31 may 2003

Here's another attempt at re-translation, from Jen Hofer's anthology. The original poem is by Ana Belén López

Dibuja una letra
la borra el mar
dibuja otra letra
la vuelve a borrar el mar
borra el mar
aparecen las letras
sólo queda solo el mar

Here's the translation in the book:

Traces a letter
the sea erases it
traces another letter
the sea erases it again
the sea erases
the letters appear
erases the letters
alone remains the sea alone

Here is my first try, based on two or three main divergences from Hofer: I interpret the verb forms as imperatives; I think the subject and object are reversed in one of the lines; I think it is noteworthy that every line of the original ends with either "mar" or "letra[s]".

Draw a letter
erased by the sea
draw another letter
erased again by the sea
erase the sea
to reveal the letters
erase the letters
leaving alone only the sea

A third try: I retain the third person interpretation of the verbs, and try to write a version in which the translation "explains" the poem. I invent a nonce subject "she" for the third person verbs, which the original (wisely) leaves out:

She traces a letter
the sea blots it out
she traces another letter
the sea returns to blot it out
she blots out the sea
the letters appear
only the sea is left alone

There could be other versions combining features of these three. Reading a translation like this involves for me a constant process of re-translation. I want to explore possibilities that the translator has not.

30 may 2003

My 2nd graders surprised me today, on the last day of the poetry workshop, with an acrostic, a class collaboration in about twenty different handwritings:

Joyful, juggles
Nice, new
Awesome, amazing
Terrific, tremendous
Happy, helpful
Active, appealing
Neat, noticeable

Magnificent, marvelous
Applaud, artistic
Yes!, youthful
Humorous, heart
Excellent, eccentric
Wow, willing

That was a very nice thing to do, I thought.


When I said, "imagine W.C.W. writing sonnet after sonnet," I was aware of his Keatsian beginnings. What I meant to say was imagine the modernist WCW writing mostly in the sonnet form, making the sonnet modernist. I agree also that the later Williams is (with notable exceptions) a let-down. His best period is in the 1920s and 1930s. How ironical that when he claimed to have discovered his "variable foot" was when his free verse was going slack. He was almost 40 before he really discovered his true style; there's still to much didactic posturing in Al que quiere. Let me tell you how to conduct a funeral! Listen up townspeople!

My lecture for Spain is almost complete. I end with Concha García. I do mention blogs as a phenomenon, part of the effort to write the continuous present. The influence of Samuel Pepys on Jordan Davis. Quite erudite.

29 may 2003

Why do I get so peevish about things of no importance?
My aunt Lenore Mayhew sent me a copy of the Atlanta Review. She has a poem in there, and there is also a desultory selection of poetry from contemporary Spain. Imagine if someone purported to represent American poetry, in a foreign language, with a few poems by Daniel Hoffman or Maxine Kumin, John Ashbery's one-hundredth best poem, and one poem by an American professor of English living in Spain who is unknown in the U.S. Accompany it with an essay evoking a few common stereotypes about the United States. Don't include any of the original English either; the translation is sufficient.

I can't imagine what anybody could get out of such a meager and arbitrary selection. It just increases my annoyance at translators in general. Jen Hofer at least writes an introduction (to her book "Sin puertas visibles") in which no generalizations are proffered: she doesn't offer any claims that can be questioned, she simply leaves room for the poetry to do its work. I also like the fact she gives the Spanish text priority, reversing the usual arrangement in bilingual editions.
See Gary's defense of blogging and the Pillow Book.

I don't think more "serious" venues for critique actually produce more useful criticism than the dialogues going on among/between the blogs. I certainly learn more than I would an hour in the periodical room with learned journals.

At school I tried to show Julia's teacher Julia's blog, but the school's internet filter sternly blocked our way. I did tell her about T&W though.
The last day of teaching 2nd grade. We did "dream poems." Julia got up early and wrote another acrostic, for her teacher. The one she wrote on my name yesterday is hilarious. She'll probably post it later today. She flips through her Scholastic Dictionary, finds a word she doesn't know, and writes a line beginning with it. Since often times the word has a negative charge to it, she flips it around into a positive, like "arsenic is something I stay away from." The result is a weird negative logic.


I am finding myself going back to delete material, such as a commentary on Gabe Gudding that used to be here. Unless you checked the blog in the past few hours you missed it.

28 may 2003

Do I need to explain that Juje used a dictionary to write this acrostic? Arduous and eczema are not in her everyday vocabulary.

27 may 2003

From Catherine:

I love the blog page loading


toward the sheet music

of Thelonious
Monk liked working within forms, not exploding them. Especially the 12-bar blues. Imagine if William Carlos Williams had written sonnet after sonnet. I am not the first to make this observation. The renaming of this blog inevitably affects its content.
I like the irregular, aleatory quality of "discussions" among bloggers. The way something I say may or may not be picked up for discussion--and in unpredictable ways. The fact no two bloggers have the same set of links or read the exact same set of blogs on the same schedule. I don't have a complete set of links on my sites, for example. I don't have a link to Drew Gardner's overlap, even though I read his blog. There is no reason for this; I just haven't gotten around to it yet.

