30 nov 2010

It's not so much that I blame my students for not being interested in Spanish literature (just because they are Spanish majors). What depresses me is students interested in literature don't major in Spanish. Spanish is the 2nd most spoken language in the world (if you count several forms of Chinese as one, which is a debate for another day). You would think someone would want to major in Spanish just to read some portion of that literature.

For similar reasons, I don't think it's horrible if English departments define themselves as doing all sorts of things other than teaching literature. There are many valuable things to study in this world, and literature is only one of them.

But I'd still like there to be a department of literature that does mostly that. Once a literature scholar decides she's bored, she can transfer to "English" and "Spanish" and do something not related to literature any more.

29 nov 2010

I've been playing around with the idea of counter-reformation poetics. What I mean by this is a very specific tradition that looks to Spanish mysticism (16th century) in order to create a Spanish cultural poetics for the modern age. There are a few dots I haven't connected yet, but the figures I am looking at are María Zambrano, José Lezama Lima, and José Ángel Valente, with some Unamuno thrown in. My basic question is how secular intellectuals can sign on to this project. Zambrano and Lezama were both practicing Catholics, of course, but their models are influential on many other, much more secular thinkers.

Mysticism almost has to do the work that the enlightenment does for other national traditions.

The notion of the counter-reformation was invented much later, and the term itself is fairly charged. I'm using it with some trepidation but also with some deliberate provocation.

28 nov 2010

People will tell you that contemporary poetry can offer nothing new, because there have already been various avant-gardes that have basically done everything possible. The common complaint that some new iteration of the avant-garde is vacuous, because we've already had dada, etc... is less devastating than it appears--for several reasons. The main one is that...

Modernity/modernization is not an event, but a process. You cannot just invent modern poetry once and for all and then forget about it. Nor can you simply return to a non-modern kind of poetry once you have tasted the modern. Even the poetry of the past is changed when we read Hardy through Creeley or Donne through Eliot.

27 nov 2010

Nobody Had Seen Douglas for Several Days

Jean was there, along with Joan, Jane, Janey, Jan, Janice, Janet, Jeanne, Jeannie, Jo Ann, Jo Anne, Johanna, Joanna, Julianne, and Job. Jo was there, with Josephine, Sue Bob, Sue Joe, Suanne, Suzanne, Susan, Susanna, Diane, Dianna, Dinah, Dina, Deena, Deanne, Deanna, and Deann. Dean and Don came much later, with Pete and Peto, Cassie and Cassandra, Chelsea, Kelsey, and Kelsie.

Robert, Bobby, Bobbie, and Bob showed up on time. Liam, Bill, Billy, Billie, Willy Sue, Will Bob, Wil, and William would not have missed it for the world. John, Jon, Jack, Jacky, Jackie, and The Boy were there. James, Jim, Jimmy, Jimmie Bob, Jimbo, and several girls named Megan, Molly, Danielle, Sara, and Sarah. Who else, you ask? Danny, Slim, Fats, Red, Bean, Prez, 'Trane, Bird, Tain, and Miles--and the other Fats. Sammy, Vinny, Marcia, Toshiro? Yes, I suppose so.

Let's not forget José, José Miguel, José Juan, María José, María Jesús, Maripepa, José María, María del Carmen, María de los Dolores, María de la Concepción, Concha, Conchita, Lola, Lolita, María del Mar, Marisol, Paco, Paquito, Juanmo, Juano, Ñaki, Ignacio, Nacho, Federico, Fede, and Cho. Jean-Pierre, Jean-Claude, and Jean-Jacques were feeling out of place untll they saw Charles, Dominique, and Marie.

At a table by the corner were sitting The Chairman of the Board, The Bronx Bomber, Lady Day, Lady D, Lady Di. LBJ, JFK, MJ, FDR, and JA. JP, JR, JK, FO'H, KK, and others too numerous to name were in attendance. The Duke, The Count, The Baron, The Duchess... Pop, Pops, Poppa, Popeye, Dad, Daddy, Ma, and Nana.

