30 jun 2009

Who wants a copy of Apocryphal Lorca? I will give away one copy to the person with a mailing address in the USA who gives me the best reason (in comments below) why he or she should receive it. Contest closes at 10 p.m., Midwestern time, Friday July 3. I am the final and only arbiter of what the "best reason" is.
I think I want to write about what Ullán's visual poetry does to the idea of the "speaking voice" or subject of enunciation. I'll argue that his poetry already lacks a strong "voice" of this type. and the extension into visuality increases this tendency.

At the same time, there is no sacrifice of "expression." There is still a strong authorial presence, there's just not a poetic "speaker" in a dramatic situation telling us stuff, or talking to some other imaginary person. There's obviously nothing wrong with this paradigm of a little imaginary person talking to a little imaginary woman or man, or a vase or the western wind--and indirectly to the real reader, with the little imaginary speaker being the implicit voice of the "poet."

I got this idea while mowing the lawn this morning. I say this because of the idea that a lot of hostility to professors comes from the we can mow our lawns any day of the week. I.e.: we don't do enough work.

29 jun 2009

As luck would have it, I've been invited to talk about Ullán in Madrid next January.
If there is a dogma of late modernism in Spain, it is more or less the opposition between an informational use of language and the poetic language, which rejects all use values, whether commercial or ideological. The clearest place to find this dogma is in Gamoneda's book on Valente--since Gamoneda and Valente are the two heroes of this movement and Gamoneda purposely brackets off his own differences from Valente. Gamoneda is great poet but not a great theorist, so his writings have the advantage of presenting the opposition in very understandable, but a bit simplistic, terms.

I don't want to be (simply) the American ideologue of this Spanish movement. That's what I already am, to some extent, but I am more interested in the problems internal to it, its inner contradictions. What interests me particularly is its anti-modernism, that is, its resistance to modernity itself, and where this resistance is most evident is in the return to Spanish mysticism. Olvido García Valdés wrote a very interesting book on Santa Teresa de Ávila, for example--just as Valente devoted much attention to Molinos and San Juan.

27 jun 2009

I read Gamoneda's book of lectures on Valente. It's a little disappointing because I didn't learn much new from it. On the other hand, it confirms exactly what I already thought, so that's a good thing: it shows I'm on the right track.

26 jun 2009

First Farrah, then Michael Jackson. The icons of the superficial pop culture of my youth are dying off.

25 jun 2009

Where I am skeptical about a lot of visual poetry (and where I think Ullán is the exception) is that it doesn't have a strong visual sensibility behind it. It might have a typographer's sensibility (if you're lucky) but not a painter's sensibility.


I remember at a poetry reading in New York several years ago a guy I was talking to pointed out another guy: "See that guy, he came and gave a really bad lecture on visual poetry. He started off with very basic definitions and insulted our intelligence." Then, about 10 minutes later I found myself in a conversation with guy #2, who pointed out guy #2 to me across the room. "See that guy over there? I went to give a lecture on visual poetry and that guy insulted me..."

This is a similar text to the one I'm talking about in the post below.

Ullán, I'm coming to realize now, is a really key figure of Spanish culture of the past 40 years. I'm thinking I do need a chapter on him--or at least a good part of a chapter.

Collaborated with artists: Miró, Tàpies, Chillida, etc...

One of the only major poets who experimented in visual poetry.

Early translator in Spain of Jabès. Valente himself comes to Jabès through Ullán.

Knew María Zambrano; his poetry was admired by Octavio Paz.

Friend of Miguel Casado...

A significant career in journalism, in a country where the cultural supplements of newspapers have an importance they don't have in the US.

Yet Ullán never won the major awards and prizes. In a literary world where such prizes really are a driving force, and come almost automatically to writers with a certain longevity, he was not the one raking in all those awards. Perhaps it's better that way, because it makes us realize that prizes recognize value rather than creating it.

i feel horrible about not writing about him when he was alive. I was always too intimidated by his work, I suppose.