So any attempt to plot the path of discussion in an orderly way is doomed to failure--and it's a good thing too. All this in reaction to an article that many have been discussing, in chaotic fashion, after Joe Duemer put a link up there sometime in the past 36 hours. I found the link on equanimity but I'm sure it's available elsewhere as well.

I'm not strong in harmony, but "Bemsha Swing" seems to have a lot of chord shifts that go down one half step chromatically, like Ami7 to AbMA7, Db7 to CMA7, Eb7 to D7. (I found the chord progressions on the internet, along with the transcription pasted in below.) The harmony seems quite complex--in relation to a fairly simple, catchy melody. I want my blog to be like that. . .
Herb kindly emailed me with explanation of Bemsha and binnacle, but I cannot open the email for some reason. I am working this summer with a web-based email program that is not wholly reliable. A "binnacle" is a cylindrical case for a compass on a ship.
The melody is breathtakingly simple: a fourth jump from G to C (the tonic), a little run back down to C an octave lower. C, B flat, A Flat, G, F, E, [B], C. This is repeated a second time, then transposed a fourth up, so that you jump from C to F, and repeat the same melody in the key of F. Then back to the beginning again. A condensed AABA form: 16 measures in total, not counting the 8 bar introduction.


Julia wrote several poems last night. She could barely contain her excitement about the fact that I am teaching in her school again this week.

26 may 2003

To inaugurate the official name change I offer this rendering of "Bemsha Swing."
What IS the big deal with Ammons? I'd like to know as well. Those exact thoughts were rolling through my head when I saw them expressed in Tympan. I too would like to see strenuous defense. I don't find enough going on on the surface, not enough logopoeia. I do like that poem "And I said I am Ezra..." in the Norton Anthology.


Vallejo: I'm reading Trilce this summer. The range of registers, from colloquial to baroque, really gets to me:

Ciliado arrecife donde nací,
según refieren cronicones y pliegos
de labios familiares historiados
en segunda gracia.

The ability to appreciate words as words. That's what I don't find in Ammons.

25 may 2003

Kasey's right. I also am unable to edit template to any of my blogs. I changed my other blog to "Poesía con nombres propios," in the absence of a more imaginative solution.

24 may 2003

Now I have to figure out what "Bemsha" means. I always assumed it was a place, but when I think about it I'm not exactly sure. Then I have to find a snazzier name for my Spanish blog, which is still getting mainly junk hits, google searches for "poesía para bebés." The word many use in Spanish for "blog" is "bitácora," which means "binnacle." But what exactly is a binnacle? I'm not the sea-faring type.
Correction: This blog of Jim's changes names four times a day, not once a week. But since I don't read it four times a day I miss most of these changes. All I know is it has a different name every time I check it.

23 may 2003

Here's a hint. If you think blogger has swallowed your post, check the "future" file if you use blogger pro. I've found some of my lost posts there.
I've settled on "Bemsha Swing" for now. I'll wait to see what y'all think.

Escuchaba yo un disco - en la edad de los tocadiscos -

entró mi padre, me comentó, extrañado y despectivo, que le sonaba a piano de cóctel

En vano habría sido contestarle, avergonzado, que se trataba del gran Bill Evans

que sí tocaba en esa época algo parecido a la música de Cóctel


I was listening to a record - in the age of recordplayers -

when my father game in, surprised and dismissive, telling me it sounded like Cocktail piano

It would have been in vain to tell him it was the great Bill Evans

who was in fact playing, in that period, a form of Cocktail piano

I wrote this poem for my other blog. I liked it, I'm not sure why.

Tim: I didn't mean that YOU were too obvious, only that the word mayhem would be too obvious as a name for my blog. I'm not going to change it from "Jonathan Mayhew's blog" to something like "murder and mayhew." Some names I'm considering: "Trading Fours," "Good Bait." "Straight, No Chaser." Or I could do what Jim B does and change the name every week.

My lecture for the Círculo de Bellas Artes is going well. Outline:

Vallejo and Williams: a poetry of the quotidian needs to find a new colloquial language.

Neruda (Odas elementales), social poetry: the quotidian becomes mere symbol of ideological position, is rhetoricized.

Creative writing workshop poetry, Spanish poetry of "experience": in the absence of political commitment, quotidian becomes mere banality.

Frank O'Hara: poetry of the quotidian works because of the poet's extraordinary life and talent. "The Day Lady Died."

Bernadette Mayer: the project of writing the continuous present.

Present day poets: blogging as diary keeping, Million Poems. The Pepys factor.

