30 ene. 2007

Overlap: Drew Gardner's Blog

Another view of Logan on Crane: "At least Logan's given up the pretense of literary criticism... and is openly focused on trying to police poetry that shows signs of not being lifeless."
Condescension is probably the worst sin in a critic. Any idiot can find bad lines in Whitman or Crane. Finding purplish or overwritten passages in writers makes a certain kind of critic feel superior. Aha! I wouldn't have written that! He says. Yes, but did you invent an entire new style, like Whitman did? Did you ever write a single phrase half as brilliant as "adagios of islands"? Quondam dormitat Homerus.

28 ene. 2007

Condescend to Hart Crane at your peril.

25 ene. 2007

The class I'm teaching this semester is on anonymous and nearly anonymous oralature. Claudio Rodríguez, the poet I studied in my dissertation and first book, wrote his Master's thesis on a particular genre of children's poetry, the corro or game played in the round. While Claudio was no scholar, he could have been a brilliant one. There are two main ideas in his thesis, which has been published in collection of his prose writings.

There is a kind of magical thinking, or poetic nominalism, in which the word supplants the object which it refers.

Rhythmic and phonemic elements are predominant; texts are generated by sound rather than meaning per se. Meaning is often obliterated.

Taken together this results in a sort of Cratylism and "primacy of the signifier."

We see the influence of this in Lorca's work. "La monja / está dentro de la toronja." [the nun is inside the grapefruit]. The "logic" of this poetic utterance is in the rhyme itself. In Claudio's own poetry, where the river Duero is seen, phonetically, as "du[rad]ero" (long-lasting).

There's also a quite technical study of Rimbaud's rhythm, which Rodríguez wrote in 1953 when he was 19 years old, as an academic study. It's full of really keen observations about the prosody of Rimbaud's regular verse, his free verse, and his prose poems. What's interesting is that Rodríguez himself, in his own poetry, does exactly what he describes Rimbaud as doing. Rodríguez, then, is not the idiot savant that he is taken to be. He knew exactly what he was doing. Look at the jagged intonation of this passage, (which is metrically regular I think):

Et toute vengeance? Rien! ... Mais si, toute encore,
Nous la voulons! Industriels, princes, sénats:
Pérrisez! puissance, justice, histoire: à bas!
Ça nous est dû. Le sang! Le sang! la flamme d'or!

24 ene. 2007

One of the myths of jazz is that the raw material on which improvisation was based was dreck, and that jazz musicians took a largely hostile attitude toward this raw material (the popular songs of the day.)

Well, actually, no. These are great songs for the most part. And my hypothesis is that musicicans chose songs that they liked over those that they didn't like. Hence the huge preference among jazz musicians for the big four of Gershwin, Porter, Arlen, and Rodgers.

Take the example of John Coltrane playing "My Favorite Things." We know this melody is by Richard Rodgers, from the "Sound of Music." What is the more parsimonious interpretation? That Coltrane played this song in order to mount an attack on Richard Rodgers, or that he played it because he loved the song? Or take Monk's preferennce for Gershwin's "Nice Work." Monk only played a few standards, and he liked to play them over and over.

I think these Russian Jews who created Tin Pan Alley Americana were on to something great and that the black jazz musicians resonated with their creations. And what about Russian Jewish musicans like Stan Getz? Or Hungarian Jews like Benny Goodman? I don't think you can understand American popular culture without getting this fusion of Eastern European and African-American influences in the 1920s.
Not to mention Hoagy Carmichael and Vernon Duke.
Not necessarily in this order, but

Rodgers and Hart, George and Ira Gershwin, Duke Ellington and Billy Stayhorn, Harold Arlen, Cole Porter, Johnny Green, Johnny Mercer, Irving Berlin. Jerome Kern, Fats Waller, Dorothy Fields, Rodgers and Hammerstein...

What can I say, I'm a sucker for a good song. It's just one of those thiings, just one of those marvelous things, a trip to the moon on gossamer wings. A foggy day in London town.. A piano tinkling in the next apartment, those stumbling things that told you what my heart meant. Someone to watch over me.

