29 dic 2003

I'm at the MLA. It was great meeting Kasey, Nick Lolordo, and Bill Marsh, among others. They had a marathon reading last night with Carla Harryman, Joshua Clover, Jerome Rothenburg, Juliana Spahr, Eileen Myles, and many more. Juliana was sitting in front of me knitting. Next to her was Eileen, who spilled a cup of coffee on the floor at the feet of Brent Cunningham, sitting immediately to my right. Frank O'Hara was in the audience but didn't read. Jorge Luis Borges and Miguel de Cervantes were also in attendance. Heriberto was a no-show. Afterwords we went to Kansas City Barbecue. I talked with Roberto Tejada there.

24 dic 2003

See you in SD. The rest of you can look forward to the resumption of Bemsha around January 6, 2004.

22 dic 2003

It's interesting how they re-impose the heterosexual narrative at the end of The Return of the King. After the tearful homoerotic farewell between Sam and Frodo we see Sam come back to his wife and babies for the final scene in the movie. Did anyone else notice that? It doesn't help matters that Frodo, who is the book is in his 50s, is played by 19-year-old looking actor.
I've suggested that Nick change the name of his blog to "fait accomplissant," the "fact in the act of being accomplished." I think that would fit his style more.
I got an email from Harry Mathews over the weekend, explaining his use of the phrase "the fish begins to rot in the head." How cool is that!

Nick, in an email I got recently, questions the post below, asking me if there is any such thing as "bad prayer." I'm not sure where he's coming from with this. I'd say there could be bad prayer--whether it is evil or simply trivial, or corrupted by ulterior motives. Not being a religious believer, however, I can't really say there's good prayer either.

19 dic 2003

A year ago today I wrote:

Thursday, December 19, 2002
Good and bad poetry. There is so much resistance to thinking along those lines! There is no fixed criterion of excellence, we are told. We shouldn’t call bad poetry bad; it might serve some other valuable function, etc... Yet I feel no hesitation about being the scourge of bad poetry. It seems almost an ethical duty. Why can’t I just leave it alone? Why does it make me suffer so? If I knew that I would understand myself much better than I do. In part it is the feeling that appreciation of dreck comes at the cost of appreciation of what I most value. I see this sentiment in Sorrentino’s masterful attack on John Gardner, so I guess I am in good company. I did learn in the New York Times last Sunday, however, that the unexamined life is worth living after all. Tell it to Dick Detective.

Jordan Davis the other day cited my infamous poem on the “Permission Granters,” a category of poets who inspire me precisely because they are not intimidating “great” poets, the type who make you want to give it all up. I had Ron Padgett in mind. I feel, in my heart, that I am roughly as talented as Ron Padgett. That is not an insult to Ron, whose work I hold in the greatest esteem. I just don’t feel intimidated by him. His work gives me permission (persimmon?) to be a poet. That is, in fact, its specific genius. Can anyone be a poet then? Well, that’s the other side of the good/bad argument. “Permission granted, but not to do anything you want,” as John Cage put it. It’s not a license to promote bad poetry. Think of the poem "Poetic License." "This license certifies / that Ron Padgett may tell whatever lies / His heart desires / Until it expires."
The kind of people on the poetics list (hypothetically speaking of course) who complain about how much power Ron Silliman has, how blogs don't allow for democratic response--what have you. They are probably the same people who read only Silliman's blog (which gets approximately twice the web-traffic of the typical poetry/poetics blog). Hence, they are the ones responsible for putting Silliman's blog in its exalted position in the first place. They give him his power, only to complain about it themselves.
Remind me again why I hate the Buffalo Poetics list... Oh yeah, that's why...


The lists of things in my niece's room (freshman in college) and in my daughter's room (3rd grade) is remarkably similar: stuffed animals, Harry Potter lego, science-fiction/fantasy novels...

18 dic 2003

I tried to see The Return of the King yesterday but it was sold out. I used to read the Tolkien trilogy every summer--between the ages of 11 and 14 more or less. Then I picked it up one summer and couldn't read it anymore. I re-read the whole thing two years ago when I saw the first movie in the trilogy. I'm not moved to read it again.

I saw Aimée had a poem selected for slate this week. Congratulations to her.

17 dic 2003

16 dic 2003

The Chatelaine's Poetics, Eileen's new blog.
I'll be on a light, vacation blog schedule from now until sometime after the new year.

If any fellow blogger is going to be at the MLA in San Diego, I suggest we meet after the Haryette Mullen reading and have a drink. I have to interview for my department most of the time I'm there, so it would be good to get away and meet some folks I don't know yet.

Top 10, blog-related ideas/realizations I had this year:

1. Language poetry doesn't suck.

2. Re-naming my blog "Bemsha Swing"

3. The BAP face-off

4. Letting Julia have her own poetry blog

5. Learning to use italics and bold face type in html.

6. I am a poet!

7. Taking Zukofsky's Test of Poetry (well, maybe that wasn't such a good idea!)

8. Learning to put pictures up on my blog.

9. Teaching poetry to the 2nd grade.

10. The blog is fulfilling its purpose: to be an ongoing record of my miscellaneous thoughts and giant echo chamber.

15 dic 2003

A year ago in this space:

Sunday, December 15, 2002
A nice mention in Heriberto's blog the other day:

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

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

"Aurea mediocritas?
"Qué coño. "

posted by Jonathan Mayhew at 6:54 PM

Hey. A guy in Chile who reads my blogs is asking me about MFA programs here in the US. This is not really my area of expertise, but I'd like to hear from those who might have a specific recommendation. His written English is pretty good.
Car trouble. I just waited for an hour in the cold for the tow-truck. Now I'm back and have to wait for one of those awful phone calls. I know in my heart it is going to be at least $700 dollars.


LATER: It's only $325, so I'm fortunate (I guess). I just "saved" $375.
Mike Snider's Formal Blog and Sonnetarium: "Poetry just isn't a kind of fiction, though some poems do imitate the form of actions which no one, including the author, believes to have actually occurred."

That's a pretty good definition of fiction. We don't assume that Shelley really thought he could talk to the West Wind. Whether the author him or herself would have used that exact word is another question. I believe Sophocles is a writer of fiction, even though he believes the characters he is writing about actually existed. He imitates an action that he doesn't believe occured in exactly that way. There is nothing in the concept of fiction (from Latin fingere) that makes it applicable only to narrative prose.

Aside from that, though, I agree with pretty much everything in Mike Snider's post.

12 dic 2003

I've received my copies of Long Nose Pinocchio Bitch. Thanks to Stephanie for putting this little masterpiece together. I'll make sure to put it in my annual evaluation file this year.
{lime tree}: Plagiarism and Literacy

Plagiarism rampant at UC Santa Cruz. The students, taking there cue from a hack publication, take Keats' "Not in lone splendor hung aloft the night" to mean that the star is not in lone splendor. The poem makes no sense that way, of course. I've missed Lime Tree in the past few weeks. This kind of post, that makes you laugh through tears, is one reason why. We always say we envy people in English departments because the students majoring do so (presumably) because they like literature. Our Spanish majors openly tell us that they "don't like literature." They don't seem to realize they are in a literature major.
Mike Snider's Formal Blog and Sonnetarium on Yeats. See my response below.
Isn't poetry a genre of fiction? If so, should it matter whether the poet's belief-system is at odds with ours, or even patently ridiculous like that of WBY? Or is poetry a search for the truth? Manifestly, it is a search for truth, and other such things, through supreme fictions. Was Yeats' problem that he had no sense of distance from his fictional schemes, that he believed them literally? It would be like J.K. Rowling really believing in the existence of Hogwarts, or Tolkien thinking his middle-earth was a historical reality. I'd like to think Yeats thought of his "circus animals" as metaphors he needed to write his poetry. Although biographical evidence suggests he really took that sort of thing seriously (Madame Blavatsky). Of course, Eliot's Anglicism, though not seen as ridiculous in the social sense, is equally a poetic fiction. What makes a religion seem not ridiculous is its degree of social acceptance and "givenness." There are no worshipers of the Ancient Egyptian Gods left anymore. Yet there is no self-evident reason why these Gods are inherently less worthy of being worshiped than any other deity. Why don't we have serious theological debates about the existence of Osiris?

Mike Snider's underlying argument seems to be that a belief that is socially rooted, the "best available world view" of the time, is deserving of respect, but an idiosyncratic syncretic view like that of Yeats is not. I can go along with this up to a certain point. As long as I get to keep my William Blake. Did Blake actually believe in his mythological system?

I'd say Yeats comes off better than Pound: Yeats knew that his celtic mythology and his theosophy was a bunch of fairy stories (at some level, I'd like to believe!). Pound thought his fascism was an objective and demonstrable truth.

11 dic 2003

I'm reading Christopher Hasty's Meter as Rhythm. I lose him in some of the more technical aspects of musical analysis. I love the philosophical parts of the book, especially when he goes on and on about trying to define the border between silence and sound. He takes his cues from Whitehead.

The frame of reference is entirely Western "Classical" music.

