stevens or Ralph W. Emerson, but about supposedly "minor authors." This suggest an interesting game, which we might call "Roussel v. Proust." Take a canonical writer and offer an eccentric contemporary whom you prefer. I was happy to see at the poetry project website that Elmore Leonard was a financial sponsor. It made perfect sense to me.

When someone like Cary Nelson does an anthology, he keeps the basic canonical writers, and adds African-Americans and members of others underrepresented groups. There seems to be a weird logic at work here, an underlying conservatism. How do you attack this without seeming to attack the inclusion of the black poets? The problem is that the criterion for selection is incoherent. You're in the anthology because you're a canonical poet, or because of some other agenda, and its obvious which poets are in for which reason. But what is an anthology anyway except the taking of an ideological position? The only anthology of any interest would be one made according to one's purely personal judgment. Not someone's judgment about what someone ELSE ought to be reading. And why do they always choose the same damn poems of the same poets?

I read Henry Green first because John Ashbery had written an M.A. thesis about him. Could we get the microfilm from DAI? Your favorite poet's favorite authors will always be the ones you need to read.
Poetry is not a zero zum zame. The only limit is mortality: when I die there will be books on my shelf I have not yet read. If I had the money I would just have a life-time subscription to sun and moon press. I don't think I could stand the pressure of having a poetic career to manage. I'd prefer to invest ego in more trivial games. Looking over your shoulder to see the young Turks riding up behind you. It would be like in Graduate School when I walked around wondering whether I was "brilliant" or not. If you weren't brilliant, you didn't exist, weren't noticed.

The academic Marxists at Stanford were the worst group of people (from my perspective at that time) I had ever known. It was all about jockeying for position. They would literally take over a class and stifle discussion. The second detestable group with which I came into contact were the reactionary Spaniards at my first real job. The opus dei is alive and well!


I like reading Asbhery because of the thoughts that I have while I read him. A second language accompanying and shadowing the language I am reading.

10 dic. 2002

Yepez notes that Mexican intellectuals still see American poets as "Beatniks." Talk about a stereotype that's 45-five years out of date! (Of course, American poets think of Spanish poets as bull-fighting flamenco dancers or political refugees from Franco; the only Mexican poet known at all North of the border is O. Paz.) The fallacy behind the fallacy is in seeing an Allen Ginsberg as a sort of know-nothing, primitive poet. Ginsberg, in his own way, was quite erudite.

Did Kerouac read Edward Dahlberg? It's something I've got to investigate... There's gotta be a connection between those two prose styles.
I rarely read novels now. Up until about 1980, I read everything that came out by Updike, Bellow, and Roth, among other things. Latin American Boom writers in Spanish. Sorrentino and Suckenick. Henry Green, Flann O'Brien. I do read contemporary Spanish fiction, just to keep up, but most of it doesn't hold my attention. Last summer I read a lot of Elmore Leonard, my favorite American novelist! And of course I continue to read Beckett.

The last novel I have read is Suckenick's "Long Talking Bad Connection Blues," which I picked up for 3 bucks at a used book store. I read the novel by first reading all the pages ending in "1," 11, 21, 31, 41 etc... then 2, 12, 22. Why this resistance to reading something straight through? I didn't miss much, since there is not much of a plot or character development. It was like hazy world gradually coming into focus.

Usually my response to narrative fiction is, why do they need all those words? And for so little effect. Condensare!
H. Yepez, in "A Modest Proposal to Abolish Translation" (Tijuana bible of poetics!), cites my translations into Spanish, suggesting it is more desirable to translate away from one's native language than into it. I have always been uneasy about translation, have resisted and despised it, whether secretly or openly. To domesticate the foreign product has always seen obscene to me. This is not to say I haven't translated from Spanish into English also. I think I am, in fact, one of the best translators out there! (In all modesty). The problem with translating into Spanish, of course, is that it requires a greater command of the language than I, in fact, possess. By this I don't mean to criticize my own level of Spanish proficiency. I think someone like Robert Bly doesn't know English well enough to translate into English: I'm talking about a degree of stylistic sensitivity that few people have even in their native language. This is what makes it fascinating and challenging, though. I need to have a colloborator! Now that Heriberto has an English-language blog, I need one in Spanish. But no, I prefer mine to remain macaronic.
Small bits of foreign language seem comprehensible to the educated reader. How about a poem consisting only of such bits? To be written in "English," such a poem would have to exclude any words in English. Revival of macaronic genre.

Aurea mediocritas?
Qué coño.

