31 mar. 2003

I'm trying to record my cd. My chair creaks and ruins my recording. Or I stumble over words and swallow syllables. Should I actually practice before I try to do it? Naw... I freeze up when I have to say the words in french. The conversion to MP3 and burning of the cd is actually the simplest part of the process.
Now I have no interest in defining the period style of recent American poetry. What percentage of Simic and Merwin, Tate and Strand, Orr and Ashbery, it contains. What is clear is my lack of interest in poetry written in this style.
There were upwards of 4500 people protesting war in Forest Park yesterday. The post-dispatch (local Pulitzer company fishwrap) reported a figure of 2500.


I delivered copies of the class anthology to Mrs. Wight (2nd grade teacher). She was effusively grateful. Julia came up with the title: "Poems About Everything."


I have new books by Davidson (Post Hoc) and F. Howe to read. Maybe Fanny will lead me back to Susan H. again-- a poet I was interested in at one time but haven't been reading so much in the last five years or so. Ron reports younger poets in S.F. no longer know who Ron Silliman is (aside from being author of Silliman's blog). But young people were always lacking in historical sense. (I almost wrote "stupid"). It takes a while to develop this sense of past, even very recent past. They don't know who Creeley or Levertov are either. [Later: This is not too accurate: I was referring to something that Ron had said in his blog: young poets twenty years ago unable to match the names of these poets to their books.]

I'm working on a definition of period style for 1980s U.S. "mainstream poetry." I'll think about it as I drive to Kansas this morning and report back a little later.

Wonderful invitations to collaborate in journals and magazines all over the world flow (or trickle) into my email inbox. Keep them coming please!

30 mar. 2003

I figured out how to record a voice mp3. I just record on audio track for a non-existent digital movie using my imovie program, then open up itunes, find the audio track, somewhere on my hard drive, and convert it to an mp3. Then I can burn a cd directly off of itunes.

29 mar. 2003

I can go to Subterraneum books today, to see if there is anything I've missed on my mission to rid them of all valuable poetry books. I think I'll give the bloggin' a rest this weekend. Why do I impose on myself the obligation of writing every day?

28 mar. 2003

A reader writes and asks me to choose between Pieces and Crystal Lithium, but not to explain the reason behind my choice. Sort of a postmodern "Proust questionaire." I choose Crystal Lithium.

Here is my questionaire: fill out an "NCAA bracket," but substitute the names of poets, going all the way to the "final four." In other words, start with your 64 favorite poets, arrange them in brackets, and play them off against each other until you have a winner. Poetry is not supposed to be competitive, I realize, but I love top 100 lists and silly exercises like this.

Kenneth Koch's theory of poetic language actually helped me to teach a poem I had not intended to teach, in my hospitalized colleague's course. It was an over-the-top Romantic poem by Ernestina de Champourcín, but I could justify the language in terms of the communicative act: If you were telling death to take you away, then you probably would choose this self-consciously "poetic" language. It has a sort of "decorum" or appropriateness to situation, even though it is not to my taste. Within this style the poem is quite effective, even well written.
I started Fanny Howe's "Indivisible" and "Freeing History" this week. I'm starting to see a pattern in all her novels. I also checked out from library books by Susan Schultz and Lisa Jarnot. It is a lot less expensive than purchasing each book I want to read.

More long, wonderful emails from David Shapiro. He should really have a blog; he writes more than Heriberto. First he would have to get his own computer with a spell checker.

I'll work on more ideas for audio posts for next week. Get my poetry cd together.

27 mar. 2003

Johnny Mercer's "Midnight Sun." Music was by Johnny Burke and Lionel Hampton (1947). I promise not to sing it for you:

Your lips were like a red and ruby chalice, warmer than the summer night
The clouds were like an alabaster palace, rising to a snowy height.
Each star its own aurora borealis, suddenly you held me tight,
I could see the Midnight Sun.

I can't explain the silver rain that found me--or was that a moonlight veil?
The music of the universe around me, or was that a nightingale?
And then your arms miraculously found me, suddenly the sky turned pale,
I could see the Midnight Sun.

Was there such a night, it's a thrill I still don't quite believe,
But after you were gone, there was still some stardust on my sleeve.

The flame of it may dwindle to an ember, and the stars forget to shine,
And we may see the meadow in December, icy white and crystalline.
But oh my darling always I'll remember when your lips were close to mine,
And we saw the Midnight Sun.
Below please find Audio sound-poem based on Barbara Guest's poetry.
Powered by audblogaudblog audio post
There's got to be a more direct route to get my own voice into my itunes or cdburner than recording a message on the phone and then downloading an audblog post. Please advise (mac users). I do use my imovie program to play around with voice recording, though it uses an awful lot of disk space so I always erase my work. I did a sound poem once I wasn't displeased with, recording my voice over itself while reading various poems of Barbara Guest. I think I have it still.


I like tracking my blog traffic. People come to this blog mainly via Jordan Davis (Million Poems), David Hess, Josh, Stephanie, Joe Massey, Nick P., Nada, and Laurable, in approximately that order of frequency. From Equanimity or Silliman if there is a recent ad hoc link. Elective affinities that don't displease me in the least.
I tried that audio blog free trial. What was cool about it was when I listened back to my post, my computer automatically downloaded it to my itunes. I could then turn around and burn a cd of myself reading my own poems in my horrible raspy voice, and send it to friends and enemies, since my computer has a cd burner built in. One of the few perks of this job is this still fairly new iMac.
Powered by audblogaudblog audio post
Refunfuño en sueños, hago aspavientos
abjuro, reincido

cuando me despierte la guerra no habrá terminado

unos fragmentos de metal que se insinúan
en mi fina sensibilidad de poeta

es mentira que hayamos sido niños
de calurosa paz


I grumble in dreams, flail about
swear off it, relapse

when I awake the war won't have ended

metal fragments insinuating themselves
into my fine poetic sensibility

it is an illusion that we were ever children
of balmy peace

26 mar. 2003

From an historical perspective we have rarely been at peace, hardly ever in my lifetime. If we count cold war, covert operations, support for Contras or Salvadorean govt, heavy military presence in Korean DMZ (a misnomer: what could be as militarized as the "demilitarized zone."), various Reagan/Bush invasions, etc... So war would be the continuation of war by other means. Thus I don't see war as at all exceptional, aside from the startling concentration of violence in one place at one time.

