31 ene 2003

The "metonymy bully syndrome" is spreading! Kasey on "Limetree" has understood my point and offered his own highly nuanced treatment of the problem. He also has a good theory about why students don't understand metonymy.
Went to a poetry reading in St. Louis this evening. Left Bank Books. John Gallaher read poems full of suburban clichés--a surbubanite feeling superior to himself? His poetry left me cold. I wanted to get up and shout that poetry had to offer something more than this. Boston based Arielle Greenberg was quite good, on the other hand. Her poems were accessible and engaging. She had a feel for language, unlike John, though she seemed nervous about how she would be received in the midwest. She kept making giggling references to corn fields. The editor of Delmar told me, when I asked him, why he had not published my review of Chris Stroffolino. I wrote it years ago and forgot about it. I don't really care that they didn't publish it, but now it's kind of out of date. I'll post it on this blog soon. Do I have any St. Louis readers of this blog?

30 ene 2003

"Images of images of images. Texts erased, rewritten, torn up. Signs, figures, bodies, enclosures washed away by the waters. Stones eroded on top of stones. A place now under a cloud of dust. Dwelling place without memory, who held you? A time hungry to be swallowed up in night. You sow words and get echoes back, echoes of echoes in the uncertain dome of desolation. I would give all the air for a cry, the possesion of the kingdom for a single moan. The augurs opened the entrails of the god and fed his lacerated body to the predators."

José Angel Valente

Valente is one of the major Spanish poets. He died in the year 2000. I associate him with Beckett, in that he is a kind of "last modernist." This short prose poem, with no title, is typical of his late work. His value in the Spanish tradition is inestimable, because he brings a certain modern tradition into Spain. He greatly admired Celan and Jabès, for example. Yet for readers who have already read his influences, I wonder whether Valente might seem too obvious? The style is strikingly original in Spanish, although less so now that he has spawned so many imitators.

I've been posting irritating comments on Mike Snider's Formal Blog. He's been remarkably tolerant of me so far, perhaps because I can get inside of that mentality and debate on his terms--to some exent. In other words, assuming that one wants to write in the tradition of Auden, Larkin, Wilbur, I believe I am literate enough in this tradition to offer a cogent critique. I've read the canon of British poetry from Chaucer to Hughes. I studied with Thom Gunn for a brief time long long ago. I audited a course in contemporary British poetry from W.S. DiPiero at Stanford. I have an equally adequate background in American poetry in all traditions.

I remember a poem by Anthony Hecht on the great Lisbon earthquake, I believe it was a translation, that I read in the Davis, CA Library when I was maybe 15 years old. It was fairly long, written in heroic couplets, and quite riveting.
Certain styles of music can only be properly heard at a fairly loud volume. You can't get the power of Coltrane if you have it turned on to "background music" level. You need to have the music loud enough so that you feel it in other parts of the body, not just take it in through the ears. Hip hop needs to be even louder, of course.
Yikes, I've become the metonymy bully. Who broke into my account last night and posted that?

29 ene 2003

The concept of metonymy is difficult to explain. I think Jakobson's use of the word contiguity is rather misleading, since it implies two things laying side by side. Metonymy is a substitution of one word for another. It thus works on the axis of substitution, despite what Jakobson seems to be saying. The relation between the two terms is one of actual connection. Thus we might say "Tin Pan Alley" instead of "popular songwriters of the 1920s." (I tried to use this example, but my students are too young to have heard the expression). Many metonymies are based on places:

Nashville = country music industry
Wall Street = the stock market, the financial industry
Madison Ave = advertising
Detroit = auto manufacturing

There are also the classic cases of effect for cause, cause for effect, container for the thing contained, part for whole and whole for part. There are metonymies based on clothing: the suits, white hats, etc... I give examples of these to my students, but they seem curiously unable to generate examples of their own.

It's not clear why Jakobson thought of metonymy as involving the combination of words rather than the substitution of one expression for the other. Perhaps the idea of "contiguity" led him to make an analogy between words lying next to each other in a sentence and the relation between elements in the real world. The White House is a metonymy for the Administration, but the relation between the White House and the Administration is not analogous to the relation between a noun and a verb in a sentence, as far as I can see.

Either I am correct about this, or I am incredibly obtuse and am not getting it. The fact that I've never been able to convince another human being of this idea leads me to think I am obtuse. Yet I have never heard a satisfactory refutation of my theory either. My hunch is that Jakobson's theory made people forget what a metonymy actually is, that now, when they refer to the concept, they are referring to his article and not to real examples of metonymies in language usage. Thus my objections don't make sense to anyone else. It's like trying to argue someone out of the proposition that a dog is not the opposite of a cat.
Here's my second square, professorial, neo-formalist rant:

There's a presumption I've never understood: the idea that iambic verse is thumping and monotonous. Actually, it can be extraordinarily supple and flexible, almost infinitely variable. It only gets stiff when it is used as a sign of the poet's moral rectitude, as in J.V. Cunningham. Where did Pound get that line about "not in the sequence of the metronome"? The metronome is a device for measuring tempo, not rhythm, and the tempo of the iambic pentameter is marvellously malleable. It does stiffen up a bit with Dryden and Pope, of course, but is quite free both before and after: from Chaucer to Milton, and from Wordsworth to Browning. The Spanish "endecasílabo" is similar in its flexibility: imported from Italian poetry in the 16th century, it brought a new sort of musicality into Spanish.

The problem with some current "formalists" is they write as though Pound were correct in his metronome remark. The verse might scan, but it lacks a convincing rhythmic feel. It often sounds cramped and cranky rather than expansively Shakespearian. You don't get that forced, counting-the-syllables-on-the-fingers feel from Shakespeare that you get from the neo-formalists of today.

28 ene 2003

I usually don't spend much time thinking about the "new formalism." Reading in Kasey's blog "Limetree" a response to Mike Snider's "formal blog" led me to reflect on this movement. The problem with much that goes under the rubric of New Formalism is not that it is metrical, but that it is not metrical enough. One mode I've seen is the "continuous pentamer." The poet writes steadily in iambic feet and simply hits the shift key whenever he or she gets to five. The enjambments are not justified; the lines are not "clean," to use Silliman's recent adjective. (I could see Kenneth Koch doing this for humorous effect, but these guys are dead serious.) There are other metrical sins: the padded line, the word used because it fits the meter even though it is not the right word, the forced rhyme, the unjustified caesura, the singsong rhythm, the line that can be scanned with some effort but doesn't sound good, the too obvious expenditure of effort, etc.... Whatever happened to "Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought / All our stitching and unstiching is for naught"?

I don't really care too much whether the formalists are politically conservative. My problem is with the amateurism. Kasey's own poem is hilarious, as is the web site "eratosphere," in which earnest amateurs get earnest advice on clunky sonnets about running over squirrels. It doesn't really bother me that poets write in strictly metrical verse. In fact I prefer Richard Wilbur to Donald Hall or Billy Collins. It's not that meter is itself conservative, but that conservatives prefer it because they think it makes them more virtuous. It's sort of a "protestant work ethic" approach that is quite foreign to the metrical tradition of Chaucer or Shakespeare or William Blake.

I like Frost and Hardy. The ideological use to which such poets are put, though, is another matter. As in, "Let's write like Thomas Hardy so we can forget that modernism ever existed."
Barbara Guest is a writer I became obsessed with around 1999. I had purchased her Selected Poems a few years before that. What drove my obsession was my initial difficulty in reading her: she seemed too ethereal, too exquisite. Since these qualities are also what attracted me in the first place, my reading was seriously ambivalent. Stepping back a bit, I can more clearly identify things I don't like in some poems (preciousness) and love, less ambivalently, the poems that don't have that quality.

