31 jul 2004

Send me your suggestion for the Rod McKuen look-alike contest. Nominate the famous poet whose poems, cut into short snippets might reasonably be confused with short snippets of McKuen. I've done Merwin and Rich so far...
I'm reading Steve Tills' Behave and David Perry's Range Finder. Thanks to both authors for sending me these books.
E l s e w h e r e

Happy birthday to Gary. I'm guessing he's 44, because that's how old I'm turning in about a month, and I think he's of similar age.

30 jul 2004

"Anything your reader can do for himself leave to him." LW.

Rod McKuen or Adrienne Rich? [ain't I'm bad]


Sleeping with you after
weeks apart how normal
yet after midnight
to turn and slide my arm
along your thigh
drawn up in sleep
what delicate amaze


Take a strand of your hair
on my fingers let it fall
across the pillow lift to my nostrils
inhale your body entire


Miracle's truck comes down the little avenue,
Scott Joplin ragtime strewn behind it like pearls,
and, yes, you can feel happy
with one piece of your heart


I wake up in your bed. I know I have been dreaming.
Much earlier, the alarm broke us from each other,
you've been at your desk for hours. I know what I dreamed:
our friend the poet comes into my room
where I've been writing for days,
drafts, carbons, poems are scattered everywhere,
and I want to show her one poem
which is the poem of my life. But I hesitate,
and wake. You've kissed my hair
to wake me.


No one has imagined us. We want to live like trees,
sycamores blazing through the sulfuric air,
dappled with scars, still exuberantly budding,
our animal passion rooted in the city.

A high-school teacher from Spain writes me, in an email:

"Soy un lector de poesía norteamericana. Más: tengo a la poesía norteamericana y a la tradición de la modernidad en esa literatura: Pound, William Carlos Williams, H.D., los objetivistas de los 30 (Zukofsky, Reznikoff, Oppen, Niedecker), los proyectivistas de "Black Mountain" (Olson, Duncan, Creeley, Dorn, Levertov), la escuela de Nueva York (Ashbery, O'Hara, Koch), pero también a los confesionales como Berryman, Lowell y últimamente James Merrill, tengo a todos ellos como parte de un santuario privado, una colección de "diferencias" de las que el viejo "Ezra" es la divinidad tutelar, el objeto sagrado y cuasi ritual."

"I am a reader of American poetry. What is more, I hold American poetry and the modern tradition in this poetry.... blah, blah... I hold all of them as part of a private sanctuary, a collection of 'differences' among which old 'Ezra' is the presiding divinity, the sacred and almost ritual object."

I wish some of our university professors were as well read. Hell, I wish I myself could spell "Zukofsky" "Niedecker," "Reznikoff," and "Merrill" with consistent accuracy. At least I won't write "Alan Ginzburg" and "John Ashberry."

29 jul 2004

"But new rhythms seem arhythmical at first."

From another email from David Shapiro.
Aaron Tieger, who is moving to Ithaca, got the mean score on the JMACT. He gets an email attachment of Minor Poets of the New York School. Gary Sullivan at one time had the mean score, so he also received one. Jack, with a score of 100 (I'm giving him the snuck question too, since he revealed spontaneous preference for that form), will also get the attachment. And Jason, with the low score. There's a good chance he'll be indifferent to the book. If anyone else wants it, I will send it along, even if you didn't play along. It is still looking for a publisher.
From an email from David Shapiro, who thinks I know a bit about rhythm: "There seem to be no minor poets in Kansas." Thanks, David.
Perloff on Lowell

On page 6 of this article, Marjorie Perloff once again uses the phrase "iambic pentameter" as shorthand for "regular meter":

"... the insistent iambic pentameter acts as mnemonic device:

Whenéver he léft a jób,

He gót a smárter cár."


28 jul 2004

st*rnosedmole: "Somehow, I got stuck with the job of reading the VIP's talk, and for some reason, he had written the entire thing in Cyrillic letters, and his transliteration from the Roman alphabet to the Cyrillic roundly sucked, which caused my reading to be a little stilted and halting. This annoyed the VIP greatly and he kept shifting around in his seat like he really needed to pee, getting angrier with every slowdown. It all came to a head, however, when I got to the part of his speech where he talked about blogs he really liked and he mentioned Bemsha Swing, but his ridiculous spelling in Cyrillic rendered it more like Veemcha Schwee, which my tongue of course tripped over. I left my dream with the VIP having a ridiculous hissyfit as I held his crappy Cyrillic notes up to the crowd as a vindication of my struggle.

Veemcha Schwee!"
"There is no such thing as too much cilantro."

I just thought that would make a good title for a poem by me or even you. Feel free to use it, no strings attached.
In case it had escaped you, I really like Clark Coolidge's poetry.
What makes Henry cranky

"Ron Silliman, Steve Evans specialize in denouncing the Dominant Mainstream.

This just makes me depressed.  All these pigeonholes & lists."

 The best remedy is just to promote, as eloquently as possible, one's own vision of poetry. That's what Ron is doing 9 days out of 10, and what I try to do on my best days. Steve's lists are exhausting, but not negative (by and large.) I feel that just by putting some poems by Coolidge (or whoever) out there for public discussion I am implicitly denouncing the "mainstream"--by showing one alternative to it. I don't believe anyone who's lived with challenging contemporary poetry like this for a few years would go back to Billy Collins. Once in a while I give into my urge to bash something, but I usually wait a bit to see if this urge will fade.
UN MIEDO (versión de Clark Coolidge)

A veces las palabras dejan de significar
lo que obligatoriamente significan para otros para mí.
¿Es que las he cambiado para que su
significado sólo lo sepa yo
y no obstante no lo sé?

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

There are two syntactic hiccups [that's the technical term, I believe] I've tried to preserve in my translation. A more natural word order would be "Sometimes the words will not mean to me what they must mean to others." The second hiccup is in the last line. There seems to be a change of verbal mood between "will know" and "do not." I've switched in Spanish from indicative to subjunctive, which implies that this part of the sentence is no longer subordinate to the phrase "Have I changed them so that..."

Ashbery in Catalan


Són sorprenents: s'uneix
Cadascun amb el seu veí, com si parlar
Fos una acció estàtica.
Disposats casualment

Per trobar-se tan lluny, aquest matí,
Del món com si estiguéssim d'acord
Amb ell, tu i jo
De sobte som allò que els arbres proven

De dir-nos que som:
Que el simple fet que siguin allà
Vol dir alguna cosa; que aviat
Podrem tocar, estimar, explicar.

I contents de no haver creat
Aquesta placidesa, sentim el que ens envolta:
Un silenci que és ple de sorolls,
Una tela en la qual apareix

Un cor de somriures, un matí d'hivern.
Amb una llum misteriosa, bellugant-se,
Els nostres dies mostren tal reserva
Que aquests accents ja semblen la seva pròpia defensa.

27 jul 2004

Hey, I've made the Periodic Table of Blogs, in the obscuroid series.
John Tranter site - John Ashbery interviewed by John Tranter, 1988

For Gary Sullivan, about Ashbery's narrative impulse in his second book:

"One that seems to give people the most trouble is a long poem called 'Europe', which... I cannibalised a book for teenage girls published in England during World War One, that I found in a bookstall along the Seine in Paris, called Beryl of the Biplane . Ah... and the only idea, if there is one, in the poem, is that this poem contains a lot of things that can be found in Europe. But of course they can also be found anywhere else.

