27 feb 2003

Well, the anti-Jonathan Mayhew blog is officially up at notjonathanmayhew.blogspot.com Of course, if I had done it myself it would refute myself much better. The most Jim B. can come up with is jokes about living in Kansas and getting haircuts.

I'm jealous I don't have an anti Jonathan Mayhew blog to contradict my every statement. That would make me extremely important! In fact I'm going to start one myself under a pseudonym unless I can convince some loser with extra time on his hands to do it for me. Any volunteers?
A few days of no blogging, Friday through Monday p.m. Going to San Diego to escape the cold.
The state of receptivity needed to become open to a new writer. I felt it yesterday as a took Fanny Howe's books to a coffee shop and devoured them. There is a stage when you are still deciding how good a writer is. A subsequent stage when you already know and can begin actually to READ. I was bowled over by Howe; I won't apologize for excess of enthusiasm. The aptness of the details is what got to me, both in novels and poems. Good writing, carefully crafted, but not dry or etiolated. Traditional virtues like "well-drawn characters" combined with an avant-garde edge.


I don't think the idea of a "creep" school is the best approach to writers like Lisa Jarnot, Moxley, Stroffolino, Mullens. An unuseful ideological projection, whether wielded by those promoting or questioning writers of this generation.


Anonymous back of head in student newspaper, getting hair cut.

26 feb 2003

At the library I found several books by Fanny Howe. I read about a third of "In the Middle of Nowhere," a good straightforward novel published in 1984. "The Lives of the Spirit": I'm not sure what this book is. Prose poems, short stories? "The Deep North" looks promising. "The Quietist" has some funky illustrations, pencil drawings by Italo Scanga, and contains much material missing from the Selected Poems. The version that appears there seems sanitized, almost sterile in comparison. She's gotten rid of all the prose bit, for one. The 1992 collection "The End" contains the amazing poem "Veteran" and others I haven't got to yet. The morning was spent reading not half-bad dissertation on Mexican poetry, and clicking every every hour or so on equanimity to see if there were any new posts.

Haircut at the student union, photographed and interviewed by student reporter, as though college professor getting haircut were big news. "Well, I was walking by after lunch, and needed a haircut..."
If I were writing an anti-war poem, it would include no references to war. I always thought it was "cheating" to actually mention the subject of the poem! Way too obvious for my evil self. Kenneth Koch's "The Pleasures of Peace" is an anti-war poem in the form of a "pro peace" poem. See also his poems about World War II in New Addresses.
Whatever happened to British culture? This from the BBC:

"The BBC is launching a search for a poem for the nation in the spirit of the classic hymn Jerusalem.

The BBCi online competition ends on 31 May, after which a panel of judges - including eminent poets - will select a shortlist for National Poetry Day on 9 October.

"We want a poem for Britain," said Daisy Goodwin, the host of BBC Two's Essential Poems, a five-part series which begins on Friday.

"We're looking for a poem of our times, one that might be set to music and sung at weddings, on football terraces or in school assembly."

"Great poetry is furniture for the mind," she added."

Evil Self: That poets against the war site demonstrates an utter contempt for the art form. More than 9,000 poems with very few actual POEMS. How depressing!

Virtuous Self: Contempt for the art form? I think you're putting your aesthetic preferences above the anti-war effort. You have your priorities reversed. I find it deeply moving to find so many poems written by professional poets of varying styles, by high school kids, by ordinary citizens. And there are fine poems by Fanny Howe... John Gallaher's "When the bomb went off" is not too bad either. I could give other examples.

Evil Self: I agree about those particular poems, but what do poets as a class have to contribute to the opposition to war? If they are no longer acting as poets, that is, if they write badly, mistreating the language, then they are no longer "poets" except in the sentimental sense of the term. Poetry is supposed to be a defense against mediocre, sentimental, and slack uses of language. Did the language writers write in vain? Weren't they supposed to do away with simplistic political poetry once and for all?

Virtuous Self: Sure, but most people don't really care about some minor schism within the poetry world. You're making this into a professional issue when it is really a civic matter. Poets have a duty to speak, like other citizens. They might express themselves through poems or through statements of conscience. And poems are a good way for young people to express themselves as well, whether or not they are "real poets" according to your elitist definition.

Evil Self: The opposition to mediocre uses of language is a civic duty as well, and that is precisely the social function of poets. You trivialize the issue when you characterize it as some minor turf battle. Isn't evil just as much a function of banality and laziness than of actual malice? Also, why do you always get to be the virtuous one? What makes my position so evil?

Virtuous Self: I guess that's because you intellectualize everything and paralyze yourself, so that you end up undermining the opposition to evil.

Evil Self: That's just who I am, I suppose. Someone has to take the "devil's advocate" position to keep everyone else honest. If we just throw our support behind the banalization of poetry we end up losing integrity, another form of virtue. The integrity of the art form is really the only thing that poet's can claim as their own....

(And so they argued as the shadows fell... )

25 feb 2003

Jordan Davis on the "approval bind" made me realize I have constructed this blog as a device to gain approval, ingratiate myself through obnoxiousness. Keep that approval and reciprocal attentiveness coming! I am the least difficult of men.

I used to have this narcissistic friend, who fed my own narcissism. I was uncomfortable with anyone admiring me that much, but I should have been even more uncomfortable.
If every new line has to be coherent with the preceding poem, yet unpredictable, I find it difficult to write poems of more than six or seven lines. Too many more than that either start falling into predictable pattern, or strain coherence too severely.
American poets who don't know even a single foreign language well enough to actually read poetry... I'm always taken aback by this, since I always wanted to learn as many languages as I could. Akiko taught me enough Japanese so that I can at least tell which word is which in a Basho poem (in romaji). My German is weak. I can read most Romance languages to varying degrees... French, Portuguese, and Catalan fairly well. Italian much less. Not to mention Spanish. I used to read Latin fairly well but it's fallen off quite a bit.


Here is that Fanny Howe quote, from "O'Clock,"

"A full Irish breakfast
consists of sausage, black pudding, brown bread,
butter, jam, and some kind of egg.
The tea bag is dropped
into a stainless steel pot
and your pour steamed water on it."
Reading Silliman's summary of an essay by Heriberto that I have not myself read. I have the impression, reading Mexican blogs in Spanish, that the actual reality is much messier, the terms like mainstream and avant-garde do not necessarily mean the same thing in Mexico that they do here. Paz, basically, is a "high-modernist" poet. What if T.S Eliot had been a quasi-surrealist poet and had lived until 1990, maintaining his privileged position until the very end? Mexico never had its New American Poetry in the 1960s, which may be why Heriberto is translating American poetry and poetics into Spanish. There are prominent poets after Paz, of course, like David Huerta and Coral Bracho, but these are not really avant-garde writers. There is now quite a bit going on under the surface; I'm reading a good dissertation on Mexican poetry as we speak, which has taught me quite a bit. For me, Mexican poetry seems too self-contained, too cut off from the rest of Latin America. I hope I'm wrong about that.

When Yépez writes in English, I feel he is writing for "us." While he says very similar things in his Spanish blog, the sense of audience is completely different. I get much more of a sense of his daily life in Spanish, whereas in English he gives a more "sanitized" version of himself.