I never thought much of moonlight skies, I never winked back at fireflies. The way you wear your hat. The way you sip your tea. The way we danced till three. A fine romance. You say tomato and I say tomahto. Suddenly I saw polkdots and moonbeams. I'm going to sit right down and write a letter and make believe it came from you. I'm a sentimental sap that's all, what's the use of trying not to fall. Holding hands at midnight, neaht the moonlit sky, It's nice work if you can get it and you can get it if you try. It's the tender trap. Tangerine, with her lips of flame. In the wee small hours of the morning. East of the sun and west of the moon, and then I saw the midnight sun. It's moonlight in Vermont and Autumn in New York, April in Paris. I'll remember April and be glad.

I bought you violets for your furs. I get no kick from cocaine. I can't get started with you.

All of me, why not take all of me. Can't you see, I'm no good without you. You got the part that once was my heart so why not take all of me.
The advice to omit the extraneous is always redundant.
Al cielo llaman cielo
porque es muy altó
y al corro, corro, corro
porque es redondó
ay, ay, ay
porque es redondó

[They call the sky sky
because it is very high...
And the game played in a circle
they call it corro corro corro
ay ay ay
because it is round]

23 ene. 2007

Ok, I know I'm going overboard with the possibilities of tags or "etiquetas" as they are known here. Every post must have a new "etiqueta," or an absurd number of them. I went back and tagged some posts in the archive, but am a long way from doing a complete job of it.
A player almost anonymous... I won't make you guess about this list. These are (some of) my favorite players who aren't household names or super "canonical" figures:

Illinois Jacquet. He was a straight-ahead tenor who did a lot of work in the JATP.

Harold Land. Another straight-forward tenor mostly known for his role in the Clifford Brown/Max Roach groups. He could hold his own with Clifford Brown so that's saying quite a bit.

Paul Chambers. Maybe he's a bit too famous for this group, because of his work with Miles Davis and Coltrane. Still I am obsessed with Paul Chambers. I can't figure out what makes his playing so perfect.

Sonny Clark. He had some excellent recordings with a trio with Philly Joe and Chambers. He wouldn't necessarily be in anyone's group of top 10 piano players of all time, but his groove is so deep.

Billy Higgins. He is countless records but never achieved the degree of recognition of a Tony Williams.

I guess what I like about these players is that they all follow established modes of playing with a great personal style, but without necessarily being innovators or virtuosi of genius. I wouldn't make exaggerated claims for any of them (except Paul Chambers), but simply say they are the ones who make the music feel good, give it substance and richness at a level just *below* that of the canonical forgers of a new style. They are all very "tasty" players in the mode of Teddy Wilson or Jo Jones. They aren't the Art Tatums or Elvin Joneses of the world.
Nobody ever says: "the language is improving." In narratives of linguistic change the past is always pristine, the present a time of decadence, and the future a time when language will undoubtedly be worse.

What makes a particular time in the past especially prime to be the object of linguistic adulation? Maybe it's prescriptivism within that era itself that's to blame? So then the 18th century would be the ideal locus for this sort of idealization... or the 17th if you were French.
Linguist Mark Liberman makes an eloquent point here: that the idea of a perfect, elegant, and correct language is always displaced unto a past, but that this past is always imaginary. That is to say, people never have spoken in this *perfect* language, and nobody seriously thinks that we should return to 18th century, or 17th century, norms--or to the norms of whatever period is considered the golden age of language usage. It's a fundamentally dishonest argument, because the norms of usage, whatever they are, must always necessarily be those of the present, never those of the past. [I hope my paraphrase does some justice to Liberman's post]

And so it is too with the norms of the "poetry language" (Kenneth Koch). We can't seriously propose to bring back Victorian ideals, or Elizabethan ideas, because we wouldn't be happy with the result even if we could actually bring back those ideals. We are stuck in the present, and that present is more lively and interesting because it is *our* time. "As if you would never leave me and were / the inexorable product of my own time."

Part of time is the way in which time is *felt*. I'm thinking of the "feel" of a musician or poet for time itself. Think of how Charlie Parker changed the way we perceive the passage of time from one second to the next! (Cortázar wrote about this in his story "El perseguidor.") Creeley felt and understood Parker's innovation.

Time to teach grammar!

