29 ene 2009


*Jordan Davis. Million Poems Journal. 2003. 92 pp.

This is a deceptive book in some way, read straight through. You think it's going to be one thing, and then it shifts into something else, and then again. There aren't roman-numeraled sections to organize the material for you--which is probably better. Note, grammatically, that it's not "million-poem journal" but "million poems / journal."

I like, among other poems, the poem, "Nationalism," which begins like this:

"The German part of me drinks beer
And stares into the sun
The Welsh, Scots, Irish parts of me
Take whiskey "from the gun"
The English prefers caffeine
But also treasures rum
But give wine to the French of me
And then your night's begun--"

I always wanted to write a poem like this:

The Spaniard in me is an Englishman in love with Spain
The Englishman in me is a sunburnt tourist, agape in Florence
The Italian in me is better dressed than I, living in Lisbon
As the Portuguese in me, a dull functionary drunk on
The Scots-Irish Whisky in me...

28 ene 2009


*Menchu Gutiérrez. Besanji. 1994. 137 pp.

A lighthouse keeper and his dgo, Besanji, named after an Egyptian god. The unnamed narrator, the lighthouse keeper, seems to go gradually insane as he anticipates his own death. This was Menchu's first novel. I've read all of them now except for one that our library doesn't have.
Can you develop a liking for for the unlike? A taste for things that, in the normal course of events, you would not like? What's the limit on this? I try deliberately to stretch myself. Since I already like all sorts of supposedly difficult-to-like things, that doesn't really count. Though in this case the liking is not always natural, intuitive, but involves a learning process. The next avant-garde writer you read will teach you how to read her, and you may or may not like it, in the end. For me, the process is more difficult say, with learning to like earlier styles of jazz that are more "corny" sounding. It's a process of blocking certain reaction so that I can hear the music as what it is, rather than trying to judge it. This ability to block out certain kinds of judgment is extremely significant. Once you learn the trick, then a whole nother world opens up.

The same with a more traditional, but very well-done article. Once you stop trying to see it as an article you would have liked to write, you can develop a deeper appreciation. There's a maturity factor here too: when I was younger I was much more dismissive of many more things. This was actually a less perceptive mode than the one I'm in now.

Spend a week listening to a style of music that you can tolerate but is not your favorite. (For me this would be straight ahead classic rock, for example.) Then a second week of a musical style that tests your limits of toleration. Report back on your findings.

27 ene 2009


*Menchu Gutiérrez. La tabla de las mareas. 1998. 96 pp.

This is a strange tale of several nameless characters, male and female and of varying ages, and their relation to two demons, one male and the other female. There are two churches, one black and one white, on either side of a river. I took a couple hours after dinner to read it this evening. I'm not sure of the whole demon thing, but, once again, very nice writing.

Ellington. Never No Lament: The Blanton/Webster Years

This is a three cd set I have been listening to since Christmas and gradually absorbing. I'm not crazy about the vocal numbers. Ivie Anderson anyone? They seem to date faster than the instrumentals, because of their "novelty tune" character. I don't know what the technical definition of a novelty song is; I just think it as a catchy song with a stupid lyric.

This was Ellington's band with bassist Jimmy Blanton and tenor sax Ben Webster, but it was also the band that Billy Strayhorn first contributed to, in the early 40s. It represents one of the high points of Ellingtonia, even if you can't stand Tricky Sam Nanton. One of the pleasures is finding lesser known tunes. Everyone's heard "Cottontail" or "Take the A-Train," which are also here.

"Never No Lament" is actually the same tune as "Don't Get Around Much Any More," just like "Concerto for Cootie" is also better known as "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me."

*Menchu Gutiérrez. Viaje de estudios. 1995. 112 pp.

Here's another, very similar but completely different novel by MG. The narrator is an orphan going on a university "field trip" by train to various monasteries. The activity of the trip seems to be investigating various parareal "agujeros" (holes). One of the other orphans, X, (all the students on the trip are orphans) gets sucked into one of these holes at the end. There are frequent flashbacks about the various orphanages where the narrator has lived. The narrator has strange visions.

All these novels are about the same length and have very short chapters. All relate eery spiritual quests in an unreal environment. All are very well written, with a nice eye for visual detail. I checked out another one, La tabla de las mareas at the library today, and recalled another from the annex as well. That will be five in total. There's a sixth our library doesn't have.

*Menchu Gutiérrez. Disección de una tormeta. 2005. 114 pp.