There is also micronationalism, a conflict between the traditional center of power (Mexico D.F) and regional writers, especially from the border states. The fact that poets have traditionally relied on the government to fund their books means poetry has traditionally been in bed with political power. Until recently, of course, one political party, the PRI, had a complete lock on power.
Ken Irby just stopped by my table in the cafeteria as I was drinking my morning coffee to tell me that Maurice Blanchot had died. For me an essential writer. Irby rarely stops to talk, though I see him quite a bit either here on campus or at Border's. He is not unfriendly in the least; there is just some barrier I haven't been able to cross.

24 feb 2003

Reading John Ernhardt's blog a little while back, I realized that I had always taken Spicer line about Charles de Gaulle being assasinated "before the Yankees winning the pennant" too literally. I thought that the assasination of de Gaulle was part of the prediction, not a statement of the "when pigs can fly" variety. I was about to write John to point out how he had misread the line when I realized that his reading was in fact the more plausible one. He kept asking himself why Spicer didn't think the Yankees would do well, when I thought the poem was saying that the Yankees would in fact clinch--after de Gaulle's death! I realized I can be very literal minded--not necessarily a bad thing I hope. In my defense I can only say that Ernhardt's discussion of how the Yankees actually did that year is equally literal minded.
I wrote a poem last night for a poetry contest to be judged by James Tate. I wrote it in my "own" style," but sort of "directing my attention" to the potential judge/reader. Now I'm going to write some banal narrative poems for another contest judged by Robert Pinsky. I know it sounds hokey to enter a poetry contest. I had a bad experience as a kid, writing a perfect villanelle, with Petrarchan paradoxes about fire and ice, and losing out to a kid who had stolen his poem from a hallmark card. The next year I made them make me a judge so I could weed out the plagiarisms. I'm using the contests as a sort of "generative device." Kind of like Spicer's "Book of Magazine Verse," where the idea of publishing poems in The Sporting News or Ramparts led to the poems themselves. I actually have the first edition of Spicer's book, which was surprisingly affordable. The cover looks just like one of those old Poetry magazines. "None of the poems in this book have been published in magazines. The author wishes to acknowledge the rejection of poems herein by editors Denise Levertov of The Nation and Henry Rago of Poetry (Chicago)."


"Now accepting private poetry students... " Why does that sound so funny? Probably because all the readers of the blog are more accomplished poets than I am. That puts the relation between writer and reader on a strange footing.


When I went to Amazon to buy Wishes Lies and Dreams and Rose, Where Did You Get That Red, the website greeted me with a suggestion that I buy... Rose, Where Did You Get That Red. I was a little freaked out about the Amazon people getting inside my head to such an extent. Of course, the prosaic explanation is that the last two books I bought from them were Impossible World and Sun Out.
Mrs. Wight (2nd grade teacher) has given me the green light to do poetry workshop in a couple of weeks. I fooled her into thinking I knew what I was doing so now I have to come through. I AM fairly attuned to the 2nd grade literary sensibility, though. I just read the first of the Series of Unfortunate Events. In a perfect set up right out of Derrida on speech acts (his back-and-forth with Searle about Austin's definition of real and "parasitic" performatives), Count Olaf tries to marry 14-year old heiress Violet Baudelaire by having her perform in a play, with a real judge playing the part of the judge who marries them on stage. Violet thwarts the plan by signing the marriage document with her left hand. Sorry if I gave away the ending to anyone!

I had better order a copy of Wishes, Lies, and Dreams.


"Cahiers de Corey" posted a Raymond Carver poem on his blog as an example of poetry he used to think was good. It's not all that bad--if read as a parody of James Wright. The odd thing is that Carver is influential in Spain as a precursor of "el realismo sucio" in fiction and poetry. Why do certain writers travel so well? Bukowski would be another example. Carver can't avoid a cliché like "steaming cups of coffee."


I'm going to the new Almodóvar movie this evening, which I can define as "work."
That poem in Spanish was the first in which I used assonant rhyme. The last line is a quote from Valente about poets in politics. Where you have no use value, don't have aspirations. In other words, don't trade in your poetic prestige for political power. Only in Europe or Latin America is this possible anyway. Gilberto Gil is minister of culture in Brazil which is pretty cool.

Akiko printed out a poem from the Nation for me last night and Julia brought it downstairs to me when she should have been asleep. I agree with the part in which the poet (Katha Pollitt) says that the subject of most anti-war poems is "the poet's superior / moral sensitivies." It's too bad that she can't write her way out of a paper sack. Look at the string of predictable adjectives in the line "this cold gray glittering morning." And doesn't the poem end up being about her own moral sensitivies anyway? The funniest thing to come out of all of this is the statement in the Wall Street Journal "We've never heard of Adrienne Rich." Whatever you think of Adrienne Rich if you haven't actually heard of her you aren't really entitled to an opinion. She's a friggin' Yale younger poet.

23 feb 2003

Well THAT certainly didn't work in English.
Entrometámonos, impliquémonos en las conversaciones ajenas

no, mantengámonos aparte en el silencio de las bestias

compremos y vendamos las acciones de la intermitencia

no, no hay apuro todavía, refugiémonos en la extrañeza

"donde nada vales, nada quieras"


Let's butt in, implicate ourselves in others' conversations

no, we'll stay aloof in the silence of the beasts

let's buy and sell the stocks of intermittence

no, there is no hurry, yet, we'll take refuge in strangeness

"where you have no value, want nothing"
Toward the beginning of "Nod," Howe quote Augustine's passage about time, how the present has no duration, but is just an infintesimal point between past and future.


My idea about the redundancy inherent in collections of poetry. How many books seem to contain multiple poems saying the same thing in different ways? The first ten or twenty of Shakespeare's Sonnets, for example. Yet this redundance must be a necessary one.


We're getting snow tonight. It's not clear whether I will make it back to Kansas tomorrow afternoon.
Just got through reading Fanny Howe's "Nod." What an amazing novel. Hardly a false not in the whole thing. Noone every told me before that she was such an accomplished fiction writer.

22 feb 2003

Chris Stroffolino. Stealer’s Wheel. West Stockbridge, Mass.: Hard Press, 1999. 109 pp. $12.95

Chris Stroffolino’s trademark device is the meandering metaphor or simile that awkwardly spills into the next several lines, changing shape and tone unexpectedly. Awkwardness, far from being a defect in this case, is the marker of an improvisational method: the poet does not know in advance where his train of thought will lead him, or how he will emerge from the syntactical mess into which he has dug himself. This typical sentence, from a poem entitled “The Comedy of It All,” ends with a pair of prepositions tacked on to the end of relative clause:

.... And lovers are like language, mediums
that become a message only when the messenger is Mexico
and then Maine, never torn between deep sanity and Spain
except when seen from the eyes painted on a totalizing train
stuck at the station where the tracks meeting at the vanishing point
are as equidistant from either of our local heresies as the blood
we can’t believe is breathing in any brains but these of paper pens
behind our backs which would shut the sliver with standards
too high to be the nothing we can’t help but live up to.

