31 dic 2006

Ron tagged me for the 5 things you don't know about me meme.

1) If you don't know something about me it's probably because I don't want you to know. I am intensely private.

2) And painfully shy, up through graduate school.

3) I was raised as a Mormon; I am still scarred from this.

4) See number 1.

5) See number 2. I could tell you all sorts of banal details about my life, but autobiography in my case would be a list of things read. I feel somewhat alien from the category of "personal experience" per se. I don't have a lot of stories to tell.

24 dic 2006

The Watchman in the Snow

The watchman was wounded by his mother;

his hands sketched the shape of sadness and he caressed hair that he no longer loved.

Every cause was eradicated in his eyes.


In his drunkenness, women, shadow, police, wind surrounded him.

He put veins in the purplish tree heath, vertigo in purity; the furious flower of hoarfrost turned blue in his ear.

Roses, serpents, and spoons were beautiful while they stayed in his hands.


He watched over the calm that stuck to the shadows, the circles where the parched flowers are deposited, the direction of the vine shoots.

Some afternoons, his indecipherable hand led us to the nameless place, to the melancholy of abandoned tools.


He impersonated a face in the air (hunger and ivory of Andalusian hospitals); in the extremity of silence, he heard the little bell of those in their final agony. He watched us and we felt the nakedness of existence. He used to open all the doors quickly and spill the wine over dawn's ice. Then, sobbing, he would show us the empty bottles.


Every morning he would pour steel and tears into the brooks and train birds in the song of wrath: a clear stream for the gentle half-wit daughter; blue water for the hopeless woman, smelling of vertigo and light, alone in the gutter amid white flags, cold beneath the willow, her eyelids already yellow with love.


He never gave up on his barren passion. Dogs sniffed at his purity and at his acid-scarred hands. At dawn, hidden amid the white wattle fences, he agonized before the highways, he saw the shadows entering the snow, the fog boiling in the deep city.


Shadows came, damp animals that breathed in his face. He saw fat glowing in lavender and black sweetness in terrestrial wine cellars.

It was celebration: light and saffron in white kitchens; from afar, beneath dusty garlands, faces in the sadness of carbide,

and its moaning among the remains of the music.


The wine was blue in steel (ah Friday's lucidity) and within his eyes. Gently, he distinguished the causes of infections: great motionless flowers and lust, the black ribbon in the silence of serpents.


In his song there were hopeless cords: a distant sound of blind women (barefoot mothers in the transparent prison of salt).

It sounded of death and dew; later, he played on black pipes; he became the singer of wounds. His memory burned in the country of wind, in the whiteness of abandoned sanitariums.


He ran swiftly over the white grass.

One day he sensed wings and stopped to listen in another age. Surely black petals were beating, but in vain; he witnessed the hard thrushes fly away toward the boughs honed by winter

and once again he ran swiftly without a destination.


He was wise in the prison of cold.

He saw omens in the blue morning: the sparrow-hawks sliced through winter and the brooks ran slow among flowers of snow.

Female bodies arrived and he sensed their fertility.

Then invisible hands came. With a precise tenderness, he seized his mother's hand.

23 dic 2006

On a Joshua Redman recording I will tend to listen to Brian Blade more attentively than to Joshua himself. I find the drummer's ideas more interesting than the saxophonists. That's what got me interested in drumming in the first place. In the absence of soloists of genius, the rhythm section is more compelling than the front line.

I am more interested in Dewey Redman than Joshua anyway. It's kind of funny that the father was eclipsed by the talented but more conventional son.

22 dic 2006

Nothing reaches her or only
what is not formulated, in formulas
she defends her privacy. Together
we begin to lose each other. I see rooks
in a straight line making
their way to the west. Chance and spider
webs keep up busy, though in a dream
I hear they've come into the house.

[Nada le llega o sólo
lo que no se formula, con fórmulas
defiende su intimidad. Juntas
vamos perdiéndonos. Veo los grajos
que en línea recta hacen
su camino al oeste. Lo aleatorio y tela
de araña no ocupan, aunque en el sueño
oiga han entrado en la casa.]

(Here's another case where I had to indicate the gender of a person before the original poem does. In other words: something reaches "her/him" in the first line. At the end of the third line we have "juntas / vamos." Feminine plural first person plural. So the speaker plus another woman (assuming that we can impose some discursive continuity here and make the person referenced in the first few lines part of the subject of the next sentence.)
Cross your wings, three pairs of wings
--over the head, across the chest and the legs--
as a ballerina lets the others
descend and rest. Because of your wings,
an insect, a messenger figure. Do not twist
your eyes under the cross, a memory
bringing apricots; come, lower
your cup this far down and make
my dry lips able to drink.

[Cruza las alas, tres pares de alas
--sobre la cabeza, ante el pecho y las piernas--,
como una danzerina permite que las otras
desciendan y reposen. Por las alas,
insecto, figura mensajera. No tuerzas
bajo la cruz los ojos, memoria
que porta alboricoques; ven, baja
hasta aquí tu copa y haz que puedan
beber mis labios secos.]

The translation has to disambiguate the verb form. "Cruza las alas," making it a command form where in the original it could be a simple third person verb: "He/she/it crosses the wings." This kind of ambiguity is systematic in Olvido's poetry. On the other hand, "las otras" [the other female dancers] becomes simply "the others."
Reading Whitman, I hear a lot of Koch there. In other words, I am reading Whitman back through the lens provided by KK's "Geography." And sometimes I hear Vicente Aleixandre of "Historia del corazón" in Whitman too.

I don't hear a lot of Ginsberg, on the other hand. Whitman is all about the balancing of phrases, the echoing patterns of sound and syntax. Ginsberg is after different effects.

Not all long lines are sloppy; not all short lines are taut. Not all long lines are inspired by Whitman.

14 dic 2006

There is/are only poetics, there is not "a poetic" of this or that. There are emphases within this, or statements of where one is "at" at a particular time. That's why a blog might state a different poetics every day, but in an evolving series. It's temporal and ongoing. You can't have a poetics, in the sense of possession; you can only participate in it. It's thinking I understood something the day before yesterday, but realizing it's only a partial understanding. That is why Alice is right to call poetics bullshit. It is an inherently provisional enterprise. (This is different from someone who never thinks about poetics in the first place.)

Poetics in the neoclassical sense of prescription, how boring is that? Poetics can only be descriptive, in the sense that linguistics is descriptive. Describing what good poets already do, not telling someone what to do. Or worse, what NOT to do.


Cut down my MLA paper from 18 pages to 8. Ouch. But I could eliminate some "It could be argued that."


Julia learned most of the first chorus of Rollins' improvisation on "St. Thomas." I found a transcription on the internet. It's 16 measures since the tune is in 16-bar AABC form. The ability to sit down for an hour and work on something like this. Who said kids didn't have concentration. The trick is finding something worthwhile for them to concentrate on.

12 dic 2006

What is the purpose of rhythm and sound in poetry?

The normal answer is that it is supposed to reinforce the meaning. But that is unsatisfactory, because the use of sound as mimesis is rather limited, in relation to the total sound and rhythm apparatus. In other words, a few isolated sound-effects do not explain or justify the more systematic use of sound patterns.

The answer i've come up with is that the function of rhythm is to teach us the rhythm in question. In other words, to get the reader to follow along, "acompasar" his or her reflections to those of the poet. To get the mind and body of the reader to dance to the right steps.

The way if you're walking down the street with someone you have to adjust your steps, whether in length or tempo. Or two people in a conversation with each other, they each have to adjust their rhythms if it is going to be one conversation.

Acompasar is a great verb for that, because it means adjust a rhythm. From the word "compás," beat or measure, we get a verb, a-compas-ar. I'm sure we've all had the experience of not understanding a poet because of not being able to get the poet rhythmically. Think of people who don't get Creeley, or Ashbery, or who think long lines are automatically "sloppy" just through length alone.
I am getting more and more into the poetry of Olvido García Valdés. There are three stages in reading. (1) It's interesting but I don't really get it. (2) It just keeps getting better and better. (3) Discrimination. Some poems are more interesting than others; some flaws might emerge; both positive and negative aspects become sharply delineated.

I'm at stage 2 now with her. What I like most is the way my thoughts adopt themselves to the meditative rhythm of reading. It takes you to another place.


Julia learned to play "St. Thomas" along with Sonny Rollins. (Just the melody for now, not the entire solo!) It's perfect for an eleven-year old because it is both simple and hip. You have to come in on the and of one so it's a little tricky. The trumpet plays an octave above the tenor sax. Then she learned "Moritat" from the same album (Saxophone Colossus.) (The tune is "Mack the Knife" but with an alternate title.) The same thing: simple and melodic, but extraordinarily hip, to get that phrasing right. It would have been a little easier if we'd had written music, but it's good ear-training to learn it from the recording. Plus it's fun to play along. I can find the notes on the piano and transpose to tell her what the notes are supposed to be. Her ear is better than mine, but notes are easier to find on the piano because you can "see them" in relation to one another.
Booker Little is the next best thing to Clifford Brown.

10 dic 2006

A book read and reread
appears in her hands
as in alien hands. She fixes
in the tree-top the image
of emptiness, breathes calmly, raises
branches and leaves to the lung's rhythm,
they descend. She speaks a few
repeated words, consolation
seeks, knows that feared
animals find the one watching for them.

--Olvido García Valdés / (trans. JM)

[Un libro que leyó y releyó
aparece en sus manos
como en manos ajenas. Fija
en la copa del árbol la imagen
del vacío, respira sosegada, alza
ramas y hojas con ritmo de pulmón,
descienden. Dice algunas
palabras repetidas, consuelo
busca, sabe que animales
temidos hallan a quien los acecha.]