Another strange and beautiful short novel: a woman is interned in a kind of institution/retreat where the therapy consists of a series of rituals having to do with human hair. Everyone's hair is shaved off; the paint brushes, the strings of the musical instruments, are all made of hair. Books in the library are all about hair too, of course.

26 ene 2009


*Menchu Gutiérrez. De barro la memoria. 1987. 55 pp.


*Menchu Gutiérrez. La mordedura blanca. 1989. 67 pp.

This is an author I have decided to explore in a little more depth--both her poetry and prose. She presents striking images.

Con hilo rojo
la mujer de luto
bordaba rosas en la nieve.

Del pinar venía yo cantando,
a distancia me detengo
y la ramita que traigo
cae de mis manos.

24 ene 2009


*Creeley. If I were writing this. 2003. 98 pp.

Who'd have thought that Creeley at such a late stage in the game could come up with poetry of this quality. Look at the poem "Supper."

I recognized some of these poems from a jazz record Creeley made with Steve Swallow and others. The book Drawn & Quartered, which was part of the 9000 book projects, is included here too, sadly without the images.

*Concha Garcia. Si yo fuera otra. 2005. 87 pp.

This is a selected poems with the feeling of a unitary collection. I knew most of the poems from previous collections. There's a good prologue by Angeles Mora.

23 ene 2009


*Menchu Gutiérrez. La mujer ensimismada. 2001. 90 pp.

A woman visits twelve nearly identical houses on one street and describes their contents. In each house, a woman is engaged in some artistic endeavor, whether of the fine arts or the practical arts. Music, cooking, gardening, sewing, painting, etc... The weather outside in the plaza changes every time she emerges from one of the houses. The descriptions are lovely, and the writing exquisite throughout. Despite its excellence, there is something unsatisfying here. Not just that nothing happens, which is to be expected in a "poet's novel" as this one is, but that there is an absence of negative emotion: everything is too prettified, somehow. Nothing is really at stake.

22 ene 2009

It's curious that in the 11-day Roy Haynes festival there has been little mention of any specific stylistic characteristics of his playing. Granted, I heard very little, in terms of percentage, of the program, since I had to teach and sleep and otherwise be away from the computer, but what little talk there was shied away from anything technical. Like: How do you know it's him, how would you identify him in a blind-fold test? Phil Schaap talks a lot, it's true, but he tends to concentrate on discographical issues.

In terms of timbre, I think its the crackly snare, the crispness of the hi hats, the contrast between the generally clean ride sound and the occasional crashes. (Roy often uses a flat ride, with no bell.) Toms are a little "twangy." In rhythmic terms, there's a kind of exuberant jaggedness and the ability to create longer, coherent comping phrases. He can be quiet busy, marking accents with emphasis, but he isn't too loud.

If any lesser drummers played patterns as seemingly irregular as he does, it would totally throw off the rest of the band. He is very confident and sure handed when he goes into some metric modulation thing, like right now I am hearing him do. I'd say he is more precise than Elvin in his poly-rhythms.

In contrast to Max Roach, I'd say he's less "square" and more rounded. He's really quite close to Tony Williams or Jack DeJohnette, who belong to one generation younger. He's more advanced stylistically that Blakey, Roach, Klack, or Philly Joe. He's outlived almost everyone else that is comparable on the instrument, except DeJohnette. He rivals or maybe even surpasses DeJohnette in stylistic flexibility, the ability to play in any musical context.

21 ene 2009


*Coolidge. Mesh. 1988. 39 pp.

There is an exploration here of a semi-pornographic imagination. The last poem, "Movement on a Dream," ends like this:

And she turns, I turn, the whole erotic is a
turning. Tends to the stillness of the obsessive,
never a blurring, however violent nondistortive, the
plates of the blends rising separable. That will I
defend myself against my own dreams? The girl caught in
the pool of thought covers whatever still of this
making own. The pearl in the skull never to be
exhausted. And I drape her more than
I bare her to me. All the movement still
my own.

Gonzalo Rojas. El alumbrado y otros poemas. 1987. 86 pp.

I still am not liking Rojas. Once in a while I find a phrase or idea I like, but I don't like him at the level of the entire poem. I cannot hear his rhythms yet.
The inaugural poem was unfortunate because of a series of circumstances that aren't all the fault of the inaugural poet, Elizabeth Alexander.

*How the hell do you write an inaugural poem, anyway? It is an impossible task. Even Robert Frost composed a piece of light verse, then couldn't read it in the glare and read the one about the land being ours before we were the land's. You might as well read some piece of doggerel by Rich Puchalsky.

