31 ago 2007

Lorca Trivia

Roy Campbell once punched Stephen Spender at a poetry reading. Both were translators of Lorca.
There's an interesting fault-line between poets who see technique and craft as essential and those who get impatient with that. In Creeley's letter to Rothenberg on the deep he expresses a certain impatience with those who write off the engagement of the poet with the language itself. Creeley says it's not the time to do away with the technical innovations of O'Hara, Creeley himself, Williams, Ginsberg--at exactly the time when Bly was proposing to do just that.

A lot of poets who don't believe in engagement with language end up not going as far as they might have. At some point they come up against a set of serious limitations.

I think this fault-line is more significant than the avant/quietude one.

30 ago 2007

Lorca Trivia

Kenneth Koch's son-in-law Mark Statman has translated Poet in New York. Coming soon to a fine bookstore near you.

29 ago 2007

"And then I had always liked the old miracle and morality plays in which no word has any ambiguity at all. I don’t like ambiguity. I suppose it’s all right if the ambiguous things a work means are interesting and exciting, but often they’re not"

--Kenneth Koch, interview with David Shapiro

That's a pretty revealing statement. Imagine coming along in the 1950s and not liking ambiguity, that mainstay of New Critical and paleo-modernist poetics, and even deconstruction as it was practiced in the 80s. This explains a lot about why few people have written about Koch academically, even to this day. Even Frank O'Hara, no Robert Lowell himself, uses a lot of ambiguity. Ashbery too. Koch isn't fond of it.

I'm aware too that I read Koch more ironically than he in fact means to be. I think he wants to keep you guessing about his tone, so that the earnestness when it does appear is always framed by whimsy. That's another form of ambiguity.

Also, when a sophisticated, modern poet abjures ambiguity it is a different effect from a medieval play celebrating baby Jesus with no sense of irony. It's funny how I won't accept certain things in poetry when done bluntly, with no sense of style, but would accept the same thing if it were signalled to me somehow that the poet knows better but is doing it anyway. Rhyme, Shelleyan apostrophe, sentimentality, didacticism--they work in Koch but they wouldn't in a poet who hadn't worked out a way to make them work.
Lorca trivia of the day

Allen Ginsberg wrote the line

"Franco murdered Lorca the fairy son of Whitman"

28 ago 2007

Lorca trivia of the day

Singer-songwriter-poet Leonard Cohen named his daughter "Lorca."
About Mother Teresa--if she doesn't have to believe in God why should anyone else have to?

And--how can you be unsure of the very existence of the supreme being, yet AT THE SAME TIME claim to know his exact position on contraception, what kind of food to eat, what kind of sexual acts humans ought to perform, etc... Wouldn't that kind of detail be even more profoundly unknowable? Yet one can be a fundamentalist in the worst way, as MT was undoubtedly--and agnostic too?

27 ago 2007

I thought I didn't have that much to say about Frank O'Hara and Lorca, but now my O'Hara chapter has split off from my Koch chapter: at 50 pages it was becoming unwieldy to consider both of them together.

Writing a lot of prose, I am very aware of mannerisms that creep in.

in fact, of course, it is clear, obviously, it could be argued, ostensibly

All that metadiscursive argumentation! It is clear that I want to present certain ideas as clear, obvious, and factual, but that language must be calibrated later on, of course.

I'm also falling victim to some confirmatory bias. In my defense I'll say that I didn't quite realize how much Koch loved Lorca, so when I find increasing evidence of this, the more I research the question, I'm letting my guard down. His son-in-law has translated Poet in New York so I'm looking forward to reading that.

Anyone know anything about the composer Peter Hartman? He set an O'Hara poem to music but information about him is scarce.

24 ago 2007

It's my birthday! Let's hope Jonathan Mayhew 4.7 will be an improvement over 4.6.

23 ago 2007

I wa thinking about innumeracy and this example. Someone not knowing how to figure out a percent change in something.

It's a fairly simple concept, but the numbers can sound funny. For example, if there are two people in a restaurant, and four more walk in, the you have an increase of 200%. Three walk out, for a 50% reduction. One walks back in because she forgot her cell-phone, for a 33% increase. She leaves again, for a twenty-five percent decrease in restaurant patrons.

If my salary goes up 50 percent one year, and then down 50 percent the next year, I have a much lower salary than I started with.

