31 dic 2005

Zoo pictures by Julia Tsuchiya-Mayhew.
Here' that Rorem quote I was referring to earlier today:

"He made of human loneliness a subject of high camp, yet despite his virtues, he created no enjoyable characters or any real catharsis. His ultimate value will lie not so much in his own works, but in his influence. Without him there would be no Pinter or Albee, no Ionesco or Orton."

What an idiot. "Enjoyable characters"? I can think of many, but what a cretinous criterion to apply to Samuel Beckett.
I went to the MLA without really going to the MLA. I didn't go to any panels or even register for the convention. I saw very few people. Mostly, I went to the zoo and several museums / monuments with my daughter while my wife did the MLA thing. I realized I had never been in the I.M. Pei East wing of the National Gallery. Basically I hadn't been there as an adult.


My favorite Beckett text, "neither," was set to music by my favorite 20th century composer, Morton Feldman. The entire "opera" lasts close to an hour, and not one of the words is sung comprehensibly, in the one recording I have downloaded. I can't discern a single syllable. I guess I like the "fact" that this work, which I like quite a bit, bears a relation to this other text, which I also love--even though the relationship is invisible (inaudible.)


I found a quote by Ned Rorem about about Beckett, in which he says the best thing about Beckett is not his own work but his influence on Albee, Ionesco, Pinter, etc... And I thought to myself: "I wouldn't trade a page of Beckett for the entire complete works of all the playwrights Beckett has influenced." It's not that I disdain Albee & Co. It just seems a little perverse to denigrate the great original and praise those who learned from him.


I heard both Albee and Ionesco speak as an undergraduate. They both gave the exact same talk: the superiority of true, truth-telling theater to commercial Broadway / Boulevard theater. Albee complained for an hour how Neil Simon made more money than Samuel Beckett.

Although both Albee and Ionesco were entirely correct, from my perspective then and now, they both gave pretty much vacuous talks. There wasn't a single insight beyond the declaration of allegiance. Or is my memory reducing it now? No, because I remember others complaining too at the time. The University had paid Albee 10 thousand or so to complain about how playwrights like him didn't earn enough money.

25 dic 2005

Anyone going to MLA? Email me and we'll get together. I have no official responsibilities this year except taking Julia to museums.

23 dic 2005

Did I ever post one of my favorite sentences from Beckett? I'm sure I did but it was several years ago:

"Je dors peu, et le peu que je dors, je le dors le jour."
What place does Ron Silliman hold in the pantheon of modern writers, does anyone know?

Yes, I know the exact place Ron Silliman occupies in the pantheon. Contact me for details.
Long-windedness is rampant in the blogging world. Holbo, Silliman, Abramson, Bérubé, can dash off a 6,000 word squib about something, about anything, and then do the same thing the next day. Meanwhile I'm struggling to reach 5,000 on my Beckett article, after a week or so of working 3 to 4 hours day. On a good day I might add 500 words to my word count--and this is before any real polishing of the prose. Of course, this is scholarly writing where every statement must be backed-up and inserted into a pre-existing academic conversation. It is tiresome but also a good kind of discipline for me, since I like to toss off unsupported opinions, as you well know from reading this blog.

In the case of the article I am now writing, I have to take into account several pre-existing conversations:

Beckett studies
Spanish Cultural Studies and Intellectual History
Studies of Valente, the poet whose work I am studying along with Beckett
Studies of contemporary Spanish poetry
Discourses on modernism generally

I have to balance my different degrees of expertise in each of these fields. I have to anticipate objections, make sure I don't contradict myself too much, that my argument is coherent and cogent and doesn't fall to pieces.

I believe a piece of criticism must deal with a critical problem. That is, it can't just be a description or an interpretation. I like setting the bar high for myself. An article can just be a line on your c.v. Or it can be a line on your c.v. that kicks some ass. But ultimately it is just a line on your c.v.

