28 de feb. de 2007

It is about 65-70 degrees out, so I did the only logical, natural thing to do in such a situation, taking my conga drum to play outside my building for a good 45 minutes in the middle of the afternoon. Why my whole department was not out there with their congas, I don't know. It was kind of interesting to see what people did when they walked by, and to see how this varied among people who know me and people who don't. Nobody gave me spare change, but that was to be expected.

27 de feb. de 2007

Phrases like "Latino/a studies" or "chicano/a literature" are kind of odd, linguistically speaking. They bring over into English something from the Spanish gender system, but a feature that is not there, in the same way at least, in the original Spanish!

For example, in Spanish, we would say "literatura chicana." That would mean literature written by "chicanos" and "chicanas." The adjective agrees with the noun, which happens to be feminine in this case. So you could have "poesía masculina," masculine poetry, but the adjective masculine is linguistically feminine. Or "El cuento femenino" to mean short-stories written by women.

Spanish makes the masculine the universal gender, so "los alumnos" technically means students of both genders, whereas "las alumnas" means female students. In construing the word "latino" as only masculine, not masculine + feminine, the native English speaker feels the need to add the "/a" or "/as" to show that women are not excluded; in fact, are actively included.

So if you translated a course description in Latino/a Studies into Spanish, you would have a more difficult time making it work, since the word "latino" would simply agree with whatever noun it had to agree with: "La cultura latina" or "los estudios latinos." I don't find the "slash a" aesthetically pleasing, but it seems to be ensconsed in the field and cannot be removed because the move to so would be perceived as a social exclusion of women. Even though I don't like the awkwardness of it, it does in fact show a linguistic hybridity that is, in fact, appropriate to the field itself. It shows (1) aspects of the Spanish gender system (2) an English-language misconstrual of said system, (3) a desire for "political correctness" in language with implications for both languages. That little "/a" turns out to be quite interesting.

The universal/masculine thing doesn't really work awfully well any more, so that we find ourselves saying things like "los lectores y las lectoras." Will people start saying "mi madre y mi padre" instead of "mis padres" [my parents]? It will be harder to change on the level of pronouns.
A very advanced student wrote "*requiso" instead of "requirió" for the past tense of the verb "requerir," to require. This is actually a pretty interesting error, because he was construing the verb as "re + querer" and then applying a rule that says that verbs formed with an irregular verb plus a prefix will usually have the same irregularity. What's interesting is that errors tend to regularize rather than irregularize, so this particular one goes against the usual pattern.

22 de feb. de 2007

What if we defined lyric poetry as truly "lyric," that is, meant for singing along with some kind of string instrument? Then who are the great lyric poets? Campion, Lorca? Petrarch still called his collection of poetry a canzionere. Most poetry is meant to be spoken or read on the page. Dramatic monologues are not "lyric" poems. Lyrics usually lack psychological depth of the modern sort.

We shouldn't talk about the speaker of the poem if it is a lyric. There is the implicit lyric subject, the person singing the song, who is not an author figure, really. Scholars now think that the "canción de amigo" of medieval Spain, whether written in Galician or Castilian, is authored by male poets. The lyric subject, of the poem, however, is female.

These poems are wonderfully fresh, as though they'd been written yesterday. Except that nobody wrote anything this fresh yesterday. They remind me of Lorca, because Lorca obviously knew and imitated these poems

Si la noche hace escura,
y tan corto es el camino,
¿cómo no venís, amigo?

If night is dark, the road short, why don't you come, friend? The "amigo" means "lover" in this particular lyric tradition. That's the word that's used almost always. Darkness is a friend to furtive lovers, I suppose.

What's the difference between the idea of a singer-as-songwriter, and the idea of "cover," in which the singer becomes the song but is not seen as necessarily author of those words? Somehow I prefer the latter.

What happens when a song meant for a woman, like "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered," is sung by a man?

21 de feb. de 2007

The great Bemsha Swing poetry face off! Here's how it works.

You submit the name of a poet, alive or dead, and the titles of five poems. Give me the poems themselves if they are not easily locatable. Send your nominations by emails, NOT comments on the blog.

I face off your choice against that of the next person who submits a name of another poet. My infallible judgment will be the last word. There will be no appeals.

