28 feb 2006

I've been going pretty hard all day, teaching and writing.

Rothenberg's Lorca Variations (New Directions '93). I have sympathy for what he's trying to do in creating these poems that "both are & aren't mine," but I'm finding I don't care a lot about these poems one way or another in relation to the Lorca originals. They seem to lack resonance in comparison with the other texts I'm studying in this article. Rothenberg is better as a translator than as a poet, I feel--and even more significant as an anthologist than as a translator. That is, his great talent is in imagining those ambitiously large configurations of texts. To the point that nobody else has even come close to what he did in this area. it is not merel that he created better anthologies than anyone else, but that he invented a new genre of anthology. But his individual books of poetry don't convince me as much.
When making my plan to write one article a month for all of 2006, I didn't count on the fact that February had only 28 days. Still, I have made substantial progress on March's article even though Feb's is not yet done. I also didn't factor in my sloth.


Maybe "orientalism" is not the best word. What would you call this particular cultural "problematic"?

It turns out that, for all my protests, I am a secret believer in the duende myself. I am both the cultural critic analyzing the phenomenon from "outside," and an example of the same phenomenon I am describing. I wouldn't have become a hispanist in the first place without the damned duende. That's the point.

24 feb 2006

Debate in the comments: Rothenberg's notion of the "deep image," derived from Lorca and then popularized by Bly, is "orientalist" in a way that Spicer's After Lorca is not. Spicer is almost completely free of "españoladas," of folkloric elements derived from conventional notions of "Romantic Spain." I expect to have 77 comments in the next 24 hours to match Silliman's flarf post. But no bores need apply.

23 feb 2006

I've read Noelle Kocot's Poem for the End of Time and Other Poems from Wave books. The shorter poems have an unpredictable quality in their language that won me over. You never knew what was coming next. The longer, title poem lost me with its Ginsberg schtick, though it too had its flashes of brilliance.

22 feb 2006

Connections. Pedro Salinas wrote his great trilogy of love poetry for an American woman named Katherine Whitmore, a professor of Spanish at Smith College. Imagine her then turning around and teaching the poetry written for her to her students. When she did so she was overcome with waves of emotion, she writes. She married someone else, because don Pedro was not going to abandon his wife, Margarita. He could never understand why she had broken off the relationship. Any woman would be proud to be the muse for a poet like him, he told her. She wanted to break with him earlier, but he arrived in the U.S., lost and disoriented, and he could not take the shock.

Our friend Harriet Turner took classes with Katherine at one time. She didn't share the fact that the poetry she was teaching to the class was about her. She was apparently a great beauty, "every inch the lady."

It turns out the Katherine was born in Kansas and once studied Spanish at the University where I teach, before going to Berkeley for her Ph.D. So she is the most famous Spanish major in our department, though nobody alive now in the University would remember her. She was my grandparents' generation, born in 1897, and was six years younger than Salinas.

Hispanism in the U.S. is bound up with the exile community of Republican Spain. Guillén, Salinas, Cernuda, taught at American Universities. Other influential professors from Republican Spain: Antonio Sánchez Barbudo, Ricardo Gullón.
Cyrus Console spoke at the poetics seminar this afternoon on Melville. We had an interesting discussion, though I think Ken Irby talked more than Cyrus himself.
Funding approved for Austin AWP. Now I have to figure out what to say. Of course I have to buy a ticket. They only approved two weeks in advance.
I finished writing that instruction manual. In this case, a report for a publisher who wants to do an edition of a translation of a major work of Spanish poetry.


The ideal state of mind is relaxed alertness. In other words, you are alive to the world, not groggy, yet not tense or anxious either. The worst state is, by contrast, both groggy and anxiety filled, sluggish and nervous. Both the best and worst states, then, are combinations of two opposing "forces." In one case, you have the best of these two forces; in the other, the worst.

Medicating yourself through caffeine and alchohol is an attempt to gain this idea state of relaxed alertness, but tends to end up producing sluggish jittteriness instead.