*The inaugural poet, in this case, is not as good a writer as the president. Most poets aren't. Having to follow him put her in a disadvantageous light.

*She used the dread "poet's voice" and made her own lines incomprehensible. Because of her odd intonation and emphasis, I was parsing the line "All about us is noise" as "everything that might be, in some sense "about" us, referring to us, is noise." as opposed to the plain meaning of the words on the page: "We are surrounded by noise."

*Nothing wrong with ending a sentence with a preposition, but in this case it creates awkwardness, in one of the worst phrases of the poem: " built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of." Glittering edifices are not made of brick. This is not as well-written as prose. Not even close.
I learned an important lesson early in my scholarly career. I was working on a paper in one of my first semesters in grad school on WCW and had the Collected Earlier Poems. (I still have this book, the sixth printing of the New Directions hardback which first appeared in 1966? I purchased it on August 28, 1977, when I had just turned 17. I had to special order it, and when it came I remember them calling me and telling me my book "about" William Carlos Williams had arrived. It cost 12.95, which was a lot of money for me.) The lesson is that the poems that appear in the book, attributed to particular collections, do not always belong to the collections where they appear. For example, in the section corresponding to the 1913 The Tempers, the best poems do not appear in the original book, but were later poems that were put there to make it seem that Williams was more advanced aesthetically than he appeared to be. "To Mark Anthony in Heaven," for example. I also learned that poems had other variants. For example, my paper was on the poem "The Jungle," and I went to the rare book room and looked at the original poem, which contained some additional lines, if I remember right.

Literary interpretation is as subjective as you want it to be, but there are also empirical facts. The ninety cents of sales tax I paid in 1977. If you want your reader to trust you, you should take steps to master the textual history of your material.

20 ene 2009


Gonzalo Rojas. Río turbio. 1996. 80 pp.

Rojas is supposed to be good, but this book wasn't. There's a pseudo-Neruda tone in some of the more misogynist poems in the book.

*Creeley. Life & Death. . 1998. 85 pp.

Come out
where there's still time
to play.

Yes, and we hear on the back cover his "stature has been further confirmed" by some award like they give to everyone who lasts a certain while. This is a very rich book; it's quite a moving experience to read it cover to cover like I've just done, after starting and not finishing a few other books today.
They are doing something great over at WKCR in NYC, which you can get streaming over the net: a Roy Haynes festival of about 5 gadzillion hours. Unfortunately I only noticed this morning, so I'll only hear that last few days of it--during waking hours. From the 1940s to the current decade, that's parts of SEVEN decades of music making. And I say parts of because there's nothing from earliest part of the 40s, and the current decade is not yet completed. Even rounding down to sixty years, it's an impressive span of time to be at the top of your game, where Roy still is. Even if Roy is not your number one guy on the drum throne, there's plenty of good music even without focusing on the drummer per se: such as, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker...

I'm a big fan of excess like this. A couple hundred hours in a row playing the entire discography of Roy Haynes? Fine by me. It makes me feel almost normal (as the guy reading 9,000 books of poetry). It's easy to be in a good mood after getting rid of Presidente Arbusto after 8 years of shameful abjection. Obama... and Roy Haynes too!

Even if RH is not your main guy, you can't really see him as markedly inferior to any other player in any context. If he sat in for Elvin in Coltrane's quartet, as he did, the results are still going to be great--or if he sat in for Max Roach with a Parker quintet--the same thing holds. He's just about the best drummer for Chick Corea or Pat Matheny too.

19 ene 2009


*Jorge Teillier. El molino y la higuera. 1993. 52 pp.

This is the first complete book of Chilean poet JT that I've read. I lot of Latin American poets in a more or less colloquial mode seem more or less interchangeable to me, but that might mean I simply have to read more of them, and in more depth.

To have a good working knowledge of Latin American poetry (just the Spanish part, taking Brazil out of the equation for a moment) you'd have to have a grasp on countries with very well developed poetic traditions: Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Cuba, Peru. You'd have to also look at other central American and Carribean nations, especially Nicaragua. Venezuela doesn't have any poets in the "super canon," like Neruda, Vallejo, Borges, but it has a very strong tradition of its own. Finally, there are countries that don't seem, to the outsider, to have as many really well known figures, but who probably would repay study: Uruguay, Paraguay, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, etc... Eventually, the 9000 book project will give me a good grounding, given that some percentage will be books of Latin American poetry.
Suppose the racial poles in this country were reversed, the rules for deciding someone's race. For example, suppose that everyone of mixed race was considered to be "white," and only those of exclusively African background were considered "black." "One drop" of white blood, according to these rules, would make someone "white." (Absurd, right? But no more absurd and arbitrary than the "one drop" rule of traditional American racism.) Then Obama would be another white president like all the rest.