Contemporary example from Spain: Concha García: a poetry of deliberate tedium, the refusal of the lyric epiphany.

Conclusion: poetry of the quotidian works when it is linked to experimental project. It doesn't work simply as "realism" or straight talk.

22 may 2003

Also the way Ron makes Auden the synechdoche, focal point of all that is (was) British. This flattens out the work of a multidimensional poet. Auden's sestinas that I've always liked, for example. There a bit of Ashbery already in the ludic side of Auden. O'Hara is on record admiring Auden as well. And Koch and Ashbery were not published by mainstream New York publishers, but by Grove Press and the like. Sure, Ashbery has always been the favorite of the Blooms and the Vendlers of the world, but that is not his fault. He is more French than British, as Auden himself notes in the preface to the Yale Younger Series volume.
Jordan and Henry have joined me in objecting to Silliman's view of New York school poetry as not rebelling sufficiently against Britishness.


I'm doing each activity today for 30 minutes. Internet stuff, shopping, etc... That way I will be able to do approximately 20 separate things today.
Close reading can be irritating when it is someone ELSE's act of attention, and this person is more ponderous or pedantic, less attuned to the details that you might care about, insistent on the obvious--or overinvested in subtleties that leave you cold. Why do we always say of students that can't think abstractly, that can't develop ideas, that "they are good close readers"? This is rarely the case, in fact. I've used this ploy in book reviews myself when I can't think of anything else nice to say. it means the person can walk through the text and point out some fairly elemental things about it, not that there's anything truly outstanding about the reading.

I like Kasey Mohammed's description of Emily D's poems. I'm still thinking of a better name for this blog, Kasey. Be patient. "Mayhem" has been suggested. (too obvious!). "Ride Cymbal"?


Stump the bloggers!!! Who wrote this little poem?:

"The heavy umbrellas
aren't worth their weight.
Doors swing and slam
checked by gusts. A whisperer
has a friendly reek.
A hell broth!
and hollows among clouds.
Then the moon goes crocus.

21 may 2003

Something about that double referentiality in Frank O'Hara: where the poet's friends also happen to be famous people. That really gets to me! That "Bill" could be DeKooning. But sometimes Joe is just Joe LeS., famous only for being Frank's friend. I could be famous for being mentioned in a poem or comic strip by Gary Sullivan someday!
The dullness of the title I think is part of its distinctiveness. I could be the woman who loves insects too much or the enigmatic mermaid, the skeptic, fait accompli, border blogger, lime tree--but most people have names already like that for their blogs. I'm the only one who has: First Name, Last Name, Apostrophe, Blog.

I was thinking of "Quelques-uns des mots qui jusqu'ici m'étaient mystèrieusement interdits," but I can't pronounce it.

The Renaming Contest for Jonathan Mayhew's Blog has officially begun. Thinking in Complete Sentences and The Metonymy Bully are the only entries so far.
"I’ve sometimes wondered if the ease with which the first generation New York School connected with New York trade publishers wasn’t simply an accident of proximity, but also occurred at least in part because the NY School, at least until Mr. Berrigan showed up – and this really is Ted’s great contribution to this tendency – did not challenge the paradigm that American poetics was a tributary of British letters, a paradigm that has been central to all variants of the school of quietude."

Silliman this morning.

With all due respect, this seems slightly "off" to me. Whitman, Emerson, Williams, Sandburg, Edgar Lee Masters, L. Hughes, Vachel L. , William Carlos Williams... American poetry had not been a tributary of British poetry for a long time before Frank O'Hara came along. Why would O'Hara have to challenge some paradigm that was not even relevant to him any longer? That was the fight of the previous generation.

Admiring Auden only enriched O'Hara's poetry, lent it another dimension (the same could be said for Ashbery). The fact that the academic poetry of the time was also indebted to Auden should not lead us to dismiss this influence on O'Hara. If you aren't anxious about being too British, you can absorb poetic language without looking suspiciously at its origin. O'Hara already assumes the British tradition is not as strong or interesting as the American (in the 20th century).

20 may 2003

I've been invited to give a talk at the Círculo de Bellas Artes when I'm in Madrid in June. I'm going to talk about "Lo cotidiano en la poesía," contrasting the banalization of poetry (one form of quotidienne poetry) to the aesthetics of ordinary life in Frank O'Hara, Bernadette Mayer, and Concha García. I hope they understand what I am talking about! I mapped out the essay a few days ago on a single sheet of paper. Luckily I have enough of my fundamental books in St. Louis to finish the talk.

19 may 2003

Julia liked these lines

"Hot tea. Salt peanuts.
Hot tea. Salt peanuts.
Pink lemonade. Flan.
Pink lemonade. Flan."

on the Million Poems blog. I'm enjoying "My Angie Dickinson" - among the proliferation of poem journal blogs. I wrote two here myself.