Cognates with Spanish original: aparece, ajenas, fija, ritmo, descienden, repetidas, consuelo, animales. I like preserving cognates because I think poets are thinking of the etymological substrate. What if I said "shows up in her hands / as in someone else's hands." Or "to the beat of her lungs."

The gender of the character in the poem is revealed in one participle, sosegada, in line 5. I've had to put it in the second line and again in the third. English wants a subject pronoun, though I've got away with using only two.

This is significant because Olvido likes not to reveal the "subject" when it is not necessary, even though this subject is often implicitly female. My students wanted to always claim that the subject was female even when not specified, but the gender indetermination is a meaningful technique in its own right.

6 dic 2006

Le temps retrouvé

All the time I have spent over the course of many years reading and thinking about Kenneth Koch, Jack Spicer, and Frank O'Hara, Jerome Rothenberg and Robert Creeley, is now miraculously converted into work. While I was doing all this it was avoiding work, since I am not an English professor; but now, since all these authors enter into my Lorca project, I have have redeemed this time. I am less lazy than I was, since all the time I wasted is now redefined retrospectively as productive time.

It is a strange concept, being paid to do research, because really, what is research and what is not? Where is the line separating work from play. Is the blog research? It is certainly part of my intellectual life, in which I have always had problems separating vocation from avocation.

5 dic 2006

On the positive side, I just got the letter saying I have been awarded an NEH Fellowship to write my Lorca book. That means I get a semester off next academic year. Roofs can be fixed, but time is the most valuable thing of all.

4 dic 2006

The tree has been hauled away; power is restored if not equanimity.

1 dic 2006

Más sobre Gamoneda
So a tree fell on my house last night at 1 a.m. It doesn't help that I'm five hours away from my house and can't get back because of the weather anyway.

30 nov 2006

Morton Feldman's writings on music are very profound.

His distate for "attack." In other words, he doesn't want music dominated by the front end of the note or by loud flashy dynamics. Think how much more interesting the decay of the note is than its onset.

His notion of a note as a "stencil." He didn't want the stereotype of an instrumental sound. He was hearing something more subtle in his mind.

All his interest in oriental rugs and painting, in musical sound as a visual surface.

He even out-Cages Cage.
The Spanish poet who I consider the best alive, Antonio Gamoneda, has just received the Premio Cervantes. (It's like the Nobel prize for writing in the Spanish language; they usually give it to a Latin American and a Spanish writer in alternating years.)

I was the first to write about Gamoneda in English, in my 1994 book The Poetics of Self-Consciousness. So evidently I knew something then, intuited it almost, because he was not all that well known at that point.
Pound is like the amateur better than all the professionals. He sets the standard, only to violate it himself in the semi-doggerel of the Confucian Odes. And then there's that dull didactic fervor, that humorlessness.

29 nov 2006

My Diacritics piece is out. You'll need access to Project Muse from a University Library to read it. If you really find the topic compelling I will send you an offprint, once I get them. It's on Paul Celan and a cont. span. poet, J.A. Valente, and issues of translation theory. The editorial process was long and protracted. I'm afraid to read the final product myself, fearing it's a little bloated.

Don't be confused by the 2004 date: it just came out last week.


Reading some Henri Meschonnic. I don't quite know what it's about yet. It has rhythm in the title but doesn't seem to really be about that in any recognizable sense. I know what he doesn't like, at least.
The most fascinating thing about rhythm is that we don't know what it is. I don't mean we're lacking in definitions. Obviously there are many definitions, but none seems wholly pertinent to the phenomenon itself. There are not even good metaphors for rhythm, that are not simply examples of it.
And the philanthropes, don't even get me started on those.

28 nov 2006

Does the misanthrope hate himself? Or does he think himself an exception?

21 nov 2006

Speaking of Topeka, it's Coleman Hawkins' birthday today.

20 nov 2006

A few prosodic principles.

1) The asymmetry principle. Even classical and neo-classical forms will involve huge areas of asymmetry and irregularity. (Conversation with David Shapiro inspired this one.)

2) Inexhaustibility. Even a seemingly limited number of permutations will permit seemingly endless variability.

3) Poverty of means. You only need a few "pitches" to make verse musical. That is, intonational contours, combined with all the other phrasal and accentual business, are enough to create greatly varied effects.

4) The critical gap. Most literary critics will never care enough about this stuff.

5) The "Topeka Principle." When driving toward Lawrence, Kansas and thinking too hard about these issues, you will miss the exit and end up 15 miles to the West in Topeka, and have to retrace your steps to get home.

All these principles are really versions of the same basic principle.

18 nov 2006

Carmen McCrae. That's another one for the list below.

16 nov 2006

Here are my favorite singers of jazz, in no particular order of preference. I can't rank them really. Did I do this before? If I did I apologize:

Dinah Washington. She's like Billie Holiday but with a stronger voice. Very bluesy even in her more popular facets. Check out "Dinah Jams."

Ray Charles. I know he isn't a "jazz singer" per se. It doesn't really matter to me. Make your own list if you don't like it,

Billie Holiday. That's pretty obvious. She is simply one of the great jazz musicians period.

Armstrong. Yes, I know he can be quite awful. I can't stand to hear "Hello Dolly" or "Mack the Knife." You have to go back to the early days to find better stuff by him. How about the duets with Ella? You can't beat those.

Nat King Cole. Ok. That's an interesting one. He is obviously a jazz musician, but is he a jazz singer? Or does his singing represent a turn away from jazz? I love his voice and his phrasing. He inspired the early Ray Charles, even. He is "jazz" even when he is not "jazz."

Ella Fitzgerald. Another obvious one. Get away from the novelty numbers and into the song books.

Billy Eckstine. The male Sarah Vaughn? You got to give him his due.

Sarah Vaughn. I love that over-the-top quality to her performances. There is the sheer power and range of her voice, but I prefer her when she is the most "swinging." I hated her "Send in the Clowns," maybe because I hate all of Sondheim's music.

Sinatra. Ok. Sinatra could be awful too, when he became his mannerisms. A lot of singers do that. I like him best with those Nelson Riddle string arrangements. Sweet.

Antonio Benedetti. Tony Bennett is the purest jazz singer among the Italian crooners. He has his mannerisms too. If you like those mannerisms you will like him.

Shirley Horn. Not for nothing was she Miles Davis' favorite singer.

Bessie Smith. This was jazz singing before there was jazz. It's the original source--or one of them at least.

This is a tricky category because it merges into plain old "pop" singing at a certain point--at one end--and into rhythm and blues at the other end. It's interesting that there are more pure jazz singers among the women, and more cross-overs among the men. Ella, Sarah, and Dinah are "jazzier" in the generic sense than Frank, Ray Chas., the later Armstrong, or Nat Cole--or even Mel Tormé, who doesn't make my list.

15 nov 2006

Not my 10 favorite jazz albums of all time (but pretty darn close

Lester Young and Teddy Wilson. Pres and Teddy.
Herbie Hancock. Empyrean Isles.
Miles Davis. Birth of the Cool. Kind of Blue. Miles Smiles.
Coltrane. Coltrane's Sound. Equinox. Soultrane.
Ornette Coleman. The Shape of Jazz to Come.
Bobby Hutcherson. Dialogue.
Art Tatum. Complete Capitol Recordings.
Cecil Taylor / Elvin Jones / Dewey Redman. Momentum Space.
Bill Evans. Waltz for Debby.
Rollins. Saxophone Collosus.
Charlie Parker (and Miles Davis). Bird Song.
Thelonious Monk. Brilliant Corners.
Art Blakey. Live at Birdland.
Roach and Clifford Brown. Study in Brown, etc...
Coleman Hawkins. The Hawk Flies High.
I'm bringing in music to my grad class. For example, Count Basie. Take the late 30s recording with Lester Young. The rhythm section is the most advanced of its time, with Walter Page and Jo Jones. (Don't forget, his full name was not Joseph but "Jonathan.") What makes it sound modern is the relatively even pulse of four quarter notes on the bass, rather than an up and down movement between the two halves of the measure. It's more of a 4 feel than a 2 feel. Still, the band might sound a little bit cornball to our ears today. But when Lester comes in for his solo, it's like something that could have been played yesterday. He sounds totally free, rhythmically speaking, though of course he is objectively playing in time with the band, in other words, referring to the beat enough so that there is no lack of synchronization and phrasing within the basic framework of the four or eight measure phrases. But his rhythmic concept is his own creation. Something unequalled to this day, except in Charlie Parker himself.

So what am I trying to teach here? Rhythm is not meter? Be attentive to theis kind of things? I think every educated person should know that a Blues has 12 measures.

Everyone else in my department feels that if you give too much versification, you will put students off. Because it is considered dry and technical. For me, it the very breath, the very substance of the thing. Don't get me started.
Ok. This will be my last post on prosody for a while. (Well, at least until later this afternoon or tomorrow morning.)

I think the situation in Spanish is even worse, in the sense that critics take a purely mechanical view of the subject, when they consider it at all. It's not that the mechanics are not interesting in themselves. They are, if you happen to be a prosody geek like me and seven other people in the world. The problem is that there have only been baby steps beyond that point.

The Spanish poet Carlos Piera is also a theoretical linguist and has some very nice articles on intonation and line-ending, which he was kind enough to send me. (For some reason he wrote them in English, which is nice for other linguists that might not know Spanish, but also means they won't have as much impact within Spain.} He has inspired me to write my article on the verse-paragraph. The idea has been rattling around my head for a while, and I'm ready to go with it now.