It's curious that the book jacket of her first book emphasizes her maturity as a poet, the fact that this is an atypical first book of poetry. She was 40 before she really published much of anything. From our present vantage point it looks like she was in a very early stage of her writing, that there was a great deal of stylistic inconsistency (not necessarily a bad thing!). At the same time, there are early poems of hers that are not all that different from what she was writing in the 1980s and 1990s. Her poetry becomes increasingly elliptical and rarefied--sometimes to the point that I lose her. Yet I keep coming back for more. I own an almost complete set of her books, thanks to bibliofind.

Notley and Mayer don't really come out of Guest. They derive more from Berrigan, Koch, etc...

27 ene 2003

If you only read Yépez in English, you're missing out on the great "bloguerras" between the "bárbaros del norte" and the "fresas del centro." The Tijuana group is seen as barbaric and "agringados" (gringo-fied). The Mexico City writers are denigrated as perfumed "strawberries": "mesoamericanos," "defeños," or "chilangos." They (chilangos like Sifuentes and Del Valle) deny that they enjoy any centralist privilege by virtue of their residence in the Distrito Federal. They often deny the physical existence of Heriberto. (I have independent testimony that he does, in fact, exist!)

I have no real stake in this battle, though I tend to sympathize with the norteños as a matter of instinct. Always root for the underdog. [The word "defeño," by the way, comes for the initials D.F. (Distrito federal or federal district), and thus refers to residents of what in English we call "Mexico City."] A few defeños took particular offense at Heriberto's use of the term "mesoamericanos," I'm not exactly sure what connotations this has. After all, I'm just a gringo myself.

It makes a great story. If I actually understood what the story actually was I might find it less interesting.
I hope I'm not one of those "poetry bullies"! I'm certainly not going to be a blogging bully, telling people whether or not blogging should become a "scene" or defining it as "postmediatic." What I enjoy about Heriberto, my favorite bloggery theorist, is the sheer extravagance of his rhetoric. The hyperbole is the message. If blogging does change anything it is far too early to say what this change will really mean. There's nothing wrong with spinning a theoretical construct around the whole phenomenon if you find it amusing. You might even go back and read Charles Bernstein's essay on Pacman, but noone plays Pacman any more.

A reference to Pepys in Bernadette Mayer's Midwinter Day. It makes perfect sense. Somehow I dropped out of the English major before I read him. My interest in blogging is in the continuous present of writing.
Julia leaves half-read books strewn in every room of the house. Now mostly Childhoods of Famous Americans and Tintin. I wonder where she inherited that trait from? The biographies of children have hardly changed in 40 years. There are a few more women, African Americans, and Native Americans, but still no Frank O'Hara or John Cage.


With my Spanish language blog I find I'm writing less Spanish on this blog. Es una lástima.


Steve at http://languagehat.blogspot.com (link coming soon) offers consistently interesting observations about language, and has referenced Jonathan Mayhew's Blog recently in a complimentary way. I have found links to my blog on websites from Canada, Mexico, and Scotland. None yet from Spain or Argentina.

26 ene 2003

Notley and Mayer. I must discuss them together, since I like them for the same set of reasons. They take "New York School" poetry in a different direction, make it something new. Mayer's "Midwinter Day" is a great experiment in writing and living at the same time. I cannot figure out how she did it, without even "room of her own" so to speak. Alice Notley's "Disobedience" puts me in a similar frame of mind: reading this poetry I start to note an improvement in the quality and recall of my dreams. I am not saying these writers are interchangeable, simply that I read them for the same end. So I was pleased to be reading Bernadette's poetry and find references to Alice. Both are poets I have to read more of. I loved Mysteries of Small Houses and the selected Poems, but I'm sure I've missed a lot along the way. The same with Bernadette, whose "Bernadette Mayer Reader" is a good place to start.

Who next? I think I need to deal with the 4 first generation New York poets, in whatever order they suggest themselves to me.

25 ene 2003

Gary's inability to tolerate certain kinds of music... Thankfully I can listen profitably to any music derived from African traditions (african / afro-carribean / afro-cuban); almost any kind of Western pop or rock, including drum 'n' bass, hip hop, r & b. Any music in the European classical tradtion (except Gilbert and Sullivan). Flamenco or cante jondo.

I have a hard time with "Celtic music," and with fake "folk music" in the Woody Guthrie tradition. I like blue grass and can tolerate most country music in small doses. I despise "singer songwriters," as a general category. That an American poet not like jazz seems oddly discordant to me. Perhaps the key phrase in Gary's comments is that he "o.ded on jazz." That's quite different from someone who never listened to it in the first place. Maybe his mistake was studying music composition!!

24 ene 2003

On to the N's, Niedecker and Notley. The recent edition of Niedecker's poems is welcome because it is all too easy to see her as the author of a few short perfect poems. It might not make sense that I chose Niedecker and not Zukofsky, who tends to irritate me, depite my admiration for his technical virtues. All those Valentines Day poems. I couldn't argue that Lorine is better than Zukofsky, but I find that I tend to choose as my favorites poets who don't come with as much "baggage." The poem "If I were a bird" (p. 130 of the recent edition), shows her sense of her immediate tradition. It starts out like this:

If I were a bird
I'd be a dainty contained cool
Greek figurette
on a morning shore--

I'd flitter and feed and delouse myself
close to Williams' house
and his kind eyes

She goes on, with references to Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, cummmings, Zukofsky, and Reznikoff. What a wonderful pantheon of influences to have! It's interesting that she leaves Pound out of the equation. The American modernists discouraged her from pursuing a more surrealist bent. I imagine what might have been, had they encouraged her in this direction instead.

It is strange that, although I list her as a favorite, I haven't spent nearly the same number of hours with her as with many others on my list. As with Ceravalo, I "get it" immediately with very little effort. I return once and a while to remind myself of how wonderful it is.

R. Silliman is inspiring me to read Grenier, but I have yet to acquire the books. From what I've read of him he does have that "unencumbered" quality that I seem to crave so much. How could he have studied with Robert Lowell?

23 ene 2003

My other B poet is Berrigan. I first saw him as simply a Frank O'Hara imitator. Later, I began to appreciate the combinatory logic of the Sonnets. I also like his book of postcards, A Certain Slant of Sunlight. I'd rather see the postcards, though, than read the poems printed on the page in conventional format. There's a poem in the Selected Poems--I cannot seem to find it right now--about how they should give him a grant to write poems. That side of Berrigan turns me off. Wait, I just found it, he recounts a dream in which he gets a phone call from the Guggenheim Foundation. A bit too self-congratulatory for my taste. There's definitely an ugly side to Berrigan's poetic personality, although I'm sure many find this ugly side attractive rather than repellent.

All the poets I've dealt with so far have fairly distinctive styles, although Berrigan's is a bit harder to define; for me it approaches a generic, Ron Padgett/Frank O'Hara New York school style. Yet when he is good he is very very good. "Reborn a rabbi in Pinsk, reincarnated / backward time, / I gasped thru my beard full of mushroom barley / soup; / two rough-faced blond Cossacks, drinking / wine, / paid me no heed, not remembering their futures--/ Verlaine, & Rimbaud."

Another poem by Peruvian Blanca Varela. The original is on my other webblog, poesía en español. This is a version done in about 10 minutes. There are a few lines that need more work. I could work on them for weeks, yet the translation would improve only marginally: "our tongues are hard we the devourers of god" is really "tenemos la lengua dura los devoradores de dios." The line has to end with the word god so that the next lines will flow out of th first line of the stanza. So, it cannot be "we, the devourers of god, have hard tongues." I won't allow myself to introduce punctuation into a poem that refuses it.


