29 ago 2008

Poor Phil Schaap. So knowledgeable and apparently well spoken. Yet he manages to talk without moving from the realm of the obvious and the anecdotal for half hour stretches. What makes Bird great? He doesn't say. He proposed that in the last few years of his life Charlie Parker was moving in a different direction. Ok. But how about telling us what that direction is? I had to go home from my office before I found out. We had to be told first that in Western music there is harmony, melody, and rhythm.

For me it's, a kind of uncanny quality that is also present in Lester Young. It's not speed per se, but a rhythmic quality of elasticity, an ability to dilate or compress time itself at will. The ability to play very fast is necessary, but not sufficient to achieve this quality, obviously. (In fact it is present at slower tempos with as much, or more, intensity.) Time can stand almost still at a breakneck tempo, yet speed up at a very slow tempo. The subtlety and taste of his phrasing is unmatched.

This is what fascinated Julio Cortázar who wrote a long short story called "El perseguidor" about Parker. (The "Johnny" in JC's story is very obviously Bird.)

There are many musicians I admire who don't at all have this "uncanny" quality. It is in Bud Powell, but not in Art Blakey. Tatum had it.

27 ago 2008

Vallejo refers to himself in one of the aphorisms as weighing 44 kilos! I don't think naturally in terms of kilos but isn't that less than 100 lbs?

*Joseph Ceravolo. Spring in this World of Poor Mutts. 1968, 85 pp.

It's as though I had never really read this book before. I feel that to really read it I would need to write about, that is, frame my reading in terms of the some theory of what this book is really about. For example, how does immanence work in Ceravolo's poetry? With whom is he in dialogue. Is the poetry is simple as it seems?
i'm trying this idea of writing an "ur-document." For the introduction to Spanish verse, mentioned below, I am writing for one hour on ten separate days. I'll end up with a document of more than twenty pages to which I can return whenever I get stuck with the actual writing of the book. An hour is a long time just to brainstorm, generate ideas and plan strategies. It might not be a long time to produce finished prose, but that's not the point here.

I don't know whether it is even a viable project yet. The ur-text should tell me whether it is or not.

César Vallejo. Aphorisms. Trans. Kessler. 2002. 83 pp.

These are kind of strange notebook entries by Vallejo. Not really aphorisms, most of them.

Yo amo a las plantas por la raíz y no por la flor.

That one is. My translation, superior to Kessler's, is "I love plants at the root and not at the flower."
I've sometimes thought of writing a book along the lines of Jacques Barzun's An Essay on French Verse / for Readers of English Poetry (New Directions, 1981). It would be an introduction to poetry in Spanish for readers of poetry in English. Very different from Barzun's book in that Spanish is not French, and I am far from being Jacques Barzun. But a book with an equivalent function, covering both Spain and Spanish America. Perhaps the writing of the Princeton Encyclopedia article on Spanish poetry, which I will do shortly, will help clarify things a bit. Certainly it would be a natural extension from my book on Lorca. I like Barzun's brevity--126 pp plus a translation of a Victor Hugo poem, and his clear-headed explanations of prosody. I must have read this book in the 80s at some point. I've recommended it to people since, and am now re-reading it to see whether it provides a model. Probably not in any literal sense, but James Laughlin must have known what he was doing to publish it.

Top Misconceptions about Spanish Poetry:

1) The verso libre of Lorca and Neruda is comparable to "free verse" in the American tradition.

2) Spanish and Latin American poetry of the twentieth century is mostly surrealist.

3) The Spanish romance is a "ballad."

4) Translations into English of 20th century Spanish are mostly pretty good or adequate.

5) What we really need are more translations of Lorca, Miguel Hernández, and Neruda.

[Udpate: dude is still alive. Wow. He was born in 1907.]
I'm listening to the WKCR Lester Young birthday broadcast. Although I've heard most of the tracks before I'm sure there will be surprises.

