27 feb 2009

I'm somewhat manic as you might have noticed. One solution that hasn't been working out too well is to have a few beers with dinner to slow myself down a bit in the p.m. It does *work*--but maybe a little bit too well. Anyway, since I didn't have those beers tonight, a little Spanish lesson.

Compare the words:

hembra / femenino

hijo / filial

maestro / magisterio, magistral

hierro / férreo

hacer / satisfacer

maduro / prematuro

fragua / fábrica

dueño, domar / dominar, dominio

Spanish evolved from Latin, and underwent certain phonetic changes. The first term in each pairing is the "evolved" form of the word (hembra from femina). The second, a cognate word or derivative adopted into Spanish at a later date, directly from the Latin, a cultismo, without the normal phonetic changes that the word should have undergone. The evolved words are similar to what we think of in English as "Anglo-Saxon" words, belonging fully to the vernacular. So "hierro," iron, is more colloquial than "férreo" (an adjective meaning iron-like). So phonology effects register: a more elevated vocabulary will be closer to Latin. If you study for a degree in "magisterio" you are studying to be a teacher, a maestra or maestro.

26 feb 2009


Bobby Hutcherson. The Kicker.

This is a very middle of the road and swinging album in the hard bop idiom, with Joe Henderson, Duke Pearson, and Grant Green. I have never heard of Duke Pearson or the drummer here, Al Harewood. The tune "For Duke P" is a very swinging tune, as is the title track.

I'm in the mode of filling in the numerous gaps in my knowledge of jazz, and have subscribed to Rhapsody to deal with the quantity of music I want to assimilate. I try not to pretend to know things I really don't know. I thought I knew the names most of the major drummers of this period, but it turns out I don't. Duke sounds a bit like Sonny Clark or someone of that ilk, with a tasteful blues inflection. Somewhat similar, in fact, to the pianist on the Joe Chambers album reviewed below, George Cables.

Joe Chambers. Phantom of the City.

I learned about Joe Chambers from an article in Modern Drummer, and heard him first on a Bobby Hutcherson recording. This album features some very tasty piano work by George Cables, and the full bodied tenor sax of Bob Berg. I'm going to have to check out some other albums where Chambers is the leader, cause this one is excellent.

Chambers was a mainstay of the Blue Note scene in the early 60s. He's at the level of fame below Jack DeJohnette, but well worth investigating. He writes many originals.

Unlike other drummer-led albums, this one does not emphasize drum solos, or even a particularly busy drum part. I remember the interviewer for MD called JC's drumming "transparent." I would say it's translucent, dynamically sensitive and pulsating. He doesn't get into the temptation of modulating the beat every six seconds. If you didn't know who the leader was supposed to be you might think it's one of the other players.

Andrew Hill. Dreams Come True.

This was released in 2008. It has Chico Hamilton on drums with Hill on piano. (Just the two of them.) The first track, Ohho, is rhythmic but not too metrical. The drummer plays motifs rather than a beat. This kind of music can have the tendency to be a little too rambling and inconsequential, but I'm feeling it strong. Unfairly, perhaps, I'm comparing Hill to Cecil Taylor: my tendency to interpret the unknown in terms of the known. His touch is softer than CT; he is less busy and agressive.

The second cut is "Three Notes & a Brush." This one is a little quieter at the onset. Hamilton starts off with some hi hat work. The tune builds intensity gradually toward the half-way point; a pulse is established. Two minutes from the end, at about minute 5, the tempo slows, in a more meditative section.

"Watch that Dream." Another great combination of quiet intensity. He seems to favor that seven to eleven minute length.

"And the Drums Sing." Yes they do. Here Chico moves from cymbals to drums, emphasizing the toms and turning off the snares on the snare drums, while AH accompanies him on the piano.

"Clifford's Gone." A piano solo, with no drums, for about the first two minutes. Then the drums come in with no piano. Toward the end of the drum solo there are a few soft chords, then the drum drops out again. I don't know what to make of this track.

"Shaw Nuff." This one has a more bluesy, intense feeling, with a thicker texture on both drums and piano. An avant-garde tribute to soul jazz? I would have guessed Cecil Taylor on a blindfold test.

There are two other tracks, but I have to go teach.
Yesterday, I read three dissertation chapters, revisions of 7 short grad. student papers. About 15 files for an internal university research grant committee. I wrote a course description, a proposal for the MLA. A few blog entries. I began to listen seriously to the music of Andrew Hill.

I read a book of poetry, parts of a few articles on Stanley Cavell. An article by Philip Lewis on translating Derrida, for class today.

I met with the colleague with whom I'm co-teaching the class, to discuss the course description. Tried to find a proctor for the M.A. exam.

I answered a query about an article of mine that was in proofs.

I worked a bit on an outline of a book I want to write.