Atop a ladder
I had god under the hammer

a divine combination
white black and the red of the redemptive blood
freshly shed

the atrocity saves us in these crises
that force us to climb up to the last rung

vertigo draws near us
darkness protects us
we are closer and closer

our tongues are hard we the devourers of god
of that god that grows each night
with our hair and nails
of that god who is crushable

illumination or blindness

to nail a fly
with a single blow of iron
into the whitest wall

William Bronk might be the odd man out on my list. But he's the odd man out in American poetry as well. I got into him because of Sorrentino, possibly. I followed him closely from "Life Supports" until his recent death. I know a lot of people don't get Bronk, don't understand the enthusiasm he evokes in his readers. For me it is a meditative poetry, seemingly unremarkable a good deal of the time, but with powerful cumulative effect. I think he published too many poems that basically say the same thing. He is not a high percentage poet in this respect. Yet I enjoy the process of sorting through his complete works to find the really powerful poems. "Words change shape and come to have / other meanings in other languages. / How do we know the unspoken stays the same?" He is a religious poet, but without religiosity or viscosity.

22 ene 2003

Clark Coolidge, another on my top twenty list, which only includes 19 in order to leave room for error. An incredibly powerful sense of sound and rhythm, obviously. I love the way he watches himself write, examining the process of writing as he goes along. Ambivalence? There are vast stretches I haven't yet come to terms with, especially in his later and very early work. For me, he hit a peak in the late 1970s and early 1980s. "Own Face" is an extraordinary book. Likewise "The Crystal Text." I used to think he wrote too much, but then I realized that quantity, in this case, is an integral part of the entire project. You couldn't ask him to write less, anymore than you could limit Jordan to a thousand poems. I have about 100 favorite Coolidge poems. I think somewhere he calls this "the plethoric mode." I usually like short poems, hence my interest in Williams, Creeley, Niedecker, etc... Coolidge I like both short and long. I started playing drums because of him. What better inspiration? And all that cave and mineral imagery...
On with the C section of my favorite poets. "I think: where would my / dog be if I had one?" I feel little if any ambivalence toward Joseph Ceravolo. I wish he'd written more, lived longer, were better known. He's a favorite of David Shapiro, of Ron Silliman, of Kenneth Koch, that is, of (at least) three other poets on my list. I originally bought "Spring in this world of poor mutts" --as a teenager, at Serendipity Books in Berkeley -- because it had won the Frank O'Hara Prize, something I would like to win myself, if it still existed.

The technique, the ear, is there, as in Creeley and Williams, but there is none of that extraneous theory-of-the line-break. He doesn't need a theoretical apparatus to write. His poems, in their pristine freshness "make no gestures or appeals outside themselves" (Kenneth Koch).

I need to explore Ceravolo's longer sequences at greater length. Because of my lack of ambivalence I don't have to struggle for years to find out whether I like him or not.
I've left the door ajar
I'm an animal that won't resign itself to death

eternity is the dark hinge giving way
a small noise in the night of the flesh

I am the island that moves forward held up by death
or a city savagely besieged by life

or maybe I'm nobody
only insomnia
and the brilliant indifference of the stars

a deserted destiny
inexorably the sun of the living rises
I recognize that door
there is no other

a springtime frost
and a thorn of blood
in the eye of the rose

This is a translation from the Peruvian poet Blanca Varela. The original is on my Spanish language blog. What interests me is that I wouldn't tolerate words like "vida" "muerte" "eternidad" in contemporary American poetry. In a Latin American poet I don't mind them at all.
I'll begin with the C section of my library. I always liked Creeley's early work, collected in "For Love." I had a rather conflicted approach to the middle Creeley, of "Words" and "Pieces," the technical obsessiveness that anticipates Grenier. The later Creeley moves back toward the sentimental mode, with sometimes uneven results. I once wrote a series of variations on "I know a Man," written in the styles of other poets. This remains my favorite Creeley poem, along with "Self-Portrait." I'm not so keen on the poems that go "One, and one, two, three..." The range seems limited, although this is a hugely influential and important side of his work. Don't get me wrong, I do appreciate the poetic techniques he developed, but the poems about HOW he's breaking his lines risk dullness.

I like the fact the Creeley doesn't make you buy into a whole mythopoetic bag before reading his poetry. (He is the anti-Duncan in this respect.) I like his sentimentality and his sense of humor, his sense of himself as inarticulate. I also feel inarticulate much of the time. I'd like to see him let loose more, be sentimental in the FO'H mode. It's interesting that he sees himself more as a technician, when a good part of his strength derives from this vein of sentiment.

It would be quite dull to feel no ambivalence toward one's favorite poets.
Ron Silliman writes in his blog this morning ".... in addition to Camille Roy, Jonathan Mayhew, Heriberto Yepez & Nada Gordon have all kept me awake at night, rethinking my assumptions about the world.
That’s the point, isn’t it?"

I think it is very much the point. Thanks Ron! Every time I'm mentioned on Silliman's blog my own stats get a major bump.

Ron suggests Anthony Braxton and Steven Lacy for my saxophone list. Good choices. I think Braxton is definitely a good candidate. If he is missing it is more because of the limitations of my own listening. I listened to Braxton quite a bit in the 1970s but somehow never acquired very many of his recordings. I am attracted by his intellectuality, as I've mentioned before on this blog. Lacy, as well, is someone I need to listen to much more. I'd probably put Johnny Hodges at number 9 and Anthony Braxton at number 10, but this might change on a daily basis.


Number One, of course, is Charlie Parker. I usually don't go in for the concept of "genius." There is something in Parker's playing, though, that defies definition. For me, as for Julio Cortázar, it is that infinitely elastic sense of time. That sense of phrasing that noone else has been able to reproduce, despite the fact that Bird was so enormously influential. As with Coltrane, he transends the horizontal/vertical distinction.

Coming next: the American poetry list. I will not rank my choices in order, since I don't want to rankle. And the poets are simply my own preferences, so the omissions will quite glaring. I wouldn't seriously argue that William Bronk is clearly superior to, say, Ezra Pound. A list of poets who irritate the hell out of me would also be quite interesting. That's a different sort of relation, equally productive in the long run.

21 ene 2003

I got my first blog hate e-mail today, in reference my blog in Spanish. Apparently I don't know what I'm talking about when I say that Octavio Paz is somewhat overrated. I honestly thought that was a widely shared opinion! It doesn't mean that I don't think he is ever a good or even great poet--simply that he is somewhat sobrevalorado, that his work contains many weaker poems. What surprises me is that I have never had anything even remotely hostile in response to "Jonathan Mayhew's Blog." I'm sure I've been much more disrespectful and savage here than in my relatively academic and tame "Poesía en español."
Number 2 is Coltrane. He can do it all: play the melody straight, with almost no embellishment, as in "Aisha." Play very simply, with very few notes, as in his solo on "So What." Paraphrase or lightly embellish the melody, as in his "Ballads" album. Improvise harmonically ("vertically") for an hour, playing a zillion notes. That up-and-down, tensionrealeasetensionreleasetensionrelease style that he plays on a fast blues also has a horizontal, forward moving drive. He is developing motifs even though it seems as though he is only running up and down the changes. That is what Martin Williams failed to see. His rhythmic approach, forged with Elvin Jones, is quite fascinating, since it makes very sparing use of the traditional jazz swung eighth note. It's hard to explain since I don't have the capacity to use musical notation on this blog. When a neoconservative like Crouch says that Coltrane doesn't swing, he is technically correct, to some degree-- but totally off-base in the conclusion he draws from this.

Coltrane also has that huge sound and that emotional force that even non-jazz people respond to immediately. That's why he comes ahead of Ornette on my list, even though on some level I actually prefer Ornette. I'd have to think about whether I ultimately prefer horizontal players (Lester, Ornette, Rollins, Konitz) to vertical players (Hawkins, Coltrane, Dolphy). For me, 'Trane transcends these categories.