9 dic. 2002

For those nostalgic for the great days of non-academic literary criticism of the Edmund Wilson school... Wilson's review of Camus's "The Stranger" in the late 1940s (in the New Yorker of course) starts off with a confession of ignorance. Wilson has not read Sartre, Camus, is ignorant of Existentialist philosophy--the intellectual milieu from which the novel in question has arisen. No matter. He will review the book anyway. I always judge critics from the past, unfairly I'm sure, by seeing whether they knew how to respond to their own contemporaries. Randall Jarrell was clueless about William Carlos Williams. He wasn't exactly going to welcome in Kenneth Koch and Frank O'Hara. Yet we are constantly told what great critics Jarrell and Wilson were. The so-called New York intellectuals never interested me--precisely because they seemed so out of synch with the literature happening all around them. There is still a group of people touting Lionel Trilling.

A depressing list of notable books of 2002 in the New York Times Book Review. Fiction and Poetry. Poets like McClatchy, Collins, Milosz. Novelists who have written novels this year--who also just happen to work for the New York Times!
Translation from memory. Translate a poem that you remember fairly well, but not word for word. Don't look at the actual text, or think too much about specific words Here's one from Luis Cernuda:

"I never thought I'd ever again evoke the
memory of your ancient name. But one
of that tribe, supposedly a poet (how
far our country has fallen!) and, so they say,
a critic of our 'Contemporary Spanish
Literature" has called you "my dead prince."
And I have to wonder: what the hell did you
ever do for him to make him call you his "prince"?

Academic vulgarity? A more deranged vulgarity
is evident in his lines. But I think there's something else at work.
It was not enough for them to have killed you.

Now assassination gives way to idiocy."

I'm sure I've left out some lines or altered the text in a way easily corrrected. I think the excercise is useful, all the same.

Ron Silliman asks, today, why J. Moxley is appreciated despite apparent lack of postmodern irony, by the same crowd who touts Stroffolino (as I do). Maybe the obvious answer is that she is squarely within that post-Ashbery, Susan Schultz/Stroffolino tradition. What Ron reads "straight" I read as a sort of finely-tuned dead-pan. Take the line "All this in route to a two-car garage," coming after a series of deliberately overwrought lines about death and angst. Pure Ashbery. When someone like this over-writes, it is part of an elaborate put-on. Or maybe I'm missing something here? Would I reject this "fine writing" if I thought it meant seriously? I don't mean it's a total parody, but that it is "beautiful" writing in the same way late Ashbery is beautiful.


Why I dropped out of the poetics list: relentless clutter, personal attacks among people I don't know or care about, defenses of the Taliban by someone from New Zealand. I tried to rejoin the list just to publicize my blog, but was unsuccessful. I joined originally to hear opinions from poets I respected. The blog is a far superior form. And I don't need to read it to discover Bush is an idiot. The problem, precisely, is that he is extremely savvy and the Left underestimates his political adeptness. Kind of like Reagan!

8 dic. 2002

Wasn't it Molière's Misanthrope who got in trouble by criticizing his friend's poem? If poetry is a defense against mediocrity, what use is mediocre poetry? Yet we cannot legislate against it. When one of my circle of acquaintances in Spain publishes a mediocre book, what am I supposed to say?


I made my name in Spain by attacking the lame, neo-Audenesque poetry of "experience." Luis García Montero shooting me dirty looks in Almería, where we had parallel poetry courses a few summers back. You would think Spanish poets could find someone more exciting to emulate than Auden. How about Ted Berrigan or Lorine Niedecker? This trend has dominated in Spain for twenty years. Now transformed into an imitation American "dirty realism" modelled after Carver. ¡Coño!

I am motivated by fear and anger in equal strengths.
Whether a poem will work in translation does not necessarily have to do with the quality of the original, or with the capability of the translator. It's more like a fortuitous event. Translating poetry will give you an indication of its quality, in the very process of translation--whether or not the translation is successful. For example, I found one poet quite easy to translate in English, but became less satisfied with the quality of the original in the process. The poem I posted yesterday of Coolidge works quite well in Spanish, I think.

7 dic. 2002

With Clark Coolidge I am forced to disambiguate and interpret too much in order to translate. Is it a verb or a noun? What noun should agree with what adjective? Here is a brief text from "Own Face"

Pienso, entonces, que habito un mundo de silencio.
La lengua se ha metido en sí misma un trasfondo,
muro de piedra, tan negra y resistente como el basalto, luego a veces
tan viscosa como grasa espesa, la poesía tiene que ser alcanzada por dentro
para que descansemos de ella en el grito. El significado es ahora una mezcla, se esconde
en sí, un arreglo sólido del conocimiento. Las palabras
de los poemas, una vez separadas de la masa, gritan aguda y separadamente,
luego saltan hacia atrás hacia la veta magnética cuerpo de silencio.
El poema más amplio se ha convertido en un breve crujido a la luz y al sonido.
La llama de la vela susurra entre el fragmento pero tiene que ser engañada,
desarraigada para un mero tic en la osuridad del radio.
El resto no es más que un paseo en la tranquilidad, sobre el desfile
sobre las tumbas del significado. ¿O es que todo esto es el despeñadero más alto?