The effort to try to derive triple meter from duple meter is questionable.
Mikarrhea: "Isn't it odd that one the chief delights of the aphorism is the snippy arrogance with which it flaunts oversimplification? "
Or it could be that it is the concept of tolerance itself that is faulty here. We shouldn't "tolerate" homosexuality--we should celebrate it. Nor should we "tolerate" racism--we should condemn it. Toleration implies we already don't like the "other," but that we should still treat this other with civility and respect. That's a valuable concept, though fairly limited.

"I know you can't abide your colleague [name deleted]"

"On the contrary, I've been abiding him for years."

10 dic 2003

In Profession of 2003 (published by the MLA), an article by a woman (Donna Pasternak) who accuses herself of being "intolerant" for failing "to help a student remain in American Literature 1860 to the present..." Apparently the problem was that the student wanted to drop the class because there were some gay students in it. (It was against his religion to "condone" that "lifestyle."). I don't understand this use of the word "intolerant," that would make it a misdemeanour to be intolerant of racism and homophobia. Her half-hearted and too-respectful answer to this student failed by not being strong enough.

Perhaps I'm not being fair. The article is certainly thoughtful and thought-provoking, and I'm glad I read it. I'm sure my response to such a student would have been counter-productive: "Well, the course itself includes numerous gay writers like Walt Whitman, Tennessee Williams, and Allen Ginsberg, so even if you take it another semester without any openly gay students you will still have to confront your ignorant attitudes." I just wince when I see this well-meaning but mealy-mouthed use of the concept of tolerance.
this journal blug: "I dream of a poetry without any poetic vocabulary. That is, no word or phrase that's there in the poem because I am writing a poem. j. mayhew

boyo... i know what you mean... i've had this in mind too... probably impossible... how do you get that intensity... past the flat boredom of simple saying... without goosing yr diction... even just a bit... and what about poems where yr taking on the poetical itself... going nose to elbow with the expectations... which are of course yr expectations... or anyone's..."
this journal blug: "'...the non-poet type person actually already has a poetic template in place. To learn to write the person must unlearn this set of assumptions.'

yes... this is good... i find these templates everywhere in my students' reading... as well as writing... the unlearning process is a long arduous tear-stained path... for most

and yet... isn't it all there... because yr doing this thing called 'the poem'... how do you suck the thing out of its own context... pretend yr writing a memo to the boss... a get well card... trick yrself into thinking yr no poet at all..."

I don't agree with what "Jonathan Mayhew" wrote here yesterday. You can't see the process of writing poetry as one of unlearning. That sounds way too negative. Current and previous poetic languages are there for the using and abusing. You can't escape them, and that's not a bad thing.

9 dic 2003

Does the exclusion of poetic vocabulary imply that only colloquial language is allowed, that I must imagine someone actually saying the words out loud? No. Words from non-colloquial registers would be admissable. Generally speaking, a lot of bad poetry could be eliminated simply by excluding anything you couldn't imagine anyone ever saying, but that would take a lot of great poetry out of the picture as well. And a lot in the middle!

When you ask a person who apparently knows nothing at all about poetry to write a poem, the results will sound like a poem. That means that the non-poet type person actually already has a poetic template in place. To learn to write the person must unlearn this set of assumptions.

The next step for most people is to learn a sort of period style. In effect, they eliminate the popular-based template ("the dark storms of my heart") and learn to write plain-spoken autobiographical lyrics in loose free verse (for example). Much of what goes on in writing workshops is the unlearning of a popular template and the substitution of a different sort of poetic diction.

This new template too must be unlearned. The process will never come to an end, however, since any style is susceptible to being transformed itself into a "poetic" diction. It follows that learning to write poetry is a process of unlearning.
The snow is coming this way. We should be completely snowed in by midnight.
Julia's sestinas are getting even better:


I want to fly like a bird
I get information to read
I will never get disqualified
Theres nothing wrong with the principal
Until his face is green
He's so cold his cheeks are pink

Not too pink
If you do fly like a bird
The principal won't turn green
I just read
watch out here comes the principal
you might get disqualified

I don't think I will get disqualified
If I do I will turn pink
there's something wrong with the principal
I will never fly like a bird
it is just to be read
I guess the principal turned green

if he is sick he should be green
I don't have to be disqualified
So I will read
I read about roses that are pink
My favorite subject is a bird
now there's nothing wrong with the principal

I don't like the principal
he's not green
he does not care about a bird
soon I will be disqualified
I am so cold I will turn pink
I learn to see how to get warm is read

that's why I read
stay far from the principal
He's almost red mad but is medium pink
I pretend to be sick green
or I will get disqualified
nothing better than a bird

don't fly like a bird it's just to be read
if you don't want to get disqualified stay away from the principal
pretend to be green because the principal is medium pink.

8 dic 2003

I dream of a poetry without any poetic vocabulary. That is, no word or phrase that's there in the poem because I am writing a poem. The language must still be strange and intense, but with none of the habitual gestures. I know this is impossible, but what I have in mind is what I've been doing in some of the poems I've posted recently to the as-is blog.

Philly Joe Jones. Of great historic importance for his work with Miles Davis. He was very rudimental, snare drumm-y in his comping and soloing. He is the proto-typical drummer of that period (late 1950s).

Jimmy Cobb, who unlike Philly Joe, is still alive. Cobb makes the top eleven list by virtue of his appearance on Kind of blue, the great ever jazz album, and by virtue of his longevity. He leads a group now called "Cobb's Mob." I love his cymbal beat. I'm amazed by how many of these drummers are still alive in their 70s and still playing great music.

Jazzed About Roy Haynes

Roy Haynes is still going on strong, despite having started his career in the 1940s. I like his use of flat cymbal, which makes his intricate snare and hi-hit combinations more "transparent." Henry tells me there's an article by him in the Smithsonian that makes a case for his as the greatest jazz drummer. I'll have read the article and see what the argument is. I'd say his position as everyone's second favorite drummer is secure. That is, whomever you make number one (Buddy, Elvin, Tony, etc....), you could make the argument that Roy is just about as good. He was Coltrane's favorite sub when Elvin was out, for example. Or you could say he is the second best pure "bop" drummer after Max Roach.


Great article in the Jazz Times by Brad Mehldau on ideology and music taste.

7 dic 2003

Julia disappeared into her room and emerged 45 minutes later with another sestina. We'll be posting it soon on her blog (blogger was down most of the day). She wanted to surprise me. She wrote the order of the repeating words in the correct order (123456, 615243 etc...,) then wrote the corresponding word at the end of each line. Finally she wrote out the poem in her notebook, with a justified right margin.

5 dic 2003

The order no longer matters that much as I round out my top 10 or 11. I'll probably keep going with my "honorable mentions" after I finish. This is Art Blakey, a uniquely powerful drummer. I get a headache after listening to the Blakey shuffle for an hour or so, but there's no denying his force and influence. He has a great Afro-Cuban polyrhythmic feel. Listen to him with the early group that had Lou Donaldson and Clifford Brown "Live at Birdland."

Blakey, along with Tony Williams, were influences on

Cindy Blackman, a fantastically musical drummer on my honorable mention list. You might have seen her drumming on t.v. behind Lenny Kravitz, but she is actually a jazz drummer who leads her own group.
fait accompli: "Without introspection
no antenna for self-deception."

Yet introspection is not a reliable antenna against self-deception. I am very introspective yet may also be very self-deceived.

4 dic 2003

Googlisms for "Jonathan Mayhew":

jonathan mayhew is a poet

jonathan mayhew is looking at poems from deal

jonathan mayhew is associate professor of spanish at the university of kansas

jonathan mayhew is that the controversial relationship between politics and religion is not new

jonathan mayhew is associate professor of spanish

jonathan mayhew is associate professor of spanish at the university of kansas

jonathan mayhew is associate professor of spanish at the university of kansas


The surprising thing is that I remember that quote about "looking at poems from deal." It is from Jordan Davis's blog about a year ago.

Is Tito a "jazz" drummer? He grew up in New York and actually played drum-set before timbales. He is steeped in jazz tradition, although he plays "straight eighths" rather than jazz swing patterns. The one time I saw him in public he was electrifying. I walked from my apartment in Palo Alto two blocks down to the Keystone Palo Alto and saw that Tito Puente was performing. I bought a ticket and walked in. Only Elvin was more impressive in person.
All my pictures are from this site. I encourage you to visit.

I'm altering my order a bit to highlight connections. Ed Blackwell is like the alter-ego to Billy Higgins. Both played with Ornette around the same time, and I can't get myself top prefer one or the other. Blackwell is perhaps more "avant" than Higgins. He is from New Orleans and you can here influences from him in Jeff Watts. Neither of them has that classic jazz "swing" feeling. Blackwell has more of an African polyrhythmic feel to his playing, and a higher pitched cymbal sound. I saw him with "Old and New Dreams" in the late 1970s, with Charlie Haden and Dewey Redman.

I don't know much of Blackwell's work post Ornette.

I first encountered Billy Higgins on the classic Ornette Coleman recordings of the 1959-60 period. Yet he is not, essentially, an avant-garde drummer. He is simply so versatile that he can fit into any setting. The consummate accompanist, it is estimated that he has appeared on over 800 separate albums.