Now imagine, furthermore (an additional contrafactual), that all our presidents up to this point have been full-blooded African-Americans, with no European ancestry at all. So in this case, when Obama is inaugurated, tomorrow, he would become the first "white" president.

18 ene 2009


*Bolaño. The Romantic Dogs. Trans. Laura Healy. 2008. 143 pp.

RB is more of a novelist than a poet. Even when the poetry is good, which is often, it is good in the way an image from a novel or short-story is good. It's like reading Kerouac;s poetry, except I think Kerouac is more of a poet-- less of a prose sensibility--at least the part of JK that was of use to Coolidge.

I didn't really look much at the translation; it seemed ok, for you non-Spanish readers.

*Bolaño. Monseiur Pain. 1999. 171 pp.

Bolaño wrote this in the early 80s, but it wasn't published till much later. M. Pierre Pain is a mesmerist who is called in to try to help the dying César Vallejo in Paris, 1938. He becomes convinced that someone is trying to assassinate Vallejo, after a few Spaniards, presumably agents of Franco?, bribe him to get off the case.

The novel is only partially successful. Vallejo himself doesn't figure much, and the detective story doesn't really get off the ground.

17 ene 2009


*Bolaño. Amberes. 2002. 119 pp.

Bolaño wrote this in 1980, during a more experimental phase. It's an extremely fragmented and discontinuous novel--with 56 very short chapters. Chapter 20 is a brief and helpful "synopsis":

"Synopsis. The little hunchback in the woods next to the campground and the tennis court and stables. In Barcelona a South American is dying in a stinking bedroom. Police dragnets. Cops fucking nameless girls. The English writer talks with the little hunchback in the woods. Agony and a rotten South American traveling. Five or six waiters return to the hotel on a solitary beach. The first days of autumn. The wind stirs up the sand and covers them."

Amberes is the name of a city. Has this one been translated to English? I don't think so.

*Bolaño. El gaucho insufrible. 2003. 177 pp.

This is a posthumous book of short stories (and two strange lecture), published in the year of RB's death. The best story here is "El policía de las ratas," narrated by a rat-policeman, with Kafkaesque implications. (The police-rat's aunt is named Josephine, as in Kafka's story of Josephine, the rodent singer.) As Pepe, the police-rat, investigates a series of cases, he begins to suspect that the killer is another rat--which means that rats can kill other rats. This is a disturbing conclusion, since the idea is that only other animals kill them (humans, cats, weasels, snakes...). What does this mean for the future of the species?

The title story is also good: a prosperous Buenos Aires lawyer decides to go live on his property in the Argentine pampa, and little by little becomes an "insufferable gaucho." The intertext here is Borges's story "El sur." This is Argentine mythology turned to farce. The pampa is inhabited by rabbits rather than horses and cattle. The only way to live is by trapping rabbits, eating them and selling their skins.

*Bolaño. Estrella distante. 1996. 157 pp.

This and Nocturno de Chile are the best RB novels I've read. He wanted to call Nocturno de Chile Tormenta de mierda (shit storm), but his publisher convinced him otherwise.

Carlos Wieder is a poet... or is he? His poems don't seem written by him; there is a strange disconnect. After Pinochet's golpe Wieder murders several women of his acquaintance (in an official capacity) and reappears sky-writing poems. The first is simply the first words of Genesis in Latin, which the nameless narrator of the novel sees from the courtyard of a prison. His career as an airforce pilot comes to an end when he mounts a private exhibition of photos of the women he's killed.

*Bolaño. Llamadas telefónicas. 1997. 204 pp.

Not a novel, but a collection of short stories, some written in a flat, monotonous style. At times, you are waiting for some kind of epiphany, some kind of point to the story, that may or may not come. There's nothing brilliant here in the writing itself--much exorcism of demons, a few memorable images.

In my effort to become an instant Bolaño expert, I've learned that he admired the poetry of my friends Miguel Casado and Olvido García Valdés. He knew who Frank O'Hara was, and Carson McCullers. He looked down on Isabel Allende (who doesn't?) and Antonio Skármeta. He considered himself more a poet than a novelist.

