29 jul 2008


Fanny Howe. The Lyrics. 2007. 83 pp.

I'm not understanding why I have stopped responding to Howe's work. Have I changed, or has she? Or did I impute values to other works of her that had more to do with me than with her?

26 jul 2008


Milán, Valente, Varela, and Sánchez Robayna, eds. Las ínsulas extrañas: antología de poesía en lengua española (1950-200) 2002. 914 pp.

If I want to read 9,000 books of poetry it might be a good idea to stay away from 900 page anthologies. I haven't read every poem in this book but I think I've spent enough time with it for it to qualify. There are some strange and beautiful poets I didn't know before, like Quessep. Pacheco is better than I remember or ever realized. This is a good book for starting me on new directions in my reading.
Writing is a continual struggle with one's own laziness. That is the reason for the stupid motivational tricks. It's a matter of tricking oneself into actually doing the work. Today, for example, I'm trying to get this Guggenheim application written. You'd think it would be easy to write a 1000 word proposal, especially since I have 800 words already written. Grant applications are the hardest thing to write, though.

25 jul 2008

I used to think there was a category of MFs. Those to whom devotion is due, once they are recognized. Miles and Casals, Rothko, Joseph Cornell. My theory of invisible cities, though, locates the response in the person making the personal investment, not in the pantheon of MFs per se.

That raises the question of whether there might be bad investments. In other words, objects of devotion who aren't worthy. For me, maybe cummings, Vonnegut? I can't think of too many others. I would argue that no, there are no bad investments. One made during adolescence might cause embarrassment later, but they are appropriate at that age.


How can someone be despised for "taste"? It is assumed that the person with that kind of bad taste has made a deep personal investment in, commitment to, say Ayn Rand, Thomas Kinkade, or Kenny G. That IS the person; those are the markers of subjectivity that that person has voluntarily chosen as socio-cultural identity. To act as though those markers are not open to critique seems rather odd. Just as it seems logical to me that someone might despise me as an elitist shit.

Ortega y Gasset argues that the purpose of dehumanized art is to provide the basis for just such a cultural differentiation.

23 jul 2008


*Blanca Varela. Donde todo termina abre las alas: Poesía reunida (1949-2000). 2001.

I recently read these collected poems of Varela, the Peruvian poet. That first 1% of the 9,000 books project is hard to get, partly because I'm reading these longer books.

Calvino, Invisible Cities. Trans. Weaver. 1972; 1974. 165 pp.

This didn't stand up to my memory of it, quite. It wasn't that it was bad, but that I thought I could invent more imaginative cities myself. It was great as a stimulus of my own ideas, but I thought (arrogantly) that I could outdo Calvino. In fact, my memory had outdone him by inventing a more exalted image of this book.

And I never did finish that Carme Riera novel that was number 24...
My idea of reading poetry is based loosely on the imagery of Calvino's Invisible Cities, certainly one of my favorite novels. Each poet is an imaginary city, which may or may not be associated with the real city associated with the poet. Pessoa's Lisbon, say, or Lorca's Granada, Montejo's Caracas. Even Ronald Johnson's Topeka.

The personal investment one feels in a poet has to do with the fact that poets shape one's subjectivity, carve it up into regions. Someone like me has suffered that particular déformation professionelle quite a bit. A particular person has only one subjectivity, but multiple in terms of its subregions. It's kind of difficult because one feels a certain responsibiity. Sometimes I feel like the protagonist of Ishiguro's The Unconsoled visiting a city where I have certain responsibilities--but what are they exactly?

The model of poetry criticism I see sometimes is more like that of a presumed expert in fabrics. Imagine this gentleman in his office. He is brought samples of fabrics from multiple regions of the world and asked to judge their quality. He writes up his reports: this one is a bit flimsy, isn't it? This one is one we've seen many times before--no novelty there! This other one is over-ornate. Even a very good judger of fabric samples is confined by the metaphor I've constructed for him. He's still an expert on fabrics and not a traveller to far-off cities.

So if someone sends me a book to review, or tells me to read this other poet I have little previous acquaintance with, I am in some sense being asked to find a place on the map, another city. i could give my fabric expert's advice too, but that is inherently limited. The problem is not that judgment is wrong per se, but that there is wider context that needs to be brought into play--the imaginary city, not the swath of fabric.

22 jul 2008

The reviewers of my Lorca book have revealed their identities. You will have to buy the book to find out who they are: the two most prominent Lorquistas teaching in American universities; the most prominent American translator and scholar of modern French poetry; a well-known critic of American poetry.