Of the younger generations, Jordan, Britty, Britt, Britney, Brittny, Brittany, several Jasons, Caleb, Zack, Zak, and Zack. The Queen was there, and Queenie too.

I have not yet mentioned a few others: Roi, Roy, LeRoi, Levon; Kirsten, Kristen, Kirstan, Christian, Christanne, Chris, Christopher, Kriss, Christine, Christianna, Krissy, Kitty, Kat, Cat, Cathleen, Kathleen, the other Kathleen, Kate, Kaye, Kay, K., the other Kay, Katie, Katy, Catherine, Katherine, Beth, Betsy, Betty, Liz, Lizzy, Liza, Lisa, Alyssa, Elissa, Elyssa, Lizabeth, Lizbeth, Elizabeth and the other Elizabeth. Bert and Burt were there, of course. But not Bertie or Bertha!

Canines, equines, and felines included Spot, Scout, Harry and Hairy, Baudelaire, Madame Bovary, Man O' the House, Regency, Elmer, Tosh, Empire State, Heavy Breathing, Answer to my Prayers, Heaven Sent, Justine, Acapello, Asterisk, If you expect me to list them all you will be sorely disappointed.

Who am I forgetting? William (the other one) was missing, as well as the other Bill and Fredericka. Someone said they had seen Greg and Craig, but I can't confirm their presence.

Nobody had seen Douglas for several days.

26 nov 2010

I imagine that my phonology is identical to that of Ella when she sings. I say imagine, because I could be making a mistake (or several mistakes) about what I actually say, how I actually pronounce certain sounds. When I hear Ella, however, I don't hear anything that strikes me as different from my own dialect--except for the vowel in immoral which I say as immoeral and she sings as immah-ral.

Sarah Vaughan, on the other hand, sings "Prelyude to a Kiss." I know that I say "prelude" and not "prelyude," just as I say "nuespaper" and not "nyewspaper."

25 nov 2010

The Professor is the conductor, the students are the musicians. The orchestra can only be as good as the musicians.

I like this better than the model that has the professor as the performer and the class as the audience.

24 nov 2010

Another golden hit from the past. I am particularly proud of this post.

23 nov 2010

The Adult Paradigm

From blogger Elisa Gabbert I borrow the idea of the "adult paradigm," who in turn took it from another friend of hers. My understanding of it might differ from hers, or his, so they bear no responsibility for what I am going to say.

For me, the adult paradigm means knowing the true value of things, or at least attempting to know what things are really worth. (Kind of the opposite of the cynic who "knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.") Knowing how to hit a ball with a stick is not very important for most adults, but a discussion of who can hit a ball with a stick better than someone else is probably just about as worthwhile as many other discussions, about which perfumes smell the best or which beer is good to drink. In other words, many other topics are equally trivial in the grand scheme, but very significant, possibly, in an immediate situation or for particular people. An adult is a relativist in this sense. She knows that other people won't care about what she cares about, and that's fine. He know there are no gods, but doesn't waste time arguing people out of their beliefs. (Or, if the adult happens to be an adherent of a particular system of belief, he knows it is a useful framework just as good as anyone else's. She knows that if she had been born into feudal Japan or the Egypt of the Pharoahs, she would not have been a Methodist or Theosophist.)

The adult can allow herself true enthusiasms, without adolescent jadedness or faux cynicism. He knows his strengths and weaknesses and is not likely to be star-struck or intimidated by other people.


The adult paradigm is an aspiration; it is not achieved all at once but in little bits, if at all.

22 nov 2010

I've recently let my undergraduate course in on the existence of two American writers whom they had never heard of: Ezra Pound and Elmore Leonard.


Then a few days later they were citing the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and developing really succinct but brilliant interpretations of some cryptic aphorisms. The collective intelligence of the class is quite amazing.