16 ene 2009

I'd forgotten about my poetry in Spanish. The last two fragments were these:

Un Soixante-Huitard me vende resonancias

En lo macarónico, en el pastiche, en todo lo que queda de nosotros


Te vulnero en sueños, gato equivocado de lugar

Para contar mis desdichas bastan unas ínfulas insulsas, insulares

Me afeito con espuma del mar, desde un interior insondable, selvático

[A Soixante-Huitard sell me resonances / In the macaronic, in pastiche, in everything of us that's left // I wound you in dreams, cat in the wrong place / To narrate my misfortunes a few insipid, insular pretension are enough / I shave with foam from the sea, from an unsoundable, wilderness interior]

I'll have to work on the translations a bit.

Ashbery Your Name Here. 2000. 127 pp.

I love the cover of this book, a still from an old Egyptian movie. I've spent many hours with this book over the past 9 years.

The enemy of Ashbery is the typical Ashbery poem, which is so well-written and so abundant, so indistinguishable from its neighbors, that it forces the reader to look for the outlier poem, the one that is somehow unique and memorable on its own terms. The slightest change is welcome: the increasing use of prose poems, the shorter more intense pieces that are more concentrated than his standard page and half NYROB fare.

One thing he's done, though, is to teach people to read him by dint of sheer quantity. One Ashbery poem is incomprehensible, but 5,000 of them? They become translucent, every move and device catalogued in my brain.


*Ashbery. Chinese Whispers. 2002. 100 pp.

In many ways a typical late JA book, but with a strange sourness that makes it attractive, as though the only way to innovate now within this style were to become stranger and more disjointed, while preserving the surface sheen of genteelness. The title poem stands out as especially good. "Random Jottings of an Old Man" is a self-parody (a deliberate one, mind you).

15 ene 2009


Coolidge. All That Jazz: Writings on Kerouac & the Sounds. 1999. 136 pp.

Not a book of poetry per se, but a book "of" poetry. A poet's book, written in a poetic prose that challenges generic boundaries. The only bad thing about Coolidge's writing about jazz is that there is so little of it.
I'm writing my proposal for my jazz course, to be given in Spring of 10 or 11 through the Honors Program.

"Writing Jazz" is my topic. It is about writing about jazz and also writing from / out of jazz. If this course is accepted it should be very fun.

14 ene 2009


*Robert Bolaño. Tres. 2000. 105 pp.

This book consist of three longer poems. Prosa del otoño en Gerona is a series of prose fragment about a Chilean writer living in Gerona. "Los neochilenos" is the story of a rock band by that name traveling by bus from Chile to Peru and then Ecuador. "Un paseo por la literatura" is a series of dreams about literary figures, including Carson McCullers, Enrique Lihn, Archibold McCleish, George Perec... This third section is the most successful of the three. In one dream, the speaker is an old Latin American detective hired by Mark Twain to save the life of someone with no face.

*Mexico City Blues. 1959. 244 pp.

From about chorus 88 to 103, for example, Kerouac is really nailing it. The good thing about this book is its heterogeneous quality and its novel approach to extended poetic form. For example, a poem can simply continue to the next chorus with no break, or a cluster of poems can explore a given theme. There is a lot of material here that's not well-written, (duh) but that's part of the heterogeneity of the whole. You wouldn't want just the good poems, would you? If he wants to spend a few poems just summarizing Buddhist doctrine, that's fine with me. He's still being Kerouac when he does so. The hipsterism is just a distraction at worst.

He found a new language here. He may not be the greatest poet, but he's greater than you are (or me).

I tumbled down the street
On a tricycle, very fast.
I coulda kept going
And wound up in the river,
--Or across the trolley tracks
And got cobble smashed
And all smashed so that later on
I cant have grit dreams
of Lakeview Avenue,
And see my father die,
Had I died at two--

*Bronk. Manifest and Furthermore. 1987. 77 pp.

William Bronk has two modes, as I've argued before. The symbolic mode begins with a concrete particular:

Winter Vocative

Broken sky-mirror,
blue shadowed snow,
June is far now,

hold it while you can; show
bare of branch
stark of stalk:
ache us to know.

In that mode there is more attention to the sound of the words, too. In the allegorical mode, the point of departure is an idea, and the concrete particular is simply a random illustration of that idea:

"We are shoes that it wears for a time and then discards."