One of my favorite poems by Ullán is a sonnet, consisting of 14 lines of hieorglyphics of his own invention. There is a rhyme scheme of the Petrarchan sonnet-- ABBAABBACDCDCD--since the characters that end the lines recur in that order. Some are mimetic images--a fish, a bird, etc... Other glyphs are more abstract, but still highly expressive, hand drawn or maybe stenciled with real craftsmanship. It's visual poetry of the highest order, because it's not just conceptual: the written signs are dense and meaningful, and recur in a classic form, that of the sonnet.


If you google "Mayhew" with "García Montero," as I did last night, you will see that several people disagree with my most notorious position. This doesn't bother me. In the first place, if your work has a polemical edge, then people are bound to disagree. Protesting that is like protesting the fact that the player on the other side of the net is hitting the ball back at you. Once a critical position is a virtual consensus, then the issue is a closed one. Secondly, it's me they're disagreeing with. That is, I'm the one defining the terms of the debate. Thirdly, I am still right; I still have the stronger arguments on my side as far as I'm concerned. My position has always been that I could be mistaken, but you'll have to show me how. Fourthly: I don't take it personally if someone doesn't agree with me, even when their responses take on a personal or insulting tone (which is rare in any case). When I read that "Mayhew" says this or that, it almost seems like a different person to me. Seeing my own name in print has always done that to me.

24 jun 2009

Crítica poética y contracrítica: Resumen de premios en los últimos meses

This is really depressing. I'm glad now that I wrote a book "contra García Montero. Crítica poética y contracrítica: Resumen de premios en los últimos meses. I didn't even know all this shit when I first decided to take on LGM.

Basically, a good number of the panels for all the prizes have him or his cronies on the jury. The winning books are predictably mediocre.
I've been fooling around with the outline of my project. This is what it looks like today. Two asterisks mean a finished chapter, one means a chapter begun. I've decided not to write only about Ullán and Núñez but to write a more panoramic chatper about poets of the late 60s / early 70s. That really should be a book of its own. What the critics have neglected is scandalous.

FRAGMENTS OF A LATE MODERNITY: The Intellectual Traditions of Modern Spanish Poetry

Introduction: Catching Tigers in Red Weather*


1. Lorca and the Paradoxes of Modernity*
2. The Contested Legacy of the Duende*


3. Jorge Guillén, Luis Cernuda, and the Vicissitudes of Spanish Modernism**
4. From María Zambrano to José Ángel Valente: The Origins of Late Modernism*
5. Fragments of a Late Modernity: Valente and Beckett**
6. The Persistence of Memory: Antonio Gamoneda and the Literary Institutions of Late Modernity**
7. Claudio Rodríguez*


8. The novísimos: Modernists or Postmodernists?*
9. The Catalan poetry of Pere Gimferrer
10. Olvido García Valdés*

Conclusion: The Unfinished Business of Modernity

23 jun 2009

I'm thinking I should do at least one chapter on Latin American poets who belong to the same general movement of late modernism in Spain--the transatlantic dimension. From Lezama Lima (Cuba) and Octavio Paz (Mexico) to Eduardo Milán (Uruguay) and Blanca Varela (Peru).

Gamoneda wrote an epilogue to Varela's complete poetry in Galaxia Gutenberg. Milán wrote the introduction to García Valdés's poetry in the same collection. Valente, Sánchez Robayna, Milán, and Varela did an anthology together of both peninsular and lat am poetry--also published in Galaxia Gutenberg in Barcelona. So evidently something is going on here on the level of publishing.


I'm working at least one hour a day on this project throughout the summer. Now I have twelve potential chapters so something might have to give way. I count time blogging about this project in the one hour. Once I do the one hour then I am free to work longer on it in the bonus zone, or to do other things.
I find myself using a lot of re- prefixes: re-evaluating, recuperating, restoring, rediscovering. So my book is really about remodernizing modernity, keeping it fresh.
I feel compelled somehow to include a chapter on the Catalan poetry of Pere Gimferrer in this book. I am still struggling to justify the book to myself. so the more new things I can put in it, the better.