I got a new troubadour anthology. Pound and Snodgrass, and third translator whose name is escaping me. As I said to Stan Lombardo, because I am always talking, Stan I said, which was in fact his name, I want to learn enough Langue D'Oc to read it without the translations. After all, I know French and Catalan, the two closest languages to it. Stan, who is translating Dante now, said any language that said "Oc" for yes was good for him.

21 feb 2006

Suppose we never talked about poetry. If we had a certain way of thinking about poetry but never articulated any of it. That's almost how I feel sometimes. That I must always reinvent the way in which ideas are articulated.
Barbara Guest's language has always had a kind of "ungraspable" quality to it, even before the highly elliptical work beginning with Defensive Rapture. It was always hard for me to get my finger on, hard to hear.
Looking for some novel angle that hasn't been covered yet, trying to force some new reading of a canonical text, can be tiresome. On the other hand, sometimes we can see something afresh. Why did criticism of WCW always seem so dull to me? All those MLA sessions on Williams and .... Williams and Medicine, Williams and Puerto Rico, Williams and... It seemed as though they couldn't see Williams himself. Or else the implication was that they had to go look for something new to say about him. That would never happen in the Ron Padgett Society.


A few years ago I noticed in the Graduate students here that, while they wanted to do Cultural Studies with its contextualization, they were still brainwashed New Critics and didn't want to let in any biographical information about the author. They were textual purists on one level, and impurists on another. It's true that biographical criticism is usually wretched. It's not that I'm incurious about biographies of writers, but that the facts of a biography almost never have explanatory power in the way biographers think. On the other hand, if you are going to let in all sorts of contexual information, then prohibiting the biographical and only the biographical seems inconsistent.


A student in my class made the equation free verse = no rhythm. I almost flipped out. If even Jim Rome's radio show has a rhythm, why shouldn't a poem by Vallejo?
My premise as a critic is that most poetry written has been understudied, that there is always quite a bit more to be done. That is why I almost never run out of ideas of articles to write. (Finding the time and energy to write them is another thing entirely.) Of course, the canonical bias in literary studies means that interpetions of Milton or Calderón will pile up endlessly. Hence the false crisis of the 1970s, when English professors realized they had nothing new to say about Milton and Donne. Well of course you don't! Why not write the first book-length study on James Schuyler or Barbara Guest instead?

Lorca is overstudied, but so much of the scholarship is not that good. There are contemporary poets about whom very little has been written.
My dream: Someone else was coming out with a version of the book I had just translated and so I had no possibility of publishing my own.

19 feb 2006

The delay: Things I'm done with. While we're at it, let's be done with visuality in poetry, all those annoying images and evocations.
Generations are bridges to the past. We had a friend for dinner last night, who told us she had taken a course with Cernuda. He wasn't a very good professor, not surprisingly. Our recently departed friend John Kronik corresponded with the legendary Spanish writer "Azorín." He saw Hitler on the street one day as a young boy in Vienna.

16 feb 2006

People go to extremes in order to be different. But the remarkable differences are the subtle ones.
For me, a critical problem has to involve a paradox of some kind. The thesis has to be counter-intuitive to some degree in order to be worth arguing. Otherwise I fear it will fall flat.
From Josh Corey's blog I learn that Barbara Guest has (apparently) passed away. With her, modernism in literature. She's one of the last writers with a living connection to modernism, and the driving force of her recent work is a kind of nostalgic late-late-late modernism. There is a kind of exquisite preciocity I associate with her work, and a model of elegance I associate with women of her generation.

What is modernism when it becomes nostalgia? That's a critical problem I've been working on in several articles recently.
I wish you were smarter than you are. Then I would have someone to talk to.
Here's a fascinating dynamic: the way Lorca's own "orientalism" in relation to the gypsies is replicated in "orientalist" readings of Lorca himself by American poets.

15 feb 2006

If the economy of poetry is an economy of scarcity, the scarcity in question is not that of poetry or poets, but of serious critical attention. Imagine being a poet of 40 years old (or 60!) with a serious body of work, but maybe you've only had a few casual book reviews of your work. The Spanish scene is notable for its critical indigence. I think we do a little better here, but still leave much in the inkwell. Where are the first-rate critical essays about Kenneth Koch? Who, aside from Alice Notley, has written intelligently about Ron Padgett?