21 nov 2010

Cummings was the first poet I really loved when I was 11 or 12. I would buy all those paperbacks but eventually I got myself the Complete Poems. This is a poem that my little brother liked; I would have been 14 and he is seven years younger:
If you can't eat you got to

smoke and we aint got
nothing to smoke:come on kid

let's go to sleep
if you can't smoke you got to

Sing and we aint got

nothing to sing;come on kid
let's go to sleep

if you can't sing you got to
die and we aint got

Nothing to die,come on kid

let's go to sleep
if you can't die you got to

dream and we aint got
nothing to dream(come on kid

Let's go to sleep)

20 nov 2010

I had always had conserved a fond memory of the reading that Michael Caine did of Cumming's "somewhere i have never travelled" in Woody Allen's "Hannah and Her Sisters." So I watched the film again on netflix online. The poem does appear there, but Caine does not read it aloud: the Barbara Hershey character does instead, and only the last few lines of it at that. I still think they cut out that part on the netflix streaming version, that it must be in the film. I can hear Caine's voice reading it in my memory, with his very distinctive accent and intonation.

But this is probably just a retrospective hallucination: a hallucination of memory.

19 nov 2010

I've been hearing a lot of Russian music lately. Some Proko. and Rimsky-Korsakov at blogger's night at the St. Louis Symphony Last Saturday--a very good concert with a violin concerto by Thomas Adès. Then on Sunday hearing the Youth Orchestra play and last night, the Ladue high school band with more R-K, the Capriccio Espagnol this time.

Prokofief's 1st symphony is nicknamed the "classical" because it has that 18th century feel. The SLSO gave a crisp performance of it, but it's not my favorite piece: it feels a little sterile to me.

The Adés concerto was played by Leila Josefowicz, a wonderful player. I wasn't seduced by the composition itself, though David Robertson gave an entertaining lecture about it before they played it. When he had her play a bit of a Bach piece I found myself wishing she would play more of that.

The RK Sheherazade featured some of the excellent soloists in the orchestra and got a standing O, as Leila did not.


Sunday's Youth Orchestra featured a Mozart war-horse, the 40th, a Barber symphony, as well as a Berlioz overture and Billy the Kid, by Copland, this last one directed by Robertson. No Russian music here. The Youth Orchestra is a fine ensemble in which my particular youth plays the trumpet.
Why do I like the plain style in scholarly writing and the trobar clus in poetry? That's a question I've been asking myself recently.

I do like the other poetic styles, the clarity of Williams, Koch, and Creeley and of the medieval / renaissance cancionero, so in the first place the opposition is not hard and fast. I also am fond of some baroque prose styles.

Yet still I maintain the separation between a certain "plainness" in my own writing and some of the difficult poetry I like. I don't view this as a contradiction but as a complement. There's no point in explaining something difficult in a difficult way: that just adds another layer of complexity.

18 nov 2010

Deconstruction as a way of analyzing texts demanded an enormous technical precision, or prided itself on this precision, at least. The issues often involved very technical distinctions and the analysis of etymologies.

As I see it, there were two problems:

(1) Were the analyses all that precise in the first place? Take de Man's famous distinction between grammar and rhetoric. What he meant by the "grammatical" reading of a rhetorical question was something like a literal, non-rhetorical meaning. But in what sense is this "grammatical"? How is the grammatical a synonym for the literal? (Don't answer that question!) Doesn't the rhetorical question have the same grammatical structure however it is interpreted? I don't find it all that interesting to read Yeats's rhetorical question, "How can we tell the dancer from the dance?" as though it were a real question: "Tell me, how can you tell the dancer from the dance?" If this is the most famous deconstruction of a poem, I want my money back.

