27 de abr. de 2010



Here are some clips from Julia's recent concert with the SLSYO. You can see Julia in the back row playing trumpet.

22 de abr. de 2010

The page has its own prosody, by which i mean the material support of the text: margins, paper, typeface. It isn't the same to read the same book on different texture paper.

I don't want to fetishize this, arguing that if you don't read an original edition of something you aren't reading it correctly. What I am saying is that if makes a difference to me. A type face has a voice the same way a reader of an audio-book has a voice.

I actually wish I weren't so sensitive to this. It must be nice to not see the book you're reading, to have that experience of unmediated reading.
My students in an undergraduate class, for example, could not pick out assonant rhyme in a Lorca romance when listening to Margarita Xirgú--the great actress associated with Lorca himself--read them out loud. I'm hoping that Graduate Students could do that. In this case the rhymes correspond pretty much with ends of syntactic units, sentences and phrases, and the lines are shorter.

i can hear blank verse, in the sense of hearing where the lines begin and end, even if the speaker doesn't pause at the end of lines. Or if I were reading Milton or Wordsworth written out as prose I think I could simply automatically know where the lines are just by reading it out loud. The idea that we need line-endings to perceive verse is an effect born from over-dependence on the written text.

So the visual effect of line-endings really comes into play where the line endings are not determined by inherent metrical structure. You could write out regular verse any which way and there would be no problem. The weaker or the more irregular the metrical organization, the more that visual aspect comes into play.
Lo que antes era exacto ahora no encuentra / su sitio.

No lo encuenta y es de día

y va volado como desde lejos / el manantial,

que suena a luz perdida.

Volado yo también a fuerza de hambres / cálidas,

de mañanas inauditas

he visto en el incienso de las cumbres

y en mi escritura blanca

una alegría dispersa de vigor.

¿Y aún no se yergue / todo para besar?

¿No se ilimitan / las estrellas para algo más hermoso que un recaer oculto?

Here what I've done is divided the lines of a poem into syntactical units and bolded the rhyming words. I've marked the extra line breaks, those that don't correspond with my syntactic breaks, with slashes. There is only one line here that corresponds to an original "line* of poetry in the text: "he visto en el incienso de las cumbres."

20 de abr. de 2010

We could repeat the experiment with some non-rhymed passages from Rodríguez;

El primero surco de hoy será mi cuerpo. Cuando la luz impulsa desde arriba, despierta los oráculos del sueño y me camina, y antes que al paisaje va dándome figura. Así otra nueva mañana. Así otra vez y antes que nadie, aun que la brisa menos decidera...

Nunca había sabido que mi paso era distinto sobre tierra roja, que sonaba más puramente seco, lo mismo que si no llevase un hombre, de pie, en su dimensión. Por ese ruido, quizá algunos linderos me recuerden. Por otra cosa no ...


Here, honestly, in my own memory, the lines are there but the breaks are not. I tend to memorize the lines in clusters of sense rather than in 11-syllables units.
People often argued that Milton's blank verse was verse to the eye only. I believe it's John Hollander who documents this point in a book I read long ago. Or you could just read Samuel Johnson.

I did an experiment with graduate students once. They listened to Claudio Rodríguez read aloud and tried to identify rhymes and line-endings. Here, it should be easier, because there is a rhyme. No. They couldn't do it.

La encina, que conserva más un rayo de sol que todo un mes de primavera, no siente lo espontáneo de su sombra, la sencillez del crecimiento, apenas si conoce el terreno en que ha brotada. Con ese viento que en sus ramas deja lo que no tiene música, imagina para su sueño una gran meseta. Y con qué rapidez se identifica con el paisaje, con el alma entera de su frondosidad y de mí mismo...


I've written out the passage as a block of prose. This time, I've bolded the rhyme words. It's an assonantal rhyme every other line, which makes it a bit harder to identify by ear:

La encina, que conserva más un rayo de sol que todo un mes de primavera, no siente lo espontáneo de su sombra, la sencillez del crecimiento, apenas si conoce el terreno en que ha brotada. Con ese viento que en sus ramas deja lo que no tiene música, imagina para su sueño una gran meseta. Y con qué rapidez se identifica con el paisaje, con el alma entera de su frondosidad y de mí mismo. ..

15 de abr. de 2010

Ten most Influential Books (Literary Criticism)

I've been working on a list of books that have influenced me in literary criticsm. This is not a list of all books that have influenced me generally, just the ones in the genre of literary criticism and theory. This is in roughly chronological order of when I was influenced.

1 X.J. Kennedy. An Introduction to Poetry.

I didn't know this was a college textbook when I started reading it when I was about 12-years old. I know the book has gone through many revisions and editions, but the one I am interested in is, I believe, the 1971 edition. I studied this book until it fell apart, for three or four years. I still remember parts of it: a comparison between several different translations of a sonnet by Baudelaire... This book taught me the essence of what I still know. today. It made me a professor.