22 ene. 2007

Miles Davis
Billie Holiday
Lester Young
Charlie Parker
Bill Evans
John Coltrane
Frank Sinatra
Ella Fitzgerald
Clifford Brown
Johnny Hodges
Dinah Washington
Milt Jackson
Sarah Vaughn

What is this a list of? (What is it's guiding principle?) Who else belongs on this list? Is the order I've put the names here the correct one?
Never begin an essay or a talk by quoting the dictionary definition of a word, unless you are a high-school student or want to be mistaken for a high-school student.

20 ene. 2007

... "prosody... 'the science of versification; that part of the study of language which deals with the forms of metrical composition,' to cite the OED's definition--has largely disappeared from English-language poetry."

Wouldn't that be like saying that herpetology has disappeared from snakes? I speak a language, but I am not a linguist. Would it make sense to say that linguistics has largely disappeared from my speech? Prosody is the branch of linguistics which deals with rhythm and intonation and the like, and also with the specific applications of phonology in literature: poetic meter and rhythm, for example. Most poets have never been theoretical linguists. It is possible that they have held mistaken theories of prosody but still produced excellent verse. I am really scratching my head to figure out what the assertion that "prosody ... has disappeared from poetry" might possibly mean.

He then goes on to make specific comments about the prosody of recent poetry, arguing that there is a prevalence of rhythm over meter. In other words, he is talking about something that, according to his initial premise, does not exist in the first place! isn't the relation between meter and rhythm in poetry a matter for prosodists to discuss?

17 ene. 2007

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Kansas Associate Professor of Spanish Jonathan Mayhew got a five-year contract extension Thursday that bumps up his annual compensation to more than $1.3 million.

Under the deal, which began retroactively on April 1 and goes through March 2011, Mayhew will be paid $220,000 in salary with additional payments for professional services, public relations and promotional duties -- boosting his annual compensation to $1.375 million. He could make an additional $350,000 per year if he meets certain incentives.

He was previously paid $129,380 in annual salary.

"I am excited because we love it here at KU," Mayhew said. "We love the students in our program, we love the direction that we're going and we love the people that we work with. We're very excited to be a part of it for at least five more years."

Also in the deal is a retention agreement that would pay Mayhew an additional $225,000 for each year of the extension, effectively bumping his annual salary to just over $1.6 million if he's still an Associate Professor through March 2011. Mayhew wouldn't receive the extra money until then.

15 ene. 2007

Purity and depth.

Much as I like the Great American Songbook, I like the songs better without the words, ultimately. Compare Miles to Sinatra on "It Never Entered My Mind." I like Sinatra's version too, but... It's not like the lyricists were unskilled, but that the lyrics tell you what the song is supposed to mean, and I prefer a purely non-verbal music. I want to provide my own subtext. Miles has to be considered the best "singer" of ballads ever, having found a way to leave out the words of "Surrey with Fringe on Top" or "If I were a Bell."

I do like "A piano tinkling in the next apartment / those stumbling words that told you what my heart meant / A fairground's painted swings / These foolish things / Remind me of you." That's got to be one of the best rhymes ever.


As for depth, I think specialists are better generalists than "generalists" are. In other words, people who have specialized narrowly in something end up also having broader knowledge than those who set out to have broad knowledge but without specializing. I have only a few, "narrow" interests, but I tend to pursue these interests "to the bottom" and end up knowing a lot about other things in the process. Since I've lived long enough to have more than a few such interests (not interests, passions is a better word, my friend Bob Basil would point out), depth has created its own form of breadth.

So narrow specialization is not the enemy of broad knowledge after all. If I'm ignorant of a lot of things, that's just because I haven't specialized in them yet.
My dream: I had posted a note here about reading a book by Herman Hesse. However, the book in question was really by Umberto Eco. Before I had a chance to correct the error, Jordan Davis had left a comment here expressing his deep dislike of Hesse, as had a second person whose identity was not clear from the dream. I was embarrased that someone had thought I liked Herman Hesse.

13 ene. 2007

I've decided to write a review essay on Gamoneda for the Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies. Of course they'll have to accept it first.

12 ene. 2007

One of the most amazing facts about poetry as an art form is that it is written in numerous, mutually incomprehensible languages, and that its qualities are bound up with those specific linguistic forms. If you read a translation, which we all do of course, you are getting the special qualities of poetry written in English, plus a little bit the image-repertoire of another culture.