One thing that poetry can do is tell you what it is like to inhabit a particular kind of consciousness. Take Clark Coolidge:


Who will draw this out, who will pay
the permission of rhyme? When I gain
whole brain still then myself will I hold
the housing particles stop
for the hurtling mind alone
and stem, as the shadowed one
that sametime halt and grow.

Since I share certain characteristics of this sort of consciousness myself, I "identify" with it and respond to it. It cannot be totally alien to me, or there would be no point of contact. It even trains my brain to think in those terms, to experience those states of consciousness, or to use a similar language to describe my own thoughts.

What I'm getting at is that it would be absurd to suggest that Clark Coolidge read up on cognitive psychology so that he can learn how his consciousness really works. It is a fallacy to say that his poetry is based on an inadequate model of consciousness, since he is actually the best expert on his own consciousness we have. Do we wish Kafka to have had a different sort of mind? How about Borges? Virginia Woolf? Proust? Wittgenstein? We value writers who think just like everyone else, but with a difference: a hightening of a given tendency of mind we might all share to some degree. A sensibility to subtlety (Woolf). A sense of the "strangeness of the ordinary" (Wittgenstein). A speculative cast of mind (Borges). A richly metaphorical and sensory imagination (Coolidge). An interest in balance and symmetry (Alexander Pope). What have you. Any writer of interest will excell in at least one dimension.

This is where ideology comes into play. Why use a given account of cognitive science to privilege some sorts of literary work over another? An anthropologist from Mars who saw the variety of human cultural expressions would have to consider them all to be legitimate expressions of "human nature." You can't say that Woolf is less "human" than Dickens. It's a different sensibility, reflecting historical changes. Modernism, after all, is a response to modernity itself. It is a one experience to inhabit her consciousness, another to look through Dickensian eyes. That's why the literature of one's own time can have a special power: to know what it is like to be alive in a particular time and place. The "inexorable / product of my own time." (Frank O'Hara). If you've never felt this power, I can't do anything for you. You are missing a lot.
Vanishing Points of Resemblance

I was thinking of Samuel Beckett because of the first question of the quiz. No offense was meant to Tom Beckett.
The Pragmatics of Metaphor

I've been trying to remember my dreams all week. Last night, I dreamed I was explaining to my father (who is no longer living in real life) my new theory of the "pragmatics of metaphor." We were in some kind of classroom. I didn't get very far in my explanation in the dream. My explanation was very slow and laborious.

Pragmatics is the study of language use. The character "Data" on Star Trek TNG is a robot that has not been programmed for pragmatics. Thus he answers rhetorical questions or corrects hyperboles: in short, he demonstrates the rules of pragmatics by breaking them. He has perfect syntax and a complete vocabulary, so it is easy to see that his deficiency in understanding language is entirely pragmatic. He would not be able to understand the assertion like "It's cold in here" as a complaint, a request, etc... For him all utterances are either questions or factual statements.

This is my waking understanding of what I was trying to explain in the dream. All I really remember, however, was the laboriousness of the explanation.

26 jul 2004

Barbara E: Wal-Mars Invades Earth: "In my own brief stint at the company in 2000, I worked with a woman for whom a $7 Wal-Mart polo shirt, of the kind we had been ordered to wear, was an impossible dream: It took us an hour to earn that much. "

I agreed with most of this column. I don't shop at Walmart myself, because of some of the practices described here. Yet this sentence caught me up short. Did the woman show up to work without a shirt on? Did she wear a shirt that cost her less than $7? Assuming she can wear the shirt 30 times before throwing it away, it would cost her 23.3333 cents a day. She doesn't have to work an hour a day just for the shirt on her back. (I own shirts that I have worn at least 100 times.) Of course, if she is really destitute she would not give her shirt to goodwill after only 30 wearings.

By all means, complain that Walmart locks their employees in the stores at night, does not provide health insurance or a living wage. Don't muddy the issue with ridiculous claims.
Some clarifications about the quiz: items in column B are not things I hate, but things that I like or tolerate or love slightly less than items in column A. The real variability is likely to be in column D (don't know, don't care), since a purely random selection of A's and B's would produce a score of about 74, which is above the mean of responses garnered so far. (See constantly updated results two posts down.) It's probably a poorly designed scoring system. I wouldn't have expected to share more with Henry and Chris, for example, than with Gary and Nada. (Chris is a jazz guy, and Gary's not.) On the other hand, Jack, Jordan, and Jess score highly, which is no big surprise.

The winners in three categories will get the following prize: an email attachment of Minor Poets of the New York School.

1) High score.
2) Low score.
3) Mean score.

24 jul 2004

Pantaloons: Tykes on Poetry

"I score 99 on Jonathan Mayhew's Aesthetic Compatibility Test, and it was easy. I didn't even have to answer the questions once I snuck a look at how to tabulate the score.The result is "a frightening prospect," since I'm almost Jonathan Mayhew. We're matched along 49 dimensions. Our single point of disagreement is that I vastly prefer sneaked to snuck."

You "sneaked" or "snuck" a look?

These scores have been reported:

Jack Kimball: 99 !
Jordan Davis 83.5
Jess Mynes 82
Chris Lott 70
Nicholas Downing 68.5
Henry Gould: 60
Gary Sullivan 56.5
Aaron Tieger 53.5
Stephanie Young 52
Samuel Beckett 51
Michael Helsem 48.5
Nada Gordon 46.5
Ben Friedlander: 42.5
Jill Jones
Jason Stuart 18 !

My test must have been really male-biased.

23 jul 2004

The Jonathan Mayhew Aesthetic Compatibility Test

1. Ill Seen Ill Said or Waiting for Godot?

2. A Textbook of Poetry or Roots and Branches?

3. Camarón de la Isla or Nina Simone?

4. César Vallejo or Pablo Neruda?

5. Barbara Guest or Anne Waldman?

6.Ron Silliman or Charles Bernstein?

7. Clark Coolidge or Barrett Watten?

8. Art Pepper or Sonny Stitt?

9. Tony Williams or Billy Cobham?

10. Limetree or Mike Snider's Formal Blog?

11.Claudio Rodríguez or Angel González?

12. José Lezama Lima or Gabriel García Márquez?

13. Heriberto Yépez or Octavio Paz?

14. Creeley or Levertov?

15. Lipstick or no lipstick (on beautiful woman)?

16.Cecil Taylor or Oscar Peterson?

17. Birth of the Cool or Take Five?

18. Zildjian or Paiste?

19. Hat or no hat (on elegantly dressed man)?

20. Snuck or sneaked?

21. Grenier or Brautigan?

22.Clifford Brown or Dizzy Gillespie?

23. Ella or Sarah?

24. Red Garland or Kenny Drew?

25. Góngora or Quevedo?

26. Coffee or tea?

27. The Finger Lakes District or the French Riviera?

28. Fanny Howe or Susan Howe?

29. Edward Arlington Robinson or Edgar Lee Masters?

30.Strindberg or Ibsen?