At 12 I must switch over to Spanish for rest of day. In three hours I've written a page and a half of grant proposal (50%), read nine emails from David, written him back two or three times, seen 6 or 7 students, corresponded with 3 other people on email, written these diary entries. A wasted morning?
While writing my instruction manual (i.e. Grant Proposal, due next Tuesday) I keep getting long emails from David Shapiro full of strange and wonderful aphorisms. Students come into my office to ask my useless advice. I think of writing my great anti-war poem in Spanish, beginning "Refunfuño en sueños, hago aspavientos / abjuro y reincido." More later.

I learn from Silliman's blog this morning that Spicer admired Johnny Mercer. That makes my macaronic poem "Quelqu'uns mots..." better after the fact, because I mention Mercer in one section and Spicer in another. I lament the fact that Mercer never wrote lyrics for Thelonious Monk's "Crepuscule for Nellie." I have decided to log in in English in the morning and in Spanish in the afternoon. I've been getting some great emails from David Shapiro lately, which always make my day. How can I avoid writing my "instruction manual" today?

Mercer is almost too much of poet at times. I am thinking of "Midnight Sun." You need Sarah Vaughn's voice to justify the Victorian richness and density of the lyric. I don't even know who wrote the melody to this song, which is also beautiful. Usually I don't even like lyrics of jazz standards, except when they are written by Lorenz Hart.

25 mar. 2003

I never use the word "human" or "humane" to describe poetry. What does it mean to praise a poet for his or her "humanity"? Perhaps I don't use it because I don't know what it really means? Is it one of those words that mean the user approves of the poetic persona's attitudes toward life, that the speaker of the poem seems like a nice person? Perhaps I don't like it because I am not "humane" in this sense? I'd have to think about this a bit more... There is a quality that I admire that might be close to this, but I haven't been able to think of a good name for it. Like Creeley's "Be wet / with a decent happiness." It can't be smug like most of what passes for "humaness/humane-ness." It's got to be quieter and less willed. Decency? Equanimity?
I simultaneously underestimate and overestimate the amount of work I have on a given day. It is hard to explain. The tasks themselves are not overly daunting. The time is ample enough. Yet the work seems to drain me inordinately.

Here's another poem from my "blindfold test":

The Guests

Our house was strewn with
people whom no one claimed
to know, people who had

been there for thirty years
or more. One might show
himself at dinner, cobwebbed

and thinner than the dead.
No one would speak of it,
unless the guest became

unpleasant, and then it was
in gestures, because our
voices were saved for something

better. Our dry lips flecked
with foam, our hammering hearts
out-waited our guests, and

now, at last, we are alone.


People keep telling me to read Dean Young, of whom I know almost nothing. When I say "people" I mean two separate bloggers, coincidentally, on the same day.


Whatever happened to the "Powell Doctrine"? There is no good way to fight a war, of course, but it seems that this way is particularly bad, both in its lack of justification and international support, and in its "prosecution." Part of the problem is that Saddam really is as bad as they say he is. He modelled his regime on Stalin's to be utterly coup-proof. No one would assassinate him unless they could also take out his two equally brutal sons. He will basically use his own citizens as human shields, making the final battle for the capital extremely costly in human life.

24 mar. 2003

I found my blindfold test: simply a series of short poems or fragments that I ask students to respond to without knowing the name of the author. They have to guess whether it's a man or a woman, and guess which side of the Atlantic the poet was born on. I have texts in both Spanish and English. This is my first example:


Then when the flame forked like a sudden path
I gasped and stumbled, and was less.
Density pulsing upward, gauze of ash,
Dear light along the way to nothingness,
What could be made of you but light, and this?

I got the idea from a "name the author" game we used to play with Jordan and Gary and a few others, I believe, on the "subpoetics list" a few years back.
Back to Kansas, feeling a bit overwhelmed by how much work I have been avoiding. So, of course, I will avoid work for another few minutes. What could it hurt?

I looked at "Making Your Own Days" over the break. Kind of a "Rose, Where Did You Get That Red" for adult poesiphobes. Poetics language moves between two poles, the heightened, special language of poetry (as in "Ode to the West Wind") and a more colloquial language ("A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island"). In both cases, however, the communicative situation itself is over-the-top. We don't usually have conversations with the sun, or address the wind directly. (Or, as in Queen Elizabeth I's poem, have a personal meeting with the god of love.) Herbert's "Prayer" is a paratactic list poem. Prayer, of course, is also a form of speech that shares this over the top, heightened, or unreal quality. If we imagine a strange speech act, one outside of the normal range, then a different sort of language can be justified. Or we might take an ordinary act of communication, like an apology for eating the plums in the icebox, and invest it with some higher purpose. I find it refreshing that Koch defines poetry first by its language, secondly by its music, and thirdly (as I read him) by the special circumstances surrounding the act of communication itself. Apostrophe thus becomes a key trope, even though it does not enjoy a high reputation in contemporary poetry. The "poetry base" is also a low-key and non-threatening way of describing the poet's historical sense of him or her self. We understand that O'Hara needed to have read Mayakovsky (as well as Shelley) to write his poem. Of course, I'm not the intended audience for such a book. I read it more to understand Kenneth Koch, in which this tension between heightened and more "ordinary" language is a constant.

I need to find a way of using this book in the class I have just taken over for my ill colleague. The students still see poetry as intellectually beyond them. With the added handicap of having to read poetry in a foreign language. Now I have to see whether I still have my "blindfold test" somewhere in my computer or whether I'll have to recreate it from scratch.

22 mar. 2003

"Experienced poets worry less about whether their own poetry is worthwhile and more about whether the whole endeavor of poetry is worthwhile -particularly in their own era. " --Nick Piombino, a few days ago.

I don't agree, or maybe I'm inexperienced in this sense, because I have never wondered or worried whether poetry itself is worthwhile. And what does the era have to do with it? Why would poetry be more (or less) worthwhile in some periods than others? That makes no sense at all to my way of thinking. What would it even mean to say poetry is not worthwhile? I cannot even imagine this, let alone worry about it. I might loathe myself at times, but never the part of me that is a poet.