The Belgian Hispanist Elsa Dehennin has passed away--noted for her books on Guillén and Salinas. I met her a few years ago in Paris at a conference. There is also a book coming out soon that she edited, which includes an essay I wrote.

22 jun 2009

Put another way: 1922-1923 were the years of The Waste Land, Harmonium, Spring & All, Ulysses. That's only 38 / 27 years before The New American Poetry (1960). We are 49 years beyond that. Ginsberg and Williams might seem almost equally distant in time to an 18-year old today.
Lorca's Poeta en Nueva York was written in 1929-30 and published in 1940. The books of the novísimos were published in the late 60s / early 70s, so about forty yearrs afterwards. We are now in 2009, so that's another forty years. At this distance, modernism and postmodernism often look very similar.

I hate people who say surreal
when they mean

We killed dozens of moths in in sticky little traps
in the pantry and on the piano

I hate these people
hate them with a passion

When things mean other things
instead of themselves

the moths, the traps, the piano
there is no room in the pantry for the tomato paste

I hate people who say surreal
when they mean

You want to forget forgettable things,
Don't you?

Those towns you passed through
Los Angeles with its petulant physicality

I hate these people
hate them with a passion

21 jun 2009

Johannes makes some flattering observations on Apocryphal Lorca.

20 jun 2009

I got my copies of my other book Twlight of the Avant-Garde yesterday. It's kind of anticlimactic after Apocryphal Lorca. But then I think that parts of this book have been published in Diacritics and Hispanic Review, that this book represents much of my best work between 1996 and about 2005. The $95 price tag means that I will be giving away a lot fewer of TOTAV than copies of AL, which is $45 with a 40% discount.

The Tàpies cover is nice, and they spelled my name right. I found a typo on the first page of the acknowledgments so I am a little hesitant to read the book. Post-publication blues are a bummer.

18 jun 2009

The novísimos were a group of poets inspired by a lot of things "in the air" in the late 60s and early. The neo-avant-garde of the Italian novíssimi, from which the name was taken, the breaking down of barriers between high and low culture, the Parisian May of 68; the poststructuralism of Barthes and Foucault. All these things, taken together, have a convenient name: postmodernism. The argument that these poets were historically anomalous, that somehow what they were doing is out of sequence, anachronistic, is ridiculous prima facie.

What happens to this postmodernism, however, is very revealing. On the one hand, it is attacked (by those making the anachronism argument), in the 1980s and 1990s. It's an embarrassment to have even have had a postmodernism, apparently!

At the same time, in some sense it becomes folded back into a more mainstream high/ late modernism, with highly uneven results. One of the first things to go by the wayside is the interest in pop culture--precisely the element that made these poets seem more postmodernist than modernist. In retrospect this interest seems merely epidermal, in the case of many poets. The (apparent) suspicion of high culture gives way, in many cases, to a rather unproblematic celebration of the same.

Some poets just repeat themselves in book after book, hardly varying their position and writing worse and worse. This is a kind of fossilized late modernism. I won't mention any names.


Aesthetics functions as a kind of radar. The late modernist aesthetic is stringent. Since it doesn't admit other alibis, commercial or political, it pretty much stands or falls by quality. Of course, you will tell me that quality is a subjective determination, a mere value judgment. Yet somehow these value judgments won't go away. The main arguments against modernism (and experimental variants of postmodernism) are

(1) Commercial. It responds to no economic demand. (Note that this is, typically, the objection, not just to modernist poetry, but to poetry itself, and to all but the most commercial forms of literature.)

(2) Political. Modernism does not promote the correct social causes, or does not espouse them efficiently or efficaciously, and may even espouse some incorrect ones.

(3) Social. Modernism is "elitist" in its forms.