31. A Night in Tunisia or Salt Peanuts?

32.Braxton or Shepp?

33. The Silken Tent or Acquainted with the Night?

34. Joseph Cornell or Andy Warhol?

35. Kandinsky or Dalí?

36. Spring and All or The Cantos?

37. Jim Behrle or Gary Trudeau?

38. French Press or Filtered Coffee?

39. Clare or Ammons?

40. Modern Drummer or Hudson Review?

41. Devil Trill Sonata or Kaddish?

42. Mexico City Blues or Turtle Island?

43. Georges Perec or David Mamet?

44. Judith Butler or Harold Bloom?

45. Lyn Hejinian or David Antin?

46. Kenneth Koch or W.S. Merwin?

47. The Hat or American Poetry Review?

48. Son or reggae?

49. Reverdy or Rilke?

50. Prosody or set theory?

Write down A if you prefer the first alternative, B the second. If you prefer both equally, C. If you hate both equally or have no idea what the question means, write down D.

Each A is worth 2 points.
B = 1 point.
C= 1.5 points
D= 0 points.

Tabulate your score. 100 is the highest score. It means essentially that YOU ARE ME. A frightening prospect! Under 50 means you are probably pretty distant from me aesthetically. 65-85, we might have some nice discussions. Anything higher than that, and we'd bore each other to tears.

Send me your score if you want.

ArtsJournal: About Last Night

You've probably all seen this already. Take the test to see how you're aesthetic preferences line up with WSJ/Commentary Arts critic Terry Teachout. He has choices like "Johnny Mercer or Cole Porter" or "red wine or white." Wouldn't it kind of depend on what you were drinking the wine with? "Diana Krall or Norah Jones." Neither is that great, but Norah shows more promise. "Lester Young or Coleman Hawkins." I'd have to shoot myself before choosing between them. "Swing or bebop." "Fall or spring." "Comedy or tragedy." Simply absurd, but very entertaining. By the way, TT prefers the first option in every pair.

He doesn't have any truly cool choices, like "Elvin Jones or Tony Williams." "Jack Spicer or Jack Kerouac." I'll be preparing my own version, the "Jonathan Mayhew aesthetic compatibility test," very soon. "Zildjian or Sabian?"
AP Wire | 07/13/2004 | Kansas now seeking nominations for poet laureate I doubt Irby would be interested. I shudder to think who else they might pick...

They'd never choose McCrary or Roitman. Does Hollo still live in Kansas?
I've been getting a lot of attention lately from Ron, Gary, Jordan, and Mike. Those posts about Coolidge started a multi-faceted discussion.

22 jul 2004

A linguistics query: Henry caught me misspelling the word "literati" as "litterati." The former word is in the dictionary, the latter is my misspelling, but is also the original Italian word. Now this word is a loan word that's retained its plural, like the word "cognoscenti" or, for some pedantic speakers, "formulae." What seems odd to me is that the word woud have lost its doubled consonant as well. It seems like it would lose its original plural before it suffered a change in its root. I say "dilettantes," not "dilettanti," although both forms appear in my dictionary. I am incapable of ordering "a biscotti," I have to say "one of those biscotti." So my query is: is there any other loan word that's retained its original plural ending and yet has suffered an orthographical change?

SOGGY COOLIDGE for Jonathan and Ron.

"A sad, shabby truth about me: I can't tell if poetry scans. Truly. This presented a bit of a problem in college as I was, um, training to be a poet. I could wing a certain amount (believe me, there is plenty about myself that fills me with self-loathing, but I have to say I'm a glorious winger) still, I knew at some point ahead, in some graduate seminar, the fraud was going to be revealed. It was a little like showing up day after day for a gig at the symphony without the ability to read music, just a rough ability to saw on your violin.

The worst part is that I've had scansion explained to me many times, by several good teachers and professors and helpful friends. And as these people were explaining it to me, I'd experience a glimmering of understanding that would extinguish as soon as I went back to reading the poem by myself."

Nah. You would have been fine. No else knows how to "scan" either. (Especially the ones who THINK they know).

Seriously, though, this shows a curious attitude I've seen in some students in the past: the attempt to keep knowledge at an arm's-length rather than plunging into the subject-matter, making it their own. I had a student studying for his PhD exams who was speaking one day of the "literati" in the third person. I had to stop him and say: the "literati" --eres tú. That is, if you're not defining yourself as part of the group, what are you doing here?

The first thing you need to know about scansion is how to speak your own language. We already know where the accents go, because we know how to speak English. If you can't walk you'll have a hard time dancing. Assuming you don't put the accent on strange syllables when speaking normally, the next step is to simply read ALOUD enough poetry aloud so that you start to instinctively feel the relation between the normal phonological patterns and the alternating weak-strong pattern of the meter. Lines vary a bit in how "obvious" this connection is:

"Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow"

would be an example of a case where each "foot" is also phonological phrase. That's one extreme. Only if you expect every line to be like this will there be a problem.
Language Log: Lagniappe
Poetico-gender profiling atCahiers de Corey

The thing is, I agree with Corey's judgments about Glück, Oliver, Graham, and Doty. Oliver is a mediocre "plain speech" poet. Glück, a talented writer who writes in an uninteresting, purified poetic diction. Graham, a brilliant intellectual (maybe) whose work is pretentious and endlessly verbose. Next time the middle-aged woman in the sun-hat comes in, recommend some Fanny Howe to her. Or be like the record-store clerk in the movie who refuses to sell a particular record to a middle-aged man, who is buying it for his daughter. (High Fidelity?)

ABD Book store clerk: Sorry, I can't let you by this book by Jorie Graham.

MAWWSH: Why ever not?

ABDBSC: Well, you see, those long discursive lines will fail to hold your attention. Sure, she's very smart and everything, but her work is verbose beyond belief. The surface of her language offers no pleasure.

MAWWSH: So you're saying you're refusing to sell me this book?

ABDBSC: If you want to buy Jorie Graham why don't you go to the mall?
Armstrong wins again. He is not only on his way to a 6th consecutive Tour de France victory, but he is doing it in more emphatic fashion than last year, when he was locked in a dull war of attrition with Ullrich. It is as though the other riders knew that they weren't supposed to win.
Reading Hexametirc Rhyme Supports Cardiac Syncronization, Especially After A Heart Attack: "The researchers used a piece from Homer's Odyssey in a German translation, which did not alter the rhythmic scheme of the verse."

Sheer ignorance. Greek meter is quantitative, German accentual-syllabic. How could the rhythm not be altered?!!! What's the point of using a translation of Homer anyway? Why not use Goethe or Rilke? By the way, there is no such thing as a hexameter "rhyme." Homer did not use rhyme.

The control group did not use poetry at all, so the advantages of the hexameter (over any other meter) is not established.

Silliman's Blog on Coolidge

21 jul 2004

Notes On Meaning in Coolidge

While I'll defend Coolidge's more opaque poems as well, I find that many I have marked in my books as my favorites are ones that I have gotten, understood pretty well. Put another way: once I get one of his poems I tend to like it.