!% of people use a certain dangerous drug in the 90s. The next decade 3% are using it. An increase of 200%. It sounds very scary. Or is that only a two percent rise (a rise in percentage, not a "percent change")?

If twice as many people do something, that's an increase of 100%. But I wonder if when people think about a number tripling they think of 200% or 300%? Or a "five-fold" increase in something? What does that mean--five times or 500%?
Words I want to use very soon in my chapter.

lithic, chthonic, syllepsis, tmesis, gnomic, hapax legomenon

There's a flavor to Greek vocabulary that isn't there in Latinate words. Even visually those ch, ph, th, gn, ic, esis clusters give your prose a certain look. It's not for the sans serif in spirit.

I want to use the phrase "hubristically shallow judgment." I fact I did use it.

Thanks to Jerry Seinfeld I now have 12,800 words in this chapter. I like the moment, though, when the word count starts shrinking rather than growing. Then you know you're closer to compleiting it, because you're taking converting the last of the disconnected phrases into actual sentences and then making the prose more concise, taking out a few digressions. I'm hoping once I have 60 pages I can bring it down to 45 again. Otherwise it will split into two chapters.

I was suprised to see Gary Snyder called a "deep image" poet in one of the secondary sources I was looking at. That's weird.

21 ago 2007

Remember when The Onion used to be funny?

Neither do I. One more of those "local man finds hole in sock" story...

I really don't get that "women in the battered women shelter can't cook dinner" story. I won't dignify that with a link even. It's not just that it's offensive, and not funny, but that I can't even understand why it's supposed to be funny in the first place. What's the joke? Who thought THAT was a good idea?

20 ago 2007

Among major movements of postwar poetry

confessional, New York School, Black Mountain," "Beat" etc...

there is a separation between one the one hand

Black Mountain, Beat, New York School, SF and Berkeley Renaisssance and, on the other hand

Confessional, "deep image, " and "academic"

That is, deep image and "confessional" poetry is placed on the other side of the divide. Confessional poetry arose out of the already academic poetry of Lowell, Snodgrass, and Berryman, as an internal revolt from within academic poetry, so it never had credibility among those in the other camp.

There is a shadow "deep image" school of Rothenberg, Kelly, and possibly Wakoski, on the "avant" side of the line. It's like the mirror image of Bly, Wright, and Merwin. I've seen accounts from both sides that simply leave out the names of the "deep image" poets on the other side. Even Antin started out as a deep image poet, if you read his book length interview with Charles Bernstein.

When deep image surrealism gets folded back into Iowa plainspokenness, it remains suspect. It turns into another mode of what used to be called "academic" poetry.

Ultimately it seems a simplification, though, to place two major movements on the other side of that invisible line. it doesn't pass the "Martian test." That is, you couldn't explain it to an extraterrestrial being who has no prior stake in the question. It also doesn't make sense to place the New York poets halfway in the academic camp, because they were influenced by Auden at one point and published with New York Trade houses.

The division does mirror my own taste. I can't stand Sexton or Snodgrass, or Bly, Kooser or Hall. That's not a justification, though.

19 ago 2007

What are your thoughts about "Little Elegy for Antonio Machado"? Just get out your Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara and look for the last poem there.

I didn't like it too much; it seemed strained in its diction, uncertain in tone. But I think the way James Wright evokes Machado's death is worse, somehow,

State police yawn in the prisons.
Antonio Machado follows the moon
Down a road of white dust,
To a cave of silent children
Under the Pyrenees.
Wine darkens in stone jars in villages.
Wine sleeps in the mouths of old men, it is a dark red color.

("Eisenhower's Visit to Franco, 1959")

A flawed, awkwardly worded poem by O'Hara seems more engaging than Wright's powerfully felt but "blunter" approach. I don't like the "silent children" and the "dark red color." The darkness here is the cliché deep image school darkness; that particular diction has not aged well. Of course I have to remind myself that Wright wrought this writing, that it wasn't a cliché yet when he invented this style. Still, Wright's poem made me love O'Hara's "Little Elegy" where before I had only tolerated it. O'Hara even uses the word "dark" several times.