Alternate order for the list: switch any two players who appear contiguously. Thus Dolphy is put ahead of Konitz, Young ahead of Hawkins, Ornette ahead of Coltrane, Coltrane ahead of Parker. What shows that my list is impeccably correct, however, is that a player cannot move two or more spaces up. Ornette cannot be switched with Bird, for example. Young cannot challenge Coltrane. This probably only makes sense to me, but I've always loved top ten lists.

I'm assigning the Alan Davies essay "Close Reading Close Reading" as antidote to New Critical ideas of close reading. However, I'm doubting now whether my graduate students will "get it."

20 ene 2003

I prefer irregular past tenses in English whenever possible. For me, the past tense of dream is "dreamt," not "dreamed." snuck, not sneaked, etc...


Ornette is the founder of a style, his own. An extremely logical, "horizontal" improviser and composer of haunting and jaunty melodies. The intellectual dimension of his playing means that I hardly ever tire of him. At one point I had a tape of "Change of the Century" that I simply played over and over in my car on long trips. In five hours, you can listen to a 40 minute tape... more than a few times. I think the mistake was thinking others would follow this lead. To dispense with harmonic changes requires an extremely strong, melodically inventive player. Don Cherry, playing with Ornette, plays ideas very similar to those of Ornette. This is not an approach that can be duplicated easily. Dewey Redmond could do it. Can I justify putting Ornette ahead of Lester and Coleman Hawkins? My list is showing its avant-garde bias. On the other hand I put these players ahead of Eric Dolphy.

I'm taking nominations for the two missing players on my top 10 list: make a strong case for Art Pepper, Anthony Braxton, Johnny Hodges, etc... and I will listen.

Henry Gould's #1 is Dolphy. Definitely a defensible choice. If I had left him off completely I would deserve to be called a big square, like Kasey has just called me on his blog, along with himself. (Speak for yourself Bro). I know what he means though. I'm sure I come off as very pedantic and professorial.

Number 5 is Lester Young. He invented cool with that behind the beat attack. Without him, no 1950s white saxophone players, from Desmond to Getz. He also stands right behind Parker and Miles Davis, for rhythmic suppleness and ethereal beauty. Check him out with the original Count Basie Band, with Billie Holiday and Teddy Wilson. The critics used to malign his later work, which is actually superb though somewhat uneven. He also invented (or at least perfected) his own unique slang. If a policeman was in the club, he would say "Bing Crosby is in the house." And his brother Bob too). Am I unhip if I put him behind Coleman Hawkins? It is highly debatable. Please debate me.

Hawkins is the greatest improviser of that pre-bop phase, and could still hold his own with the beboppers. He could play with Monk with no problem. What jazz critics call "vertical" improvisation: there was none better at it until Coltrane. What I most admire about Hawkins is that quality of supreme self-confidence. Perhaps lacking this quality myself it seems utterly miraculous to me.

Number 3 will be Ornette Coleman. # 2 will be Coltrane and # 1 Charlie Parker, of course.

18 ene 2003

Number six on my saxophone list is Sonny Rollins. How could he be so low, being so extraordinary a player? One of the great improvisers. His recording are uneven; he plays better live (I have seen him twice). The great horizontal player, logically developing motifs with incredible inventiveness. Why does he play with electric bass? To me it doesn't do the same thing for me as the upright. Saxophone Colossus is perhaps his best known record. And those trios with Wilbur Ware and Elvin, before Elvin played with Coltrane. Also check out Rollins with Monk.

Number 5 will be Lester Young. Then Coleman Hawkins 4. Should I have put Young ahead of Hawkins? I'll have to think about it. After reading Notley's Disobedience I told myself last night to have vivid dreams. It worked: I flew to Greenland on a plane that had its own runway attached to it, in search of hardware parts to hang pictures on the wall. Tonight I will dream of Prez and Bean.

Lee Konitz inspired Kerouac, played on Miles' "Birth of the Cool" sessions, recorded with Wayne Marsh, is still one of the purest improvisers in jazz fifty years later. To come up with an alternative approach to that of Parker on the alto required an especially strong player. Those long, sinuous lines.
The poets I will be discussing, in more or less random order, are: Williams, Stevens, Stein, Niedecker, Ashbery, O'Hara, Koch, Schuyler, Guest, Ceravolo, Shapiro, Spicer, Creeley, Bronk, Coolidge, Silliman, Berrigan, Notley, and Mayer. I cannot claim these are the best poets of the century, simply my "favorites" as of today. I am not including poets younger than myself, who are really more 21st century poets. Obviously, the list is skewed toward the New York school. What did you expect?

17 ene 2003

Number 8 on my all-time saxophone list: Eric Dolphy, for his work with Mingus, Coltrane, and Ornette. I like him most on bass clarinet, which isn't exactly a saxophone. In any case, he has a unique, instantly recognizable style, defined by unusually wide intervals and a rhythmic approach I cannot exactly define. Why is he not higher on my list? I feel he plays the same style no matter what the circumstances or tune. He doesn't solo on the song being played as much as he simply plays "Eric Dolphy." The duet with Mingus on 'What Love" from the Mingus at Antibes album is my favorite performance-- along with the village vanguard sessions with 'Trane and Ornette's "Free Jazz." That he could actually play with Coltrane without being overwhelmed shows how powerful a player he is.

Number 7: Lee Konitz.
Coming soon: my eight favorite saxophone players and my nineteen favorite 20th century American poets.

16 ene 2003

I'm having a hard time writing anything in my Spanish poetry blog because I cannot yet imagine my audience. While I'm capable of vivid and sarcastic writing in Spanish, my voice so far has been rather subdued.
The title I came up with was "Poesía española." Pretty dull, but not hard to remember either. The disadvantage will be that this first blog will be less varied in content. And as for those of you who do not read Spanish... I like reading blogs in languages I only half understand. I read one by Giulo Zu in Italian.
I'm going to be starting a blog written in Spanish, devoted to Spanish, and to a lesser extent Latin American, poetry. I'll keep this one alive as well. I need to think of a good name for my new one. "Jonathan Mayhew's Blog" is rather dull, but has the advantage of being easy to remember. As in, "What was Jonathan Mayhew's blog called again? Ah, yes, Jonathan Mayhew's blog."

15 ene 2003

Another poem of David Shapiro. The first stanza falls perfectly into Spanish. The last lines are a little ambiguous in both English and Spanish.


Un hombre y una mujer refieren sus sueños
en los lugares del miedo: un campanario, detrás de las persianas, un puente.
Nieva sobre el gramófono
sobre la arquitectura y la poesía.

El pródigo ha terminado con la visita.
El viejo miraba desde un libro.
Durante tanto tiempo que el narciso se ha pudrido.
Tanto dista el suelo del cielo.

Es aquí donde los nómadas caen hacia arriba
para no decir nada a favor del dolor físico.
Uno encuentra que el mar es más transparente.
Uno encuentra que el már es más opaco.
Is there a poet of comparable stature whose book are as physically inaccessible as those of Robert Grenier? At amazon.com there is nothing in print. They offer me a day at the beach for $95. I have to go to the rare book room to read him, since there is nothing checkoutable in the normal library stacks. He is not in Messerli's "Language Poetries, An Anthology," nor in "Poems for the Millenium." Luckily, there are a few poems in Hoover's "Postmodern American Poetry," and, of course, a more generous selection in Silliman's "In the American Tree." If it weren't for these two books, I'd have read no Grenier at all.

I wonder if I should read more Bill Berkson? Classes start tomorrow so today's my last day of free form bloggistry.
Harry Mathew's story "The Dialect of the Tribe" is the perfect Borgesian parable of translation. It speaks of a language that can be translated successfully while not revealing any substantive meaning. The story gradually fades out of English, as the narrator uses more and more words from the tribal language he is elucidating. Isn't this true of any language: you can translate it more or less, but none of what made the text valuable in the first place come through in the translation?