He is clearly influenced by Max Roach, and belongs to that elegant but exuberant swinging tradition of Max and Papa Jo. I saw him perform a few years before his recent death. He played an amazing solo with brushes. He is known for maintaining a constant smile as he plays.
At the poetics seminar yesterday, Joe Harrington from the English department presented part of his fascinating multi-genre biography of his mother, who had worked for Senator Dole (Sr.) and died when Joe was 12. Part of the room might have wished him to be more directly sentimental, the other part of the room would have wished him to be more experimental or "unconventional," highlighting the collage aspects of the work even more. In any case, the project is sure to be a great hit when it is published.

3 dic 2003

Max Roach playing a tribute to

"Papa" Jo Jones. He acquired that nickname in part to distinguish himself from the "Philly" Joe Jones. Jones is the only pre-bop drummer on my top 11 list. He is the original drummer for Count Basie, and practically invented that classic hi-hat beat. What can I say? Listen to him playing with Lester Young and Teddy Wilson.

Max Roach. The classic bebop drummer. I recommend anything he did with Clifford Brown. He is also on Sonny Rollins "Saxophone Collosus."

There is a kind of "tasty" classicism to his drumming, which connects him to Papa Jo Jones (moving backwards) and to Billy Higgins (moving forwards). He pioneered the concept of "melodic" soloing. When I saw him perform he didn't have a band with him: he played unaccompanied drum set compositions.

His solos are miniature works of art, showing a wonderful sense of construction and form.

I don't have Kenny Clarke on my list. Not through any disrespect on my part, but because I don't have a concrete enough sense of him as a distinctive drummer.

Tony Williams. He is as powerful as Elvin, perhaps even more subtle. Of more or less the same time-period, evolving in an equally modern direction, yet utterly different in style. You can compare his drumming to Elvin's, when both are working with virtually the same musicians: Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock. Shorter's "Maiden Voyage" (Elvin), and Hancock's "Empyrean Isles" (Williams). "Miles Smiles" (Miles, with classic early-sixties group.

Williams' ride cymbal is incomparable. It sends shivers down my spine. He is extremely influential. Without him, there would be no Jack DeJohnette. He also pioneered jazz-rock fusion, but I'll forgive him for that.

Number one has to be Elvin Jones, pictured here with a zildjian K Constantine cymbal. He invented a new jazz "feel," based on a distinctive ride cymbal beat and a "rolling triplet" pattern on the drums. A polyrhythmic feel based on the possibility of accenting any note of the jazz eighth-note triplet. He is uniquely powerful and subtle in his work with John Coltrane, but he is just as good today as forty years ago. He is electrifying in person.

He is not an especially "clean" or precise player. His beat is looser than drummers in the Buddy Rich (or the Max Roach) line. I actually prefer this looseness. The only other potential weakness is a certain tendency toward bombast, which he does share with Rich. Some people don't care for his cymbal sound, which I happen to love.
I'm going to do a run-down on my top jazz drummers. The fact that I don't include a particular drummer means only that he (or she!) does not belong to my purely personal pantheon. Yet at the same time my list is highy "canonical" and utterly unoriginal. This is my basic list, in approximate order. An asterisk means that I have seen the drummer perform in person.

1. Elvin*
2. Tony
3. Max*
4. Papa Jo
5. Billy*
6. Tito*
7. Ed*
8. Philly Joe
9. Roy
10. Art
11. Jimmy

2 dic 2003

A curious fusion of Antonio Machado and Machado de Assis at Million Poems.
The poverty of introspection: It is not that the results are not "rich" and rewarding on their own terms. Only that they are, on the whole, illusory. We don't really know how we actually think. We cannot solve this problem by merely observing our own thought processes.

1 dic 2003

Being too tired to come up with anything new today, I thought I'd try the "a year ago on JM's Blog" ploy:

Sunday, December 01, 2002
Having read Deborah Solomon's biography of Cornell, I dipped into her life of Jackson Pollock, at the public library. If it is less satisfying than the Cornell book maybe it is because Pollock doesn't seem to have much of an inner life. No mention of any books he read, any thoughts he had. He seemed to be all outward expression. He didn't know a foreign language!

posted by Jonathan Mayhew at 6:10 PM

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

posted by Jonathan Mayhew at 1:23 PM
Is it just paternal pride, or does Julia's poetry really rock? She was thrilled to be recognized by Language Hat over the thansgiving holiday.

27 nov 2003

Julia wrote a poem based on Rimbaud today. Nothing to do with thanksgiving.


Email is still trickling in from Monday. I won't answer too many of those "ask a language poet" letters I've been getting. Especially the ones with the equal signs between the letters of LANGUAGE. I usually prefer my own forced humor to your forced humor.

26 nov 2003

Dear Language Poet:

I am a three-year old female Golden Retriever. Every time I see a cat or squirrel I cannot help but chase it. I've never caught one, and don't know what I'd do with it if I could. They always jump up on the fence or climb a tree before I can get there. I know I will be scolded for this activity, but for some reason I cannot help myself.

Can you help me?

Desperate Dog

Dear DD:

Unfortunately, Language Poet is on vacation, and I am filling in for him. I am a thick, white, viscous condiment made of egg yolks and oil. Since I am an inanimate object, I am having a hard time grasping the concepts of your letter. My only advice is to lay as flat as possible; spread yourself out evenly on the slice of bread rather than letting yourself remain "clumped" up into unsightly gobs. I hope to have helped.


If you've emailed me recently I might not have gotten the message. The university server has been coping with a huge spam attack, and legit messages are being blocked also.

Dear L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Poet:
My brother's son is only four years old and has already decided he wants to be a "language poet" when he grows up.
The task has fallen on me to convince this precocious four year old of the folly of the task. I try to tell him that while all the "cool kids" may think it is fun to "deconstruct the core memes of cultural hegemonic processes pertaining to the implied absence of 'otherness' in post-avant discourse" and refusing to read Dr. Seuss despite assignments by the teacher, calling it "formalistic nonsense verse", that he may one day be harming his chances for tenure at a major university.
He will be moving from junior kindergarten to kindergarten next year, and it is time to start thinking about tenure track.
My brother has given up and it has fallen on me, as the "poet in the family" to convince the young boy that poetry can only lead to no good, of which my own life is a prime example.
Please give me some advice.
the michael
Dear the michael:

"Each new page insults the past, only to apply for membership.

The school teacher patrols the yard at recess.

A man in a room hits his forehead with the butt of his hand."

As for us who love to be amazed. Dr. Seuss is a language poet. I hope to have helped.



Nota bene: this is an actual letter I received today in my email. The answer is plagiarized from an actual Language Poet whose initials are RS.

25 nov 2003

Texture Notes


It must be its ability to embody wetness better than other items of food and beverage. Raw oysters are even more wet than water, I would wipe my eyes with it in a desperate moment. Or rather, desperate for something that could act as a tonic, I would feed it to the next person who was in danger of drying out, yes you."

This beautiful text reminds me of Francis Ponge. I love the alternation between the singular and the plural.

Hugh Kenner has died. I found out just now from Language Hat.
A year ago today in Jonathan Mayhew's blog:

National Middle-brow Radio officially fell to National Low-Brow Radio today with Terry Gross's interview of minor celebrity ex-spouse Tom Arnold. He had nothing interesting to say about his dysfunctional life. Rose briefly to highbrow with a discussion with Wendy Steiner and Arthur Danto on beauty in art--flawed because noone seemed to be asking the questions that I would have asked. The panelists seemed to assume that modernist art and literature were ugly by definition and that we needed to return to beauty. Back to National Middle-Brow Radio with an interview with Jonathan Franzen, a rather dull and earnest novelist, most famous for snubbing Oprah (a middle-brow gesture if ever there was one) plugging his book of essays. That's what I get for having to spend five hours in my car.

I have two major objections to what I wrote: the objection that Steiner and Danto didn't address my particular concerns is absurd: how could they read my mind? My characterization of Franzen as a dull novelist is unfair, because I've never read his novels. He may or may not be a dull novelist. What I meant to say is that he's a dull person to interview.

24 nov 2003

Short but intenser than thou work week.

22 nov 2003

A new advice column:

Ask a Language Poet

Dear Language Poet:

My husband and I haven't been communicating very well lately. He talks in a string of seemingly disconnected sentences, only some of which are related to the topic of discussion. He frequently accused me of something called "hypotaxis." Can you help me open up a line of communication with him?


M**** J*****

Dear MJ:

We are them who love to be amazed. Am I right to see myself introduced into the introduction of all those other things you might have held me to? Pencils. A communication strategy implies an ideology. Take two aspersions and call me in the morning. I hope to have helped.



Dear Language Poet:

"Sometimes the words will not mean / what they must mean to others to me. / Have I changed them so their / meaning only I will know / and yet do not?"


C. C.

Dear CC:

?Not do yet and
know will I
only meaning their so
them changed I have
me to others
to mean
must they
what mean not will words
the sometimes.