That's a lot more than I typically do on Wed, which is my catch-up-on-work day. Today, all I have to do is prepare one class, teach two, and maybe read two more dissertation chapters (I am on four committees). Then, I'll have all my dissertation work done, and the only big item will be the internal grant competition, which I have to have ranked by Monday. There are 35 files in all kinds of fields I know nothing about.

When the page proofs come for my other book, I want to have my desk more or less clear.

25 feb 2009

Here's an urban legend I haven't seen at snopes.com. It usually takes the form of "studies have shown" and states that an NFL career will take twenty years off your life expectancy. Usually it is stated that the NFLer can expect to live until 55, and a lineman to 52 years of age. Or that every season played takes 3.5 years off your life.

In 1994, the New York Times reported that

A Federal agency announced today that its study showed the death rate for former professional football players was 46 percent less than the rate for American men of similar age and race in the general population.

So that's the opposite. Football players live longer. To believe that the average ex-jock is going to die at 55 strains credulity. That would mean that there would have to be a lot of players passing in their 40s, or even 30s, to balance out those who survived to their 60s and 70s, and make the average come to 55. There are players who die that young, but it can't be half of them.

The bad news?

The study also showed, however, that offensive and defensive linemen, who are heavier than other players, had a 52 percent greater risk than nonplayers of dying from heart disease. And it showed that heart disease killed linemen at a rate 3.7 times higher than the rate for other players

That's bad. But notice the points of comparison: heavy players vs. "non-players," and heavy players vs. "other players." There's no comparison here of 350 lb. linemen to 350 lb guys who don't play football, because I suspect that the two groups might have more or less the same mortality rates from heart disease. So it's not playing football that kills you, it's weighing 350 lbs. I'd even guess that the obese non-jocks would be more unhealthy.

Note, too, that the way the story expresses these two comparisons is not parallel, making these numbers harder to understand for the average sports fan. One is "52%, greater" the other "3.7 times higher." 52% is much smaller, it is equivalent to saying "1.52 times greater" (I think). So it's better to be another type of player (non lineman) than a guy in the general population.

This is not to say that playing football has no negative health effects apart from those related to being too big. Brain injuries, arthritis, and other things come to mind. And you also have to assume that linemen wouldn't weigh that much if they didn't have to so that they could collide effectively with other linemen. So this is extra, gratuitous obesity that these people would not have to carry if they weren't football players.

But I don't think that those 55 and 52 numbers are even close to being accurate. At least i haven't found the study that supposedly proved that.

On another note, I think they must have given me regular expresso rather than decaf in my decaf latte this evening, because otherwise I wouldn't be blogging about something that I have no interest in at all at 11:30 p.m.

Andrew Hill. Passing Ships.

I'm beginning to get a sense of Hill's compositional and orchestral style. He liked those thicker textures of horns, brass and woodwinds, all together, in the Mingus / Ellington tradition. This wasn't released by Blue Note until 1969 but was recorded earlier. Check out Woody Shaw's trumpet work.

Andrew Hill. Point of Departure.

This has an absolutely classic line up, with Dolphy, Dorham, Henderson on horns and a rhythm section of Hill, Richard Davis, and Tony Williams. Davis, the bass player, is the least well known, maybe, but even he played with Coltrane so he's no slouch. I love the border region between hard bop and avant-garde, which is exactly where this album is located. Ca. 1964 Blue Note was putting out music that still sounds fresh.

Andrew Hill. The Day the World Stood Still.

A few people have mentioned Andrew Hill to me; Thomas Basboll. and possibly Andrew Shields or John. I'm listening to this one now. I still don't know an awful lot about Hill, but I am very eager to learn. This features him with bass and drums and several horns, in a free jazz mode, but one that would be very listenable to someone not necessarily enamored of free music.

I don't have much of a sense of Hill as a piano player yet, since most of what I've heard does not emphasize the piano per se. I could say that I don't have any IDEAS about him yet, aside from the obvious observation that he leaves space for other players to be heard.

*Concha García. Acontecimiento. 2008. 130 pp.

I got this in the mail today, recently published by Tusquets in Barcelona, and so I read it right away. It is the same exploration of the tedium of everyday life we've seen in CG before. The title means "happening," "event." What does it mean for something to happen? For nothing to happen? I liked the poem "Como un decálogo," with its rejection of "el horario que avanza / en un universo cerrado" (the schedule {sequence of hours} advancing / in a closed universe]
I think about my scholarly competence as the trifecta of knowing one's shit, having ideas, and writing well.

The first is necessary. You can't even really have ideas without knowing something to have ideas about. There are people, though, who only have information and cannot really formulate ideas. We call them graduate students (that's a joke, for any of my graduate students who read this blog).