This passage, chosen almost at random, exemplifies the verbal and intellectual pleasures offered to the reader in Stealer’s Wheel. The inevitable comparison is with Ashbery and with the New York school generally: the digressive syntax, the defamiliarization of commonplace expressions (in this case “the medium is the message” and “high standards”), the shifts of tone, the brilliant “one-liners,” and the mixed metaphors are all recognizably “Ashberian.” Stroffolino, however, avoids the polished surfaces, the reticent elegance, of Ashbery’s New Yorker poems. His predominant tone is rougher, warmer, and more engaging. His humor is also broader, his point of view less coyly expressed. He has a definite “attitude”: “The self-proclaimed cripple loses her case / When the defense shows a videotape of her / Wrestling in coleslaw.” Or: “The word revolution caught sleeping / on the job is punished by being promoted.” Or “Pepsi cups / that had this nasty habit of turning into Grecian Urns.”
As these examples reveal, Stroffolino is irresistibly quotable. A series of his one-liners, taken out of context, would make a perfectly acceptable paratactic poem such as those favored by some of the “language poets.” Instead of lining up short, clever sentences in a row, however, he prefers more expansive structures. The result is not diffuseness but rather a feeling of imaginative freedeom. He also achieves a more concentrated intensity in a poem like “Sirhan Sirhan,” one of my personal favorites in this rich book. I quote only the first few lines:

Solitude has begun to burn the log of self
but the two have not become the unity
of which ash is the visible half-truth.
Foolish ash, who prides yourself
on being the only child of the marriage
of log and flame. You can only
sing through sisters of air. But dualism
denies debate. Log turns ash. Flame becomes air.

This is Stroffolino at his most inspired. Even in less remarkable poems, however, he is an exceptional poet, consistently alert, intelligent, and stimulating. I recommend Stealer’s Wheel to all readers who are hungry for a poetry that engages the intellect and the ear at the highest possible level.


This is my brief review of Stroffolino, which was solicited and never published in St. Louis rag Delmar. I don't think I agree with it any longer. I still think the book is good, and for some of the reasons I enumerate, but I would take a different approach now, emphasizing variety of poems and de-emphasizing the Asbhery comparison. Of course, three of four years have passed.

21 feb 2003

I was much impressed by Blake's Proverbs of Hell when I was in High School. My taste for the aphorism has never left me.
I picked up a flyer on campus yesterday: I can enter one poetry contest judged by Pinsky or another judged by Tate (James, not Allen, who I think is not without us any more). I'm developing my theory of the Spanish endecasílabo, details soon.

I feel uncomfortable with the effort to seem more interesting than I really am. I don't like putting on the act. I'd rather be hopelessly unhip and quote Saintsbury all day.
I once wrote a poem called "Ode to Dr. Seuss" and sent it out to one poetry journal after the other until it was rejected definitively. That is one reason why I am a mainly unpublished poet.
What is the useful purpose of reading bad literature from the past in great quantities? I have no idea, it just sounded like the sort of thing I like to say. Seriously, though, I think it has to do with gaining a perspective on the present and more immediate past.
"It simply has to be taken for what it is--blank verse, but hopelessly bad blank verse--knock-kneed, mutilated, awkwardly spliced at line-ends, with no pause-composition; as inartistic as anything can possibly be.

Battle (when the cannon's sulphurous breath

is about as vile a thing metrically as I can remember; and if anybody says you can put it all right by reading 'battalia' or some similar form, I can only once more reply that, no doubt, if things were different they would not be the same...."

Saintsbury, writing about some obscure Jacobean or Caroline dramatist named Davenant, of whom I am utterly ignorant. These are the truly dead white men. And it is a pity, because there is a useful purpose served by reading really bad literature from the past in great quantities.

Genero documentos, me muerden en el muslo

el yo sobrevive los epitafios, se ahoga

en la nitidez de la separación, la brevedad

que no se resiente en un mundo donde los más reticentes se vuelven gárrulos

I generate documents, they bite me in the thigh

the self survives its epitaphs, suffocates

in the clarity of suffocation, a briefness

no longer resented in a world where the most reticent turn garrulous

20 feb 2003

It turns out some of those books I bought in St. Louis in the last weeks once belonged to David Hess, of "Heathens in Heat" fame. He is from St. Louis and sold them to Subterranean books, where they patiently awaited my arrival. The chance of my eventually coming into contact the person who previously owned the "Gertrude Stein Awards" was probably. . . quite high. I'm going back to buy some more of his books this weekend.
"But most of all, it must be remembered that the most perfect blank verse is (from certain points of view) a tissue of exceptions and irregularities, and that it requires but a very little blundering in the use of these to make it a complete failure." --Saintsbury

I cannot say I wish I had written this sentence, because it is not something I can imagine having written. I do admire the fineness of the perception though. What makes Saintsbury perceptive is that he has such a vast experience with inept versification. Here is his example of "a succession of single-moulded lines with redundant endings" that "is one of the most monotonous and one of the ugliest things possible in blank-verse making."

If I had swelled the soldier, or intended
An act in person leaning to dishonour,
As you would fain have forced me, witness Heaven,
Where clearest understanding of all truth is
(For men are spiteful men, and know no pity.
When Olin, came, grim Olin, when his marches .... (Beaumont and Fletcher)
That line about the "Irish breakfast," which a few people have already commented on, is a reference to a poem by Fanny Howe in the Selected Poems. It just came to mind because I was thinking about her work in the context of "conventionally good poetry."
The auto-blog. Devoted exclusively to self-consciousness and endless angst about blogging. Am I losing too much sleep? How many hits did I get today? What does it mean to be a blogger? Ideological implications? Sorry if I cannot take such discussions in earnest.

I feel the need to provoke reaction and to ingratiate myself with others at the same time. Quite difficult.
Conventionally good poetry. By this I mean poetry that's extraordinary in at least two or three dimensions: visual, auditory, intellectual, or emotional. This seems obvious. People can't ever agree, though, on which poetry satisfies on these levels. I started writing false "Barrett Watten" lines in my head after reading Silliman's blog on Watten:


Pant cuffs determine fashionability.

Egregiousness is not at fault.


In capitalism bread loses Marxist connotations.


But I quickly found my lines were far too witty. I couldn't get that Watten flatness, that deadness of tone, no matter how hard I tried. (But of course I was writing a parody, so I had to be somewhat witty.) There is also a historical problem: I have always read Watten as sort of a cliché or stereotype of "language poetry" in its ideologically pure state: only by reading about Ron's Silliman's reaction to Watten many years ago can I take myself to a time and place where this would have been seen as fresh and alive. I suddenly "got it" when I saw it through another's eyes.

Now Charles Bernstein is another thing entirely: he tries way too hard to be funny. Some things cannot be forced. That awful "canned" humor! I am a funny guy myself, but I cannot tell a joke, which is probably all for the best. I realized a little while back that I had no interest at all in Bernstein's poetry, that I owned several books of his essays but only The Absent Father in Dumbo. This is not a judgment I'm making about his work, but a discovery I made about myself. I was a little surprised, since I look favorably on him in many ways and instinctively distrust the attacks made on him by the likes of Richard K.

Some of the girls in my undergraduate class chose to write on lush, Romantic nineteenth-century poems by José Asunción Silva and the like. I wish I could appreciate that sort of poetry without embarrassment, as they do. A lot of the class wrote about José Martí.


I realize reading Jordan's posts today that, having only read Fanny Howe in the UC Press Selected, I have not really read her. I have no idea of the shape of her career, the books of poetry as they originally appeared, the revisions between the first publication of a poem and its appearance in the Selected Poems. I love conventionally good poetry. Poetry that appeals to eye, ear, mind, and heart. Like a good Irish breakfast.

