22 dic 2007

I have a strong urge to blog through Bach's unaccompanied cello suites... Maybe I will after returning from California vacation... Just write something brief for each of the six sections of the six suites. 36 posts as a musico-poetic sestina of sorts. I won't let my lack of musical knowledge stop me. A little dancing about architecture.

21 dic 2007

Here's another motivational trick for Thomas Basbo/ll [can't get that slash to pierce the letter o, sorry]

Do things quickly. For example, if I get two articles to review for a journal, I will read them the same day I get them and write up my reports within a day or two. Why? I am likely to be more busy, not less, at any given moment in the future, than I am right now. Waiting for a time when I am less busy is not all that productive. And by doing them now I am making myself less busy in the future too, since part of feeling "too busy" is having a lot of things still to be done. Also, having "more time" to do something is not helpful if it is a routine task that can be done fairly quickly. You are better off if someone gives you less time to do that kind of task, because then you end up having more time--for something you'd rather be doing.

If I am asked to review a scholarly book I don't let any time pass between reading the book and writing the review. I begin to formulate sentences of my review as I read, and then the review is essentially "written" in my head by the time I finish the book. I can write a 600-word book review in less than an hour after finishing the reading.

However, you should never work on a book review or other minor project instead of your main project in your minimum number of minutes of writing per day. Work on your main project first. Then you can do a few other things later on in the day, a letter of recommendation, the review of an article, a blog post... If you wait till your desk is cleared to work on your major project, then you will never work on it.

So to summarize: do minor writing tasks quickly, but not at the expense of the big enchilada.

19 dic 2007

Here's a literal version of a Lorca poem I just did.

Blackberry bush with gray trunk,
give me a cluster just for me.

Blood and thorns. Come closer.
If you love me, I will love you.

Leave your fruit of green and shadow
on my tongue, blackberry bush.

What a long embrace I would give you
in the penumbra of my thorns.

Blackberry bush, where are you going?
To look for loves that you are not giving me.

Now for the critique: C. rhythmically there's nothing going on here. This is essentially a folk song: it needs to be set to music, and it is not presently cantabile. The original rhymes, with one distinct rhyme per couplet. My version just kind of comes to a clunky stop at the end of each line.

There are a few phrases or lines that might be salvageable in a final version" "Blood and thorns," "in the penumbra of my thorns." The version is literal where it doesn't need to be. I don't like the verbs "leave" or "look for." Would the bush really say "What a long embrace I would give you?" So here's version 2:

Blackberry with your gray stalk,
give me some berries of my own.

Blood & thorns. Come near.
If you love me then I will love you.

Put your fruit of green & shade
onto my tongue, blackberry.

How long our embrace
in the penumbra of my thorns!

Where are you going, blackberry?
To find the love you won't give me.

The tone and the rhythm are still off. The third couplet is still weak. It needs to be recast somehow. Lorca uses two parts of speech, "verde y sombra," adjective and noun. Shade is probably better than shadow. The implication is of a plant that grows better in the shade.

It's a courtship song. The blackberry bush is a woman (zarzamora), maybe, then, a "mora"? (Moorish woman). It's a childlike but very erotic dialogue. The man approaching says, "give me some of those blackberries." She seems willing, but the juice of the berries is transposed into blood. Her embrace is dangerous, maybe even fatal--though this is in the "penumbra" of the poem's meaning. At the end, the approaching lover is too afraid, and the Mora is going to choose someone else.

So how much of that does my translation convey? I feel I'm still at the C+/ B- level, yet I don't quite know how to fix it either. I can't make it more sexualized because that has to be implicit. You can't say "But you / are rich / in savagery— / / Arab Indian / dark woman" as Williams once did. (How embarrasing!) Spanish folk songs about Moorish women are not that crude. Think of "Tres moras me enamoran en Jaén..."


I looked at an early edition of Canciones today in the library and the exclamation point was there in the next to last stanza, as i had intuited in my translation. (It is left out in the version I was working from originally.) Of course it was syntactically an exclamation all along, so I can' claim that much insight: ¡Qué largo abrazo te daría / en la penumbra de mis espinas!"

There are popular songs with the figure of the zarzamora (blackberry), such as

"A la zarzamora
que en el campo se regaba sola
sola se regaba
con agua de la mar salada"

[The blackberry who in the wild watered herself alone, alone watered herself with water from the salty sea.)

In other words, she thinks she is self-sufficient, watering herself, but she is ultimately watering herself with tears.

18 dic 2007

Here's one thing I do: if I finish a chapter, as happened today, and I still have another ten minutes left in my scheduled writing time, I immediately start to work on some other section of the book. I don't just celebrate and stop working for the day. It's a way of letting the momentum carry you forward. That extra ten minutes of writing will produce some extra ideas in the shower the next morning.


You've all heard of the professor who doesn't publish much, but his/her work is of high quality, etc... That's always seemed counter-intuitive to me. Such people do exist, as well as the proverbial academic who turns out huge quantities of bad material. But the general human pattern is that if you do more of any activity you'll get better at it. If you're good to begin with, you'll get better. Even the mediocre overproducer will probably get better over time. The brilliant person who writes one or two articles will never get to the that 10th or 20th article that is even better. So my second stupid motivational principle of the day is that quantity, intelligently managed, produces quality.


I have some horrible work habits too. When I talk about how much I'm getting done you should understand that I am a lifelong procrastinator, very disorganized, who could have produced several more books in my career were it not for my essential laziness. I've always had the drive to publish, and have done enough for a successful academic career, but until recently I was not husbanding my efforts very effectively. I was actually holding myself back.
When it's dawn just throw some sort of cloth over me
because I know dawn will toss fistfuls of ants at me,
and pour a little hard water over my shoes
so that the scorpion claw of the dawn will slip off.

Here's Robert Bly attempting a stanza of Lorca. I've put in bold the elements that do not correspond to any element in the original stanza.

"Cloth" is Bly's translation of "velo" [veil, shroud]. You can almost read the translator's mind:

"What does velo mean again? Oh yeah, some sort of cloth." Bly does that with Machado too, translating "Quimera/ Chimera" as "mythological beast."

What motivates this kind of translation? It cannot be fidelity to the original OR a desire to create "a new poem in English" blah blah blah because redundancy, verbosity, etc.. are not usually considered to be more poetically effective in contemporary English. So I think that those who see those two goals as fundamentally opposed do not realize that sometimes neither factor comes into play. Often, too, the literal choice will actually be more effective as poetry in English (surprise, surprise) because it just works out that way.

I don't think vandalism is the motive either, because Bly is no Dadaist. I am befuddled.

{Cúbreme por la aurora con un velo
porque me arrojará puñados de hormigas,
y moja con agua dura mis zapatos
para que resbale la pinza de su alacrán

Cover me at dawn with a shroud
for [it] will throw fistful of ants at me,
and drench my shoes with harsh water
so the claw of [its] scorpion will slip}

17 dic 2007

I got a Klee wall calendar for Akiko today. When I showed it to her, she said she already had a calendar for 08, and showed me her Kandinsky calendar, made by the exact same company. It might be a better "Gift of the Magi" story if it had been the exact same calendar. At least both names start with K.

16 dic 2007

I read in the NYT today that Americans spend "more than 50 billion dollars" on toiletry items a year. I guess that seemed to be a lot because any number in the billions seems huge. At least that was the implication of the particular review I was reading. But the US has a population of 300 million, so that is $166 dollars per person, per year. That's awfully low, less than 50 cents per diem on average, for something that almost everyone uses. Since I'm sure some people spend hundreds of dollars a month on hairspray, etc... the average has to be much more than that.

What does the average person think when reading about the XXX billion dollar a year YYYY industry? A billion dollars is 3.3 dollars per person, right? So an industry of that size is pretty insignificant to the size of the economy as a whole, though it would be highly significant to someone with a major stake in that particular sector.
Here's another one: merlines = wizards (instead of "Merlins"). Here the translator erases a trope (antonomasia, like when you use the word Einstein to mean "genius.").

15 dic 2007

The seminar continues...

There's a kind of translation-effect that you would think would be quite easy to avoid: flattening, or choosing a word much less powerful and vivid than the original.

"La piedra es una frente donde los sueños gimen"
Stone is a forehead where dreams grieve {Stephen Spender)

"gemir"= to moan, cry out, is stornger than "grieve," which refers, usually, to a mental state.

"Mientras las llamas te cercan"
"While around you are flames" (A. L. Lloyd)

"cercar" could, should be translated as "besiege," not merely "surround." "around you are" is especially weak.

"Camborio de dura crin"
"An authentic Camborio" (SS)

"crin" is the mane of a lion. What happened to the hard mane of the lion in the word "authentic"?

"guardias civiles borrachos
en la puerta golpeaban"
"were knocking at the door" (SS)

Golpear is to hit, pound, not merely "to knock." If a Spaniard wanted to say merely "knocked on the door" he or she would say "llamar a la puerta"

"de la lluvia que busca débil talle"
"of the rain that seeks the feeble form" (Merwin)

"talle" is "waist." It can mean "form" or "shape" in a metaphorical sense, but this particular choice is considerably weaker, less visual.

Kirkland translates "sonsonete" as "sound." A sonsonete is usually an irritating sing-song effect.

(most examples from the New Directions Selected Poems of Lorca)

And so on... "silent" for the stronger and more specific "mute" ...

This particular kind of (mis)translation is not based on a lack of comprehension of the text, since one assumes that the translator has understood that, yes, the drunken guardia civil is at the door, etc... It's interesting that it seems to go more in one direction than the other. The translation is typically flatter than the original. (The choice of a stronger word where Lorca has a weaker one is more unusual, though that can happen too. Merwin writes "charred" where Lorca had written the equivalent of "burnt.")