For information, there are various delivery systems. It doesn't much whether you learn something from a book or from somebody's lecture.

In the case of having ideas, however, the case is quite different. Ideas will not naturally occur with the acquisition of information. A lot of people need someone standing over them, saying: no, that's not even an IDEA yet. Or "That's the beginning of something, but needs to be fleshed out in the following ways."

The graduate seminar acts in exactly that way. There is enough information for the student to begin to know enough to begin formulating ideas.

24 feb 2009

Monk's advice to Lacy, with hat tip to Silliman's Blog. JM's comments in brackets.

Just because you're not a drummer, doesn't mean you don't have to keep time.

Pat your foot and play the melody in your head when you play.

[The improvising soloist has to keep track of where the melody of the song is supposed to be, even if nobody is playing that melody.]

Stop playing that bullshit, those weird notes. Play the melody!

Make the drummer sound good.

[Once again, an emphasis on keeping time. If the sax player is really in synch, it will make the drummer sound good.]

You've got to dig it to dig it, you dig?

All reet.


It must be always night, otherwise they wouldn't need the lights.


Don't play the piano part. I'm playing that. Don't listen to me. I'm supposed to be accompanying you!

[Lacy was probably following Monk too much, responding to the accompaniment]

The inside of the tune (the bridge) is that part that makes the outside sound good.

[Inside was Monk's slang for the bridge of a tune. That would be the B section of an AABA form. It's a nice metaphor]

Don't play everything (or every time). Let some things just go by. Some music just imagined. What you don't play can be more important than what you do. Always leave them wanting more.

[Nice show business cliché, but with a profound point.]

A note can be as small as a pin or as big as the world. It depends on your imagination.

When you're swinging, swing some more.

[I love this one.]

Whatever you think can't be done, someone will come along and do it. A genius is the one most like himself.

They tried to get me to hate white people, but someone would always come along & spoil it.
Avoiding the "info dump."

One of the most common problems in dissertations--and consequently in barely revised dissertation chapters sent out as journal articles for review--is the info-dump. I define this technique the presentation of research findings directly, nakedly. Some examples might include:

Long summaries of the work of other critics and scholars who have written on your topic.

Information on historical background that is readily available elsewhere.

Textual analysis that seems excessive in relation to the points being made.

More or less complete results of your original research--when not everything you found is relevant.

Summaries of theoretical ideas that are well-known (e.g. Foucault on power).

These categories of information are all relevant and necessary to some extent. What makes something a "data dump" is

(1) A lack of awareness of audience. What does your audience already know? What do they need to know? What can they find easily for themselves? The info-dumper really hasn't thought through those questions.

(2) A certain "inertness." The information just kind of sits there on the page. It isn't integrated into an argument. It is hard for the reader to get through because it is inherently boring (not the information itself, but its function.) It's function seems to be to fulfill a requirement; it is perfunctory.

Can info-dumping be avoided? Think of a work of science fiction (I owe this example to Scott Eric Kaufman) (two tts in Scott, one enn in Kaufman; middle name Eric with a cee). A data-dump in this case would be a long exposition section in which all the background knowledge about the particular world where the plot takes place. Obviously, a skillful exposition in narrative is already narrative. In other words, narrating and expositioning are not two separate activities. In the same way, in scholarly argumentation and the presentation of research are not two separate things. The research, of whatever kind it is, is there to support the argument.

There might be kinds of writing where the presentation of information is the main point, or where the proportion and relative prominence between argumentation and information are different from what I'm presenting here. My remarks are valid mostly for my own field.

19 feb 2009


*Coral Bracho. Cuarto de hotel. 2007. 61 pp.

This is a perfectly unitary book. Bracho's hotel room is a metaphor for human life itself. The style is more sober here than in earlier Bracho books; there is an apparent simplicity here. Everything is pianissimo.

*Clark Coolidge and Bernadette Mayer. The Cave. 2009. 69 pp.

This is a collaboration begun in 1972 and concluded in 1978, brought out by Adventures in poetry this year with a prologue by Marcella Durand. There are dialogues between "Beckett" and "Collins," "Hawthorne" and "Melville," longer prose pieces. I've looked through this quickly but will have to study it at length.

I learned a new word from this book: "phreatic."

18 feb 2009


*Coral Bracho. Firefly Under the Tongue: Selected Poems. Trans. Forrest Gander. 2007. 133 pp.

I missed this when it first came out, but was able to finagle a review copy. Coral Bracho is one of the best poets alive writing in Spanish, sometimes so good I can hardly believe that such a thing is possible. Gander's translation seems more or less good. Sometimes it is exceptionally good, so I won't quibble with the word "foehn" as a translation of "vendaval" (gale of wind). I had to look up "foehn" because I'd never heard of it before, so I'm grateful about learning something new.