The blurb to this book [The Human Country: New and Collected Stories] compares Mathews (remember, only one "t"!) to Pynchon, Gaddis, and Barth. I see him more in the company of Georges Perec, Italo Calvino, and Kenneth Koch. Since he's a novelist, place him with the American postmodern novelists, with whom he has little to do. I see him more as the lost New York school poet. Who is Granville Hicks anyway? Didn't he used to be a well-known critic? The name sounds familiar, but I can't quite place it.

I was struck by the DeKooning on the cover of Kenneth Koch's "One Train." What was I doing in 1994 that was so important that I did not buy and read this book then? Oh, I remember, getting tenure at the Ohio State University! I faced so much hostility in that department that I had to write two books rather than just one to get through the process. I guess one train CAN hide another. I need to feel a certain amount of resistance, hostility even, to do my best work. Yet the mid-western code of niceness dooms me.


A dream early this morning: I was evaluating art-works for a show. All were quite dull, colorless cubical sculptures, so indistinguishable from one another that I could hardly say one was better or worse than another. Except that there was one by "Lisa Jarnot" that was quite striking, even though in outward form it did not markedly differ from the others. It was a dream I felt obligated to finish, even though I knew that I should get up to go to work. I woke up repeatedly, looked at the clock, and fell asleep again so I could finish this process of judging the works.

Now I do like Lisa Jarnot's poetry very much. I think the cubical sculptures represent poetries that I feel clamoring for my attention, but that I feel somehow incapable of judging. I am always grateful when I like something unambivalently, although feeling ambivalent toward a writer can me equally interesting over the long haul.

I like "crispness." (I never liked cartoonists who drew fuzzy looking characters: why draw 50 little dots when you can draw one crisp line?) I like to understand why a poet writes in a particular way, which is different from understanding what the poem actually means. I find this particular quality in Kenneth Koch, Joseph Ceravolo, Jordan Davis, James Schuyler, Clark Coolidge (sometimes). Why don't I yet understand what Michael Palmer is all about? Is his work crisp in this sense? I'll have to read it again to see, but I fear not.

14 ene 2003

I read in a biography of Beckett a while back that he detested Marc Chagall's painting. I wondered why. I started disliking Chagall sympathetically, by power of suggestion. That religiosity? Last week I bought some new tires in Clayton, Missouri near where I live. An expensive suburb of St. Louis. (I live in less upscale University City.) Walking around while they were putting them on my care I passed by a gallery with prints of Chagall and Miró prominently displayed. I disliked the fact that I could recognize the painters so quickly, that their styles were so identifiably theirs. It is unreasonable to expect a painter not to repeat him or herself. When Miró painted a new picture, it was inevitably "a Miró." But did it ever occur to him to try to paint a picture that was not a Miró? How many letter "t"s can Tàpies paint? How many ochre crosses?


Another slip of paper found in a book. In José Angel Valente's "La piedra y el centro," a book of dense essays on mysticism and poetry, a 2" by 3" note from a student to whom I had lent the book, attached with a paper clip:

"Thanks for the
use of book. It
was interesting, but
I'm not sure if I
understood it. Probably
not - Have a nice summer,


13 ene 2003

Now I have to grade that Ph.d. exam!


When I used to try to write a poem by revising it into existence, the results always sounded cramped, Creeleyesque in a negative way. I revise very little, prose or poetry, because it only gets rid of uninteresting ideas. It doesn't produce anything on the positive side. I'd rather toss a poem than revise it. Write something new. (Creeley himself doesn't really revise, nor does Ashbery, as I understand it.) Get to the point where you can write at your best without revising. Write a million poems. The references I had before reading the "Million Poems Notebook" were Koch's 1001 Avant-Garde Plays and Queneau's "Un cent mille millard de poèmes."
I woke up with a bad cold, after a night of fitful sleep, and had to come in to proctor the Ph.D. exam. I was insured of 3 hours of uniterrupted time, so I brought Jordan Davis's "Million Poems Journal" to read. This turned out to be a good idea, since my slightly febrile, sleep deprived state made me extremely receptive to this book.

One thing that struck me was a "neighborhood" quality to the book: different parts of the book seemed to be different poetic neighborhoods that one could visit. They are all in the same city, but there is a good deal of diversity as one reads various groups of poems. The language often has a bright, loud quality. You don't even have to read it out loud to hear it. The writing is fresh and vigorous. I hate to make comparisons, but I thought of Schuyler and Ceravolo at different moments as I read.

There is a sort of "dead-pan" style I liked quite a bit as well--different from the "loud" poems perhaps:

"They were driving their friend's dog
South to be in movie.
Formerly they had great hopes
For him - now for his dog."
["False Friends"]

Facing this poem is another, untitled narrative poem about a poet, she is married to a retired professional golf player. . .

"Lightning in Montana" is deftly done. I like it as a poem you could show to someone else and say "this is an example of good writing." And they would look at you and say "yes." I mean someone not necessarily receptive to "experimental" poetry.

"Toast" is a wonderful poem about -- making toast! "Land Camera" uses the word reliogiosity in a way that made me think about that word. I view religiosity as a viscous, superfluous substance adhering to things where it has no business being. (I associate it phonetically with the word "viscosity".) Poetry doesn't need reliogiosity. Not even religion needs reliogiosity! "The self-regarding religiosity / Of music critics..."

"Rotten Floor" parodies "A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island" for hilarious effect. "The Parade of the Notebooks" is quite brilliant, both in conception and execution. I also like "Poem Middle of the Night," with its dazzling opening simile.

The book is remarkably consistent in quality, though varied in tone. I have the feeling I might have other favorite poems other times I pick it up. You can add my blurb to the back cover, along with David Shapiro, Susan Wheeler, and Gary Sullivan.

12 ene 2003

I find out I'm the sixth alternate for my sabbatical leave, which means I might not get a sabbatical at all. The prophet is without honor, etc... I wrote a somewhat offbeat sabbatical application, saying that I was going to break out of my rut by working on several essays on poetics unrelated to Spanish poetry (except indirectly). I'm sure I miscalculated, and that a conventional proposal (I'm going to write one, two, three, articles on x, y, z) would have gotten me in unproblematically. Oh well. The more pleasant gifts awaiting me on my return to Kansas this evening are Million Poems Journal (Jordan Davis), and J.A's Master's Thesis on Henry Green. Submitted June, 1950, "in partial fulfillment / of the requirements/ for the degree of Master of Arts, / Faculty of Philosophy / Columbia University."


Simic, in review of Koch in NYRB, speaks of the Oulipo movement "of the 1970s." Of course, the movement was actually founded in 1960, the year of my birth. I've spoken before of what a landmark year this was for the arts. But that has a lot to do with my egocentric perspective, I'm sure. I found I've been most deeply engaged by writers/musicians born in the 1920s and 1930s--my parents' generation. A few slightly older or younger. I'm sure anyone else could make a case for any other period being especially fruitful. For me, it's the cluster of years on one side or another of 1960.

11 ene 2003

Due to cross listing of blogs, my stats are way up. I'm getting more than 300 hits a week, contrasted with about 600 for entire month of December. Thanks to all of you who've linked your blogs to mine. I'm trying to reciprocate, but I haven't caught up with everyone yet.
Simic on Koch is pretty good, actually. There is quote from Ashbery: a lot of contemporary American poetry makes you feel like you live in a Midwestern college town. Well, of course, I do live in a midwestern college town, so I know what he's talking about.
Deceptively simple comping patterns transcribed from Philly Joe in the most recent Modern Drummer. He rarely resolves the phrase on "one," rarely plays an accent on "three" either. The effect is on of "goosing" the rhythm along. I realized while reading this that I tend to want to resolve the phrase on the "one," just like other "inexperienced players." My right foot has come along nicely this winter break.