These are not mistakes or mistranslations in the usual sense, since they fall within the general semantic range. You could imagine a situation where you'd want to translate gemir with grieve (you could, maybe, but I can't), or golpear with knock. But why would a translator want to consistently err on the side of weakening the effect? It's like making a photocopy of an original and having the print look obviously fainter.

Lorca is a poet of the five senses. Whenever the word chosen by the translator is less visual, tactile, or auditory in its effect than the original word I think a mistake has been made.
The books of poetry of which I have at one time or another memorized substantial proportions are Shakespeare's Sonnets, Claudio Rodríguez's Don de la ebriedad, Alianza y condena, El vuelo de la celebración, Casi una leyenda, Antonio Gamoneda's Libro del frío, and Pedro Salinas La voz a ti debida.

And of course, Lorca's Romancero gitano and Diván del Tamarit.

Now I must shovel snow.

14 dic 2007

For some reason I associate doing a close reading of a poem in the middle of a critical essay with bicycling up a very steep hill in a very low gear.

... and reading over a paragraph to see what needs to be changed is passing one's hand over a piece of silk to see what "catches" on it. That metaphor should be reversed in some way because the silk should be the paragraph, not the hand.

13 dic 2007

I am writing my current book for the chimerical "general audience." The college-educated (or advanced undergraduate) literate person who is not necessarily a PhD in literature (or aspiring to be one). Even if such a person never reads the book, the literature professor who does read it will still feel the pleasure of something readable--I hope. The originality of the argument and the actual content should still be of interest to the more or less specialized reader too. I often write with specific people in mind, readers who I think might enjoy my book. That helps to focus the attention on the reader. I think: what would Joseph Duemer think about this point? Of course, I don't really know, but it helps me to realize whether something is convincing, clear, etc... I'm sure other writers do the same thing.

There's nothing like having an article in a prestigious journal and then to look back ten years later and see that this article has been cited by THREE other scholars (in the best cases; the mean is actually zero). My last book got all of four book reviews.

That's why I don't really understand why all academics are not bloggers. I get to hear about more interest in my ideas in an average week on the blog than I would over a five year period just writing books and articles.
Is a "romance" a "ballad"? Imagine the following debate:

PEPE: It is a functional equivalent. Both are rhymed, anonymous, narrative poems. Metrically, the English ballad stanza features lines of about the same length as the Spanish octosílabo or 8-syllable line, so there is some functional equivalency there too. So yet, a romance is a ballad.

MARICARMEN: Pues no lo creo. The "romance" is a culturally, historically, and linguistically specific form. "Romance" meant the vernacular language, in disinction to Latin. Hence the "romance languages." The French derived their word for novel ("roman") from this word, the Spanish took their word for a certain kind of narrative poem from the same root. Later we had "romanticism." By translating it as "ballad" you are wrenching it out of that context.

The ballad is something different. Also a cultural distinct form that took shape on the border between England and Scotland. To call a romance a "ballad" is grotesque.

PEPE: The "romance" is also a border form, which took shape during the reconquista on the border between Christian and Muslim Spain. Another functional equivalency. How else would you translate it?

MA-CA: I wouldn't translate the title at all. That is too much of a concession to the reader, who will think she knows what a "ballad" is from her knowledge of the folk traditions of the British Isles.

PP: Next you be telling me that gitano cannot be translated as "gypsy"! You're exasperating. Translation is always a search for cultural anaogies. Some work better than others, but "ballad" is the best we've got.

MC: You're right, gypsy is a horrible word. I prefer Roma, the term that the actual gypsies call themselves so my English-language version of Lorca's Romancero gitano will bear the title "Romancero / Roma.

12 dic 2007

Suddenly, as I was reading about Lorca and Dalí, I remembered my teenage poster of the melting watches of "The Persistence of Memory." Then I remembered my other posters in the same room. On the inside door, a nearly life-size Humprhey Bogart in suit and hat, a long rectangie covering basically the whole door. A rather large Brueghel of peasants, which I probably got after reading Pictures from Brueghel. I'm pretty sure it was the one called "Children's Games," though it could have been another one of peasants dancing. (I am getting some interference from a jigsaw puzzle I once had.) And Picasso's "Three Musicians." There is no difficulty remembering all this, because I saw these things daily from age of 14 to 17, yet the memory was not present to me until today, thirty years later.
I got back some reader's reports on the Lorca book today. Professor X and Professor Y both had laudatory things to say and some suggestions for improvements, corrections. I like that fact that X said my book will annoy some people--and that that is good thing.

10 dic 2007

The Rolfe Humphries 1953 translation of The Gypsy Ballads of García Lorca, published by Indiana University Press, is not a bilingual edition. This is much less excusable because of the date: the reader probably didn't have easy access to the Spanish original or an alternate translation. Humphries says his translation is in blank verse, but it is not. There is not an iambic pentameter line to be had. I think he means simply unrhymed, because he goes on to say that he throws in a random rhyme whenever he feels like it.

I'm glad to have this book as part of the record of Lorca's reception in the US, but it inspires in me violent thoughts toward the translator. Turning something wonderful into something grotesque, and not even doing it out of disrespect, but out of a total lack of self-awareness...

9 dic 2007

Between 1921 and 1936, the year of his death, Lorca wrote

Poema del cante jondo, Canciones, Suites, Romancero gitano, Poeta en Nueva York, Diván de Tamarit

and, in the theater

Mariana Pineda, La zapatera prodigiosa, El amor de don Perlimlín, Comedia sin título, Así que pasen cinco años, Bodas de sangre, Yerma, Doña Rosita la soltera, La casa de Bernarda Alba

Plus some other short plays, lectures, and poems not included in his major collections. (For example the short sequence of sonnets that was not published until long after his death.) More than a dozen major works in sixteen years. It is hard to understand this level of productivity, since this is not a matter of finding a formula and repeating it twelve or fourteen times, but of constantly experimenting, doing something different in each work of lyric poetry and drama. Maybe only Byron, dying at 36, is an equivalent case of not only dying young, but dying young with a fully formed work in multiple genres.

7 dic 2007

I was reading Rothenberg's Suites in the Green Integer edition, which is not bilingual. It really gave me a chance to appreciate the translation for what it is, without the distraction of the original. Many of these poems read quite well. It's really a delightful translation in many ways. When I didn't like a particular line, which happened a few times, it was because I didn't like it, not because I was comparing it with Lorca's original. When I happened to remember the Spanish original for a particular line it was distracting. When JR quoted "skip to my Lou" it was fine, because I wasn't worried that this was an imposition on the text.

Usually I am an advocate for bilingual editions, but I already have this same translation of the Suites in Christopher Maurer's Collected Poems of Federico García Lorca. Reading a translation AGAINST the original is a completely different sort of reading, one that cannot withstand my irritating nitpicking.

6 dic 2007

Take my Lorca and American poetry survey! Send me an email to jmayhew "at" ku "dot" edu. I've disabled comments for this post because I don't want people to "contaminate" one another's answers. By writing an email to me with the subject heading "Lorca Survey" you agree that I can use your answers anonymously in the book I am writing. If I want to quote you by name I will ask your permission.

(1) Name a poem by Lorca and the name of a book of poems by Lorca off the top of your head, if you can. Use either Spanish or English, whatever comes most naturally.

(2) What American poet writing in English, living or deceased, do you most associate with Lorca? Name one American poet you think is antithetical to Lorca. What other poets NOT writing in English do you associate with Lorca? (You can give reasons for these answers.)

(3) Without looking up the answer, tell me the dates of the Spanish civil war. (If you don't have a good idea and don't want to embarrass yourself just say 'pass.")

(4) Write one sentence or two that summarizes your own thoughts about Lorca and your own poetry or the U.S. poetry that most interests you, or your reasons for NOT being particularly interested in anything to do with Lorca if that is the case.

(5) How well do you read Spanish, if at all?

(6) Without looking at any books or reference materials, name one Spanish poet (from Spain, not Spanish America) who is currently living. (You can pass on this one too; I'm not interested in embarrassing anyone.)

Maybe this survey will not yield interesting results, but I thought I'd give it a try anyway. Even if you know very, very little about Lorca your answer could be helpful because I want to know what people who don't know much actually do know, if that makes any sense.

5 dic 2007

Now I have to start writing as though the praise offered me were accurate. Starting next week.


Imagine a composer with severe back pain. She writes a symphony of a certain complexity. Now if a biographer wrote an essay explaining the symphony as the expression of the pain, we might be a bit skeptical. Biographical interprerations like this seem remarkably impoverished: the biographer says "Aha! I've discovered the secret behind the work," but the back pain itself is as banal in and of itself as anyone else's. The complexity of the work is out of proportion to the reductiveness of the explanation. What is more interesting, anyway, the symphony or the back ache?

Now substitute the "emotional pain of having been spurned by a lover" for the "back pain." Is the explanation any better? If the music sounds like "spurned by lover" music anyway, the biographical explantion is otiose. It's a nice romantic back-story for the program notes, but who really cares?

Now substitute an elaborate psychoanalytic acount of the poor composer's childhood. The essential poverty of the explanation remains, but somehow the intellectual respectability quotient seems to rise, because now there is a richer metalanguage in which to dress up the cause. Still, the composer's childhood is like any one else's, pretty much, with the inevitable variations. The music is stunning and unique in a way that the explanation is not.

Put another way, even unique and interesting people often produce banal, derivative works of art. If the life is more interesting than the work, then the reductiveness is moving in the opposite, and wrong direction.