Beautiful critique of Geoffrey Hill in Silliman's blog today. Much of what he said can be applied to Derek Walcott or even James Merrill--that overbloated style that seems to be TRYING too hard and inevitably impresses the Blooms, the Vendlers, the Halls of the world. Why should Donald Hall know better? He has made a career of mediocrity.


A neat trend I've seen recently in more "mainstream" critical venues: all of a sudden it is acknowledged that the Language poets, etc... have actually accomplished something, produced work of value. But then it is quickly stated that all of this is of course, passé, academic, "we've seen it all before," So there was never an actual moment between outright rejection--it's too new and different--and blasé acceptance--too old, we've seen it all before.


I practice drums in exactly the wrong way, playing as much as possible in spare moments on weekends when the house is empty, not having a place to play the rest of the week. No chance for my muscle-memory to develop properly.

6 dic. 2002

Why the fascination with overwhelming dominance, absolute mastery? I'm speaking of the Michael Jordan, John Coltrane variety. John Ashbery just kept getting better until "Can you see, bird." I am best scholar of twentieth century Spanish poetry in the US. So what? There are only about 15 of us, and most are not even in it for the competition.

My eagerness to please is doing battle with my eagerness to displease. I'll continue soon my series of translations into Spanish of New York School poets. Could I publish it in Madrid eventually? I have a great translation of Barbara Guest's "Gravel" that I have to find. Another of a Berrigan sonnet that I cannot find in my computer disk. "Guillermo Apollinaire está muerto."

I'm up to 36 hits today, so my earlier post is already out of date. What a pathetic way to seek validation. Like knowing more about Comparative Literature than a bar full of drunks.

I'm getting about 10 hits a day (excluding my own visits) to this blog since I started keeping track two days ago. That's more than I would have expected when I first started with this. I'm going to be adding some new links soon.

5 dic. 2002

Another translation:

"Capón" (Clark Coolidge)

Un gas tóxico se desprendió
de los dos líquidos que me propuse
echar juntos.

Cómo puedo vivir en una casa
tal de mi equivocación

Soy tan ignorante como
confundo las capas.
Another translation:

"Díptico blanco" (Jordan Davis)

Más blanca que la bañera
y el lado más claro
de la pared, más blanca que el lavabo
y los azulejos que ascienden
hasta la mitad de la pared, más blanca aun
que la cortina de ducha
y el rollo de papel, más que
la pared y los azulejos vistos
en el espejo--más blanca
es la banda de luz sobre la vara de la cortina.


Las pequeñas rasgaduras en el plástico de la ventana del tren
en la bajada del sol temprano por la tarde de un invierno tardío
brillan como pequeñas rasgaduras en la ventana de un tren.
El sol sobre la superficie del Rio Harlem.
¡Coño! Qué deslumbrante. Incomodamente deslumbrante.
My daughter in the first grade once came up with a perfect Gertrude Stein sentence. Something like "That boy is the boy that I told you about."
As one gets older one's preferences harden. One becomes more like one's self and less interested in exploring new territory. The trick is to maintain a certain openness as long as possible. But what if this openness is illusory? That is, I expose myself to different sorts of things but only recognize what I already know? Something I learned yesterday can quickly come to seem something I have known all my life. I am predisposed to respond to some things and not others.


James Schuyler was the answer to a bar trivia question!

4 dic. 2002

Alice Notley's poem "The Prophet" seems to be an imitation/parody of Koch's "Some General Instructions." She has advice like "I'ts not a good idea to be a taxi driver if you don't drive at all well. However / You can probably manage to so so for some months, before you finally quit, / Without killing yourself or anyone else." How do you parody an already parodic style? Notley manages it by exaggerating the ridiculousness of the advice while introducing a darker tonality. It's brilliant!
How much confidence should I have in my own powers of discernment? I have rarely been wrong, but of course I am judging my own taste tautologically. As Charles Barkely puts it in the title of his recent book: "I may be wrong, but I doubt it."

The question of reading in foreign language. I could tell good poetry in Spanish from bad before I actually understood Spanish completely. Same with French and Catalan, which I still don't understand. Did I ever fall for a poet I know consider less than great? Cummings when I was very young. Roethke? Scalapino? (But the portion of her work I like actually is quite good).