It's interesting to here three distinctive flavors in the piano backups. Teddy Wilson, Nat King Cole, and Oscar Peterson. Cole is one of my favorite piano players of mid-century, and seems to complement Lester perfectly. With Buddy Rich on the drums to boot. Teddy plays with the perfect flavor of the 30s. OP comes out of Cole's style, to some extent.

The interesting thing is to hear a phrase you've heard before--but on a track that you've never heard. There's that eerie familiarity / strangeness.

26 ago 2008


*David Shapiro. House (Blown Apart). 1988. 89 pp.

Here's a dark and mysterious book of poems. I don't quite get the architect's cup; some of the dream material is only half understood by the poetic speaker himself, so the reader is struggling too. A nice long blurb by Harold Bloom on the back.

22 ago 2008


Francisco Brines. La última costa. 1995. 102 pp.

Very typical late Brines. There are a few memorable poems, but most of them tend to blend in with each other in my memory of them. The unitary effect of the book is an effect of essentially writing the same poem over and over again. Also, a very restricted linguistic register.

21 ago 2008

Improvisation is a troubled category.

We improvise when the phone rings and we have to respond to that situation in the moment. There is no script. All conversation is improvised. When a student asks a question that is unique (for which a prescripted answer does not exist) the answer has to be improvised.

An exam answer has to be improvised, if the question is a unique one, not prepared in advance in exactly this form. The opposite of improvisation is not preparation: we are prepared, presumably, for the exam. Improvisation is competence in the forms of conversation, whether written or oral.

Is the opposite of improvisation revision? The improvisation is a performance, it happens in real time. So going back later is a different thing. Improvisation, then, would be more like writing something the right way first, rather than thinking: oh, it doesn't matter how I write it now, since there will always be time to re-write it later. We can always fix it with pro-tools later. Improvisation in writing, then, would be more disciplined, not less.
If reading is about the formation of identities, subjectivities...

Where does the sub come in to subjectivity? What are we beneath, so to speak? What are we subjected to? We think of the subject as the one under control but obviously in the French theory tradition, if I can speak of it shorthand, the subject is the one subjected, formed by other discourses.

There is a kind of compulsion here: I couldn't any more give up my Creeley than give up my Coltrane. The grooves are strong and deep, the scarring is permanent. We speak of "déformation professionelle." My graduate students use the concept of "agency" as a counteracting force to this compulsion: the subject is autonomous and can speak for itself.

For graduate students, the process is double: there is a subjection to the norms of the "profession." And a subjection to the literature itself. To say there is a tension between these two things is the understatement of the century. At best there is a tension, at worst the second subjection simply fails to take place.

But how to conceive of this tension? One view is that the subjection to poetry is purer and less conditioned, but poetry is also an institution, or rather, it is inseparable from its various institutions, its concrete instantiations on this earth. (Any particular way that it exists materially.) So then it becomes a question of which institutions matter and who is in control of them, not of finding a space outside of institutions. The way Silliman, for example, insists that other institutions outside of academia should be the true legitimators. But he is no less invested in there being a legitimating mechanism.

All arguments about poetry are about this.

14 ago 2008

Questions on "Interview with Steve Evans".

1. Why is it important that we are analyzing this as an audio file rather than a written text? Was it more or less difficult to process the material in this way? What was the main difficulty?

2. What does Steve (the second speaker) mean when he faults his own use of sound files of poetry as being "illustrative." What would be a use that would not be merely illustrative look like? Discuss "dejection" and "euphoria."

3. What information does the voice give that the written text does not? What are the typical reactions of students to hearing sound files? What are the "traps" that are anticipated or experienced most often in the use of these files?

4. What is meant by "left liberal pedagogy" [toward the end of the interview]? What are the strengths and weaknesses of this pedagogy, according to the two men speaking?

