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...