They used to say "de gustibus non disputandum est." Yet what else can you really argue about as productively? It's like that other Latin tag: "de mortibus nihil nisi bonum dicendum est." I do have the urge to speak ill of the dead at times!
It's interesting that Ron Silliman, in his blog yesterday (December 3) says that for the avant-garde poet, there is no hiding allowed, that it is immediately obvious if someone is faking it or hasn't done the ground work. I agree with this completely. What struck me, though, was that this idea is contrary to the popular notion that avant-garde art is quite easy to fake, requires less work and skill. We've all heard these clichés: the abstract painter doesn't know how to draw, anyone could write poetry that doesn't make sense, etc... It's the New Yorker cartoon of a middle-aged couple in an art gallery, the wife says to the husband...

Years ago I used to read aloud poems at random from the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry to an intelligent reader not familiar in detail with contemporary poetry. She would say: it's in a conservative tradition, but the poet has talent. Or, it's in the experimental tradition, but without a lot of talent. Of course, she could also identify experimental poets with talent and conservative poets without it! She was inevitably correct. Guillermo Carnero (Spanish poet) has four categories of judgment also. "Me gusta y me interesa. No me gusta y no me interesa. Me gusta pero no me interesa. Me interesa pero no me gusta."

F O'H has a line somewhere in his Art Chronicles: sometimes the Philistines are right. Even when they are right, though, they get it wrong.

O'Hara's art criticism is actually quite perceptive. He has a way of writing meandering sentences that are somewhat hard to follow, ending in somewhat zany comparisons. But the wit and intelligence are incredible.


I've always associated Larry Rivers visual style with Kenneth Koch's poetry, because of all those great Rivers book covers, beginning with "When the Sun Tries to go On."

3 dic. 2002

Anglo-American modernism is rich in women writers--H.D., Stein, Woolf, Moore, Barnes, Riding, Sitwell, Loy. My poor Spain only has Concha Méndez and Ernestina de Champourcin, two figures for whom I cannot muster any enthusiasm.

I was never an Anglophile, particularly. I was always more interested in French and Spanish poetry. French, as an academic field, has always seemed stagnant, despite its more "theoretical" dimension. Spanish is much more dynamic on the whole, though my particular corner of it is rather dull at the moment. I could never feel comfortable in an English department--too much tweed, little interest in Englishness per se.
"To Apostrophe"

Apostrophe! you are my favorite rhetorical figure.
Not really. Actually you are kind of embarrassing
in twentieth and twentyfirst-century poetry.
It is awkward to address inanimate objects and
abstract concepts that cannot answer back
as I am now addressing you, though I wish
you would answer me and prove me wrong!

You served Keats and Shelley well and
enjoyed a brief vogue in the 80s among English professors
who thought you the essence of poetic speech
in your artificial and dumb splendor.
Chiasmus got jealous and sulked.

Now you are only good in ironic or comic roles:
I loved you though in Kenneth Koch's "New Addresses"
which rekindled your career and proved
your critics wrong, including me.
Who knows who'll use you next? So long.
The kind of macho rivalry Norman Mailer felt with Hemingway, or Pollock with Picasso... I don't think Asbhery wanted to punch out Wallace Stevens or Raymond Roussel.


How long before hip-hop sixteenth-note triplets find their way into country music? It's probably already happened and I'm just not aware of it yet.

2 dic. 2002

"A Note on the Type"

This book was hand-set in "Loggerheads," or "Cap de foix," a type developed by an anonymous Catalan printer around the turn of the century. Characterized by dissonance and angularity, with a slight hint of jocularity, it was much prized by Anarchist Buddhists in the early 1960s. The apparent lack of aesthetic principles in the design of the separate letters was once thought to be a sign of derangement, but now lends it a rare cachet. Banned until recently by the European Union, due to its reputed role in provoking mental breakdowns in otherwise normal readers, it retains an aura of slightly anxious brilliance perfectly suited to these poems.
Silliman's Blog represents the best - the most detailed and knowledgeable - poetic criticism of the present day. I don't have time to read a mini-essay on an intricate topic every day. I tend to use internet for even shorter bursts of reading. And my own blog is more of a recreation--I don't have time to do my own serious academic "research" during the semester and so need an outlet for jotting down brief ideas.

Silliman, Irby, Bromige and other poets I know personally were more in the sway of Olson, Duncan, and Kelly than I ever have been. I always resisted these poets a good deal - with great respect for what they represent. Creeley, Spicer, Coolidge, O'Hara, and the other New York poets were my ideals. I should be more of a West Coast guy, being from California. My late father knew Gary Snyder a bit, from his days as Dean at Davis (my father, not Snyder, was the Dean). But I disliked Snyder's later poetry, from "Turtle Island" on, for its preachiness. Oh well...

Why am I specialist in Spanish poetry? It's a long story of which more later. Thank God I'm not in the "English Department."

