24 abr 2007

In Jasper Johns, the hand is a kind of voice. [David Shapiro]

And in David Shapiro, the eye is a kind of ear. There's a way of writing about art that makes the reader feel it.
Not a course on prosody, but a course on everything that you would have to know to begin to make prosody meaningful in the first place...
Robert Pinsky. Like Altoids, but "curiously bland" instead of "curiously strong." Rooting poetry in oral performance is a radical theory, but couched in such bland, middle-brow language it's not likely to have radical consequences.

23 abr 2007

I am developing a course for when I come back, a graduate seminar called "Ritmo, cante, voz." It's basically my "song studies" idea cast as a single course. I think it will work.

I was reading Barthes' essay "The Grain of the Voice" last night. I think that would be a good place to start. That along with García Lorca's "Juego y teoría del duende." What else would you put on the syllabus for theoretical texts, aside from obvious choices like Bernstein (ed.) Close Listening?

There was a breathless-toned pop book about the human voice I saw a few months ago. That kind of thing might be useful.

19 abr 2007

I never realized Rollins had a quartet for a short period in 1963 with Don Cherry, Henry Grimes, and Billy Higgins--a pianoless group similar to those of Ornette shortly before (Cherry and Higgins had of course played in Ornette's groups shortly before.)

(I knew some Rollins trio recordings with Elvin and Wilbur Ware--also pianoless.) I love the absence of piano because it allows for so much space in the music for the bass and drums. Cherry is in top form, a nice complement to Rollins as he was on Coltrane's The Avant-Garde, in another shadow-Ornette group (Ornette's musicians without Ornette himself). The Coltrane group with Cherry and Ed Blackwell, however, never quite comes together in satisfactory form.
There's a classic French movie with a scene in a classroom where a teenage kid reads aloud--magnificently--a passage from Racine. For the life of me I can't remember or figure out which movie this is. It's been nagging at me for months. Please help.

17 abr 2007

Pulitzer for Ornette!

13 abr 2007

I read Vonnegut pretty intensely from age 12 to 15 or 16, and not much after that. He was one of my first literary obsessions, along with Cummings and Tolkien. Breakfast of Champions came out in 1973 when I was 13, so that represents the height of his career for me, the intersection between him near the height of his powers and me as a reader. Then the next book failed to impress me. Nothing he wrote after Breakfast seemed to have as much weight. Now I don't know whether that's because his books were not as good any more, or whether I had outgrown him in some sense. I'd have to go back and read him again, but I don't think I'd ever be able to re-capture the adolescent emotion of reading him.

The fact that he may be a writer for adolescents says nothing against him. Adolescents are those most in need of writers. Things I read in those days, like Kafka, have stayed with me forever. I read Catch 22 five times before the age of 17, but not once since. It has stayed with me.

11 abr 2007

I downloaded some Leonard Cohen and Joan Baez for the folklore class. Versions of Lorca. Cohen had quiet a hit with Lorca "Pequeño vals vienés" back in the day. We had a Flamenco dancer come in yesterday to show us palmas and compases. That was pretty exciting.

10 abr 2007

I'm getting rid of my links to other blogs. Many were out of date and didn't reflect what I was actually reading. I'll gradually re-add some of them, but probably just the ones I actually consult. With equanimity possibly closing there are very few blogs I even read anymore. And you don't need a link from me to be able to find Silliman's Blog.
What would happen to my song studies field in the real world of academic institutions?

The linguists would view the true subject here as the fit between words and music. They would get NIS Grants to produce highly technical studies and ignore everyone else.

The English department would just see this as Cultural Studies all over again and apply Foucault to analyses of Madonna songs from the 1980s. Creative writers would just add another section to the existing curriculum, placing lyric writing along side fiction and "poetry."

Cultural anthropology would see this as ethnomusicology. They would just continue as before. They were always already song theorists.

The singer-songwriters would want their own niche where they could teach students to write songs, encouraging them to ignore any history or theory. Only the "craft" of songwriting would be taught.

The music department would give voice lessons for aspiring opera singers.

In other words, no one would do anything different from what they were doing before, but everyone would boast of being interdiscipinary, especially the English Department.