19 feb 2003

That Dave Barry has a blog on blogspot seems to me like unfair competition.


I went to a coffee shop downtown, long mid-afternoon break, read a book of poems by Mexican poet Coral Bracho that I had checked out of the library. The weather was nice; her poetry wasn't bad either, though I wouldn't like this same sort of poetry if written originally in English. We tolerate certain kinds of excess better in foreign products, like Gary's Indian movies and Arab pop stars. The foreigness serves to distance us from sentimentality. Just a theory! In a little bit I'll go to a sports bar to watch the Kansas basketball game.
Why do I sometimes react aggressively, impatiently, after, say, listening to a lecture or presentation? I've been forced to sit, listen to something without responding. So I want to get up and mix it up with the speaker, even when the talk itself is not all that bad. A recent example: a "Freudian" approach to something or other, where the appeal to Freud seemed utterly gratuitous. In other words, there really was no need to delve deep into the psyche to explain this particular phenomenon, which seemed quite obvious on a fairly pragmatic level. Yet my approach to asking the question was far too intense; it was unjustified, since the talk did offer other useful things unrelated to my objection.


Modesty and immodesty interact in strange ways in my psyche. I hope that "damn it's good" in the last post is not seen as unduly immodest. It was simply a record of my honest reaction to re-reading my own blog. I wanted to make a record of this immodest thought in this record of all of my thoughts.
El susurro de unos cepillos de alambre sobre la piel del recuerdo

converso con las sombras, boxeo, gesticulo en las sombras

el recuerdo ya no es esa piel de tambor

ya no es de piel, podría ser el "cincuentón obeso"

de Cernuda, el "conviene percutir" de José Angel

es un aforismo ingente, atrabiliario, repetido hacia la saciedad

en la compulsión de hurgar en las sombras de alambre


A whisper of wire brushes on the skin of memory

I talk with the shadows, shadow box, gesticulate

memory is no longer that drum skin,

it is not made of skin, it might be Cernuda's

"obese fifty-year old man," José Angel's "time for percussion"

it is an overgrown aphorism, hostile and repeated ad nauseam

in the compulsion to root around in memories of wire

I'm writing another series of bilingual poems for blog publication. Since I couldn't log on to the blogger all day I actually read my own blog, which I rarely do. Damn it's good.

18 feb 2003

There is no president of poetry. Noone should want to be the president of poetry.

I keep writing posts and erasing them. Manic, self-critical mood.
Is it possible for someone to be an intelligent poetics type person, know all the right things to say, be steeped in the tradition, etc... and lack a talent for actually writing poems--without knowing it? Not only possible, but quite frequent I would say.

Next question: Am I one of these people? Somewhat likely. If I SAY I am, then I am not, because I KNOW that I lack talent. If I say I am not, then I AM, because I am unaware of my lack of talent.

I usually don't like naming these people because, who am I to make this determination? No one really asked for my opinion. For example X, a Spanish poet who is quite erudite, a famous poet and friend and ally of mine, but simply not very good 90% of the time. Z, an American Language poet, a not particularly good poet, but highly influential with lots of strong essays on poetry and poetics.

My Former Student Ryan Bruns is in Spain and sends me the following poem, "Oda al laberinto de dedos." I'm putting it up here with his permission:

todo el mundo en el club
se vuelve un poco loco e hipnotizado
cuando por fin, comienza tu solo.
el baterista toca sutilmente
pero es tu solo.
y el mosaico del contra-
bajo se pone un laberinto de





bam bam bam bam

bam bam!

bam bam bam bam
bam- bam! babám! babam! bam!

Some Words I Have Been Using Incorrectly Up To This Point In My Life

Arugula mythological serpent

Fedora surrealist breakfast salad green

Bereft free from rodents

Brogue unconscious slip

Aspersions small scuffs on windshield

17 feb 2003

I have friends in high (or low) places. Heriberto Yépez writes in his "Border Blogger":

"Creo que este blog [Piombino's], como el de Ron Silliman, Jonathan Mayhew o Brian Kim Stefans, es ya una estación imprescindible para aquellos que deseen conocer una parte importante del pensamiento poético actual de Estados Unidos. Este blog de Nick Piombino lo recomiendo especialmente por su forma wittgensteina, fragmental, muy al gusto de una buena parte de nuestra formación aforística en Latinoamérica."

I am happy to be put in such august company, of course, but one could have a pretty darned complete idea of "el pensamiento poético actual" without ever having heard of "Jonathan Mayhew."

I hear Google is acquiring Pyra Labs, so the symbiosis between google searches and blogspots will be even more intense.

I tried to repeat my happy experience of last week at Subterranean Books. But of course it wasn't the same: the weather was worse, the music playing in the store was worse; the week before I had bought the books that were most attractive to me. I had to listen to an urgent and intense conversation about politics while browsing, the kind of conversation I could neither join--since I didn't know the people involved--nor ignore. I ended up buying two volumes of the "Gertrude Stein Awards in Innovative American Poetry," one of Messerli's earnest and valuable projects. This is the worst way for me to read poetry: in large anthologies of many poets, represented by one poem each. I need critical mass: I can't just read one poem by Fannie Howe, one poem by Peter Gizzi, etc... I started getting cranky: if these are "awards," and Messerli's own poem is in the book, does that mean he gave an award to himself? I think in fact he SHOULD give an award to himself for the great things he's published over the years, but it's a little like saying "Jonathan Mayhew has been awarded the Jonathan Mayhew blog award." Creeley has a poem in there that does

your humility
'cause it's just another

excuse for privilege
another place not
another's, another
way you get to get."

Self-anthologization presents a unique dilemma in any case. You couldn't have the American tree without Silliman: he is such a major player in the scene he is describing. You couldn't have the anthology of the New York School without editors Padgett and Shapiro. Could you have the Hoover Norton Anthology of Postmodern Poetry without Hoover? What would be the criterion for deciding that? Do Rothenberg and Joris need to be in Poems for the Millenium? (Probably they do, because of the personal and unique nature of that kind of book. They would be in it even if they weren't in it.) Messerli is an interesting enough writer that I don't begrudge him this self-award. The criterion would have to be: "if someone else were doing the anthology, would they include him in it?" I think probably yes. The real criterion, in any case, is one of community. There are poems here that are not necessarily "innovative," but are written by people associated with the post-avant-garde poetry community.
I've been trying to develop a theory about why the eneasílabo, 9 syllable verse, is not more common in Spanish poetry. It seems to fall awkwardly in the middle, between the octosílabo and the endecasílabo, both of which have four main rhythmic variants. Darío, Neruda, and Hierro are the poets who have written most successfully in verses of 9 syllables. This line is also frequent in free verse, which without it would basically be a combination of sevens and elevens. I find my ear doesn't really "hear" 9-syllable lines very well. This is from José Hierro:

Bajo la falda, vientre, muslos,
cintura, sexo: desnudez
impura, sed de aniquilarse,
de apoderarse, de morir
salvajemente. Y un sabor
a animal que destruye el tiempo
uniéndose al tropel oscuro.