1 dic. 2002

Having read Deborah Solomon's biography of Cornell, I dipped into her life of Jackson Pollock, at the public library. If it is less satisfying than the Cornell book maybe it is because Pollock doesn't seem to have much of an inner life. No mention of any books he read, any thoughts he had. He seemed to be all outward expression. He didn't know a foreign language!

Ron Padgett has a little essay about his confusion between the words - not the objects - "grapefruit" and "pineapple." What does this mean? Is it the same sort of confusion that I had when I used to mistaked "On Green Dolphin Street" and "In a Mellotone"? No, because I actually confused the songs, not merely their titles.

30 nov. 2002

The hokey, kitsch element in H.D's poetry is its Hellenism. Yet this Hellenism is inseparable from all that is best in her work.
"It wears the uniform of the sort of poetry I like." One of the series of aphorisms I wrote about 10 years ago. The idea that you ought to like a certain sort of poet, belonging to the tradition you identify, but find the actual reading somewhat tedious. Barthes has a similar observation somewhere about "blackmail," when someone gives him an unpublished experimental novel and says: "here, this conforms exactly to your theories of literature." I don't remember the exact quote, and in fact enjoy quoting inaccurately, from memory. Oftentimes the quote I am thinking of ends up being (and meaning) something quite different.

I've been reading Guest's biography of H.D. That whole modernist mythopoetic/astrological thing I never really got into. Huge chunks of H.D., Duncan, Kelly, that I feel alienated from for this reason. Not to mention Yeats and Pound.

There is no joy in checkmating a 7-year old. Especially when I myself am so inept I don't even realize I am checkmating her.

29 nov. 2002

Greatest Hits

"The Proverbs of Shmoe." "Long, Narrow Poem."
"Poem.” "Conventionally Good Poem."
"Cuaderno de infamias." "Minor Poets
Of the New York School."
"Untitled Original." "Inane Anecdote."

"The Waste of Perfectly Good
Parking Space." "Sam Beckett's Ride Cymbal." "Heroic
Couplets." "Rainer Maria Rilke Explains
The Theory of Evolution to Fernando
Pessoa." "Greatest Hits." "The Unsure Egotist."
"Without Which." "False Poems of Pierre Reverdy."
"Unsure Footing." "Ode to Dr. Seuss." "Monk's Dream."
"Late Ashbery." "The History of Modern Poetry."

"I Have a Theory About That." "Poem
Making No Reference to Itself." "Bronkiana."
"The Creeley Variations." "A True Poem."
"On Rachmaninoff's Birthday." "From the Spanish."
"Minor Poem." "The Iliad." "Against the Income Tax."

"Self-Parody." "Sardines." "I Dislike Cold Soup."
Steven Pinker opines, in "The Blank Slate," that "middle-brow novels" are probably sufficient to provide any morally edifying messages humanity might need. "The Nation" gave this book a too-kind review; Louis Menand in "The New Yorker" puts it in its place, however. Evolutionary psychology really has very little to tell us about what sort of poetry we should be reading.
Spanish poet Angel González read a poem last April, at a symposium I myself had organized, in which he compares Mallarmé--in a photo--to a lap dog. As host I could not openly object, but I felt myself seething with anger. This poem to me was one of the most obscene things I had ever heard. It represents the contempt for poetry that inferior poets feel themselves entitled to demonstrate. I feel the same thing about Billy Collins. Irrationally, perhaps.

28 nov. 2002

E-mail from Tijuana, Heriberto Yépez writes, a propos of this blog:

"Estimado Jonathan M.

Aunque no seas mexicano, tu humor es latinoamericano, sin duda."

Apparently my corrosive sense humor sounds Mexican, to at least one Mexican reader. And here I thought I had gotten it from the New York School of poetry! And I am a peninsularist, not a Latin Americanist, in the jargon of the field.

27 nov. 2002

A record of everything I've read and thought for several years. Surely there's value to that.

A given book by John Asbhery that I might own might be a) in my office at the University b) my Kansas apartment c) my house in St. Louis, or d) the trunk of my car. "Your Name Here" and "Can You Hear, Bird" are the best of his later collections. I have not yet started to read "Chinese Whispers." Two new books by Kenneth Koch, "Sun Out" and "A Possible World" also await me, along with Jordan Davis's "Poem on a Train." Everywhere I go in house, office, apartment, I leave behind stacks of books.

Supply of poetry outstrips demand, as has been noted by many others before me. Yet a single reader justifies the existence of a poet. Imagine a physical therapist with a single patient: surely that physical therapist should feel his or her life-work was wholly justified. Why should a poet with 600 serious readers, or even 50, feel less valuable? The argument that poetry is socially irrelevant, due to small size of audience, has always seemed fallacious to me. School children learn to write poetry based on the pedagogy of Kenneth Koch or Ron Padgett, who are in turn inspired by Raymond Roussel, a wealthy eccentric who had to pay for the publication of his own books. The idea that only poets read poetry can be turned around as follows: reading poetry should make one into a poet. Are there any good critics of poetry who are not poets themselves? Only a few names, like that of Marjorie Perloff, come to mind.