10 ene 2003

Translating Góngora and Quevedo with David Shapiro. That would be a wonderful experience.


I'm afraid to read Simic on Kenneth Koch in the NYRB. It pisses me off a bit that the NYRB had to wait until he was dead to dignify him with a review. When has the NYRB cared about contemporary poetry? Ashbery is the only poet that they have ever published whom I also respect. I used to read the NYRB when I was young more than twenty years ago. The funny thing is they still have the same people writing for it now.


Simic, Tate, Strand, Merwin. The soft underbelly of American "surrealism." I hate it that such poets are associated with Spanish or Latin American poetry. I'm not even mentioning Bly because he is far inferior to these four.


I had Spicer reading "Billy the Kid" on my computer, mixed in with my music playing in random order. Whenever he came to the line about the "Jew amethyst salesman" I winced in pain. It's one thing to see it on the page, but to hear the voice of the poet speaking the line is disturbing on a different level. Why should I be surprised? Maybe because this is not seen as a "problem" the way Pound's antisemitism is.


In Spain the word for ghostwriter is "negro." As in, "All the plagiarism in my book is the fault of 'mi negro.'" Needless to say, the ghostwriters in question are never actually "negros." The Nobel prize winner Camilo José Cela stole plots from other writers or hired ghostwriters, since he was a fine stylist who didn't have much of a talent for narrative.

9 ene 2003

There is a book in the stores now. Poems by Octavio Paz accompanied by pictures of little fake Joseph Cornell boxes by his widow. It's pretty embarrassing.


Am I narcissistic enough to be a poet?

Am narcissistic enough already, without being a poet?

Am I so narcissistic that I might as well be a poet?


French poetry spoke to American poetry.
“Je suis le veuf, l’inconsolé, le tenebreux.”

The missed translation spoke to the accurate translation.
“You think you’re better than me!"

The violin case spoke to the hi-hat stand.
“I am best emptied; you must be stacked.”

The karaoke machine spoke to the novel by Raymond Roussel.
“I live in smoky bar; you live in dusky shelves.”

The dream-in-the-poem spoke to the dream-in-real-life.
“In me the father is still alive.”

I write poetry to understand the work of poets I am reading. In these lines I tried to capture that particular mixture of New York school insousiance and humor and emotional depth in David Shapiro's poetry. How'm I doing?

8 ene 2003

An added benefit of this blog is the high quality of feed-back I sometimes get. I had a long telephone conversation today with David Shapiro touching on many subjects of this blog, including Joe Ceravolo and Ron Padgett, Kenneth Koch and John Ashbery (and Frank O'Hara). Too bad I can't repeat anything that was said!

My friend Bob Basil once expressed a negative opinion about Barbara Hernstein’s Smith’s “Contingencies of Value,” a book that makes the case for relativism in aesthetic judgments. He said, if I remember correctly, that it is full of jargon and “academic” in the worst way. I concur fully. (John Guillory pillories this book extensively as well.) She admits at one point that works that are likely to last are those that “are structurally complex and, in the technical sense, information rich...” Exactly. That is what “better” usually means! Suppose I claim that John Coltrane is better than Hank Mobley. This is an “objective” claim for all intents and purposes. It’s not all that different from saying Michael Jordan is (was) better than some other player. You can argue about specific cases, of course, but you cannot appeal to mere personal “taste” in either case. Taste only comes into play when you are already dealing with *roughly* comparable talents: “For my taste, José Raúl Capablanca is a more elegant chess player than Bobby Fischer.” What does it add for me to say that “for me, being myself in my own contingent circumstances, etc... Coltrane’s music fulfills more functions with more effectiveness within my personal economy, etc...”? Aside from being unhelpful, this sort of jargon clouds the issue.

What if Mobley were “better” for any number of utilitarian functions: keeping me awake on long road trips, putting me to sleep at night, subliminally influencing me to buy socks in the mall, confusing my cat, etc... Mobley’s superiority at any of these other functions would not alter my judgment. I have the right to question someone who says that Mobley is better and to argue that I am, in fact, correct. I would not accept the argument, “well, I like Mobley better. I have a right to my own taste.” Or, “I play him to confuse my cat.” In the trivial sense my judgment is “contingent”; that is, it depends on my not being a rhinocerus, listening to enough jazz to understand what it is about, etc... Smith raises objections like, “people who don’t know English will not appreciate Shakespeare.” Duh.

You cannot make this an argument about Eurocentrism either. Suppose there were one drummer in the village who was, quite simply, the best one there. The opinion that some other guy, who could barely play the drum, was better than the master drummer, would have no standing, in or out of this community. To me it adds nothing to say: “Theodor Adorno might not agree with this judgment.” I am assuming that the evaluator is familiar enough with the artistic language in question to formulate a meaningful judgment in the first place. This implies that one is able to learn something specific and meaningful about artistic traditions. The anecdote with which she begins the book is silly: she constrasts her own early, superficial rejection of a famous Shakespeare sonnet with a more complex, nuanced reading that made it seem more acceptable to her, and then proclaims her own inability to evaluate the poem. Maybe her earlier, facile dismissal was right, or maybe it was wrong!

7 ene 2003

A program on the web will make a poem out of a google search, as I find out from reading Free Space Comix. The results are kind of mixed, I would say:

CLARK. - 217. PARNELL, b. 23 May
NY, a 217. PARNELL, b. 23 May

and Revolutionary Literature; Early
5012; REFERENCE: w8K8. Family

23, 1883, the grandson of a Civil War
TLS to Joseph Hillis Miller 1949 Mar

Submission and Non-Resistanc
descendant General Jonathan Mayhew

b. Walla Walla, Wash. Magazines
1769. The choice: a poem Boston: Edes

Sermon, 1754. - format this article
- As Jonathan Rayback Made possible

Mackey Jackson Mac Low Jaime Manrique
the - preacher, (1741-1821). 12.

Early National Literature, Part
1820 Smithsonian American Art

Mayhew (1864-1945) -- also known
and - Those who walk after their own

vi., in vol. i - Visual Archive
Office of Research and Creative

States Army, General Wainwright was
liberal minister Jonathan Mayhew was

40 (89 helpful votes). Gift Helpers
Mayhew, Specialist Mine - Many years

Jonathan Mayhew called for the repeal
- Wood grew up with deep ancestral

England clergyman; served West Church
Young University Office of Research

on the resistance Made to King
Bass guitar, acoustic 12-string

VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary
Universalism. The eighteenth-century

I share my name with a revolutionary war period preacher and a general (Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright).
Barrett Watten's poetry presents a dull surface. There is not much for the eye, the ear, the nose. Even a description of Barnaby Jones, contrasted with Dragnet, is done as dead-on earnest sociological analysis. There is obviously a brilliant mind behind all of this, but I don't quite get it as poetry.

Take a series of Silliman sentences from "Paradise." There is a poetic subject there: a guy who rides around the S.F. bay area on the bus, lifts weights, observes things, makes comments on the process of writing, etc... Observations are tightly focussed, visualized, witty. Watten, using a similar series of paratactic sentences, comes up with something like this:

"A car abandoned on a quiet street. Falling asleep continuously before they begin. The shooting widened to expire in the act. Index of fusion of large numbers of. Emerging workers occupy the gate. Repetition of yes and no."

There is none of that Pound/Williams concrete detail here. Nor does a poetic subject appear. There are syntactic breaks, but they don't lead to very interesting results. I read "Frame," a book of over 300 pages, several years ago. Picking it up again, nothing rings a bell; it is as if nothing registered with me. I've read enough of this kind of writing to understand what he is trying to do, but I have yet to be convinced.