Truth is, I didn't look at the translation much. I think the stronger point here is the strong choice of poet and poems. The volume would be good for someone who knew about as much Spanish as I know Italian.

What is good about Bracho? I think it's partly diction, the choice of words for both sound and precision of language. There's a soft penumbra of connotation, but not in a conventional or clichéd way. It seems to be a new kind of Spanish, different from that of almost everyone else.
Here are the highly unscientific results. This little survey told me exactly what I wanted to know. 6 Rilkes. 4 Eliots. Lots of Williams and Pound and Stevens. Modernism seems a mostly European and American phenomenon. Nobody put down Vallejo, not even me, so only Césaire and Neruda represent the non-English speaking Americas. Nobody from any other continent (aside from Europe and the Americas) except for Tagore. In time frame people stuck mostly to the 1910-1939 period, varying from that only for French symbolists and a few late moderns like Milosz and Celan. No Italian poets made the list. There would be no Greeks or Portuguese without my own names, and only Lorca was mentioned from Spain, by myself and one other respondent.

I'm trying to argue that there is no fixed canon of modernism in an international sense. There was more agreement than I thought there would be, so I'm going to have to shade my argument slightly to account for that.

These are all the poets listed, in order of respondent.





WC Williams

Ezra Pound
T.S. Eliot
WC Williams
Pablo Neruda
Andre Breton




17 feb 2009

The eagle may or may not fly on Friday.

16 feb 2009

Here's an experiment. I need this info for an article. (I'm trying to see how idiosyncratic my own views are.)

Without looking at anyone else's comment first, write down a list of the 5 most major modernist poets, writing in any language. That is, don't confine your answers to poets writing in English (unless that is your view, that the five majorest poets of modernism all wrote in English). Then write a comment with this information. Use your own working definition of "modernist," your own time frame, your own definition of "major" and "poet." Your own definition of the word "most." I have my own list on a piece of paper here.
Reading the David Hajdu biography of Billy Strayhorn, Lush Life. I began to refine my perceptions of Strayhorn's music in relation to that of Ellington. First of, to the extent that it's possible to isolate a Strayhorn sound, separate from Duke, I think it's a particular poignancy you can hear in "Chelsea Bridge" and "Passion Flower." A second category would be music that wouldn't exist with Strayhorn but that doesn't necessarily have that Strayhorn coloration, like "Some Sweet Thunder." Stayhorn was in no way Duke's inferior as a composer, and the case could even be made in the opposite direction. Certainly the younger man was the more schooled musician, both as composer/arranger and as pianist. He could compose a score on paper, without a piano, while other music played in the background. Also a more educated and bookish person than Duke. Duke maybe taught him some things, but most of it Strayhorn already knew or figured out himself. Duke knew how to keep him close, deliberately preventing him from striking out on his own--to the point of telling others who wanted to hire them that Billy wasn't that great! There was no written contract between the two men. Ellington just paid for everything from rent to food and gave him a share of his publishing company.

Strayhorn liked to be in the shadow of the Duke to a certain extent, because then he could live the way he wanted with not much public scrutiny. He never hid the fact that he was gay from anyone. Ellington exploited this, though, and took full credit for things that the two had composed together--or even for things that Strayhorn had done with little or no input from Ellington at all. For the casual public Ellington was the great man, and Strayhorn just an arranger in his band, if they were conscious of him at all.

Even side projects by Ellington folk like Strayhorn, Hodges, etc... tended toward the Ellingtonian. If Hodges made a record on his own, he would just hire other Ellington side men and play songs by Tizol, Strayhorn, or Ellington himself. A few players who passed through had their own independent identities, but those tended to the ones who didn't stay quite as long, like Ben Webster or Oscar Pettiford.

15 feb 2009

I never knew that Billy Strayhorn had written music for a production of Lorca's Don Perlimplín for The Artist's Theater! Maybe I'll have to write another book about Lorca.

14 feb 2009


*Bolaño. La pista de hielo. 1993. 198 pp.

This novel takes place in a campground in the Costa Brava. Gaspar is a nightwatchman, Remo the owner. Enric is an obese local political figure who embezzles public money so he can build an ice rink (in an abandoned mansion) for Nuria, a figure skater that is in love with. The three men take turns narrating in two to four page chapters. A dead body shows up in the ice rink...

Not a great novel, but if we're being completist about Bolaño, this had to be included.

So far, the best have been two novels about Chile, Estrella distante and Nocturno chileno, and Los detectives salvajes. I'm looking forward to reading La literatura nazi en América and 2666.
I was thinking, after doing a peer review of an article for a journal yesterday (not the journal I usually review for), on the same day that I finished my first set of graduate papers, that we need to have freshman composition course for graduate students and college professors. It may be a problem specific to my field, since people writing in English either (a) are not native speakers of English or (b) are native speakers of English but do most of their writing in Spanish in graduate school, before having to write a dissertation in English after their course-work is done.