(2) Insofar as the ideological tendency of deconstruction, at least in the US academy, was to encourage a kind of interpretive freedom, this appeal to freedom undermined the appeal of precision. Or else the vaunted precision of the interpretation ended up limiting interpretation to a binary choice. The idea was that the interpreter would be eternally caught in an aporia between two conflicting readings, but these two readings turned out to be very determinate.

If the text is anything you want it to be, however, then there seems little point in insisting on the precision of the method. In other words, the demand for technical precision conflicts with the appeal of hermeneutic anarchy.

People who liked deconstruction, I suspect, were seduced by the possibility of having it both ways, having the professional expertise of the close reader and the existential freedom of the textual anarchist.


There's a dialogue between Derrida and some critics (Anne McClintock and Rob Nixon, two graduate students at the time) in Critical Inquiry (Autumn 1985 and some subsequent material in Autumn 1986). He had said, basically "Let Apartheid be the last word." His critics interpreted him as saying that Apartheid WAS the last word. He came back and pointed out that he hadn't read the subjunctive right. It was "soit" and not "est," so to speak. He denounced their rhetorical incompetence, and rightly so. But here there is no textual aporia: Derrida is correct and his critics are not.
If you had paid attention to the context and the modeof my text, you would not have fallen into the enormous blunder that led you to take a prescriptive utterance for a descriptive (theoretical and constative) one. You write for example (and I warned you that I was going to cite you often): "Because he views apartheid as a 'unique appellation,' Derrida has little to say about the politically persuasive function that successive racist lexicons have served in South Africa" (p. 141). But I never considered (or "viewed") apartheid as a "unique appellation." I wrote something altogether different, and it is even the first sentence of my text: "Apartheid-que cela reste le nom desormais, l'unique appellation au monde pour le dernier des racismes. Qu'il le demeure mais que vienne un jour . . . , " which Peggy Kamuf translates in the most rigorous fashion: "APARTHEID-may that remain ... May it thus remain, but may a day come... " (p. 291). This translation is faithful because it respects (something you either could not or would not do) the grammatical, rhetorical, and pragmatic specificity of the utterance.

So Derrida could appeal to precision, to specificity, but he could not do so and at the same time advocate for interpretive anarchy. That was never his game anyway. Derrida was not some advocate of let-it-all-hang out interpretation.

16 nov 2010

I am interviewed:

1. Are there any books (e.g., anthologies, critical books) that you would recommend as a starting point for new readers of poetry who are looking for an orientation?

Kenneth Koch’s Making Your Own Days. For younger (High School) writers, his anthology Sleeping on the Wing, edited with Kate Farrell. Both these volumes contain excellent poems and commentaries in easy-to-understand language. You can’t go wrong with Koch or with Louis Zukofsky’s A Test of Poetry. No matter what the exact starting point, all roads lead back eventually to the “good stuff.” The advantage of starting with Koch or Zukofsky is that the path might be better illuminated.

2. Could you recommend some poets who are not as well-known as they deserve to be?

Lorine Niedecker. David Shapiro. Bernadette Mayer. Joseph Ceravalo. While these writers are well-known in the circles in which I travel they deserve even wider attention.

3. Could you recommend some interesting collections of poetry in translation?

Jerome Rothenberg and Pierre Joris edited the first two volumes of Poems from the Millennium. The third was edited by Rothenberg and Jeffrey Robinson. These books contain many poems in translation as well as poems written originally in English. The University of California Press series Poets for the Millennium is also highly recommended. I’m a big fan of Witter Bynner’s The Jade Mountain, a classic anthology of Chinese poetry. I would recommend reading the same poet in multiple translations: this is an excellent way to learn about the variability of translation practices. I have multiple translations of Basho on my shelf, and I’ve learned as much from the bad ones as from the good.

4. Could you recommend some contemporary poets who are doing something particularly innovative and interesting with form?

The late Leslie Scalapino. The Canadian poet Christian Bök. The visual poetry of the Spanish poet José-Miguel Ullán. Those are three examples that come readily to mind. What is interesting, though, is that these three poets do not resemble one another in the least. If I had listed three others they would also be completely different from one another: the possibilities of poetic form are virtually inexhaustible.