Usually (1) or (2) is combined with (3). Note, however, that a 4th kind of objection, aesthetic, is rarely made (any more). You are not going to fight modernism on its own terrain because you will lose. So the argument for quality is almost tautological. If I say Zukofksy and you way Woolf, we are really in agreement. In other words, we don't have to agree about the exact works or authors that our individual subjective taste leads us to in either case. On any given day I might prefer Arlen to Porter, or Gershwin to Rogers.
Can Poets & Writers be taken seriously? What is the source of its gravitas? First of all, a poet is a writer, so the very title of the journal contains a sort of category error, as though one were to say "dogs and animals," or "girls and children." You wouldn't have a journal called Novelists and Writers or Playwrights and Writers.

15 jun 2009

To a large degree the canon I am setting up in this project follows directly in the footsteps to some of the Spanish critics whose work I most respect, like Miguel Casado and Julián Jiménez Heffernan. In that sense i am the American Hispanist working in this field who takes the same line taken by one particular faction in Spain. I didn't intend for this to happen. In fact, my preferences were formed before I knew that this was a faction. It's more a matter of saying that these are my friends because of the kind of poetry I was writing about, rather than vice-versa.


One quote I keep coming back to is by Jameson:

if the poststructuralist motif of the "death of the subject" means anything socially, it signals the end of the entrepreneurial and inner-directed individualism with its "charisma" and its accompanying categorial panoply of quaint romantic values such as that of the "genius." Seen thus, the extinction of the "great moderns" is not necessarily an occasion for pathos. Our social order is richer and more literate, and, socially at least, more "democratic." [...] [i]t no longer needs prophets and seers of the high modernist and charismatic type, whether among its cultural producers or its politicians. Such figures no longer hold any charm or magic for subjects of a corporate, collectivized, post-individualistic age; in that case, goodbye to them without regrets, as Brecht might have put it: woe to the country that needs geniuses, prophets, Great Writers, or demiurges.

Richard Rorty and Marjorie Perloff have quoted this too, I think, mostly in order to take issue with it, as I do. I hate the sneering tone of those scare quotes. The term "cultural producers" is also telling. What happens to a room of "cultural producers" or "creative writers" when a poet walks in the door? Surely embarrassment on all sides. "Creative writing" is a branch of the English department. "Cultural production" is a sector of the economy. Now it's true that a poet might belong to such a department and that he or she belongs to that sector of the economy--almost nobody is free of all institutional ties--but what happens if those definitions become primary. If you refer non-ironically to your manuscript of poems as a "thesis," you are defining this poetry by its function in the academic credentialing process. Nothing wrong with that if it's what you want to do.
I was in Chicago for the weekend celebrating Julia's 14th birthday, so I had two days of "breaking the chain," after working 31 consecutive days on the project. Today I'm back working on it, refreshed.

One of the problems I'm working on is the relation between poetry and history. I'm not talking mostly about poetry that talks about historical events directly, or history as a poetic frame of reference. (That would be kind of obvious.) Rather, the historical consciousness that goes into something like the concept of modernism itself. Pound's translation of "The Seafarer" is a modernist poem, for example. Its historical frame, in terms of its creation and reception, is the time when it was written.

The same for St.-John Perse's Anabasis, for example, which takes place in some mythic time with no direct relation to the present. Even when there is a real time in poetry, there is also, at the same time, a kind of other time. There is also the sense that a future reader might be distant from the any of the various time frames of the poem. For example, I inhabit neither the historic frame of the original "The Sea Farer" (Old English) nor that of Pound himself. The reception of a work of art stretches out indefinitely into the future.

12 jun 2009

The first review of Apocryphal Lorca is on line and I couldn't be much happier with it if I had written it myself.

10 jun 2009


Charnett Moffett. beauty within. (1989)

I've switched to vinyl for my main record purchasing. There's just something about that 12" disk and the physicality of that, plus the adventure of the $2.99 bin at vintage vinyl here in St. Louis and similar stores. The 70 buck turntable I bought from amazon works fine, hooking up directly to some headphones or speakers. Eventually I'll get a decent stereo amp and some better speakers.

I have no interest in converting my vinyl to mp3s. The whole point is to get away from the mp3.