26 nov. 2002

Bernstein's humor, a repetition/parody of borscht-belt schtick. Like "How do you get to Carnegie Hall? (Theory)." You have to know the old joke about the guy walking up to someone with a violin case in his hand in mid-town Manhattan. Take my language poetry--please! This strikes me as quite different from Silliman's observational wit. To observe men of three different generations on a couch watching football without saying a word--(example from "Paradise") is funny, but it's not in the Henny Youngman vein--fortunately I might add.

Susan Howe strikes me as quite humorless, on the other hand. I don't mind a lack of humor or wit, necessarily. I do like finding it in unexpected quarters.

25 nov. 2002

Count the number of times you see the phrase "the human condition" in the New York Times Book Review. It is meaningless because it doesn't tell you anything particular or specific. What Nobel prize citation doesn't say that the writer in question "illuminates the human condition"? That's the problem with the word "beauty" also. It either means pretty in the conventional sense, or is pretty much up for grabs. Hence it makes no sense to talk, with Wendy Steiner, about a "return to beauty." Are Kandinksy, Klee, and Shoenberg beatiful? I think so. Pound and H.D. seem very concerned with beauty, "Beauty is a rare thing..." etc... So is Wallace Stevens.

Is this a terminological question? Do artists stop thinking of themselves as being in pursuit of beauty? (because they reject the word, not the concept)? Or, alternatively, do they still think of themselves as in pursuit of beauty, keeping the word, but meaning something different by it? You could make the case for either scenario. Our critical language is just that, the clichés we use to talk about things. As Frank O'Hara pointed out, "The formal qualities to which, for convenience and expediency, we attempt to ascribe the qualities we admire in a poem are, after all, no more than conveniences. It should be understood that they are signs for the qualities, not absolute rules by which the work is judged." He goes on to take to task a reviewer of an early book of Kenneth Koch, who criticized Koch for an absence of "verbal excitement," "tension," "significant detail," and the like.
National Middle-brow Radio officially fell to National Low-Brow Radio today with Terry Gross's interview of minor celebrity ex-spouse Tom Arnold. He had nothing interesting to say about his dysfunctional life. Rose briefly to highbrow with a discussion with Wendy Steiner and Arthur Danto on beauty in art--flawed because noone seemed to be asking the questions that I would have asked. The panelists seemed to assume that modernist art and literature were ugly by definition and that we needed to return to beauty. Back to National Middle-Brow Radio with an interview with Jonathan Franzen, a rather dull and earnest novelist, most famous for snubbing Oprah (a middle-brow gesture if ever there was one) plugging his book of essays. That's what I get for having to spend five hours in my car.


I owned the Ellman-O'Clair Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry as a teenager. It didn't necessarily occur to me at the time that major poets would be absent from this sort of book. At different points in my subsequent life, I discovered William Bronk, Jack Spicer, and Barbara Guest, three of the most flagrant omissions. It is curious that those three are also missing from Poems for the Millenium. I can imagine an inexperienced reader thinking that this huge volume pretty much covered the anti-Norton tradition. Maybe it's better to discover one's poets more randomly, in any case.

24 nov. 2002

Coltrane is not witty; Rollins is. That does not imply any preference for either one.


How can I define the quality I find in Tony Williams' drumming? I think, absurdly, of the phrase "cleansing the palate." A pure or cleansing sound, a refreshment of the senses. How different from Elvin, who I also love, but who is not as recent a discovery for me. I understand Elvin, in the sense that I know what he is doing rhythmically, in way I don't yet understand Tony. How the fact that poetry people are more likely to read this blog pulls it away from my jazz interests, to some degree. Does the ear for drumming correspond to the ear for poetic rhythm? Yes and no. Each requires a specialized training. Theory of prosody has not caught up to where a good listener's ear should be. How great it is that Jordan Davis should define his blog as a way of testing out ideas about versification. Most recent post first, backtracking through the day.
The humor of Silliman's poetry: this is more or less the kind of thing I meant (from "Paradise," my favorite of his Alphabet series):

"Five minutes down. Boysenberry yogurt. Alternate spelling. The large bowl of his stomach made for a sloping desk. A mean-spiritdness to the humor of the comic poet. Just us chickens, classicly trained. Now that she's making 25 thou. A jolting bus impossible to write on. What I wish to say, dear reader, take off your blouse. April, turning toward November. Suggested denotation. An old stuffed chair on the sidewalk in the rain. Caution: frequent stops." [pp. 44-45]

This is hilarious both in individual sentences and as a passage. The juxtaposition of two clichés like "just us chickens" and "classically trained" is particularly witty. A cruelly comic sentence about a fat guy sitting behind a desk is juxtaposed to a comment about mean-spirited humor in a comic poet (himself, or someone else?). Frequent stops could be a reference to the bus (cautious, this vehicle makes frequent stops) or to the poet's writing.

