31 jul 2003

"I found myself in one of those forests where the sun has no access but that, at night, the stars penetrate. That place had the permission to exist only because the Inquisition of the States had neglected it. The abandoned servitudes marked off their disdain for me. The obsession with punishment had been withdrawn from me."

R. Char

I love those surrealist forests. I have no idea what "abandoned servitudes" are. The translation is my own so I wouldn't trust it if I were you.


I'd love to retranslate some of Kenneth Koch's apochryphal "South American poets."
I just wrote these three sentences:

It is possible that the argument I am making here—that Velasco’s subtlety and purity make her stubbornly resistant to ideology-driven readings—might sound reactionary in the present academic climate. I do not mean to imply that that such readings are undesirable in principle, or that we should “just let poetry be poetry.” What is striking, though, is the muteness of criticism in the face of works that do not lend themselves to obvious USES.

But isn't what I'm doing a critical "use" also? How can I escape that aporia?

29 jul 2003

I came across this image on a Michaux website yesterday.


"Your superlatives are null and void." Well said, Jordan.


My word count on my wordprocessor keeps a running tab of how many words I have in a given document. I can't help looking at it constantly. I have 1000 words on my Lola Velasco paper. I'm still having a hard time figuring out what my point is. Can you write a critical paper without having an axe to grind? Is it enough just to like something, or do you have to make some *claim* that the work deconstructs Western metaphysics or shows the one true path to lyric freedom? Is there a way of making a claim without making a claim? In the academic context, the claim I am making--that this poetry doesn't allow for "leveraged" arguments--sounds reactionary. The poetry is of a lightness and grace that make such arguments seem excessive.

27 jul 2003

"Bartlebooth felt the very essence of his passion in this feeling of being stuck: a kind of torpor, a sort of repetitious boredom, a veiled befuddlement in search of a shapeless something whose outlines he could barely manage to mumble in his mind..."

--Georges Perec

23 jul 2003

The action's over at my other blog today.

22 jul 2003

I'm all for reading the poets of past cultural periods with great respect for the universal truths and all, but that doesn't really solve anything, does it? I'd still have to know what this reading would look like more specifically. Pound reading Calvacanti or Arnaut Daniel, Heidegger reading Heraclitus, Rothenberg reading the Torah, Gould reading Mandelstam, Spicer reading Yeats, Duncan reading H.D., Celan reading Dickinson, Magee reading Angie D... There seem to be infinite possibilities, each with its own particular (non-universalistic) agenda. Assuming we're all after the same universals (a big assumption by the way) the roads to getting there seem infinite. The choice of a filiation in the present and immediate past has to do with how this tradition is defined. The metaphor of progress is a dumb one, I agree--dumb because it doesn't tell us what we need to know.
Something you're reading that doesn't seem as good as it should because you feel imaginary eyes behind you saying, "make a claim for that, justify it." Or writing academic prose and feeling an imaginary reader responding, objecting to your argument. That imaginary reader is always some specific person; for example being told who the respondent is for an MLA session I am on. Now, when I write the paper, I'm thinking how that person will respond. Not exactly liberating.
I've finished my Gamoneda article. Now I'd like to write something on Lola Velasco's "El movimiento de las flores." The text offers no critical handle or hook, no pretext for critical writing. I have nothing to say about it. 70 poems of 10 lines each, with no individual titles. An extended metaphor: the movement of the flowers = the poet's consciousness of time. A nice epigraph from Michaux, I'll translate it like this:

"I am one of those people who love movement, the movement that breaks inertia, that messes up lines, that undoes lineations, frees me from constructions. Movement, as disobedience, as remodelling."

Maybe that is my critical hook? The pure "avant-garde" consciousness wanting to break free of "alineaciones"?

But the contemporary avant-garde is obsessed by affiliation and lineage, no less so than Harold F****** Bloom. It's not a question of whether you will be traditional or not, but of which tradition you erect as the correct one.

Should be we have sacred texts? Should Frank O'H be a "sacred" writer? It would seem to go against his own spirit, in a way. He wouldn't have wanted to be defined as such, surely. He might be talismanic for some, like Reverdy was for him ("My heart is in my pocket"). Or Mayakovsky. Lineages should be lightly worn, like Lola says:

We let ourselves be worn
like the tunics
of the ancient Greek philosophers.

The violent reactions against the "wrong" lineages. Antin against Bloom and Lowell. Well, obviously, Bloom writes someone like Antin out of the tradition completely, so it's not surprise he would react that way. I don't like that self-contratulatory "I am avant-garde" tone in some of Antin's writing. It can come off as defenseive.

This post is dedicated to Henry Gould.
The way reading a certain writer for an hour or so starts making your own thoughts assume the same stylistic shape. It's particularly strong with Roland Barthes and John Ashbery, in my case. Reading Harry Mathews' 'Twenty Lines a Day," I could tell when he had been reading Barthes, because he started to sound like "Roland Barthes par lui-meme."


I had always taken Pound's phrase "as well written as prose" as ironical in some sense: verse is the more demanding form and should obviously be BETTER written than prose. I took him to mean that if verse is obviously worse written, doesn't come up to the lower standard of prose, it is not worth bothering with. Other commentary on Pound I have seen takes him to mean that the poet should come up to the high standards of a Flaubert or Henry James.

21 jul 2003

My conception of Mathews as a writer is superior to Mathews's actual books. In other words, I have an idealized notion of him that the works never quite fully support. "Cigarettes" is a great novel, as is "The Journalist." The essays could be a little sharper. Part of what I enjoy in him is the sense that not many other people know who he is--outside of a few literary, academic circles. He is one of "my" writers. I believe this is called "snobbishness."