I am not rabidly dead-set against the passive voice. I use it myself from time to time, as everyone else does. There is a problem, though, in those who set the passive voice as their default, who don't follow basic conventions of punctuation.

Before you send an article to a journal, have someone else read it for style. This reader should be a native speaker of the language in which you are writing as well as someone whose writing you fervently admire.

13 feb 2009

Leaving that pen in my pants when I went to the laundromat today was not such a good idea. On the other hand, I only lost one pair of really old pants and a couple of shirts, one of these also ancient, and got to laugh heartily at myself, so I think I came out ahead in the deal.
About 99.999% of my daily anger has to do with the internet, where someone always seems to be mistaken in some profoundly malicious and disingenuous way.

12 feb 2009

A dream without strangeness. I walked into class without the book I was supposed to teach from. It was in my car (as indeed that exact book was as I was dreaming). I went back to my office to look for the first edition of this same book, The Translation Studies Reader (which is in fact in my office). In my dream i could not find this first edition, so returned to my classroom without it.

*Julia Otxoa. Centauro. 1989. 53 pp.

This book is typical of women's poetry of this period.

For you, Angela, from October

"Like someone awakening surrounded by flames,
surrounded by wolves" --Angela Figuera Aymerich

October explodes over the undamaged foam,
of the dinosaurs of Ariadne's court,

while you, blind angel over St. Petersburg,
proclaim your nudity of stone,
written in hieroglyphics,

your fasting and your disobedience,

your different will.

The procedure of the highest leprosies
keeps you company,

because mortally clear the light wounds you,
from all the hemispheres of the stigma,

and because only October exists,
sweet, unconquered angel,
in your loving heretic heart.
My jazz course won approval. I will be teaching it in spring of twenty-ten. Now all my listening to jazz is officially work, tax deductible, the whole nine yards.

*Aram Saroyan. Complete Mimimal Poems. 2007. 270 pp

I've always been attracted to very short, minimalistic poems:

fall over

fall over

fall over

fall over

Saroyan's wit and light touch are in evidence here. I see many possibilities for writing: one-word poems, two-word poems. Levi-Strauss says of the myth that its repetitions serve to teach us its own structure. So too, here, with this poem.
I'm not sure what I'm trying to get at with these graduate school papers. Maybe I'm trying to see how I should view my current graduate students, give myself a benchmark. Partly it's to see how much I remain obsessed with certain idea I was developing so many years ago.

11 feb 2009

"At Swim-Two-Birds and the Limits of Modernism" was for Prof. Guérard, turned in on March 12, 1982. He didn't like it very much, giving it an A- and complaining about my use of dead language and cliché (maybe I didn't have teh prose as much as I thought I did). My thesis that this modernist novel was a Bildungsroman that ends up rejecting modernist aestheticism. I think part of the problem was the Guérard didn't like Flann O'Brien very much. He didn't really engage with my argument much. Guérard gave Frank O'Hara a B+ for his memoir "Lament and Chastisement," so I shouldn't complain about the A-.
"Roland Barthes and the Time of Writing" was for Professor Pierre St.-Amand's class (now of Brown University). It is a short and well-written paper that examines the question of Barthes's criticism in relation to what Barthes really wants to be: a Proustian novelist. I analyze the preface to his critical essays and talk a bit about about Blanchot.

I wish I could say that I write better now. Sure, I would change a few sentences here and there, but I always had teh prose. I'd say the basic idea of this paper was valid but a little thin. That I can look at anything from this period of my life without shame is quite amazing. At some point I'll try to read the professor's marginal comments, written in a small cramped hand.

This was a good class, given in French (which limited my participation) just on Barthes. I turned the paper in on Dec. 7, 1983, so that would have been the fall quarter of 83, at the beginning of my third year.
Somewhat less vividly, I remember a paper I wrote also in my first semester in grad school, for a theory course taught by a pleasant but spacey Heideggerian named Halliburton. My paper had the dull title "Some Aspects of Translation." My argument was that the idea that translation was a paradigm for understanding was faulty, because translation presupposes understanding. At some point, you had to assume a level of direct understanding prior to the conversion of a message into some other, secondary language, or you would be stuck in a mise en abyme.

Halliburton liked my paper. Maria Damon was in that course, which was a disaster as far as the actual course itself. The professor didn't really do anything except sit there, so the inmates were running the asylum.

(Note: I just found my folder of these papers so I won't have to rely completely on memory. I'll probably find my 21-year old self both smarter and dumber than I expected.)

10 feb 2009


Los detectives salvajes. 1998. 609 pp.

