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.