The accentual scheme is the following:


It would appear that 4 is the other main rhythmic accent in this passage. This would mean that the cadence is quite similar to that of 11 syllable line, which usually ends with a group of 7 syllables (with accents on the 2nd and 6th syllables of the group). Yet the 9 syllables don't offer as much room for variation in the initial part of the line. 11 syllables provide a nice balance between an initial, more varied group of 4 syllables and a regular cadence at the end. Hierro's enjambments and "agudo" lines (lines ending with the 8th, accented syllable) make it even more difficult for me to hear this rhythm. It is definitely a tour de force.

If a poet does not maintain the accent on 4, then we basically have six syllables of freedom combined with shorter fixed pattern at the end. Maybe there are too many possibilities: most popular meters in Spanish have four major variants. I'm going to have to look at what Neruda does. I can't seem to find my copy of Extravagario.

14 feb 2003

The new issue of Modern Drummer has a feature on Al Foster. I suddenly realize I haven't played drums in three weeks. All my Christmas vacation progress has been wiped out.

13 feb 2003

Nick Piombino has a blog, "fait accompli," link to your left. When I started mine I only knew Silliman's, so I didn't think of some clever name for it like "Free Space Comix" or "Elsewhere." I feel it's too late to rename it now, and I like its prosaic quality and google searchability. I discovered also that if you do a google search for "Ron Silliman" "Jordan Davis" you will get "Jonathan Mayhew's Blog" as the number one choice. Does that mean I'm the third point of a triangle? Probably not. I had to explain to my graduate course today what solipsism meant: no one had ever heard the term. I am so lonely some days that I just email other bloggers I don't even know personally just to see if anyone is out there.

Stan Lombardo's Virgil translation is quite different from his Homer, at least in the passages he showed us yesterday. He doesn't use those contemporary American colloquialisms in his Aeneid. I thought he needed to develop a more consistent approach to meter and rhythm: clearly he thinks quite a bit about prosody and has a good ear, but I think he should be more systematic. Ken Irby disagreed with me, and I doubt Stan will follow my advice. He knows what he's doing. I wouldn't trust anyone who would listen to me.
Tomorrow my Grandmother, Miriam Telford Ellsworth, turns 98 years old. She had seven children, numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren. One of my cousins has a grandchild of her own, so she has at least one descendant in that generation as well. My grandmother was a schoolteacher before she was married; trained in the old elocutionist tradition, she committed to memory many texts for "dramatic readings." She still knows them too! O'Henry stories, for example. I might have inherited my memory from her, since I have memorized numerous poems in my lifetime. A few years ago I learned about 40 or 50 Shakespeare sonnets.

It was at my grandmother's house in Sacramento when I was very young that I read my first poems. I was struck by the coincidence that a poet was named "Poe." Two of Poe's poems also used the first names of two Aunts of mine who also wrote. My father's sister Lenore Mayhew, who has translated Akhmatova and Basho, and Helen Hinckley Jones, the sister of my other Grandmother, who published novels and some non-fiction books on Iran many years ago. It seemed appropriate that Poe should use the names of these literary women. I knew of course that this was a coincidence, but it still impressed me to such an extent that I still remember it vividly today.
Cómo he escrito ciertos de mis libros
mi cencerro yace abandonado junto a un platillo de China

le pido prestado una frase a un amigo
algo para la solapa de un libro que no he escrito

mis reticencias, que no me salvan del insulto
de todo lo que a la vez es previsible e incoherente

How I wrote certain of my books
my cowbell lies abandoned next to a China cymbal

I ask to borrow a phrase from a friend
a blurb for I book I have not written

my reticences, that don't protect me from insult
from everything that is at one and the same time predictable and incoherent

12 feb 2003

The Raymond Roussel that most appeals to me is that of La Source, La Vue, and Le Concert, long descriptive poems written in perfect rhyming alexandrine couplets with alternating masculine and feminine rhymes. (Robbe-Grillet's novel Le Voyeur was originally going to be called La Vue in homage to Roussel.) I've read parts of these poems in French, and have the Antony Melville translation of La Vue. (Who is Antony Melville?) The flatness of the surface, the meticulous attention to imaginary details that have no real significance, the tour de force miniaturization, the suppression of emotion, the endless deployment of stereotypes, are endlessly fascinating to me. By ordinary literary standards these would be pointless or even mediocre poems. I'm reading Annie LeBrun's "Vingt mille lieues sous les mots, Raymond Roussel." There is also a pretty good book by Mark Ford on Roussel. I was disappointed in it because I didn't learn quite as much as I had hoped. It would be an excellent first book on Roussel for less fanatical readers, however.


I realize I'm blogging an awfully lot. It doesn't seem that much to me: I simply interrupt my reading, correcting papers, preparing class, etc... a few times a day. I'm actually quite reticent. For reasons I cannot wholly understand, this private diary of my thoughts is read by dozens of people every day.


For some reason I have not spoken yet of my opposition to the Iraq war. I don't really have great insight into this. While my opposition is visceral and knee-jerk on some level, it is not ONLY knee-jerk. I don't reject the pro-war arguments out of hand; they simply fail to convince me.

Today at 3:30 in the Poetics Seminar, Stan Lombardo on "Translating Virgil's Hexameter Line." This is not to be missed by anyone who happens to be in Lawrence Kansas today. If you don't know Lombardo's Homer I recommend it highly.
Jordan says that, in comparison to Saintsbury, Ezra Pound is like the Book of the Month Club! Hilarious, I wish I had thought of that line. One of Pound's chief intellectual defects was his curious insistence that the facts speak for themselves, that you can simply put a text in front of someone and, given enough time, the person will "get it." That refusal to explain anything! Imagine if Pound actually had explained what he meant instead of just endlessly hectoring in his "village explainer" tone. He would have been even more influential if he hadn't thought explaining something was beneath him. The little that he does explain is always illuminating. I remember my early frustration with the ABC of Reading when he quotes a Spenser poem and refuses to specify just what it is about these lines that make them so wonderful. He thinks that if we stare long enough at them we will be in on the secret. Now I could come up with a plausible explanation myself, but I would never be sure that this was what Pound had in mind. He is an empiricist, but he won't share his data.

Sorry. I had to get my morning tirade out of the way.
Landscape with Yellow Birds (José Angel Valente)

FROM YOUR DROWNED HEART death’s dark exhalation reaches me, as your voice did formerly. Live in me with death. So not even it can ever tear you away from me.

THE EXACT HOUR. You missed our appointment. Absent. The final shape of your blind hope: evening’s broken flight and the explosion at the end of so much shadow.

ON THE SAND I trace with my fingers an interminable double line as a symbol of the infinite duration of this dream.

SLOWLY. From the other side. I could barely, by now, hear your voice.

INTO MY EYES the light suddenly floods. As though you, suddenly, had come back to life.

THE BODY of a stranger. Lifting your body in the anonymous dusk. There was no longer any sign in you to make you ours.

NEITHER WORD nor silence. Nothing helped me to make you live.

IT SEEMED TO ME NOW as though love had been suspended. And that wasn’t it. Merely that you would never return.

A SUBMERGED LANDSCAPE. I entered you. In you I entered slowly. I entered barefoot and didn’t find you. You, nevertheless, were there. You didn’t see me. We hadn’t any longer a way to signal our mutual presence. Crossing paths, then, without seeing each other. Yellow birds. Absolute transparency of nearness.