I'm sure I'm the last person to read this (maybe literally, since I finished it a minute ago!), but I finally have finished the tale of Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano, related through multiple narrators. We never have any narration focalized through either of the two main characters, instead we get others' reactions to them. There are great moments of humor and passion, and also quite a few duller patches, told in the voices of dull people and in a flat, barely serviceable style. Somehow Bolaño gets away with it. I loved García Madero, the 17-year old narrator of the first and last sections.

I have few more books to read by Bolaño.
I still remember vividly one of the first papers I wrote in Graduate School, for Al Gelpi's imagism class, in the fall of 1981. My thesis was that WCW had been seen as a mostly descriptive poet, but that this was wrong. Williams's poems were urgent speech acts, rhetorical arguments, not static descriptions. I placed emphasis on the "I must tell you," or the "so much depends" rather than on the thing described.

The poem I chose to analyze was "The Jungle," which I can still recall: "It is not the still weight of the trees..." I talked about how most of the poem was actually the negation of a description, hence had a rhetorical force, since the reality being described was meant to be held in suspended animation. It was, essentially, a negated cliché, leading to the final conclusion of the poem: "a girl waiting, / shy, brown, soft eyed / to lead you / upstairs sir." I loved how the poem ended with the words of the girl, without quotation marks.

I am amazed that I still recall this so well. I could probably even re-write it now from memory. It wouldn't be the same sentences, but it would be the same argument. What was good about it, I think, is that I had found something about which the existing consensus was obviously and outrageously wrong, and explained persuasively why this was the case, and why my view was more interesting and fruitful. How did I come up with something like this? Probably from reading Williams for many years before I even got to grad school, and trusting my own view more than the irritating people who thought of him as the purveyor of boring, static descriptions. Trusting my own irritation.

9 feb 2009

What I was doing several years ago..
There's also the idea that there's only a certain amount of avant-garde to be had (in the national strategic avant-garde reserve?). Once that's used up, poof, everything else is mere repetition. People who believe this also subscribe to Bloom's theory that a few strong poets around 1800 sucked all the oxygen out of the air once and for all, leaving all subsequent poets to a state of fretting anxiety for the next 209 years. In truth, the Language Poets do not really resemble Stein very much, any more than Ashbery is simply Stevens who is Emerson who is Wordsworth. Bolaño is conscious that Kerouac came first, that's part of what he's examining in his novel.

Avant-garde poets aren't really allowed to have influences, after all, that means that what they are doing "isn't really new."

People still have hysterical reactions to flarf. I find the fever, end of Western civilization, pitch of those reactions extremely revelatory. I'd understand it from Jacques Barzun, maybe, but most people attacking it suffer from the narcissism of small differences. They have some other, also satirical and also quasi-avant-garde schtick they want to promote. They hate flarf because they are close to it, not because they are far from it.

8 feb 2009

One persistent critique of avant-garde movements is that they are merely repetitions of previous avant-garde movements. It's the question of "didn't Gertrude Stein already do that?" To call a new movement "old hat" in this way is to deny it its vitality.

Yet this critique tends to be profoundly disingenuous, since it seems to imply that there is something better to do than repeat the avant-garde gesture. What would that be, exactly? Usually, it means falling back on some previous institutionalization of another historical avant-garde. For example, when Stanford's English department wanted to hire Marjorie Perloff, Denise Levertov had a cow, leaving a letter in all the mailboxes of the department denouncing Perloff (she had read the paper on postmodern poetry and the return of story, from The Dance of the Intellect, I believe) because Perloff had taken the language poets seriously, I think. I remember it well because I was at Stanford at the time. So for DL, the WCW-derived avant-garde was legitimate, but not the "Gertrude Steinlets" of LP. Another example is the conflict between Octavio Paz and the poets of the Belaño group of infrarrealismo, dramatized in The Savage Detectives. Paz had been a surrealist but basically fell back onto an institutionalized high modernism, with himself as high priest and gate keeper. How dare these young poets emulate the American beat generation! After all, Ginsberg and Kerouac had already done that. (I'm relying here a bit on some papers by Heriberto which he has shared with me, and which I am reading as I read Belaño's novel.) Belaño also makes the connection between the "realismo visceral" of his own group and an earlier Mexican avant-garde movement, estridentismo. It's not like he wasn't aware that there had already been an avant-garde. The problem is that there is not position outside the avant-garde. Il n'y a pas de hors avant-garde. Well, there is, but it tends to be the attitude that we can pretend it never happened and get back to what poetry was supposed to be like before.

6 feb 2009

My "Harold Land" pandora station gives me a lot of great tenors like Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt, and Stanley Turrentine. I tend to exhaust the possibilities of any one station after a while: the albums repeat and the more mediocre tracks grate on my nerves.