The poems I tend to mark as my favorites and come back to in Bronk's books are symbolical, not allegorical. There is another mode that is simply literal, that doesn't use figurative language at all:


Not anything I made, not these brief things.
but things I saw about the natural world:
I wish that these could hold there, never be gone.

I'm guessing people who don't get Bronk don't like that allegorical mode, which leads often to repetitiousness, or the literal mode. I find myself wishing Bronk had written more "Winter Vocative" type poems in proportion to the flatter philosophical reflections that end up saying the same thing in only slightly different ways.

Here's another symbolic poem:

End of February

Bare ground now. The mud-sun
a shallow scum on the hard under. Walk
warily, it's grease. Through my clothes
the sun adores me. Earth holds cold.

13 ene 2009

The torturers were called to account, if you call
Early retirement the proverbial "medicine ball." They worried
The question as they might worry a toothache, calling
In expert opinions on all sides, until
A dense fog greeted the mourners. One down
Two to go, was the expression
On their faces. To put a positive spin
On blight? But, really, what was so wrong
Anyway? Things seemed a little out of whack, nothing
A shot of cointreau couldn't fix. If only we had any!
And so the case eased its way up to the forgetful court,
A whimper in the eaves. You've all had experiences like this,
For all purposes identical, but the codebook had been lost so
You couldn't exactly call in the marines, couldja?
That's what I thought. Fakin' it again. It always worked for me.

Look, I have a solution, all you had to do was ask. But you,
You had to take out a policy on that.

Theodore Enslin. The Country of Our Consciousness. 1971. no page numbers

While this book is nicely printed by Sand Dollar it seems very dated--derivative of Creeley and Corman and, secondarily, of Williams. I'm trying only to read books I like, but this one slipped through because I thought I was going to like it until I couldn't find more than a few poems that I did actually like.

To say that I was not in love
when we were married
is no disrespect .

None taken, I'm sure. The disrespect lies in aping a Creeley style ca. 1960 and doing it less well.

*Ashbery. Wakefulness. 1998. 80 pp.

In my memory of them all of JA's books from this period blend together. This one has some good poems, like the final "Homecoming" and "Outside my Window the Japanese." I really like "The Friend at Midnight":

Keeping in mind that all things break,
the valedictorian urged his future plans on us:
Don't give up. It's too soon. Things break. Yes they fail ....

Still, this is only an average Ashbery book, as these things go. Chinese Whispers and Your Name Here, which I am also reading at the same time, are better, though in hard-to-define ways.

*Creeley. Hello: A Journal, February 29-May 3, 1976. . 1978. 85 pp.

Trees want
to be still?
won't let them?

This is probably not going to convince a Charles Simic that Creeley is worthwhile. It is Creeley at his least fearful of the seemingly trivial observation. "Sitting at table--/ good talk / with good people." On the other hand, I think Simic's poetry is pretty trivial, where Creeley is essential:

If the world's one's
own experience of it,

then why walk around
in it, or think of it.

More would be more
than one could know

alone, more than myself's
small senses, of it.

That's just it, isn't it? The sense of being in one's experience and nowhere else, but the simultaneous sense that there ought to be more. Creeley already lives in Rilke's untranslated world. And he knows how to to notate it. That last comma is priceless. Think, too, of how much weight is on that neuter pronoun it, repeated four times in this short poem.

These reflection on self in the moment occur in a travel diary. It is travel, being in a different place, that instigates reflection on the essential non-travel: not being able to get out of one's own skin: "So it's // all by myself / again, one / way or another."

11 ene 2009


*Alice Notley. Mystery of Small Houses

This book is comprised of autobiographical poems, many containing dreams. It is probably my favorite book of Notley's, simply because of the thematic unity and the consistently strong writing, the keen ear. She is one of the best examples of a poet with a strong voice but without vocal mannerisms or creative writing clichés. The writing is super compressed, concise, even in slightly longer poems, but without the fetish of condensation in an obvious way.

People often confuse compression with brevity, and prolixity with length. But a longer poem might very well have more condensed language than a short one.

9 ene 2009


*Calvino. Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno. 1947. 195 pp.

This is Calvino's first novel, set in WWIII. A boy, Pin, has a sister who is a prostitute. A German sailor, a client of the sister, has a pistol. The local men at the bar tell Pin to steal it, but when he does, they don't seem that interested any more. He hides it in the place where spiders build their nests (hence the title of the novel.) The German's arrest him and beat him; he escapes from jail along with a resistance leader, Lupo Rosso (the red wolf) and makes his way to an encampment of partisans in the mountains, along with "Cugino" (the cousin). He is basically a "bambino" in the world of "grandi." He doesn't really understand the adult world, but has no childhood to speak of. I couldn't really get a fix on his exact age, but took him to be 12 or so.