At stake: bragging rights for your favorite poet and for your impeccable taste.

In round 2, you will submit five more titles, if your poet has won its first round, and so forth.

The false dawn had been implicated, its circularity
seen as a rebuke to honest folks, a third largest city
in the brain...

"Casuistry" is over-complex and disengenuous argumentation, maybe a "circular" or "false" argument? "To be implicated" in something is usually a bad thing. Hence there is a fear of being "found out," exposed to the scorn of "honest folk" who feel the very existence of such arguments is a rebuke to them, both because it isn't "honest" and because it's probably "over their heads." The phrase "honest folks" is itself a rebuke to such folks, because it is a cliché connoting a certain distance from anyone who would use the phrase about themselves.

...Others were quick to join
the fray. It wasn't our fault that so many
appeared specious in the waning light of February:
Who, indeed, would they appeal to?
There were no precedents for its apparent soundness,
not yesterday's dribs and drabs, the remnants
of someone else's feast, I'd wager...

There is a conflict or fray occuring. The "others" joining in are like personified arguments. After all, we don't usually call people "specious," speaking instead of "specious arguments." Here the royal "we" of the poem distances himself from potential allies, offering up casuistry with no possibility of appealing to a higher authority or precedent (note the legalese). The argument being proposed is apparently sound, but is not. The past, yesterday, is not a source of authority; there is no valued precedents, only a diminished things, dribs and drabs of someone else's past wealth.

...And what if
a lot of them come back and decide to settle down
with their parents, enraptured with home cooking
all of a sudden? Will they make the cut?

Here there is the possibility, or impossibility, of a return to a better past. Will the specious arguments return and live with their parents? This "home cooking" does not sound very appealing, so the word "enraptured" becomes very ironical. Obviously they won't "make the cut" because they went back to live with their parents, who are doubtlessly "honest folks." They have failed to change anything.

And what's out there for us on another
putative fine day? Oversubtlety? Our own quodlibets?

So the poetic "royal we" of the poem is stuck pretty much where he began, in oversubtle casuistry and ironic suspicion, "quodlibets" of no concern to anyone else. The day is not so fine if it is only "putatively" fine. It is the false dawn of the poem of the poem. He is no happier, no more successful than the "adult children" living at a home. Once "quick" to join something more lively but now complacently domestic. Here we have the typically Ashberian suburban melancholy, in which neither honesty nor irony come out smelling too good.
Adam Robert identifies what he calls a "weasel idiom" in Terry Eagleton:

"Ulster Protestants are not by and large dandyish aesthetes notable for their extravagant wordplay and surreal sense of humour. The English middle classes are for the most part less physically and emotionally expressive than Neapolitan dockers. It is unusual to meet a working-class Liverpudlian who dresses for dinner, other than in the sense of putting on a shirt."
Eagleton is trying to demonstrate that, well, stereotypes can actually be true. But to do so, he has rely on the reader's sense of the inherent rightness of certain stereotypes. Thus we get the demonstrative Southern Italian and the the stodgy Ulsterman as examples! Leave it to a washed-up Marxist theorist to make such weak arguments. But then again, washed-up Marxist theorists, "by and large," are not known for their ability to fashion cogent arguments. See how easy it is to be weasely? Eagleton was always pretty glib, I'd say.
Liberman weighs in on some questions of linguistic essentialism and refers to the same Elif Shafrak quote I skewered the other day.

20 de feb. de 2007

I've learned from reading Language Log over the past few years that most people's grammatical "pet peeves" are really linguistic shibboleths with no basis in linguistic reality or "grammar." Grammar is not a set of meaningless prohibitions about splitting infinitives, but the internal structure of a language.

Educated people are often not educated in linguistics. I still have people asking me where the "best" Spanish is spoken. Educated people are actually worse than non-educated people, in this respect, because they think they know things about grammar that they don't actually know. In other words, their knowledge is baseless, pure prejudice in many cases.

I've also learned that Strunk & White are considered idiots by contemporary linguists. The Elements of Style is a completely worthless book.

I wish I had some formal training in linguistics. Obviously I have none at all, although I use or abuse it every day on the job.
For some reason I'm not getting my Shapiro Selected Poems until March 20. Other people already seem to have it.
A gerund is not the same thing as a present participle, though the forms happen to be identical in English. A gerund is a noun, not a verb. Don't say "gerund" when you mean present participle!