20 jul 2008

Here is the data from the Gamoneda article. I found I was being inefficient by planning too many days of work: I would putter around on a day when I thought things were going well. So I'm going to try to finish today on day 18. You'll notice once I hit 10 days and 5000 words my focus changed to number of pages of complete sentence, finished prose. The word count crept up gradually to over 6000 words over 7 days, then jumped down as I eliminated extraneous material as I move into finishing mode.

I can still use days 19 and 20 to revise and refine, but I don't need those extra 10 days in my plan.

Plan: 30 days of writing. More or less 5,000-6,000 words. Average about 500 words a day for the first ten days, then 10-20 days of revision. It's to my advantage to write more rather than less, in view of book project. The accordion article. Last page of text should be page 22 + 1 page of notes 1 ½ pages of bibliography. 2nd phase: revision. [3rd phase, if needed, more revision.]

Day One: June 24, 2008. 246 words. (Goal 500)
Day 2: June 30. 1,018. (1000)
Day 3: July 1. 1,721. (1500)
Day 4: July 2. 2,314. (2000)
Day 5: July 3. 2,874. (2500)
Day 6: July 4. 3,362. (3000)
Day 7: July 5. 4,016. (3500)
Day 8: July 6. 4,160. (4000)
Day 9: July 10. 4,759. (4500)
Day 10: July 11. 5,011 (5000)
Second phase: 10 days of re-writing.

Day 11: July 12. Finished up to beginning of page 8. 16 pages of text total, not including notes. (5115)
Day 12: July 13. page 13 finished 18 pp. (5590)
Day 13: July 15. page 14 finished. 19 pp. (22 total with bib.) (5806)
Day 14: July 16. page 15 finished. 19 pp. (22 total with bib.) (5883)
Day 15: July 17. page 15 finished. 19 pp. (23 total with notes, bib.) (5961)
Day 16. July 18. through beginning of page 16 finished. 20 pp. (6081)
Day 17. July 19. 16. 20 pp. (6301)
Day 18. July 20. 18 pages finished. 19 pages of text out of 23 total. (5957)

17 jul 2008


*Juan Carlos Suñén. Cien niños. 1999. 110 pp.

There are fifty prose poems, with Roman numerals. Each one has a single footnote. The setting seems to be some kind of home or asylum for children. There is a balance between anecdote and its erasure or effacement. That is, between a certain narrative reading (the book as a series of vignettes) and a certain opaqueness.

14 jul 2008

It seems to me that the main factor in reading poetry is the level of personal investment involved. I have my poets--mine because they inspire a level of personal identification beyond merely liking or admiring their work, or knowing a lot about it. It is not that the admiration is uncritical in this case. I know my poets have numerous flaws and shortcomings. I could also freely admit that a poet who is not mine might be superior to one who is not. Rilke is not one of my poets--just because he's not--while Creeley is. Duncan isn't and Spicer is. Huidobro most definitely isn't and Neruda is.

I would say I have about 60. I can't make a list because the act of making the list modifies the reality it's supposed to reflect.

Imagine being intimately acquainted with 60 separate towns. Each has its own "local color," its independent reality of sights and smells. These are not places where you merely visit, but all, each one of them, your "home town." There are other places you might like to visit, or that you've heard are pretty nice towns; others you've merely passed through, or lived in and hated.

12 jul 2008

Stage 1 of the article consists of 10 days of writing, and basically a 5,000 word draft.

Stage 2 will consist of 10 more days of going through and making sure it is all in complete sentences and serviceable prose. Now the point is not to count words but pages of finished prose. The first day of this stage, today, I got up through page 7.

Stage 3, if needed, will consist of 10 or fewer days of making sure I like it, all the bibliography is there, etc...

All this is in 1-3 hours of work a day.

The Lorca ms. came back today from the copy-editor. I haven't opened the package yet. The rest of July looks rather intense. I might have to work on two things at once in any given week.

9 jul 2008


*Miguel Casado. Inventario. 57 pp.

I picked up some Miguel Casado books from my office when i was there earlier. I like the slow, meditative movement of his lines. I had this book long before I met Miguel himself.

8 jul 2008


*Blanca Varela. Concierto animal. 1999. 46 pp.

This is one of my favorite books by Peruvian poet Blanca Varela. I've been missing my own books and am now unpacking them in my office in Kansas.

4 jul 2008


Carme Riera. Cap al cel obert

A nice historical novel about a woman who goes from Cuba to Mallorca to accompany her sister, who is supposed to marry their cousin Miquel, a dissolute libertine. The younger sister who is supposed to marry Miquel dies in passage, and the older sister is sick and has not yet told the family that she is NOT the younger sister, as they all assume she is.