THE FINAL EVENING. The pale light ebbs. I flow from the open wound in my side to the stiffened river of your veins.

CONVERGENCE. Leaf falls on leaf. Rain over the entire extension of bereavement.

I THOUGHT I KNEW a name of yours that would make you come back. I don’t know it or I can’t find it. It is I who is dead and has forgotten, I tell myself, your secret.

A MAN carries the ashes of a body in a small bundle under his arm. It’s raining. There is nobody here. He walks as though he could deliver his package to some destination. He sees himself walking. He sees himself on an endless moor. At the end, a devouring entrance awaits him--a blind labyrinth.

WHAT are these clouds, tell me, that the wind drags to the burning end of the evening like locks of hair? Did you make this path? Did you do it without me? When?

AS EVENING FALLS, the invisible hand of a god erases you like the wing of a bird falling toward how dense a shadow beyond all shadow. You have melted, in the end, into your own gaze.

BY NOW YOU WERE WOUNDING YOURSELF laboriously so as not to take a hand no longer stretched out to you. A hard, anonymous residue, your body, in this unpredictable evening. There was nobody by your side. Therefore, you could not die.

IN THE MIRROR your image was erased. It didn’t see you when it looked at itself.

NOW I KNOW that the two of us had a common, or shared childhood, since together we have died. And I am moved by the desire to go to the place where you lie to deposit, next to yours, like late-blooming flowers, my own ashes.

THERE IS a quiet, metallic peace in the air below a grey expanse multiplied by the motionless lake. Ash-colored silver the water, the flight, the air, your air, that of this absence.

YOU KNEW that only at the end did I know your name. Not the one that belonged to you, but the other name, the most secret one, the one to which you still belonged.

THE ART WE PRACTICE is minimal, poor, unmarketable, save on limited occasions, never public, like this one, here, this afternoon, at the indefinable hour of absolute disappearance.

WHAT WAS loneliness, I ask, your face at the end facing nothing, the time that quickly ceased to be time ensconced in itself, the wounding line of dark light that invaded your eyes, and you started to walk on it, without net or witness, when the shadows slipped from your blood to your entrails, and there you were unborn.

YOUR SIGN was the moon. Your light, lunar. Melancholy. How slow the trace of your disappearance. Never were you nearer to me.

I AM WEAK. I don’t know where to prop myself up. The air is empty of any being. You aren’t here. I’m not here. What a spinning body that of nothingness.

I TOUCH THE SHADOWS at the fall of evening, in morning’s solar plenitude, awake or in dreams alike, and perhaps I stick my arms out in front, groping a blind profile that I don’t succeed in naming, I believe that I have seen beings I still love and that I will never see again or that wouldn’t recognize me, since who could recognize whom, when you are no longer here and that final summer dragged your images far away, very far, and with them the only indisputable reference to the visible.

I WANT to have been in the places where you have been, in all the places where perhaps there still remains or survives a fragment of you or of your gaze. Could this corrosive emptiness of yours be what suddenly makes a place out of space? A place, your absence?

I COULD NOT DECIPHER, at the end of the days and times, who the god was whom I had once invoked.

SLOWLY MOONS followed moons, as light gives way to light, days to days, the obstinate eyelid to the identical dream. It’s easy to live, hard to survive what has been lived.

THE SNOW’S SINISTER BLANKNESS. The air’s low, grey ceiling. The clouds, like dejected beasts, level with the rooftops. A livid wing or space like a metallic plaque over our heads. City of bloodless usuries. Others will look on you with a gladder heart. Never the bird that could never find in you rest or dwelling-place.

AT TIMES I feel very near to death. I wonder who could find this observation useful. In the end we don’t write about the useful, I think. Why not utter, then, an obvious banality? The nearness of death is the intersection of two flat, bare surfaces that repelling each other fuse together. Nothing more? I don’t know. To pass to the other side is not enough unless I have the witness’s confident testimony, which I have not yet figured out how to transcribe.

HOW LITTLE GOOD IT DID for us to live. How short the time we had to discover that the two of us were the same man. While the subtle bird of air incubates your ashes I am, barely at the limit, a tenuous edge of nonexistent shadow.

NOW THAT sitting alone before the same window I see one more time the sky falling like a slow curtain at the end of the act, I say again to myself: Is this the end of our simple love, Agone?

11 feb 2003

Saintsbury's prose is extraordinary. Ungainly and elegant, redundant and pithy by turns. This is the conclusion of his remarks on Edward Bysshe, an early 18th-century prosodist:

"I think he was utterly wrong--wrong most of all in discarding feet; wrong in dwelling too much on accent; wrong in countenancing 'elision'; wrong in his estimate of various metres; wrong everywhere and every way except in some points of rhyme. But he was wrong with a fascinating and logical sequaciousness; and he was wrong, as a theorist, in the manner of a real and eminent heresiarch."

Earlier he talks of how Bysshe is either "immediately above or immediately below nullity." Try to picture that.
There is no set of cultural references presumed to be shared by all educated readers. Eliot's notes to the Waste Land already posit the end of a common Victorian culture of reading. Pound takes this a step further. So I don't think that Henry Gould can say that there is a common, mainstream Eliotic tradition that we ignore at our peril. (He can say it, obviously, but I simply don't agree on this one point.) I could argue that the New York School of Poetry is the poetic mainstream, bringing together Auden, French surrealism, and the American avant-garde of WCW and Wallace Stevens. Yet I don't want to argue that. My autotranslations from the Spanish brought home this point to me. I feel free to refer to anything I know about, even something I learned of only yesterday. I don't assume any one reader will share any or all of my own references. In fact, my ideal reader is one who would get about 80%. I like the aleatory nature of the process, and the fact that those who read these poems in Spanish might understand a different set of referents. I'm not including footnotes.
I'm not sure a poet who evokes psychoanalytic concepts directly is in fact more in touch with the unconscious than one who doesn't. Psychoanalysis is just another consciously deployed metalanguage that claims, dubiously, some explanatory power over the unconscious. The same could be said of surrealism. Sure, there are associative techniques that claim to uncover unconscious material, but what emerges tend to be linguistic commonplaces turned on their head. If you are free associating and trying NOT to be predictable, what tends to happen is that you reach for the opposite word, the reversal of the cliché. All this is simply my reaction to the thoughtful discussion on Silliman's blog about the unconscious. My idea is that the unconscious exists, but that we don't in fact know anything about it. I don't think we can evoke it as a category: "this poet uses it, this other poet doesn't." It is similar to my reaction to religion. If there is some superior being, we can't in fact know anything about it. No discussion of religion has any real foundation.

10 feb 2003

Andrei Codrescu's poem in the Berrigan homage is entitled "Ted Berrigan Es Muerte." I think he is trying to say "Ted Berrigan está muerto." It's bad enough having to correct these errors all day in my students' papers. Unless he's trying to say "Ted Berrigan es la muerte" (Berrigan is death). I probably shouldn't talk, since I had about five errors in the Eluard line that I quoted from the French the poem below. Now that I'm typing this I see one more!