On the other hand, many people care more about the back ache then the symphony, the romantic back-story than the work of art itself.
And [Scott Eric] Kaufman singles out Jonathan Mayhew’s Bemsha Swing as a source of “the best writing about writing out there, a consistently sound motivator for me to stop reading blogs and start writing my dissertation. (Odd praise, that is: it’s the blog that makes you want to stop reading it.)”

Thanks SEK!

(and to Andrew Epstein for calling this my attention this morning)

4 dic 2007

The long-lost manuscript for Poeta en Nueva York showed up at one point and was sold by a London auction house to the Fundación García Lorca in 2003 (controlled by the Lorca family). Lorca had left it with Bergamín in Madrid right before going to Granada, where he was shot a short time later. For years a controversy raged, acrimonious at times, in Lorca studies. Some scholars thought that Bergamín had just "invented" the book, that it really should have been two books, Poeta en NY and Tierra y luna. Now we know that is not the case.

A critical edition published by the foundation and based on the manuscript should appear in 2009--69 years after the New York and Mexico publications of the two competing first editions.

Textual problems have haunted the reception of PENY for years. How can you read a book if you're not sure it really is a book, if you don't have any certainty about its definitve state? Normally that confidence precedes the reading of the book. The answer, for me, is that you read the version you have. The American reception of Lorca, the object of my particular project, is based on faulty editions and less than ideal translations, but those were the editions and translations that actually were used and we can't go back in time and change that.

3 dic 2007

Conversation in the car...

--Are there any French horn solos on this? [Miles Davis' "Birth of the Cool]

--I don't think so. I think it's Gunther Schuller playing. He's not really a jazz player...

--No, I think it's Julius Watkins.

With what twelve-year old would such a conversation be possible? I asked myself coming in from the car. Then the obvious answer: with MY twelve-year old. Where did she even hear of Julius Watkins, who is a jazz French horn player but is not in fact on BOTC?

Children absorb a lot from their parents, I guess.

1 dic 2007

I've come down from about 164 lbs. around a year ago to about 146 now. You probably wouldn't notice the difference if I had my shirt on. I never looked particularly overweight, since I have a kind of "squarish" frame. I'm not sure where those 18 pounds were lost from exactly. I've never dieted or tried to lose weight per se, never regulated my eating aside from trying to eat things that actually taste good. I just walked five or six miles a day for about eight months until I started riding a bike around town for about an hour (average) a day.

As with the writing two hours a day, my own preferences make things easier. I have no interest in watching television or drinking soda, for example. So I don't have to budget in tv watching tiime to my days or bike an extra few miles to burn off that coke.

At 170 and five-eight I would possibly open myself up to type II diabetes given my family history. And I would have hit 170 by my fiftieth birthday in 2010 on my previous regimen--or lack of.

30 nov 2007

Working at least two hours a day for four months (122 days in this case) did produce five chapters of a book plus an introduction, leaving me three chapters and a conclusion to go. And I still have December left. My concentration got better over the course of the August-November period, so I can actually get more accomplished in a shorter amount of time.

I know most people don't have two hours a day for four or five months straight. I'm very lucky to have an NEH Fellowship this year. If you are on the tenure track or tenured at a research university, you are actually supposed to be working 40% of your active working time on research (where I work at least). So even if you only worked a 40 hour week (you'll be doing much more usually), that amounts to sixteen hours a week. So what I'm suggesting is a 14 hours minimum: two hours seven days a week, which is two hours less than sixteen. But I'm assuming that you do that through the summer too, not just during your 9-month appointment.

The problem with the school year is that service, supposedly 20%, takes up more than eight hours a week. and teaching, another 40% takes more than sixteen, assuming I am in class six hours and reading for class, preparing, grading, and dealing with the students for more than 10 hours each week.

In addition, I personally need several hours a day for reading, thinking, blogging, etc... that has nothing to do with research, teaching, or service in any MEASURABLE way. I need to read the New York Review of Books, poetry outside my "field," Andrew Shields' and Joseph Duemer's blog, etc... I need to read things in my field even if I will never do "research" on them or use them in my teaching. Not wasted time at all but time that is not counted as "productive." If I hadn't been doing that kind of "work" I would never have written the book on Lorca, because I wouldn't have had that idea without letting my mind wander for hours wherever it wants to. I'm sure every other academic in the world feels the same need.

So when I get back to "work" after my lazy year, I'm going to have to readjust my system a bit. I've always been bad at time management because I've never known where work ends and where the thinking, reading, "idle' time starts.
Is tautology objectionable because it is uninformative or because it is fallacious?
Now I'm starting a chapter called "Lorca par lui-même." As of now I have a lot of paragraphs most of which seem to be repetitions of each other. I was apparently writing down my ideas in the document without realizing that I already written the same ideas in a different form.

The idea is sketch out my own ideas about Lorca before I talk about " Lorca and..." in the rest of the book.

I always liked the illusory sense given by that French series "Rimbaud p-l-m," "Racine p-l-m." etc... That illusory sense of getting the author in the author's own words. Barthes played with that when he himself wrote a book called "Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes." There may even be a book called "Lorca par lui-meme." I'll have to check amazon.fr.

"Selected works" are just as tendentious as critical studies. They impose a certain agenda.

28 nov 2007

I need a little arrogance--as a necessary fiction--in order to write. Being genuinely excited by my own ideas. I need to get in the mind frame of thinking that I'm terribly intelligent in order to make the ideas flow. (Call it the Coleman Hawkins effect.) Then if the results actually do turn out well, all the better. The alternative is that it won't get written at all. I can't write from a position of non-confidence because the prose won't come out that way. It not only won't turn out well, it won't exist in the first place.

Revision entails a similar attitude. I see something very inadequate I've written, and I know that I can revise it into something much better. In fact, I can even be arrogant about my ability to see how bad something is I've done the day before.

These comments are in reference to critical prose, not the writing of poetry which is something a bit different.

27 nov 2007

The indifferent wind ran through the Aeolian saw-blades of the former mill-town. Thick wet mud left only a few roads passable in the surrounding countryside. Big-boned, intrepid Anna braved narrow gravel passageways to deliver firewood and sarcastic cheer to the acne-scarred denizens of Acacia Country. They bought their guitar magazines and treatises on apophatic theology in the convenience store run by the unenigmatic Miles. Taking off her gloves, Anna answered his muttered greeting with a withering look--there was no other kind of "look" in the county, no other kind of "greeting" for that matter.

Artificial owls, an ineffective deterrent to English Sparrows, guarded garages and carports. A stranger finding himself unexpectedly in these environs might well be struck by the material and aesthetic impoverishment of the population. Garden-gnomes, rusted pickups, the aforementioned plastic owls, the aforementioned guitar magazines, seemed designed by some callous creator to present the image of a non-too-genteel indigence. Or maybe not... The marijuana farms, the artisanal distilleries, the mountain bike trails (when the mud dries out enough to make them usable), narrate a different account, for the more astute oberver, attuned to the allusive repartee of those browsing the wares in Miles' establishment. Two or three weeks suffices to gain a superficial appreciation of the difficulty of the problem. It was three or four months after my own arrival, in fact, that I realized ...

26 nov 2007

I had a Creeleyesque idea the other day which is that I can only inhabit a single day. I can inhabit another day at some other time, but only one at a time. It was a strange perception in its obviousness. Everybody knows this, so to picture it as an epiphany seems odd, but it felt like that to me.

Now I don't feel this way about, say, an hour, or a minute, or a week or month or year. It is the day that is the temporal dwelling place, the time that can be inhabited at one stretch. Maybe that's what makes it untrivial.

Why does it seem Creeleyesque to me? It seems to me that that is what he is constrantly trying to get at. That "phenomenological" sense of being aware of being alive in a certain frame.
Tonight I made a pretty decent chicken curry by putting in the blender a clove of garlic, about the same amount of ginger (if ginger came in cloves...), a small onion, 4 oz. of tomato sauce, a red bell pepper, some ground cumin and garam masala, sauteeing the resulting paste in some oil and butter, and then adding a little water, some cut-up boneless pieces of chicken and a small container of plain yogurt. Salt to taste and cook until the chicken is done. It would be good with about a quarter teaspoon of cayenne pepper or even more but I didn't add it because I was trying to reproduce a restaurant dish that my daughter had liked which was quite mild. I didn't need to put as much water as I did. The sauce was thin but the leftovers should be fine.

I also cooked up some orange lentils with a little turmeric, black mustard seeds, nappa cabbage, and ginger for a nice soup.


The other lentil soup I like involves making a "sofrito" first by sauteeing onions, garlic, and bell peppers in OLIVE OIL in the bottom of a pressure cooker, then adding brown lentils, water, a carrot or two sliced up, and the normal bay leaf, salt, pepper, etc... Pressure cook for 20 minutes, then, when you can open the contraption, add some cut-up baby spinach and cook till that is wilted. It makes a very substantial meal with some bread.


Someone in line in the farmer's market told Akiko to cook swiss chard in a little olive oil, chopped garlic, and raisins. That is very easy and we've been eating that lately.

I made a kind of relish last week by sauteeing tiny pieces of fresh poblano peppers with diced onions and a dash of cumin. It is good on burritos. You want to use twice as much poblano pepper as onion. It's one of those "3 ingredient recipes."


My recipes never have quantities. I rarely look at a cook book when I am cooking something I basically know how to make.
What ever happened to Conrad Aiken? He won all the awards back in his day. Yesterday I played apophatic bookstore for a spell before falling asleep. I also tried to look at my bookshelf at home when I was a kid, where a copy of the Preludes was almost certainly present. Maybe being born in the 1880s Aiken suffered comparisons with Stevens, Eliot, Williams, Pound, H.D., Moore, Stein, Cummings. There doesn't seem much room for a minor modernist.