16 may 2003

Could anyone imagine a less attractive appeal to religiosity than "Mr. Eliot's Sunday Morning Service"? Here are some lines from the poem:

The sable presbyters approach
The avenue of penitence;
The young are red and pustular
Clutching piaculative pence.         
Under the penitential gates
Sustained by staring Seraphim
Where the souls of the devout
Burn invisible and dim.
Along the garden-wall the bees        
With hairy bellies pass between
The staminate and pistilate,
Blest office of the epicene.
Sweeney shifts from ham to ham
Stirring the water in his bath.        
The masters of the subtle schools
Are controversial, polymath.

O'Hara wrote his poem in 1951, in Ann Arbor. Eliot was still king of Modernism in those days. His poem is not without self-deprecatory humor (Eliot's I mean) but this does not make it more pleasant. That horror of sexuality!
"And when the whale eats he looks like a
dog eating, oh, he looks
just like a dog looking whale."

"I get dizzy when those
people set me,
oh, there is a person
I am going to get dizzy."

Great lines from Julia. I love "just like a dog looking whale."
Diffuse panic. How can I possibly know what books I will want to read in July, which of my books I will need to have in St. Louis over the summer? I can only make arbitrary guesses about what I think I will need.
I have one of the longer continuous poetry and poetics blogs (since September of 2002). They seem to start up or fade away in clusters, or in some cases migrate from one url to another. I certainly understand the impulse to quit: blogging gets in the way of other ways of wasting time. For me, though, it has archival value that other ways of wasting time do not. Imagine if you had a record of every interesting thing you said to your friends in the coffee shop?
"I will walk about on the
heaving grass rather shakily"

The speaker of the poem has a hangover; the line break enacts a "lurch," mimetic of his unsteady gait. Later on the movement of the lines mimics the clumsy flight of the model airplane, or the act of attention of the speaker watching the irregular flight of the plane. Such effects can be overdone, of course (here they are not, in my judgment), but they are clearly not random or arbitrary.

15 may 2003

Here's a new? blog that had escaped my scrutiny up to now. I like his take on Freud.
This is what I mean by skilful use of line-breaks in free verse


There is this to be said
for Sunday morning: that if
I have been very bad the night
before and wake up feeling

like a drab on a sunny day,
Dick will pop into my room
and invite me out to the
high abandoned airfield.

There, the sun will seem
properly chilly and the wind
will not compromise us
with any silly sentiment.

I will walk about on the
heaving grass rather shakily
and observe the model airplanes
lofted by dry blue currents.

As Dick like a discus hurler
throws his weight into the sky
I begin to feel engaged and
follow the glider straining

its little spirit into swoops
that clumsily break and bounce
to earth with a grunt. Then
he must pick up its wings

and go home, to make repairs,
to putty its nose and straighten
its tail, to talk about winds
and temperature and balance,

to think about theories of
flight, and shave, perhaps. So
all through dinner our clear
anxious eyes remains aloft.


I always did like Police Woman. Did everyone but me know that Michael was behind this site?
To make some disparaging comment on Frank O'Hara is an affront "to humanity in general."

That is one of those hyperboles that, once you think about it a moment, is dead-on accurate. Its exaggerated nature is what makes it true (in the poetic sense, I don't mean literally).

The idea that O'Hara didn't know how to make non-arbitrary line breaks, that he somehow couldn't tell where the phrases should end, is absurd on the face of it. He has plenty of poems where short lines correspond to phrases: "Who'd have thought / that snow falls / it always circled / swirling / like a thought / in the glass bowl / around me and my bear." He also has the other kind of long free verse lines that end pretty much in a logical fashion.

So the odd, abitrary seeming line-divisions in many of his poems are highly deliberative. They are artfully designed to SEEM casual and spontaneous. They are surprising, catching us off guard. They don't have a Wiliamsian or Creeleyesque theory to back them up. All the better! O'Hara hated pretentious theory.

By the way, I thought the two most famous O'Hara poems were "The Day Lady Died" and "A True Account of Talking to the Sun on Fire Island." My personal favorites are "On Rachmaninoff's Birthday." "A True Account," "Getting Up Before Someone," "Who'd have thought," "Poetry," "Personal Poem," and "Mr. O'Hara's Sunday Morning Service." (Why does nobody seem to know that poem? It's in "Poems Retrieved."

I finally think I "get" Jim Behrle. It took me a while to see where he was coming from.
Overheard on the web:

"his permalinks are bloggered"

And of course Mike Snider's comment is still a heinous affront against poetry, all art, and humanity in general.

I asked Gary, would it be easier to talk about your emotions if you thought about them as something outside you, something rare and obscure perhaps, that you could collect?.
Fine analysis here of Fanny Howe's "Gone." I haven't read this book yet. Maybe over the summer. I hate moral earnestness but am drawn to Howe's work anyway.


Work expands to fill the time allotted to do it.