21 nov 2003

A year today ago in Bemsha Swing (then Jonathan Mayhew's Blog), I wrote this:

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

I went to a drum clinic done by Rusted Roots drummer Jim Donovan yesterday evening at a local store. He had us playing djembes in no time. I had never been to a drum circle before, and it was quite satisfying. Of course, the minute it was over I was in my usual state of anxiety, but it was a welcome relief for an hour and a half.

20 nov 2003

Joseph Duemer has been found!


Oops. I've fixed the link above.

Blog doldrums... Jordan is in California and not posting. Lend him a computer, someone! Gary, Nada, and Kasey are posting at a reduced rate recently. The skeptic has committed suiblogicide. Joseph Duemer's blog has disappeared into thin air. On the other hand The Jim Side is going stronger than ever.
Postscript on Literary Lacanianism

To the extent that PA theory is already always literary, many critics simply skip the step of seeing PA as a valid theory of how the psyche actually functions. You simply read Lacan, say, as a rather eccentric reader of Poe. The vagueness is inherent to this method. The "unconscious is structured like a language" is not a statement about the human mind, if it is merely heuristic. I'm wondering whether that statement even has a meaning that can be debated. What if it isn't "true"?

Lacan saw both Freudian PA and structural linguistics as valid. He was trying to work with the best concepts developed in those fields up to that date, fusing them in a brilliant synthesis. I would think a contemporary critic would also want to master the best available linguistic and psychological theories that have been developed up until now. But no.
Two possible objections to the preceding post:

"Psychoanalysis works for me; the results are confirmed in my interpretations"

"PA has a cultural influence in 20th century culture. I need to know about it to study the literature of this period."

"There is no other system of thought dealing with the recesses of the human psyche; PA is simply the best we have so far."

The first objection is easy to deal with: all critical approaches are self-confirming. You want to find castration anxiety, you will find it.

The second I agree with completely. You can't understand Hitchcock without Freud, because Hitchcock was influenced by this theory.

The third has some merit. However, those who sincerely believes this should take a critical look and throw out those parts of the theory that are least tenable. They would be left, I predict, with a vague psychological theory that owes very little to the specifics of Freudian concepts. They might also come to see that the way in which PA thought evolved slowed advances in psychology by holding on to dogmatism.
PA critics of an earlier period believed that they were applying valid concepts. That is, they assumed the validity of Freud's claim that PA was a scientific discpline. To say that PA has only heuristic value, then, is already a major concession. In a translation class I asked students to translate a text from Spanish to English without using the letter "e." This was a generative device designed to get the students to come up with insights that they would not have arrived at otherwise. But the idea of translating in this way has no independent validity; it is merely heuristic. If PA has this same status, then critics who use it should not make any special claims for its validity or truth, or claim that skeptics who reject this model are doing so out of "resistance" to PA truth.

When choosing a critical model, it should also be asked why we should prefer one that is based on an untenable or obsolete model of the human psyche. That is, the utility of the critical metalanguage should have at least some correspondence with its independent validity. Otherwise, what is the point? For example, an application of linguistic concepts to a literary text should be based on the best available linguistics, not on a linguistic theory that the interpreter believes to be faulty or untenable.

The utility of Freudian theory might lie in inverse proportion to its specificity. This is a paradox: defenders of Freud tend to point out the importance of general concepts, such as the idea that we are not fully conscious of or motives or that a good deal of psychic life occurs below the surface. It is much hard to defend specific details of Freudian theory, like the idea that neuroses are caused by the repression of infantile sexual traumas. Thus a "vague" Freudian has a much better chance of coming up with valid results than someone steeped in this tradition and loyal to its specificities.

The hermeneutical defense of PA, which takes it out of the scientific realm, also rids PA of its anchoring in reality. Freud as a hermeneut could also be shown to be a bad model to follow. In other words, his readings of dreams, slips of the tongue, and neurological symptoms are arbitrary and capricious, overdetermined by theoretical deductions. Thus the idea that Freud is valuable because of the supposed "brilliance" of his interpretations is indefensible. A lot of the brilliance he demonstrates occurs because he must use so much ingenuity to demonstrate rather inelegant or otherwise unconvincing interpretations. There is no sound hermeneutical method to his readings.

In conclusion, the heuristic value of PA in the Humanities is very small. It makes a very weak claim to its validity, and tends either to vagueness or theoretically overdetermined readings.
The Heuristic Use of Psychoanalytic Theory in the Humanities

The problem: the empirical basis of psychoanalysis has eroded to the disappearing point. Contemporary analysts no longer believe literally in the validity of Freudian concepts. They readily concede that major chunks of the original theory have fallen into disuse because of their basic untenability. Academic humanists who use PA as an interpretive tool have some awareness of this obselescence, yet when challenged they are likely to say: "it doesn't really matter, PA is not a science anyway. It is a heuristic device. It works for me, giving me satisfactory results."

This, I will argue, is not a satisfactory answer.

19 nov 2003

Back to the Michael Davidson project, after brief detour through Henry Gould (who in my parody sounds more like a cross between Lowell and Crane, [more than he sounds like himself {as he's pointed out to me}]).


A play-on-words on "stagecraft," a prose-poem romp through a number of theatrical and literary commonplaces. Stereotypical plots. Hypotactic, although having the parodic structure of a weird opera plot. Constantly shifting metaliterary "play."
Here's a section from Stalwart Glum, a long poem I wrote in the mid-nineteen-eighties, while supposedly doing my job cataloguing rare books in the Brown library. I stuck it in a melancholy drawer:

Walking dim-backwards through the snow,
I fell through Akhmatova's tomb, with stalwart grasp
Of Poe's echt-grease-stain, Hart-Crane bound.
Providence could not hold wise Henry's Oracle,

Christened with calamari on an antique plate,
Jealous of supermarket crosshairs in a Brodsky sprezzatura.
Whole grievances of millenarian grime died out
On the dusky plain. An Anglican primate wrenched the dawn...

[Nota bene: "Oracle" was the name of my grandmother's Siamese cat, who loved to eat squid off my Puritan ancestor's pewter.]

"Thinking the Alps" (Michael Davidson)

"Bob," the protagonist of the poem, is the Romantic poetic subject taking a mountainous and metapoetical hike through poetic history, from the lake poets to postmodernism. ("Bob" always goes in quotation marks.) The poem is easy going, humorous in tone, rich in cultural references (literary, musical, philosophical), frequently iambic. The diction is parodic. The style resembles that of "Mixed Aryan" somewhat.

"Lords Over Fact"

The "I" of the poem seems to be reading music, taking all the repeats:

"I come to the letter eight
and start over
I come to the letter sixteen
it is the same thing"

The poem goes on in that vein for 2 1/2 pages.

Influence of Creeley?


Another poem in two columns. The two poems (original and rewrite) share about 70% of "content." A man who suffers severe burns. Davidson's short lined free verse makes me think of Creeley, his long-lined poems, Ashbery.

Britney goes medieval, courtesy of Lime Tree:

"Me thinkes I dydde it agayne
I mad thee beleve we are more than iust frendes
o babye it moun seeme lyk a crushe
but it ne meaneth that I am serious
bycause to lose alle my senses
that is iust so typicallie me
o babye, babye"
Trying to read 30 files for a position in 20th century Spanish literature in one day.

18 nov 2003

"The Form of Chiasmus; The Chiasmus of Forms"

A prose poem in three short paragraphs. The title illustrates the trope of chiasmus. Words likely to be misspelled are stretched out on a clothesline to dry: "Focused, sabbatical, acknowledgment, component and grateful are starched." The typical langpo wavering between a scene described and the language used to describe the scene. The poem is paratactic, but with a thread that can be followed. Some of the sentences exhibit a Silliman-like wit: "His limp had developed in response to another limp." "They were the first to be belated."

"The Second City"

A poem in tercets , a dream-like evocation of the problem of urban geography: how does one make one's way through a city. Is a landmark in one city equivalent to a landmark in another?

At the top of my crush list is:

No Way... is Julia's blog bandwaste. Now take that back!.

The paratext for Post Hoc:

The cover is black. The title of the book appears on the front cover in about 18 point type. Underneath is a red grid or screen with another grid superimposed over it at a 15 degree angle. The author's name appears below the grid in slightly smaller type (16?).

The spine: title, author, and publisher, evenly spaced out in twelve point type. The entire book is about 8 1/4 " by 5 1/2". 85 pages.

On the back are three blurbs, by Charles Bernstein, Marjorie Perloff, and Bob Perelman. (I'll get into those later.) The book was published by Avenue B (Bollinas Ca) in 1990, in an edition of 1000 ("twenty-six of which are lettered and signed by Michael Davidson"). I am one of the lucky 1000, but not one of the lucky 26.

The book was funded (in part) by the NEA. How much governmental support did LP get in the Reagan-Bush I period?

Also, a list of recent books by Davidson, and a list of publications where the poems appeared before. A list of distributors: SPD, Segue, and Sun & Moon. I bought the book used in St. Louis. It may have belonged to David Hess previously.

A dedication, "For Lori and Sophie," and two epigraphs, one from a court case and the other from L. Hejinian.