To play "apophatic bookstore," you simply close your eyes and visit a bookstore in which you once spent a considerable amount of time but which no longer exists, or which you no longer have access to. You wander up and down the stacks and look for books that you might have once browsed through there. I had very specific images last night of books by Kafka and my first glimpse of Magritte. I have spent a good part of my life in bookstores.

25 nov 2007

Real insomniacs have already played any game I might invent. Maybe they should be games for aspiring insomniacs.
Alfred A. Knopf himself, personally, rejected Langston Hughes' translation of Romancero gitano (Gypsy Ballads) in the late 1940s. Literary history would have been different if this book was accepted. It finally appeared only as a chapbook by the Beloit Poetry review in the early 1950s. Imagine what impact it would have made as a trade book by a major NY publisher?
I'm working on more games for insomniacs--"The Apophatic Bookstore," "Symphony Orchestra," "Chicken Farm."

"Cento" is one I've used myself. You simply keep a steady stream of famous lines of poetry, or lines you've memorized in the past, going for as long as you can in your mind. You can use single lines, fragments, or whole poems, and break off a fragment whenever you wish and go on to something else.

Unlike "The Complete Sentence Game" Cento is not theoretically infinite. At a certain point you will run out of poetry to recite to yourself in your head. You will never run out of sentences.

"Sentence Fragment" resembles The Complete Sentence Game except you can freely intersperse fragments of sentences. Like this one. Or this one. Make sure you come to a full stop, marking the end of the fragment with a mental period.
Why I am not a Lorquista

I am very bad at interpreting symbols in poetry. For example, today I was reading some articles that explained why Lorca had put in certain animals in a very difficult poem. There were plausible explanations for the langosta, but the explanations seemed equally possible for the langosta as "lobster" and the langosta as "locust." I found myself not caring too much. The more clever the interpretation of the symbol, the more distance traveled between the natural object, its more or less "transparent" sense, and its symbolic interpretation, the less convincing it is. Yet some degree of doing this is necessary to interpret and understand some Lorca poems.

Maybe I am not interested in "symbols" in poetry in the first place. I don't see poetry as a process of encoding ideas in symbols that the reader then must decode. I understand why anyone who is taught that this is what poetry is might grow up to hate poetry.

Maybe that's why I'm not a "real" Lorca scholar. I am not ever confident ever that my particular take on a poetic symbol is the correct one. There are people who are really good at this and come up with convincing, coherent readings. But there are also those who strain credulity.
I finished a chapter on Rothenberg today. I now have the "core" section of the book done: chapters 4-8 on deep image, Creeley/Spicer, O'Hara, Koch, and Rothenberg. Now I will start on the introduction in earnest.


I've also been riding my bike for about an hour a day. (Except for today and tomorrow with the rain!) I've ridden most every day since I got the bike on October 1. It hasn't rained much, hasn't been that cold yet either, so I've missed only a few days due to horrific allergic reactions to mold and a brief trip to Virginia. It seems to help the writing quite a bit to also be quite physically active.

22 nov 2007

Mayhew is almost a caricature of the type! And I don't mean that negatively. It's that dissonant combination of openness and rigor--holding the tension!. Yes--that's what it's all about--holding the tension. He's amazing--such sharply formulated opinions and yet... he doesn't know what he's going to like till he sees it! So that what he likes, you can trust comes, not from abstractions imposed on what he reads, but from what he discovers from his reading, in the reading. To me, that frees me to both listen deeply to his opinions, and at the same time, never feel obliged to be beholden to them--or to believe he would respect anyone who did.

I wish I were as rigorous as Jacob thinks I am. Sometimes I do know what I like or dislike in advance, though I try not to. And for me the openness is the rigor, in a sense. Or the rigor is in the openness. The fighting against one's dogmatic tendencies.

While the praise is a bit over the top, I do feel that this is perceptive comment on the whole; it rings true with me. I've often felt I'm wired differently from a lot of other literary critics, and this comment "pone el dedo en la llaga" [nails it].

21 nov 2007

Now a languid, unjazzlike, barely listenable "Greensleeves." Yuck. What a sad decline.
Blawking the Hawk, Belabouring the Bean

Now Phil Schaap is giving one of his notoriously long spiels. He is certainly knowledgeable, probably more than anyone alive on this subject, though given to incredible long-windedness and making rather obvious statements. He also doesn't realize that just because he knows some piece of trivia, does not make that trivia significant to any else. Play some music, Phil!
The best solo I've heard today was on "I'm in the Mood For Love." Hawkins with Eldridge, Teddy Wilson...
Blahgging the Hahk

I've heard more this morning, somewhat distractedly as I was writing about something unrelated at the same time.

More thoughts:

Aside from sheer power and confidence, his playing has a kind of exuberance, even at a slow tempo. It's a "Here, let me show you what I can do" feeling. The virtuosity is not over the top in a showy way. A lot of it just having that big sound.

He has a particular rhythmic and harmonic vocabulary over which he has total control. He knows every note of every chord and will play it too. He doesn't need to strain for effects, just step slightly harder on the gas pedal when he needs to.

He plays his style. It's improvisation, yes, one of the first great examples of that in jazz history. But it's not Lee Konitz style improvisation in which there is an emphasis on the purity of the process, the avoidance of pre-established licks and formulas. It's very formulaic in fact. That's part of what gives it it's feeling of self-confident ease, maybe. (Feel free to disagree; I feel my insights are still incomplete here.)

He also has the quality of "tastiness" to which I'd like to devote a treatise. Kind of like umami for the ear. Harold Land has it too.


Coleman Hawkins preferred to have a guitar in the rhythm section for a "fatter" sound.

20 nov 2007

Bloggin' the Bean

Now the Coleman Hawkins event has started for sure. I just heard a track with Roy Eldridge, Curly Russell, Art Blakey, Horace Silver. Blakey has a killer bass drum thump. It's not a little 18" polite jazz bass drum sound.

I'll be blogging this event as it occurs. I have to sleep, eat, shop, and work too so I won't be able to listen to all 24 hours of it.

My first thought is that Hawk is not an over-subtle artist: he makes a supremely self-confident statement in every solo. (Maybe my idea will change as I listen.)

Secondly: he fits in well with the bebop rhythm section. He is one of the great artists of the 40s, though his roots are in earlier jazz.

Now he's playing Rodgers and Hart's "Blue Room." It ends with a big Blakey buzz roll. (It's a live Birdland date.)


Now "Stuffy," a song I know from another recording. Hawk plays four choruses. He basically just plows forward, straight ahead, increasing intensity gradually through the beginning of the fourth chorus, then easing up a bit.

Roy Eldridge's solo uses very similar phrasing to Hawkins. Now they are trading fours with Blakey. Those must be calfskin heads tuned low.


The WKCR announcer said it was Connie Kay on drums? But the club announcer said Blakey I'm pretty sure. And it sounded a whole lot more like Blakey to me.


Now we'll hear Bean with Ben Webster, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Herb Ellis.

Hawkins solos first, on a slow-to-medium blues. He signals intensity with timbre and pitch, not by playing faster.

Now the sweeter Webster. The ideas are not too creative here!

Now Mr. P. He just fills the space in without doing much. Not an impressive track.


"It Never Entered my Mind." Another Rodgers and Hart ballad. A nice paraphrase/statement of the melody, by breathy Ben Webster, then Hawkins steps in. The rhythm section is a bit clunky. Something doesn't feel quite right.

Stay tuned...
They are doing their Coleman Hawkins celebration on WKCR in New York, which I am listening to streaming over the net. I thought it was tomorrow but it is already going on, apparently, because I just heard an umistakeable Hawkins solo. It's hard to believe Stan Getz and Coleman Hawkins play the same instrument.

19 nov 2007

I haven't been playing the complete sentence game much lately. I'm falling asleep too fast maybe.

Here's another one, called "walking out of the house and going down the street."

Close your eyes. Now, in as much visual detail as you can muster and in real time, or as close at you can get to it, go out of a house in which you lived as a child and walk down the street. Take note of everything you see. See how far you can get (walking or on your bicycle) from your house. Visit a park or a school. Try to fill in the spatial gaps if you can. ( Slowing yourself down helps quite a bit.) Try to have a conversation with a person you encounter--though I myself tend to find the streets empty of people as I play this game.

Now do the same with the place you live now. Leave the house or apartment in your mind's eye and get in your car or on your motorcycle and leave. Where can you go while keeping a consistent visual image. If it takes you twenty minutes to drive to Powell Symphony Hall, for example, you should try to make this trip last twenty minutes in your mind's eye.

Another variation on this is to move through the rooms of a childhood house, examining the objects you find there. You can open books you find on the shelf there and read them...

(You, like my students, probably think I am mildly insane.)
On a good day of writing I make discernible progress on a specific chapter, and the light-bulb is flashing with good ideas every 15 minutes or so. There are some sentences I am happy with.

On a normal day, words are added to the word-count. Some progress is made toward completion of something. The passive voice is abused.

On a below average day, I have the satisfaction of keeping the project going, even without making very great progress.

So there are really no bad days.

18 nov 2007

That doesn't mean after the translator has gotten within 95% of the norm the work is done. No. That's when the significant differences occur. A translation could be grotesque or wonderful and still fall within that range. What it means is that the main issues will have to do with acceptability within the target literary culture.