14 may 2003

What does "ineluctable" mean anyway? I remember when I first came across this word. It was on the first page of Ulysses! It looks like "ineluctable maps" is calling it quits.
Basil Bunting's advise to poets:


1. Compose aloud; poetry is a sound.
2. Vary rhythm enough to stir the emotion you want but not so as to lose impetus.
3. Use spoken words and syntax.
4. Fear adjective; they bleed nouns. Hate the passive.
5. Jettison ornament gaily but keep shape

Put your poem away till you forget it, then:
6. Cut out every word you dare.
7. Do it again a week later, and again.

Never explain - your reader is as smart as you.
When I'm writing in Spanish I really do feel that I am not consciously choosing words, that they are choosing me. I write when an idea pops into my head, then I listen for a while to see what else the poem wants to say. I do consciously pick and choose among the ideas that occur to me, but most of the process feels like listening.

This observation is probably fairly banal, in that a large number of poets write in this way. What interests me is that I feel this much more strongly in Spanish than in English. The voice of dictation is stronger for some reason. That is why I am writing more and more in Spanish--it isn't because I actually write better in Spanish. I also am able to manipulate the language in a way that wouldn't occur to me in English.


1/ The poet as some anonymous bodiless creator of texts, about whom the less known the better.

2/The poet as character, a poetic persona who is the speaker of the actual poems. Frank O'Hara as flâneur, museum curator, and friend to other poets and painters.

3/The poet as author, susceptible to biographical and psychological interpretations.

Number 1 doesn't seem too interesting. We have to ask ourselves why we are reading poetry in the first place; many people wouldn't be too interested in Frank O'Hara's poems without the accompanying persona, for example.

Number 3: if we have the information the urge is to use it. We do this in real life if we actually know the poets personally, as Nada has pointed out. On the other hand, biographical information is often offered to us in place of critical insight. How come biographies of writers don't tend to include much critical insight into their work (huge, unjustified generalization)?

I thought prosody meant non-amateur carbonation. Brilliant!
Delusions of grandeur are usually a sign of deep insecurity.

It's interesting Jordan Davis would talk about Helen Vendler a few days after I used her name in a poem on the other blog.

If I define myself as a poet, then I ineluctably conclude I am a failure, since I am over 40 and have not published a book of poems. If I define myself as an academic, I can see myself as a success. More people read my blog than ever would read some academic article I write. The work is produced to exist, to be counted--not to be read.

13 may 2003

That should have been "Sin puertas visibles," not "Puertas invisibles." I've corrected yesterday's post after someone kindly called the mistake to my attention.

I just threw away 300 messages in my deleted message file in my email, without bothering to check to see whether I was saving them for any particular reason. Now, return library books, grade papers: end of semester ritual.

The system apparently lost most of Friday's email. If I failed to answer any mail you sent me that day that is probably the reason.

12 may 2003

I've been reading through "Sin puertas visibles" (Jen Hofer's anthology of Mexican women poetry). The translations are excellent, and the original poetry even better. I like to retranslate poems I like, tweak the translations to make the poems my own. Here is one by Dolores Dorantes, (who also has a blog; I have a link at my other site:

Peering over into the enigma

Haven't you ever seen the tiger under
your bed?

Blood forever behind
the red--

either fire or

Hofer's more faithful (in some ways) translation goes like this

Approaching the enigma
(the symbol)

see the tiger
under the bed?

the blood forever
behind the red

or the fire
or the tedium

I believe in reading as many different translations as possible. My translation gets at certain things that Hofer's doesn't--and vice-versa. I tweaked the line endings to get a certain rhythm that isn't necessarily there in the original, left off some definite articles that English doesn't need in this context, interpreted the "o ... o" construction as an "either ... or."

11 may 2003

I have some poems up at muse apprentice guild. There are numerous other writers featured in the Spring 2003 edition, including Nick Piombino, who turned me on to this site. Thanks Nick!

9 may 2003

An email conversation in which you send two messages in rapid succession, and then receive two or three replies to those with equal alacrity. You're having two conversations with the same person in two separate but not totally unrelated threads. I'm doing this this very moment with JD.
For about a year and a half after my father died, almost three years ago today, I had a persistent dream. I would be talking to my father, and then all of sudden start shouting at him: what are you doing here, you're supposed to be dead! The worst one was when I was talking to some University Adminstrators in Strong Hall (Kansas). I suddenly noticed that one of them was my father, but my father at about age 40 (my age at his death, and the age at which he became a university administrator).
My other blog is now (as of ten minutes ago) officially a poetic diary blog, on the million poems or Julia's poems model. That was how it was most successful anyway, with my "Quelques'uns mots" sequence a while back. I'm providing translations along with the poems written in Spanish. I enjoy (more and more) reading blogs that are all poetry, like Nada and Kasey's new blogs--not to mention the mysterious (to me) TJ Desc.
A tornado touched down here last night, about a mile and a half from where I live. I was taking my graduate class out for a drink (or they were taking me out rather) in this restaurant in downtown Lawrence that used to be a bank. The bathrooms are in the old vault, so when the sirens went off everyone in the restaurant moved back there. This happened a few times. Noone was killed here, though the tornado took off the roof of an apartment complex and flipped a few cars over.