21 dic 2005

New location for écritures bleues
We don't need to be deliberately self-destructive, because ordinary life is already ravaging enough.

20 dic 2005

Between Beckett and Koch--that is my world. These might very well be my two favorite authors, judging by how many books by both I own. What do they have in common? The English language (but it is not the same English). The French language? (Is it the same French?) Paris? Grove Press? The twentieth century? Poetry fiction and drama? Humor? (but it is not the same humor either).
Maybe the central question of Beckett studies is how much, or whether?, to recuperate negativity in positive form. If there is no recuperation, no going after a positive through a "via negativa," what is the justification, the pay off? On the other hand, aren't positive recuperations simply sentimentalized readings of uncompromisingly negative texts? No, I think it could be shown that Beckett himself invites these recuperations... The short text "neither" illustrates this aporia:

To and fro in shadow from inner to outershadow

from impenetrable self to impenetrable unself by way of neither

as between two lit refuges whose doors once neared gently close,
once turned away from gently part again

beckoned back and forth and turned away

heedless of the way, intent on the one gleam or the other

unheard footfalls only sound

till at last halt for good, absent for good from self and other

then no sound

then gently light unfading on that unheeded neither

unspeakable home
Beckett on Proust:

"The only fertile research is excavatory, immersive, a contraction of the spirit, a descent. The artist is active, but negatively, shrinking from the nullity of extra-circumferential phenomena, drawn in to the core of the eddy. "

But of course this is also Beckett on Beckett. Did I mention I am writing my first essay ever on Beckett? I think I know more than I thought I did about him. Of course, the essay is about other things as well, particularly the Spanish poet Valente. This quotation could be about Valente himself, although it was written when the latter was 2 years old.

19 dic 2005

Julia with Charles Demuth's #5.

15 dic 2005

I found a 1928 Cántico in the library stacks. (Jorge Guillén). This would be kind of like finding a first edition of Harmonium just sitting in the stacks ready to be checked out by anyone. Of course some idiot had made some pencil notes on one page. If this were in mint condition and weren't a library copy, it would probably be worth around $2,000. Of course I checked it out, a temporary rescue. "Tiempo en profundidad; está en jardines." Lorca took a line from this poem and began his own poem in Poeta en Nueva York: "Sí, tu niñez: ya fábula de fuentes."
Someone expressed the fear that this blog would become "Silliman lite" as I work on my academic work during the next year. The chances of that are small. First of all, I have always been an academic, and have seen the blog as an escape from that type of writing, not an extention of it. Second of all, Ron is not an academic and has never been one. As far as I know he doesn't spend his time trying to get into PMLA, as I once did.

I want to write one of my articles on Kenneth Koch. After I get through a few of the things in my own field. My first project is on Samuel Beckett and Spanish poetry. I'm about half way through it.

12 dic 2005

I've decided to kick it up into high gear for 2006 in writing scholarly articles. As I was working on one today I said to myself, "I know how to do this." I don't have any problems generating ideas, or in writing them, or in getting them published. I needed to take a brief break because it has gotten stale for me. Now I'm up for it again.

11 dic 2005

What is your favorite Kenneth Koch poem? Respond in comments. if you don't like Kenneth Koch get out of here. I mean that very seriously.

10 dic 2005

The corn is as high as an elephant's eye
Michelle, ma belle, sont les mots qui vont très bien ensemble, très bien ensemble
I love you as a sherrif searches for a walnut

Before my pen has gleaned my teaming brain
Secrets of Liszt and Scriabin pouring into my enormous ears
Snow has fallen into the bottle of eraser fluid

One must have a mind of winter
The back wings of the hospital where nothing will grow lie cinders
Do I dare eat a peach?