Let's look at an example, the opening of a Lorca poem:

Aquellos ojos míos de mil novecientos diez
no vieron enterrar a los muertos,
ni la feria de ceniza del que llora por la madrugada,
ni el corazón que tiembla arrinconado como un caballito de mar.

--FGL, "1910"


Those eyes of Nineteen-Ten, my very eyes,
saw no dead man buried,
no ashen bazaars of dawn's mourners
nor the heart, in its recess, like sea-horses, wavering.

Statman and Medina from the most recent APR

My eyes in 1910
never saw the dead being buried
or the ashen festival of a man weeping at dawn,
or the heart that trembles cornered like a seahorse.

What is the variance between those two versions, and the variance between either of them and Lorca's stanza? Belitt might not even reach the 95% standard. He's at about 92% maybe. Statman and Medina are at about 97%. (These percentages have no real quantitative meaning; I'm just using them as a way of communicating my own judgment.) The only thing that they leave out, in semantic terms is the demonstrative force of "aquellos ojos míos..." I'm not saying that 100% is ideal, either. Look how Belitt, in trying to keep both the demonstrative adjective "aquellos" and the emphatic force of the accented "míos," totally fucks up the line in rhythmic terms. In fact, he seems to be trying for a padded iambic pentameter there.

So the superiority of the Statman/Medina version is not that extra 7 percentage points of accuracy. I don't really care that Belitt switched a plural for a singular and a singular for a plural, that Statman/Medina intensify a "did not" to a "never."

No. The superiority is in a better feel for the text, better rhythm and diction. Would I have translated this the way Medina/Statman do? No. But that is because I am a different translator. My version might be closer or further from the norm, i.e. the average of linguistically competent translators.

17 nov 2007

I love wire brushes because of the textural dimension and dynamic potential. The take trap drumming a step toward hand drumming, in the variety of available sounds. There's a horizontal movement in place of the mostly vertical, up and down dimension of sticks. There's also a sensuality there. Metal on skin. I had a lesson just on brushes today and I got a lot of good metaphors for poetry out of it. Hopefully I'll be able to play them more convincingly too.

"Conviene percutir"

I've always like that line by Valente. (It behooves {you} to percuss)

Brushes are only part percussive, the other part being frictional. That's where the sensuality comes in.

They work at fast tempos too.

16 nov 2007

More tips on finishing your novel or dissertation

If you are traveling and having a hard time sitting down at the computer, bring a legal pad and just brainstorm for as long as you can. You will keep up the continuity with your project and also refresh yourself by working in a different context/medium. Or print out previous work and bring it along so you can edit it. Don't say it is impossible to work without every single piece of research material on hand.

I find it useful to write in the morning and then at some point in the afternoon have a planning session--away from the computer-- in which I think about what I am going to do the next day and week and jot down a few notes--which I never look at the next day.

If you absolutely must skip a day of work, make sure you don't think about your work AT ALL. Just start a new cycle the next day.
Mayhew's 153rd idea about translation

Once a translation falls within an acceptable range of semantic accuracy, then the main issues remaining to be discussed will have to do with the target language and culture, not the source text and its traditions, etc...

An acceptable range of accuracy could be defined as something reasonably close to the "consensus" translation as defined by the most frequent translation of any given phrase or sentence arrived at by at least half a dozen competent translators. In other words, a translation is faithful if it does not diverge from the norm by more than 5% or so.

After a certain point, any quibbles and arguments have to be considered in relation to the needs and desires of those reading the translation. It won't do any good to evoke one translator's superior knowledge of Chinese, or Russian if the two translations being compared are, semantically, not-all-that-far-apart.

So once a translator is satisfied that the semantic part is present and accounted for, he or she should not go back to the original much.

The alternate view, which I am rejecting at least provisionally, would be that the translator's goal is to get closer and closer to the original, making a version more perfect than the simple consensus view.
Data Laundering

The dryer had some kind of object in it which was making a clanking noise, as though I had left a fingernail clipper or a quarter in my pants pocket. So I opened the dyer and found... a Kingston data drive that I had been missing since coming back from Virginia. Very dry, the one where I store a backup of my entire Lorca book. Doesn't matter, since I have everything backed up on Kingston Data Stick #2.

But I was curious, so I took #2 off the USB port and attached #1 (very clean and dry) to the port. Opened up a Lorca chapter... and my data was still there, seemingly unscathed after having been washed and dried.

Greek Salad: Green leaf lettuce, pitted Calamata olives, red onion, crumbled feta, vinagrette.

Gambas al ajillo: Shrimp sauteed with garlic in olive oil, with a little salt and paprika, a little white wine added in at the end.
To celebrate the completion of another chapter this morning, this one on the shallow image, I took my longest ride today since I was a teenager. 18 miles give or take a few. From my house in Olivette MO to Washington University, around the 7-mile Forest Park bike trail, and back home. My legs do feel like I have biked 18 miles, but I am not particularly tired otherwise. I stopped twice for about 20 mintues each time, once to eat lunch and once for a latte near Wash U before heading home. Perfect biking weather of 50 degrees, wind from the South at about 15 mph.

15 nov 2007

Harold Bloom seems to be praising Robert Alter's Psalms in the New York Review of Books this week, but actually he is saying that Alter's translations do not hold up to previous translations, that they are the translations of a scholar not a poet. All the lavish praise at the beginning of the review, you know it's not going to end well.

And Harold has been fretting for years about the lack of significant Jewish contribution to American culture? What about Benny Goodman, Stan Getz? Saul Bellow and Philip Roth? Malamud? Harold Arlen and Kenneth Koch? Jerome Rothenberg? Allen Ginsberg? How about Zukofsky? Larry Rivers? I could go on and on though for some strange reason only the names of men are occuring to me right now...

12 nov 2007

I met two people in one day in Charlottesville who, completely independently of each other, had translated Creeley into Spanish--Pieces in one case and Life and Death in the other. How's that for a convergence? I kept waitng to meet Creeley's third translator. One of these is Marcos Canteli, a grad. student at Duke and friend of Tony Tost. The other, Alan Smith, a friend of my wife's whom I had never met myself and knew only by name as a scholar of 19th century Spanish novel.

My friend the Spanish poet Juan Carlos Mestre was there too. I gave my talk on Lorca and Frank O'Hara.

7 nov 2007

I'm headed to Charlottesville for an hispanic poetry conference at UVA. I'm hoping my Seinfeld streak is not broken by travel. I'm 99 days into it now. If I can get through this trip I'll be set until December.

I'm about a week from completing this chapter on deep image poetry. I'll have a bit to say about Robert Bly, then about Rothenberg's Lorca Variations.

Bly is on record as saying

"... the younger poets, in failing to attack Merwin, or Rich, or Levertov, or me, or Ginsberg, or Simpson, or Hall, or Ed Dorn, are not doing their job."

[emphasis added]

So quite literally, HE'S ASKING FOR IT. Though I've decided to blunt my attack somewhat. It isn't the main focus of my book.

Then I'll have to find a way of finessing the JR issue.

4 nov 2007

Just when I thought of Creeley as sentimental I come across

"Between what was
and what might be
still seems to be
a life"


"Gods one would have
hauled out like props"


"When the world has become a pestilence..."

"the ridiculous small places
of the patient hates"

"Oh dull edge of prospect"

or maybe

"Shuddering racket of
air conditioner's colder

than imagined winter.."

A rigorously unsentimental view of life, really. Not every poem is of the "magnitude" of Creeley's "major" early lyrics, the ones everyone knows.

But part of that is a sense of limitation, of measure. There are no easy epiphanies to be had.

Anyway, Creeley turns the idea of being "major" on its head, as in the poem "EPIC"

"Wanting to tell
a story,
like hell's simple invention, or
some neat recovery

of the state of grace,
I can recall lace curtains,
people I think I remember,
Mrs. Curley's face."

What is the yardstick? Can Creeley's Minimus Poems be "greater" than Olson's Maximus? Isn't funny how greatness implies a sense of scale, of sheer size? Like Creeley's poem for Berrigan that does acknowledge that size and scale of a different kind of writer...

What's the rap on Creeley?: domestic, trivial, self-indulgent, dull, no "images," or uninteresting ones, weak sense of narrative, stuttering, strained, limited and minimalistic--too "theoretical," too involved with the sense of writing itself. Yet each of many separate instances gives the lie to all that.

3 nov 2007

Today I'm making a Boatman's Stew.

Boil some water, and while the water boils

Take some cod (1/2 pound per person) and lay it in the bottom of a different saucepan.

Add to the pot with a the fish: a bay leaf, some salt and pepper, a little white wine, a T of olive oil, cayenne pepper to taste

some chopped celery, tomatoes, onion, garlic, bell peppers, parsley, a smallish potato, etc...

With all of the above there in your pot, with the cod at the bottom, pour the boiling water over it till everthing is covered and switch it to the burner that is already hot from boiling your water. Cook 45-60 minutes over medium heat. There will be a tasty broth filled with fish and whatever else you put into it.

This dish cannot fail with high quality ingredients.

Eat with a little fresh bread.

2 nov 2007

I wrote a letter to The New York Review of Books about the Simic / Creeley review. Very moderate in tone. It basically says "I'd love to show Simic my 400 pages of Creeley." I doubt they will publish it because they get "thousands of letters."


Certain of us need the Creeleyesque. Sometimes for me it's an actual physical craving I get on occasion for that particular tone, that "insistence," to use a word he himself might use. It's a language that without him would not exist, an idiolect. For me, unoriginal poet, it's a useful register to be able to call upon. Creeleytude, Creeleytas.