2. The ABC of Reading.

I loved Pound's idea that you could just study poetry by paying close attention to it, in its auditory, visual, and purely linguistic aspects. It taught me to listen.

3. Perloff. The Poetics of Indeterminacy.

This is the book I wanted to have written about the time I was graduating from college. It was published in 1981, the year I graduated and began graduate school. It helped establish a new view of the canon and a critical model of crispness and clarity. Rimbaud to Cage indeed.

4. Burke. A Rhetoric of Motives.

I used Kenneth Burke quite a bit in a formative stage of my career. He seemed the perfect bridge between rhetoric as formalism and rhetoric as action.

5. Barthes. Critical Essays.

I really went to school with Barthes. I wasn't interested in structuralism as method as much as in the growth of a critic's mind.

6. Borges. Otras inquiiciones.

I went to school with Borges too. One of the true greats of literary theory. The idea that Kafka could create his own precursors, for example...

7. Morton Feldman. Give my Regards to Eighth Street

Not a work of literary criticism per se, but a deep source of analogies for literature.

8. Lorca. Conferencias.

The work of a creative artist reflecting on poetry, with insights that are wholly unique.

9. Ricardo Gullón. Una poética para Antonio Machado.

I love the concept of writing a poetics for Machado. Not an interpretation of Machado's poetry, but a way of extracting an implicit poetics from Machado's poetry, subsequently dedicated to Machado.

10. Julián Jiménez Heffernan. Los papeles rotos.

What this book taught me was that there was something like the Spanish equivalent of me: someone who knew both traditions and was truly bi-poetic. It's also great to have the example of someone who has exactly my interests but is way smarter than me.

Such list-making is always a bit arbitrary. I'm sure that on another day I would come up with a slightly different list.
My interests tend to be pull me in two directions. I call these "song" and "philosophy" for short. In other words, poetry as song, poetry as part of intellectual history. Poetry is the total art, so really there is a continuum of interests between these two poles.

13 de abr. de 2010

Some ultra-right groups presented an indictment of judge Baltasar Garzón--the same judge who had Pinochet arrested in England--and a judge of the Spanish Supreme Court is actually putting him on trial for this. Basically he could lose his job and be banned from the judiciary for life. His alleged misdeed was to take it upon himself to judge human rights abuses under Franco's regime.

Now some people think Garzón is a grand-standing publicity hound. He seems to be have a taste for high profile cases, whether in prosecuting human rights abuses, terrorism, organized crime, or political corruption. His taste for big targets makes him very controversial and has earned him a lot of enemies. I don't understand all the legal niceties of what he supposedly did wrong in going after Franquismo--"supposedly" because I don't believe he did anything wrong at all. Judging by the groups that brought him to the hot seat, I'd say he is doing something right.

In Spain a judge is more like a judge-prosecutor than an impartial judge in the Anglo-Saxon sense.
What if in the 1950s someone finally recognized that, hey, Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings were pretty hot. Or someone finally realizing in the mid 80s that Beckett's Waiting for Godot was a pretty good play. In fact, I think we should have the 30-year rule for recognizing any great cultural achievement. We should give a Pulitzer prize, not for a work published this year, but for a work published 30 years ago. After all, we wouldn't want to reward innovation or anything. Much better to begrudgingly recognize it a generation after it's occurred.
I prefer Miles as a painter to Bennet:


Tony Bennet's paintings, on the other hand, are not very impressive:



Who knew Roland Barthes was a painter?
The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism doesn't have entries for poetry, poetics, rhythm, meter, prosody, music. Other anthologies of literary theory don't really include these topics either. When I taught literary theory myself, I didn't include them either, despite my deep interest in these subjects.

So clearly the idea of "theory" does not tend to encompass prosody. Just sayiin'.

What else does theory exclude, and we don't even know it?
What Claudio Knew. I'm trying to break the record for comments for an Arcade post, so please go over there and say something if you are so inclined.

12 de abr. de 2010

My project is dividing up in two, against my will. I have

What Lorca Knew and

Fragments of a Late Modernity.

They is some overlap, but basically, What Lorca Knew is a book inspired by Claudio Rodríguez and Lorca, with a view of poetry as embodied and musical. Fragments of a Late Modernity is a continuation of my work on Valente, and looks much more at the relation between poetry and abstract thought, intellectual history. Lorca's in both books.

You might call What Lorca Knew the right brain book, taking root in my course on jazz, in my study of prosody and percussion, and Fragments of a Late Modernity my left brain book. Of course ideally they should both be whole brain books; I am not a strong proponent of pop psychology vulgarizations of brain hemispheres--I'm just using them here as a convenient shorthand.