My 100 novel blog project is at the service of my reading knowledge of reading knowledge of 8 languages project. Two kinds of learning take place as I read in Catalan: the purely mechanical practice of reading what I already know, making that second nature, and the gradual assimilation of new words and grammatical forms. My Catalan is one step further along than my Italian.

The 8 languages will be

English / Spanish / Portuguese / French / Catalan / Italian / German / Euskara

(listed in order of current reading knowledge)

Dante distinguished three Romance languages, basically Italian, French, and Occitan. Castilian had not yet emerged as a strong enough vernacular in written form for him to recognize it. I'm assuming I'll be fine in Occitan with Catalan as the basis, and that Galego is basically Portuguese.

3 jul 2008


Bernardo Atxaga. Esos cielos. 1996. 139 pp.

The night before I decided to study a little Basque, I had a dream that I was studying Basque and having to decline the word "Garmendia." Upon waking I felt I should study Basque--something that had never occured to me before. I was curious to what Garmendia was, the term that had appeared in my dream, and it turned out to be the real name of Atxaga, the most prominent Basque novelist of today.

I read this in Spanish, of course. A woman who has been in jail for 4 years for being a part of ETA or a splinter group thereof takes a bus from Barcelona to Bilbao. She has very little to get back to, since she's no longer in ETA. It's very well plotted, almost too well put together--the way the two plots--the events of the return home itself and all the other information about her past--are put together.
Little brother makes good
On day five of the Gamoneda article I have 2,851 words. Ahead of schedule. Some of it consists of complete sentences too!

This will be an "accordion article," in other words, the germ of a book. Not the first chapter, but the entire book. I will simply continue to expand it until it breaks up spontaneously into different chapters. That's the plan at least.

2 jul 2008

We think of learning a second language as so much harder than learning our first, but really, the two tasks are too asymmetrical to make the comparison valid.

For example, the first year of learning a native language...

The student is not expected to produce any utterance, but simply to passively absorb sounds in the immediate environment. The only other skills the student must master are basic infantile ambulation and motor skills.

The first year of the second language.

Memorize numerous conjugations and vocabulary lists, orthographical rules. Learn basic phrases and accomplish simple tasks like ordering food in a restaurant. At the same time, studying college level mathematics and numerous other subjects.

The second year L1:

The student will continue to listen passively, and acquire a basic vocabulary. Some babbling is expected.

The second year L2:

More conjugations and vocabulary; the reading of authentic stories and poems; bringing basic literacy level up to the point that the student is almost ready to do real college work in the language .

3rd year, L1:

Some more babbling. By the end of the year the student will be expected to form some simple sentences with imperfect grammar and have a limited active vocabulary of a few hundred words. You can treat all verbs as regular and nothing bad will happen. If you make a mistake it's cute..

3rd year, L2:

College level analysis of language, literature, and culture in the second language. Continued refinement of grammar and literacy skills. If you make basic mistakes you are treated like an idiot.

No wonder it's harder to learn a second language! Six years of language study and you're in graduate school. Six years of your first language and you're still in 1st grade. It's taken you 18 years to have a college level of English literacy, yet you're expected to duplicate all that in a second language in a few years.

So maybe it's easier to learn a second language. After all, you are already an adult and a lot of that literacy just transfers over directly to your second language. You don't have to lie on your back and passively absorb things for two years before you start. You can just go right to it.
I tend to write my articles by working at all parts of the article, from beginning to end, all at once, rather than starting at the beginning and going to the end. There are inherent inefficiencies in either method, but I find that I need to write down ideas as they occur to me, whether those ideas belong to the particular section I'm working on or not. The advantage to my method is that I never get stuck--there's always another section to work on, another task I can do somewhere else in the article. The inefficiency occurs in having messes to clean up rather than a steady flow from beginning to end.

I don't use outlines much. I have rough scheme in my head, but I work out organizational problems once I have enough on paper to work with.

I remember when cutting and pasting was literally cutting and pasting. You took scissors and cut out a paragraph and then put it somewhere else in your paper. Then you retyped the paper with the paragraphs in proper order.
I'm trying an experiment. To write a 5,000 word article, I will spend (up to) 30 days. Work for the first ten days will consist of writing about 500 words each day, whether rough notes or finished draft, spending no more than a few hours each day. That leaves about 20 days or 40 hours to bring it to finished form. The article is due on October 1, so my own deadline will be September 1.

Usually when I write it's about something I already know about. The research is already complete. This method wouldn't work for starting from scratch with a completely new topic.