This is an album by bassist Moffett (playing both electric and upright bass) with numerous family members, in a kind of fusion / funk mode. Stanley Jordan, Kenny Garrett, and Kenny Drew play too. The leader, whom I knew mostly through his work with Ornette, wrote all the compositions.

I'll give this 3 and half stars for its sheer obscurity and funkiness. If you see this in the bargain bin, by all means pick it up.
I got Un armario lleno de sombras, Gamoneda's memoir, in the mail yesterday. It provides the referential frame for much of Gamoneda's poetry, in the sense that he will insert lines or images from his poetic works directly into his prose texts, with no quotation marks even, or retell a story implicit in a poetic text with a referential framework. At other times he will quote from his poetry with quotation marks.

At one point, my project was going to be a book about Gamoneda emphasizing the theme of historical memory. That has now become a mere chapter of the book. I don't feel like doing a monograph on a single author right now. My working title is Fragments of a Late Modernity: Lorca, Valente, and the Intellectual Traditions of Spanish Poetry. This is my outline:

Introduction: Chasing Tigers in Red Weather


1. Lorca and the Paradoxes of Modernity
2. The Contested Legacy of the Duende


3. Jorge Guillén, Luis Cernuda, and the Vicissitudes of Spanish Modernism
4. From María Zambrano to José Ángel Valente: The Origins of Late Modernism
5. Fragments of a Late Modernity: Valente and Beckett


6. Claudio Rodríguez
7. The Persistence of Memory: Antonio Gamoneda and the Literary Institutions of Late Modernity
8. Ullán and Núñez
9. Olvido García Valdés

Conclusion: The Unfinished Business of Modernity

I've written chapters 1, 3, 5, and 7, though 1 is in Spanish and translating it will involve adding material and totally recasting everything as though I had written it directly in English. It may not be worth translating. I'd rather start from scratch.

9 jun 2009

Take two poets, Valente and Rodríguez. They are equally difficult and linguistically dense. If anything, the more intellectual of the two, Valente, the one with disciples and an accreditated lineage, is more transparent, less clotted and baroque, than the "dumb poet." We might expect the opposite, but there it is.

7 jun 2009

Julia was volunteering at the library. While waiting for her I pulled a book off the shelf by Stanley Cavell. Now Cavell should interest me because of the Wittgensteinian angle, but I had a hard time with his writing, because he isn't very concise. In 40 pages that I read i barely got the sense of what it was all supposed to be about. There was a lot of wordy transitioning and something terribly important sounding that he never quite got around to articulating. He likes to refer at length to other writings of his which presumably explain all this better. I know he admires Wittgenstein, Emerson, Thoreau, Jane Austen, and classic movies, but what is the damned point of it all? Are we just supposed to admire him for admiring all these things?

There are some suggestive ideas, maybe at the ratio of one per 10 pages. The comparison between Austen and Nietzche...

5 jun 2009

Valente is very, very closely identified with the study of Spanish mysticism, especially Miguel de Molinos and san Juan de la Cruz. Since I've always known this, it's taken a while for the full implications to sink in. Valente criticism just tends to echo Valente's own positions, so there's a problem, or a series of problems, here that hasn't quite been resolved. What does it mean for a basically secular intellectual to be so invested in mysticism? In other words, there is nothing in Valente's writing that makes any more or less secular person reject it: everything is framed just so. The reader doesn't even know the confessional status of the authorial voice. Of course, we take the side of the mystic, Molinos, against the Inquisition that sentenced and imprisoned him, the side of heterodoxy against orthodoxy, but presumably a reader would do that whether he or she was agnostic or a Catholic believer--or the believer in any other creed for that matter. So Valente gets to have it both ways. He gets to be the modern secularized intellectual and the champion of mysticism.