18 ago 2007

Two hours a day might not sound like a lot. It's 60 or 62 hours a month as opposed to the 40 hour work week. But actually if you take away lunch and internet browsing time, answering email, waiting around for meetings, etc.. the 40 hour week is much less than that. My two hours is really concentrated work. Work distilled.
A line came to me last night

"No typographer is an ironist.'

I have no idea what that means. This morning i changed it to

"Every typographer is an ironist."

(You know you're in trouble if you can't decide between two lines that mean the oppoite. Then you know you are "not even wrong.")


"Every calligrapher is an ironist / 'that common language to unravel'"

Then, "The unsure calligrapher is not / good for herself." That would be a very good line if it weren't a Creeley rip-off. It's the part of the poem after the first line that usually gives me problems. I want every line to have that first-line quality of being "given."

17 ago 2007

It's not unusual for me to come home and find my daughter playing "Joy Spring" along with Clifford Brown. She's learned the heads to about a dozen or more jazz standards, mostly just from playing along to the records and learning by ear. "All of Me," "Doxy," "St. Thomas," "Now's the Time," "So What," "Oleo," "Cherokee," "Tenor Madness," Moritat." Mostly Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk. I hear her right now with "Birth of the Cool." I think it's "Boplicity." Now where could she have gotten this interest in jazz from?

16 ago 2007

Max Roach has passed away at age 83. I really feel that this is a loss of one of the last connections to the bebop pioneers. Of major figures, only Roy Haynes survives.
"A forlorn mutt sits in the yard."

You're going to have to do better than that. You are the Poet Laureate, forgod'ssake. "A forlorn mosquito sits in the parlor" would be much better.

15 ago 2007

Mayhew's Laws of Lorca

(1) Law of Lorca: If a US poet is interested in one, and only one, (peninsular) Spanish poet, that poet will always be Lorca. If a US poet is interested in several Spanish-language poets, Lorca is likely to be one of those poets. But not always. [If there is an interest in one poet in Spanish (whether Spanish or Lat Am], that poet will be, without exception, Lorca, Neruda, or Vallejo.]

(2) Law of the duende. Mention of Lorca will usually be accompanied by mention of the duende. Poets who have delved deeper into Lorca, however, are somewhat less likely to emphasize this concept, whereas a poet who mentions Lorca once and only once is extremely likely to link him to this concept.

(3) Law of Lorca and Rilke. If Lorca is mentioned, Rilke is likely to be cited in the vicinity too. A US poet interested in Lorca will also be interested in Rilke (I'm not sure the converse is true, though.) [Or a British poet, for that matter, considering Stephen Spender translated both FGL and RMR]

(4) Law of Lorquian Gender. Being male increases the likelihood of an engagement with Lorca. Being a gay male, even more so. Being black also increases the likelihood. Few women have translated Lorca, written elegies or homages or parodies. Chicks don't dig Lorca, apparently (to borrow the title of a Drew Gardner poem). At least in the same numbers. I haven't figured out why yet.

These laws hold pretty much across other divisions. For example, Bly, Spender, and Koch are all examples of (3). Koch and O'Hara exemplify (1) also, since Koch only cites Lorca (and no other Spanish poet), and FO'H cites Lorca several times + Machado in a single poem.

Spicer doesn't use the word duende in After Lorca, a more in-depth approach. He does use it in the lectures though. Honig, who wrote one of the first books on Lorca in English, doesn't overemphasize the cthonic sprite either. Neither does Langston Hughes, who translated Lorca already in the 30s.

"Could it be a coincidence that both Langston and Ted Hughes translated Bodas de sangre?" There may be a fourth law that states that having the last name of Hughes and being a poet increases the likelihood of having translated Lorca. I'll get back to you on that.
"Meaningless words. In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning. Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader." --Orwell, "Politics and the English Language."