Now, I'm sure that Watten avoids all of the things I'm looking for on purpose. I don't think he's trying to write like Silliman and simply failing. He doesn't want a poetic subject, for example: an "I" to which can be ascribed certain characteristics. And to be perfectly honest there are some quotable lines here and there. I just need more language in my language poetry.
It was interesting that I was reading Fanny Howe's Selected at the same time as Jordan Davis. The UC press poetry series seems to be steering a middle course. Good-- but not very radical poets-- like Fanny Howe. (Calvin Bedient, Robert Hass, and Brenda Hillman are the directors of this series.) These books can get reviewed in the New York Times (unlike, say, Sun & Moon Press). I love the poem "Veteran," which begins "I don't believe in ashes. Some of the others do." I keep wanting to rewrite it though, substituting my own terms of belief and non-belief. I don't know how to take so much unironic religiosity. Howe is how a language poet? Guilt by association?

My list of poets to read more of this year: Bernadette Mayer, Tom Raworth, early Clark Coolidge.
Total absorption. When you read Ron Silliman’s blog, or Jordan Davis’s, you get the sense of someone totally absorbed in poetry, night and day. You might get the same feeling from mine as well, yet compared to these people I am quite isolated from others who share this obsession. I don’t know that many personally (I’m not counting copious email correspondence). My feelings about peoples’ work is not influenced by friendships, for the most part. Not really being part of this community, except “virtually,” I tend not to know the work of as many poets.

Take Language poetry. I am quite devoted to Coolidge. Aside from him, I several books by the following:

Silliman (5 or 6)
Bernstein (4 or 5, mostly essays)
Susan Howe (3 or 4)
Lyn Hejinian (4 or 5)
Leslie Scalapino (4 or 5)

I possess a single book by each of the following:

David Bromige
Fanny Howe
Steve McCaffery
Alan Davies
Barrett Watten
Rae Armantrout
Michael Palmer
Bob Perelman
Douglas Messerli

Plus a few anthologies and a few more poets I might be forgetting. It doesn’t seem like an awful lot, considering I might buy 40 or 50 books when I go to Spain.


I went to visit my daughter's 2nd grade class this morning. They were doing poetry. The teacher is wonderful, but she had never heard of "Wishes, Lies, and Dreams" or "Rose, Where did you get that red?" The poem they were working with was not horrible, but it wasn't wonderful either.

6 ene 2003

Right before I fall asleep every night, I play the “complete sentence game” in my head. The way you do it is to formulate every thought that you have as a complete grammatical sentence, silently speaking the thought, word by word. What is interesting is that the thought first appears “all of a sudden”—the process of thinking it out word by word is slow, at least compared to this initial flash of the thought. What is more, I articulate these thoughts so slowly, in relation to my rate of only half verbalized thinking, that I get several more ideas for other sentences before I finish the one I am consciously articulating at any given moment. By the time I finish I think of a new one instead of “saving” one I’ve thought up along the way. Some of the sentences concern the actual game, but I try to get off that metapoetic hobbyhorse fairly quickly. I might play this game for as long as 15 minutes or as short as 15 seconds before I drop off.

I am fascinated by Bernadette Mayer’s work: the idea of capturing that richness and density of ideas that might occur in a single hour or day. Even a minute would be quite an accomplishment. The essential problem is the same, except that writing is much slower even than the Complete Sentence Game. Thought can be rapid, but at the same time it feels unhurried, whereas the effort to get it all out on paper gives the false impression of excessive haste. Bernadette is able to do it in a work like “Mid-Winter’s Day.” Being really fast means you don’t have to hurry. A good quarterback experiences the play in slow motion, since the action on the field is, in fact, considerably slower than his decision-making process.

How much space can there be in a fast bebop tempo? Say, 280 bpm? Quite a bit, it turns out, even when a full measure of 4/4 goes by in under a second. The drummer might feel it in half time (140 bpm). (Not me, I have no hand speed.) On the other hand, an extremely slow tempo is all the more likely to be subdivided into smaller units.


How much more effective is Steve McQueen’s opened-eyed, steely blue-eyed gaze than the Clint Eastwood squint.

The ideas I have for writing in this blog are only limited by the amount of time I spend writing, not the number of thoughts that actually occur to me. I could try to blog for 24 hours straight, as an experiment, to see whether I ran out of things to say. On the other hand, I am inexperienced at this mode of writing, compared to Bernadette Mayer. I am thrilled that my poetry experiments are still up at the Poetry Project, along with hers.
A google search for "Adorno atonal aesthetics," "commentary on visions of gerard, Kerouac," or "solving polyrhythms" will bring you to this blog. I have a bit more time today to blog because my daughter is back in school, and I haven't started classes yet myself.


On "Lime tree" (Kasey Mohammed's blog) last Friday, some commentary on Olson that leads me to reflect. There is a technical obsessiveness in American poetry that has always rubbed me the wrong way. I approve of an obsession with poetic technique, but not when it is couched in pseudo-technical terms. That is, when the technical discussion is all metaphorical, never about the actual syllables. That's why I like Coolidge's essays. His grounding in music. When drummers talk about rhythm they talk are talking in very specific, precise terms. Zukovsky? He also knew what he was talking about, obviously. Creeley? His theoretical pronouncements are couched in a weirdly inarticulate ("semi-articulate flakes") dialect. I love Creeley's poetry, but dislike that Black Mountain rhetoric he felt he needed to explain what he was doing. O'Hara has a comment somewhere: it's amazing Creeley puts in as many syllables as Levertov. I know this is heresy to many who will be reading this! That very aspect of Creeley about which I feel ambivalent leads directly to Grenier, of whom I need to read much more.


An essay by M. Perloff about Adrienne Rich. Pointing out that her style is basically derivative of Robert Lowell. I kept waiting for it to appear in one of Perloff's collections of essays, and it never did. Too brutal, perhaps? The point that the idea of a specifically gendered language (Rich's claim for herself) was based on the most prominent mainstream male poet of mid-century America. I remember in Graduate school (early 80s for me) there were people who read Rich and only Rich. People not otherwise readers of poetry. They would not have recognized this stylistic kinship because they had not read Lowell.

5 ene 2003

Reading Harryette Mullen’s poem “O ‘tis William,” I did not at first notice the guiding principle:

--Is it Otis?
--I’m . . .
--Otis, so it is.
--Am I?
--‘Tis Otis.
--I am . . .
--So, it’s Otis.
--I am William.
--O, Otis, sit.
--O, I am Will.
--Sit, Otis.


Only reflecting back on my reading about half an hour later, without the book in front of me, did it hit me. The obviously “oulipean” tone, I concluded, came from the fact that the text is a lipogram: it is forbidden to use the letter “e” in this poem. (As in Georges Perec’s novel “La disparition.”) I came back downstairs to confirm this intuition, and noticed that “u” is also absent, presumably verboten along with “e.” Thus the obvious question “Are you Otis?” must be rephrased.

But this was obviously wrong! There are many other letters missing aside from these two vowels. I started to make a list of the missing letters, but then I realized that the only permissible letters were those included in the names “William” and Otis.” It is not a lipogram, then, but a series of anagrammatic variations on these two proper names. It gets better: the speaker who mistakes William for Otis begins by only using the four letters of Otis. “William” begins by only using the letters of his own name. Only gradually does the first speaker beging to use the w, the a, etc... and vice-versa. By the end of the poem both speakers use all the allowable letters. It is quite late before the letters of the two names merge in the word “still.” Is this the only word in the poem that combines the two set of letters? The “I” of identity is the only letter shared by the two names. I could go on and on with this analysis...

How I could be so slow to realize all this is quite puzzling to me. I should have had it in an instant. I thought the text was a quite enjoyable and hilarious meditation on personal identity before I even thought to look for the guiding constraint in a systematic way. Perhaps I assumed I would just go back later and figure it out, which is in fact what happened.