R900/Rode The Nine Hundred:

"So I was busting on this little kid's poetry website for being bandwaste, and then I notice that her dad's blog is pretty fun to read. Then I discovered that Ron Silliman has his own dang blog. Then my mind exploded [incoherent guitar solo etc etc]"

Thanks--I think... I wonder whether this little kid's poetry is more of a waste of bandwidth than this guy's vacation photos of sailboats or of his own kid in the bathtub. I've never seen anything else negative on the web about Julia's poetry, which has actually been quite a hit with most readers.

What an odd way to find out about Silliman's blog: Julia to Jonathan to Ron.

On with the Michael Davidson reading... (Post Hoc

"Subject Matter (a rewrite)"

An allegorical dream narrative in two columns, the right presumably a re-write of the left, adding another layer of complexity to reading experience. A strong presence of a first person-singular. I don't have much to say about this poem.


A crowd of people, with an undertone of violence, attend a concert. An air of nervousness. The sound is described in metonymies: "gut / and aperture tuned / around an air, turned / into sound." This poem could be analyzed forever.


A liminal space, "neither top nor bottom / but in between." The protagonist of the poem is a "grommet maker" in search of health insurance. I know what a grommet is: it's a little metal reinforcement inside of a hole. (I am familiar with grommets in snare drum air holes, though I'm not sure they are found elsewhere.) The grommet maker is a manufacturer of holes, of absences. Yet a grommet is not itself a hole, but something that (partially) fills a hole, makes it more substantial.

"Mixed Aryan"

More Ashberian (although with a political edge) than "language-y," in its hypotactic narrative of racial differences, compared metaphorically to linguistic differentiations. There is some wit: "Later you work for the Weenie king / And learn what goes on in Fairy Land." The rhythms are loosening up now.


I am deliberately avoiding value judgments in this commentary. It's not that I am indifferent to them: I do like some poems of this book more than others. I'd prefer to defer my judgment until the very end, so as not to make evaluation an ever-present distracting demand. I think the book has value, or I wouldn't be reading it. Yet Davidson is not a poet I have a personal investment in either.

17 nov 2003

I posted this to the As-Is blog over the weekend. Tom Beckett left a nice comment about it there. I wrote it in my head waking up in bed, trying to remember it until a few hours later when I had a chance to write it down. I may have forgotten some of it. The title was a line from the poem that didn't seem to fit in anywhere when I tried to reconstruct it, so became title.

Avant-garde Poetry Bootcamp

Laundromat of fear
construction unacceptable
to native speakers
of which there were none
in radius of miles

the creation
of society for the prevention of the gratuitous
is itself

if there were wit
what would it be witty

she was kissing me
without enthusiasm
yet it was my fantasy
how locate the opera singer
in laundromat


I just got my copy of Dear Head Nation. I'm looking forward to reading it this evening if I can get my students papers graded. Optometrist called to say my reading glasses are ready: I am truly middle-aged. I'll get back to the Michael Davidson commentary soon. What the two books have in common: blurb from Charles Bernstein.

14 nov 2003

I've decided to do something totally non-judgmental and out of character. I'm going to read the poems in Michael Davidson's Post Hoc one by one, refraining from making any value judgments. I don't want to refute the article on language poetry by taking issues with its arguments. I want to simply do my own affirmative reading of Language Poetry and see what shakes out.

"Post Hoc"

The first poem of the collection, which shares its title. A possible reference to the "Post hoc, propter hoc" fallacy. I get a sense of religious awe from this poem; it's very mysterious and abstract. There is a grid in both space and time, set in motion after a clock strikes twelve. A sense of expectation. The poem is not highly visual, so for a visual reader is hard to follow.


A footnote to the first poem? There is a binary opposition between being "lost in a forest" and a grid-like structure of streets crossing each other in town. Also a contrast between depth and flatness. The ghost of a fairy tale with a maiden and a moat. The possibility of a didactic use of this tale "to illustrate the ill effcts / of theft."


A powerful, musically attuned voice flows through the protagonist of this poem, who stands both inside and outside of language. There are fifteen lines.

13 nov 2003

Since that project (debate about LP with OI) came to naught, I'll have to think of something else equally productive, equally generative of genuine thinking about poetry. I am a genuine poetry addict: I need to constantly read and think about poetry, have my mind stimulated by the ideas of others.
Oren Izenberg has declined my invitation for an online debate about his article on Language Poetry. He thinks online discussions are prone to hasty judgments, and he is probably right. Oh well, it was worth asking.
Foo! cold day! Rid a
yak of sun? Bar the
burr? Do bloom. Lackin'
hide. Agar may hew.
My experience with jazz:

When I was a kid (1960s) I assumed that jazz was a music of the past. I didn't know that it was still an extant musical practice. My parents had some old records, one of the JATP sesssions with Illinois Jacquett honking away, for example. Coleman Hawkins' "Body and Soul" blew me away, especially when I learned it was improvised.

I used to listen to one of those hokey "music of your life" stations just to hear the occasional Armstrong or Tatum performance. I always loved jazz even before I had really heard much of it.

By the 1970s, when I was slightly older, I realized that there were still jazz musicians plalying. I could get KPFA in Berkeley from where I lived, although the signal would cut out once in a while. There was a woman who had an avant-garde jazz program, which would drive my dad crazy. (Everyone else in my family was into classical music.) I knew the Creeley had been into bebop, that Larry Rivers had been a jazz musician. I eventually realized that jazz was central to American poetry and culture generally. (I hated folk music, because of the anti-intellectualism implicit in it.) No one else I knew was into jazz, until I went to college.

I don't have much musical talent. I can play a blues chord progression on the piano in a couple of keys. I can also play basic jazz drums and various afro-cuban rhythms on a conga drum. I can pick out a melody on the piano by ear, but not without making some basic mistakes.

It bugs me when Charles Bernstein uses the name of Thelonious Monk to talk about the performance of poetry, but then never really says anything specific about Monk. The jazz reference is just for show; it's a teaser. I hate kitschy jazz poetry.

Culturally speaking, the young lions movement of the 1980s is reactionary. I always thought the Marsalis approach was dull. Q: What's duller than a Marsalis brother? A: Two Marsalis brothers. To be fair, Jason M. is supposed to be a pretty good drummer.

12 nov 2003

I was reading a dissertation proposal today and who do I find quoted there but Nick Piombino (his concept of the "aural ellipsis"). This on the topic of Quechua poetry in Peru. Thus my blogging circle and and my professional life magically converge.
Is The Skeptic quitting the game? I hope he writes the 20 volumes of his blogicide note before he picks up his marbles and goes home.
Dear Oren:

I've read your article on Language Poetry in Critical Inquiry. I'd be interested in debating the ideas with you by email and putting the results up on my blog. (http://jonathanmayhew.blogspot.com) I was thinking of sending in a response to the journal itself, but I don't particularly like the tone of those debates, in which the participants try to vie for theoretical supremacy by misrepresenting arguments, or claiming that their own arguments have been misrepresented.

Basically, I don't agree that language poetry is programmatically and "objectively" dull. I find it quite aesthetically challenging and varied in scope. I don't think it can be limited to the production of Chomskian sample sentences. This might apply to a poet like Barrett Watten, although I don't think he would agree. I don't think it has much relevance to Coolidge, Fanny Howe, Susan Howe, most of Hejinian, Bernstein, or Silliman. But then again, I find Samuel Beckett's writing beautiful as well. I'm not saying your taste in poetry is deficient, but rather that you perhaps "universalize" your own reaction in excess.

Marjorie Perloff has written many essays in which she discusses LP in aesthetic terms, using a fairly traditional Poundian vocabulary. It is poetry with melopeia, logopeia, phanopeia, etc... and is rooted in avant-garde poetics. How would you address the fact that this poetry is in fact amenable to such an approach?

Your critique of the community building aspects of LP are quite interesting, if inconclusive. If language poetry's community building has been for naught, so be it. You demonstrate some problematic aspects of the Leningrad project, but it seems to me different from "literary politics as usual." Earlier you said that the LP community was indistinguishable from any other literary community, but, as you yourself demonstrate, they were at least trying to do something different.

Silliman's use of the computer program does seem naive to me. It is a crude measure at best. I agree with parts of your critique at that point in the article.

I don't see as you as particularly interested in engaging with the actual ideas of LP. You substitute a simpler, more elegant paradigm, but one that leaves out quite a bit of the potential theoretical debate.

If you choose to respond, please indicate whether you want me to post your response. Congratulations on getting the article published in such a visible and prestigious journal. Although I disagree with the premise that LP is thin gruel, I think your thoughtful arguments are worth consideration.


Jonathan Mayhew

Dear Prince Clifford:

I am honored that you have contacted me about your business opportunity. It is great to hear of your enormous trust in the deity, who has led your message to my in-box. The fact that you have contacted only me about this deal is extremely flattering. Perhaps you are a reader of my blog Bemsha Swing. It may come as a surprise to you, but I actually get three or four similar business propositions every day, from the highest government officials (or their relatives) in Nigeria and several other African countries. Even more surprisingly, all the emails I receive tell basically the same story, with slight variations, and promise a similar percentage of the recovered funds.