5. Are there any particular poets who you think are excessively admired or imitated by beginning poets?

I was going to say E.E. Cummings, but I don’t think any heartfelt admiration for any particular poet is harmful. With enough reading, the young writer will transcend any “bad influences.” Cummings, whatever his limitations, is a also a superb craftman to whom we condescend at our peril. Sometimes we get fixated on a single influence when we are younger, trying to learn as much as possible from his or her work. Usually this is beneficial, and we move on to other poets in time. A weaker poet will be exhausted quickly, so there is little risk there. Imitating a stronger poet can be risky in a quite different way: in this case the young writer will have to break away at some point so as not to be overwhelmed. On the other hand, many poets have made an entire career out of imitating a single successful model such as John Ashbery!

True originality, paradoxically, comes from imitation. The less a poet has read, the more clichéd his or her poetry is likely to be.

6. Any other general thoughts on what aspiring poets should be reading?

In the first place I think they should not read exclusively in modern and contemporary poetry. That is the most common mistake I see. A historical sense gives more depth to one’s writing and enlarges one’s sense of poetic possibilities, since poetry, in past epochs, has been many different things: satire, epic, panegyric, lyric... They should learn at least one other language well enough to read and translate. They should also avoid the passive approach, the mere acceptance of the popular poets of today.

Music and visual art should be just as significant to them as poetry: poetry is a synaesthetic art form. The poet should be a “professor of the five bodily senses” (Lorca).

7. Could you tell us something about your book, Apocryphal Lorca?

With pleasure. This book is a comparative study of how contemporary American poets assimilated the influence of the great twentieth-century Spanish poet Federico García Lorca. I look both at translations (Lorca and Rilke are the most translated modern European poets) as well as “apocryphal” recreations of the Lorquian style by poets like Jack Spicer. I tried to write this book in a readable style but without sacrificing scholarly rigor. Some readers have told me that they frequently laughed out loud. I did not try to be gratuitously comic, but the material I was dealing with is inherently fascinating and occasionally quite amusing. I hope it reaches a wide audience.

15 nov 2010

I have always had trouble with Pound's Confucian Odes. The awful dialect and doggerel-like effects that mar many of the poems. The mixture of the slangy and the sententious can produce effects that verge on the absurd. But the book has its moments:
I plucked your sleeve by the way, that you should pause.
Cast not an old friend off without cause.

That a hand's clasp in the high road could thee move:
Scorn not an old friend's love.

Sure, it's a little stilted and archaic, but to good effect. Only in very short poems does he steer clear of jarring effects. You're almost rooting for him not to blow it.

The New Directions edition I have has an unsigned introduction. It could be by Pound himself, although it refers to him in the third person. I've had this book since I was a teenager.

14 nov 2010

The New Critics developed theories sympathetic to some aspects of literary modernism, but they condescended to Pound, Williams, and Cummings, tolerated Moore, ignored H.D., did a poor job with Stevens, failed to welcome O'Hara and Creeley, Duncan and Ginsberg--the poets who learned from modernism. Modernism, for the New Critics, didn't include European surrealism or the Latin American offspring of the avant-garde.

So modernism turned out to be Yeats, Eliot, and the poetry of the New Critics themselves (Ransom, Tate), along with the academic school branching out from Auden. The anti-modernist turn within modernism.

13 nov 2010

Here's another popular post from the past.
With Helen Vendler's scholarship I always have the feeling that she represents the triumph of mere competence. I'm pretty sure I could come up with better commentaries on Shakespeare's sonnets. She barely touches their prosody, and often misses points that to me are obvious. It' great that she exists and talks about relevant issues and great poets (and some mediocre ones of more recent years), but couldn't anyone do what she does, more or less? I can't quite put my finger on it. Is it the writing style, the insistence on details that just are not that significant? Is it my own ressentiment? I often think of her as worthwhile and try out her books, but then I give up on them after a while. I still like my Platonic ideal of Helen Vendler more than her actual writing.