There's also an interesting preface written by Calvino in 1967, 20 years after the initial publication of the novel.

8 ene 2009


*Jess Mynes. If and When. 2008. No page numbers.

Here's another chapbook from those I received today in the mail. I've always liked Mynes's poetry.
I got some chap-books from Fewer & Further Press today in the mail, just when I wanted to take a break from my official work, and just when I wanted to do reading that wasn't re-reading.


*John Coletti. Same Enemy Rainbow. 2008. No page numbers

Coletti writes with real wit and energy in a kind of a Jess Mynes / Joe Ceravolo style.


*Brenda Iijima. Rabbit Lesson. 2008. No page numbers

This is one chap-book length poem, with strong images of violence and war. Phrases in a larger but much lighter font provide a visual counterpoint to the regular font, smaller and darker.


*Shannon Tharp. Determined by Aperture. 2008. No page numbers.

Tharp's very short book contains more real substance than most 90-page books I can think of. Her perspective is indeed "determined by aperture," on the theory that a narrower aperture will catch more than a wide one.

7 ene 2009


*Kenneth Koch. Straits 1998

For some reason I don't own this book. It's really one of his best, with "My Olivetti Speaks" a final poetics, from which the motto of my blog is taken. Also, "Songs from the Plays" and "The Seasons." The shorter poems aren't as satisfying, but Koch is probably at the height of his powers in the book taken as a whole, with the diversity of modes of writing of which he master.


*Kenneth Koch. Days & Nights 1982

This book finds Koch struggling a bit to find his mid-career voice. The title poem is a poem about trying to write a poem; there isn't that sense of absolute self-confidence here. "The Green Step," a short story, is an interesting experiment, but I'm not sure if it comes off with the brilliance of Hotel Lambasa.

6 ene 2009


*Charles Bernstein. A Conversation with David Antin. Antin. Album Notes. 2002. 123 pp.

This is a book, and it is poetry, but is it a book of poetry? I guess that depends on what your definition of of is. It does not consist of poetry, but it belongs to poetry. It does frame some very awful early Antin deep image poems in the context of a conversation between two poets. At the end there are some photos of Antin with commentaries.
Books that I never finish reading take me longer to (not) read than books that I do finish. Therefore I can reach the paradoxical conclusion that it takes me a shorter time to read a book than to not read it.

5 ene 2009


*André Breton. Young Cherry Trees Secured Against Hares. Trans. Edouard Rodito. No pagination.

This was a pretty fundamental book for me. I've owned it since at least the middle 1970s. Those blue pages! The designs by Arshile Gorky! I had serious case of ear-worm with the phrase "Jersey-Guernsey in sombre and illustrious weather," at about the same time that the beginning of Pound's "Seafarer" got stuck in my head for several months.

Breton's poems are not very good here, except for the wonderful "Union Libre," a surrealist blason. I easily accepted the notion that Neruda and Aleixandre were much better poets than the French surrealists.


*Concha García. Desdén. 1990. 95 pp.

García's Disdain is written in short, almost fragmentary poems, often with repeated titles, and express an obsessive consciousness of erotic ennui. The subject is the tedium of sex.

4 ene 2009


Ashbery. The Tennis Court Oath.. 1962

I've been re-reading this, not only the long poem "Europe" but the others, too. Ashbery, like Duke Ellington is an entire world unto himself, and I often find half-forgotten small poems in the corners of his books. What if he'd written only this? He'd still be a majorly innovative poet.


*Creeley. Mirrors. 1983. 88 pp.

This contains "Versions" (after Hardy), one of my favorite Creeley poems. In fact, this is one of my favorite phases of his work, despite the narratives of those who say Creeley entered a decline around this exact time.


*Jean Valentine. Growing Darkness, Growing Light. 1997. 65 pp.

Valentine is good. She dedicates the last poem in the book to Fanny Howe, which might be an interesting angle to look at.


*Richard Brautigan. Loading Mercury with a Pitchforkk. 1976. 127 pp.

Brautigan is always worth a few smiles. You can read this in about 15 minutes. Not every poem comes off, but enough of them do to make it a pleasant 15 minutes.