I like the supposedly second line players of the Harold Land type. They aren't really second rate, despite not being Coltrane or Rollins. I used to be much more in the "genius" mode, where I only wanted to hear a few canonical figures. Now I listen much more in a bottom up mode, focusing on the drums and bass and the overall groove and appreciating the soloist for what they are.

5 feb 2009


Cannonball Adderly. Somethin' Else.

This has Miles on trumpet, with a classic rhythm section of Hank Jones, Sam Jones, and Art Blakey. (Sam is no relation to Hank, though of course Hank is the brother of Elvin and Thad.) It was recorded by Rudy Van Gelder. Tracks include Autumn Leaves, Love for Sale, and Somethin' Else.

The 50s was the golden age of the saxophone, with Cannonball, Coltrane, Rollins, Getz, Pepper, Mulligan, Land, Desmond, Stitt, Konitz, Carter, Hodges, Hawkins, all active. That's extraordinary depth, when the sixth or seventh greatest saxophonist alive was someone like Cannonball Adderly!

4 feb 2009

1. I was visiting New York. I went into a large room at the MOMA where there was going to be a poetry reading. I was greeted very warmly by Drew Gardner and Nick Piombino, and it seemed that others were waiting in the wings to greet me as well, probably Gary Sullivan and Jordan Davis and David Shapiro (though Nick in my dream did not look like the real life Nick at all; he had a beard for one thing). I was kind of overwhelmed by all the attention and went into a back room that was identical to the room I had just been in. I felt dizzy and explained to some of my New York friends who had followed me to the second room that I wasn't used to seeing people and couldn't handle talking to so many people at once.

2. I was living in an apartment of some kind with two women, though I wasn't sexually or romantically involved with either of them. They were more like cousins of mine, somehow. I had to move out and wanted to explain myself, so I talked to my younger cousin for a while, then called into one room, "Vanessa!" But Vanessa, presumably my older cousin, did not answer. So I wanted to write a note on a steno pad. I was looking for a clean sheet, but most of the pages in the pad were already covered with writing. When I did find one that wasn't, I noticed a grease stain on it, and so on... Everytime I thought I had found a suitable piece of paper, I found writing or grease on it...

María del Carmen Pallarés. Luces de travesía. 1989. 57 pp.

This poet never quite lets herself loose. I felt the need for a little more of something. I've known about her for a while, but never was totally convinced. Maybe I'll go back and read La llave del grafito.

3 feb 2009


Odes of Roba 1991. 158 pp.

This one took me an awful long time to get through. I skimmed over a couple of longer poems toward the end too--that after reading about 50% aloud to myself over the past weeks. Overall it's just not on the level of Own Face or Crystal Text. The problem, once again, is a kind of garrulousness. I feel like I'm Coolidge's biggest fan, so if I feel this way, I'm sure I can't be the only one. Now it's back to reading Flow Chart, which I've also been doing for more than a few days.

It does help when reading CC to have his specific voice in my head. I'll listen to a bit at PennSound before reading and try to hear the poems with that particular emphasis and intonation.
I heard Emanuel Ax play with the St. Louis symphony on Saturday. He had a very nice musical rapport with tympanist Richard Holmes on the Strauss Burleske in D Minor (Holmes is one of my favorite musicians in the SLSO--I love his tact and his economy of movement) and played as an encore a movement from a Schubert sonata. I was thinking there were two ways of thinking about his playing. You could view the music as a privileged glimpse into another world, one that completely transcends our own. Or: this music is, precisely, the music of our own world, and of no other. The second formulation is no less magical then the first.

Another symphony musician told me the next day that Ax is a very nice person as well.

*The Crystal Text. 1986. 1996. 152 pp.

What can I say about this? Although I tend to prefer concise writers over verbose one, Coolidge is an exception. No, not really, since what I tend to prefer about him are his concise bits rather than his "plethoric mode." This is some of the best writing existent in English, especially in some of the briefer fragments toward the end.
I don't like reacting to the death of writers. If I don't particularly care for the writer, or am not an expert, then I don't have much to say or much that I particularly want to say. If I do admire the writer, then I don't like mixing the emotion of the death in with my feelings about the work. I see those two things as different categories. So I didn't comment on the passing of Montejo last summer, for example.

With John Updike, I am in the position of having read many of his works before I turned 20--and very few if any afterwards. I basically read every Updike book as it came out in the 1970s, and also every paperback my parents had lying around. I liked The Centaur a lot, and some of the short stories. I also tended to read every story in every issue of the New Yorker. At a certain point--whether in my own reading of him or in his actual writing as he aged--his prose started to grate on my nerves and I lost my capacity to read his new work. So it's safe to say I've never read Rabbit Kicks the Bucket, or Memoirs of the Grant Administration, or Argentine Languors.