On a different note, the meanings of the words are always important, however much he uses them for their sound value. Sometimes the "right" word is not the one that is more readily comprehensible. I'm thinking of a word like "winkle."

I believe I can paraphrase the meaning of the poems of his that I like and understand. That is, there is a meaning detachable from the words themselves. My paraphrase may or may not be *correct,* but I could go back and compare it to the text itself, or use it to explain the poem to someone who claimed it incomprehensible. I'm not against paraphrase or interpretation in the least. The paraphrase is not "the meaning of the poem," but rather a tool one might use to approach the poem's meaning.

The more opaque work is something Coolidge had to do first to explore certain aspects of his craft, to forge a style. That's one perspective at least. I can't say I enjoy all of his work equally. Some of the works that seem to be explorations of a certain kind of pornographic imagination are not to my liking. Own Face, Sound as Thought, Crystal Text, Solution Passage, Mine: The One Who Enters the Stories, American Ones are my favorites.

"Sense that words are, makes clear, that tempo.
Too much meaning, wave and particle."

It is clear too that Coolidge is conscious of, and often discusses, the relation between meaning and a relative "opacity" in his own writing.

Why I don't subscribe to the Buffalo poetics list.
Scattered notes:

Armstrong imposes his will again, demolishing Basso
and gaining another minute on Ullrich. Since in this
time trial the riders leave in reverse order of their
standings in the general classification, Armstrong
left last and passed Basso, number 2, on the road.
How devastating is that!


The etymology of "rhyme" is the French word 'rime."
So where'd it get the aitch and the why? Through a
confusion with the word "rhythm," of Greek origin.


One hears two complaints about avant-garde work
such as that of Coolidge: it's incomprehensible, it's
too far out there. And: it's old hat, it's been done before
by Gertrude Stein. Well, if it's old hat, it might not be that
far out there. Or if it is far out there, it might not be so
derivative of earlier modernist poetry.


The "educated reader" no longer exists. Ask your undergraduate
students, if you have them, to name a living American poet. An
English major might be able to name one, but a Spanish
major cannot. That is, unless you've studied this stuff
in school, you won't ever see it at all.


The value of negative criticism: A friend of mine in Graduate School, Bob Basil, was in a
class taught by Al Gelpi. Other people later to be prominent academics were there, myself,
Maria Damon, Joseph Conte, Bret Millier. Bob gave his oral report on a
book by Denise Levertov that Al had chosen. It was a weak book by Levertov,
and Bob spent an hour explaining why in agonizing detail. Gelpi was a sincere
guy but, from our point of view, an underwhelming intellect. There was really
no answer to Bob's criticism: it was irrefutable. The only response was that
doing purely negative criticism was pointless.

But negative criticism does have a value: it wakes others up. We all *know* that
certain famous poets are mediocre, or that even good poets stop being good,
for often inexplicable reasons. If no one ever points these things out, we tend to
drift along amiably. The prohibition on negative criticism is a social/political
thing. For example, Bob was breaking a Graduate Student rule: don't undermine
the professor.

I realize that in an environment in which poetry is hardly read, negative criticism tends
to make things worse. The message you get reading William Logan is that you
shouldn't pick up a book of poetry at all, since most of it is going to be crap. My
own rule of thumb is to attack only well-known poets or poetic "ideologues." I
wouldn't single out some unknown young person. Win a Pulitzer, write an ignorant
article, then you are fair game.


Human nature changed in 1910? This is figurative language, folks. It's not meant as a literal
statement. It is a witty hyperbole. To take it literally in order to refute it
is to suppose that Virginia Woolf was a moron.

In the second place, the very idea of "human nature" is an ideological construct,
invented in the 18th century. (Try to find a reference to this concept before 1700?)
If human nature can be invented, then it can be changed as well. It is an enlightenment
concept that now lends itself mostly to reactionary politics. I know this is a nominalist
position, but so be it. We can't assume the eternity of certain concepts that have
a historical origin.

20 jul 2004

De gustibus non est disputandum. Yeah, right. Like there's anything else worth
arguing about? One man's meat is another's poison. So I guess my aversion to
arsenic is just a personal preference of mine. I happen to not to like it, but for you, it might
come in handy!

Taste seems a wholly inadequate explanation for my dismissal of that Fred Turner
poem I quoted here a few posts ago. That is to say, it doesn't make sense to say
"Here is something not to my taste" in a case like this. Why not? The point has
to be stronger, and not only because of the political sentiments.

I take such a poem to be a crime against poetry itself.

It's like walking into a bizarro universe. If this is poetry, then everything I know about poetry
is dead wrong. Not only that, but Turner has to know it too. He has earned too many "literary honors"
for us to plead ignorance of the law on his behalf.

I know this sounds rather extreme. Let's contrast it to a case in which taste might
apply. If I said: "I prefer Beckett's "Ill seen ill said" to his "Company" and gave my reasons
why, we might have a nice discussion, even if we ended up disagreeing. That might be
a question of "taste." Suppose I say Gustaf Sobin is over-written and pretentious, and you
defend him: that also might be a similar question.

If you like the Turner poem, you should be able to defend your so called "taste."
Not only that, but you have the obligation to defend it. You can't just say, "De gustibus..."
or "A chacun son goût." That is a cop out.
I never realized Frederick Turner was the son of anthropologist Victor Turner.
It would never have occured to me, since the sur-name is a common one.
Spanish dancer Antonio Gades has passed away:

Armstrong just won today's stage of the tour, recapturing the yelllow maillot that
represents the lead in the race. The only major threat now is Basso, who's stayed with
Armstrong during these last three stages and is now in second place.

What is brilliant about Armstrong is his ability to punish his rivals psychologically.
Today, for example, Ullrich was part of the break-away group, but Armstrong left
him behind at the very end. He can make an emphatic statement like that
seemingly at will.
The culture of homage and commemoration tends to emphasize the
established image of a poet. It does not encourage creative re-readings.
Witness the recent celebration of the 100-year anniversary of Neruda's
birth. Of course, I shouldn't expect anything more profound from journalistic

Dalí was a Francoist. He had some good things to say about Hitler, too.
That was the cause of his expulsion from the surrealist group.
Yet commemorations of Dalí have to soft-pedal this aspect of his career.
One writer in El País recently observed that, if Dalí was not a Francoist,
then no one was! Nobel prize winner Cela wasn't a Francoist either.
Everyone was just a monarchist or a Catholic democrat.
The dictatorship didn't exist! And Neruda never sang the
praises of Stalin, either. Alberti was not a life-long communist, but
merely a picturesque literary patriarch. etc....

The point is not that we should view Dalí only through his association with
the generalísimo, or Neruda as only a Stalinist, but that we shouldn't give
a simplified, sanitized account of these figures.
I've decided the problem of contemporary Spanish poetry is a
failure of criticism. There is simply not enough discussion
of poetry. Poets I meet are surprised that I have read their

18 jul 2004

I take back what I said about certain "bad" poets. They could not possibly write anything as bad as one Frederick Turner:

TCS: Tech Central Station - A Poet Dissents:

"How can they slander the honest officers of the State?
What is this rage, this stink of outraged vanity,
This resentment that finds at last its lusted-for target,
This thick warm glow of the narcissist's solidarity?
Why do they always adore the strongman with the mustache
(The strongman who takes great care of his personal hygiene
And always leaves behind him a sweetness at meetings)?
Why do they gnaw and slaver at the hand that feeds them?
Why do they hate so this dear dear America
That ploddingly over the decades hauls the world into decency?