Certain others are Creeley skeptics, the way I am a Duncan skeptic. The skeptics say that it is dull (Berryman), that there's nothing there. There's probably nothing to be done--in the sense that a justification not immanent to the work itself will not convince. It is an immanent sort of thing. The Creeley skeptics are not less cultivated, less intelligent, or less anything else. They are just less in need of what Creeley offers. It's there in just a few words, recognizable

"Most explicit--
the sense of trap"

1 nov 2007

This woman, tonight, read every line of her poetry with the exact same (monotonous) intonation and (loud) volume, whatever nuance or emotional tone the line should have had, way too loud into a microphone, in a high-pitched screech. (Did I mention she was LOUD?) Stephen Schroeder and I were sitting in the back listening to this. The thing was, the poems themselves were very good, if you listened through the reading, not to the reading. They were funny. The other two readers I'd prefer not to comment on. At least Ms. Screecher had good poems.

I hate poetry readings.
It takes Ron about 4,000 words to twist around what should have been a positive--The Hat is a good magazine, good poems and poets, clearly defined editorial agenda--into a negative. With some misdirection about fonts (what's a "san seraph" by the way? I've never heard of that category of fonts! something to do with a lack of angels?), the lack of contributor notes, alphabetial order, etc.., a little slight of hand, he ends up with the conclusion that the strength of the magazine is really a weakness. Ok... if you so say so.

I'm totally biased, of course, since I am a Hat contributor. I think it's pound-for-pound about the best publication that's out there. That's the only criterion that matters. The more you overthink it, the less clear you will be on that.

31 oct 2007

I finished three chapters of my Lorca book this month: Creeley + Spicer / O'Hara / and Koch. Now I am having various expert readers look at them while I forge on to write the "deep image" chapter in which I present a novel and original theory about this school of poetry. It's funny when I get into "completion mode" the number of words in a chapter goes down each day rather than increasing. Each day I am unwriting 500 words instead of writing them.

92 days of the Seinfeld chain method, from August 1 to October 31, is what produced these chapters. Two hours a day of writing was difficult to manage on some days, quite easy on other days. Some days I was highly productive and the lightbulb lit up numerous times, other days I was a relative dullard, but the continuity of the effort paid off.

Late next week I'll be in Charlottesville VA for a Hispanic Poetry Conference where I'm speaking on Frank O'Hara and Lorca.

29 oct 2007

How are YOU celebrating Clifford Brown's birthday?

25 oct 2007

The White Horse

The youth walks up to the white horse, to put its halter on

and the horse looks at him in silence.

They are so silent they are in another world.

--D.H. Lawrence

This was one of Kenneth Koch's favorite poems, I'm guessing, because he put it in his anthologies "Sleeping on the Wing" and "Making Your Own Days." It's the basis of a writing exercise in "Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?" and I think in "I Never Told Anybody" as well, his book about teaching poetry to people in convalescent homes.

Reading it today it suddenly hit me that this kind of D.H. Lawrence poem was a source for "deep image" poetry. That particular tone is like that of Bly's

"Old men are sitting before their houses on car seats

In the small towns. I am happy,

The moon rising above the turkey sheds."

(Differences of quality aside, of course.) That's a more plausible source than a lot of the European poetry critics have seen behind Bly's poetry. I'm not sure why I hadn't thought of it till now.

23 oct 2007

"In any of the three following poems fill in each of the blanks with any number of words you wish (including none) attempting to make a complete and satisfactory poem. Do not alter any of the existing words or punctuation or increase the number of lines."

(The Collected Books of Jack Spicer 356)

The second poem Spicer provides for this excercise is his own translation of Lorca's "Juan Ramón Jiménez," the first poem included of After Lorca, with some of the words left out :

In ............ endlessness
Snow, ............ salt
He lost his ............ .

The color white. He walks
Over a ............ carpet made
............ .

Without eyes or thumbs
He suffers ............
But the............ quiver

In the ............ endlessness
How............a wound
His ............ left.

Snow, ............ salt ............
In the ............ endlessness

Give it a try.
Around the beginning of 2007, I started walking pretty seriously, trying to get at least five miles a day. One day in the spring I noticed that my abs were a little harder; I had a little more energy. Didn't think much of it. I had gone down from the mid-160s to about 160. October 1st of this year I bought a bicycle and have been riding every day. A bicycle was my main mode of transport from 4th grade through graduate school, so I took right to it, and have been riding every day. Today I went to forest park, rode around about on the path, and came back--probably 15 miles or so. All of a sudden I weigh 150 instead of 160. I'm only walking about 2 miles a day, but biking between 6 and 10. I'm no iron man, but I'm in moderately good shape. I wasn't exhausted after riding for a few hours, up and down some easy to moderate hills with some flat stretches.

Today I made caldo gallego by making a broth with a soup bone, part of a ham-hock, and some salt pork, then adding potatoes, white beans, and turnip greens. I roasted some organic poblano peppers in the oven, which Akiko peeled, and made some chile rellenos by stuffing them with cheese, dipping them in whipped egg whites (with a little of the yolks added back) and frying them. Trader Joe's green tomatillo salsa on top. I can eat well, and pretty much anything I want to. I have low cholesterol and blood-pressure, no health problems to speak of, and good looks too.

Life is good.
Ron kicks Simic's ass

Yet there is a problem here. A really good article on Creeley's career would have to deal with the problems. While I have Creeley poems I love in every volume he ever published, there is a different kind of reading necessary to deal with later works in which there is too great a diffusion. It cannot be a triumphalist account, but an account that confronts this issue. The late Ashbery and the late Creeley are still poets that are better than almost anyone else, yet not as consistently good as they once were. There is a kind of diffusion of energy. It is not that Creeley became too experimental, but the opposite, that he settled into a comfortable style.

I would enjoy reading 1,500 pages of Creeley, but part of the process of reading would be to pick out the 80 pages I really want to read. I wouldn't enjoy reading the 80 pages that someone else had picked out for me, nearly as much.

22 oct 2007

No poet left behind

Reading Susan Howe's My Emily Dickinson (a book I am really fond of) I came across this startling statistic:

"Between 1861 and 1870 only one British infant out of eight survived its first year of life, and as many again died between the ages of one and five."

This seemed wrong to me. That would mean that the average woman would have carry sixty-four pregnancies to term to have a single child survive to the age of six. (She would have to withstand an average of eight pregnancies to get one child past the first year, so she would need 64 to have eight survive the first year, one of which would then survive the fifth year.) I assume "as many again" means "as high a percentage" not "as many numerically," because you simply couldn't have that many deaths between 1 and 5: there wouldn't be enough surviving infants. Basically there would be no Englishmen today if this trend had continued for more than a few years.

I found some more plausible (though still horrific) numbers on the first website I found after a google search, for a somewhat later date: :

In the upper-class areas Liverpool England, 1899, 136 newborns out of 1000 would die before they reached the age of one. Working class districts maintained a rate of 274 infant deaths per 1000 births, and impoverished slums had a horrifying 509 infant deaths per 1000. Even as these rates improve towards the end of the Victorian Age, infant mortality remained at over ten times the current rates in industrialized nations. Alexander Finlaison reported that one half of all children of farmers, laborers, artisans, and servants dies before reaching their fifth birthday, compared to one in eleven children of the land owning gentry.".

So even the worst slums had slightly above a 50% infant mortality rate--horribly bad but not nearly the 77.5% for all of Britain that Howe gives us.

So possibly Howe is simply inverting a percentage she read somewhere--maybe one in eight died and she says that one in eight survived?

18 oct 2007

Plus I must love making lists.
Looking at list below Montale through García Márquez is a pretty good run, if Elytis is as good as they say and I feel like giving Joseph Duemer his Milosz.

More non-Nobels:

Calvino, Perec, Sorrentino, Breton, Apollinaire, Pynchon. (No postmodern fiction of the US at all; no Oulipo, no surrealists)

Susan Howe. James Schuyler. Allen Ginsberg. (No NAP in the the Nobel!)

Jabès, Derrida, Blanchot.

No women modernists writing in English (Woolf, Stein, Moore, HD, Barnes, etc...).

René Char. Juan friggin Rulfo. Cortázar.

Did I mention Joyce, Proust, Borges, Woolf, Celan, Asbhery, and Char?

Did I mention Jabès, Borges, and Lezama Lima? Kenneth Koch, Lorca, and Borges?

Look, I won't say that some Norwegian or Danish writer I haven't read is unworthy of the prize, but it's very easy to come up with an alternate list of writers better than all but a very few.

17 oct 2007

It's not just that the Nobel Prize passed over many great writers, the Henry James, Mark Twain, Woolf, Joyce, Ibsen, Strindberg, Lorca, Pound, Stein, Stevens, Kafka type of writers. But that it fell to the utterly forgettables:

Sully Prudhomme Theodor Mommsen Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson Frédéric Mistral,José Echegaray Henryk Sienkiewicz Giosuè Carducci

The we finally get

Rudyard Kipling (1907)

Followed by

Rudolf Eucken Selma Lagerlöf Paul Heyse Maurice Maeterlinck Gerhart Hauptmann

Then the great

Rabindranath Tagore

followed by Romain Rolland Verner von Heidenstam Karl Gjellerup Henrik Pontoppidan Carl Spitteler Knut Hamsun Anatole France Jacinto Benavente

(Ok, I know Knut Hamsun has his followers, but you get my point)

It's been hit or miss since:

William Butler Yeats

Wladyslaw Reymont

George Bernard Shaw

Grazia Deledda Henri Bergson Sigrid Undset

Thomas Mann

Sinclair Lewis Erik Axel Karlfeldt John Galsworthy Ivan Bunin

Luigi Pirandello

Eugene O'Neill

Roger Martin du Gard Pearl Buck Frans Eemil Sillanpää Johannes V. Jensen Gabriela Mistral
Hermann Hesse

André Gide

T.S. Eliot

William Faulkner (three legitimate picks in a row!)