Maybe you'll say criticism is not that important. I disagree. It provides the best insight into what actually happens when a really good reader reads. It is a documentation of poetry in action, your poem in my mind.

As is often the case, the critic might feel inadequate. There might be others more capable of writing the critical piece I am writing. Those who are more capable, however, don't always step up to the plate.
I'm near to finishing February's article. It's about the way this particular book of poetry seems to opt out of certain modes of presentation. I'm particularly interested in the resistance to the sexualization of the female author.

In Spanish literature since Franco, that sexualization is one way women writers can get noticed. One of the only ways. It's kind of the "Colette syndrome." I'm not saying I disapprove of Colette, but surely we don't want to make all women writers into Colette or Anais Nin? Just saying.

March will be my Kenneth Koch/Creeley/Lorca article. Ben Friedlander is being very helpful back-channel with this project. He really knows his Creeley.

My Diacritics article on Celan and Valente is coming out this Spring. It will be a 2004 issue, but coming on in 06.

I could be accused of re-writing this article in my Beckett/Valente article finished in January. Of course, Beckett is not Celan so the two pieces are very different--approaches to the same critical problem from different angles.

14 feb 2006

For example, a poem published in The Hat as a line in my c.v. My Inner Academic has something to say about that. Should there be some kind of separation of powers here? I don't throw a football around in your church, why do you insist on praying at my football game? Something like that.

Maybe it's because I don't respect the "creative" project of some other academics I have seen around these parts.
I'm rather unsure of my self-image. I could think of myself as a top scholar of 20th-Century Spanish poetry within U.S. academia. That's true enough and I have the publications to back it up.

Or I could think of myself as a kind of a humanist throw-back, still devoting myself mainly to "literature" while the field around me shifts to cultural studies. Maybe I'm mostly an old Comparative Literature Guy who happens to be in a Spanish department.

Or I could be a poet/translator who just happens to have a day job as someone teaching Spanish in a University.

You know me mostly as a blogger--a poet by default given the topics discussed on the blog.

My status might vary depending on which identity is given precedence at any given moment. Not that my self-image depends on status...

Well, it does in a way. What is more stratified and status-obsessed than a university, the place where I work? It is hard not to be invested in this.

It's funny that others don't see me as "interdisciplinary." Others with far fewer interdisciplinary chops get access to that title, by dropping a few names into their articles. I wouldn't call myself interdisciplinary unless I really had the same level of expertise in some second field, that I have in my original "discipline." I don't count "Cultural Studies" as a separate discipline. It's mostly just an eclectic body of knowledge about the relevant culture that anyone should have anyway. I know a little history, a little film, know the general intellectual background, a little theory in the mix. With this, and knowing how to do research, so I could do Spanish Cultural Studies as well as the next bloke. I don't have much discipline anyway.

12 feb 2006

I'm in the forthcoming The Tiny along with some poetry heroes of mine. David Shapiro and Jess Mynes to name a few.

8 feb 2006

I am reading a book in my field from reputable University Press that I find flojísimo. Limited cultural contextualization, (on a topic that is inherently "cultural" rather than primarily literary.) A failure to mention some very key texts, because literature (for this particular critic) means only the novel. A "writer" means only a writer of prose fiction. A kind of mechanical dissertation-like feel of going through the motions. Writing not very good. A rather facile treatment of the topic.

Yet the topic is, literally and figuratively, a "sexy" one, and so the book was published. It is a symptom of the very phenomenon it claims to analyze: the sexualization of literature.
I'm getting rather Lorcaesque lately / and I don't like it. / Better if my poetry were, / instead of my lives. So many aspects of a star, // the Rudolph Valentino of sentimental reaction / to dives and crumby ex-jazz hangouts.

And I shall never make my LORCAESCAS / into an opera. I don't write opera.

This is interesting, that this poet also identified a particular Lorcaesque mood writing in 1957. I think I've found my epigraph.