This is apart from some of her lamentable lapses in taste. I wouldn't care if she liked the same poets I did in the contemporary period if she did justice to Keats and Shakespeare.

12 nov 2010

At a conference a former student told my wife that she was irritated when someone talked about their 20 minute talk being "part of a larger project." All 20 minute talks are part of larger projects because no scholarly project is only 20-minutes long. I'm going to have to stop saying that now.

11 nov 2010

Here's a post from 2008, back by popular demand. It should have been on Stupid Motivational Tricks, but that blog did not yet exist:

What does your scholarly writing do?

Treat, examine, consider, take into consideration, look at...

That's a good start. But those words simply name your subject matter!

Explain, account for, clarify, give an account of...

Ok. You're not only treating, but explaining; that's better.

Narratiing, tracing the trajectory of, telling a story, summarizing, paraphrasing

Now there's a forward movement, a momentum, a taking into consideration of other scholars' work. Beware of merely summarizing too much, though. It sounds rather dull.

Problematizing, analyzing, calling into question, re-evaluating, etc...

A more critical scrutiny than a mere treatment or consideration. What's the next level. An even more precise vocabulary for describing your particular task.

Look over a paper you wrote a year ago, with the proper perspective time gives. Which of these words do you use? Could you have done better work by conceiving of what your set of tasks is in more precise and descriptive language?

10 nov 2010

I remember reading Asbhery's introduction to The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara. He had a list of authors that O'Hara and he had read. A lot of my reading in those days was reading backwards, from O'Hara to Flann O'Brien, from Ashbery to Henry Green, etc... Pound sent countless readers back to Chinese poetry or the Troubadours.

A large part of my reading of Valente has been of this type. I can read him in terms of Lezama, Celan, Zambrano, San Juan de la Cruz, Unamuno, Lorca... Understanding everything he knew and understood.

The opposite method is to take a single figure like Rimbaud, Wittgenstein, or Pound, or Lorca, and study that writer's influence on everyone else. This is what Marjorie Perloff did in a series of books (The Poetics of Indeterminacy; The Dance of the Intellect; Wittgenstein's Ladder). That's what I tried to do in Apocryphal Lorca.

9 nov 2010

Textual Crossings II

I've decided Lezama Lima has to go in the book too. I'm going to put him in the same chapter as María Zambrano.

Wish me luck.

Seriously, though, this is the one poet I've devoted most time to that I've never written about (except for one conference paper 20 years ago that I no longer even have.)

I'm sure before it is all over I will have even more Latin American poetry in this book.

8 nov 2010

This post was written for Stupid Motivational Tricks, but I thought I'd cross post it here, because the readership of the two blogs does not coincide completely:

Creativity has (at least) two different meanings in literary criticism. One is like the creative in "creative accounting" where the creative urge is to make up crap about the text or to invent the most fanciful interpretation. A deeper creativity is the creativity of seeing what's actually there and asking the tough questions about it. Why is something one way and not another. How do we account for something that is (seemingly) anomalous.

Something that seems off, strange, is a good place to start. For example, I wondered why Juan Ramón Jiménez had created an anthology of his work that printed all his free-verse poems as prose, suppressing the original lineation. That seemed odd to me, because skill in verse is defined by, well, verse, and readers don't tend to read blocks of prose for rhythm. That question became the basis of a fairly original book chapter which should form part of my next book. What are the implications of this decision? How is this similar to what other poets have done?

If you are deeply engaged in a field, you will constantly be constantly confronted with things that seem off. Why can Donne be perfectly metrical when he wants to be, yet write the strangest lines elsewhere? If Greek and Roman poetry doesn't rhyme, why is rhyme so central to any neo-classical aesthetic? If you see the strangeness of what's before your eyes, you won't have a need to look for originality in spurious ways. A good critical insight has to be paradoxical, against the doxa or somehow internally contradictory in an interesting way.