19 de feb. de 2007

Here's where I am a semi-Whorfian--and yet still am not. I think most translators are fooling themselves if they think they can get the words to smell right in the translation. Even a very good translation, very good by almost any conceivable measure, will often feel completely wrong. It would be like someone with perfect pitch, who couldn't stand to hear music played in an unaccustomed key. These differences, however, are almost never the result of having different grammatical systems. I know this, because Spanish is not grammatically dissimilar enough from English to make so much of a difference as it does. So we still aren't at a point where the grammar is determining thought patterns, permitting some and preventing others.

(Let's remember that Whorf thought all Western languages had pretty much the same conceptual system. I forgot how he defined this, whether Indo-European or simply in contact with certain rationalist modes of thought for long enough to adopt. )

With any one bilingual individual, there will be a sense of language and the relation between one or more languages unique to that individual. For example, Beckett with English and French. It is not the English is more poetic than French, but Beckett felt that the particular rhythms of English echoed in his head when he wrote in that language, whereas French permitted him a different feel for things, in his case a bit drier and less "poetical." The home language will almost always feel more sentimental to the writer than the learned language, whatever those two languages might be. The mother tongue will be the language of sentiment and "the past," the learned language will be felt as more analytical.

15 de feb. de 2007

The problem with Whorfianism is ...

Consider a series of authors. Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Faulkner and Hemingway, Auden, Gertrude Stein, Thomas Hardy. Frank O'Hara and Barbara Guest. Ezra Pound. Lorine Niedecker. Samuel Beckett. Add your own favorite or least favorite authors, all writing in "English." Now obviously you can attribute the difference in the relation between language and thought in all these writers to the fact that they are not writing in the same *English.* Differences in epoch, dialect, place and time will make them different enough from one another.

Yet they are similar to each other in the language they speak that any kind of lingistic determinism becomes improbable. Put another way, what we call *English* is flexible enough to accomodate worlds of difference.

Now when we look at other languages, since we don't know these languages as well, we tend to think of them as more homogenous, or reduce them to a cultural stereotype.

Take the difference between Brazilian Portuguese and Portuguese of the Iberian peninsula. These differences are more "institutionalized" than those between Spanish American Spanish and Peninsular Spanish. That is, there is a clearer separation between the official norms of the language. (This may or may not correspond to more differentiation at the linguistic level. Since there is as much diversity within Spanish America, arguably, as between Spain and Spanish America, that question is quite complicated.) Would you want to attribute cultural differences between Brazil and Portugal to mostly linguistic causes? I would think not. These languages are more alike than they are to any other third language.

With a language spoken in a limited geographical region by a limited number of speakers, there is an easier identification between language and culture. After all, those are the only speakers that there are! But this seems a historical accident. If Irish were spoken on five continents by several culturallly diverse groups, then Irish would have as much cultural malleability as English does. It is not the syntactic structure of a language that makes people think in a certain way.
"English is inherently mathematical, she noted, arming a writer with the perfectly precise word to match the meaning, while Turkish is an emotional, sentimental tongue, she said, better suited for writing about sorrow and the past."

So said a Turkish writer quoted in the New York Times. This kind of thing drives me crazy. One language is not inherently more mathematical or logical or precise than another. Obviously it is one's personal relation to a language that is infused (or not) with a certain degree of sentiment. To write about Turkey in English, as a Turk, implies a distancing effect, but one that should be separated from the Orientalist fantasy of an Eastern language particularly suited to the expression of sorrow. She should know better.
My inspiration in part was in some Lorca poems that used the device of the every other line refrain. "Son de los negros en Cuba" is one of them." I realized it was like stringing beads on a thread. The odd-numbered lines don't have to have much to do with each other explicitly, since there is so much continuity in the refrain itself. It's a compensation.

14 de feb. de 2007

I have a poem called "Silent, upon a peak in Darien." It is different in every performance. Basically, what you do is alternate a line or phrase floating in your memory with the line "Silent, upon a peak in Darien," and go along for as long as you feel like it.