The idea is a very simple one: look at the verse beyond the level of the individual line of poetry. It seems astonishing that this has not been done (for Spanish.) Even in English only Richard Cureton really has developed a phrasal theory that also incorporates metrics. Needless to say Rhythmic Phrasing in English Verse is my libro de cabecera. I don't know how many times I have checked that book out of the library.

There are 4 main possibilities for verse construction, in order of complexity.

1 (Mostly) end-stopped lines of the same length.
2 Lines of the same length, with frequent enjambment
3 Lines of unequal length, mostly end-stopped.
4 Lines of unequal length, with frequent enjambment
[5 = prose?]

So there are three variables: the metrical line, the intonational phrase, and the visual line ending. We can study the correspondence between the metrical line and the intonational phrase (in 1 and 2) without even taking into account line endings as a visual convention. Even in the case of (3) we don't really need line endings. We can just use punctuation! So only in (4) does the line ending really come into play--as more than a marker of what's already present in the implicit phonology of the text. We want to mark our lines in (2) in order to visually mark the syncopation between lines and phrases. In the case of (4), we need to enjambment because otherwise, it would be the same as (3).

Even the rhythmic structure of (1) could be incredibly complex, taking into account all the relevant factors. In fact, there is a certain "embarrassment of riches" or "law of diminishing returns" in (4), that ends up reducing complexity. Prose, after all, is more rhythmically complex, by this measure, but also less rhythmically interesting. My hypothesis is that (4) is the most interesting when it approaches the condition of (2) while also drawing on the resources of (3).

13 nov 2006

Someone asked me in the comments whether I really believe everyone should scan a line of verse in the same way. The short answer is ... maybe.

In other languages I'm familiar with scansion is not controversial. In other words, you can actually assign the accents or divide syllables into long or short in a rather mechanical way. The fact that English scansion is controversial at all shows that metrical theorists have screwed us up. I don't believe scansion should be all that controversial.

Everyone knows what a particular metrical pattern is. Everyone also knows how to pronounce words and phrases in his or her native language. Scansion is the attempt to reconcile the everyday pronunciation of a phrase with some underlying metrical pattern. The more difficult this is, the more metrical "tension" there is in the line. Lines with little or no metrical tension are comparatively rare--

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

They aren't really a metrical "norm," then, or even an "ideal"--since a poem composed of such lines would not be ideal at all. In a way, they deviate from the norm simply by being too regular, and thus create a different sort of tension. The normal line has an average degree of approximation to the metrical grid. At the other extreme are lines that raise tension to the maximum degree, mostly by placing strong syllables in weak positions. Logically, the most disagreement over scansion will occur when metrical tension is at its highest. A line like "Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art!" The contrasting pronouns make you want to say "Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art." That works fine, because "I" is in a strong position--but not so smooth because "thou" shouldst be in a weak position. The first seven syllables of the line are also quite heavy. Not all of them are equally stressed, but none is light, and then the 8th, lighter syllable occupies a strong position! Then two more heavy syllables to conclude! (Weak syllables in heavy positions don't really cause as much of a sense of strain or tension.)

So what would it mean to say there is a difference of scansion in this line between different readers? A difference in pronunciation, or a difference in the interpretation or representation of phonological facts? I would argue that these differences wouldn't really amount to a lot. A verbal performance of the line that tried to make it sound like "Of hand, of foot..." wouldn't be very good, but you'd still feel a lot of "tension" because it would sound so stupid. In other words, we have to acknowledge, no matter what, that the line is heavy with monosyllables and metrically tense: once again Keats starts a sonnet with a metrically problematic and expressive line. The theoretical method by which you want to reconcile (or explain the difference between) the pattern with the actual pronunciation of the line doesn't really affect the "interpretation" of the line. For example, I would probably use the generative metrics of Kiparsky and the theory of English accent of Liberman & Prince. You might try an old style foot-substitution method. We'd both find a great deal of metrical tension.

9 nov 2006

HOW many bards gild the lapses of time!
A few of them have ever been the food
Of my delighted fancy, --I could brood
Over their beauties, earthly, or sublime:
And often, when I sit me down to rhyme,
These will in throngs before my mind intrude:
But no confusion, no disturbance rude
Do they occasion; 'tis a pleasing chime.
So the unnumber'd sounds that evening store;
The songs of birds--the whisp'ring of the leaves?
The voice of waters--the great bell that heaves
With solemn sound,--and thousand others more,
That distance of recognizance bereaves,
Make pleasing music, and not wild uproar.

Here is the classic statement of the poet sitting down to write while surrounded by the echoes of poets of the past. The first line is a metrical joke on the concept of "lapses of time," since it has ten syllables but is dactyilc rather than iambic: "How many bards gild the lapses of time / Give me a dollar, a nickel, a dime." Somehow, the poet doesn't explain how, these confusing throngs of voices do not form a disharmony, but a "pleasing chime." They all rhyme with one another when the poet sits down himself to rhyme.

So too with the "unnumber'd sounds" of the outside world. It's a nice pun: "unnumbered" meaning simultaneously "not subject to metrical laws" and "innumerable." This is the free verse of real life, unstructured and also boundless. Many sounds are indistinguishable because they are too distant ("that distance of recognizance bereaves"). This too makes a "pleasing music." There is a synthesis of all this sound--presumably in the poet's own sonnet. It's a funny simile because the tenor comes before the vehicle. It would make more sense to present the unstructured aural experience before the poet's own rhymes. Keats' sonnet makes me think of some posts of Dan Green's a little while ago on Dewey and the concept of art creating order out of chaos, "gilding the lapses" as it were. But I feel a more Cagean impulse here: finding artistic unity in life as it actually is, rather than (only) in formalized artistic representations.

It is never really explained how confusion is overcome here.
It's hard to believe there were only twenty years between Lester Young's break-out recordings with Count Basie (37-39) and Ornette's Atlantic recordings (59-60.) It would be like going from Scarlatti to Mahler in twenty years.

Or maybe not. The other interpretation would be to say that Young was already almost Bird-like, and Bird was already Ornette-like. Young and Hawkins were already be-boppers. Jo Jones was the original bop drummer. And Bird was the original avant-gardist. Of course we can't hear that aspect of his playing unless we've also heard Ornette.

Hard bop meant stepping back from the radicalism of bop.

8 nov 2006

Max Roach I think was the first drummer who phrased in a solo like a horn player would. The "melodic" element of his solos is well known. That is, he used the pitches of various drums to suggest the melody of the song, rather than soloing rhythmically without reference to what song he was playing. But since the melodic possibilities of the traps are limited, I think the more important factor is the way he constructed those almost singable rhythmic phrases out of that very poor melodic material.

Not only was he the first, but I don't think he's really been matched by any drummer since--as a pure soloist, and in this particular aspect: an improvisation that fits the structure of the song rather than a "drum solo."
Two words for you:

Lennie Tristano

I hadn't really listened to Tristano much, though Lee Konitz has always been one of my favorites. But I don't buy the Martin Williams line that Tristano's approach was simply a jazz dead end. They are doing a Tristano marathon in WKCR in New York which I listen to constantly streamed over the web. It is a real revelation, not least because of this wonderful Lee Konitz solo they are playing right this second. I like Warne Marsh too.

Don't forget that Miles put Konitz on The Birth of the Cool sessions. Hard bop and cool, West Coast jazz are complementary. It might be easy to set them against each other, hot vs. cool, black vs. White, East vs. West, but I don't necessarily see it like that. There are important cross currents. Plus it's the music I love the most. Bird comes out of Pres in his rhythmic approach, clearly. All the White tenor players of the 50s also come out of Lester Young. Lee Konitz has his own original and unmistakable sound that ultimately derives from the same sources. I could see Clifford Brown as a "cool" player complementary to Konitz.

It's clear that Lester was influenced by the "sweeter" sounds of some White players of the 20s and 30s. He loved fairly conventinal crooner of the period. That shows in his repetoire too. And look at Miles and Clifford, the two greatest interpreters of "ballads" of this period.

6 nov 2006

Short Macaronic Poems

¡Viva la Schadenfreude!


Aurea mediocritas... ¡Que coño!

5 nov 2006

I have this long-term project of developing and maintaining reading knowledge of all major Romance languages. Aside from my native level Spanish reading, I can pretty much follow most texts in French, Portuguese, and Catalan. My Italian is pretty shaky, though. I can get only about 70% of it. I read Il Castello dei destini incrociati recently in Italian (Calvino). If I went slow enough I was able get most of it if I went faster I missed more. With a dictionary and all the time in the world I could have gotten most all of it. Romanian seems a little harder. I could probably only get about 30% of it right now. Occitan is pretty much like Catalan, and Galego is pretty much Portuguese, so I am not worrying about those two. Plus, I can't find anything to read in modern Occitan.

There's a question of the comfort level. For example, I have found myself reading texts in English when I could have just as easily gone to the French. I have read novels in Spanish translation when I could have spent a teeny bit more effort and read them in Catalan.

There is a periphrastic past tense in Catalan with uses the verb "to go" plus the infinitive. Like "Vaig veure" for "I saw." I remember reading a novel in Catalan before I knew anything about the language, and at one moment during my reading a light-bulb going off. "Aha, that a past tense." Suddenly it made sense. Of course I had been trying to make it be a periphrastic future like we have in Spanish and English: "voy a ver" / "I'm going to see." I'm having those little moments in Italian too.