[Note Orwell's clumsy passive voice here; something he rails against elsewhere in the essay]

Is that really so? Or do those words have a "meaning" shared by others who speak the same code, but not by me? I've always been bothered by this in Art Catalogue writing, and even in the writing of artists themselves when they use that particular vocabulary. Words that seem to refer to a pre-existing debate whose terms I am not privy too. I can imagine someone coming along and correcting me, saying that this language is perfectly reasonable in its context, that it is indeed meaningful.
What Emily describes in comment on post below as the "They Feed They Lion" effect. I felt it with Levine with this poem--when else did he ever manifest that degree of linguistic creativity? I loved James Tate in the Norton Anthology before his poetry began to go soft around the edges. I liked the Strand of "Eating Poetry" and "When I am in a field / I am the absence / of that field." Nothing can take away the experience of that youthful reading. It is unwise to condescend to one's former selves. I loved the Cummings of "If you can't smoke you gotta eat and we ain't got nothing to eat. Come on kid, let's go to sleep. If you can't eat you gotta dream and we ain't got nothing to dream. Come on kid, let's go to sleep." [all quotations from memory and guaranteed to be inaccurate] The Stevens of "The houses are haunted / by white nightgowns." The O'Hara of "The eager note on my door said call me, call me..."

That's still, for me, the best Stevens, the best Cummings, the best Levine, O'Hara, Tate, and Strand. Is it because I read those particular poems at a formative age? Can poetry ever be that good again, as when I was 14 or 15? Or can any other period of my life match that for discovery? That was the poetry going through my head. "May I for my own sake song's truth reckon, journey's jargon. Jersey Guernsey in sombre and illustrious weather. The small, yellow grass onion, spring's first green, precursor to Manhattan's sidewalks. I thought I saw a small bird. I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked. All in green went my love riding, on a great horse of gold, into the silver dawn."

Maybe there are only certain times when "the window is open." If the window is not open, you can still read poetry, or remember what you've read in the past, but there won't be new discoveries.

14 ago 2007

I tried to read Mark Strand the other day. In the abstract, without having a book of Strand's on hand, I would have said he is pretty good. Not my favorite style of poetry, but possibly good "of type." Yet when I actually try to read something like this I can barely tolerate it. It seems bland and colorless to me, almost unspeakably dull like Charles Wright. Yet I'm sure if I don't read him very much I'll continue to think of him as pretty good "of type."
I got my copy of O'Hara's New Spanish Painting and Sculpture today. They are pretty inexpensive on the internet and justifiable I suppose as part of my collection of New York School items, though I don't really need this book for my research since I could just as easily look at it in the library. What puzzles me, though, is that peculiar "art catalogue speak." It's not ordinary language, an ordinary way of expressing ideas, but it's not technical stuff about how paint is put on canvas either. It's a rather stiff, abstract way of talking about artistic value. The terms of discussion have no referents either in everyday life or in the actual practice of creating art. Needless to say, I don't hear Frank's voice at all. Any other curator could have written that. There is nothing here to connect me to Frank O"Hara the poet, or even Frank talking about Larry Rivers. There are some insights into art there, maybe, but buried in that "art speak" prose. What's the origin of that language?

Orwell complained about this, already, in "Politics and the English Language." He said words like "plastic," 'human," "nature" had no reference. It's a code I don't understand. I could justify it as a technical language, but that's not what it is, really.
Send me your duende sightings. For example, if Denise Levertov writes a blurb for Hilda Morley's Selected Poems and mentions the duende, that would be a "duende sighting" (or maybe a duende citing?) Or if Michael McClure uses the word duende in a poem about Jackson Pollock. I keep finding more and more, and by sheer accident. For example, yesterday I was in the public library after the water main broke on our street and we had no running water all afternoon. I was looking for something else and picked up the Hilda Morley book too, just because that's the kind of guy I am, and lo and behold, a duende sighting!

10 ago 2007

Silliman is under the mistaken impression that the New York School of poetry does not RULE THE UNIVERSE. It's the West Coast bias again.
Thanks to Seinfeld I have, in the month of August, prepared and mailed my ms. to Liverpool University Press, gathered a few permissions for reprinting poems, written two thousand words on my Chapter on Lorca and the New York poets for my next book, all while doing my 5-6 miles of walking a day. With plenty of free time to spare.

9 ago 2007

There was a time in the 70s when every book of poetry had to have a gerund (or so it seemed):

Searching for the Ox (Simpson)

Diving into the Wreck (Rich)

Dismantling the Silence (Simic)

Braving the Elements (Merrill)

Gathering the Bones Together (Orr)

Kicking the Leaves (Hall)

I'm sure there were plenty of books that didn't have that that title format, but there were sure a lot of them that did. It's kind of a mini-cliché that continues to this day, but I think I was most aware of it in the 1970s which is when I first started reading poetry.