8 may 2003

This cover looks pretty cool:

I've never taught poetry writing to adults. I have a hard time telling people what to do! (One of my problems teaching generally.) It would be much worse to tell people how to write poetry or to influence them toward my weird demented aesthetics. Catherine Meng has sent me her wonderful poem based on JM's Experiments. Without looking back at the experiments themselves, I can recognize some but not all of them:

"You read Time Magazine
You write poems for Time Magazine"

"Running for mayor of the Pacific Ocean"

"And for six months you've been studying Wittgenstein's "Lectures & Conversations"
which you obtained from the liquidated library of the professor

lost to dementia. He has a son Elliot. A beatiful man who helps trees.
Not even a lifetime of 17th century poetry can console him."

"so you parodied yourself
and staged elaborate contests
and gambled with nickels
and created a vocabulary that only non-poets could understand"

If I taught poetry, I would only do it to those who were much better poets than I am. That way I wouldn't have to worry about influencing them unduly. Why would they study with me then?
I translated this poem on my blog way back in 2002. I'll repost my translation here:

Pienso, entonces, que habito un mundo de silencio.
La lengua se ha metido en sí misma un trasfondo,
muro de piedra, tan negra y resistente como el basalto, luego a veces
tan viscosa como grasa espesa, la poesía tiene que ser alcanzada por dentro
para que descansemos de ella en el grito. El significado es ahora una mezcla, se esconde
en sí, un arreglo sólido del conocimiento. Las palabras
de los poemas, una vez separadas de la masa, gritan aguda y separadamente,
luego saltan hacia atrás hacia la veta magnética cuerpo de silencio.
El poema más amplio se ha convertido en un breve crujido a la luz y al sonido.
La llama de la vela susurra entre el fragmento pero tiene que ser engañada,
desarraigada para un mero tic en la osuridad del radio.
El resto no es más que un paseo en la tranquilidad, sobre el desfile
sobre las tumbas del significado. ¿O es que todo esto es el despeñadero más alto?
John Erhardt is using my experiments to teach. The irony is I've never used them myself. To me the list of experiments is the poem. . . or a virus infecting other people's poetry.


I was a "Johnny" (spelled Jon E. though) until I was 8. Too late to go back to that, I suppose!
Here's a new poem blog by Nada Gordon. I'd start my own but I already am administering three blogs, including Julia's. Also, I like a mixed media blog, with poems, images, and prose. I might make my Spanish blog all poetry, though.
These one word a line poems cheer me up in the morning. Along with the desire to read and write important arrogant buzzkill critical essays.

7 may 2003

Great cover I found while browsing amazon.
Has Charles Tomlinson really led a wasted life? I agree his poetry is disappointing, but maybe what he writes is valuable to him and to his readers in the New Criterion.
Feeling a little better after contact with friends. A friend whom I helped get a teaching job in Cleveland just came in to give me a nice bottle of Rioja. No corkscrew in my office here, though!
This post in Portholes interested me because it is so opposite from my own habitual point of view on judging poetry, and wonderful in its own right. I had the same problem with interpretation in grad school. I never was one to care what a particular image "meant."

Then when dissertation time rolled around I interpreted the hell out of the particular poet I was studying, reversing my earlier distaste. The next phase was not caring again about the interpretation of texts. It just seemed silly to argue whether one "reading" was better than another. I became obsessed with situating a poet in a particular cultural milieu, with understanding his or her rhythmic feel and relation to own time. I'm also interested in how reading poetry obsessively for 30 years has affected my brain chemistry and temperament. An addiction?

I'm interested in why I respond negatively/positively to certain poetic styles, with analyzing own reactions and sharing/comparing them with others. That's why some of my exchanges with Kasey (and many others!) have been so productive for me. That's one thing I get out of blogging. Maybe even some lasting friendships.
Encroaching depression. It seems to spike for me in early May. Approaching anniversary of father's death (three years ago)? The prospect of summer with diminished finances and a broken-down house? Panic at clutter and lack of organization? I couldn't sleep well last night. Yesterday was a complete fiasco. I should know when to disengage, but I make the same mistake over again. Why is that?

6 may 2003

The Yasusada hoax encourages cynicism, in the same way that the "super bowl domestic abuse" urban myth does. (The story, of doubtful origin and validity, that more men beat their partners on superbowl sunday than any other day of the year.) Proliferating internet hoaxes drown out genuine and vital information. That was my train of thought this morning. I didn't mean one shouldn't sign an amnesty international petition! That would be pretty callous even from an arrogant bastard like me.