“Denigration” is a poem that refuses to use the infamous n******* word. The word is definitely present in the text, though: denigration, niggling, nigrescence, niggardly, enigma. Also, words with “neg”: neglect, negligible, negotiate, negate, renegades, renege. The entire poem plays on two unrelated Latin roots, nigr- and neg-.

A poem dedicated to Jayne Cortez makes me think of Ornette Coletrane’s “Jayne,” one of his most tuneful tunes. (It is the same Jayne.)

4 ene 2003

I once had an idea for a crossword puzzle with two mutually incompatible solutions. That is, the same set of clues would yield two puzzles fitting on the same grid, but with no coinciding letters. I don't know if this is possible or not.

Georges Perec designed crossword puzzles for a French newspaper. Marcel Duchamp wrote a chess column under a different name.

3 ene 2003

I am an INTP on the Meyers-Briggs personality scale. Introverted: I need a certain number of hours of solitude. N is for iNtuitive, as opposed to Sensory. I love abstract systems of thought, even though I am often attracted to poets who are very concrete. Thinking rather than Feeling, I favor Perception over Judgment. Why do I put any store in this sort of classification? It actually explains quite a bit, especially my failure as a teacher.


Preparing class. Cartesian doubt in modernism. Jorge Guillén's cogito begins with the existence of the outside world. It is this world that convinces the poet of his own existence. "La realidad me inventa." But of course he is there from the beginning as the thinking subject. Everything must be reordered in an artistic structure for it truly to exist. The principle of order. You couldn't have just the sentences of Hejinian's "My Life." You also need to ordering principle: a certain number of sentences in each section. What is surprising is the sheer simplicity of this organizing device.


Reading Harryette Mullen's "Sleeping with the Alphabet." Is it too facile in places? That would be my only critique. I don't always like catching on that fast! I like to feel stupid for a while before I "get it." On the other hand, it is pleasurable reading for a crossword puzzle aficionado like myself. The conjunction of Oulipean techniques and Afro American attitude is bound to find many admirers. I'm sure Harry Mathews would like it.


You can practice a jazz ride-cymbal pattern against a hip-hop beat. Just pretend those 8th notes are quarter notes and everything falls into place, since the swung 16ths become jazz eights. But then those backbeats end up being on "3" instead of 2 and 4. It sounds very odd.
All the talk about the poetic ear in various blogs leads me to reflect: We lack a vocabulary in which to talk about prosody. Much about the way we "hear" is determined by the meaning of the words. We cannot really "hear" poetry in language we cannot understand. All Russian sounds the same to me, though I'm sure in Russian, to Russian ears, there is an infinite variety. We hear non-sense verse as non-sense, that is, as poetry playing along the edges of sense. The way I hear Clark Coolidge's line "and allow back the whelm tamp of stacks" is affected by the unusualness of the word "whelm" used as an adjective, or at least in adjectival position: it has a heavier stress, read as a noun. Coolidge does this all the time. My feeling here is that the word "tamp" is used because of its sound: therefore sound is placed in the foreground. This would not be the case for reader ignorant of English. Even to function as an onomatopeia we have to already know what it means! I don't really hear the "Spanishness" of poetry written in Spanish anymore. I only hear the individual "voice." In French, I am about half-way. I can hear distinctions, yet the "Frenchness" of the language is still there for me as an independent quality, whelming my reading.

2 ene 2003

Today I must begin to prepare my graduate course. My mind is a complete blank. I have no idea of how to teach literature. It wasn't something I ever learned from having been taught by anyone else. I did learn from resisting the way it was taught. All the theorists agree that the definition of literature is what is taught as literature in the classroom. I don't care that the students have no advance preparation: it is the lack of commitment I cannot stand.

1 ene 2003

The most elementary and radical objection to translation is that it puts the poem in another language. I stipulate that the translation is more or less adequate, but refuse the legitimacy of reading “Lorca” in any language other than Spanish. Why would I be attracted to such an extreme position? I feel that this position must be correct, even though I cannot justify it.

Murat’s attack on Jabès gives me pause. I’ve read very little of Jabès, who owes a good deal of his fame and prestige to Derrida. I’ve always assumed that I ought to admire him, and Murat gives me permission, if not to ignore him, at least to recognize what he must look like to a different sort of Jewish poet. Valente admired him, of course: but is there an aspect that’s almost “too good to be true” in a figure like Jabès? The combination of Jewish-exile/ Mallarmean themes is obviously too much for someone like Derrida to resist, even though Derrida himself downplays his Jewishness. I wouldn’t presume to reach any conclusion. I don’t find Jabès’ language very interesting, but I feel the same way about a lot of French poetry. Nor am I thrilled with Derrida as prose stylist. What if Derrida were actually a great writer? Then, and only then, would I accept the argument about the rapprochement of poetry and philosophy in his work.

“Les lettres du blanc sur les bandes du vieux billard”
“Les lettres du blanc sur les bandes du vieux pillard”
All those setting on a cheap Hamilton Beach blender as I puree my butternut squash soup. Or do I indeed puree it? I have a choice of frappe, liquefy, chop, grind, puree, mix, blend, etc... --a total of 14 separate settings. It reminds me of the "Esquimo snow hoax"! An anthropologist could conclude that the contemporary American has 14 separate words for putting something in a blender and pushing go. The poet as name-giver, the Platonic legislator of the Cratylus dialogue.

My seven-year old daughter Julia knows the difference between a name you give a horse and one you give a dog. Her stuffed dogs are Drumbo, Spot, John. Her horse is MacDanduff. Stanley is obviously a bear.
Cymbal sounds are hard to sample because of their rich enharmonics. Electronic music often has rather "poor" sounding cymbal sounds. Now acoustic drummers want to replicate electronic beats on real drums, emulate this "poor" sound, so cymbal companies put out acoustic cymbals designed to sound fake - electronic - like Zildjian's "re-mix" line.

For a poet to have a good "ear"? This implies, in the first instance, a capacity to hear poetry (rather than a productive capacity). Then to be able to hear what one is writing. I might have a good ear but not be able to produce anything that demonstrates this to the world.

The most prominent percussion soloist in the world today, the Scottish woman Evelyn Glennie, is profoundly deaf. She also has perfect pitch - or did before she lost her hearing in her youth. She plays barefoot better to "hear" the music through her body. I don't really understand how this works!

The way we hear language is influenced by the meaning of the words, even the part of speech.

Suppose I could imitate Clark Coolidge's style. Phonetically, a taste for dense sounds; onomatopeia. Morphologically: he like the suffix "-age" in words like roughage or overage, etc... Syntactic breaks, nouns used as adjectives, concentrations of monosyllabic accented words. I believe I could (conceivably) write in this style, and be completely original, since the emphasis, the quality of the insistence, would end up being different even if I reproduced all of these features. What is the difference between an imitation that is intolerable and one that is seen as a productive breakthrough? I sometimes think Koethe is way too close to Ashbery, even though I can read it with pleasure if I ignore this fact. The same with some of the Gamoneda clones in Spain.

Horrible self-doubt at the beginning of the new year. Is my career effectively stalled? (Ineffectively stalled?). Should I rejoin the MLA? The AATSP? I feel depression not as an emotion, but as a bodily sensation. Learning to recognize it is useful. Should I eat a peach? Like that character "Dark" in "Seeking Air."


The poetics blogging community is taking shape nicely with the recents additions of Gary Sullivan, Nada Gordon, Kasey, etc... I am happy to have gotten into the swing of things fairly early. I spend the same amount of time browing the internet as before, but now there is actually worthwhile "content" to be found. Before I would fruitlessly flit between Salon and Slate.