2 nov 2006

I never understood that "upper limit music lower limit speech" slogan until now. I'm still not sure I understand it like LZ understood it, but it means something to me. For me speech is the original music. Music had to have developed out of speech. Poetry and music are the only two things that have rhythm in the original sense (and dance, but dance almost always has music with it. You don't dance a rhythm, you dance to a rhythm.) But music tends to obliterate speech. Its rhythms are more powerfully immediate. So poetry is situated within a wide range between relatively unmusical speech (I say relatively because speech is always musical) and a kind of relatively nonverbal music ("relatively" because music always seems a form of speech; it always seems to be saying something even when it is instrumental.)

Like the word "phrase" that can be a linguistic phrase or a musical phrase, but nothing else. It applies only to these two domains and nowhere else, and has an equivalent meaning in both domains.

And don't forget "lower limit refrigerator magnet."

UPDATE: What makes one poem (or poet) cantabile and another not? That's a mystery.

1 nov 2006

My daughter Julia has given up writing poetry (for a while at least) and is an accomplished trumpet player. You should hear her run through the variations on the Carnival of Venice.

31 oct 2006

The Valve, a critique.

I like the idea behind the Valve and I value the contributions of at least five of the contributors: Amardeep Singh, Dan Green, John Holbo, Bill Benzon, and Scott "one n" Kaufman. My favorite of them all, the brilliant Ray Davis, is no longer with them. (I like the comments of John Emerson and Timothy Burke too.) The other authors either don't contribute often enough, or are authors whose posts I simply don't appreciate as much. In full disclosure I must say I once expressed interest myself in being a Valve author and was in fact a guest author during one of the book events.

But speaking of comments, how can a ridiculous discussion of mathematics descend into a flame war with 100 comments? The tendency to have heated discussions in the comments, about mostly non-literary matters (religion, philosophy, math), detracts from the purpose of the blog, which is not to be another Crooked Timber but to be a specifically "literary organ." They are sponsored by an organization of scholars and critics and writers who want to have a more "literary" approach to literature, as it were. I don't really see this happening. Of course I don't expect them to pay much heed to contemporary poetry, simply because there is not a poetry geek among them. For that we have Bemsha Swing and numerous other blogs. But I'm not sure The Valve would be your first choice for studies of the novel either.

This is not meant as an attack on The Valve. I do look at it all the time, so there must be a lot of interesting things there. I just think it could be more focused on what I understood to be its core aim, and have a policy against flames and trolls.
I might have mentioned my method for reading Clark Coolidge. Going through Solution Passage, for example, I mark poems I like with a check mark, and poems that go beyond that with an additional star or asterisk. Although CC is one of my favorite living poets I am not at all an uncritical reader. As I've owned this book for many years the poems with stars are gradually increasing as a percentage of the whole, but there are still many poems I don't get. In order to get that check mark I have to be able to justify to myself the relation of part to whole. (Shorter poems have a certain advantage here.) Contrary to what you might think, I tend to value poems I understand better over those I don't, within the work of CC.

Here's an example of one that gets a star:


Lace back of mountains my fretted
vehicle on ice it shows

Blamed, all the stones, their streaks, then sky
opens bowl to the rained and rolling day

Fire, this chart beyond has got of crystal through
icicle wall of fricative semblance

Then PatternDemons whisper
in the PalmLines of my stone

Like taking a breath in vaccum light
the pounds of brain that store me

To me this is beatiful, coherent, and clear. It's only as difficult as it needs to be, not a step beyond that. I feel I could explicate it though I certainly don't want to do so pedantically. There are about 21 poems in this almost 400 page book that I like about this much, and maybe about 80 that have mere check mark. When I go back to the book then I have several strategies open to me. I can just go through and read twenty poems. I can read about 100 that I know I'll like. Or I can go in search of new poems that I hadn't quite appreciated on other multiple readings. Or I can go through a particular section and read poems in all three categories. I inevitably find a few that get a new check, or previously checked poems to be promoted with stars. I do appreciate the poems that have held out against me for many years. Such obduracy is to be admired in them.

It's hard to think of a really interesting poet who doesn't have some serious flaws. All significant reading is a back-and-forth movement of identification and rejection. I'm trying to think of any nonproblematic writers I am really devoted to. That's why detractive criticism is cheap. Any fool can see that Pound, Stein, and Lorca are deeply flawed writers. Any one can see that Creeley can be dull and sentimental; that Ashbery is garrulous, Stevens and Guest precious, Schuyler and Keats over-lush, Berrigan self-indulgent, Campion thin. However, if that's all you see then you aren't a particularly good reader either. It's like someone telling you that Beethoven is bombastic. Well yes, we already knew that thank you very much.

Blindness and Insight applies to the poet too, not just the critic. The problematic part of poet's work is usually so close to the core of that poet's achievement that it cannot be excised. The most irritating aspects of Pound's work are not found on the fringes of that work, but very close to the center.
Mayhew's Mood

I am brilliant but not too smart

about things I ought to be smart about--

that argument overheard in 1975--

was I part of that?

If so, am I a Turk in love with a Swede

or a Swede in love with a Turk?

Do Danes know irony?

What would Henry Gould say?

I think the answers lie

in nonchalance.

That, and choral music--

lists of things to do.


All attack and no sustain.

That's the mood in the land.

To spare the life of a locust--

that's something I haven't done too much of.

Lately, I've been feeling...

That's it, lately I've been feeling.


I'd like to have a radio show.

I'm not very articulate though.

It doesn't bother me not to know a thing's name.

Since Creeley died I haven't been the same.


One blue, of the sky

One blue, of the sea

They argue, which one will give its name

For the blue of the ink?



comfort. What is


Should I feel



"These poets are narcissists with whom friendship would be perilous."

It's been months since I felt the cold. I miss that.

Each day I revise some slight thing.

A dysthymic, arhythmic avoidance.

Yeatsian swagger, layers of smells.


I broke the seal.


Schooled in disdain,

in inanity.


Construyo negligencias; el punto y coma como una araña insuflada de insuficiencia.

Según el poeta japonés, el viejo perro pone cara de escuchar el cántico de los gusanos.


Don't talk to me about the ghastly portamento.

The chickens are roosting;

Henry is clean-shaven.


What if we could only kill bugs with our hands,

only fight rats with rose water?

What if Ornette were a race-horse?

Squirrels fight but won't scratch each other's eyes.

Are there rules?

This is my new style. You like?

Me neither.


I will no longer transport clean laundry across state lines.

A gleaming exhaust vent will carry fumes to the roof.

Raucous flocks will leave that particular tree.

The junior high school band will play without rhythmic mistakes.

I will no longer be desperately unhappy in my life.

I will be an expert on breeds and languages of dogs.


The screen is warmed by the sun.
Nothing should ever be parsed
past the point of return.
If I were Clark Coolidge I would write like this,
forehead warmed, timed by belts.
The sky is not object,
cannot exist like salt or wicker.
I am not, cannot.


My attention alights on the world.

That is not my mood.

She transports steaming liquids
across town
sells her hair.


Yet "men die every day for lack of what is found there."


Here is what is left out.
The nitty gritty.
For your eyes only.

Ink smudged on watch.

29 oct 2006

What if writing poetry were like writing in French? That is, what if it were simply a matter of learning a "poetic language," that, once learned, one could deploy "at will"? Anyone who learned it could then write poetry. Aesthetic rules would be like grammatical rules. That has a certain appeal.

But there is no poetic language. That is, there is no language to be learned. It is true that some writers have developed a language that for them works like this. They write "in it" and, if it is a highly developed language and they are good at it, they can write virtually "at will." It's a matter of turning on a faucet. Clark Coolidge and John Ashbery are like this, to name two poets I admire. There is a problem, though, in that poets like that can simply let themselves be carried along by a magnificent style. There's no longer that sense of the poet inventing language ad hoc. I like Clark better when he was still becoming Clark Coolidge. No that he already is Clark Coolidge I am less thrilled by what he is doing.

For everyone else, poetic language is an instrument that fails about 95% of the time. It's either someone else's language or something unsuited to the task. There's something thrilling about not knowing how to write at all, approaching the page with that attitude.

So what would it mean to teach writing? You could teach a serviceable style, one that was pretty much like that of the journals the student wanted to publish in. Or you could have the student construct a style, learn about how to put together a unique style. Or you could be a style agnostic, like I am.

28 oct 2006

I am a bad professor. I don't like telling people what to do. My impulse is to say: "Give me your best." Don't give me what you think I want, but rather your best stuff. But that is an impossible imperative to follow. So I will be more specific.

Don't give me perfunctory crapola. Don't see the point of the assignment as completing the assignment or showing me that you are able to analyze poetry. Give me your ideas, your best ones, not just a few commonplaces I could find anywhere else. Do you define yourself as a student studying in a class, or as a literary critic? Do you have critical influences, a critical position with respect to your influences, or are you just a student performing a task? Do you read journals in the field in which you want to specialize? Do you see how big a problem it is to have to emulate this academic prose, follow this set of conventions, while at the same time doing the real work of criticism?

Do you want to be an intellectual or just an academic?

Have you gone through phases in which you were influenced most by Benjamin, Barthes, Blanchot, or Burke? Has there been a novel that you read five or six times when you were younger, the way I read and re-read Catch 22, The Cave, The Lord of the Rings, and Slaughterhouse 5? Have you ever broken down a poem or a play word by word to see how it works?

I can't teach you to read poetry. All I can do is point in particular directions. Have you ever stayed up at night wrestling with a critical problem? Do you know how crazily obsessive you have to be do be half-way good at this at all?

Do you read a book of poetry every day? Every week? Every month? Never? Do you have twenty authors whose work you are passionate about? 10?