It sounds like something we ought to do--wring hands about whether poetry can save the world, etc... That gets tiresome fast, and in any case is based on an OVERvaluation of poetry. Poetry ought to be able to save the world, it cannot, therefore is has no value. Well, by that measure, no human activity has much value.

On the other hand, I do wonder whether my own work could possibly make any contribution to this grand enterprise (poetry, not world-saving). Self-doubt is not necessarily the result of inexperience, either (though in my case it probably is). There are very great poets who have doubted themselves profoundly.

I am obsessed with judgment, with whether it's good or not, whether I like it or not. I differ in this from my academic colleagues, who don't really think that much about whether they like what they are studying or not. Admirable objectivity, or simply the deadening of the sensibility? Entirely too much talk about liking and disliking? Or not nearly enough? This is not to say I don't change my mind. I love being proved wrong, though it doesn't happen nearly often enough.

I was glad to see Kenneth Koch recommend Saintsbury in "Making Your Own Days."

David Shapiro has been officially Sillimanned. It's nice to see this attention lavished on such a central but neglected poet. Julia wanted an anti-war sign for our front yard, so Akiko went with her to get one.

21 mar. 2003

Oops, the massive strike just began. My prediction still stands.
Going through my books downtown, I found a copy of Delmar, St. Louis literary magazine. I live a block away from Delmar Ave. I once submitted poems there, by a faulty logic that told me that, since most of the contents were rather banal, I would gain entry with my non-banal poems. But of course the editors obviously prefer the kind of thing they themselves publish. I'd love to write a modern-day Dunciad.


The war is not what we expected: creepy psych-ops instead of massive bombardments. I predict it will be more or less over in a week.
My daughter, in her "Argument of the Book" poem, wrote, "I've written short poems like the frog jumped in the sound of the water," among other things. She always wants me to check bstats to see how many people have read the blog.


Salvageable Materials

The device was layed bare, trembling in the breeze,

a transformation begun with surprising forcefulness and tact.

My worst ideas are better than your best ideas.

Well that was sure embarrassing,

but only for the people involved.

Importunating someone used to be my biggest fear.

Salvageable materials means just what you think it means.

What did you think it meant?

This poem was written by filling a page with clotted prose, written very fast, and then erasing everything that had no value. I then added the title, "salvageable materials." I think the word is really "importune" not "importunate," but I liked my spontaneous coinage so I kept it. Importuning someone is one thing, IMPORTUNATING someone is something else again, and is still one of my biggest fears.

20 mar. 2003

Woke to news of war, like everyone else. Then to teach second grade class. The children were very focused, kept in line by disciplinarian substitute teacher. I got some great "Argument of His Book" poems out of a few of them. Thus ends the week of seeing if Kenneth Koch's poetic pedagogy really works. I'm happy to say it does, and requires no special talent aside from reasonable expectations about what children of certain age can do. I highly recommend the experience.

. . . Then I had them write a short essay on Ron Silliman's The Alphabet in relation to his theory of the New Sentence and the development of American poetry since 1945, Grenier's rejection of "speech," and the 2nd generation New York School poets. I'm happy to say they did quite well with this assignment. Unlike certain college students and famous poets I know, these 8 year-olds are fully literate and well versed in Wittgenstein and Derrida.

19 mar. 2003

I dislike Mark Halliday's poetry, mostly because the poetic persona in the poems is so cynically disagreeable. Is this fair? Well, he does put a lot of that attitude right into the reader's face, so I guess it's going to irritate those it doesn't charm. The poetry isn't quite well-written enough to redeem it, though the anecdotes are memorable. I wish I could forget them.
The kids went wild on me with the "I used to be / but now." Rainy day, substitute teacher, and an idea that was almost too easy for them. Still, the week as a whole has been a success. I will think of something different for tomorrow, something leading to more calm reflectiveness. Right! I doubt it.
I take that back also. I really shouldn't be so self-deprecating. It is annoying.
I take it back, I can't write the "Jonathan Mayhew Poem" better than anyone else, because there is no such thing. The Jonathan Mayhew poem is just a weak imitation of some combination of Ashbery, Koch, and whomever else I've been reading in past few hours.
I've always been keenly interested in surrealism, yet disappointed by most surrealist poetry. There seems to be a gap there. Is it because Breton threw out anyone half-way interesting from his movement? Because it lends itself to a certain "softness" in Merwin, Tate, Simic, Strand, even Paz? Aleixandre, Lorca, are extraordinary poets. Breton himself has often disappointed me. Eluard, brilliant in individual poems. Char, not surrealist enough to enter the discussion, although I am attracted to his work for other reasons. How could surrealists turn Stalinist? Aragon, Neruda... "Surrealism is the business of poets who have no business with surrealism." Am I quoting that right?

Getting ready to teach the third day of second grade.
The criteria for judging poetry: a negative criterion would be based on the presence of amateurism, obvious flaws, signs that the poet doesn't really know what he or she is doing. The positive view would ask whether the poem offers anything extraordinary, whether it rises above a certain level--not whether it sinks below a threshold of tolerance. A poetry offering a uniform surface of "good writing" might end up being simply dull. We can't object to anything in particular. Even an amateurish touch might be welcome here to break the monotony!

Great poets who write seemingly bad lines (judged from conventional viewpoint), like Spicer. Someone who pointed these out to me, I would say, sure, I already know that this doesn't seem to be good poetry, but you are missing the point.
A few Eluard translations:


She went in her little bedroom to change, while her kettle sang. An air current from the window slammed the door behind her. A short second, she polished her strange, white, erect nakedness. Then she slipped into a widow's dress


My eyes, patient objects, were forever open over the expanse of the seas where I was drowning. Finally white foam passed over the fleeing black point. Everything was erased.


Read Cole Swenson's "Noon" yesterday, for the first time. 9 sections of 9 poems each. One is extraordinary ("Bestiary"). "Water, Water" is also very good. There are no weak sections, just ones that I find less compelling, perhaps too strained and abstract, too "French," though I'm sure I would like them in a different mood.