My second idea for the day is this: Valente's poetic theory / combined with Claudio Rodríguez's poetry. Rodríguez is known as a dumb poet rather than a smart poet like Valente (Julián Jiménez Heffernan makes this distinction--questioning if of course). A dumb poet is someone like Lorca or Rodríguez, that is, a poet without a theory of poetry. A smart poet is someone like Valente, who develops the theory of what he's going to do and then does it exactly like that. My idea is that Valente's theory--developed mostly on the basis of María Zambrano's philosophy--predicts and explains Rodríguez's poetry. But that Valente tended to ignore the existence of Claudio, after an early review praising Claudio with some reservations. Claudio's poetry, in fact, is a better exemplification of Valente's theory than Valente's own poetry.


This lightbulb went off in my head yesterday evening. The lightbulb flash should happen to you when you are working on a project, maybe an average of once or twice every day. This is when an idea falls into place, the "aha" moment. You should notice when this happens. It calls for a brief moment of self-congratulation. Most of the work of writing does not consist of light-bulb flashes.

4 jun 2009

David Bromige has died... What a loss. A marvelous man and a marvelously modest poet.

You didn't always realize how good Bromige was (I didn't, I mean), because he didn't seem to be making an undue effort. He wasn't trying to impress you all the time. I also like many poets who are making that obvious effort too; I'm not saying one is better than the other. It's just easier for some to appreciate the Oscar Petersons of the world, with their incredibly fast sextuplet runs.

David was a different kind of poet. One of his most representative works is a work in which he just sets out to explain what his poetry does. "My Poetry." At the beginning of the work, he deliberately disavows that kind of attempt to make a strong impression through flashy stuff, but rather works cumulatively and slowly:

‘My Poetry’ does seem to have a cumulative, haunting effect — one or two poems may not touch you, but a small bookful begins to etch a response, poems rising in blisters that itch for weeks, poems like ball-bearings turning on each other, over & over, digging down far enough to find substance, a hard core to fill up the hand. ‘It’s through this small square that my poems project themselves, flickering across the consciousness, finally polarizing in the pure plasma of life. The reader grows impatient, irritated with my distancing style, coming at him in the rare book format, written under not one but two different kinds of dirty money, & knowing me to be an english teacher.’

Interestingly, with this modesty this paragraph does actually make an assertive claim for its effects.
Take "Dixieland" jazz. Armstrong's Hot 5 and Hot 7 sessions are perfectly listenable today. They still sound fresh and new. But any attempt to play in this style, by anyone after about 1940 who wasn't part of the music in its day, is absolutely vile, in all cases, a priori and forever, categorically, amen.

While I don't appreciate the hard bop of the "young lions," I think it is still a legitimate style. Hard bop still doesn't sound dated even today. Diana Krall, though she is not all that good in comparison with Ella, Sarah, Nancy, Dinah, etc... , can still be listenable at times, but the same problem of datedness applies. It's not simply a matter of not being as good: there is a fundamental wrongness to the return to an ossified style.

Why can't you write like Keats today? It is obvious that you can't. It simply can't be done. The results would be vile pastiche. Yet you can still read Keats fine... Why is Campion's Latin verse, undoubtedly, lacking in aesthetic interest. It is the relation to the language itself that changes. Imagine an adept forger of Picasso, in 2030. If we like Picasso, wouldn't it make sense to train people to make new cubist paintings, in that exact style? But almost everyone would agree that there is not point to that. Anything interesting that might come out of trying to paint like Picasso at a much later date would be in its radical difference from Picasso. This shows that what makes modern art valuable is its relation to its own time, its radical contemporaneity. And this applies to "modern" arts of the past two. Horace was his own contemporary. He is still a modern, so to present him in "modern dress," to contemporanize him, is fundamentally misguided. There is no "past," there are only other times that used to be the present.

What defines an epoch? What makes the past the past? What is "pastness"? Is it the sense of irrecuperability? Alienness? Datedness? It is us who define the past as such. In other words, the past is deictic.
These are the main ideas about time and anachronism:

(1) One could be "of one's time." That implies synchronicity, contemporaneity, possibly representativeness. Also the possibility that not everyone is of his or her own time.

(2) One could be 'behind" the times. All the rhetoric of belatedness, for example. To be behind one's time implies ideas of contemporaneity also (something to be behind.)