These millions of dollars languishing in African bank accounts were originally stolen from the people of your great continent! What you propose is that we form a criminal conspiracy to steal the money once again, since the original thieves are missing or deceased. Since the deal you propose is unethical as well as illegal I will not be able to help you out.


Jonathan Mayhew
A year ago today on "Jonathan Mayhew's Blog" I wrote the following:

"My translation course is inevitably the source of new insight. It is as though any problem relevant to my own intellectual pursuits can be approached via translation. Whether the students feel the same way is another matter entirely.
Borges has an essay on the "Superstitious ethics of the reader" (approximate title). The idea is that, by dint of repetition, a particular literary passage might come to seem inevitable "En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme..." "Longtemps, je me suis couché à bonne heure." "Of man's first disobedience...." But the original author would not necessarily have thought of this language as sacred or immutable. For Cervantes (says Borges) the opening of the Quixote was nothing special. Borges's approach to translation, then, involves a questioning of the idea, found in theorists from Benjamin to Steiner, that the original is a sacred text.
The OuLiPo approach, exemplified by Harry Mathews, sees translation as a game with particular rule or constraints. Why translate with an artificial constraint, the prohibition of the letter "e"? The point is to become aware of the less visible constraints that govern translation."

I saw two students yesterday who had been in my translation class a few years back. James is getting his PhD in Education, working on SLA (2nd Lang. Acquisition) in Spanish and ASL (American Sign Language) in a fascinating combination. (I was on his PhD orals.) Carlos, whom I ran into downtown in the evening, is working for the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Kansas City, promoting commercial ties with Mexico. Neither is an avant-garde poet or aspiring professor of literature. Yet I feel that asking them to apply oulipean procedures to translation, reading some derridean translation theory, or comparing five versions of a Machado poem fostered exactly the critical thinking skills they can use in their careers. I'm not overestimating my own contribution. I'm just saying higher education as a whole, for all its frustrations, does have tangible results.

11 nov 2003

Silliman's Blog quoting WCW:

"And thus poetic form comprises the words and its structural uses -- that character which the structure superadds to the words their literal meanings. But the form thus achieved becomes by that itself a 'word,' the most significant of all, that dominates every other word in the poem."

We are not very far from Mallarmé's assertion that the poem itself is a mot.

And I wonder: can modernist forms themselves be "stuffed" with content in the way decried by Williams? Isn't that what happened with the Ashberians of the right? With those who imitated Williams' style without adding anything new? Cid Corman would be "weak" by this logic. I like some of his poetry but it is imitative to the extreme.

Williams' dismissal of the Objectivists needs to be unpacked and explained. It would seem they are closest to him yet he views their success as extremely limited.

To what extent do the more interesting developments in recent poetry come, not from the objectivist/projectivist/language lineage, with its technical obsessions, but from those who see this technical obsessiveness as a trap? Spicer, Frank O'Hara, Antin, in their different ways. A concern with structure in this sense cannot guarantee that poetry remain "progressive." Lining up formal qualities of the text with political values is extremely problematic, even if I agree to call Marilyn Hacker "conservative" in her style. It is like a poetic version of Whorf/Sapir hypothesis. I believe a case could be made, but I haven't been able to elaborate it yet, despite my sympathy for this line of thought.

Surely structure is just one factor among others. One of the most effective contemprary poetic structures is the list: one thing after the other. Does Paterson gain its effectiveness through the rigor of its architecture? I think not. I love whole chunks of it, but I couldn't justify its construction.

10 nov 2003

AS-IS is like that game with the baseball bat where you try to get your hand at the top to see who bats first. I can't even find a poem I published there last week.
Kari Edwards at the City Museum in STL on Saturday, reading with local talent Jarek Steele, the latter accompanied by numerous friends and well-wishers, even a younger sister. I bought a copy of Kari's Iduma, with a wonderfully busy graphic design and some trenchant and memorable poems--one, a near faithful copy of a Dept. of Justice document, was frightening and hilarious at the same time. I enjoyed meeting her, since she is both funny and warm. (I haven't been to a reading this good since ... the last reading I went to at the City Museum a few months ago.) David Hess was there: no plans to bring back Heathens in Heat any time soon, he told me.

J. Steele, who works at Left Bank Books, read an effective autobiographical prose piece about growing up male in an ostensibly female body. I didn't get a complete sense of him as a poet, since he didn't read very many poems, but his reading worked well thematically with Kari's more indeterminate gender bending.

Aaron Belz, organizer of the series, read a poem by Arielle Greenberg, who is coming next month. There were fewer technical glitches this time--only a door propped against a door-frame that came down a few times for some welcome comic relief. There were no injuries.

9 nov 2003

7 nov 2003

Bad poetry, in the sense I'm talking about, can be dumb but it can't be dull. It can aspire to dullness, but it can't actually get there. It probably shouldn't go on too long.

6 nov 2003

There's little risk in writing a deliberately bad poem. It's innoculated against criticism from the get-go. Yet if it works, it is still a good poem. I win either way. What is the flaw in my logic here? Don't answer, Kent Johnson.
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Why would Nick assume I was sad when I wrote "Ballad of the Language Poetry Hater"? As a matter of fact I have been depressed lately, but that poem is an expression of pure parodic joy. Anyone who has read Bemsha Swing more than twice knows I am always jumping to the defense of language poetry.
What is the "rhythm rule"? I'm glad you asked. It's why you say thirTEEN when you say this word by itself, but THIRteen rich men. The woman on All Things Considered always announces her name as MI-chelle Norris. I'm sure she would say her name is Mi-CHELLE if it weren't for the rhythm rule, a handy device for shifting the ictus to the left to avoid clashing stresses. VANN Ness Avenue vs. Van NESS would be another example for those living in the Bay Area. I'm not a linguist so don't ask me any more about this rule. My four most habit-forming blogs, equanimity, Silliman, monkey, limetree, have not published yet today, so I'm trying to take up the slack a bit.
To scan free verse: follow the same steps. This time there will not be a single abstract pattern with which to compare results of steps (1) and (2). However, there may still be constantly shifting (or shiftily constant) metrical ghosts.
Mayhew's simple rules of scansion.

1. Forget the poem is in verse: simply mark where the major stresses lie.

2. Apply any phonological rules (e.g. the "rhythm rule"). Mark secondary stresses. Note the difference between "in love" and "eating on the way." In the first phrase the preposition has no stress at all. In the second, on has a secondary stress because it falls between two weaklings. Words like "secondary" have a primary stress and a secondary stress.

3. You're done! No, wait a minute. You can now compare these stresses to what you think the abstract metrical pattern is. You will find either a good match (i.e. most of the stresses fall where they should, or not. Are there extra syllables? Missing syllables? Inversions? The hardest to reconcile tend to be polysyllabic words at odds with the abstract paradigm. Read some Paul Kiparsky.

4. Reading poetry aloud for hours at a time, you will simply learn how to pronounce English more or less normally while at the same time feeling the abstract pattern of meter. I recommend Shakespeare, Paradise Lost, The Prelude, and anything by Dryden or Pope. Learning to scan single lines is pointless without this extended practice. Now practice speaking in blank verse:

It isn't very difficult, you know
since English tends toward regularity
of alternating strongs and weaks. My house...

It isn't hard to write verse. What's difficult is to write poetry in verse.

5 nov 2003

This got me thinking again about an idea I had several weeks ago: avant-garde eye for the mainstream poet: A team of four or five post-avant bloggers descend on the hapless straight man and start telling him to lose the blurb from Robert Pinsky, straighten out his similes. I think this could work. Any volunteers?


Update: Henry Gould has volunteered to be the first subject! Actually not, but he has an astute reaction to the post above.

Julia hasn't been blogging much, but she has been reading Poe's "The Raven" repeatedly in dramatic fashion. I'm going to have to get her to audblog it this weekend.
Adding a link to the left to "as is," since I'm now a member of this blog.
Cahiers de Corey - poetry, language, thought:

"The fictional 'ideal speech situation' of Habermas, free from conscious and unconscious sources of domination, sounds pretty darn close to what I've been thinking of as the space of postmodernist pastoral, in which writers at least try to fantasize a deliberately miniature utopia in which these conditions of speech prevail."

That would be a fascinating idea to see developed, but I wonder whether any language poet would want to sign up for a Habermassian discussion group in which enlightenment ideals prevail. Wouldn't that be too close to comfort to the "ideational mimesis" that Bernstein is always denouncing? Habermas's theory of language (such as it is) is hard to reconcile with the practice of language poetry. Putting on my professor's hat, I would say you might want to look (Josh) at Christopher Norris, who argues that Derrida and Habermas are not as far apart as they would seem to be.