Ploddingly indeed! Aside from the vileness of the sentiments (Bush is supposed to be an honest officer of the state), there is the sheer, undeniable clunkiness of the language. And this man is, in his own words, "the recipient of several other literary honors." I would think, then, the "literary honors" are totally meaningless.
I've discovered a new "eggcorn." "Route memorization" in place of "rote memorization." If you don't know what an eggcorn is, it's the kind of mistake derived from mis-analyzing a word or phrase. Airways for Airwaves for example, or "eggcorn" for "acorn" or "sirname" for "surname." It's tricky to know how prevalent this mistake is, because some of the google hits I got for it really were about memorizing a "route," not memorizing by "route," (e.g. by rote).

17 jul 2004

Literal-Minded: But I Don't Want a Comic Book!

Finally, a blog for the literal minded. Enough of this metaphor garbage.

I've always felt I am quite literal minded in some respects.

I remember this big argument I had with Al Gelpi in Grad School:

He was trying to say that there was a contradiction in a poem
about "openness" being written in a "closed" formed. (Roethke) He
couldn't see my point that "closed" and "open" here were
just metaphors,
with no real relation to the literal form of the poem.

It's like people who say that Shakespeare is using feminine
rhyme to express "femininity." I'm not sure that that was
even a term used in Shakespeare's day for that kind of rhyme.
If it wasn't, that argument is shot.

So if you have a few extra minutes and know the answer,
write me to tell me when the terms "masculine" and "feminine" rhyme
were first used in relation to rhyme in England. I understand the
use of the term in French prosody, because feminine rhyme ends
in the silent "e," which is a gender marker in French.
This rhyme is feminine even when the word is not feminine,
as in a verb like "parle." My hypothesis is that this terminology
was borrowed from French. I'm guessing 18th century?


Update: According to Mike Snider, who looked in up in the OED: 1775.

Cahiers de Corey

I really hope Josh Corey does not use the Izenberg article as inspiration for
a dissertation chapter. The entire premise of the article
is that language poetry is based on an "an-aesthetics."
That the movement is basically dull, and only interesting
from a theoretical point of view. It's the standard academic
line. Josh: you can do much better than that!

Light snow falling into this room's
prospect changes
the weight of nothing

As the trees lodge still
I can type them, nearly

As my head moves solid
in its whim rest of flake

The room has turned to
a populous pastnoon, trees

Twigs that chase brain
to a network of cracks

Nothing rises, but
nothing, situate

Blocks of bark
shocks of the sky

In greater brain's stalling
the hoarding of reasons
or is it some light has fallen?

--Clark Coolidge

This poem illustrates some of what I was talking about yesterday. Coolidge simply (not so simply!)
has a fantastic ear: "Twigs that chase brain / to a network of cracks." I am seriously envious. It's
one thing to master an established form, quite another to actually invent prosodically. Those bursts of
repeated accents: "TREES LODGE STILL" or "PASTNOON TREES // TWIGS." What rhythmic dynamism!

There's some Creeley influence here, maybe. But Creeley's rhythm patterns are quite different:

"However far
I'd gone
it was still
where it had all begun"

16 jul 2004

What is it about Coolidge's poetry that suggests that he is a drummer?
He's written about it himself, and my observations wouldn't add much.
Not to get too technical, but it's about a way of "feeling" time go by. That
push-pull of playing in relation to the beat. Every poet has a metrical
signature, a distinctive way of articulating time through language. This
might sound vague, but I think I can describe it with some precision.
Jordan's 10-year old memory of it is pretty accurate, actually.

It's not about meter per se. Its about the rhythmic phrasing in
relation to the phonological structure of the language. A word
used as another part of speech, noun as adjective, verb as noun,
creates a sort of syntactic "hiccup" which is felt rhythmically. He
is also fond of grouping stresses together, two or three at a time:

"the stone's last lap."

"The brought back beast shuns the hands" [four stresses in a row!]

"A red sun bursts"

I could draw little phonological trees to show you how this is done, but
I can't on this blog. (I need to get a scanner.)
He has read his Beckett and his Kerouac, strong
rhythmic influences on him.

More later, my girls are back from swimmng.

Yépez on chicano literature (and other topics). I'm afraid it's
written in Spanish.

He comes out against "spanglish." It's find when used

"... to ironize relations between cultures. But someone who
uses Spanglish on a daily basis is ridiculous. It's an affectation not less serious than that of "nice" girls who speak fresañol
[mixture of French and Spanish]."

The gap between Mexican and Chicano writers is pretty wide.

See also his review of F/9/11. Moore does not get off so
easily South of the Border.

Appeals to the reader never mean me. That is to say, when I read
an appeal to the "reader" I never identify myself with this construct.
I read it to be, "readers other than you." The real, average reader, not a
spurious reader like myself.
Equanimity - if not a poetics, then what? Great post in response to Mike Snider. I'm one of those people who scan prose. That is, I refuse to let the absence of a regular meter prevent me from attending to rhythms, which can be significant in themselves without having to refer back to a single metrical pattern. In other words, they don't have to be variations on a norm to be rhythmically effective. I think that might be what Pound meant when he spoke of "absolute rhythm." Take Beckett's "Ill seen ill said," for example. It's in "prose," but it kicks Auden's prosodical ass. There's something almost infantile in the insistence that there's only one answer: iambic pentameter with only a few allowable variations.

"There where she lies she sees Venus rise. On. There where she lies she sees Venus rise, followed by the sun. Then she rails at the source of all life. On."

That's quoted from memory. I memorized a good chunk of this work a few years back. I also memorized an entire short Beckett play called "Ohio Impromptu."


Annie Finch on metrical "coding." I haven't read the whole book, but I remember the PMLA article on Dickinson that forms part of it. It is a brilliant thesis, but I have a hard time viewing the pentameter as coded in a single direction--toward the patriarchal, the sublime, etc... Isn't the ballad/hymn stanza coded as masculine too? Why does the addition of an extra foot bring patriarchy into play?
Does the bad restaurant know its food is bad? At some level,
yes. At least the wait-staff has to know it.

The type of bad poet I most resent is the type who thinks of
themself as deeply serious and committed to the art, who
doesn't have a clue that they are simply amateurish. Not only
that, but they also think they are critics who can distinguish the
good from the bad, and lecture to the rest of us, or teachers
who can give us lessons on how to write better. Their names might
be Joan Houlihan, Timothy Steele, or William Logan.
(Of course someone like Logan is usually
right in his criticism: it's all negative! So, since 95 percent
of poetry is bad anyway, he is going to be right 95 percent of the
time. A knack for finding the most obvious flaws in something comes
rather cheap. Franz Wright? It's self-indulgent, part of the Oprah
culture of self-help. What narcissism means to me? It's narcissistic.
Frieda Hughes: lame imitation of her famous poet parents.
I could do that kind of criticism without even reading the books.)