18 mar. 2003

I showed Basho's frog haiku to Julia last night. I explained, following Kenneth Koch's writing idea based on this poem, that the idea was to imagine something quiet and still and imagine some surprising and possibly noisy change. The poem she came up with after a minute was:

"My dad beat the dusty drums"

I burst out laughing. It seemed such a perfect and concise application of the idea. Much better than: "An old dusty drumset / Dad walks down to the basement / crash!" Another one she came up with a few minutes later didn't work as well:

"I mop the dusty floors of my house."
I've got to think no one can write a "Jonathan Mayhew" poem better than I can. Yet this is far from a foregone conclusion. You'd like to think that this would be true of everyone by definition, but it is clearly not. Amateur poetry is distinguished precisely by its lack of distinguishing characteristics, and the less that someone knows about poetry the more likely he or she is to write in an extremely narrow range, to not really "express" the self in any significant sense.

I consider myself "semi-pro."


Why does everyone think that Silliman is so narrow-minded? (Well not everyone of course). He is disappointed that the younger poets don't form literary formations in a repetition of Language poetry (which is not going to happen), but I actually think he does listen and is very thoughtful, whether you agree with him or not. All my exchanges with him back-channel have been cordial. Could it be a question of "tone"? Not what he says but the way he says it? I am not irritated by this as much as others are, apparently.


David Shapiro's sense that the victors have written literary history in a way that leaves certain poets out of the picture (including himself). This HAS happened, I would say, but I don't think the final chapter has been written. I don't think, for example, that Language poetry has won out against 2nd generation New York poetry. The people 10 years younger than myself are likely to pick and choose from among a wide variety of poets. (I am in my early 40s--very early 40s). They aren't all going to be reading only Bernstein and Watten. Of course, the academic critics will always be at least 15 years behind in any scenario.
2nd day of poetry workshop. Apology poems on the model of "Variations on a theme by William Carlos Williams." They did extraordinarily well. The clear-cut format helps the kids write, even when they end up abandoning the pattern. Tomorrow I might do "I used to be / but now I am." I am reaching almost all of the class which is about 50/50 White and African-American, with a few Asians (including my daughter) and one student from Ethiopia. It is not an "inner-city" school, but it is not really "suburban" either.

17 mar. 2003

"Maintenant je parle sans porte-voix. Sans ravin dans la poitrine. Sans éclisses dans le coeur. Je parle comme je respire. Je respire comme una pierre. "

"I don't use a megaphone when I speak anymore. There is no ravine in my chest. There are no splints in my heart. I speak in the same way as I breathe. I breathe like a stone." --Dupin, translated by Auster.

It seems to me that this brief poem (or section of a longer poem) needs to be treated more delicately. The first thing I notice is that Auster destroys the discursive continuity of "sans porte-voix . . . sans ravin .... sans éclisses." He should have said "Now I speak without megaphone. Without a ravine in my chest..." He does the same thing by translating the word "comme" as "in the same way as" instead of simply translating: "I speak like I breathe. I breathe like a stone." Precisely because this poetry is so "pure," so devoid of extraneous material, it is encumbent on the translator to preserve repetitions of words whenever possible. There are numerous other examples of this kind of translation in this book.
I was reading Jacques Dupin this weekend, in translation by Paul Auster, David Shapiro. I have some bone to pick with some of Auster's translations, but more of that later. What struck me about Dupin's poetry was that it seemed so similar to that of other French poets, especially René Char. There seems to be a pattern in lot of what I've read.

1. The poetic speaker is never a "social subject." He is always a solitary individual in communion with nature. Other human subjects that appear are rather abstract, allegorical.

2. Language seems uniform in register and not extremely varied in referential framework. There is very little colloquialism, or variation in tone. I might be have missed some linguistic variability due to my weak French, but the translations confirm my impression.

3. There is a strong metapoetic dimension: the poetic subject is usually the poet in the act of writing the poem. Mallarmé is still a strong influence.

4. I like this sort of poetry, I really do! But I find it ultimately too narrow in range. There is very little humor or stylistic variation. Compare it to American poetry heavily influenced by the French: The New York School. Ceravolo's "Waitress lips / kiss our cheeks." That observation, while different from anything Reverdy would have written, still has that Pierre Reverdy freshness which I find lacking in Dupin--who nevertheless can be quite powerful within this relatively narrow range.
First day of poetry workshop went well. The "Swan of Bees" exercise got them loosened up. Then we did "lies," or "things that aren't true." The kids were eager and full of energy, though some wrote a single line in the time that it took others to fill an entire page. Tomorrow we will do poetic apologies.


Silliman writes about Ken Irby today in his blog. Ken lives about 500 yards from me in Lawrence. We often end up getting to campus about the same time and migrating over to Border's in the late afternoon, following a parallel but separate trajectory. Ken's apartment, in which I have only been one time, is crammed with huge piles of cds and books laying on the floor and on tables.


I'm going to be in charge of the Kansas poetics seminar next year. I hope we have money to invite a speaker.

16 mar. 2003

"My recent plea for tolerance of the participation of mainstream poets in the formation of a united coalition of writers against war does not in any way imply that I think it's OK to WRITE like them."

So says Kasey M. I agree. That's why I'm starting with 2nd Grade students tomorrow.

15 mar. 2003

Prohibida la invectiva

en un mundo donde los niños no fueran cínicos enanos

ecos que llegan con 25 años de retraso

lo cual es física y metafísica-

mente imposible, polvo en los tambores

Invective is banned

in a world where children were not cynical midgets

echoes that are 25 years too late

which is physically and metaphysical-

ly impossible, dust on the drums

These are poems my daughter wrote last night. She wanted to know what I was going to do next week in her class and she started writing poems, kept at it all evening. A "lie" poem:

I Am Always Exploring

I went to France when I was three
I explored a forest in Costa Rica
I drived a race car in Canada
I went to Mexico and found a statue's head on the dirt
I went to North Dakota and saw a polar bear on the sidewalk.
I went to Kansas and saw a Panda sleeping right next to the apartment
The last thing I did was just stay home

This is a "I seem to be / but I am really poem":

I seem to be living in the jungle but I only live in a farm.
I seem to be a race car going really fast but I am only a horse with a person on me.
I seem to be a dancer but I am only a seagull flying in the air.
I seem to be a drummer but I am only a lady bug running on leaves
I am still scared that I will fall

--Julia Tsuchiya-Mayhew, aged 7 1/2.