But what does the adjective "Lorcaesque" mean for him? I have some sense that it means self-dramatizing in a kind of campy way, a kind of seedy, slumming New York sentimentality.
"No me hagan lorquismo," Lorca told his actors, acting in a production of "Bodas de sangre."

"Don't give me Lorquian Kitsch" in other words.

This shows that Lorquian Kitsch already existed in his own lifetime. That he himself was aware and on his guard against it.

He wanted to avoid such simplifications. But how seductive they are!

7 feb 2006

I've always liked this post, I am not my music's fault, by composer and bloggist Kyle Gann. It seems to me the exact right position to take. Of course, it doesn't work with poetry that takes a definite political position. We can't have poetry of such a musical purity that political questions will remain outside the discussion. I'm not sure what the "bracketing" rules should be. Should we blame the poem "Ode to an Onion" because its author, Neruda, was a Stalinist? Of course, the communist ideas are there, in the poem, too. It's not a question of depoliticizing it. Yet the poem also seems to escape that dimension, in that the author is putting the best face of his ideology forward. It seems a perfectly innocuous version of an ideology that also had very nocuous results. It's not the poem's fault that there was a gulag, that the author of the poem took pro-Gulag positions, etc... All we have is the humble onion, minding its own business, mildly symbolic of a better world to come and the author's sympathy with the working class. The onion never sent anyone to a concentration camp. Or did it? Can we celebrate Pound's happy little Confucian workers without seeing in them a metaphor for the fascist state?

Sun up; work
sundown; to rest
dig well and drink of the water
dig field; eat of the grain

So is Neruda cynically disguising his ideology, or transcending it by revealing its uncorrupted core?
"Lorca es andaluz. ¿ Por qué no tengo el derecho de ser peruano?" (César Vallejo). Lorca is Andalusian. Why don't I have the right to be Peruvian? In other words, why accept the regional difference in Spanish within Spain, and not the difference between Spain and Latin American? Why is Lorca's Spanish seen as comprehensible, and Vallejo's not?

This edition of Aphorisms, translated by Kessler and published by Green Integer, seems based on a corrupt or unreliable text. For example, the sentence above reads "Lorca en andaluz." (Lorca in Andalusian). I've corrected it--although I could be wrong.

6 feb 2006

How about Frank, who brings Auden and Maiakovsky together (in the same poet if not the same poem)?

I think what Ron was trying to say was that Brodsky had no interest in Vladimir M., and when he came to the U.S., had no interest in really interesting modern poetry, preferring the Auden strain of English-language verse to the poetry influenced by the international avant-garde. I remember too that Brodsky wasn't too popular for his political stands either (support of Vietnam war?) when he came this way. Denise L in the APR took him to task both for disdaining free verse and supporting the war.

If we see New Criticism and Russian Formalism as two branches of "formalist" criticism that developed independently, Brodksy fell in with the Auden-influenced academic school influenced by New Criticism and was distant from the Formalism of his own homeland, associated with the Soviet but pre-Stalinist cultural ferment of Russian Futurism. In all of this is an implicit equation: Russian Formalism is to Russian Futurism as Anglo-American New Criticism is to the anti-modernist neo-modernism influenced by Auden and a certain reading of Eliot's essays. In other words, both RussForm and NewCrit are the critical movements parellel to and supportive of certain manifestations of literary modernism prevalent in their respective milieux. Roman J. even wrote some futurist poetry, I believe, in the same way JC Ransom and Allen Tate were both New Critics and founders of the anti modern neo-modernist school that sought to displace the radicalism of actual Modern Poetry.
i'm trying to write this poem for my congressman, Dennis Moore. It's pretty hard to do. I want to write one that he would really understand, yet that isn't written in the political language that he is forced to use to market himself to his constituents. It can't just be a bad political poem. At least he is a Democrat.
What would it mean not to have ideas about poetry? I'm sure Joseph does have ideas about poetry more often than he thinks. I appreciate his nice comments about this blog in the past months.
Neruda was famous for his enemies. Jiménez, Huidobro, Larrea, Bergamín, Rokha. At one point the entire country of Cuba sigend a letter denouncing him. He fought with Vallejo.