Of course, Ron's more "serious" attitude in his blog is equally valid. A different time and occasion requires a different stance.

23 nov. 2002

Pound's three categories--phanopeia, melopeia, logopeia--are great (or not) because they are ahistorical filters. You can compare Homer with Wordsworth. A poet considered canonical (like Wordsworth) can be found lacking in all three areas.

21 nov. 2002

Drumming lineages.

Jeff Watts

Ed Blackwell, Elvin Jones

Cindy Blackman

Tony Williams, Art Blakey, Elvin

Bill Stewart

Tony, Elvin, etc...

Every mainstream, middle-of-the road jazz drummer

Max Roach, Philly Joe, Elvin, Tony, etc...

Instigated by Jordan Davis, I found an old Graduate School paper I had written on Kenneth Koch, taking the short story "The Postcard Collection" as my point of departure. I wrote the paper in 1983 or 1984, and I believe, sincerely, that it still kicks some serious ass. I don't think I could come up with something as original now. Of course to publish it I would need to revise it and bring the bibliography up to date, but I think my central point is still valid. Now I understand why I am impatient with Graduate Students. I pretty much knew what I was doing at age 23 and spoke with a certain critical authority. I still have Gilbert Sorrentino's comments on the first version of the paper. He pointed me in the direction of Raymond Roussel and Harry Mathews. He also mentions Ashbery, Antin, Chomsky, Valéry, Stevens.

When I first studied with Gil Sorrentino, in a course on William Carlos Williams, it was the first graduate course he had ever taught. He didn't really know how to teach a graduate course, in the conventional sense, though he was far superior to almost everyone else in Stanford in the pre Perloff days.

When Marjorie Perloff was about to be hired, at Stanford, Denise Levertov wrote a nasty letter and put it in the boxes of everyone in the English department. Pretty much a personal attack on Marjorie and her ideas. She was incensed that Marjorie was taking the Language poets seriously. Someone sent the letter to Perloff as well, I believe. Me perhaps?

In my car yesterday, listening to NPR. A nice feature on Copper Canyon Press, how they only published poetry and have two out of five nominees for National Book Award. Of course, the question in my mind was "who are the two poets in question?" I stayed in my car for an extra five minutes to find out, and of course the feature ended with no mention of the actual names of the poets.

20 nov. 2002

Buckle Fishery

In this figure
Where the small annotations ran from a buckle fishery
It is a voltage
In burned welts, saying
I love you

Still, when I go there
I find only two gray stoves,
And, lyiing between them,
A dead blabber the comb of sleet.
It lies askew on its wisps,
Its thug bent back as if at the helmet of some juggler too great
To bear to give.

And the limbos are going out
In a fastener, evolution
Stands, in a gray frugality, silent, at the far signature
of a radiances's gremlin.

This is my re-writing of a poem of James Wright using the N+7 method. It is definitely an improvement!

"Thank You and Other Poems," by Kenneth Koch, published by Grove Press and Evergreen in 1962. It would seem that any discussion of postmodern parody would have to begin with this crucial book. No single book was as influential in the development my own poetics. "Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams" is the most obvious parody in the book. "The Artist" is a hilarious send-up of the impulse conceptual art of the Christo variety, and actually predates a lot of the material it is parodying. "The Railway Stationery" is directed at Raymond Roussel. "Aus Einer Kindheit" refers to Rilke and Frank O'Hara. "The Bricks" resembles the Ashbery of "Some Trees." Not to mention "Fresh Air," a satire (though not a parody per se) of academic poetry of the 1950s, and "The History of Jazz."

Now this book is not mentioned in any of Linda Hutcheon's books on parody and postmodernism. Her primary frame of reference seems to be novels written in English by people like John Fowles and Doctorow. She barely mentions any poet at all, maybe a passing reference to Ashbery. How would her theory change if she had a more inclusive sense of postmodernism? Why the assumption that the novel is the primary vehicle for literary innovation?

The postmodern aesthetic was invented by Frank O'Hara as a student at Harvard. This is a relevant sentence from Brad Gooch's biography of O'Hara: "O'Hara's and Ashbery's innovation was to be able to pass with each other from the high to the low, to gather in their net such disparate fascinations as French Surrealist poetry, Hollwood's 'Guilty Pleasures,' Japanese Kabuki and Noh, Schoenberg's twelve-tone compositions, Leger's geometric paintings, Looney Tunes cartoons, and Samuel Beckett's spare prose."