9 feb 2003

Quelques-uns des mots qui jusqu’ici m’étaient mystérieusement interdits

Paul Eluard plays dice with Blaise Pascal

in Madriz they are debating the Clear Line and the Muddy Line

singer-songwriters grow as narcissistic as Basho's frog

Heriberto Yépez turns on the radio and hears Jack Spicer's voice

(mizu no oto)

I was wondering why I put French words and phrases in these poems written in Spanish. They have a different status, in that they are not going to be translated when I write the English version of the poem.

Quelques-uns des mots qui jusqui’ici m’étaient mystérieusement interdits

Paul Eluard juega a los dados con Blaise Pascal

en Madriz debaten la Línea Clara y la Línea Chunga

los cantautores se vuelven más narcisistas que la rana de Basho

Heriberto Yépez enciende la radio y oye la voz de Jack Spicer

(mizu no oto)

8 feb 2003

I dropped Julia off at COCA for her acting class and walked down Delmar to Subterranean Books. It wasn't too cold--perfect walking weather. I hadn't been in there since it changed ownership. They had jazz playing--Sonny Rollins "Striver's Row," then Art Blakey's "Blues March." William Gass was browsing beside me. I didn't speak to him because I've never been introduced. I bought a translation of Roussel by various hands: Ashbery, Melville, and Mathews; Michael Brownstein's "Oracle Night" (I never knew Sun &Moon was in College Park MD in the early 80s!); an homage to Berrigan long out of print, edited by Anne Waldman. I complimented the new owner on her wonderful store and walked back to pick my daughter up again. It was one of those rare moments when the "happiness base" and the "poetry base" come together. Three new books for my New York School Poetry collection.
Aunque esté equivocado en todo su sistema es perfecto

ponerles nombres a los caballos requiere un riguroso entrenamiento

flaco favor nos hizo el siglo XVIII

prohibiendo el encabalgamiento

Although wrong in every detail his system is perfect

to be a namer of horses one must have a rigorous training

the 18th century did us no great favor

by banning enjambement

7 feb 2003

Nieva como si esto fuera un poema cubano

los funiculares no permiten apóstrofes

desperdicios de un día de febrero

toco en batería los días de absoluta quietud

la andadura imprevisible de unas botellas de

aquí no hay nombres propios

It’s snowing like a Cuban poem

apostrophe is not permitted on the funicular

residue of a February day

I play drums on absolutely quiet days

the unpredictable gait of some bottles of

here there are no proper names

6 feb 2003

My original blog, this one you are now reading, sees more than 10 times more internet traffic than my newish blog "poesía en español." It is much newer, of course, and written in Spanish. The people I know interested in Spanish or Latin American poetry, in Spain or elsewhere, are not dedicated web surfers. I'm sticking with it anyway. Eventually it will catch on. Most of the traffic comes by way of Yépez's Tijuana blogging crew.


I was just listening to Berrigan read some of his sonnets, downloaded on my itunes. I just noticed that he pronounced Juan Gris, "Gree," as though it were a French name. Now I just heard the crowd laugh when he said that Ron Padgett wanted to have "out to lunch" on his tombstone. Now I hear him mispronounce the name Guillaume. Now Frank Lima comes on reading "The Hunter." I have to read a work by Eluard that Jordan Davis just recommended.
Supongan que a un hombre drogado se le diera un falso alfabeto
me decía Ludwig en un falso sueño

y lo leyera de manera contundente
profiriendo una palabra por cada letra falsa

con todas las señas de estar leyendo
realmente el texto inexistente

pues algunos dirían que está leyendo de veras
otros que no

(penúltimo plagio de Wittgenstein)

I cannot translate this into English, because the translation would end up being the fragment of the "Philosophical Investigations" from which I stole the idea.
Discutía el ripio de la noche con el ripio de la mañana
après mois la déluge

me encuentro superior a cualquier eufemismo al uso
después de la muerte del forjador Zildjian

y veinte años en tierras de Castilla

The doggerel of night was arguing with the doggerel of day
après moi la déluge

I find that I am superior to the usual euphemisms
after the death of Zildjian the cymbal-smith

y veinte años en tierra de Castilla

5 feb 2003

John Gallaher writes to say that he hopes my criticism of his reading in St. Louis is mistaken. I had said that his poetry left me cold, that I wanted it to engage me in a way it didn't. I probably shouldn't criticize anyone who is actually alive on this blog, because I end up feeling like an opinionated jerk. I told him that that is essentially what I am.

I was thinking just this morning: how can the author know how good his, her own work is? It is clear that the great ones either "know" they are good or are tormented by extreme self-doubt--or both. Part of knowing you are good is that self-confidence needed to produce the work in the first place. You might know you are good even before you have actually produced anything to justify that feeling, yet the feeling is still justified despite it all. The other part of knowing you are good is the development of a critical sense to such a point that one can read one's own work and judge its exact merits. But even this might not be enough to silence the inner critic. Clearly poets are sensitive to criticism for this exact reason: the combination of critical acumen and self-doubt, combined with lack of lavish praise on a daily basis, is a lethal combination. Your own critical acumen makes you doubt positive criticism, which your sense of yourself as a creator craves.

My current series of Spanish poems translated into English is brilliant, I feel. I know these poems are more successful than others I have written (critical acumen). I am also reasonably confident of the direction I am taking. Yet I can easily see that these poems might seem inconsequential, incomprehensible, or simply incompetent to another reader. The judgment I make about my own work is metaphysically different than the judgment I might make about someone else's, even if I have a highly developed critical sense.

Kasey writes recently in his blog limetree:

"I will partly retract my criticism of Larkin. He was a swine, but he had one thing over his American contemporaries: his meter was utterly convincing as the native discourse of his psyche."

How true! Larkin's form is perfectly apt for the purpose for which he put it. I remember reading Larkin for the first time and hating him instinctively--while realizing at the same time that he knew perfectly well what he was doing.

I'm tired of being the prosody bully, though. I think I'll give it a rest and go back to being the translation bully.
Seis grados de separación me separan de mí mismo
valga de redundancia
brillo por mi ausencia, como quien dice

ya no hay crepúsculo para Nellie
el gran Johnny Mercer estuvo de vacaciones
de ahí que la canción carezca de letra

Six degree of separation separate me from my self
let the redundancy stand
I shine by my absence, as they say

there's no longer a crepuscule for Nellie
Johnny friggin' Mercer was on vacation
thus the song has no lyrics


Imperan los seguidores de Parménides
como si el mundo tuviera solidez

los de Heráclito se refugian en oscuros sótanos
las bombillas de funden, hélas

como si el mundo careciera de solidez

The followers of Parmenides rule
as though the world had solidity

those of Heraclitus hide in dark basements
the lightbulbs burn out, hélas

as though the world lacked solidity

4 feb 2003

John Erhardt writes in his blog, "The Skeptic," about a poem he found in the New Yorker, by former New Yorker poetry editor Howard Moss:

"Moss’ poem is called “To My Friend Born Blind.” My objection to it is not that it’s written poorly or that I don’t have a blind friend and so can’t relate; my objection is that the imagery is exactly what we’d expect in a poem called “To My Friend Born Blind.” Images like “useless as a mirror,” or “useful as a dog with bells around its neck,” or “since childhood it was an act of faith / to believe the sun and moon were in the sky.” It doesn’t tell me anything I don’t already know about being blind – namely, it tells me that someone who is blind cannot see. The poem is simply a collection of truisms."

