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.