Does everything you learn, about anything at all, automatically inform your literary criticism? Does music inform your reading of literature, and if not, why not?

Show me that you've thought about your writing at the level of the sentence and the paragraph. Does your critical prose "sing"? What would it mean for it to sing? Do you know that prose has its own rhythms that must be tended? Have you ever thought about how good critical prose needs to be? Do you consciously model your writing after that of writers you admire?

26 oct 2006

Avant-garde translation theory basically argues for the foregrounding of translation. It's a kind of Russian formalist idea of the "laying bare of the device." Translation should not be "invisible" or "transparent." It should remind you constantly that it is translation, mainly by including heterogeneous materials taken from both languages and cultures. This avant-garde ideal is then combined with the ethical imperative of recognizing the validity of the cultural *other.* That is, foregrounded, foreignizing translation, by laying bare its own devices, has the opposite effect of domesticating, invisible translation that simply assimilates the cultural other into domestic expectations.

Where is that connection between Russian formalist theory and contemporary multiculturalism? That's what I want to figure out. Is it through Derrida's influence on postcolonial theory? Through Benjamin and the Franfort school? I feel there is missing piece somewhere I'm not getting.
There is one more attack on Drew Gardner's "Chicks Dig War" referenced here at Elsewhere.

Inspired by this kind of survey, I thought, well, you can frame a question any way you want. The way the authors of this web site frame their survey questions is pretty much like this:

Poetry is known to be a wasteful and destructive activity, consuming hours of otherwise productive time. Thousands of dollars of our tax money goes to shelve books of poetry in public and university libraries. Thousands of young people are encouraged to study "creative writing"--a field in which it is impossible to make a living. The drain on the US economy from poetic activities is inestimable, but is probably in the area of a billion dollars annually. The cost of producing a single poem, calculated by lost work time, years of education, and supplies, is estimated to be approximately $10,000! Yet studies have shown that individuals who have never read a poem are just as likely to be productive members of society than those exposed to this pernicious art form. In fact, poetry has no known social benefits and could actually be psychologicallly damaging. Unlike other forms of enternainment, poetry is not even "entertaining."

Vote for one of the two options.

Yes. I believe it is more important to continue to stroke the egos of a few narcissists and continue the public funding of poetry, despite the huge social and economic costs of this activity.

No. I believe reasonable steps should be taken to eliminate poetry from the educational system and all other government-funded programs, and to minimize its presence in the private sector of the economy.

25 oct 2006

A speaker observes an alienated couple as they dourly squirt Windex at each other's faces from opposite sides of a pane they're cleaning. A speaker assists minimally in the burial of an acquaintance. A speaker recalls buying red shoes for a woman who hasn't been seen since. A speaker feels remorse for having a crippled piglet put down. A speaker observes a neighbor hauling bales to his barn as autumn descends. A speaker employs end rhyme to convince himself to give up booze. Biting into a potato, a speaker recalls his impoverished childhood. A speaker is reminded by moonflowers of her recently deceased mother. A speaker contemplates an elderly veteran in a parade. A speaker celebrates the arrival of spring. A speaker observes as a male peacock's ostentatious display fails to interest a female intent on food. A speaker named after his grandfather feels his forebear's presence while filling out forms and at supper. A tamed speaker recalls his youthful virility on the eve of his fortieth birthday. A speaker likens an elderly neighbor in a housecoat to a sunset. A speaker contemplates the life of an obsessive collector of Noah's Ark images and trinkets. A speaker likens love to salt.
It seems to me that "foriegnizing" translation also serves a "domesticating" agenda, albeit a different one from an unabashedly domesticating translation practice. That is, it is still directed toward the target language & culture. The purpose of foreignizing translation is not to pay respect to the foreign culture, but to enact some sort of cultural change in the domestic culture, allowing for an influence to take place.

If you asked the foreign culture how it wanted to be represented, what would it say? Does it care? Maybe it just wants to be legitimized through a fluent domestication. It is hard to see foreignizing translation as an ethical imperative, as Venuti does, even if it is more appealing because it is more avant-garde or theoretically interesting. I'm at an impasse in my thinking about this problem, tending to distrust domesticating translations from a theoretical perspective while still preferring them many times as a reader--and vice versa. I don't really like translations that foreground the "domestic residue."

24 oct 2006

While I was at a party hosted by Judy Roitman and Stan Lombardo, featuring special guest appearances by Ken Irby, Cyrus Console, Jim McCrary, and Lee Chapman, we apparently won a baseball game against Detroit. I only wish I was a bit more indifferent to sports. If I cared slightly less I would not have looked up the score when I got home.

Baseball is a machine for training the mind to think in certain increments. Every situation is exactly definable. So many outs, balls and strikes, runners on base, in any particular inning, the score being thus. I like this, so I can listen to a game on the radio in the car even if I don't care about either team playing.

The aesthetic beauty of the game is in defense not offense. Isn't a double play more satisfiying than a home run? A home run is a *mistake* charged to the picture. *Earning* a run is a bad thing.
My favorite rhythms are, I think

The walking bass--four quarternotes evenly accented. What could be more pure than that?

Spanish endecasílabo and heptasílabo in fruitful collaboration

Elvin's "Rolling Triplet" feel

Latin elegiac couplets. [see below]

Afro-Cuban cowbell in 6/8.

Son montuño

Bebop. Max Roach bass-drum accents

French alexandrine

A funk beat with swung sixteenth-notes under a James Brown track

Various flamenco rhythms in 6/8 (just getting into these)

There are others. Iambic pentameter? Octosílabo? Waltz? But these are my favorites. I'm surprised to find IP missing from the list, but what can I do? Don't blame me, I'm only reporting what I feel... I don't particuarly care for Englsh ballad meter or Reggae.
I always was fascinated by the elegiac couplet. It's a line of dactylic hexamater

BAM ba ba BAM ba ba BAM ba ba BAM ba ba BAM ba ba BAM BAM

(with all the usual trochaic substitutions, of course, and where BAM is a long and ba is a short)

alternating with what they call a pentameter but which is really not a pentamter at all

BAM ba ba BAM ba ba BAM // BAM ba ba BAM ba ba BAM

Why does this line combine so well with the other? Well there is often a Caesura in the middle of the third foot of the DH line:

BAM ba ba BAM ba ba BAM / ba ba...

[e.g. Arma virumque cano...]

So you take that part of the DH line, before the ceasura, and it becomes half of the so-called "pentameter," or 2.5 metrical feet. It's a great asymmetrical feel, beloved of Catullus and Ovid, not to mention Propertius. Elegiacs: not just for elegy.

The shorter "pentameter" line wouldn't really work by itself, I don't think. The DH does work as its own meter, of course, but elegiac couplets are much hipper. I love that feeling of "coming up short" in the second line.

Multas per gentes et multa per aequora vectus
advenio has miseras, frater, ad inferias.
The life-blood of rhymed translation is this, that
a good poem shall not be turned into a bad one.
The only true motive for putting poetry into a fresh
language must be to endow a fresh nation, as far as
possible, with one more possession of beauty. Poetry
not being an exact science, literality of rendering is
altogether secondary to this chief aim. I say literality,
not fidelity, which is by no means the same thing.
When literality can be combined with what is thus
the primary condition of success, the translator is
fortunate, and must strive his utmost to unite them;
when such object can only be attained by paraphrase,
that is his only path.

--Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Rossetti's translations of Calvacanti's are better than Pound's. That single principle, that a good poem cannot be translated by a bad one, seems essential. It would seem to establish a criterion of aesthetic fidelity. The original is a good poem, the translation is not. Therefore it cannot be a good translation, even if it is a faithful and literal translation in all other respects. That is the implication, at least.

Another principle would be to try the literal first, and then move to paraphrase if that doesn't work. Or, in other words, take advantage of the places where the literal does in fact work.

Of course, there's no convincing someone that a translation is a "bad poem," when that person wants to say that the translation is adequate. I can convince someone that the translation is faulty on semantic grounds, if we agree on the meanings of words, but not on aesthetic grounds, if we disagree about where beauty lies.

19 oct 2006


Una figura de la donna mia
S'adora, Guido, a San Michele in Orto,
Che di bella semblanza, onesta e pia,
De' peccatori è refugio e conforto

Pound [elements added by translator in italics]

My Lady's face is it they worship there,
At San Michele in Orto, Guido mine,
Near her fair semblance, that is clear and holy
Sinners take refuge and get consolation.

Minor padding? But why must translation always move in the direction of more, rather than fewer words? The additions don't add any greater clarity. They are there to pad the meter.

I don't know why you need two verbs, take and get, for a single action, where the Italian is content with a single verb: "is." She doesn't give them comfort, nor do they take comfort from her. Rather, she IS their refuge and comfort, at one and the same time. That's so much more direct.

I don't know why you have to specify that the sinners are near her fair semblance. That spatial relation is implicit in the original: the sinners are those worshipping at this particular church. Pound's "near" takes them futher away, in some sense.

This poetry is rather unforgiving of the translator, I fear. There's not a lot of lee-way. The only redundancy in the original is the repetition of figura and semblanza, two words that may be nearly synonymous. My literal version is in brackets below.

[An image of my lady / is adored, Guido, at SMIO, / which {image}, of beautiful aspect, chaste and devout, / is refuge and comfort for sinners].

18 oct 2006

Has anyone noticed that Pound's Cavalcanti is often just not very good?