5. How much of an obstacle was it for you that the context given was poetry as taught in departments of English (as opposed to Spanish)? In other words, how "translatable" are the concerns given here? How distracting was the discussion of poets you probably have never heard of (Rod Smith)? [middle section of discussion] Discuss the discussion of audience, "room," "tone," etc...

6. What are the suggestions for using the expertise of the students in the classroom? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the undergraduate students discussed. What does Proust have to do with it?

7. What questions would you ask Steve Evans?

8. You are graduate students, which means you occupy at least four positions: students, teachers (mostly, for now, of Spanish language), scholars-in-training, and future teachers of literature. How does this interview help you to reflect on your own development in any of these four areas? Why is graduate course-work oriented mostly toward the "scholars-in-training" function?

9. Write down five sentences or phrases from anywhere in the interview that you think are particuarly discussion provoking.

13 ago 2008


*Jean Valentine. The Cradle of the Real Life. 2000. 75 pp.

I'd forgotten how good this book was--but something told me to bring it home today. It's rare to find a book with so little overwriting.

Julio Llamazares. La lentitud de los bueyes. 1979. 48 pp.

This book made an impact in its day, though Llamazares is now better known for his novels. When I first read it, it hadn't yet read Gamoneda, so in some sense my perspective was distorted. Not that it's an exact copy of Gamoneda, but I believe that's the context in which it should be read.

The book itself holds up fine.
I did 53 pushups on my second test. Maybe I should have waited another day or so after finishing week 2. Still, that's a gain of about a third over 41, so at this pace I should be able to do 93 after week six.

I tend to rush these things. I'll have to force myself to take a day off before starting the next week.

12 ago 2008


Miguel Ángel Muñoz Sanjuán. Las fronteras. 2001. 50 pp.

You'll be in Madrid and someone will give you his book of poems. Which is fine Muñoz, like Fernando Beltrán, I know through Juan Carlos Mestre. It's not like this is a bad book, necessarily. I just don't get what he is doing, exactly. How much of my reading takes place on the border between comprehension and non-comprehension. The witholding of sympathy.

There, another tenth of a percent is done.

Juan Lamillar. Música oscura. 1984. 57 pp.

This seems to be one of those typical watered down culturalismo books of the 1980s. It is very nice, but without the intellectual depth of 70s culturralismo. You know you are in trouble when a poem begins "Odio libros unitarios." [I hate unitary books, that is, books of poetry conceived as coherently defined aesthetic projects.]

Núñez. Naturaleza no recuperable. 1991. 56 pp.

I've been reading about Aníbal Núñez. Some essay by Miguel Casado give a good though fragmented introduction to his work. There is a love of paradox and difficulty in his work that is immensely attractive to a reader like me.
I've gone through week 2 of the 100 pushups program. I started at 41, so we'll see how I do on the exhaustion test after week 2. I'll take that on Thursday. I'm guessing I'll be able to do about 55 or 60. The third week seems much more intense, starting with sets of 25 instead of 15. The second week was very easy, since I was no longer sore as I was during the whole first week.

7 ago 2008


Miguel Casado. La mujer automática. 1996. 95 pp.

Another book by Casado. The title is base on an image by Hopper.


Suñén. El hombro izquierdo 1997. 71 pp.

I still do not understand what Suñen is all about.


Hugo Mujica Noche abierta 1999. 63 pp.

Mujica is a very quiet, elegant poet from Argentina. He gave me this book in Almería several years ago.

4 ago 2008


*Juan Carlos Mestre. Antífona del otoño en el valle del Bierzo 2004. 68 pp.

Mestre is a poet to whom the images seem to come more quickly. I distrust his facility sometimes, though not to the extent of Antonio Colinas.
(91) & (92)

*Aníbal Núñez. Definición de savia. 1991. 50 pp.

Clave de los tres reinos. 1986. 79 pp.