14 mar. 2003

RSVP: I cannot come to your party, Jordan; thanks for the invitation. I do hope to come to New York at some point in the next six months and meet you and David Shapiro.
By "funny accent" I simply meant that a "colorful" commentator on NPR has to sound somehow different from a Noah Adams type voice. The accent, whether regional (Southern, Western) or "foreign," serves as the sign of that "colorfulness." My voice is easily identifiable--it is hoarse, somewhat raucous, uncertain in pitch. My accent is unidentifiable American but not perfect or bland. I have trouble with my "r"s. People I barely know can identify me on the phone--restaurants I order food from frequently don't even ask my name.
I was looking at my books and seeing what I needed to bring home to St. Louis for Spring Break, and I realized that I already had Wishes, Lies, and Dreams. I bought it off of Amazon a few weeks ago, never realizing that I have the 1971 paperback edition--I've probably had it for 20 years at least. It used to belong to someone named "Fran Farley," who marked it up in green ink a bit. I hope she was a teacher who got good use out of it. I bought it for $1.20, probably at Chimera Books in Palo Alto, although I cannot be sure.
Ron Silliman's remarks about the school of quietude and the "soft" surrealism of the 60s seem very thoughtful to me. I know this might seem old hat by now. We have been hearing similar arguments for more than a decade. Yet the idea that poetry has to be safe and dull still persists in the middle-brow culture, in NPR-land. If I had a funny accent I could be an NPR Commentator like Codrescu or that "cowboy poet."


I saw a book in Border's yesterday. Daniel Kane on the Lower East Side poetry scene of the 1960s, with accompanying cd. New from UC Press. I'm going to get it after spring break.

13 mar. 2003

From a post by Piombino over at the poetics list

"You feel that you are having a personal moment with a writer in the past
when you read their journals, a similar feeling you might get in reading
blogs like those of Stephanie Young, Nada Gordon, David Hess, Kasey Silem
Mohammmad (a writer familiar to list readers), Marianne Shaneen, Gary
Sullivan, Ron Silliman, Jordan Davis, Jonathan Mayhew, Joe Massey or Jimmy
Behrle and others. Their is a continuum from the most introspective, such as
Stephanie's or Jordan's, or that of David Hess and the most
journalistic, like Ron Silliman and Gary Sullivan. Some, like Jonathan Mayhew
provide a daily map to their thoughts about poetry. Mayhew also reads and
writes in Spanish. The amazing Heriberto Yepez, who recently read at the
Drawing Center, has two blogs, one in Spanish and one in English, and lives
in Tijuana. He links with writers all over Mexico and elsewhere. "


The longer I am stuck in my office working, the more I write on my blog. Thus I seem to write the most when I am busiest, in the interstices of my working day.
I would hate to see "flaming" take root in the blogosphere. However much the one being flamed deserves such treatment. If you start to see some elder statesman language poet as a "fascist," what word do you have left for a REAL fascist?
Henry, to whom I belatedly link my blog, believes in childhood as a theological proposition, which confirms Heriberto's original point.


Later: Henry disagrees: I am not getting dumber, but smarter and more scintillating! (Thanks.) He also disagrees that his extrapolation of childhood to theology proves Yépez right. I fear I have misrepresented the original article, which probably no one else has read, since it is in Spanish and not on line. He does not mean (I think) that children do not literally exist, but that anyone's evocation of children/childhood is (almost) always an ideological move or projection. I thought I detected just such a move in Henry's nicely wrought theological conceit, but I won't insist on this.

"4:50 and dark
already? Everyone
wants to be beautiful but
few are. 4:51
and darker."

--Ron Padgett

This is marvelous and fresh, I would submit. There's a lot going on here. There is a difference between playing at poetry--and making it work-- and playing at poetry in order to trivialize it. Jordan's "right of the poet to be a fuck-off" but not the "stereotypey version of this right."
Is there a contradiction between my relative permissiveness about poetry, my sincere belief that there are different valid ways of writing, and my utter rejection of entire poetic styles? Ron Padgett's "Post-Publication Blues"

My first book of poems
has just been published.
It is over there on the table
lying there on the table, where
it is lying. It has
a beautiful cover and design.
The publishers have spent a lot of money
on it and devoted many
man- and woman-hours to it.
The bookstores are ordering copies.
Unfortunately I am a very bad poet and
the book is no good.

This is a very good poem despite the fact that it pretends not to be including seemingly pointless repetitions and flat lines like "The bookstores are ordering copies." I can feel permissive toward this poet; even though I wouldn't make absurdly grandiose claims about Padgett, he has made a unique contribution to poetry. Here, of course, the joke is on the reader, since the last lines justify the seeming inadequacy of the poet's language. I cannot feel "permissive" in the same way toward a Robert Pinsky.

This was the point that I was trying all morning to remember. I would remember it when I was away from the computer and forget it again when I began to blog. Unfortunately this blog has nothing of value on it and you are wasting your time reading it.
Nick Piombino is reading Bronk, coincidentally, over at "fait accompli." And Ceravolo! I keep trying to read "The Boundary of Blur" (Piombino) but I never seem to be in the right frame of mind to enter into this discursive world; I like his aphoristic style more than his "explaining something to me" style. I saw a Ceravolo book in a bookstore yesterday, but one I already have and not particularly rare (The Green Lake is Awake). Should I leave it there for someone to buy? Or buy it to give away to someone else in proselytizing fervor? Would my second-graders respond to Ceravolo?
While the blogger was down this morning I looked through some of my archives. I definitely was smarter 5 months ago than I am now.

12 mar. 2003

A lot of righteous indignation about Charles Bernstein, who has called for complexity and nuanced uses of language in anti-war poetry. I suppose if he were taken as saying that only "language poets" were allowed to write anti-war poems, his critics would have a point!

I hate to see poetry being the dumping ground, though, for everything that cannot be expressed in good prose. Heriberto Yépez has a great article on the literary deficiencies of Subcomandante Marcos [leader of Zapatista revolt]. What is the point of attacking the literary style of a political leader like this, one with whom Yépez has some degree of sympathy? The point is to tell the truth and not to think good intentions make good literature.
For Bronk, reality itself is incommensurate with any human construction of it. A profound epistemological skepticism leading to a feeling of religious awe. So the differences between cultural apprehensions of this reality are less than the differences between any apprehension of reality and reality itself. Thus the Whorf hypothesis would have less and less interest for him as he goes along.
"To live in a hogan under a hovering sky
is to live in a universe hogan shaped..."