19 nov. 2002

How much could be too much? If I own, say, 20 books by Ashbery, what would I lose by having only 17? Coolidge raises a similar dilemma. My answer, of course, is that one can never have enough, given world enough and rhyme. Diminishing returns? One would think that would be the case but it is not. It is true that I reach a point of saturation and back off from time to time. I might read intensely for a month or two, and lay off a poet for as long as five years. I cannot wish them to have written less.

I remember that it was in an Ashbery poem that I first came across the word "recondite." I looked it up in the dictionary. It was in the poem "Fragment" (from The Double Dream of Spring): "older / Permissiveness which dies in the / Falling back toward recondite ends." How appropriate that it is this word that I remember looking up. Who is more recondite than Ashbery?
Perdido entre las leyes

Engendrado aquí fuera en la historia de las estrellas
nadie está seguro
son fechas que sólo valen más tarde
por lo general
mete la mano en la mente una posibilidad el sol
nunca te hará pensar en
un relato cuyo nombre nadie necesita

Una parte pequeña de tu ser robada
cuando nombras cada trozo
una cantidad enorme de trabajo reducido
para un ser humano a una mina terrestre
a punto de eliminación completa y final
el estorbo ya quitado

No sé de nadie aquí
que tenga un destino más lejano
que el mío

Soy el hueco entre
actos soy
la piedra

My translation of this poem of Clark Coolidge required me to choose different possible meanings for words like "hold" and "broken down." The translation is much less ambiguous and awkward than the original. For example, "un relato cuyo nombre nadie necesita" translates the line "a tale no one needs the name of," which ends in a preposition.

None, or very little, of what I value in the poem is present in my translation. Yet the process of translation itself has inestimable value. The mistake is in thinking the value of this process, for the translator, is present in the text, for the reader.

Why do I dislike David Lehman, whom I don't even know personally?

1. Role in "Best American Poetry" series, that always seems to include poem of unrelentingly mediocre Donald Hall, no matter who the famous poet editor is.

2. Book on the New York School poets, "The Last Avant-Garde," which leaves out Barbara Guest, and makes the New York school seem less, rather than more avant-garde. The fact that this is the one book someone is likely to have read on these poets.

3. Book on Paul de Man. I don't admire de Man excessively, but the deconstructive criticism must be attacked head-on, if it is to be attacked, not indirectly by disqualification (de Man was a Nazi sympathizer, therefore...)

4. Lehman's own poetry, faux-O'Hara of the worst sort, and its inexplicable presence in media outlets. (I just read a bad poem of his in Slate.)
One of my "lost books" is a complete set of issues of the literary magazine Locus Solus, edited, I believe, by Harry Mathews, and including work by many of the New York poets. I remember reading it in library once, never having owned it. Over twenty years ago I am sure. It must have been the U.C. Davis library.


I have often rejected the category of "understanding" poetry. The source of so much resistance--"I don't understand it." If this problem can be bypassed... When I think of understanding a poem by Clark Coolidge, I mean that I can justify it to myself aesthetically, not that I can provide a paraphrase. Brooks and Warren's new critical textbook "Understanding Poetry" seems quite incompetent to me, in my hazy memory of it. I remember a rather inept scansion of a Yeats' line, a condescending comment about WCW.


The students in my translation class are studying poetry without realizing it. By deflecting their attention onto the problematics of translation, they are freed up to read a poem. I invited Stan Lombardo, master translator of Homer, to speak to my class last week. What was most impressive was his approach to Homer as a POET.

18 nov. 2002

I have owned my copy of Clark Coolidge's "Own Face" for several years (5, 7, 10?). At some point I began to mark poems that I particularly liked with a check mark at the corner of the page. I returned periodically to the book, marking more and more poems, until most were marked. I am now starting a second time, marking those that I like even more than the rest. I had a sort of epiphany when I realized that the way to read his poetry was to treat every poem as worthy of serious attention. My initial approach was to see him as a "hit and miss" poet, largely improvisational, and withhold my approval until I was convinced that I was reading a fully realized poem. Part of my resistance was my assumption that noone who wrote so much could possibly write so well so much of the time.

I am doing the same with "Solution Passage" and "The Crystal Text." I have selected 73 poems from the former (out of a much greater number). I love Coolidge's late 1970s and early 1980s period. I'm not sure I get "Mesh" and "Odes of Roba" yet. Nor have I studied his early work extensively. He is prolific, but all is required reading; despite repetitions, nothing is truly redundant. Why is it I don't own "Mine," one of my favorite of his books?