Or maybe I'm the arrogant-vindictive personality. That would fit. I took the autism test again, this time choosing the most "empathetic" possible answers. The result was the exact same score as the first time.

Was it something I said? Maybe I AM autistic. . . as well as being arrogant, humorless (of course!), cold-hearted, a fool, etc... My secret is out. I actually have many numerous other defects that I don't necessarily advertise on my blog.
By the way, internet petitions are usually hoaxes as well.
What do I think of Yasusada?

1. Translation is inherent to the hoax; we expect a much lower level of achievement in translated poetry. We can always blame any defects on the translator. If this were presented as original writing in English, people would have just laughed, seen it as the parody it is.

2. It's like always giving the academy award to the movie about the holocaust. People are always suckers for "subject matter," even those who should know better.

3. I love the whole idea of a literary hoax. In fact, I aspire to do one myself one day. After all, we fake our data in literary studies anyway, in that we want our conclusions to come out a certain way, and they always do. Why not go all the way and fake the author to be studied as well? However, I would fake the author in the original language, rather than in translation.

4. I have no particular bone to pick with the poems themselves. I don't think they transcend the hoax in this case. I never read them until after the whole thing was exposed, so I don't know the extent to which I would have been fooled myself. When I was 13 or 14 I thought Kenneth Koch's "Some Latin American Poets" (from "The Pleasure of Peace") were real.
I didn't know I was "secretly" arrogant, "Rick". Most people who know me think that is one of my most salient qualities! Yet for that very reason I recognize it in others, and try to defeat it in myself. As for Freud, it is basically acknowledged by almost everyone that he made up all his data, or twisted it to fit his theories. I don't think it's arrogant to accept the fact he was a pathological liar.

I took one of those online psychological quizzes to test my level of empathy. I came out as basically autistic. You had to estimate how well you could do certain things, like tell what someone else is feeling. Basically, I didn't have much confidence in my ability to do this; I erred on the side of skepticism about my own capacity to know what someone else is thinking/feeling. Yet this alone could not explain such a low score; I can't believe the test is legit.
My students consistently ask me what a paper is supposed to be "over." This sounds strange to me. You can't write a paper "over" a topic, only "on" or "about." An analogy with an exam? Do they see papers as analogous to tests covering (r hovering) around a certain amount of material? Or am I reading too much into this usage?
One in a million.
I don't know how I missed poets 9 for 9 up to this point.
Now Berrigan. He is talking about taking heroin/heroine. Break your heart in "a less than interesting way."


I'm down for the Cardinals in August with "Joe" Behrle and "Rick" Hess. I'm sure Julia will want to come as well.


A more minimalistic style of blogging. Don't know how long that will last.

5 may 2003

Now I'm listening to Whalen. More of a "dramatic" reader than I had expected. Much laughter from the audience. You hear a crash from the room, a metal chair? Whalen interrupts to say "I hope noone was hurt."

"Do lions have Roman noses?"
Jordan diagnoses my love of clutter. Does that explain my obsessive references to 50 other bloggers as well, including the venerable Ron Silliman? An avoidance of everything else? The most complete listing of poetry blogs I have found is actually here. I find the more links I have in a given day the less I actually SAY. I become more bloggistic--as opposed to essayistic.
I'm listening to some Coolidge recordings that my email correspondent Jess Mynes sent me. He also gave me some Whalen and Berrigan. I can listen to these as "background music," while I do other things, or listen to them straight, paying them my full attention. What is interesting about the first option is that the words still intrude on my consciousness, but more randomly. It is "American Ones."


I'm tired of being the logopoetic bully.


Does Occam's razor apply to poetry? It could, in some circumstances. . . I'm not sure in what circumstances. As a professor I often invoke the principle of parsimony when students want to overinterpret. John's reading of the the word "gentian" is perfectly valid. In fact, I have no interest in debating this kind of question at all. What was interesting to me is that, by assuming that I knew what the word meant, I failed to explore it further. John, since he has no idea what the word meant, ended up knowing more about it than I did. Doubt is more powerful than (illusory) knowledge. I was reading some essays by Feynman in the bookstore while Julia looked for her books the other day. It was striking to me that he approached science with an attitude of doubt and uncertainty. Of course, that means that when trying to find out about less measurable questions, not susceptible to scientific measurement, our attitude should be even more skeptical. No academic humanist should be arrogant, much less a social scientist. Freud is not a good scientist because he is too arrogant: he could not possibly know what he claims to have discovered.


Catherine has sent me her poem based on JM's writing experiments. An odd experience for me, since I haven't thought about them in several years. I hope she posts it on her blog.

2 may 2003

Translation destroys logopeia. I hardly recognized Vallejo in a translation offered on Nick's blog: "This house pleases me perfectly." ("Esta casa me da entero bien.") The grammatical distortion, the colloquialism of this do not come through at all: two adverbs in place of a direct object! Only the meaning is the same! (No trivial matter).