Burning the Empty Nests (Orr) [It seems the the object of the gerund is, preferentially, an object from nature]

Connecting the Dots (Kumin)

Looking for Poetry (Strand)

Eating Naked (Dobyns) [not a book of poems, though]

Loving a Woman in Two Worlds (Bly)

Taking All Morning (Bly) [poets on poetry]

Writing the Australian Crawl (Stafford) [poets on poetry]

Listening Deep (Stafford)

Learning to Live in the World (Stafford)

There are plenty of academic studies with this gerunding the noun pattern too. Hey, that would be good title for a book of poetry: "Gerunding the Noun."

8 ago 2007

We had a block party last night. The people on our cul-de-sac are highly educated and multi-talented. There is a novelist, several scientists, musicians, and teachers, and even a pair of Spanish professors.

7 ago 2007

If you think of certain classic fllm directors (Bergman, Hitchcock, Buñuel), the element in their films that is the most dated, cringe-worthy at times, is a kind of heavy-handed Freudian symbolism.
Articles in the New York Times about underprivileged millionaires in Silicon Value who feel poor because someone else has more money than they do. If you have more material wealth that 99.99% of the world's population you should just SHUT UP about it already. People could live quite well on a fraction of what you live on.

6 ago 2007

Today is Abbey Lincoln's birthday. An acquired taste, and one I have never acquired. She sings what sound to me like arbitrary sequences of notes, with little relation to the original melody of the song, and consistently on the flat side. It sounds to me like a tone deaf-person singing. What she does with melody she also does with time, singing so far behind the beat as to make the beat irrelevant. She exemplifies annoying, self-indulgent mannerisms, the bane of jazz singing (unless you happen to like those particular mannerisms, I guess, which would make her a great singer for you!) Her voice does have a rich timbre, one that could be put to excellent use if she sang on time and in tune. She seems confident of her approach, diva-like in her delivery, which makes her badness all the more unbearable. It's an arrogant badness, not a self-effacing one. Am I the only one who thinks this? Evidently not, because my wife and daughter can't stand her either.
Addendum: doing "research" for your novel or dissertation doesn't count. You have already read everything you need to read. Your job is to write.
I have a new system for work inspired by Seinfeld. You write a red X on a calendar for every day that you write and then you try to keep the chain alive for as long as possible. A week, a month or two, a year. ("Don't break the chain"; Imaigne Seinfeld saying that in an annoying whine; apparently he uses this method). I've arbitrarily decided on two hours as a minimum.

I could almost guarantee that this will force you to finish your novel, your dissertation, or get you tenure. The reason why you are not finishing your novel or dissertation is that you are misconceiving the problem. You are seeing it as a problem of being good enough, smart enough, talented enough, to do it, or of having enough time to do it. The actual problem has more to do with finding those two hours a day to actually do it. (I know this because I have often misconceived the problem in myself. I actually know now that I am talented, smart enough to do what I want to do, but that simply not doing it is my usually my problem.)

The two hours must be on the Major Project you are working on. You will have to fit in work on other projects into a third and a fourth hour. If you have to write a book review, do your work on the Major Project first for two hours. It is best to put as much energy as possible into a single section of the Project.

Why "only" two hours? This is enough for me to add 100-600 words to the word-count of whatever it is I am working on. The rest of your day is free to go about the everyday business of living and working, and the pace is not too onerous to prevent work on busier days. I don't have to feel guilty about not working when I should be: I've done my two hours! I can read, study, think, etc... with complete freedom if I have more time. If I want to work three or four hours on some days I can, so it's a flexible plan--only moderately rigid. It can be maintained (I hope) while I'm teaching and when I'm not. I think some academics make the mistake of only writing during the summers and weekends rather than every day.

If the chain is broken for some reason, then start a new chain. Analyzing your own chains, their pattern, will give you insight into why you are or are not accomplishing what you want to accomplish. Major life changes like moving or the birth of a new child will provide interruptions. Intercontinental flights are also good excuses. Bad excuses will include "too busy" or "too tired."

5 ago 2007

Sans-serif fonts (except in appropriate occasions)

UPDATE: Of course, my blog appears in a sans serif. I meant I hate it in real books!

4 ago 2007

New poetry at THE DUPLICATIONS by David Michael Wolach.

And a Collaboration.