My Momma done tole me
Silent, upon a peak in Darien
These are amazing, each
Silent, upon a peak in Darien
A la cinco en punto de la tarde
Silent, upon a peak in Darien
The way you sip your tea
Silent, upon a peak in Darien
Silent, upon a peak in Darien
Silent, upon a peak in Darien
Somewhere, over the rainbow,
Silent, upon a peak in Darien
The endless fights, the sleepless nights
Silent, upon a peak in Darien
I heard a flie buzz, when I died
Silent, upon a peak in Darien
I love you as a Sherrif searches for a walnut
Silent, upon a peak in Darien
Among twenty snowy mountains
Silent, upon a peak in Darien
The way you wear your hat
Silent, upon a peak in Darien
A fine romance
Silent, upon a peak in Darien
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Silent, upon a peak in Darien
I never cared much for moonlight skies
Silent, upon a peak in Darien
As I sd to my friend, because I am always
Silent, upon a peak in Darien
John, sd, which was not his name
Silent, upon a peak in Darien
Rose-cheekd Laura, come,
Silent, upon a peak in Darien
As the cat climbed over
Silent, upon a peak in Darien
the top of the
Silent, upon a peak in Darien
Silent, upon a peak in Darien
Mangas de camisa

My grandfather was a white-collar worker who did quite well in business, but he came from a relatively poor farming background. His father, (my great-grand-father Elijah) was a little resentful that his son had done so well, and so (according to my father) he used to use the proverb "From shirtsleeves to shirsleeves in three generations." This was a nineteenth-century saying in the US referring to the fact that one generation might do better than the next, but that there was no guarantee that the third generation would continue to do as well. In other words, social mobility is possible, but temporary at best.

"Shirt-sleeves" in this context means wearing a shirt without a suit-jacket over it. For someone in a good position in society, being in shirt sleeves (mangas de camisa) would be like being only half dressed. It thus means what we would call "blue collar" or "working class." It's an interesting use of metonymy.

This phrase is virtually the only connection I have to my father's grandfather. While I might have some sense of what the phrase meant without this bit of family history, I don't think would understand its force, or the resentment that might be behind someone saying it. It isn't simply a neutral observation, but a sort of insulting warning: "You think you're better than me, but your children will be just as poor as I am." What the story provides is a sort of pragmatic context in which the use, not just the abstract meaning, can be understood.

It's also interesting to put in the context of the proverbial tradition which links children to their parents or the individual to the group. Here the white collar businessman is treated as the exception, the one who wears a suit in contrast to his father, and, presumably, his son too. It's a little more complicated than the simple "acorn doesn't fall far from the tree" sort of adage.
Shorter version. The statement "(Almost) all of Emily D's poems can be sung to the tune of X" strongly implies that (almost) all of her poetry is written in the same meter, that the poems are metrically uniform. In fact, there is no such uniformity. There are at least three or four basic stanza patterns (3333, 4444, 3343, 4343) plus many variations on these four patterns in 1775 poems! And that's only counting the basic accentual pattern, not all the other rhythmic irregularities in individual lines and stanzas, or the fact that not all her poems are even written in quatrains.
Let's see if this myth is true. Here is the first stanzas of a famous ED poem:

I heard a Fly buzz - when I died -
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air -
Between the Heaves of Storm -

The Eyes around – had wrung them dry -
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset – when the King
Be witnessed – in the Room -

There's a yellow rose in Texas,
that I am going to see,
Nobody else could miss her,
not half as much as me.

She cried so when I left her,
it like to broke my heart,
And if I ever find her,
we nevermore will part.

The first problem is that the Emily D poem is in alternating lines of 4 and 3 stresses, whereas "The Yellow Rose of Texas" is in lines of 3 stresses. When you sing this song (not that you would do such a thing) you'll notice that there is no accented word sung on the fourth beat of the measure. In other words, you sing "NoBOdy ELSE coud MISS her [beat]..."

Of course you could fiddle around with the melody and the accentuation of the words to make it fit. But then the original statement turns into a far weaker claim: that any poem in any variation of the basic hymn or ballad stanzas can be sung to just about any melody in the hymn or ballad genre. In its weakest form: any stanza based on three or four beats per measure is going to be fairly adaptable to music in 4/4 time. If there's three beats in a line you just leave a rest at beat four of the music and you're fine. Yet you never hear anyone saying that all of Isaac Watt's hymns can be sung to the tune of The Yellow Rose of Texas. Or for that matter the "fourteeners" of renaissance poetry. Chapman's Homer could be sung to any ballad tune also, if you want to make that argument.