Why did I have that reaction to Rexroth a few days ago? Maybe it was the tone of the reviewer, who was trying to create a "Western" pantheon of Rexroth, Everson, and Jeffers. Claiming they were neglected by the Eastern academics. I am from California myself, but these are not "my" poets.

20 jul 2003

Reading Harry Mathews "20 Lines a Day":

"Mathews, Matthews, Mathew, Matthew, Matthieson, Matthiae, Matthias, Matthison, Mattei, Matteotti, Mateus, Matthieu, Mahieu, Madeu, Mathet, Mathie, Mathiez, Matisse, Matthis, Matteo, Mathelin, Mathiret, Mathiot, Mathon, Matou, Mehu, Mattheaus...." [p. 40]

It's as though he were trying to say "Mayhew" but couldn't quite get there, couldn't quite connect with someone who would later become such a devoted reader of his. I notice in Marjorie Perloff's books she always calls him "Harry Matthews." When you look for his books in Border's you have to look for that space right between Bobby Ann Mason and Peter Mathiesson. If you look in the "Matthews" section you will never find him.

19 jul 2003

I picked up a copy of "Rain Taxi" yesterday. There's a review of a Rexroth Complete Poems, edited by Bradford Morrow and Sam Hamill, and most of the passages that the reviewer quotes are horrible, just wooden and without music. Is Rexroth often this bad? (I've read very little of him, I realize now as I write this). Why did New Directions publish him? Shouldn't be poetry be as well written as prose? Look especially at the long passage quoted on the first page of the review. You would have to try hard to write this badly on purpose. What am I missing?

For the undeveloped heart
The news or even the sight
Of the destruction of thousands
Of other human beings
May assume only the form
Of a distant cry, coming
Through the complexities of
Disaster . . .

This is pretty bad prose:

For the undeveloped heart, the new or even the sight of the destruction of thousands of other human beings may assume only the form of a distant cry, coming through the complexities of disaster...

17 jul 2003

I've figured out that avoiding work takes much more effort than doing it.
The rhetorical gesture of reeling off a list of prestigious names. Here's an example I just found:

"Baudelaire or Rimbaud, Lorca orAleixandre, Ritsos or Faulkner, Beckett or Paz"

I've been guilty of this myself.

16 jul 2003

While I'm at it, this image is a little over the top:

Blogging's more fun once I realized I could take any image off the internet by simply dragging it to my desktop.
And here's a renaissance edition of Dioscorides:

Here's an image from a Dioscorides manuscript from the 6th century A.D.
I have a great list of books on ancient and medieval botany now. Still haven't tracked down the "Rhizotomikon" of Crateuas. If anyone has a copy handy...

15 jul 2003

Working on my idea of a scholarly article, trying to trace back the sources of Gamoneda's Libro de los venenos in Ancient botanical history. Dioscorides and Kratevas. What I find pleasurable is how far afield this is taking me from my normal channels of information. It didn't help me that Gamoneda spelled Kratevas when the more normal spelling is "Crateuas." That wasted at least three hours of search time. The good news is that there is a specialist on the history of botany at the Spencer research library in Kansas.

Of course, none of this research has anything to do with Gamoneda's book, which is deliberately misleading in such respects. I just have to go back and see what he is making up and what he actually found.

11 jul 2003

My c.v. has filed a complaint with my blog, alleging that I haven't been paying enough attention to my career. I feel that the academic c.v. and the blog are monststers competing with each other to be fed.

10 jul 2003

Adjective of the day: "cooleridgean."


Julia's been writing a lot of poems. She is eight now, by the way, so her writing is getting even more sophisticated. She's reading 100 pages a day of Harry Potter 5.

I get so tired of everything being about AMERICAN poetry. Berryman vs. Berrigan. Neither is a poet much read outside the U.S. The battle-lines in Spain are drawn in a different place--the neo-realists vs. those who think poetry has philosophical implications.

9 jul 2003

Accent marks are back on my other blog. They inserted some language into my template that fixed the embarrassing problem. Now I just have to write some poems to put there.

I did the quiz again, changing a few answers. I was still "Drew Gardner." I changed a few more times, and became "Jordan Davis." I couldn't get the quiz to say that I resembled "Jonathan Mayhew" no matter what I did.

Ron's response to Brian today.
I did the blogging quiz. It said "Congratulations, you are Drew Gardner."


I've got to get rid of all those qualifying adverbs in the article I just wrote. I woke up first thing and know I had too many "fairly," "arguably," "quite," etc...

8 jul 2003

Brian's on fire. Free Space Comix as the anti-Silliman? I despise Lowell myself. I think he is probably a very important writer to whom I am temperamentally allergic. But Lowell is the very antithesis of quietudeness. A nice note from Robert Kelly on Brian's comments.

I keep waiting for Silliman's response.

7 jul 2003

I've always wanted to publish in Diacritics. Now is my chance, as I frantically try to finish this article on Valente's translations of Paul Celan by the end of the week. Thus: very little blogging.

6 jul 2003

Blogging disaster. All my diacritical marks have been turned into question marks. The Spanish blog "poesía con nombres propios" is completely defaced. I am considering defecting to another host.

5 jul 2003

Maybe that should be "The Inessential Mayhew."

2 jul 2003

Here's a good name for my next book, "The Essential Mayhew."
I'm back, with jet lag. I woke up at 4 a.m. and just started working. Our roof started leaking in our absence. My poems in Spanish were a big hit with some of the Spanish poets. They want me to publish a book there. Whether it will actually happen is open to doubt.

This new blogger software is weird.