Voi, que per gli occhi miei passaste al core
E svegliaste la mente che dormia

It's a pretty simple concept: you, who passed from my eyes to my heart / and awoke my sleeping mind." The Italian is easier to understand than Pound's

"You, who do breech mine eyes and touch the heart
And start the mind from her brief reveries"

Obviously Pound is going after a 16th-century Wyatt/Surrey feel. The mimickry is convincing on and off, but results in padding. "brief reveries" sounds more 19th century than 16th anyway.

"Guardate a l'angosciosa vita mia,
Che sospirando la distrugge Amore"

"Look at my anguished life / that sighing Love destroys"

Pound: "Might pluck my life and agony apart / Saw you how love assaileth her with sighs"

Once again, a relatively simple original / convoluted translation.

We find other gems in Pound's version like "so brute a might" "a new face upon the seigniory," "wherefrom my pain," and "First shot's resultant! and in flanked amaze..." The last is surely one of the worst lines of poetry in Pound's poetic works.

Cavalcanti's poem does seem "dated," in the sense that it follows the conventions of the dolce stil novo of the 13th Century. The donna will be gentile and the lover will be pierced by Cupid's arrow. Yet it is perfectly readable even today. Stylistically it is fresher than Philip Larkin. I don't even know Italian and I can understand it fine by looking up a few words. The translation is dated in a different, and far worse way. It gets in the way of itself, unable to decide whether it wants to be 13th Century, 16th Century, 19th Century, or 20th Century.

Now I know that that Lawrence Venuti has defended this exact kind of "heterogeneity" in modernist translation practice, pointing specifically to Pound. This puts me in the awkward position of questioning not only the greatest translator of the 20th century, but also the most interesting theorist of translation of the present day (Venuti). It's a nice theory, and I tend to go along with it... until I see the results. I stand here in flanked amaze at how bad they can be sometimes.

Now you could say that I am invoking a standard of badness or goodness based on what's "acceptable" to me as a reader, and hence falling back into a comfortable conservatism. I would answer that Pound is committing the typical sins of ennoblement, expansion, destruction of rhythms, and rationalization that Antoine Berman analyzes in "Translation and the Trials of the Foreign." The translation trips my WTF switch too many times. "che m'ha disfatto..." [which has undone me] becomes "hath drawn me down through devious ways."

None of this has anything to do with questions of simple accuracy. In other words, I would have no objection at all to slight shifts in meaning (the shift from past to present in the first line for example). I think I could even tolerate the archaisms. I think the padding and the constant "overthinking" are much more objectionable. The changes go in one direction: toward less simplicity, elegance, and concision. This shift contravenes Pound's modernist prescriptions. I'm not saying he should have translated Calvacanti into "Imagism," but on the other hand I don't see why he has to translate away from imagism, in the opposite direction.
You were in St. Louis and didn't call me--you have some explaining to do.

Though I wouldn't have had time anyway, since this was the weekend my mom was in town and we were moving into our new house.

17 oct 2006

Steve Davis probably deserves a place of honor on the "bass list." He was on "My Favorite Things," "Coltrane Plays the Blues," and "Coltrane's Sound." That's enough for me. For me, his playing is relatively "anonymous" --along the anonymous to distinctive scale.

Details about Davis are hard to find, though. Even the excellent Lewis Porter biography of Trane has very little information about him. Apparently he didn't do much after playing with that particular version of the Coltrane Quartet.

16 oct 2006

There's kind of a curious divide. For example, artists and musicians, even poets, often don't have a lot to say about their respective arts. They undoubtedly have a lot of insight, but somehow this insight is locked on the other side of a divide. It cannot be brought over, whether through a lack of effort or an outright incapacity.

Then there are critics who haven't really been on the other side of the wall, and only have a vague notion of what might be there. They can talk about various art forms, and seem to know what they are talking about (if you don't look too closely) but they haven't really been that curious about the other side. I don't really believe in ineffability: you can really talk about what's really significant, but it's extremely difficult.

There are a small number of people who not only have the insight but can actually express it in meaningful ways to those on the other side. You know when you are in the zone of insight; it's unmistakable.

Of course, once I put this model in writing it no longer seems valid to me. That's what blogging is all about.


The worst students are those who depend most heavily on biography. Are they bad because they depend on biography, or is it that they are already bad and use biography as a crutch?

11 oct 2006

Favorite piano players

1. Bud Powell

He invented a basic pattern of playing jazz piano, followed by many since, yet his own playing is all his own--unmistakeably his. Those right hand, logically organized lines against left-hand, sporadic chords. I could listen to Bud all day. In fact, I do listen to Bud all day.

2. Thelonious Monk

He really belongs on another list--the composer / band leader / "force in jazz" list. I do love his playing too, of course. His roots are really in the strike tradition, yet he also was second to one in the bebop style.

3. Art Tatum

He was the greatest, pianistically speaking. I can't get enough of his Capitol solo sides. He really should be number one, but then Bud and Monk would have had to have been two and three. That wouldn't have worked either.

4. Teddy Wilson

He had those great right-hand runs before Bud Powell. I like that style better than the all over the place pianisti style. What incomparable elegance behind Billie Holiday or Benny Goodman.

5. Bill Evans

He invented the next big style after Bud. The it was Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea. There really hasn't been a stylistic influence as great since him.

6. Red Garland

I like him better than any pianist of this particular niche--between Bud and Bill Evans that is. His soloes are so logical that I tend to memorize them note by note. I like how he switches to octaves in the later choruses of a solo.

7. Cecil Taylor

It's interesting that he is the only really major piano player among the free jazz movement.

8. Earl Hines

I love his rhythmic feel--so modern for his period.

9. Sonny Clark

I love that straight-ahead late bop feel, coming out of Bud once again.

10. Count Basie

That minimalist feel behind his band. He never tried to do too much!

11. Nat Cole

There's that ultra-cool, "tasty" feel that inspired Ray Charles and Oscar Peterson. Once he started singing his piano playing was eclipsed.

12. Oscar Peterson

Then there's that showboat, maximal feel, out of Tatum and Cole. Not always in the best of taste, but so exuberant you have to like it on some level.

There are so many others: Flanagan, Ellington, Hancock, Jamal, Hank Jones, Smith, Waller, Williams, Richie Powell, Guaraldi, McKenna... I won't get into fist fights about anyone--after the top five at least! As with the bass players, I do like relatively "anonymous" or "generic" players, those who simply play unobtrusively but without a distinctive personal style in whatever period style.

10 oct 2006

Here are my top bass players:

1. Paul Chambers. You've heard him on the Miles Quintet records of the 1950s and on the greatest album of all time, "Kind of Blue." On Coltrane's first recordings like "Soul Trane." For me, the contours of his bass lines are unsurpassed. His note placement in relation to the beat. The way he creates tension by moving from "two" to "four" and and back again. His soloing both with arco and pizzicato.

2. Mingus. He really belongs on a different list. The composer/bandleader/all around force in jazz list. But his playing is so rich and deep he gets on this list too. Check out his duet with Dolphy on bass clarinet on "What Love."

3. Scott LaFaro. With Ornette and with Bill Evans. I just like the way he uses the full range of the instrument.

4. Haden. Also with Ornette. I'm not crazy about all his projects as bandleader, but I like the sweet soulfulness of his playing. The way he makes it look so easy.

5. Ron Carter. His work with Miles and Hancock and Shorter in the 60s is another high-water mark. Second only to Paul Chambers with Miles.

6. Walter Page. How can he be number 6? He really defined the walking bass line with Count Basie Orchestra with unmatched feel. If he is so low on my list it must be because I identify him more with a feel than with a sound.

7. Wilbur Ware. What can I say? He's one of the key players of that era (early 60s). Listen to him with Rollins.

8. Jimmy Garrison. He is part of the classic Coltrane quartet. Need I say more. He really defines a style of playing for that period.

9. Ray Brown. I know others would have him a lot higher on the list than I do. All other things being equal, though, I'd rather have Chambers on any given record from a comparable artist.

10. Christian MacBride. He's the best of his generation. I heard him play recently and was impressed.

11. Eddie Gómez. How great the players are even so deep into the list. I've seen him play and he is wonderfully subtle.

12. Percy Heath. A really tasty player from the bebop era.

I could go on, but past this point I would be faking it, just mentioning names I couldn't really identify by sound, or those who I actively dislike. Blanton? Slam Stewart? Potter? I love bass players for their anonymity, in part. You don't always keep track of who you are listening too. A swinging walking bass line is a thing of beauty, a joy forever. In fact, such bass lines are on my list of favorite things, along with Mark Rothko, Spain, and poetry itself.
I almost forgot that it was Thelonious Monk's birthday today.
Ok. I have an hour to think of my spring course. I will just list ten possibilities and then choose the one I like the best.

1. Contemporary writing by women. Choose a few novels, and an anthology of women's poetry.

2. I could do my historical avant-garde course again. Writing from the 20s and 30s mostly.

3. Borges.

4. Lorca. Some other single-author course?

5. Poetry from 1970 to the present. Just Spain.

6. Folkoric forms: refranero, cancionero, romancero. From all periods. Then I could do Lorca too! And Cervantes, tie it in with the study of idiomatic expressions.

7. Really weird writers.

8. Andalusia. All periods.

9. Neruda, Vallejo, Lorca.

10. None of the above.

I'm leaning toward 6 right now.

8 oct 2006

I was tagged by Kasey for that "what have your learned from feminism" meme that's circulating. However, one thing I have learned from feminism is that nobody really wants to hear a man congratulate himself about how feminist he is. So the other four things I've learned from feminism will have to remain between feminism and me.

7 oct 2006

More from the Department of False Dichotomies

Stigmatizing an aesthetic mode in this way is simply idiotic. Is "squareness," then, "kind," a sort of beatific anti-hipness? I'm not buying it and you shouldn't either.