For me, one type of of amateur poet is the one who attempts to write what
sounds like "poetry." The sort of "scintillant incandescence" school.

Another type might be purveyor of mildly witty "light verse" who thinks
of himself is a deeply serious poet.

15 jul 2004

Trying to put together three or four things for the conclusion to my book:

1) The relevance of the Subirats' thesis on the inadequacy of Spanish
transition to democracy to contemporary poetry.

2) The culture of commemoration, prize, and homage, that tends to ignore
vitality of contemporary poetry in favor of grandiloquent acts of

3) The inadequacy of American Hispanism, that doesn't keep up to date with
what is really going on in contemporary Spanish poetry.

14 jul 2004

I pick a fight (not with Jonathan) That's a refreshing change.

"It's a shame that almost no one to address the subject since Saintsbury has even a single non-icky feeling for any other aspect of poetry."

Yes, but why should that be the case? If you ignore prosody you are ignoring a major chunk of what poetry is about. Yet if you make it the focus of attention for too long, you often get a small and cranky vision of poetry (like mine recently).

Poetry is not about beating up William Logan. I'm sure he has his own demons to wrestle with.
Complacencies of the peignoir; and late... {Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair}

That line, the first of Wallace Stevens' "Sunday Morning," has five unstressed syllables in a row.
(I define a stressed syllable here as the main stress of a content word.)

There is a secondary stress on the fourth syllable of "complacencies." That leaves only
three unstressed syllables: "of the peign-" "of" is more marked than "the,"
but the truth is that it doesn't really matter too much. The line could be read aloud in
more than one acceptable way.

Unstressed syllables can occupy strong metrical positions unproblematically.
A lexical stress in a weak metrical position, in contrast, is much more unusual:

"If deSIGN govern in a thing so small." [Frost, "Design"]

Yet with monosyllabic words, the effect is fairly commonplace:

"Of a green thought in a green shade" [Marvell]

Word-boundary, then, is a factor, as Paul Kiparsky was the first to demonstrate.

At the beginning of a line, or after a pause, there is no problem with a lexical stress in weak position:

"Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play." [Prologue, Henry V]
Language Log: Negation by Association

"He was the best teacher I ever had, he really gave a damn."

"The Vice-President gives a damn about the American people: all he really cares about is Halliburton."

The phrase "give a damn" means the opposite thing in these two sentences, quite mysteriously, although Mark Liberman is trying to clear up such mysteries over at Language Log.

13 jul 2004

I've been following the Tour de France, an excruciatingly slow "race."

I'm not the least interested in watching it on tv. I simply
look at the results every day to see what change there
is in the standings. I got in the habit from being in
Spain in July quite often. It is the central sports story
all month. I don't really understand the race too well.
It seems to be a mutually defensive display of envy, in which
the point is not to have anyone else get too far ahead
of you.

Except that you can let someone get ahead who is not
considered to be a serious rival. Thus it doesn't matter
that a certain rider is 9 minutes ahead of Armstrong, as long
as Armstrong is 55 seconds ahead of perpetual second-place
finisher Ulrich and other serious contenders. You have to wait
an excruciating week until any significant mountain stages occur.
In the flat opening week the riders just try to gain a miniscule
psychological advantage or win a meaningless stage.

So I'm not sure why I do follow these news reports. I have no real
interest in any of the riders, and am bored by having to wait a day
between news reports.

Mike Snider dismisses much that is dear to my heart and mind. I detect a slight note of condescension, as though my problem was that I had just not spent enough time with traditional foot-substitution prosody to truly "get it." (Never mind that I've spent years exploring these topics from every possible angle: unless I come up with the opinions held by Mike, I am a hopeless, although inexplicably intelligent, dupe!)
Versification: "In my view, the major roadblock to our attempts to value verse form lies in the common claim that poetry is primarily referential in intent--that, like prose and drama, it primarily elaborates fictional speakers, listeners, speeches, and verisimilar scenes to which we (emotionally, intellectually, perceptually) respond. With this view of poetry, verse form is valued mainly for (what we might call) its rhetorical effect. Like the well-constructed argument, the articulate vocabulary, and the clear and precise phrasing of a piece of competent expository prose, verse form in this view gives us a more concentrated, less encumbered, more precisely articulated, and therefore more engaging meaning. As this is usually articulated in discussions of the functions of poetic rhythm, verse form links, supports, frames, highlights, sharpens, elaborates, and in all of these ways, offers to the reader a meaning that is basically expressed in other terms (e.g., by our imaginative reconstruction of a fictional scene and the meanings presented by the fictional speech that occurs within that fictional scene). In this view, if poetry is not paraphrasable without a loss of its primary values, it is because the rhetorical effects of verse form are so concentrated and so highly elaborated that any removal of them impoverishes the fictional representation to the point that it is no longer a significant literary experience."
Ahora la Venus rota
tiene un jardín de edén
a cámara lenta.

en su cuerpo ensimismado,
la máquina del tiempo
limpia de sombras su red
y deja
una necesidad
de restos arqueológicos.



Now the broken Venus
has a garden of Eden
in slow motion.

in her inward-looking body,
the machine of time
cleans shadows from her web
and leaves behind
a need
for archeological remains.


This is an online journal, which seems to have only existed
for a few years. There are some good articles and reviews here.
Especially Richard Cureton's manifesto on the future of the field.

I can't speak so
simply of whatever
was then
the fashion

of silence
everyone's-- Blue
expansive morning
and in

the lilac bush just
under window
farm house
spaces all

the teeming chatter
of innumerable birds--
I'd lie quiet

to go to sleep late
evenings in summer
such buzzes settling

of birds--The relatives
in rooms underneath
me murmuring--
Listened hard to catch

faint edges of sounds
through blurs of fading
spectrum now out
there forever.

I just re-discovered this extraordinary Creeley poem, entitled simply "Silence." (From Life & Death).
To listen to this poem is to re-enact the poet's own act of listening.
One must listen hard!

I memorized the poem last night and wrote it down this morning. I made several
mistakes in lineation, only a few in the actual words of the poem.

There are 19th-century echoes in the poem, "the murmuring of innumerable bees."
Keats' twittering swallows. And echoes of earlier doctrine of the "music of the spheres."

A few cases of syntactic ambiguity caused by the lineation: is it "farm house spaces all" or "all the teeming chatter"? There's always that deliberate Creeley strategic awkwardness.

You realize the word "fashion" is deceptive here. It has to do with making, fashioning, not merely with what is in fashion.

Is chatter a hindrance to true listening, or can one listen to the chatter and
find a sort of music there?

12 jul 2004

"Today I finished writing Ulysses." How would that sound?