Plodding, dutiful criticism just seems to go through the text and point out obvious things we already now.

7 nov 2010

Textual Crossings I
Take Campion's poem, "Rose cheek'd Laura"

Rose-cheek'd Laura, come,
Sing thou smoothly with thy beauty's
Silent music, either other
Sweetly gracing.

Lovely forms do flow
From concent divinely framed;
Heav'n is music, and thy beauty's
Birth is heavenly.

These dull notes we sing
Discords need for helps to grace them;
Only beauty purely loving
Knows no discord,

But still moves delight,
Like clear springs renew'd by flowing,
Ever perfect, ever in them-
Selves eternal.

A metrical tour-de-force. It seems inadequate to say that "the sound should seem an echo to the sense." Rather, the sense tells the reader how to hear the flowing sounds. The sense creates a kind of auditory hallucination, making the silent or dull notes into colorful sounds.

6 nov 2010

In Obabakoak there is a discussion of the short story, what makse a good one. The kind of stories that they tell are of the Maupassant or O'Henry variety. Stories with a satisfying "click" at the end. A good story is short, meaningful, and has a point. "Finis coronat opus." The ending crowns the work.

The characters all converge at the end of the novel to the house of the "Uncle from Montevideo" for a story-telling marathon. The uncle is like a character out of a 19th century novel, an indiano (a Spaniard who has been the Americas to make his fortune and has returned home) who advocates traditional story-telling. But in a Borgesian framework.

In class I told a story from an old film. A man in Central Park is approached by a young girl. They have a conversation. She gives many details about where she lives, her name... Later, the man goes to the address and finds out the girl died many years ago of a childhood illness. I can't remember what movie that is from.

I also told an old joke: A priest and a rabbi go into a bar, and the bartender says, "What is this, some kind of joke?"

5 nov 2010

Update: Areas in red show "rhotic" areas of rural England before 1950, iin answer to Sarang's excellent question.


"Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow"

There is another metrical joke of a sort. That's like the stupid high school teacher's idea of what iambic pentameter is: five feet that are also five phrases. The infinitesimal minority of lines are really like that. ("Devouring time, blunt thou the lion's paw.." That's more typical.) The joke is on the Petrarchan "blason of sweet beauty's best..." The implication is that it is monotonous and predictable.


The other thing I've noticed recently is Thomas Hardy:

"But that I thus found lacking in your make
That high compassion that could overbear
Reluctance for pure loving kindness' sake"

That briefest, awkward and poignant pause before the word reluctance gets me every time. You have to stop one r sound and begin another.


Frost's "Silken Tent" describes a tent swaying in the wind, controlled by "countless silken ties of love and thought," but bound by no "single cord." There is tension and looseness, then, a swaying or swinging motion. The tent is the poem itself. This is a kind of higher onomatopoeia, where the prosody doesn't mimic sounds, but the structure of psychic events. Williams' cat climbing down into the empty flowerpot is another example. The cat is noiseless, but the poem moves with it. Campion's "Rose cheeked Laura" does it with sound, so there's that too.


None of this is news, but I have to keep reminding myself of the basic thing that makes poetry valuable to me, which is that it is an art form. Even the students who hate literature (they say) respond to things like this.

4 nov 2010

Tips for a great keynote lecture:

(1) Use powerpoint only for text that you are going to read aloud. Make sure there are no images.

(2) Make sure the quotes you put on powerpoint slides are lengthy. If the quotes are awkward translations that you did yourself, and you have them on the screen for a long time, you will earn bonus points as the audience follows along your monotone reading of those slides and second guesses your translations.

(3) Announce you are going to "summarize" a chapter of a book you are now writing. Nothing is as scintillating as a summary.