Bertrand Russell Pär Lagerkvist François Mauriac Winston Churchill Ernest Hemingway Halldòr Laxness

Juan Ramón Jiménez

Albert Camus

Boris Pasternak

Salvatore Quasimodo

Saint-John Perse every other year with a decent pick.

Ivo Andric John Steinbeck

Giorgios Seferis

Jean-Paul Sartre Mikhail Sholokhov hmuel Yosef Agnon Nelly Sachs Miguel Angel Asturias

Yasunari Kawabata

Samuel Beckett (two in a row!)

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Pablo Neruda

Heinrich Böll Patrick White Eyvind Johnson Harry Martinson

Eugenio Montale

Saul Bellow

Vicente Aleixandre

Isaac Bashevis Singer

Odysseus Elytis Czeslaw Milosz Elias Canetti

Gabriel García Márquez

William Golding Jaroslav Seifert Claude Simon

Wole Soyinka

Joseph Brodsky

Naguib Mahfouz

Camilo José Cela

Octavio Paz

Then a pretty varied group the last few years. I won't presume to distinguish the deserving from the undeserving in this list, some of whom I haven't read:

Nadine Gordimer Derek Walcott Toni Morrison Kenzaburo Oe Seamus Heaney Wislawa Szymborska Dario Fo José Saramago Günter Grass Gao Xingjian V. S. Naipaul Imre Kertész J. M. Coetzee Elfriede Jelinek Harold Pinter Orhan Pamuk Doris Lessing

I'm sure a good case could be made for many of these writers I haven't italicized, but my point is that winning the Nobel prize is not a particulary high distinction, in historical terms. For every Mann there's 10 Celas.

16 oct 2007

The Nobel prize confers no particular distinction. There was no Nobel for Borges, for Kafka, for V. Woolf, for Proust or Galdós. None for Wallace Stevens or David Shapiro. César Vallejo. Frank O'Hara never won the Nobel prize, nor did Lorca, Pessoa, WCW, Antonio Machado, and José Lezama Lima. Clark Coolidge is never mentioned as a candidate! Adonis is still waiting in the wings. How about Flann O'Brien? Raymond Roussel? Roland Barthes? Claudio Rodríguez, Kenneth Koch? Celan? Where is Ashbery's Nobel prize? How about Alice Notley, Lorine Niedecker? HD?

Sure, Beckett, Yeats, and Eliot won. Faulkner, Neruda, Kawabata, and Mann. Vicente Aleixandre. You couldn't expect the Nobel committee to miss every single significant writer of the past hundred some years. But only hitting a really good writer every 10 years or so, while bypassing the true greats again and again, is not such a good record. The main problem is that they want writers with heavy non-literary aspects, some political significance or geographical interest. Adonis would not win because he is a great poet, but because of the need to confer the honor on Arab literature.

I thought Lessing had already won the Nobel prize another year. I was abslutely convinced of that til I realized I was thinking of Gordimer. She is the perfect choice, the archetypical Nobel laureate in many ways. And not in a good way, I fear.

10 oct 2007

The correct way to list Lorca in an index is

García Lorca, Federico


Lorca, Federico García


Lorca, García

Thank you,


Guy who looks up "García Lorca" and "Lorca" in the index of every imaginable book for current research project.
Each chapter should be written with the personality of the poet that is its subject.

Koch's excitable exuberance.

Rothenberg's mixture of unapologetic romanticism and critical sophistication

Spicer's alienation

O'Hara's negotations between gregariousness and introspection...

I want to do several things in this Koch/Lorca chapter.

1) Convey that passion and excitement that Koch felt for Lorca.

2) ... my own excitement for the subject matter.

3) Develop the overall argument in a convincing way, integrating it with the other chapters of the book. Have smooth transitions from one part to the next so that the whole chapter is relatively seamless.

4) Vertical integration: an apt fit between individual observations and the overall argument of both chapter and book as a whole. Individual observations must all be both precise and interesting in and of themselves and also supportive of the argument.

5) Pique the interest of various constituencies: Lorquista, Kochistas, specialist in American poetry generally who aren't necessarily interested in Koch, "general readers." Imagine the possible response of different kinds of readers to each part of the chapter. Leave out the parts that people will skip over.

6) All this and good-looking prose too.

And do all this eight times for each of the chapters of the book.

6 oct 2007

I got The Hat #7 today in the mail. I'm looking forward to reading it cover to cover, especially the poems by those I have not heard of before, those whose names are totally unfamiliar, which make up about 2/3rds of the total.

Even if I don't like a particular poem as much as the one on the next page, I never have the feeling of "why did they choose that.
Belitt for a while (in the sixties) had the only widely available translations of Neruda in book form, the only version of Poeta en Nueva York in print. He was the "leading translator." So the resentment about the quality had to do, possibly, with the fact that the American reader with no Spanish had to go through Belitt to get certain things. To then interpose his own poetic personality in such a case seems an affront, given that a reader may or may not want to have to deal with the "translator's ego" (phrase from Weinberger & Eshleman.) It's making a claim on the reader's attention that would only be justifiable --maybe--if BB were a great poet "in his own right."

5 oct 2007

Here's Susan Wheeler on Belitt:

His students could never figure out why he wasn't better anthologized, more recognized. Proffered was always that he was disparaged for his translations, those of Neruda and Lorca, Machado and others. The translations took liberties, much as Lowell's did, in his deliberate enterprise to re-imagine the poems in English, to create parallel, vital new works. Lowell weathered his own storm over like choices, but Ben did not, even though Rafael Alberti cited Ben as the best of his many translators; dismissed for these, Ben's work was dismissed in full.

Fascinating explanation. I guess I'm not the only one who find Belitt lacking as a translator! I am no particular fan of Lowell's Imitations either, but this raises the issue of why I would accept a Lowell mistranslation as a creative act, whereas I would just dismiss Belitt 's efforts to create "vital new works" out of hand.

One explanation could be that Belitt is a bad poet in the first place. Yet I've read some of his poems and he isn't as bad as his translations are. I'm not sure he's good either, though.

Or Spicer for that matter. Spicer actually has a poem in After Lorca that is demonstrably superior to the original, relatively weak Lorca text which it translates. Just one, but that is enough.

3 oct 2007

"Quiero llorar porque me da la gana" / "Let me blubber, since now I am minded to"

Here's a real WTF translation, from Ben Belitt. I have a whole list of them at home. Belitt makes even Bly look like a good translator by comparison. He obscures what it perfectly clear in the original: I want to cry because I feel like it. Making it into "poetry" in English, for Belitt, means writing in phrases that nobody would ever utter. Nobody who does not fancy himself a "poet" could possibly translate so miserably. Even the damned comma is alll wrong here.

(I am not advocating for literal translation here. There are plenty of freer translations that work just fine; Belitt's is not one of them.)


"Los pañales exhalan un rumor de desierto" / "The swaddling clout falls in the breath of a wilderness murmur"

Here the Lorca is not too clear, but the Belitt is grotesquely verbose, unpronounceable. What is a "clout" in this context? Why change "exhale" to "falls in the breath"?
Last night I participated in a panel discussion with John Ashbery and Roberto Bolaño on "the writing process." I was very conscious of not being Mr Famous Writer so I was kind of embarrassed that I had to do this. Plus I had prepared nothing at all! While Ashbery spoke I took a walk through the building and decided on an approach. When it was my turn I began like this

'I am now playing 'The Complete Sentence Game.'" I proceeded to PERFORM and DEMONSTRATE the game for the audience, to no discernible reaction, producing well-formed sentences for about 5 minutes. I figured that as long as I kept the game going, I was doing ok.

(The fact that Mr Bolaño is no longer among the living tipped me off at some point that all was not right. I believe his intervention was on videotape.)

2 oct 2007

The "Page of Prose" Game

Close your eyes. Form the mental image of a page of prose with paragraphs of varying lengths. Imagine a font of your preference, Palatino maybe. Think about the width of margins.

That's the easy part. Now sharpen your image of the page so that you can discern the words that are written there. Imagine a series of ever less blurry lenses as you are being fitted for a new pair of reading glasses at the optometrist's. Start reading as many words as you can on your page. You probably won't be able to read the whole page, or even an entire paragraphs, but you will get some words and phrases. It's important that you don't simply "make up" your own words. Rather, you must read the words that are actually "there."

You might want to get really adept at the "Complete Sentence Game" before attempting this. Try to visualize every thought you have in the "Complete Sentence Game" as a written sentence. Then you may be ready to play the "'Page of Prose' Game."

I myself am barely able to play "Page of Prose" so don't feel discouraged if you can't do it right away. Next I will teach you how to play "Page of Verse."

1 oct 2007

I really badly want to use the verb "subtend" today. Like "Romantic ideology subtends the deep image." Or, even better, "The practice of the deep image is subtended by romantic ideology." I probably won't, but I want to. It's good to be able to write like that--and then not do it. Jargon is fine if it is actually part of a technical language, that is, a precise word used as a term of art in a particular field. Jargon serves quite another purpose if it is meant to suggest membership in a particular discursive community. Like "deploy," 'subtend," "imbricate," etc... The lexison is as that conventional as that of a deep image poem, and as artificial. It connotes complexity of thought, but doesn't actually mean that the thought going on is more complex.