Nothing will drive readers away faster than discussions of prosody. I promise to stop. Very soon.
I might as well quote the entire CC poem:

LIGHT AS MICA BROKEN (Solution Passage p. 34)

The core of bees is alight with leaded peals [IP, with 1 anapest thrown in]
swell out their gauze to an owl of stone [Iambic tetrameter, 1 anapest]

They stream down the terra cotta gullet once tuned [IP, 1 anapest]
wishing in the cancels of the traffic moon [Iambic hexameter, with first syllable missing]

Touch at the coiling of the mystery [IP, "inverted" first "foot"]
we wish they own [Iambic dimeter]

In pools of chatter the link to breaks [Iambic tetrameter, 1 anapest]
we never turn home in the pestle of their clouds [IP, 2 anapests]

The bees have gained their shine from
their ways alone [IP, 1 anapest, divided into two lines]

Most of the "beats" in the poem are strongly marked "content" words. The only exception prepositions are "in" and "of" between two unaccented syllables, in line four and again in line 8. (The last syllable of "mystery" also has a lighter stress.) The metrical norm seems to be an iambic line of between 4 and 6 "feet," with one anapestic substitution per line.

Variation and constancy. That's pretty much the name of the game. How much constancy do we need before variation becomes meaningful? This might depend on the reader. For me, the Clark Coolidge poem strikes just the right bargain. The form feels "organic," made for the occasion, yet it is strongly rhythmic enough to satisfy all but the most rigid formalist.


Update: if you've come here through a link from a certain "rigid formalist" you can make up your own mind about whether Coolidge's poem is simply "crap." That's not a critical argument, it's just an assertion. I never said that Coolidge was trying to write in meter. I feel my scansion does in fact illuminate the poem's rhythms; the idea that the ghost of meter haunts free verse is hardly original or novel, and my demonstration of this fact in thi particular case is quite unremarkable. Whether the poem is judged to be successful or not is different question. I for one find it highly evocative.

Silliman's Blog

Ron finishes The Alphabet, one of the major long poems of our era. Congratu-frigging-lations!

11 jul 2004

"The core of bees is alight with leaded peals"

Here's a nice, mostly iambic line by new formalist poet Clark Coolidge.

A nice sentence, too, with the same upward, right-tilting rhythm as the Garcilaso.

In the NP "the core of bees" is less prominent than verb phrase "is alight with leaded peals." Within this VP the verb itself is less prominent than the following elements, etc... The music of this line is exquisite: each content word is more prominent than the one that came before:

core ... bees ... alight ... leaded .... peals
More prominent parts of the phonological phrase, and of the sentence itself, tend to be situated toward the "right." In other words, elements that seem to be more important, vis-a-vis other elements, will tend to come later, at every level of the hierarchy. This has important implications for meter and its relation to syntax. Take the Spanish 11 syllable line:

El dulce lamentar de dos pastores.

The last part of the line is more constrained, the earlier part relatively freer. To analyze it we should start at the end, not the begining. The line is defined by the accent on the 10th syllable: "pas-TO-res. (The 11th syllable can never have an accent.)

Since Spanish tends to avoid accented syllables next to each other, the 9th syllable will usually be unaccented as well.

The canonical accent for this line is on the 6th syllable. El dulce lamen-TAR. So we can predict that syllables 5 and 7 will also be unaccented. What about 8? You guessed it: it is permitted, but not required, to have an accent on syllable 8. In the case of this line, the accent on the word "dos" is light.

That leaves the first four syllables unaccounted for. The variation in rhythm in this line stems from the fact that any of the first 4 syllables may bear an accent. There is probably a statistical preference for the even numbered syllables (2 and 4).

When the main accent is on 4, this can have the tendency to push back the accent on 6 unto syllable 8.

The entire line quoted above is a noun phrase, consisting of a noun-phrase + a prepositional phrase. Within the line, this prepositional phrase is more accented than the initial noun phrase. El dulce lamentar DE DOS PASTORES.

Likewise, the prepositional phrase consists of the preposition + a noun phrase: de DOS PASTORES. The noun phrase "dos pastores" is also weighted to the right "dos PASTORES."

The noun-phrase "el dulce lamentar" is also weighted to the right: "el dulce LAMENTAR."

This is a round about way of saying that the phonological and metrical structure of the line obeys the logic of its syntactical structure.

10 jul 2004

g r a p e z: Stressful Explanations

Greg clarifies his definitions. In earlier version of this post I was guilty of condescension, for which I now apologize. Hopefully few people saw it.

I never got much out of Attridge's proposed method of scansion, and it doesn't seem to have caught on with anyone else either. Despite some questionable scansions, Richard Cureton's book has taught me the most about the relation between meter and phrasal rhythm, which is perhaps the most crucial question in prosody anyway.

9 jul 2004

INTRA - Interactive Tutorial on Rhythm Analysis

This is a good resource on versification in English.
g r a p e z: Triangulating Language

"...you cannot have three consecutive unstressed or stressed syllables in English. That?s it. One of those three syllables will be more stressed or unstressed than the others, even if ever so slightly so."

Ham, cheese, eggs. [three syllables in a row, all stressed]

Break, break, break [Tennyson]

Veritably unimpressive. [a phrase containing five syllables in a row, all unstressed]

I think what Greg means is that, in examples like the second one, a polysyllabic word can take a secondary stress "UN-im-PRES-sive. VE-ri-TA-ble.

Stress is not a matter of infinite gradations, as I understand it. It is however, both relative and hierarchical. Greg's point is a valid one, as far is it goes: a string of unstressed syllables will tend to fall into constrasting binary or ternary patterns, when set against a metrical pattern. Thus a phrase like "In an inexplicable way," which contains four unaccented syllables when spoken normally, can be saved by the fact that there might be a secondary stress on IN and IN.

This is quite distinct from Liberman's point that "weak positions in the meter should not coincide with stress peaks." I'm not sure why he feels this description is overly technical. For me it is quite elegant.

8 jul 2004

Language Log: An internet pilgrim's guide to accentual-syllabic verse: ..."'weak' positions in the meter should not coincide with stress peaks
(that is, syllables that are naturally more prominent than those around them).
The 'strong' positions are relatively unconstrained. "

That's what I was trying to say,
though more awkwardly, in post below.
It's more the rhythmic impulse, the sense of propulsion, than the technical handling of verse form,
that I value in Gamoneda or Rodríguez. That's why it is difficult to revise a poem into metrical vigor.
It's more a question of what happens between the lines,
the way one line gives way to the next, and the overarching arc or melody,
than the formal perfection of individual lines.

Mark Liberman's expert explanation of English versification,
in recent language log post
points to two major factors. One, a certain "beat," as in jump-roping rhymes:

Basil, Oregano, nutmeg, thyme
Listen to this jump-rope rhyme.

With this kind of verse you don't really have to worry about the unaccented syllables, as long
as you have four beats. With iambic pentameter, on the other hand, the strongest constraint appears to involve
conflicts between the metrical structure of the line and polysyllabic words.
Almost anything else is permissible, though not necessarily advisable.

I can't wait for Mark's next
two installments.


My Chinese landscape is making my right margin too long, so I am
compensating by making arbibrary line breaks in my prose.
When I get back from Spain I am still intoxicated with that poetic world. Then, gradually, I ease back into American, English-speaking poetics. I really need to go to Spain twice a year, not just once.

7 jul 2004

I bought a new edition of Gamoneda's Descripción de la mentira on my trip to Spain:

Rust settled on my tongue like the taste of a disappearance.

Forgetfulness entered my tongue and I had no conduct other than forgetfulness,

and I accepted no value other than impossibility.