5 oct 2006

The best poets whom I, personally, have little use for, include

Browning. Hopkins. Duncan, Olson. Graham. Tennyson. Auden. Larkin. Alberti. Bonnefoy. Lowell.

I mean this literally. I have little use for them; they don't offer me very much.

This also implies that I recognize, in some abstract way, that they are valuable writers. Just not for me, right now. I like Jorie Graham's poetry when I am not in the act of reading it. That is, I think it's great that there is a poet like that. When I try to read her, though, I can't stand it. I find her verbose and pretentious, rhythmically uninspired. Yet after a period of not reading the illusion returns: that she is an excellent poet whom I should be reading.

There are others I do have a use for, but with whom I'm still struggling a bit. Char. Rilke.

There is another category of poets whom I did read exhaustively at one tiime and don't need to read any more. That is, there is no compulsion to re-read them, even though they are among my favorite poets. I have internalized what it is they were supposed to teach me. William Bronk, for example.

If you took away one poet, would poetry be the same?
Inspired by a discussion at The Valve: A Literary Organ:

Here's a question: if I would rather live in a world with 6,000 language than a world with 3,000 languages, does that make me a Whorfian by default?

Language doesn't line up exactly with culture. A language is not a culture. But the amount of linguistic diversity is some index of the amount of cultural diversity on the global scale.

Some, like Walter Benn Michaels, are arguing that if the world loses a few thousand languages, there is no essential harm done, because, after all, no language is better than another! That seems to be a perverse argument, to me, though I cannot quite explain why. It doesn't depend, for me, on the particular value of this or that language. I don't believe that you should have to go to bat for each language separately. Logocide is always a bad thing.

It's a difficult question because there is no absolute number of languages a planet should have. Maybe we're lucky to have 6,000 even if some think we should have 12,000. There's no handy utilitarian standard either. It's not like the extinct beetle that could have cured cancer with its secretions.

I'm really puzzled by this question, but in the meantime I'm going to conclude that language loss is a horrible thing unless I come across a convincing argument to the contrary.

4 oct 2006

More Nobel odds.


Nah. Too middle of the road conservative wasp. 50-1.

Fanny Howe.

That would be great. Isn't going to happen. 1,000,00-1.


They used to give it to a Nordic author every few years. I don't think they will this year. 100-1.

Harry Mathews.

Too much of cult figure. 2,000,000-1.


Nah. 3,000,000-1.

Charles Bernstein.

Nope; not this year. 4,000,000-1.
Poetry has zones of (relative) "clarity" and "obscurity." Zones within the work of a single poet and zones in literary history. Clarity is always a relative concept because not all readers are the same, and within the history of taste there have been larger shifts in perception. In the 50s Cummings was still a difficult modern poet. Ashbery was hard to read until about 1982, after which he became (relatively) easy. Poets teach us how to read their work.


Nobel predictions.

1. Clark Coolidge. The Swedish academy will finally come to its senses and award the prize to Coolidge.

The upside: This is a major American poet with a long list of publications. Everyone will be surprised. The New York Review of Books will have to acknowledge that Clark Coolidge exists.

The downside: It won't happen. Coolidge is still not translated into Swedish and is a cult figure within his own nation.

Odds: 5 billion to 1.

2. John Ashbery. Come on, why doesn't Ashbery have the Nobel prize yet?

Upside: A major American poet. Has won all the other prizes.

Downside: Not enough political "leverage." Ashbery skeptics will write another round of stupid articles.

Odds: 500 to 1.

3. Joyce Carol Oates. She's been around forever.

The upside: Everyone knows who she is. She will be easy for journalists to talk about.

The downside: the odor of the middlebrow. No political "leverage."

Odds: 20 to 1.

4. Antonio Gamoneda. The journalists will be calling me this year.

The upside: Gamoneda is the most notable poet of contemporary Spain.

The downside: Antonio who?

Odds: 6,000 to 1.

5. Adonis. This one is actually possible.

The upside: A nice nod to Arabic culture in the current world climate. A wonderful poet.

The downside. People will say stupid things about Arabic culture. The prize will be considered too "political."

Odds: 5 to 1.

6. Coral Bracho. Why not?

The upside: major Mexican poet. A woman.

The downside: Under 60 years old. No political agenda is served for the Swedes.

Odds: 12,000 to 1.

3 oct 2006

I'm quoted on page 30 of Far From the Madding Gerund. How cool is that?
I'm interested in the mode of modern poetry that has a referential field belonging purely to a mythic time. That is, nothing in the poem evokes the historical period of modernity itself.

What makes this really interesting is the way that modernity is still present, so that there is really a superimposition of two kinds of temporality.

A special case of this is Antonio Gamoneda's Descripción de la mentira. There is an obvious historical referent here: the death of Franco and the retrospective remembrance of the Franco period. Yet the poetic language itself has a kind of timeless quality. In the absence of its immediate context it could be about a thirteenth-century king and his vassals. St.-John Perse is an obvious stylistic model.

1 oct 2006

I woke up with bad heartburn last night at around 2:30. These are the thoughts that I had:

Looking at justifications for torture circulating nowadays, I think there are some questionable assumptions there:

We are uniquely virtuous. A technique that would be evil and reprehensible in the hands of other nations will not have the same corrupting effect on us. It doesn't hurt quite as much if the torturer is an American. Anyway we don't actually cut people's hands off!

If you are not a "terrorist" you have nothing to worry about. After all, we know that the 10,000 (or many more) people who disappeared in the Argentine Dirty War were all guilty of something. They never just picked someone up because her name appeared in the address book of another "subversive." Anyway, we have legal traditions like habeas corpus here that will protect us. [Oh... oops. Maybe we won't have that for long either.] Anyway, comparisons to Argentina or Chile are ridiculous. It's not like those regimes took their cue from the US or anything. Well, maybe the School of the Americas did train torturers; maybe Kissinger did give the green light for human rights abuses. But we've been uniquely virtuous since then, with a few tiny exceptions maybe...

Our enemies are uniquely evil. The basic human dignity that we recognize in all human beings is absent there. Why? Well, because they are the enemies of such a uniquely virtuous nation!

The war or conflict in question is a unique one. The "battlefield" is everywhere and anywhere at once. It has no conceivable ending, since "terrorism" cannot simply surrender to us one day. Rules of war made for more traditional conflicts don't apply any more, in the absence of spatial or temporal limits. Hence it is unreasonable to put any constraints on the use of military power.

The idea of American exceptionalism, in other words. No standard that we would apply to an Argentine general has any application to the US. Because, we are the US! Everything about us, our enemies, and the situation, is unique and does not fall under conventional standards like the Geneva Convention, the International Proclamation of Human Rights, etc...

28 sept 2006

Closing on my house on Monday. The whole process is a pain. It will be nice to be home-owner again.

27 sept 2006

Note to students. If you write beautifully and precisely for me I will love it. You will have 75% of the battle won.
Remind me never to get on [name deleted]'s bad side.
I was reading some criticism on Shelley recently. Don't ask why. I had picked up this Norton Critical edition with some critical studies in the back. Most are written from the 1940s to the 1960s, which is the apogee of the New Criticism, but what was striking was how New Critical positions were flouted. A constant invocation of Shelley's intentions (intentional fallacy), an urge to translate his poetry into conceptual terms (heresy of paraphrase). Little attention to language itself or to poetic form, as though Shelley had just been a social reformer who happened to write in verse rather than prose.

And this made me wonder: did the New Criticism ever filter down to the specialized study of authors? That is to say, didn't specialists on any particular author continue to do biographical, historical, textual, and ideological work beneath the radar of the official theories of the day? Or was it because Shelley was not in the New Critical mini-canon with Donne and Eliot, that specialists could ignore the critical orthodoxy?

I could say a similar thing about current studies of Lorca. Specialists in Lorca continue to do biographical, textual, and interpretive work. The more canonical the author, the more the positivist specialist model kicks in, for the normal course of criticism. There will be a small community of people interested in everything to do with their author, but relatively oblivious to theoretical considerations.

25 sept 2006

Did anyone notice that the "five star" review of a particular book on Amazon is totally sarcastic? It is signed "Poetry Hater":

You should read this book! Right in the introduction Billy Collins explains that most poetry is terrible (83%!). He explains that he likes poems that are easy to understand. I know . . . I know . . . is there really such a thing as a poem that's easy to understand?! I remember discussing poems in English class and it was like a whole bunch of confusing symbolic metaphors and similes and I was all like "this stuff SUCKS"! But this book has poems that are the best and easy to understand. They're mostly like little stories with short lines. My favorite one is a story about an old dog who finds a shoe out in the woods . . . pretty easy, right? It's called RELIGION which I don't really get (maybe that's what makes it a poem ;)) but it is a nice little story that makes you go hmmm? I haven't read any poetry in a long time because I didn't think there were easy poems like this out there but now maybe I'll try again thanks to Billy Collins. Thank you Mr. Collins! Maybe I'll become a POETRY LOVER and one day even write my own poems!

Hilarious! Without this review the book would average one star, but this brings it up to a "two-star average."
My 13-year old self says to me:

What are doing? What happened to your poetry? You became a mere professor, hiding behiind a wall of books.

My 46-year old self responds:

Yes, but this is all really your fault! You obsessed over writing the perfect poem, reworking one stanza all night. You were already a mini-professor at age 13, beginning to accumulate those books. You never just relaxed and wrote, or ran away from home. You doomed me from the start. You should have known what I know now. "Bald heads, forgetful..." You didn't seem to get that Yeats poem.
Isn't there a mystery behind every poem? A mystery you're not supposed to figure out?