28 sept 2007

I got in the mail today a copy I had ordered of Rothenberg's Poems from the Floating World--a reprint of his magazine from the 1960s, five numbers in all. The particular contents are quite interesting. Wright translates Lorca, Bly Alberti, Antin Breton, Rothenberg San Juan de la Cruz and Neruda, among others. You see ethnopoetics trying to break free from the deep image but not quite making it yet. There are poems by Wakoski, Merwin, Ignatow, Kelly, Levertov, Duncan, Creeley.

Poems by "Guenter Grass." JR's translation of a great Celan poem, "Shibboleth."

Rothenberg was always a genius of juxtaposition. It's fun to what is there. It helps you to imagine what it would have been like to be a reader 40 years ago when all this was new.
Georg Trakl, César Vallejo, and Juan Ramón Jiménez were not "surrealists." I'm going off the "deep" end next time I see a quote about how James Wright translated "surrealist poets" like these! Whether Lorca was a "surrealist' is at least open to debate. It kind of depends on what your definition of 'Lorca" is. The "American Lorca" was a surrealist. The friend of Dalí, the Lorca of the drawings, might have been. The author of Diván del Tamarit was not.

Vallejo wrote an autopsy of surrealism, explaining its failings. Trakl killed himself 10 years before the surrealist manifesto. How would someone feel if encountering a list of "Language poets like Ron Silliman, Robert Hass, Frank O'Hara, and Bill Knott"? Would it matter that some died before language poetry existed, some hated it?

The logic seems to be (1) Robert Bly and James Wright translated Trakl and Vallejo. (2) Robert Bly liked surrealism around this time. (3) Therefore these poets are surrealists.


I really think deep image is not about depth or about image, but about a certain lexicon

bone, stone, tree, wind, cold, silent, dark, happy, glass, moon, sun, night, day, jewel, field.

It's about a certain tone of voice, an attitude.

27 sept 2007

I just realized that I described "The Complete Sentence Game" several years ago.
In Silence in the Snowy Field the words "dark" (with its derivates darken, darkness) occurs 32 times in fewer than 60 pages of poetry.

In Winter News (John Haines) it occurs about twenty times in 71 pages.

Dark is THE deep image word. More so than "deep" itself.

25 sept 2007

The Complete Sentence Game


I will now play "The Complete Sentence Game." The idea is to formulate silent thoughts as well-formed, complete sentences, thus slowing down the speed of thought to that of (silent) speech. The sentences of the game can be about anything, though usually they end up describing the rules of the game itself or exploring its inner meaning. You will notice, playing the game, that other, quicker thoughts clamber in the background waiting to get into play. One part of the mind seems to be charged with the selection of which of these thoughts will get "the complete sentence treatment." Another part of the mind formulates the thoughts in slow sentences. What of the mind that generates the thoughts in the first place?

This is my reproduction in written form of the Complete Sentence Game, an approximation of a "typical" game. While I have played this game for many years I am not sure what its "purpose" is. It could be a writing excercise or a remedy for insomnia, since the forced slowness of the thoughts is conducive to a state of relaxed lucidity that often precedes sleep. When the mind can no longer formulate completed thoughts the game is lost and you have fallen asleep. I find it difficult to "write" a bad sentence while playing. I invite you to play too.


This is the second section of "The Complete Sentence Game." Here I will continue to play, in written form and speaking less about the game itself and more about other implications of its playing.

Why do people think the unconscious is so interesting? Surely consciousness is far more interesting than some state of stupor. After all, it is only the conscious mind that can be interested. I know: I am supressing other thoughts in the back of my mind raising objections. What is interesting is hidden, enigmatic, unexplained in conscious terms. Now the unbearable slowness of the "game" takes hold. I want to able to think in sentences as fast as I can think in other, less well-formed fragments. The speed of writing also comes into play since, as noted above, this is only a simulation of the game itself--although in order to simulate it I have had to play it as I was writing.


My hand hurts, ink-stained. I don't have to tell you that this is the third section of the prose-poem "The Complete Sentence Game." I really think the point of this poem is to teach you how to play it, since the sentences I am writing, though well-formed, might just as easily have been other sentences. I am giving you permission to pay attention to your thoughts. While this poem seems inadequate in many ways, I think that it is not the words on the page, but the game itself that these words and sentences instantiate. This fluid, thought-based poetics might be of use to you, at some point, whether you want to fall asleep or reach a state of heightened awareness

24 sept 2007

I became a specialist in Spanish literature because of "deep image" poetry. Not directly, because it was never my favorite kind of poetry exactly in English, but because of the general climate of interest in Latin American and Spanish poetry during the late 70s, a formative time for me. The Nobel prize went to Vicente Aleixandre in 1977. I wanted to read the stuff in the original, go back to the sources. You know how snobbish I can be, but I was even worse back then.

Now reading Greg Kuzma and the like, I see no connection to Spanish-language poetry at all. The Spanish roots of contemporary American poetry are very shallow, generally speaking and with significant exceptions.

I single out Kuzma because to me, in my memory at least, he is Generic Deep Image Guy of the 70s.

Logically, the Spanish department should be full of me, full of people brought into the field by the ubiquity of Neruda during the 70s. I'm sure there are others, but that's not the typical person in the field in my experience. When I realize this then I know how to make certain adjustments in dealing with people. For example there is Latin American Leftist without a strong interest in literature in the first place. He came into the field for largely political reasons. There the person who majored in Spanish and just kept going, eventually developing an interest in literature, but an interest largely confined to what was taught in the curriculum.

23 sept 2007

In the course of my research this week I have seen figures like Donald Hall, William Stafford, and David Ignatow listed under the "deep image" label. I am scratching my head a bit. These poets mostly practice a flat, dull realism that has little to do with any understanding of the "deep image," whether in the Bly/Wright camp or the original Rothenberg/Kelly deep image school. The definition seems very nebulous in any case. You can't expect a clear definition of a fundamentally fuzzy concept, I guess.

And Graham Foust... Who died and made him Billy Collins? I think he's vastly overrated. Since when did mere competence make you great? That poem about the Huffy bike is something anyone could have done.

21 sept 2007

"But the one thing that should have told us to kill the term was that Robert Bly was enthused by it. His promotion of it in his magazines, the Sixties and the Seventies, eventually eviscerated any intellectual significance it had."

David Antin

19 sept 2007

Here's a list of Rothenberg's desiderata for "deep image" poetry:

"a heightened sense of the emotional contours of objects (their dark qualities, or shadows);

their free re-association in a manner that would be impossible to descriptive or logical thought, but is here almost unavoidable;

the sense of these objects (and the poem itself) being informed with a heightened relevance, a quickened sense of life;

the recognition of the poem as a natural structure arising at once from the act of emotive vision."

17 sept 2007

I had a look at White Sun Black Sun (Jerome Rothenberg) today in special collections here at Kansas. It is amazing how the whole discussion about the deep image hardly ever cites a line from one of the first books of deep image poetry (if not the first). One reason is that you have to go to the rare book room to read it. There's no collected poems of JR that includes this material.

I also re-read some of the early theoretical texts by Rothenberg and Kelly in Trobar on the deep image. It's not necessarily what you might expect it to be.


I tried a new experiment with my scholarly writing yesterday. I was sick of all the chapters I was writing all at the same time so I opened up a blank microsoft document and just wrote down ideas for two hours without thinking necessarily of where these ideas would end up.

14 sept 2007

It's like arguing about the prosody of poem that may or may not exist, and which nobody participating in the debate has ever read. There could be very subtle debates by very smart people, hundreds of books written about the subject, but there is no valid position to be taken, since even if the poem existed there would be no source of information about it.

So to take a position against the debate as such you wouldn’t have to read those hundred books. You could simply say that the debate itself is pointless because the only possible point of reference is the position of some previous debater.

Some who don’t feel strongly about the poem or its existence join in the fun anyway. They like intellectual debate for the sheer gamesmanship of it. They learn the rules of the game and what counts as a valid argument, which usually consists of manipulating previous arguments in a particular way.

No particular argument about the prosody of the poem would prove the existence of the poem. That’s the presupposition that makes the discussion meaningful in the first place, to the participants.

The proliferation of rather abstruse theory in such a field of imaginary prosody should be taken as a sign that nobody’s position is based on anything meaningful, rather than a sign that it is a field highly worthy of respect due to its exteme subtlety and theoretical elaboration.
I noticed a spike in submissions for The Duplications. That was fine, but many of them were inappropriate. Light verse or "mystical poetry," people who thought I would be impressed by their cvs, or that they had written 2,000 poems before the age of 19. Then I figured it out: the address has gotten onto a site that listing magazines accepting emails submissions. I was getting poems from people who would never have gotten to The Duplications from my blog, and who probably submit randomly to 100 places without knowing or caring where. These are essentially spam submissions and wil be treated as such.

UPDATE: Speaking of which there's a new poem by Mark Statman there now.

13 sept 2007

"Poetry should be at least as well written as prose." This statement is rather puzzling because poetry, as the putatatively superior mode, should be better written, not come up to some superior prose standard. I think what Pound was driving at was that since poetry ought to be better in the first place, we should reject poetry that doesn't even make it by prose standards. In other words, there is only ever writing, whether it's prose or verse. Bad writing in poetic form, padded verse and the like, is even less acceptable than bad prose, because the standard ought to be much higher. For example, this paragraph I am now writing is not very good prose. If a poem strikes you as less well written than this paragraph, then it isn't defensible.

The implicaton was that there was a lot of verse circulating that was not up to the standards of the best prose writers around at the time.

It's not that poetry should be good prose first, with some poetic value added on, but that it has to surpass the level of good prose to be even considered adequate.