Exactly right. Plus: blind people don't really doubt whether the sun is shining or not. They can feel the heat on their faces like anyone else! I read the same poem, but quit reading before finishing the poem.
Mike Snider writes "He [Frost] didn't write as if modernism didn't exist; he knew it was mistaken." But my original point was that Frost made it possible for others to treat modernism as though it were a mistake, or didn't really count (exist). I was thinking in particular of the Hall Pack Simpson anthology, which I believe had an introduction written by Robert Frost. The idea was an academic poetry written in the shadow of modernism, but emphasizing only the conservative dimension of modernism. David Antin has written about this of course.

Now a poet like Anthony Hecht emerges from a tradition that includes modernist poetry (Marianne Moore; Eliot) and second-generation modernists (Auden). I don't think he would come up with a simplistic statement like "modernism was mistaken." The statement about Hardy that I made was similar in intention: I think it was Philip Larkin who led a "return to Hardy" movement.

If you think modernism was mistaken you eliminate quite a bit of quite accomplished verse in the conservative tradition, from Lowell to Merrill--even William Bronk, who is at one remove from Frost. You also get rid of Stevens and Yeats. I guess they were mistaken for not writing like Richard Wilbur!

Note: now Mike has changed his post so that the comment above is limited to questions of meter.
Then last night on t.v., one of those ads for a record "not sold in stores." Rod Stewart singing the Great American Songbook. A snatch of "My Foolish Things," the same version I had heard on the radio earlier that day by sheer misfortune.


Edgar Rincón Luna, a poet I had commented on in my Spanish blog, has his own blog now. Apparently this publisher, "Tierra adentro," is financed by the Mexican government to publish "provincial" poets. The problem with this form of state sponsorship is that the poetry itself can be criticized as part of some grand cultural strategy by president Fox.


Since the Mexicans have taken to bloggin' with a vengeance, the readers of my Spanish language blog tend to be the Mexicans, which makes me want to address them more directly, even though I have no great knowledge of Mexican poetry or literature.
No soy ningún erudito
los pájaros me superan en el arte del vuelo

no levanto sospechas en las fronteras
rilkeo a gusto de los rioplatenses
los pájaros me superan en el arte del vuelo

llamo idiotas a los que se atreven a dirigir orquestas
respeto a los que se limitan a discutir de métrica
no me espantan los verbos defectuosos
los pájaros me superan en el arte del vuelo

(falso poema de Jack Spicer)

I'm not an erudite guy
birds surpass me in the art of flight

I raise no eyebrows at border crossings
I can "Rilke" in way that goes over well in Buenos Aires
birds surpass me in the art of flight

I think people who think they are orchestra conductors are cretinous
I respect those who merely argue about metrics
defective verbs, for me, are no big deal
birds surpass me in the art of flight

(false poem of Jack Spicer)

I've got to be careful not to think of the potential English translation when I write the poem in Spanish. That would be a form of "cheating" in this particular game.

3 feb 2003

On the car radio today: "A piano tinkling in the next apartment, / those stumbling words that told me what your heart meant, / a fairground's painted swings-- / these foolish things / remind me of you. // You came, you saw, / you conquered me..." It would have been fine except that it was a soft rock station and these elegant lyrics were sung, inelegantly, by Rod Stewart. He had no sense of how that song is supposed to be phrased.
Mike Snider's Formal Blog is quite puzzling to me. He often sounds quite articulate and knowledgeable when he talks about meter and rhythm, but undermines himself (in my eyes) with the actual poetry he quotes. I cannot connect his theoretical positions with the near doggerel of which he seems to approve. He's gotten me to think more about prosody, however, which is always a good thing.

I might have mentioned before on this blog the essay, "The Poetics of the Americas," in which Charles Bernstein goes on and on about the significance of the fact that Claude McKay's dialect verse is written in pentameters. The punch line: it isn't pentameter at all. I'm sure anyone could make this mistake. What's puzzling is that noone else ever caught it before the article was published. The same article was published previously in another book, in a journal. It was given as a talk, etc... Many people offered their comments on it before it was published, but noone actually looked at lines like this

"Just to view de homeland England, in de streets of London walk...."

McKay's iambic HEXameters have a much different feel, and meaning, than the "pentameter" which, in Bernstein's view, "is made the metrical mark of colonialism." Whatever happened to close listening? Of course, these six-feet lines sound more monotonous, more "thumping," more "dogged," than pentameters would. The frequent use of anapests in the line Bernstein quotes, furthermore, make the verse sound quite a bit different than neoclassical heroic couplets that the poet is supposedly referencing. I'm sure the effect is deliberate, but it is not a parody of neo-classical British poetic meter; it is, rather, a sort of deliberately "naive," doggerel-like effect. It is also troubling that Bernstein cannot hear this as a rhythm native to the Caribbean. If a colonial poet writes in meter, it must mean that he is adopting a British form, right? "the acoustic trappings of 'Old England.'" This begs the question of what metrical form McKay would "naturally" use. Free verse? I doubt it.

2 feb 2003

Autoria de las obras del malogrado autor

infamia de la historia sin esquilas

no exactamente la mejor recomendación

la de una palabra cuyo significado se me escapa

esquivez del momento realmente adverbial

coñac de la mañana los paraísos demasiado reales

endecasilábos del miedo, de los lugares comunes

hasta aquí todo perfecto en el grito del pavo real

Authorship of the words of the ill-fated author

infamy of a history without warning bells

not exactly a glowing recommendation

considering I've forgotten what the word means

the fleetingness of a truly... adverbial moment

morning brandy the all too real paradises

pentameters of fear, of clichés

up to this point everything is perfect in the cry of the peacock

The great thing about self-translation is that you don't have to worry about anyone criticizing the translation. You can improve on the original with impunity. I'd like to translate other authors that way: without fear of error, with as much confidence as I've just translated my own texts into English.

1 feb 2003

Grafómano en gramófono, la voz del maestro David Shapiro.

Dónde tengo el tocadiscos

imperan los rizomáticos, sin atisbo de duda,

falso poema cibernético, leído o escrito al revés

al compás del gran Tony Williams

para traducírselo luego al pobre Mayhew

I just posted this on my Spanish language blog: "The graphomanic on the gramophone, the voice of the maestro [master] David Shapiro / Where did I put my record player / the rhizomatics are in charge, not a sliver of doubt / false cybernetic poem / read or written backwards / to the beat of the great Tony Williams / so that it can be translated later for poor Mayhew."
When I was in Graduate School I was fairly obsessed with prosody. I did it as one of my exam fields for my Comparative Literature Ph.D. I even went back and read Saintsbury, which is extraordinarily instructive even in the abridged version. In the 18th century meter was fairly rigid in performance: people actually read poems in strict meter even if they weren't written that way. In other words, if they were reading John Donne out loud, they would put the stress on syllables that weren't really stressed in ordinary speech. We know this because of how they criticized Donne: they complained that he made them stress words unnaturally. (I'm deriving this account from my hazy memory of George Saintsbury monumental history of English idea about metrics.) What this means is that they had pretty much lost the ability to hear Donne's rhythms.

Now the presumption is that if you spend too much time with versification the students will lose interest. It is actually a quite fascinating field, but only for a few of us. I wish I had more of a background in linguistics so that I could really do it seriously.