The great Luddite controversy at Star Lines
I woke up up at 4 in the morning and this poem started to write itself in my head:

Ballad of the Language Poetry Hater

Language poetry
is not my cup of tea.
It fills me not with glee.
Like gruel or hominy,
it doesn't nourish me.
I love humanity
not Silliman-ity
All those who hear my plea
with me they must agree
that ancient poesy
is cattle on the lea
or green leaves on the tree
not gallic théorie
or postmodernity
(I hate John Ashbery).
It's pleasant harmony
and winsome melody
not strained obscurity
and vile diFFICulty...

That's all I can remember of it, fortunately.


Update 4:26 p.m.: I just this moment remembered the line "I hate John Ashbery" which I've inserted in the appropriate place.


The next day: I've added some more lines I remembered: "Like gruel or hominy / it doesn't nourish me. / I love humanity / not Silliman-ity"


The day after the next day. I remembered the line: "It fills me not with glee."

4 nov 2003

Getting to take a writing workshop with Harry Mathews. How cool that would be. Lucky Shanna Compton.

A lot of google searches today for poems in Yusef's BAP , from which I surmise some college prof out there has assigned students to analyze a poem from this volume: the students are led to my blog, where they will attempt to plagiarize me. The professor will then google the phrase "plagiarized essay about a poem from Yusef Komunyakaa's Best American Poetry 2003" and will nab the student.

Clearly the WSJ will get flarf poetics before Critical Inquiry gets language poetry.

"I was late for the bus and it was cold and dark, but there were two skinny boys pulling a handcart full of bricks and they were stuck on a curb, rocking the cart, flexing little bums and failing.

I put down my pack and got my hands under the back and heaved while they pulled the cart over the curb. One said 'we thank you' and they went round a corner.

Just down the walk, I found a hole knocked in a garden wall and a hundred bricks missing. The weeds spread through."

This is an impressive little prose poem.
Ok, I've calmed down a little now: What is known as "language poetry" constitutes a range of aesthetic practices that cannot be reduced to a single theoretical construct. "It" is rooted in the avant-garde poetics of the New American poetry, in continental and American modernism, in Marxist thought, in Wittgenstein, in Russian formalism, and in post-structuralist theory. "It" is nothing if not literary. To say that "its" theory is more successful or meaningful than its poetic practice ignores the fact that the "theory" "it" invokes is itself inspired in avant-garde poetic practices. (I don't think Chomsky is even in the top 20 list of language poetry influences.)

I am not the defender of all things "language poetry." Some of "it" is better, more compelling, etc... than other parts of "it." It would be astounding if that were not the case. What I object to is the casual oversimplification. It seems to me clear that, of the poets who number among my favorites, Silliman, Howe, Howe, Coolidge, Hejinian, Armantrout, Palmer, and Scalapino have a significant investment in aesthetics as an act of perception involving beauty. This is not an insignificant swath of the language writers. Others I have not listed either are not my personal favorites, or are ones I haven't invested as much time in reading, but my list could easily be expanded four-fold. These are not poets of thin poststructuralist gruel; you can get a substantial logopoetic meal from them.

None of this is directed at Josh Corey, of course. I am grateful to him for pointing out this article, which I will read in its complete form when I have a minute. I may even write a response and send it in the CI.
Cahiers de Corey - poetry, language, thought, quoting an article from Critical Inquiry : "Language poetry considered under this description is simply not a literary practice, for it does not produce objects that belong to any category of language use. Nor is it, properly speaking, an aesthetic practice, for it is not oriented toward aisthesis , or perception. It is, rather, an ontological and ethical practice. Language poets produce poetry that is precisely equivalent to language, where language is considered as a kind of creatural knowledge or potential; therefore Language poets tend to treat the objects of their art--poems--as epiphenomenal evidence of a constitutively human capacity for free and creative agency that is the real object of their interest."

This, not to put too fine a point on it, does not even rise to a basic level of theoretical competence. How does reading a Robert Lowell poem involve an act of aesthetic perception that is somehow absent from reading a poem by Coolidge, Howe, or Silliman? How can a poem be "precisely equivalent to language"? I'd say very imprecisely equivalent. What can a "constitutively human capacity for free and creative agency" be if it excludes aesthetic practice? How can an ethical/ontological use of language not be aesthetic? Why are these terms opposed in this way?

(If language poetry were "precisely equivalent to language" in this respect, it would be the most wonderful poetry in the world: imagine capturing all of human creativity in one poem!)

But the argument seeks to demonstrate the old canard: the theory is interesting, but the poetry's not. In Critical Inquiry no less!

3 nov 2003

Jack DeJohnette once explained his very sophisticated broken-time approach to me by using an analogy from a laundromat. He called his concept “washing machine time” and told me to visualize it like this: in a laundromat the washers and dryers have windows through which you can see the moving clothes. This motion is caused by the clothes being moved by the regular rotation of the machine’s inner chamber, but the clothes never fall to the bottom of the chamber at the same point in the rotation. One time the clothes will be carried 1/4 of a revolution, then they will fall to the bottom. Another time they may travel 5/8s of the way around before they drop. Another time they could travel completely around without gravity pulling the clothes to the bottom. Jack told me that the fixed rate of the rotation of the machine, in real time (seconds), was analogous to the fixed duration of a musical phrase; i.e., one measure or four measures or eight measures, etc., and that he can feel “musical time” in terms of seconds, --not just in terms of counting a certain number of beats per phrase. His ideas can fall anywhere in a phrase, just as laundry can fall at any point in the machine’s rotation, without disrupting the musical flow.

--John Riley, Beyond Bop Drumming
Whew. . . Finished that tenure letter. Now I can get back to my student papers and exams, NEH proposals. Or actually not. Leave those for tomorrow. Collect poetry for Bad Mickey Television Sock! Edit my paper on metrical styles. Jazz it up with some quotes by drummers.
Now that one article/chapter is out of the way for the time being, I will go back to my piece on "metrical signatures" in Rodríguez and Valente, written the summer before last. Each poet has a particular "feel" for the passage of time. If I can define that signature with some precision, mixing objective and subjective analysis at my whim, I will have a convincing study.


The virtues Jordan sees in Mary Ruefle remind me a lot of his own poetry. See his review at the Constant Critic site.

I got an invitation to join a blog, but the link I followed gave me an error. What's up with that?

31 oct 2003

Taking home more work than usual this weekend. If I can get through this one 200 page book ms. I will be happy. I am actually quite efficient at working. I can do things very fast when I want to, which is never.

The English Department that hires Kasey Mohammed will be extremely lucky. Good luck on the job search!

30 oct 2003

What I did today: Got up around 7, showered, dressed and drove to work, taking my laptop and Gajate-bracket with cowbell attached. Checked email. Message from Kent Johnson. Went downstairs for donut and coffee. Did easy crossword in student newspaper. New York Times Crossword puzzle on line is not too difficult for a Thursday. Wrote a few blog entries satirizing Laura's obsession with Robert Pinsky and Jordan's constant WSJ entries. I came up with theory of the "conservative fetish": we all need something unthreatening and dull to be attached to, whether it's the WSJ or Robert Pinsky. What is mine? Finished grading exams, recorded grades, and taught 9:30 to 11 composition class. Signed a paper for a student, ate lunch. In lunch room performed demonstration of Afro-Cuban rhythms for a handful of polite colleagues. The 4 against 5 polyrhythm! (performed ineptly).

Back in office to read some blogs. Nothing new from Lime Tree today. Xeroxed exams. A blog entry about the movie "School of Rock," which I saw yesterday. I really don't know at what exact point I wrote it, but there it is.

UPS man comes in with huge package containing materials for a tenure review. I fill out, by hand, some forms outlining all the dissertations presently being written in my department. (The email beeps at me: spam.) I realize I haven't heard of a fair number of the authors our students are working on. My 2:30 class: I am giving exam, so I take with me the fat tenure package and get through quite a bit of it while my students take exam. On the stairwell as I come back from class (4 p.m) , Ken Irby says that Gerrit Lansing (spelling?) had asked whether he (Ken) knew me. He refers to my posts on the Buffalo poetics list, which I haven't contributed to for many years. "Maybe he means my blog?" I ask. Perhaps.

After class I set the dates for the PhD exams in January. Write and print a cover letter for the article I'm sending off tomorrow. I peruse more of the fat tenure package. Although I've only read about 20% of the total I already know all the person's ideas, and pretty much anticipate the approach I'll take in my generous evaluation letter. Still no Lime Tree. I look at The Skeptic and realize that I've already seen it three times today. What sort of cheese is Henry eating? I look at Jim's Crush List. I check my stats: 85 hits so far today.

I obviously am not working any more. It's five-ten and I've been here since 7:15, so I decide to write another blog entry about my exciting day while I decide where to go out to eat dinner. It turns out to be longer than I expected. Will I return to office after dinner? That would be depressing. Staying in my apartment would be as well. I could go to BORDERS and read some more Satrapi.
The piece the students in "School of Rock" are playing in music class when "Ned" gets the idea of forming them into a rock band is Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez," which, of course, is also on Miles Davis's Sketches of Spain album. So, of course, I started to write my own movie scenario in my head. In my version, the elementary school jazz hipster, students introduce their loser rock-musician teacher [played by Robert Pinsky] to the joys of Miles, Mingus, and Monk. In the climactic battle of the bands they blow the Marsalis brothers off the stage.
In my yoga class last night, who did I see but Robert Pinsky himself!

posted by Laura and Jordan at 9:12 a.m
Story in the WSJ today: using Robert Pinsky's poetry to sell potato chips.

posted by Laura and Jordan at 8:30 a.m.