All of Alexander Pope can be sung to the tune of St. Louis Blues, for that matter. That's not a statement about Alexander Pope. You can rhyme St. Louis woman with her diamond ring with a little learning is a dangerous thing but that just means that certain basic things are shared across a wide spectrum.

Problem number 2 is the Emily is very irregular. She'll throw ipentameters or dimeters, or even one-stress lines, in the mix fairly often. Or mix up her fours and threes in jagged, unpredictable patterns. It's not (only) the dashes that make the rhythms irregular. She's no Isaac Watt and no Alexander Pope either.

13 de feb. de 2007

It's a little known fact that almost all of Ron Silliman's poetry can be sung to the tune of "Night in Tunisia." Now why anyone would want to sing his poetry to the tune of "Night in Tunisia," I have no idea. Just thought you'd like to know.

12 de feb. de 2007

I discovered a new snowclone recently, courtesy of C. Dale Young, who said I give good brain.

"X gives good Y."

If you don't know, a snowclone is a formulaic phrase that allows substitutions like [X is the new Y]. It's all the rage on the linguistic blogs. There are numerous snowclones out there, and the terms came from the "mother of all snowclones," which was the "X people have Y words for Z." [Eskimos have 17 words for snow--not true by the way but that's harina de otro costal.]

So if one were to say, "he gives good blog," that woud be an example. Or "she gives good web."

Y has to be a word that seems anomalous in its context. For example, *"He gives good advice" is not an example of this snowclone. Or *"She gives good presents." "We give good parties." In other words, it has to be understood as a variation on the matrix phrase, which in this case refers to the act of "giving head." In other words, to "give x" is a slang variety of giving head, but transfered to another context. If it is not understood as "slang," then it is not an example of this particular snowclone. "They give good party" would be an example, but "They give good parties would not be." If I were a linguist I would understand why this is the case.

Maybe it's because we can't use a singular noun in this context unless we conceive of that singular noun as a general, repeated activity.

He plays good ball.
He gives good advice.
We compose good prose.

But not

*He cooks good pizza. [I'm not sure if this is acceptable or not; it is if we are thinking of pizza as colletive noun like pasta]
*I write good book.
*They deliver good poem.

So the grammatical rule for the snowclone is reversed: the singular noun referring to one, singular *object* is understood in a second, slang sense with the sexual innuendo.
Sinatra's notorious "phrasing" was at the high point in the Nelson Riddle period ("Song for Young Lovers," "In the Wee Small Hours of the Night"). The Vegas period, when he began to loosen up his phrasing even more, adding extra words to the lines of a lyric, becomes too "mannered." Those mannerisms inspired every bad retro faux Sinatra singer since. What's great about the Nelson Riddle era albums is that they are almost straight--but not quite. The jazz dimension is not exaggerated. Yet the phrasing departs just enough from the expected pattern to be cool, swinging, and tasteful. Very slight hesitations or accelerandos are very effective. After Vegas he just camped it up intolerably, and kept on doing it for years afterwards. I don't think he ever recovered. When you extend that pause just a little more, then it become an "effect," a mannerism, a ghastly portamento.

As for NR himself, I will never actively *like* those arrangements. I think they are fitting, historically appropriate and all that. They conger up a period and a definite ambience. They are relatively tasteful, for that period, but they are too much of their period, for me, whereas Frank's singing on them is more timeless, purer in a way. (Though usually it is easier to achieve that effect of purity in instrumentals rather than in vocals.)

I remember variety shows when I was a kid with awful singers like Perry Como and Sammy Davis, or groups like the King Family. Into the early seventies they still had that awful music on t.v. a lot.