Like a calcified ship in a country from which the sea has withrawn,

I listened to the surrender of my bones being deposited in rest;

I listened to the flight of insects and the retraction of of the shadows entering what was left of me;

I listened until the truth stopped existing in space and in my spirit,

and I could not resist the perfection of silence.

I do not believe in invocations but invocations believe in me.

They've come again like inevitable lichens. . .


The effect is strongly rhythmic even in this (improvised) translation. Gamoneda is the greatest living poet in Spain. If I had a willing publisher I would produce a version of this long poem and publish it tomorrow.

Language Log: An internet pilgrim's guide to accentual-syllabic verse

and an excellent one too...

6 jul 2004

Web Del Sol, New Poetry and Fiction on the WWW

Houlihan is at it again, starting with an ignorant introduction that conflates semiotics with deconstruction. What is difficult to understand is why someone would be bothered by the existence of a poetic movement that is far from dominant in numbers or media exposure. There are plenty of poems out there that appeal to the reader in a simplistic way: there is no danger of being overwhelmed by more experimental work. Why should the reader grieve because some poetry does not appeal to her?

Just the other day I heard a woman reading a poem on NPR that contained lines like "My arms like wings." And the author of this claptrap taught English at the University level! "Using the apostate tyrant as his tool" at least is better than that.


Here's a garbled paragraph from the opening of the essay:

Some poems, however, seem to discourage reading intentionally. For example, the ?concrete poems? of the 70s were designed primarily for visual impact, not readability, and such poems continue to be made, some in a turn-the-page-sideways and try-to-read-the-tiny-type format, some as ?shape? poems, some as thoughtfully-arranged-white-space poems. Later, Vispo (companion to Langpo), Oulipo, digital, cut-up or hypertext poetry and something called Fluxus joined those poems that include nearly readable text.

As a historical narrative, this seems confused to say the very least. Visual poetry in its modern incarnation dates back to Apollinaire's Calligrammes, a beautifully reader-friendly text. I read it an enjoyed it in high school French class. Cut-up is a dadaist technique that re-appears in Burroughs (does the word "or" here imply that this is the same as hypertext?). Vispo is an abbreviation of Visual Poetry, thus not all that different from the "concrete poetry." Oulipo and Fluxus do not emerge after the 1970s, but before (in the 1960s to be exact). ("Something called Fluxus" implies that she isn't quite sure what Fluxus is!) Has she read Oulipo novels like Calvino's "If on a Winter Night a Traveler" or Perec's "Life: A User's Manual"? Harry Mathew's "Cigarettes"? These are very readable novels. Why I've read them about five times each myself.

The phrase "poems that include nearly readable text" has me baffled. Does she mean "nearly unreadable"? That's the only way I can parse it. I also have a problem with the phrase "discourage reading intentionally." I think she means "intentionally discourage reading," rather than "discourage intentionality in reading." But of course we shouldn't expect lucid prose from this champion of "the reader."

The point about concrete poetry is rather weak: the reader processes the visual poem in a different way (more visually perhaps!), but that does not imply any lack of respect or concern for the reception of the work. It seems, then, that Houlihan is using "readability" in two distinct senses.

I've passed up the opportunity to condescend to you. However, I'm reserving the right to condescend to you in the immediate future.

Of course, Chinese Landscape paintings are strongly and subtly rhythmic as well.
Language Log: No Professor Left Behind
I'm reading Schuyler's art criticism, a book that arrived a few days before I left for Spain. What I like about it is that he simply describes what he sees in as concise a way as possible. He abstains from any sort of theory. I made a reasonably good (for me) copy of the drawing of the author by Darragh Park that's on the cover.

This one by Pollock is called "Autumn Rhythm," appropriately enough.
I'm becoming interested in rhythm in painting. Kandinsky, for example:

This painting is incredibly dynamic, polyrhythmic. The "steps" descending toward the northeast corner, for example. The rhythm is highly irregular, but not chaotic: I can't say any element is arhythmic, extraneous to the composition. The circles and triangles provide counterpoint to the repeated straight lines.

There are other highly rhythmic painters: Klee, Pollock... Not to be deaf to their music...

Y al fondo, la puerta
que aún compartimos,
una gramática sola de barcos
y peces ahogándose en su rincón.

Sobre la tapia
todavía reposan
los zapatos petrificados del viajero.


And in the back, the door
we still share,
a lone grammar of ships
and fish drowning in their corner.

Atop the wall
there still rest
the petrified shoes of the voyager.

5 jul 2004

Another one from the Lola Velasco/Amalia Iglesias collaboration:

En el borde de la conciencia,
mi voluntad
se apaga
antes de tiempo.

En su letargo rupestre,
la madriguera precaria
de las estaciones.


On the edge of consciousness,
my will
gives out
before it should.

In its cave-bound lethargy,
in the precarious den
of the seasons.

When I read this poetry I imagine a series of woodblock prints, one for each stanza of the poem. A comic-book rhythm, with each stanza being a panel.

Lola Velasco and Amalia Iglesias wrote a book together called Intravenus, that just came out within the past year. The ostensible subject is Amalia's recent cancer scare, but the style of the book is rather abstract, so that this subject matter only appears obliquely, in isolated images. I see the style and structure in this book as more related to Lola's poetry than Amalia's, but the collaboration was so close, according to the poets, that they cannot say who wrote which of the lines.

Imagina una hoguera,
azufre en el horizonte,
el cielo
inalámbrico y glacial.

Junto al río de plasma
el soliloquio inútil
de las piedras,
acróbatas para nadie
en llanura.

Nos inclinamos a su imán
con el miedo reciente
muy cerca del rostro.


Imagine a bonfire,
sulphur on the horizon,
the sky
wireless and glacial.

Alongside the river of plasma,
the useless soliloquy
of the stones,
acrobats for nobody
on the plain.

We tilt toward its magnet
with the recent fear
very close to our faces.

2 jul 2004

Project for next week: photocopy materials for the "Poet's Prose" seminar.


Some positive reactions in Spain to my book "Poemas con nombres propios." Juan Carlos Mestre is the one who convinced me this poetry had some value, back in 2003. Just by hearing him read a poem of mine aloud I was convinced. He has a great voice. This year he read aloud the poem that I had written about the murder of Kasey's brother, to an assembled group of friends.

I'm going to see F 9/11 at noon. They have a showing every half an hour at upscale suburban mall here.

1 jul 2004

I'm back from Spain, seriously jet-lagged. Got stuck in Pittsburgh last night with a missed connection. I spend about $250 on books, and was given a healthy quantity by various authors, with flowery dedicatons. Wonderful meal in the house of Juan Carlos Mestre, with Riechmann, Guadalupe Grande, Miguel Muñoz. A brief trip to Barcelona, where I met Concha García. Then back to Madrid again, where I connected with Lola Velasco and Amalia Iglesias. It's gratifying to have my intuitions confirmed by those I respect. Also, I would gradually lose interest in Spanish poetry if I didn't go to buy books, talk things over, ever once in a while. I need that sense of community, beyond the purely academic. It's a little absurd to have so little opportunity to talk about my own field with knowledgeable people.