I don't think so, Bronk. Isn't this just the discredited Sapir/Whorf hypothesis?
Bronk's idea that the Mayans possessed a totally different world-view, not just different, but incommensurable, incomparable with the Western view. As though they were Martians or cats (he actually uses the idea of cats in one poem). I don't doubt that there is a difference, but should this difference be conceived of as metaphysical, or more or less circumstantial? My doubt about ethno-poetics: are shamanistic rituals more profound than Prespyterian? I am skeptical of the ethnographic sublime, because it seems to impoverish our imaginations of ourselves. Life is elsewhere.
An editor once asked me to change "gnomic" to "aphoristic," on the grounds that more people would know what the latter meant. He was probably right, although I didn't follow his suggestion. To me, these words mean different things. "Gnomic" is hermetic, arcane; "aphoristic" is more rational or clever in a witty way. In this particular case the poetry I was writing about was gnomic but not particularly aphoristic.
I've always been fascinated by assertions that a particular kind of "subjectivity" was invented, or took form, at a particular point of history. With Shakespeare, say. It implies, if taken with a certain degree of literalness, that people used to walk around like automata before some magical date. If that is the case, I would be more interested in studying the subjectivity of those without subjectivity than exploring the richness of those who are supposedly more like "us," because possessed of richer, "modern" subjectivity. What does it feel like not to have an inner life in the modern sense? I will never know, and I think the thinking behind this distinction is suspect, though I cannot quite explain why. Can we only read anachronistically?
Confessions of modesty and confessions of arrogance are all the same. They are just different rhetorical positionings of oneself in the acceptance/approval game. After all, if you are modest you expect the other person to disagree with you, and if you are arrogant you expect the interlocutor not to challenge you.
Do list poems have to justify the order of the list? This is the problem with paratactic poetry generally. Could one rearrange the sentences of Hejinians' My Life and come up with an equally acceptable result?
Who was it said of Bonanza that it was a show about a fifty-five year old man and his three 45-five year old sons? Or the soap-opera that has a 36 year old woman playing the mother of a 26 year old woman? Can seemingly depthless characters evoke deep identification?
Would that argument about "el niño" being an ideological construct work with other things? I've always been fascinated by certain genres that completely exclude whole facets of life. Like Soap Operas in which noone actually is seen working at a job or going to the bathroom. Or a classroom scene in a movie in which the entire class period takes 45 seconds instead of 45 minutes.
Jen Hofer's translation of Mexican women poets is out, I learn from Rafa's blog this morning. I'll have to figure out how I can get a review copy. I can't afford to buy all the books I want.


I can think of someone as "one of my favorite writers" and realize one day I haven't read the person's work in 10 years. I've barely touched Schuyler's Collected Poems.

11 mar. 2003

To demonstrate that a Mexican writer's memoirs are actually fiction (Cuevas), Yépez argues that the use of the "niño" is a dead give-away. We all know that "children" don't exist in real life, he argues; they are ideological constructs or mythological beasts like unicorns. Thus, whenever anyone writes, "when I was a child..." we know that we are dealing with a work of fiction. This article, or "critical fiction," purports to demonstrate the "vicious circle" between fiction and reality, and itself is based on a circular argument: since children don't really exist, any work that employs the device of the "child" must be a work of fantasy! Perfectly Borgesian.

I was convinced .... by the weaker version of this claim: that is, that any appeal to *childhood,* whether in general terms or specifically, to own's childhood, is an ideological or psychoanalytic projection. Just like any appeal to "national security" or "the western tradition" or "Judeo-christian ethics."
Indignation about something in the poetry/poetics world is almost always excessive, overdetermined. It is not really about what it seems to be about, but rather has to do with a lack of readership and power. We can work ourselves into a lather over a blurb by Jorie Graham, but what is the real issue? That in a world where most poets struggle to get read by more than a few friends someone wielding apparent power to canonize (prematurely) is frivolous, corrupt, or simply misguided (or some combination of the above).
All doctoral dissertations break Ron Silliman's principle of critical parsimony. Except mine, of course, which was quite short.
No time to blog today. Classes to teach, papers to read, and a dissertation defense later. Which means I'll probably have to blog even more in-between all of these things.

10 mar. 2003

I slowly read out loud to myself the poem by Noah Eli Gordon posted on Ron's blog the other day. It took me less than two minutes! The language of the poem is pellucid, and the entire text has a strong narrative dimension. This is not Paul Celan we're talking about. This was the poem that the student organizing a poetry reading against the war said was too long and abstract. And today I notice that Matthew Zapruder has written Ron to protest Gordon's protestation. I agree completely with Ron's resistance to "dumbing down" our poetry. Why is only poetry required to be stupider in times of political crisis? Are we to listen to stupider music, look at dumber art, because the times require it? Even if the guy HAD wanted to read Celan, in the original German, at an anti-war protest, I think it could have been effective, more so than the empty rhetoric of your usual anti-war poem.

Sure, go protest the war, but leave "poetry" out of it if you are "functionally illiterate," as the audience would have to have been not to get this poem.
Jordan, you can have your anxiety back now; I'm done with it for the day.
Poetry = language on vacation.

Oops, I think I took that from Wittgenstein. Except he says "holiday," in British translation. I guess Valéry said something similar.
I used too many adverbs in that last post--actually, really, vastly, substantially, definitely. The part of speech of pointless self-scrutiny.
A sudden fear that I will "lose it," or have already "lost it," the ability to have something of relevance or interest to anyone else. This fear fighting against the contrary feeling that actually I have more to say now than I ever did, that past versions of myself were vastly inadequate, that I've only really figured anything out in the last three or four years.

That idea that you have to be of a certain age to really understand an art form, whether poetry or any other. In conflict with my feeling that I was already fairly well-on-the-way to understanding something about poetry when I was 19 or 20. I am rarely in awe of a mere literary critic. I hardly ever feel, that is, that there is anyone substantially superior to me in the ability to read poetry and understand what it is about. There are definitely more erudite people, or people with a surer command of the theoretical discourse.

8 mar. 2003

Whenever anyone expresses admiration or approval of me I don't know whether to think they are extremely intelligent or rather dull. That old approval game again. You have to cultivate anyone who thinks highly of you, but you can't help viewing them with suspicion. . . like wearing shoes of soap to keep your feet clean.