8 de feb. de 2007

Speaking of Kenneth Rexroth, I found a book of his today for sale, and he is really a brilliant critic--erudite, witty, insightful, quotable. I take back all those things I said about Kenneth Rexroth.
Should I weep that my students can't recognize "Someone to Watch over me" or "Willow Weep for Me, " or "I Can't Get Started with you"? I think that would be obsessive. I don't want to be *that guy.*


Speaking of my tags or etiquetas I seem to have accumulate a lot of them. More of a promissory note.
Speaking of Hoagy Carmichael, at one point "Stardust" was the most recorded and covered song of all time. (Now it's "Yesterday." There are also 4,000 versions of "Summertime.") It's hard to know what makes this song so special--the integration of the verse and the chorus, which have similar melodic patterns. The perfect "fit" between the lyric and the melody. The melody itself, which its up and down movement and unpredictability. It combines unpredictability and inevitability like few other tunes.

I used to think Ray Charles had written "Georgia on my Mind." I was used to the idea that the singer was the songwriter. Of course I was 14 at the time so there is some excuse. Also, it's the perfect fit between song and singer. It's too bad Louis Armstrong's version isn't more played.
About drone man-- obviously he thinks pleonasm and prolixity are evil in writing, but doesn't think that redundancy or repetition--wasted words--are flaws in oral discourse.
I put a new poem up at The Duplications. I have to do more to make it into a real journal, but frankly I just don't like that many poems.

7 de feb. de 2007

There is actually a connection between Gamoneda and Levinas, visible in certain key words. I'll give the Spanish, the French, and the English in brackets too.

rostro / visage [face]

amor / amour [love, charity]

dulzura / douceur [sweetness]

verdad / vérité [truth]

misericordia, piedad / misérícorde [pity, compassion, forgiveness]

justicia / justice [justice]

... and probably a few more...

I don't know much about Levinas (yet), but I was reading him and thinking I should convert to Judaism. Then, my next thought, was that it would have to be a totally secular Judaism, an affiliation with an intellectual tradition. Sign me up.
Disagreeing with Geneva Convention: Kenneth Koch, who thinks Kenneth Koch was a happy guy:

"I have to disagree: I think the dominant mood in Koch is a kind of anxious hilarity. There's a disquieting restlessness in his work from start to beginning. Frustration, misunderstanding, vulnerability, anxiety, and anger are just a few of the negative emotions in his work I can think of right off the top of my head. Sure, it can be a manic pick-me-up in times of depression, but did it occur to you that he was doing that to himself, too? In other words, the same thing you were looking for in your reading of him, he was doing for himself by writing these poems?"

6 de feb. de 2007

It's often seemed to me that the canon of high/late European modernist literature and the canon of capital T "Theory" were co-extensive. Thus an interest in Celan, Char, and Beckett goes perfectly well with an interest in Derrida, Levinas, Blanchot, and Heidegger. Foucault wrote a book on Roussel, after all, and Barthes was an early defender of the nouveau roman. Blanchot himself was a novelist.

This idea is hardly new with me, but I think it has certain implications that haven't been fully spelled out. One is that a certain intellectual proximity between theorists and writers is taken for granted in certain circles. When French theory is applied in English departments, it is often done in a way that doesn't presuppose this proximity. In other words, the "leap" is greater from the theory to the text because there is not that ready-made connection that you find when Derrida writes about Jabès. It's the complaint that French (or European) theory is de-contextualized in the US academy. It would be like taking an essay by Charles Bernstein and "applying" it to some French poet, without taking into account the intellectual milieu of Bernstein, his own intellectual habitus and the way Charles might have been influenced by Creeley or Kerouac or Grenier.

Now when Gamoneda translates Mallarmé (with his daughter who is professor of French), then there is a desire to lay claim to that particular high modern / Blanchot tradition. That is the way Gamoneda is championed, in this kind of language and rhetoric. It is not so much that you need modernist theory to deal with Gamoneda or Valente, but that you want to establish a kind of affiliation, and this takes place through a kind of "high modern" rhetoric that draws on Heidegger and Blanchot for its vocabulary.

Here the theory is not necessarily de-contextualized, because these are indeed European poets, albeit Spanish ones. (The idea that Spain merely aspires to Europeanness!) I'm the guy in the back of the room who wants to raise his hand and say wait a minute, what's going on here? I want to question the naturalness of the move that sees European high modernism as the culmination of everything worthwhile. At the same time, I love this European late modernism myself, so I don't want to question it too loudly either. I guess what I'm saying is I'd rather look at the problematics of affiliation rather than simply produce a high-modernist reading that applies Levinas to Gamoneda, or what have you. Let other people do that.