It could be one book broken into two halves. (???)

Needless to say, I'm more excited about What Lorca Knew. I'm a little bit overwhelmed by my own ambition.

9 de abr. de 2010

My method for memorizing.

(1) Read the poem (or passage of poem) slowly one time through, aloud.

(2) Look at the first line. Close your eyes and repeat the line to yourself three times. Repeat with all the other lines.

(3) Now do the same, but with groups of two or three lines at at time.

(4) Now begin to recite the poem. See how far you get. When you don't remember something, look at the text. Repeat, beginning with the beginning, five times.

(5) Now start where you got on your fifth attempt and use the same method until you reach the end of the poem.

(6) Now begin again at the beginning with the same method. The second time you should be able to get from the begining to the end of the poem on your fifth try.

(7) Recite the poem several times to make sure you really know it. Try to remember it the next day.

For longer poems, you'll need to break them down and do this with every short section, then try to put them all together at the end. For heavily enjambed poems, you'll need to memorize not just lines but phrases and sentences that jump the lines.
Good poets tend to think of poetic form as the vibrant core of the art form. Critics who are hermeneutically oriented, oriented toward the question of what poetry means, tend to view that kind of formalism as dull and sterile. I never understood the idea that tropes were central to poetry. I mean, yes, I understand that poetry uses a lot of metaphor, catachresis, metonymy, chiasmus, and other things with fancy Greek names.

Some examples: Coolidge's speakings and writings on Kerouac; Lorca on Spanish lullabies; Rodríguez on children's games.

Coolidge talks about three kinds of creative activities in Kerouac's writing: blowing (like blowing over the chord changes), sketching, and babbleflow. In other words, musical, visual, and verbal improvisations. With much overlap.

8 de abr. de 2010

I was observing one of colleagues teach the other day and learned some interesting things. One of the books banned by the Spanish Inquisition was... the Bible in Spanish. Books of popular piety were also in the index. There was no problem with such material before the rise of Protestantism and Illuminism, but the idea of letting people read the Bible themselves was threatening in a world where Martin Luther existed. The same for Erasmus and humanism generally, which could be unthreatening before Luther but threatening after. You couldn't import books from abroad either, or even from Aragon to Castile, for example. A priest who didn't have great Latin skills could get permission to have a Spanish bible.

This is the closing of the Spanish mind. This is why there has had to been a conscious process of undoing the effects of this ideological closure up to the present day, why José Ángel Valente, for example, has championed the mystic poets of this same period--precisely those who often were in trouble with the Inquisition.

You would think that a certain amount of popular Catholic piety would have been a useful tool against Protestantism, but no. That's not how the Inquisitors felt: If the Protestants read the Bible, then we will show them by stopping people from reading the Bible!

7 de abr. de 2010

A funny thing happened. I was asked to submit a paper for a book on Claudio Rodríguez. The idea was that each contributor would choose one poem to explicate. The editor, Philip Silver, basically made sure that there wasn't overlap. I decided to focus on issues of rhythm, thinking that others would offer more interpretative approaches, less formalist approaches, but when I received the published volume recently, I realized that quite a few of the others talked about rhythm too, sometimes with greater technical precision than I had. Far from being unique, my approach turned out to be quite typical. This was a good thing, though, because it confirmed my ideas.

6 de abr. de 2010

I've never really been much for themes. In fact, I hate the word (as applied to literature or poetry) and find almost grotesque the idea that writers write about particular themes. I am not denying that there are themes that writers write about; it just seems the wrong end of the stick to take hold of.

What poetry is most about, it seems to me, is the sheer awe at simply being alive and being conscious of that, of feeling the texture of one's own experience of the world. That's just about the only thing I care to read "about." Call it a phenomenological sense of things. For some, it can be simply being alive, for others, it is a mystic or quasi-mystic state that only occurs once in a while. I get it strongly in Creeley, in Koch, in Rodríguez, in Gerbasi.

Poetry cannot just talk about this marvel of being consciously alive discursively; it has to actually embody that experience in the density of its language. It is not talking about ecstatic experience as a theme that interests me. In fact, what I like oftentimes is poetry that does not seem to be talking about this at all.
I got my second non-internet review of Apocryphal Lorca, in Revista de Estudios Hispánicos. The author of the review is a prof at San Diego State. It's positive--mostly an informative summary rather than a critique.

The best reviews have been on the internet, actually. The balance has now tipped to where there will be more buzz on the web than in print. Still, I appreciate the traditional print reviews too.

1 de abr. de 2010





Here you can compare the acapello Juan Vázquez version of "De los álamos vengo" with the piano / soprano version of Joaquín Rodrigo.