(3) Being "ahead of the times," out in front. In all three modalities (present, past, future) there is an implicit idea of directionality or progress. To be of one's time, one has to be just slightly ahead of the curve.

(4) Being "out of time," atemporal or eternal. Having an oblique relationship to time. Lyric moments of the eternal present or ideas of "universality."

(5) Ideas of recuperation or restitution, making up for past injustices or past defects. Re-creating truer ideas of the past.

(6) The past as a "foreign country." Its fundamental alienness. Even if we think we understand it, do we really? Aren't we always presentist even when trying not to be? Thus are vision is anachronistic by definition, evne in the absence of outright anachronism.

(7) It's a fallacy to present Shakespeare in modern dress, to update him in trivial ways. It's also a fallacy to present Shakespeare in period costume, according to some anachronistic idea of the "Elizabethan." There's no way out either way.

3 jun 2009

To think about overnight. What is anachronism? What does it mean to be out of synchronization with one's own time, by either being too far ahead or behind? I've identified several main ideas about time in literary history I'd like to explore tomorrow when I'm not quite as tired.

What is the phenomenology of one's experience of thinking about, imagining, the past?
"Su muerte me ha entristecido. Era un hombre necesario que destacó por su honradez intelectual y capacidad de crítica. Lo que intentó hacer lo hizo bien. Cumplió su propósito ampliamente. Respeto su manera de entender la poesía pero no la comparto. Para mí, la palabra meramente informativa y la crítica moral tiene su lugar en los periódicos, en la televisión, en los púlpitos si se quiere, pero la modalidad esencial del pensamiento poético no es ni reflexiva ni crítica sino un tipo de otra naturaleza, y determina un lenguaje que también es de otra naturaleza..."

[His death made me sad... stood out for his intellectual honesty and capacity for critique... did well what he proposed to do... I respect is way of understanding poetry but I can't share it. For me, the merely informative word and moralistic criticism has its place in the newpaper, on televsion, even from the pulpits, but the essential modality of poetic thought is not reflexive or critical but something of another nature, which determines a language also of another nature...]

When they asked Gamoneda about Mario Benedetti, who had just died, that was what Gamoneda said, more or less. Very respectful, but basically saying that Benedetti wrote entirely outside of "the essential modality of poetic thought." Of course Gamoneda thinks that. So do I.

Of course, the poets who don't like Gamoneda had a field that with that, attacking him in the press, as they did after Ángel González died and Gamoneda also said the truth about him, getting attacked by that same group--Benítez Reyes, Luis García Montero, Sabina... Of course Benedetti lived in Spain for years, and had more of a base of support there than anywhere else, with the possible exception of his native Uruguay.

The problem is that, since he is a huge leftist icon, nobody can come right out and say that Benedetti is (was) a crappy poet. (There, I've said it.) Everyone knows this, of course, probably even the people defending Benedetti, who represents the absolute worst dimension of Latin American crappy political poetry. I'm sure if I read more of Benedetti's poetry, I would hate it even more.

1 jun 2009

Ideas for the day:

What if the "modernist turn" in recent poetry is a conservative one, a repression of the radical spirit of the avant-garde half of "postmodernism"? What then? Huh? Huh? What then?


A critic I admire a great deal, Julián Jiménez Heffernan, who has translated a couple of Ashbery books into Spanish, says that there are two histories of poetry, the external and the internal. The internal is just the history of a (Bloomian?) strong poetry. That allows him to just ignore conventional literary history. I find this a useful move.


The intervention of the strong critic actually alters the course of literary history itself--if we consider that literary history is "made up" anyway. In other words, literary history is not the history of some object, literature, that has an independent existence outside of literary historiography itself. There are the "primary texts" themselves, of course, but who determines which of these "count" as part of literary history? Imagine a history of modern Spanish poetry that left out Lorca, Jiménez, Machado, etc... but did include other primary texts by poets we tend to see as secondary. So the judgment of what counts has to precede the writing of history, which is then a matter of piecing together "what counts" in some coherent narrative.