Someone who claims to be able to hear a spider weaving a web at the hora de la siesta--that's how quiet it is. Or the fibers of wicker basket so amorously intertwined that they forget that the same material could be used for flagellation: "las mimbres de la cesta entrelazadas / tan amorosamente que la mimbre / no sabe su uso de flagelo." I'm beginning to understand something of the poetry of Núñez. It is a beauty that renounces the name of beauty, refuses, ever, to take the easy path.

Many of his books were published posthumously. Born in 1944, he died in 1987.

If you think you don't understand a poet at all, write a brief summary of the little bit you do understand. Maybe a poem or two that you do more or less get. All of a sudden you have a toehold, a small region of a poet that you do understand after all. So it is with me and Aníbal Núñez, after reading four or five books of his.

There are two opposite ways of violating the sanctity of water (profanar el agua), according to this poet: one, having a river take away the sewage and detritus of a city. The other, trying to make water chemically pure. The same lesson could be applied to love, he suggests in the title.

3 ago 2008

I'm doing that 100 pushups thing that's all over the internet. I lost some weight biking and walking, but some of what I lost was probably muscle mass. I don't want to be one of those scrawny old guys. I can do about 40 pushups now, which is not too bad considering I'm turning 48 this month.

2 ago 2008

Here's the thing. Reading 90 books of poetry in a couple of months would be ridiculous. I'm assuming, though, that reading is usually rereading, and that the point is to have a mix of books--some I've lived with for many years, others I might have looked at once or twice, and a few that I am reading "cold," for the first time. If someone were beginning a similar project without having read many complete books of poetry in the first place, it would be a completely different task.
The 9,000 books project: The first 1%.

How to be Perfect. Arras. Coltsfoot Insularity. Fuera de mí. Más que el mar. Fábula del escriba. Brief Under Water. The Afterglow of Minor Pop Masterpieces. The Anger Scale. As in Every Deafness. Cuchillo casi flor. The Bird Hoverer. Habla (noventa poemas). Herodías. Counting on Planet Zero. Lázaro se sacude las ortigas. Some Words. If so, Tell me. Mis animales obligatorios. Our Selves. Apariciones profanas. Five T'ang Poets. Up to Speed. Under Flag. El hueco. Ese espacio, ese jardín. Arden las pérdidas. La poesía, ese cuerpo extraño. Y todos estábamos vivos. Partitura de la cigarra. Miniatures. Maxfield Parrish: Early & New Poems. Defensive Rapture. On My Way. Metaphor of the Trees and Last Poems. Reescritura. The Duino Elegies. The Shrubberies. To an Idea. Look Slimmer Instantly! The Blue Stairs. The Red Gaze. Ring of Fire. Jack Straw's Castle and Other Poems. Todos han muerto: poesía completa (1971-2006). Edades perdidas. Ca(z)a. Papiros amorosos. Los oriundos del paraíso. Los espacios cálidos. Rasgos comunes. Algunas palabras. Own Face. El sueño de las piedras. Libro de los trazados. Casi una leyenda. Descripción de la mentira. Ing. Material memoria. Shroud of the Gnome. Black Dog Songs. Drawn & Quartered. El movimiento de las flores. La mano muerta cuenta el dinero de la vida. Radi os. Forge. For Love: Poems 1950-1960. Del ojo al hueso. The Book of Who Are Was. To All Appearances. Sphericity. Words. Garbage. Calendas. Edenia. El ciego del alba. Travesía. Hilos. De este modo se llena un vacío. Dinde. Demo to Ink. Concierto animal. Inventario. Cien niños. Donde todo termina abre las alas. Las ínsulas extrañas. The Lyrics. Cuarzo. Estampas de ultramar.

I guess the conclusion is that poets aren't very good with titles. Only a few o these stand out as really kick-ass titles. How to be Perfect, Cuchillo casi flor, Look Slimmer Instantly!

1 ago 2008

(89) & (90)

Aníbal Nuñez. *Cuarzo. 1988. 89 pp.

Estampas de ultramar. 1986 45 pp.

I've being getting into Nuñez, a strange and difficult poet who met and untimely end.