I guess I'll spend my life just catching colds and missing trains
A piano tinkling in the next apartment
You make me sick with all your talk about restraint and mature talent

Bless my homeland forever
I make a date for golf and you can bet your life it rains
I try to give a party and the guy upstairs complains

I get no kick in a plane. Flying up high with some guy in the sky is my idea of nothing to do
These lacustrine cities grew out of loathing
They flee from me who sometime did me seek

8 dic 2005

I was writing quite a bit of poetry in Spanish at one point, and then that particular faucet could no longer be turned on. I forgot how to listen to that particular form of dictation. The poetic personality I developed was quite different--more of a deliberately estranged persona or mask than my English voice is. I'm trying to get it back now. Maybe translating into Spanish might help get things started again.

6 dic 2005

All these years I've assumed the title of the work was a thousand and ONE avant-garde plays, only to realize this morning that it's actually One Thousand Avant-Garde Plays. Somehow the Arabian Nights crept in there.

When I was a kid I always heard that as 1,001 Arabian KNIGHTS.

5 dic 2005

Book Review

If America's greatest living poet dies, does he (or she) become America's 200th greatest dead poet? In the case of Kenneth Koch, I'd argue he's STILL the greatest living poet. I'm reading the Collected Poems from start to finish. I'm almost to Thank You and Other Poems. It doesn't include Ko or The Duplications, or When the Sun Tries to Go On or 1,001 Avant-Garde Plays, which I usually read as a book of poems that happens to be in dramatic form. Even so, it comes in at more than 700 pages. Koch, along with other notorious co-conspirators, created a new language for poetry in the mid-century. New Languages. Koch's is very much the language of 2005, the language of flarf, of the New Sincerity, of Anselm Berrigan or Jordan Davis. Is there a better attack on the SoQ than "Fresh Air"? From The Pleasures of Peace to Drew Gardner's "Chicks Dig War," I see an unbroken line.

Koch himself devised several languages, expressive media, for poetry, all recognizably his. The goofball jargon of Sun Out, the mock-epic Ottava Rima of Ko. The essayistic, seemingly plain style of The Art of Love. The aphoristic style of some of his late works. He is perhaps one of the easiest poets to misunderestimate. Although his tonal range is as large as any poet's, he is usually remembered more for his comic side. (Incidentally, he changed the use of humor in poetry. Before him, humor was mostly genteel, strained wit or "light verse" of the Ogden Nash variety. After him, contemporary poetry can be funny--belly-laugh funny. I've always hated light verse.) Even when he adopts a more serious tone, he still has a light touch, a way of avoiding ponderousness. He is incapable of being oversolemn. And to the guy who said you should only use three exclamation points in your entire career as a poet, I say Kenneth Koch! That's like saying you should only have one orgasm a year.

For years I read him, he was my favorite poet, but I still tended to "misunderstimate" him, to see him somehow as not having the same "chops" as Ashbery or O'Hara. I'm thinking I was wrong in this, wrong in my theory that humor was a way of compensating for a flatter or less virtuosic poetic talent. In the first place, he does in fact possess considerable virtuosity, and is as gifted in his own way as any other poet of his time. Why place a value on, say, Ashbery's unique gift and say that it is more valuable than that of Koch's? In the second place, that's a dumb yardstick in the first place.

The physical book is impeccable. Maybe I should have waited to read the whole thing before writing this review, but in the spirit of reckless Kochian exuberance, I wanted to simply communicate the joy of having the thing.

1 dic 2005

fait accompli: The Unbearable Lightness of Berrigan.

A post like this justifies all the time we "waste" by blogging and reading blogs.
The Duplications: Thomas Fink, "You Think This Tooth"

My all-female November at TD is over. I got a few submissions, but not enough to right the overall gender balance in any significant sense.

For December, I want collaborations, faux translations, aphorisms, duplications, parodies, palinodes, the airing of grievances, list poems, ottava rima, masques, poems in Catalan, homages, centos (centi?), poems written by inanimate objects, poems by Jordan Davis--whether written by Jordan or by someone else pretending to be him--, poems by people with the last name of "Mayhew" aside from myself, poems by Katie Degentesh, poems by extremely famous poets, poems about Angie Dickinson, or any combination of the above.