9 abr 2007

The problem of Silliman's Blog is not the insistence on the decrepitude of the school of quietude, but a kind of critical lassitude that allows him to praise almost every poet under the sun as long as the poet has a few concrete images and is not utterly cringe-worthy. Ron actually likes a hell a lot of poets, probably about 100 times the number I do. This ought to be admirable. Yet somehow I am not convinced. It often feels like he's conferring a perfunctory stamp of approval rather giving himself up to a genuine passionate engagement. He quote a poem today, for example, and says it's not a piece of bad writing if you take away a few metaphors. But this is manifestly false. It's crap even without those lame metaphors. The problem is not that Ron is too mean and narrow, but that he is way too generous. The SoQ label just is a convenience to save him for liking 1,000 other poets.

5 abr 2007

I've resolved the problem of translation. It's about time someone did. Here's my solution.

Regard translation as a perfectly legitimate method of producing poems. Stop thinking of translation as way of reproducing some other text. Once you do that, all the problems magically disappear.

All translations of the same original might be grouped together as the same genre of poem and compared against one another, but never against the original.


Some feel that to be a serious lit-blog you must have 3,000 word essays. I don't think that the epigrammatic style of blogging is any less serious or respectable. I have other fora for anything over 2,000 words. I am just not that verbose on a daily basis. Do your academic writing in academic journals! I can put forward a suggestive metaphor that is worth 1,000 words by someone who's never learned how to condense ideas. I would let my graduate students write 5 page papers if they could write me 5 good pages.

4 abr 2007

Beckett, Kafka, Lorca. They are like stencils or cut-outs, huge images of themselves that impede any new perception of them.
About Ammons I always have to conclude my tuner just doesn't pick up that frequency. I've tried reading Garbage but the garrulousness just rubs me the wrong way. What he thinks of as an interesting observation or idea leaves me cold. I really don't think everyone was meant to get all channels. We should be fine with that, too. Nothing of that "this book should be on every poet's bookshelf" argument. Think of a sound wave travelling around and making other objects vibrate sympathetically. A piece of rock doesn't vibrate along to much, it just reflects sounds back. The carpet neither echoes nor reflects, it just absorbs the sounds. A shelf of snare drums in a drum store buzzes constantly whenever anyone makes any noise. It picks up everything but only produces a buzz. The reader can't be a stone, a carpet, or a buzzing snare.


I was looking for a particular book and opened a box of office supplies from when I moved last summer. There was a metal tube there at the bottom of my box; I wasn't sure quite what it was. I fished it out and realized it was the top part of my hi-hat stand, which I had given up looking for last November or December. It got separated from the base of the stand, which was in another box of drum hardware. I found the clutch too. Now to see if the bottom half of the stand can be reunited with the top this weekend.
Someone should establish an interdisciplinary field of study called song studies. Isn't that a fundamental category of human culture? That fundamental union between word and music that is present in just about every culture, and at every level of cultural production from high to low and middle. Then there would a small area of song studies that studied musicless songs, otherwise known as poems. Orphan songs that have lost their music or musical tradition. Among "orphan songs" there would be several categories;

(1) Song texts whose specific music or entire musical tradition has been lost.

(2) Song texts that are written without music, but that are still fundamentally song texts. Their music has just not been written yet.

(3) Songs written with an internal song music, that don't need musical settings because the music is in the words. [Is there any difference between (2) and (3)?]

(4) Poems that have one foot in the song tradition, but really have stepped over into the written poem tradition. Most renaissance sonnets, for example.

(5) Other kinds of poetry that are relatively alien to anything that might be sung.

The last category moves out of the orphan song into the new genre, which we might call still call "poetry" but that is relatively alien to most poetic traditions historically and anthropologically.

Cross posted to Refraneros y cancioneros
My book on contemporary Spanish poetry is going to be published by Liverpool University Press. They are sending the contract.

3 abr 2007

There's nothing like reading Kafka in the original Spanish.

2 abr 2007

My favorite musical styles, in no particular order.

1) Anything Afro-Cuban (son, rumba, salsa, jazz-cuban fusions.)

2) Bop and hard bop, up through 1960s Blue Note recordings.

3) Baroque, especially Bach.

4) Morton Feldman.

5) Classic soul, funk, etc... (Aretha, James Brown, Ray Charles...)

6) European orchestral music of the 19th century, through Stravinsky.

7) Bluegrass...

8) Avant-garde jazz, especially Ornette and Coltrane.

9) Good versions.

10) Brazilian popular music, Samba, Bossa Nova.