29 oct 2003

I'm not much of a flarf poet; here is my attempt at the genre:

First I call Geoffrey Dyer Geoffrey Halo, then I start a magazine and forget the
name. It's not Bad MONKEY, it's Bad MICKEY Television Sock.

.. progeny. The television is a glass paw. Overhead looms the Monkey-Puzzle
Tree. ... yea? If sloops are so bad, then what about Brown's proas?

... insensate. — bad gums — Stamping. Standing in the zone. ... matters. I found a
thong in my television tubes. ... TrackBack. The Monkey Shakespeare Simulator.

... is, the borderline can play good cop and bad cop all ... Through one thousand and one television nights, Oprah feeds herself ... me I am the money er monkey flarf is ...

.. Speak about television. ... Still debating with myself the ultimate meaning of "bad login." I see this ... I haven't knowingly read any Flarf but I'll bet you dollars ...
Duller than a Marsalis brother...
I just finished revisions on a major article on Valente, Celan, and Heidegger. What a relief. I had been avoiding it for a while. I had overestimated the time it would take me, so I put it off until I had a major block of time, yet I did it in a few hours (after twenty to thirty hours of reading and research, of course).

I was reading some Lewis Marsh last night. Marvelously inconsistent and uneven. I must work today.

28 oct 2003

A weird staccato harshness in my posts, brought out by selective quotations. Do I really sound like that?
Actually, I posted the 2nd dream to my other blog by mistake. Here is the original version:

In a second dream, I had invited a noted rap performer who happened to be around to perform in one of my classes. I can't recall the name of the rapper, but I believe he is someone real. He arrived with huge entourage of over one hundred people, who proceeded to trash the building, taking all the books from the professors' offices and laying them in piles in the hall to make room for their sound equipment. Suddenly, in my parents living room, which had somehow merged with the building on campus, a female mananger of the rapper began to criticize some cheap art-posters that were on the wall, some superimposed over others in a careless way: "That's some people's idea of what art is: cheap reproductions. I can't believe some people." I was shocked, because she was speaking directly to me and in my own house. I started to worry that the rapper expected to be paid thousands of dollars for the performance. . .
Mainstream Poetry has a banner add for "Matsuo Prism Shad Lures." A four word poem of great beauty. I think the word "stream" fooled the google robot into associating this blog with fishing.
The Gender Genie concluded that the poem pieced together by Kasey out of some blog entries from Bemsha swing was written by a female author.

Kasey sent me this poem, a cut-and-paste job from some of my recent blog entries in the Texas/New York style:


(a dream collabortation)

I am not a New York Yankees fan, I am a Texas Rangers fan.
Why? I think the term "middle-brow"
got me in trouble. I'm that jerk

who has to point out
what everyone already knows
but has the good sense not to say:
"You can't buy a book by Clark Coolidge
at BORDERS." There is no
really humane way of carrying
it out. "It would help
if I had a real drummer
to assist me." But when am I going
to do all of this? "One thing
it won't be, at least, is stalking
Comic Book Store Girl." I am paid
to be judgmental. Therefore
my poems tend to be short. Eventually
this urge will go away.

Who's checking my blog at 4:34 a.m.?
"Derek Walcott maybe?"
HOW I WRITE: (Who cares?) I'm sure
there is a Frank-O'Hara-cum-Language-LITE
style out there. "Powerpoint is evil!" I hope
you will consider these arguments seriously.
I am going to be a beatnik for Halloween.
For good is the life ending faithfully.

I had a fascinating dream: some writers in Texas were using techniques derived from the New York School of poetry to create a new hybrid genre, half-way between New York and Texas, the short-story and the lyric poem. Unfortunately, when I woke up I could only come up with one line from what I had dreamt:

I am not a New York Yankees fan, I am a Texas Ranger fan. Why?

This particular poem/short story seemed to end (for no very good reason) with a line from Sir Thomas Wyatt:

For good is the life ending faithfully .

27 oct 2003

A strange feeling, marking time as I think of yet another evil, judgmental purpose for this blog. The flu shot I just got doesn't help. One thing it won't be, at least, is stalking Comic Book Store Girl.

"Trovommi Amor del tutto disarmato."
Somehow I've missed linking to Mikarrhea until now. I've added a link to the left. Michaela has some reflections on the death penalty posted there.
This week I've got to finish revisions on an article due at the end of the month. Thursday I'm giving a demonstration of clave and Afro-Cuban polyrhythms, which means I have to put in some conga practice in the next few days. It would help if I had a real drummer to assist me.

I also have to start reviewing a tenure case at a prestigious East Coast University, review NEH Summer Stipend Applications. I am paid to be judgmental.

But when am I going to do all of this? I am already exhausted and it is just Monday. A mind-numbingly dull meeting today [watch those cliché epithets!], on the process for NRC ratings of graduate programs, lasting six hours, did not help. Powerpoint is evil!
Law of the adjective and adverb:

If the adjective or adverb is what you'd expect to find with the noun it's modifying, its use is lazy (or ironic). Such as: woefully inadequate, boundless skies. This would, in effect, outlaw the rhetorical figure of epithet : the ornamental or redundant use of adjectives. Wily Odysseus, owl-eyed Athena. Who can get away with this today? Derek Walcott maybe?
I'm back in Kansas after brutally short Fall break, trying to imagine what sitting through a power-point presentation by Sir Ron Silliman would be like--in a business meeting, if I were in his company and had no idea that he was a poet.

22 oct 2003

Ultimate Punishment : A Lawyer's Reflections on Dealing with the Death Penalty
Why I am against the death penalty:

1. The argument from international opprobrium : I'd like to see the US be at the forefront of human rights issues. Most advanced democratic countries no longer employ the death penalty, and we shouldn't either.

2. The argument from injustice of application . It is applied in a notoriously unjust way across racial, socio-economic, and geographical lines.

3. The arguments from inefficiency and and inefficacity . It doesn't work as a deterrent (so I'm told) and is expensive and inefficient to apply. All those endless appeals that even the proponents of state execution complain about.

4. The argument from brutalization of the society as a whole and in particular those who are forced to implement the process . It coarsens the social fabric and damages those who actually have to carry out the executions.

5. The argument from irrevocability . Once you execute someone, that's it. Innocent people have been executed in the past and will in the future as well.

6. The argument from respect for life itself . The death penalty is usually applied in murder cases. Murder is frowned upon because it is the taking of a life, and the punishment should logically reflect a respect for life itself.

7. The argument from the unsatisfying nature of retribution . Retribution does not lead to a wholly satisfying feeling. Many relatives of murder victims have ultimately come out against the death penalty for this reason.

8. The argument from the advisability of limiting state power . I really don't want to give the state this ultimate power to decide life and death.

9. The argument from distortion of process . To be certified as a death-penalty juror, you have to be in favor of the death penalty. Thus the juries in such cases are more conservative and more likely to be sympathetic to the prosecution.

10. The argument from cruelty . There is no really humane way of carrying it out.

This is apropos of nothing in particular, and has nothing to do with habitual content of this blog. I was driving in my car a week ago and heard an interview with novelist/attorney Scott Turow, who has written a book against the death penalty. Since I had three or four more hours to think about this, I decided to think of as many reasons as I could to justify my own position. These are listed in no particular order, and there are probably more arguments I haven't thought of yet. None, obviously, is original with me. The only two arguments in favor are the some people are monsters argument and the if your family member were the victim you'd feel differently argument. I reject those, because I feel they are fallacious and outweighed by my arguments 1-10. If you are already against the death penalty, you've probably learned nothing new from this post. If by some chance someone reading this is in favor of it, I hope you will consider these arguments seriously.

{lime tree}on Wyatt sheds some light on the Wyatt poem I was commenting on (less expertly of course) the other day. I never wrote a dissertation on quantitative metrics in 16th century English poetry, but I did go through a period I was obsessed with metrical matters. If I had my choice, I would only work on this. The problem is that other people's eyes start to glaze over when you go on for very long about this. I can't imagine why.

My obsession re-emerged in the last few years when I started delving into 6/8 Afro-Cuban rhythms. Is any rhythm more profound than the short bell and the bembe?

1 3 56 2 4 61 3 56 24 6 etc...

21 oct 2003

A Consumer Guide to Charles Bernstein: "Without question, Charles Bernstein has emerged as the most formidable practitioner of language poetry, the one whose work provides the most substantial basis for evaluating the claims about such writing made by partisans and foes alike."

Oh really? I thought that the "received wisdom" on this was that Coolidge, Silliman, Hejinian, and the Howe sisters (and Armantrout) were the poets of this movement; Bernstein and Watten the ideologues. Whenever you begin an essay by saying "without question" you are begging the question. The article itself is worth reading, though the white-on-black hurts my eyes so I haven't been able to pull more than snippets out of it.