Translation also creates a weird logopeia, in that the words are "dictated" by a foreign syntax and vocabulary. The most literal, awful sounding translations have the most logopeia: "This house gives me entire well." However, it is not the logopeia of the original: it is something "entire well." Does it have its source in the foreign language? Yes, but the effect is completely alien to that of the original text. We have the grammatical twist but not the colloquial impact.
Overwriting: I need excess in poetry, something that goes "over the top." I find this exuberant excess (in different ways) in Blake, Keats, Yeats, Miguel Hernández, Vallejo, Lezama, Lorca, Ginsberg, Schuyler, O'Hara, Koch, Gimferrer...

It's in Walcott or Merrill, whom I don't like. Or Sandra MacPherson? But I prefer them to school of underwriting, the "poets without qualities."

On the other hand, I like austere styles as well: Beckett, Valente.

I like the poetry of everyday life in Mayer, in many blogs I admire. Yet I cannot stand banality. There is no contradiction here. It can't be a smugly banal poet's life.


I'd love to have Gary collect his posts on Dan into a small chapbook of some kind. This is superb, unforgettable writing transcending mere bloggery. Getting thrown out of the library while reading Joe Brainard's comics! I love it. Where's the word "poignant" when you need it? I hate that word but that's the exact word for it.


Speaking of superb writing, I love Julia's scarf poem. I have no problem with her poems being better than my awkward sestina. A beloved writing teacher at the University here passed away recently. In the newspaper story it said that she had taught students never to adapt the perspective of an inanimate object. Obviously, she had never read "Poems by Ships at Sea" or "I want to be a door."

1 may 2003

Kasey points out that no poetry can be completely ironical. There's got to be a base-line against which the irony is judged as such. I was thinking of an episode in Proust where the narrator reflects on Swann apparent disdain for the activities to which he himself consecrated his life. "In what other lifetime would he treat things seriously..." (rough paraphrase).

Gary's reflection on the death of his friend Dan are spellbinding. Sad and funny at the same time. The anecdote about the play Gary wrote about being obsessed with Sissy Spacek!
Yet I can't invent misreadings where none are. I can't read badly on purpose, can I? It must be fortuitous event.
Koch's "My misunderstandings" ("Taking a Walk With You"). A poem I used to identify with quite a bit (still do, in fact). "I thought Axel's castle was a garage."

Why do I confuse David Hockney with Fairfield Porter? When I first started to become drum literate I used to confuse Jimmy Cobb with Billy Cobham. (Not their playing, just their actual names).
Another misreading today: a former graduate student wrote me an email asking for a letter of recommendation, but in such a strange and courteous way that I thought at first he was asking me for a letter for his personal scrapbook.
Motif of the day: misreading.
"They are by and large brief, rarely exceeding a page or two, and have about them a degree of emotional intensity that accounts for their having been written at all. At their best they represent the shadowy, often ephemeral motions of thought and feeling, and do so in ways that are clear and comprehensible. They not only fix in language what is most elusive about our experience, they convince us of its importance, even its truth. Of all literary genres the lyric is the least changeable. Its themes are rooted in the continuity of human subjectivity and from the antiquity have assumed a connection between privacy and universality. If this were not true, there would be no point in reading poems from the past. They speak to us with the immediacy that time has not diminished and gauge our humanness as accurately and as passionately as any poem written today." --Mark Strand

Can I pin down what is objectionable in this description of lyric poems? The ahistorical generalization of one Romantic, historicized definition to all eternity, for one thing. How do you gauge humanness?
A few weeks or months ago, reading equanimity, I came across the phrase "Death to poetry contests." I misread it, at first, as "[death to poetry] contests" rather than the more obvious "[death] to poetry contests." I imagined contests in which the aim is to write poetry out of existence.
What are the politics of asyndeton, Tim? How about hyperbaton, homoteuleton? Tmesis?
Funny, I always thought Schuyler in "Closed Gentian Distances" was looking at gentians (flowers). In John's reading of this poem the speaker of the poem is taking gentian (the root of this plant, ground up) as a digestive aid. I'm not saying the skeptic is wrong; I never knew that gentian was a digestive aid in the first place. But since Schuyler is always writing about flowers anyway, it would have never occured to me to look further into this plant.
I was reading a book of book reviews by Terry Eagleton in Border's yesterday. He presents the same idea in several separate reviews: that these writers (Bloom, Gayatri Spivak, Steiner, etc...) cannot tolerate irony. That the least whiff of irony or humor would make their projects implode. I agree.

Thinking of certain poets who are exclusively ironical, a little later on, it occured to me that their projects could tolerate no break from irony. That their projects too must be hermetically sealed, in this case not from irony but from sincerity or seriousness.