The fallacy of the Updike style is in not thinking that if a little bit of "fine writing" is a good thing," a whole lot more of it is even better. The "better" his writing got, the worse it actually was. He didn't know when to stop. As subtle as his style was, it was a "crude" instrument in the sense that it no longer had any relation of aptness to a subject, of being fit for a particular purpose. This created an odd kind of tone deafness, as in his ornate description of the towers coming down.

It's also true that Updike is part of the formation of my mental image of the writer. For me, a real writer appeared in the New York Review of Books and the New Yorker and wrote about sophisticated adult themes. Updike was my chief source of pornography until I discovered Henry Miller.
The best Pandora radio station I have invented so far is "Lee Konitz." After Konitz himself, it gave me Coltrane, Rollins, and Charlie Haden, before going back to the inimitable Konitz again. This is even better than what "Sonny Rollins" gave me.

And why does it think that if I like Sarah Vaughan I will like Blossom Dearie? That's an illegitimate inference.

And if you put in "Morton Feldman," it will not actually give you any music by Morton Feldman. Everyone but him.

*David Huerta. El azul en la flama. 2002. 94 pp.


*David Huerta. El espejo del cuerpo. 1980. 75 pp.

This is a series of untitled poems about the dance (the mirror of the body) by Mexican poet Huerta. I also read a 2002 collection by Huerta. One of of looking at poetry is as mere writing. From this perspective, Huerta is one of the best, within this Octavio Paz tradition of Mexican poetry that also includes Coral Bracho.

2 feb 2009


Miguel Casado. La condiciíon del pasajero. 1990. 26 pp.

This is a very short book of very quiet, descriptive poems.

1 feb 2009

My world famous writing experiments, back by popular demand.

I didn't even have a copy of them but thankfully someone else had them up on the WWW:

1. Make a list of writing experiments.
2. Write a poem in which you include some reference, explicit or implicit, to everyone you know who has committed suicide.
3. Write poems designed for a particular magazine (a la Jack Spicer), even if this magazine doesn’t publish poetry. Send the poems to the magazine as you write them until they either publish you or tell you to stop.
4. If you are an academic, give an academic paper composed entirely of heroic couplets. Don’t tell anyone what you are doing.
5. “Ghost-write” poems for politicians or celebrities.
6. Write non-stop for 6 months, in every waking hour not devoted to any other necessary activity.
7. Compose a poem employing as many metaphors or examples as possible derived from Wittegenstein’s Philosophical Investigations.
8. Read only poetry written before 1800 for a year. See if your writing has changed. If it has changed for the better, do the same with 1700.
9. Take a book of poetry by someone else and compose poetic responses to every single poem. Try this with a poet you hate and then with a poet you love. Try writing your poems directly in the book, if you can stand to deface it.
10. Invent “heteronimos” a la Pessoa.
11. Compose a “Japanese Poetic Diary”
12. Write an autobiography, but including only events having to do with particular “subjects” (cooking, jazz, landlords, shoes).
13. Write the eleventh “Duino Elegy.”
14. Write a book of poetry in which the letter B never appears. See if anyone notices.
15. Parody your own style.
16. Stage elaborate contests (sestina contests, memorizing contests, rhyming contests).
17. Invent multiple ways of “gambling” on poetry (e.g. on the contests devised above).
18. Create a “neo-classical” style that is as regular and normative as Racine. The vocabulary should be fairly limited, the syntax limpid, the versification utterly smooth. Use this style as your normal mode of communication as much as you can get away with.
19. Try to get non-poets to collaborate with you on grandiose poetic projects. Test your persuasive powers.
20. Convince famous painters to illustrate your work or paint your portrait, or composers to set your poems to music.
21. Practice thinking in complete sentences. Do not write these down.
22. Be a Platonic “name-giver” of the type described in the Cratylus. Work at giving things their exact or “proper” names. Then practice with “misnomers.”
23. See if Wittgenstein was right: try to invent a “private language” for your sensations.
24. Adopt a variety of social “identities” in your writing (race, ethnicity, class, sexual identity). However, avoid any explicit “identifying” reference in the poem itself (e.g. don’t use the word “barrio” in your chicano poems).
25. Invent a private slang (a la Lester Young); attempt to get as many people as you can to use the words you coin. Don’t use these words in your writing; rather, conceive of the invention of this language as an independent poetic activity.
26. Write “vocalese lyrics” to a recorded jazz solo.
27. Practice speaking in blank verse as “naturally” as possible.
28. Create your own avant-garde movement; make sure you officially dissolve the movement after 6 months or a year.
29. Invent an imaginary city, complete with geography, history, architecture, prominent citizens, etc… Keep a sort of “bible” of all the information you compile. Then write poems set in this city.
30. Write nothing but sestinas and pantoums for a month. Then “cannabilize” them, using the best lines to write other poems.