5 de feb. de 2007

Having insights about the poetry you read turns out to be harder than expected. In other words, having insights that can actually be articulated intelligently. For example, there are poets I've read for a while that I haven't been able to be that articulate about. I don't mean having opinions about it, that's the easy part...

For example, I am a great reader of the poetry of Barbara Guest, but I wouldn't know how to articulate any meaningful insight. Of course, I'm good at faking it with my lit crit skills.

You read through the essays written by poets, and discover they have no insights that they are able to put into language. At least, nothing that counts for me. This is where it gets tricky. You see writers dumbly dancing around the subject; you know they know they are expected to have something to say, so when they don't, there are always a few clichés they can fall back on.


My dreams are of startling emotional clarity. For example, a dream in which my friends abandon me... The specific details are murky, but the import of the dream was very clear when I awoke.

2 de feb. de 2007

My field is a ghetto. There is a good deal of integration between those who study film, culture, and novel of contemporary Spain, between Cultural Studies and studies of the novel. Those who study poetry, however, usually just study poetry, and people who are (otherwise) quite well-read often confess their near total ignorance of poetry, as though that were just some minor insignificant corner of the literary world that could be safely ignored.

Of course, ultimately every academic field is a ghetto. It's just a matter of the size of the particular ghetto.

Anyway, what I often try to do is to publish places where my article will be seen by people who wouldn't normally read an article on "poetry." My favorite in this respect is the Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies published in the UK.

Why doesn't "culture" include "poetry"? This is a tricky question that has to do with the way disciplinary boundaries are drawn. My attitude toward all of this is that everyone should study what they want, but just don't leave me out of it.

When did the novel get to be so important? Obviously it's not because Spanish novels are more accomplished than Spanish books-of-poems. The opposite is the case. Cela gets the Nobel prize? That's just ridiculous. Marías is ok, but don't tell me his work has the historical weight of Gamoneda's. Is it as simple a matter of the fact that more people read novels? Or is it because novels talk about the "issues" people want to talk about, and therefore can integrated seamlessly into a certain vision of cultural studies?

If you want to look at the consumption of cultural products, then you'd have to say that dubbed Hollywood movies are an extremely significant part of contemporary Spanish culture. Or translations of books by Michael Crichton or Paul Auster (not to put them in the same category).

1 de feb. de 2007

The character called myself is of little interest to me, though interestingly enough the character I invented for some poems I wrote in Spanish a few years go was much better defined.
There is no image-ideal of the poet I have any interest in inhabiting. Meek, daydreaming office worker (Pessoa)? Rugged outdoorsman? Decadent aesthete? Road-tripping hobo? Scruffy therapist? Distinguished Professor? I don't want to be a poet. I want to write poetry, but not have a poet as something that I have to BE.
A lot of lyric poetry is the mimesis of an imaginary self. Styles of self-presentation, stylized selves. From here comes the illusion that the author's biography is at all relevant to the reading of lyric poetry. Yet all the facets of personality that are relevant are already there in the mimesis of the self. Suppose the stylized self is narcisissist, brooding, and reckless. Well, if we found that the biographical self of the author is also narcissist, brooding, and reckless, we might be tempted to say, "Aha, I've found the explanation." A moment's reflection is enough to conclude, though, that this explanation is tautological. Suppose we find that the biographical subject is a nicer or meaner person than the lyric subject. This doesn't explain anything either, obviously, though it might help to dispel the biographical illusion.

Taking the Aristotelian idea, we could say that some writers try to construct an ideal self, "better" than they are. Others deliberately try to make their stylized self "worse." And some try to pitch the lyric self somewhere in the middle. (Some don't really present a mimesis of the "self" at all, which might be a topic for another post.) Of course, this is only "better" or "worse" in terms of one's idea of what the average "self" is, not in reference to a biographical self as it truly is. For example, a self-deprecating style of mimesis is obvious, but maybe the biographical subject is even worse than the jerk presented in the poem. This would still count as presenting the self as "worse," even if it was an actual improvement on the "real" self.