All the books have stars, because I've decided not to read books I don't like, unless I have to for professional reasons.

3 ene 2009

Why Duke? I am not sure why I chose that particular subject as my new year's resolution. I think it's because there is a lot there: a lot of music, a lot of critical commentary by others. There's a historical depth to a figure who was active from the 20s to the 70s. That's part of six separate decades. On the other hand, my current knowledge is relatively limited. I'm not the guy who knows who played trumpet in every encarnation of the Ellington band--though I would like to be that guy. There's a potential for great excesses of nerdiness here, which is always attractive.

I don't love all of Duke's music equally, nor am I am unqualified admirer or partisan. I don't have that passionate feeling that people who aren't Ellingtonians are despicable philistines, or a deep personal identification that clouds my vision. This also makes Ellington a better choice then, say, Monk. it will force me to investigate older forms of jazz, getting me out of my bop and hard bop rut, while allowing me to pursue my interest in the "Great American Songbook," to which Duke contributed a great number of compositions. I have about 11 hours of Duke Ellington music on my hard drive, so I won't have to make a substantial financial investment for this project either. I can listen to his music on long car drives or in my office while doing other things.

From the intellectual and cultural point of view, i think there are interesting questions to be considered. In particular the space that Ellington occupies in the "aspirational" uses of jazz. His music aspires toward (and achieves) a certain genteel quality which has an attractively pleasant middle-brow quality while still being pretty damned good.

Finally, there is Johnny Hodges, one of my favorite players, and a mainstay of the DE Orchestra for many years; Ben Webster; Billie Strayhorn, Duke's co-composer. In other words, the subject is finite, but at the same time not easily exhaustible.
In college I used to buy my textbooks early and read them from cover to cover, or at least as far as I could get, before the semester started. Then I would re-read them as the term progressed. That way I was never behind in my reading, and could read much more of what I wanted to read in addition to my course work. One semester, for example, I read the complete novels of Henry Green. I probably don't assign enough reading to my students because I assume--falsely--that my students are like me and will read much more than I actually assign them.

2 ene 2009

My attitude toward deadlines is that they lead to an illusory perception of time. For example, suppose someone asks me to review a book and gives me four months to do so, when the actual time I would really need to complete the task is, at most, 15 hours of work. So that 15 hours is to be spread over 4 months, or 2,800 hours? In practical terms, the book review will be writtten either fairly soon after the book is received, or right before the deadline. Or, in the worst case, after the deadline. I prefer to do a given task as close to possible from when I agree to do it, even if I consider myself quite busy at the time. The reasons are several: you get the book in the mail and are curious about it. You might as well read it then, while still curious, and write up something immediately. The time closer to the deadline might be just as busy as now is; there's no reason to predict otherwise, so really you are making yourself less busy in the future, freeing yourself up for other opportunities. You also would have to read the book another time, because by this time you've forgotten it completely.

I have missed a few deadlines in the last year or so, whether internally or externally imposed ones. It is never a good thing to do, but it still may happen even to someone with my attitude. My preference is to ignore deadlines in the positive sense: they should never come up as an issue because I am always way ahead of them.

There is an illusion that the work product will be better if it is turned in later. But a book review on which I've spent 15 hours will not be better simply because I spent those hours later rather than sooner. In fact, I would bet that procrastinators turn in writing which is on average worse than non-procrastinators. It is better to hurry at the beginning, hurry to get started, than to hurry just to be late anyway.

When I set a self-imposed deadline for something, I allow myself plenty of time, and then get the job done quicker than I anticipated. So I might give myself two weeks for something that I end up doing in two days. Then I can congratulate myself for making that deadline with so much time to spare.

Some people need deadlines in order to motivate themselves, to create a sense of urgency. They are unable to work up to full speed unless they have that sense of nervousness about making the deadline. I understand this and have myself been such a person at times. What I am suggesting is a different kind of motivational trick: make a game out of starting early, of clearing things off your desk as soon as they arrive. One effect, I predict from my own experience, is that you will be actually doing more but won't have the sense of overwhelming "busyness." You can still complain about how busy you are and how much work you have to your colleagues, in order to maintain your reputation, but you can feel calm on the inside.

1 ene 2009

I don't believe new year's resolutions should be about giving things up, losing weight, or exercise. Mine are to learn to read Italian better and become (more of) a Duke Ellington expert. Both are within my power to do; neither requires the renunciation of pleasure or the breaking of a bad habit. '09 will be the year of Duke and Italian literature.

Happy new year!