Mapped out in my head an article to write on Heriberto, while I drove from Kansas to here (St. Louis). First I have to read his other books.

7 mar. 2003

Yépez's range of reading is really quite extraordinary. My students, white kids from middle-class backgrounds, barely possess any cultural capital. They haven't read anything. Yépez started out as a grafitti artist. He doesn't have a privileged background in the least.

I'm embarrassed reading Yépez's book of essays that I know so little about Armand Schwerner. I spend three hours reading it while proctoring the Master's Examination. There is some great, violent invective against the posthumous publication of the books of Borges that Borges himself would have wanted to suppress. My only complaint is that he overuses the word "importante." He has a wonderful style in Spanish, drawing on every register from the colloquial to the literary. He doesn't need to fall back on weak words like this.
More Nigerian e-mail scam/spam:

"First, I must solicit your strictest confidence in
this transaction,this is by virtue of it's nature as
being utterly confidential and top secret as you were
introduced to my family in confidence by a mutual
acquaintance in the Nigerian Chamber of
Commerce(foreign Trade Division).He does not however
know the nature and extent of what I am about to
introduce to you."

Who do I know in Nigerian Chamber of Commerce? I guess I'm betraying this confidence already...

Unfortunately I was too prejudiced to be able to read Joshua Clover's Madonna anno domini. I tried, but there was too much interference, too much negative and positive buzz. It also has blurbs by Ashbery and Michael Palmer, by the way. Instead of checking out this book I found Yépez's "Ensayos para un desconcierto," which has just arrived. I laughed out loud while eating lunch when I came across a passage about translating Bukowski into Spanish. He says when you read him in a Spanish edition (from Spain) you find words like "carajo, cojones, and gilipollas" --expletives and obscenities which are not a part of Mexican Spanish. "Only the devil knows what the hell 'gilipollas' are," he says, "and you could die from laughter while imagining Bukowski saying Gilliopollas... The Bukowski of Anagrama [Spanish publisher] is a Bukowski-lifted-from-an-Almodóvar-movie."
"El lector español encontrará ahí [on my Spanish blog] comentarios críticos sobre un poema de Ángel González burlándose de Mallarmé (para disgusto de Mayhew); lo kitsch que podían ser los textos de Octavio Paz; la bilis de Juan Benet dirigida contra Solzhenitsyn, o que en la lista de poetas predilectos de Mayhew están Antonio Gamoneda, José Angel Valente y Claudio Rodríguez o se topará con su tesis de que el gobierno socialista de España en los años ochenta promovió una escuela de poesía que reflejaba sus propias ambiciones culturales “tan grandiosas como mediocres”. “La llamada ‘poesía de la experiencia’ es poesía realista banal sobre la vida diaria, no desemejante a la poesía de taller literario en Estados Unidos”. www.jonathanmayhew.blogspot.com."

A footnote to Yépez's article.

I should probably translate that (roughly): "In his site, Silliman summarizes arguments [discussions] about poetics, acknowledges receipt of books, puts forth his personal ideas, cites electronic epistles, and analyzes authors of the recent past. It essentially online essay-writing. My favorite site in English, nevertheless, is that of Jonathan Mayhew, a professor of Spanish in the University of Kansas, specializing, as it happens, in Spanish Literature. The page covers jazz and commentary on recent American poetry."
"En su sitio, Silliman (www.ronsilliman.blogspot.com) resume discusiones acerca de poética, sube acuses de recibo de libros, promueve sus ideas personales, cita sus epistolarios electrónicos  o analiza autores del pasado reciente. Se trata de una ensayística en línea. Mi sitio preferido en inglés, sin embargo, es el de Jonathan Mayhew, un profesor de la Universidad de Kansas, precisamente especializado en literatura española. La página (www.jonathanmayhew.blogspot.com) aborda el jazz y comentarios sobre poesía norteamericana contemporánea." --Heriberto Yépez in "literaturas.com"

Muchas gracias.

This is not to imply that I approve of Jorie Graham's blurb for the book in question. I just find it odd that the blurb would evoke such an animus against the poet, among those who have never read his work. I'm going to look for the book today in the library and read it so I can form my own opinion without prejudice, if I can only remember what the guy's name is... I'll have to surf back over to all the blogs I read yesterday.

6 mar. 2003

Review of a book of poems I've never read:

"This book is obviously suspect because it has a blurb on the back from a poet more famous than the poets who wrote the blurbs for my latest book. Furthermore, this blurb is so hyperbolic that the poems in the book could not possibly live up to it. How can anyone know that this book will a major influence on poetry for the next millenium? The photo of the author also tells me that this is a book I can review without actually reading. He is a punk kid wearing sunglasses, with hair dyed blond, and a tee-shirt that says "Discipline." Obviously a sado-masochist. Do not open this book! Do not actually read the poems in it to form an opinion! Completely unnecessary."
Why make a shit-list of young guys noone has even ever heard of? Here's mine, in no particular order:

1. Issa
2. Charles Olson
3. Wynton Marsalis
4. Ezra Pound
5. Luis García Montero
6. Jonathan Mayhew
7. Robert Lowell
8. Mary Louise Pratt
9. Donald Hall
10. William Stafford
11. Robert Bly
12. Jorie Graham
13. Bob Dylan
14. Paul Verlaine
15. James Merrill

The ontological proof: Suppose there is a good poet blogger from Tijuana--what would be his characteristics? He would have to be .... and .... "but he would have to exist. It is a necessary attribute of the good to exist." (after Spicer)

The argument from (intelligent) design: There are certain writings attributed to Yépez. They cannot have come into existence by some purely random process. Therefore there has to be some organizing intelligence behind them.

Pascal's wager: If you believe in Heriberto Yépez, and he turns out not to have existed, you lose nothing. If you don't believe in him, and he is real, you are in big trouble!

Atsushi atsushi to
kado kado no koe

"Too hot too hot"
from gate to gate the cry

With these lines from Basho, I think the first task of the translator is to reproduce the poetic devices, of startling simplicity: repetition and alliteration. One translation I have has: "says a voice at every house-gate." (?) Why the redundant "says"?


Why do I not get detailed two page emails about the current poetry scene that I can then reproduce on my blog? I am quite glad not to be a poetic powerbroker, whether real or perceived. I did get a nice email from Matsuo Basho recently, which I may reproduce here.