(4) Summarize the plots of several novels in a monotone. We all love plot summaries.

(5) Make reference to super-familiar ideas: Benedict Anderson's idea of nations as "imagined communities" or Foucault's notion of power as "capillary." You wouldn't want to excite your audience with an idea they aren't familiar with already.

(6) Don't project any emotion to the audience; never interrupt yourself with off-the-cuff remarks. Don't act too excited. No eye contact with any member of the audience.

(7) Just read the text that you have written. Just read it out loud. Nothing more. That is your job: to read the text that you have brought to read to us and show us fucking power point slides with your bad translations.


3 nov 2010

Why should one syllable make that much difference? Let's look at the contrast between the 7 and 8 syllable line in Spanish.

The seven syllable line has this pattern:

1 2 3 4 (5) 6 (7)

There will always be an accent on syllable six, never on 7 and very rarely on 5. That gives us four syllables where the poet will place an accent. The most predictable place will be on 2 or 4, which will maintain an iambic, binary flow. 3 will give a ternary rhythm:

Let's see what happens in this poem by Brines

Vente, luz, a mis ojos, [1, 3, 6]
descansa tu fatiga [2, 6 ]
en ellos, tan cansados, [2, 6]
alíviame y acábete [2, 6]
en el amor del hombre. [4, 6]
Antes que se dilate [1, 6]
la sombra de la noche [2, 6]
en que has de morir [2, 6]
y yo morirme, [2, 5] ! [this line is a syllable short of the six-pack]
álzame tu pañuelo [1, 6]
que, tras de las montañas [2, 6]
es un fuego de rosas, [3, 6]
y dime que la vida [2, 6]
fue un día fiel, y largo [1, 2, 4, 6]
que supo de mi amor, [2, 6]
y amaré este cansancio [3, 6]

Very few lines have more than 2 stressed syllables.

The 8 syllables line has a totally different dynamic, because it will be much more likely to vacillate between binary and ternary patterns, and to have 3 rather than 2 accents per line.

Las piquetas de los gallos [3, 7 ]
cavan buscando la aurora [1,4, 7]
cuando por el monte oscuro [1, 5, 7]
baja Soledad Montoya. [1, 5, 7]
Cobre amarillo, su carne [1, 4, 7]
huele a caballo y a sombra. [1,4, 7]
Yunques ahumados, sus pechos [1, 4, 7]
gimen canciones redondas. [1, 4,7]
¿Soledad, por quién preguntas? [3, 5, 7]

The binary pattern is 3, 7, (or 1,3,7, etc...) with accents on odd-numbered syllables.

The ternary pattern is 1,4,7.

"Mixed" pattern, as defined by Tomás Navarro Tomás, are 2,4,7; 2, 5, 7. 1,5,7 is also possible.

The poet has one extra syllable to play with (1-5) and this extra room allows for a lot more variation of rhythm. There are two distinctively different rhythms, plus a few intermediate variations.

xx/x xx/x (binary, trochaic) [de cristales y laureles]

/xx /xx /x (ternary, dactylic) [Voces de muerte sonaron]

x /x /xx /x (mixed) [aguarda grietas del alba]

x /xx /x /x (mixed) [caballo de larga cola]

2 nov 2010

Maybe because I see such a lack of expertise and erudition, I value these qualities more highly. I think of myself as someone with barely enough to be a college professor at all, yet I know others who know much less than I do. If everyone knew their stuff, then expertise would be mere competence.

When I hear plot summaries (paper that are little more than plot summaries) in conferences, I despair a bit.

1 nov 2010

It's irritating when I am way early on a deadline, and then I get a message close to the deadline (right before or after) reminding me of a deadline I have met with much to spare.

Hello! I sent that to you a month ago / a year ago / etc... and you never acknowledged it. Here it is in my sent messages folder and I'm resending it to you now. You are creating an extra step for me, and also you are not taking advantage of my earliness.