Of course, many of these enemies are also notorious for their emnities, especially Jiménez and Bergamín. Jiménez called Neruda "un gran poeta malo." Someone wrote a book entirely about Bergamín's fights. Maybe it was a conflictive period, that 20th century.

Pablo de Rokha accused Neruda of not being Marxist enough, of ignoring the aesthetic lessons of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao.

2 feb 2006

I always thought that the word "avatar" should have some connection with the word "atavistic," but there is no link at all. despite a certain phonetic and semantic kinship. There could be a new word: "avatistic."

"Miniature" should have something to do with the prefix "mini-" meaning small. But once again, no. It comes from a seemingly unrelated Latin word for a kind of red dye used to make small pictures.
I can't get myself to choose Vallejo over Neruda, even though I wouldn't disagree with that choice. Neruda made some political and poetical missteps--Vallejo died young and was spared the fate of a long decline. Have they ever made a movie out of Vallejo's life?

I still prefer Residencia en la tierra to almost anything else in modern Spanish-language poetry.

Veinte poemas de amor is probably the most popular book of poetry in Latin America.

Both Vallejo and Neruda make Huidobro look a little superficial. Vallejo makes Neruda look too facile, too prolific. Yet the best pages of Neruda...
Pantoum Beginning with Lines by Jordan Davis and Jonathan Mayhew

It's fatiguing, consuming all this Stalinist Sadism.
Samuel Beckett and César Vallejo are buried in the same cemetery,
Sartre and Poe are buried elsewhere,
And Pound and Ginsberg wander undead between epitaphs.

Samuel Beckett and César Vallejo are buried in the same cemetery,
And Walser, wherever you are, no more jokes on Thomas Mann!
Sartre and Poe are buried elsewhere.
Sarah Orne Jewett however is alive, and living with Amy Beach by the shore.

[please write the next line in the comments. The rule for the poem is that each line must contain references to two individuals, like Sade and Stalin in the first line. I reserve the right not to use your line if I don't like it].
Lorca was probably the most cited Spanish-language poet in the context of U.S. poetry from the late 1930s until Neruda's Nobel prize in 1973, but since then Neruda is clearly the most popular. Just browse the best sellers at Amazon under Literature and Fiction / Poetry / Spanish and you will see that Neruda occupies the spots of 1, 3, 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 18, 19 21, 23, 25, 29, 31, etc... (For yesterday, anyway). No other poet even comes close. The other top sellers are not Vallejo or Lorca, Jiménez or Machado, but what appear to be children's books like Tortillas para Mamá and Arroz con leche. (I'm actually pleased that people seem to be reading poetry in Spanish to their children.) ( #19 is Bly's Neruda and Vallejo, which is still in print after all these years. The top rated Lorca book is at #42.)

1 feb 2006

The key is sort of textual misprision. At the risk of sounding like Bloom again, I would argue that such misprision is the central dynamic to consider when discussing the assimilation of "foreign" poetries. We want to look for misreadings, because they will tell us more than more faithful readings do. What does an English-speaking person "see" when reading poetry translated from the Spanish? So Creeley and Koch become significant for me because they weren't major translators from the Spanish. I've decided to focus on these two figures.

Imagine two circles touching each other at a single tangential point. That's one image of poetic influence. Or two circles which overlap in about 5% of their area. At first I thought this would give me nothing to say, but it's turned out to be the opposite. That concentrated 5% becomes the zone of increased focus. It is interesting *because* it is small.

The simply bad translations of a Bly are not critically interesting. Mere mistakes, mere incompetence, are not interesting. That Bly's version is accepted as legit--that might be more worthy of note.

James Wright was a good translator though.
Two Episodes in the Assimilation of Spanish-Language Poetry in the U.S.: Creeley's "After Lorca," Koch's "Some South American Poets"

This essay is going to kick some serious ass. I'm psyched about it.
To tell the truth about a traumatic, but private experience, one must exaggerate, in order to get the *emotional* truth over.



I see Kasey has come over into the Church of Joseph Ceravalo. It's about time. What took you so long?