5 mar. 2003

I just had to mention my blog on my annual performance review, which I am soon to turn in. Can all this be justified on academic grounds? I certainly reach more people than I would through an academic article. I suggested that it be given the credit I might receive for a pair of book reviews.
/ www.hyepez.blogspot.com
03-05 02:55 PM / stephanieyoung.blogspot.com
03-05 02:43 PM / nickpiombino.blogspot.com
03-05 02:20 PM / nickpiombino.blogspot.com
03-05 02:01 PM /
03-05 02:01 PM / Google search: language poets
03-05 01:40 PM / heathensinheat.blogspot.com
03-05 01:30 PM /2002_12_01_jonathanmayhew_archive.html Google search: Vino, primero, pura
03-05 01:28 PM / [unknown origin]
03-05 01:22 PM /
03-05 01:21 PM /
03-05 01:20 PM / millionpoems.blogspot.com
03-05 01:09 PM / sainteros.com/weblog
03-05 12:57 PM / [unknown origin]
03-05 12:47 PM / rw.blogspot.com
03-05 12:33 PM / josephmassey.blogspot.com
03-05 12:33 PM / ululate.blogspot.com
03-05 12:18 PM /
03-05 12:18 PM /
03-05 12:13 PM /
03-05 12:11 PM / heathensinheat.blogspot.com
03-05 12:11 PM /
03-05 11:52 AM / [unknown origin]
03-05 11:51 AM / limetree.blogspot.com
03-05 11:44 AM /

A quick snapshot of how you have been getting to this blog in the last few hours!
The 10th century Tosa Diary, read in the laundromat. If written by a man, the putative author Tsurayuki, it is marvelous excercise in point of view, since it is narrated by a woman in Tsurayuki's entourage, perhaps his wife. If written by a woman and simply attributed to Tsurayuki, it is no less marvelous. The poems in the book are attributed to various fictional characters, including the female narrator, several children, and poets of varying levels of skill. Should we think of them as real children's poems, (essentially found poems) or as poems written by the author in a deliberately naive style? Then the book becomes a sort of ars poetica. The poems said to be written by incompetent or immature poets are there as negative examples, yet at the same time are highly effective as dramatic outpourings of naive feelings. The narrator, returning with Tsurayuki's party after the latter's term as provincial government has expired, has lost her child, a child born in the capital. Her poems of grief are quite affecting. Why should I weep for a 10th century Japanese child? It's too bad the translator of this work did not collaborate with a poet... The prose parts work well, but the poetry is not translated effectively, although some of the poems are supposed to sound bad.

The cats making love

once they’ve stopped in the bedroom

a faint vernal moon


Now cat's done

mewing, bedroom's

touched by moonlight


I think these are versions of the same Basho haiku.
Old old pond
frog re-leaping

--Cid Corman, (courtesy of Joe Massey; Corman has other version of the poem as well).

Literal crib:

oldpond [particle meaning the sentence that follows is about the old pond]
frog leaps
water [possessive particle] sound

huruike ya
kawazu tobikomu
mizu no oto


An old pond--
The sound
Of a diving frog.
Lucien Stryk doesn't do too bad: "Old pond. / leap-splash / a frog."
The linked, collaborative poetry of the Basho school (late 17th century) retains its freshness. "Glad to be alive / my poems have been anthologized!" "Shake the ashes / from the dried sardine." The rules governing composition seem convoluted, designed to preserve the exact degree of continuity and discontunuity, coherence and variety, peaks and valleys of attention. The haiku is really the first stanza of a linked poem, having gained autonomy. The translator has two tasks, in this context. One is not to complicate or overexplain, not to destroy freshness and simplicity. The second is to provide enough information so that the poem still makes sense. These are contradictory. Lenore Mayhew is sometimes too minimalistic.

The utter simplicity of "mizu no oto," literally "water's sound." I have seen it translated as "a splash," or as "A deep resonance" (???).

4 mar. 2003

E-mail conversation this afternoon with Jordan Davis about reading all of O'Hara, Koch, and Ashbery's favorite writers. The merits of David Schubert. Teaching poetry to children. The founding of the International Ron Padgett Society.


I'm bringing home Japanese Linked Poetry and Japanese Poetic Diaries, edited by Earl Miner, to read this evening. I haven't looked at these books in at least five years.

For Basho's:

Abura kasurite
yoine suru aki

Miner puts: "In his lamp the oil grows low / and autumn brings him early sleep"

Lenore Mayhew, in Monkey's Raincoat" (Charles Tuttle, 1985) has "Autumn: scrape the oil / go to bed with the dark."

Too bad the scholar and the poet are not combined in one person. Miner's scholarly apparatus is indispensable, but my paternal aunt, who knows even less Japanese than I do, has a more graceful touch--and is often more accurate to boot. There is no "his" or "and" in Basho's original. There's not even a lamp, this is implied.
MLA Newletter arrived. If there is a Margaret Atwood Society why isn't there a Fanny Howe Society or a Ron Padgett Society? At the very least a Raymond Roussel Society. Perhaps it's for the best, though. The WCW usually chooses a dull topic. And "Milton and Popular Culture"?
Reading Kenko's Tsurezuregusa at my in-laws house in San Diego. Japanese aesthetics emphasizes imperfection and perishability. You don't want to have a complete set of anything, says this 14th century Buddhist monk. These "essays in idleness" delineate a good blog aesthetic as well.
I think I'll go all out in my poetry workshop, teaching all five days of my spring break. I know I'm going to do apology poems, the "swan of bees" excercise, perhaps as a class collaboration, and poems based on Herrick's "The Argument of His Book." The problem is the profusion of ideas. I really need more than a week. Of course I've never taught poetry "writing" even to adults. Only poetry reading.
A swan of bees.
Read New Yorker on the airplane to San Diego. Did you see the cartoon about two guys in the bar, the one where the husband and the wife are sitting on the couch and one says something to the other, the defendant before the judge, the prisoners chained to the wall, the man and the woman in the restaurant breaking up? I'd like to see an issue in which none of the cartoons are based on cartoon stereotypes. The equivalent in the New Yorker poems is the poem with too many similes. Similes should be outlawed, unless your name is Homer or John Ashbery or Chris Stroffolino. They are a sign of laziness in most cases.


Tomorrow will make six months of blogging.