Among twenty snowy mountain, the only moving thing... An old pond -- a frog jumped in. Siempre la claridad viene del cielo. As I sd to my friend because I am always talking, John I sd, which was not his name. So much depends upon the apparition of these faces in the crowd, petals on a wet black bough. Nothing in that drawer. Verde que te quiere verde. Nothing in the drawer. Nothing in that drawer. Like cellophane tape on a schoolbook. Each joining a neighbor, as though speech were a still performance. Empieza el llanto de la guitarra. Nothing in the drawer. You were wearing... Snow has fallen into the bottle of eraser fluid.

So the problem is not having "accessible" poems (or not). A poem of perfect surface clarity might be enigmatic--or a seemingly more difficult poem might not really be that mysterious after all, once you crack the code. Enigmatic luminosity in the one case. Covering up something clear (in a riddle) in the other. What proponents of "accessbility" want the poet to do is explain, in the poem itself, who John is and why I don't know his name, why the frog jumped in and what it "means," why Padgett's drawer is empty, what the red wheelbarrow "signifies," what snow has to do with white-out, what the color green "symbolizes."

The poem should "communicate" something, according to some people. Well, no. At best that's just a lazy way of talking about the phenomemon in question, a kind of imprecise shorthand; at worst, it's profoundly misleading, because what would the opposite of "communicating" be? Offering a verbal experience not wholly translatable into a communicatable message. And isn't this exactly what poetry does, withholding its actual message? The poetry is in what's not "communicated," or more precisely, in the tension between what is and is not said. I'm not making this stuff up. This is just poetic theory 101. It tends to get lost in the age of Garrison Keillor, of course.

24 sept 2006

It's never a good weekend when your student is killed by a hit-and-run driver.

22 sept 2006

Isn't a solo by John Coltrane much more amazing than seeing someone bench-press 10,000 pounds, or turn themselves into a bear? Those other acts might be impossible, but what Coltrane does should be impossible too. Even more so! Not in the physical sense of moving his fingers so fact, but in the ability to come up with something that amazing. Coltrane's solo is highly meaningful, but its meaning is in itself, or in our reaction to its amazingness, which is a kind of awe that we are even alive to hear such things. That's what poetry is about, a feeling of awe in the face of human creativity. I sometimes almost see a particular light coming up from the page when I read something that has that kind of quality, that absolute luminosity. Some people call this "spiritual." I don't care whether you call it that, or whether you don't call it that, but it has nothing to do with having poetry with religious "themes." In fact, it has little to do with any sort of theme at all.

Would anyone expect the "Best American Insurance Co." to really have the best insurance? That would be a mighty big coincidence.

21 sept 2006

"USUFRUCT - The right of enjoying a thing, the property of which is vested in another, and to draw from the same all the profit, utility and advantage which it may produce, provided it be without altering the substance of the thing."

What a beatiful word and beautiful concept. Usufruct. That's our relationship to poetry.
"Hand-crafted vitreous China."

Phrase from the cardboard box in which they have brought a new urinal for the men's room in the building where I work.

20 sept 2006

You could multiply the dictionary by a thousand and still not have enough words to describe what most people think and feel in a single day.

Surely the problem of expression has almost nothing to do with the quantity of words in the dictionary! We have more than enough words in quantitative terms. Mauve. Dilapidation. Nugatory. Remediation. Perfunctory. Hostile. Ennervation. Empresario. Cashmere. Incomplete. Company. I. Bitter. Button. Stint. Marooned. Carburetor. Otherwise. Chingada. Dust. Insular. Up. Derivation. Boundary. Miniature. Box. I could go on and on. Each word is universe of meaning unto itself. Even a *small* vocabulary of 10,000 words is susceptible to a number of combination that I am too lazy to calculate right now, but it's a big, big number.

Even knowing a whole 'nother language doesn't allow you to express more than you can in your first language. Learning new words, after a certain point, doesn't allow for more expression. It just multiplies the number of choices; like giving a bored child more toys it does not address the real problem; and in fact aggravates the problem. Boredom is not a function of the lack of toys. Would Creeley's poetry express more if it moved beyond his rather limited repertory of insistent echoes? What is Basho's lexicon, in quantitative terms?

Multiplying language quantitatively is a poor solution, unworthy of a brilliant theorist and Language Poet such as Mr Piombino. You can do much better than that!
to speak of rabbits or hares running
through the countryside is an exception, but not
when looking out from a moving train: rabbits
run among bushes; the eye
exercises and slips through the gray
and sparse grass perceiving--same in
same--the agile movement
with ears, and then the tail
of the magpie
that lands in vibration.

--Olvido García Valdés [my trans.]
I can own a book of poetry but I don't own the poetry in the book.


Reading is a palimpsest, a process of writing over what has been previously read. Reading a book over again is like tracing over the same letters on this palimpsest.


There can be no system for recognizing merit in poetry. Poetry arises out of friendship and collaboration, coterie and competition, as well as from "blind submission." It doesn't arise purely out of "meritocratic" institutions, and never will. It may very well be the fact that one's best friends happen to be the best poets around. For example, if one is Kenneth Koch in 1960. Or Ron Silliman in 1980. Poetry arises in clusters, not randomly through meritocratic processes. To say otherwise is to be ignorant of literary history.

On the other hand, we can't have the dog enamoured of its own fleas. Someone needs to have an intervention with Ashbery to make him stop before he writes another blurb for some minor British imitator of Ashbery.

Of course, coterie poetics produces its share of dross too. I just find this dross to be more interesting than, say, the run-of-the-mill college journal of poetry that just selects from the poems sent to it, but without any strong aesthetic agenda to guide the selection. I'd rather read a journal selected by someone whose aesthetics are antithetical to my own, but who has a stong sense of preference, than a selection by a committee striving for MOD blandness and ecleticism.

19 sept 2006

Ever thought about the inherent problem of taste? One can only judge someone else's taste, negatively or positively, by one's own. For example, if I say someone has good taste that will imply that that person's taste is an agreement with mine. It makes no sense to say someone has *better* taste than me, because this is epistemologically impossible for me to know. It would be admitting that my own taste is faulty, which is impossible, since MY TASTE is the measuring stick in the first place, my only criterion for judging. So people can only have worse taste than mine, by definition. The best one could say is that someone else's taste is almost as good as mine.

Doesn't this imply an impossibility of judging anthologies? That is, every reader is, by definition, in his or her own head, a better judge than the anthologist. The best one can say is that the anthologist is almost as good a judge as I am. So this is in a sense an optical illusion. For any given anthology, there will be a range, from people who say its *almost* as good as the anthology I would have made to people who say it's not nearly as good as the anthology I would have selected. What skews the distribution is that no reviewer would say it is *better* than the selection *I* would have made.

I'm not arguing here for the superiority of MY (Jonathan Mayhew's) taste, but for the absurdity of the measuring stick in the first place. However, there is no end to judgment. There's no way out of this box I've designed.
I could blog on politics if I wanted to. I have plenty of political opinions. The problem is that I couldn't do it better than Berubé, Leiter, or numerous other mostly political blogs that I read on occasion. Even if I wanted to do it, I don't have the time to keep track of every public depravity that occurs, and to moderate the number of comments that even a modestly popular political blog would be likely to get. [I noticed the Kirby Olson has become a right-wing troll on Michael Berubé's blog, not content with being a troll on Silliman's blog.] A lot more people have an opinion about Cheney or Rumsfeld than people who have an opinion about Clark Coolidge's prosody.

That being said, I think torture is wrong. It is one thing to have an opinion about whether one economic system is more just or efficient than another. I don't think the Soviet Union was condemnable primarily because it had vastly inefficient economic system, but because it tortured and imprisoned people unjustly. The first is mostly STUPID, but the second is EVIL. Conversely, the West was morally superior to the extent that it promoted human freedom, not merely ECONOMIC freedom. All economic systems seem to have their inherent problems, but respect for human rights transcends economic concerns for the most part, except where economic forces are so devastating that they become human rights issues in their own right. Which, unfortunately, happens all the time.

So I talk myself into circles whenever I try to talk politics.
Someone objected over the weekend when I suggested that "ad hominem" attacks on Lehman were justified.

But the issue is precisely one of character, or lack of character.

A good example of an ad hominem fallacy is Lehman's book on Paul de Man, which makes the argument that, since Paul de Man was a scoundrel in many ways, deconstruction is a flawed critical method, tainted by de Man's ethical failings. That is fallacious, because if deconstruction is bad criticism, it will be bad even if de Man is a saint. And if it is good criticism, it will be good even if de Man had particular ethical failings.

The argument against Lehman is that his anthologies are bad, and that they are bad in part because of his preference for mediocre people in his immediate circle, including, apparently, a spouse. That is not a fallacious argument, because there is a direct connection to be made. He is unethical in the very act of making the anthology, and the lack of ethics actually makes the anthology worse. [If he makes bad anthologies because he simply has bad taste, that is also a direct connection. That would be like saying that de Man is a bad literary theorist because he is a bad literary theorist. Tautological but not ad hominem in the fallacious sense.]

Billy Collins is evil, because he takes the highest art form possible and waters it down, perverts it. It is this very act that is evil, hence this is not a fallaciously ad hominem statement.

Many forms of ad hominem argument are, in fact, valid in the public sphere. If a wealthy person argues for tax relief for the wealthy, it is valid to point to the "cui bono" principle. In other words, to look at "who's saying it" as opposed to merely considering the objective merits of the argument.