This multilinguism is a huge advantage, in terms of richness of possibilities for the art form, and a huge disadvantage because just learning one extra language requires a huge extra investment of time. Ars longa, vita breve and all that.

A woman became a foremost expert on Spanish film. She was a film scholar first and foremost, with fairly weak Spanish language ability, but this did not prevent her from becoming a respected person in this field. I could learn a lot about Mondrian without knowing any Dutch, or a Stravinsky expert without knowing Russian if I knew music, etc...
How much image-repetoire is shared between Lorca and Gamoneda? There is a key area of difference, in that Lorca is completely Southern, Andalusian, and Gamoneda Northern. Hot and cold (Gamoneda's Libro del frío). Yet no other Spanish poet of recent memory has that Lorquian power:

Sábana negra en la misericordia;
tu lengua en un idioma ensangrentado.

Sábana aún en la sustancia enferma,
la que llora en tu boca y en la mía
y, atravesando dulcemente llagas,
ata mis huesos a tus huesos humanos.

No mueras más en mí, sal de mi lengua.
Dame la mano para entrar en la nieve.

The poets share a sense of the body itself: the body as it suffers. Lorca was dead before the age of 40, Gamoneda has done his best work after the age of 45. Only a poet antithetical to Lorca in many respects could be truly Lorquian, and not just a pastiche of Lorca. It's as though Gamoneda were the logical continuation of Lorca, filtered through modern French poetry and returning to a Spanish terrain devoid of Andalusianism. Even with the stress on aging in Gamoneda vs. the violent, dramatic deaths in Lorca, I feel there is a kinship.


Stuck in Kansas by ice-storm for the second time in as many months.
From "Aún"

Place your lips on the reeds just like the god who
weeps in your wardrobes, who speaks among yellowed
fingernails; whistle in the reeds of suffering and,
in the purity of empty hours, remember your father's
swab, the solitude of doves lost in eternity.
Some bebop contrafacts, with original song in parenthesis:

In Walked Bud (Blue Skies)

Ornithology (How High the Moon)

Oleo; Moose the Mooche (I got rhythm; there are many other songs based on "I got rhythm," too numerous to mention,)

Donna Lee (Indiana)

Quasimodo (Embraceable You)

Hot House (What is this thing called love?)

Koko (Cherokee)

Evidence (Just You, Just Me)

Hackensack (Oh Lady be Good)

5 ene. 2007

Ron had a kind of odd take on the post below... I can't say he's wrong to associate me with Bill Knott's weird sense of third-rate despair. Why was I projecting such negative feelings that particular day? It certainly does not reflect my mood today.

When I think of my Successful Academic Career I can't be too discontented. It wasn't all that hard to be one of the top people in my field, from the very beginning after my PhD. I think the secret was the I actually knew something about poetry and had found a way of translating that into an academically acceptable form. Looking around at people in my field I can't say that all actually know enough about poetry itself to be really first-rate critics. You can master the academic language but without really having anything to say. I've seen the opposite case too, people who can't seem to muster the discipline to write acceptable academic articles. Not that that's the only desirable goal in life, but it is the metric of my particular corner of the world.

1 ene. 2007

A few more things about me, if you really care to know.

I don't really care very deeply about the outcome of any sporting event. I rarely have.

With a few exceptions, I never really cared for popular styles of music played in straight, "vertical" eighth notes. There's got to be a swing or it don't mean a thing (to me). My lack of interest in the popular music of my own youth probably had a decisive effect on my life by removing me from my peer group.

I have a very macho attitude toward literary criticism. I want to be the best, to outdo everyone else. I am very competitive in this area, but not in many others.

I identify strongly with other people who have a commanding dominance of their field of endeavour: Coleman Hawkins for example. This is a strongly masculinist mode, on average, but I identify with it with no apology (for now!).

Hates poetry readings, they're cold and they're damp. In general, I hate sitting through something that I feel I could do better, whether it's a talk at the MLA or someone reading poems. I only enjoy these events if the speaker or reader is doing it better than I think I could.

I'm pleasant, but not very nice at bottom. I'm pretty angry most of the time, too angry to be a really "nice" person.