30 abr 2011

New Table of Contents

What Lorca Knew: Late Spanish Modernism and Intellectual History

1. The Grain of the Voice: Nation and Performance in Lorca’s “Juego y teoría del duende”
2. Jorge Guillén, Luis Cernuda, and the Vicissitudes of Spanish Modernism
3. María Zambrano and the Genealogy of Late Modernism
4. Fragments of a Late Modernity: Samuel Beckett and José Ángel Valente•*
5 Antonio Gamoneda and the Persistence of Memory
6. What Claudio Knew
7. The Spanish American Connection: Blanca Varela and Eduardo Milán
8. Poetry and Aphorism (From Antonio Machado to Luis Feria)
9. The Verse Paragraph (From Juan Ramón Jiménez to Olvido García Valdés)

I need some snazzier title chapters.


Part of what interested me in when I was first learning Spanish was the Latin American "boom." Naturally, since it was the late 1970s. These were novelists like García Márquez, Cortázar, Vargas Llosa, Fuentes, etc... who began to appear in English translation in the 1960s. Many of them had been published in Spain, where I believe the name of "boom" started to be used.

The boom caused a big inferiority complex in Spain, because Spanish writers did not have as rich a language or repertory of narrative technique. The Latin Americans were building on previous generation of narrators like Rulfo, Borges, and Carpentier. Only Juan Goytisolo was able to make the transition from the dull social realism of the 1950s. The novel also seemed to put poetry in the shadows. After Neruda and Vallejo, Paz and Lezama Lima, the Latin American poetry of the later generation could not compete with novels of GGM or Vargas Llosa.

Now all of this is completely false. This is only one possible way of perceiving, making sense of, a much more complex reality. First of all, a lot of the "boom" has not held up very well. It seems a bit artificial to elevate a few writers who are not necessarily all that great, just because they happen to have become famous at a particular historical juncture.


(Ernesto Sábato has died at age 99.)

29 abr 2011

Cultural Knowledge

What should everyone know? This is an impossible question to answer. I'm trying to come up with some ideas for a course on "cultural literacy" for the University Honors program. I guess the course would have two aspects to it, the "meta" question is how to even decide on criteria in the first place, and to study the history of the idea of defining a map of knowledge. The other part of the course could work to actually impart some knowledge to the students, since I don't believe in contentless critical thinking skills detached from knowledge. The course could look at things like the University of Chicago Great Books idea, Bourdieu's "cultural capital," E.D. Hirsch's cultural literacy...

Hirsch's ideas are deeply flawed, but constituted a significant cultural intervention during the culture wars of recent decades.

A little quiz

Here is a little quiz. I first gave it in 2006, and am changing a few things. Match up the poet with his or her work. Obviously some of these are very hard and others very difficult, and still others easy.

Pablo Neruda
Pierre Reverdy
Arthur Rimbaud
Claudio Rodríguez
Ranier Maria Rilke
César Vallejo
José Lezama Lima
Barbara Guest
St. John-Perse
Pere Gimferrer
André Breton
Roberto Juarroz
David Jones
Antonio Machado
Frank O'Hara
René Char
Victor Hugo
Nicanor Parra
Antonio Gamoneda
María Victoria Atencia
Paul Celan

Poems and Antipoems
The Leaves of Hypnos
Gift of Drunkenness
The Book of Poisons
Waiting for the Barbarians
The Art of Being a Grandfather
Vertical Poetry
One Hundred Sonnets of Love
Most of the Time
Fields of Castile
Sonnets to Orpheus
Marta & María
The Drunken Boat
"A woman asks me..."
Death in Beverly Hills
Death of Narcissus
Lunch Poems


They have a Duke Ellington celebration today on WKCR streaming on the internet. If you live in New York City you could just use a radio to listen to it. Of course, i'm a huge Ellington fanatic. The only thing I like just about as much is Johnny Hodges or Billy Strayhorn. What I like about Ellington's music is that it is an entire world unto itself. You could listen to it for several years and not quite exhaust it.

Of course, I love other composers, bandleaders, and instrumentalists just about as much, but very few have that scope that make them whole countries or worlds of music. I realize this is a quantitative judgment, but so much of the music is so damned good too, and it stretches from the 20s to the 70s... The fact that some of the music might not be as great hardly seems to matter.

28 abr 2011

J J Johnson

I'm listening to some J. . Johnson on WKCR in New York (streaming off the internet.) "The Eminent J. J. Johnson" is the album. I can tell it's vinyl because of the scratch on the record.


This is a mid-tempo (on the slowish side), very swinging tune in the hard-bop style. After playing the head of the JJJ takes a trombone solo for one chorus, then a very nice tenor sax. Now comes the piano. I think the DJ said it was Horace Silver. It definitely sounds like him. None of the solos were brilliant, but the groove of the tune was very deep.

[ ?? ]

Now a slow ballad. Johnson plays the head alone, the melody of the tune with some embellishments. A piano solo, a different kind of style than on the first tune. I think I heard the DJ say Hank Jones, and it could definitely be him. The trombone again, with an assertive but low-key improvisation. Very tasty.


A faster tune, very beboppy. Johnson seems unhurried in his first chorus, gains intensity in his second, but still has a relaxed rather than frantic feel. The tenor sax follows, then the piano.

"Time After Time"

A slower tempo for the classic ballad "Time After Time." JJJ excels at ballads because of his clear and authoritative tone. He improvises in a way that makes you think that he making the best possible choices at all moments, with no tentativeness.


A final bebop number. JJ starts us off with another assertive solo. Then the tenor player again. I forgot who she said this was. [Later: Hank Mobley. Then a trumpet (Clifford Brown, though not a classic solo from him). I'm really into the drum sound here.

Lo bueno, si breve, dos veces bueno

People think of classical music as consisting mostly of very long pieces. Part of the satisfaction of listening to it is the experience of following a musical development over 20 minutes, or an hour. A Mahler symphony is not a brief work.

Yet if I look at my classical music on itunes, I find many short and satisfying fragments. A two minutes fugue by Shostakovich, a movement of a Bach cello suite or violin sonata that's three minutes long, Panzera singing Baudelaire for 3 1/2 minutes or Schumann for less than 2. I have very short art songs by Ned Rorem.

Now some of these are movements of longer works, but some are self-sufficient and more or less self-contained. The Lied, art-song, or French mélodie lend themselves especially well to be brevity of lyric poetry. So if you know someone who doesn't like classical music because of an inability to follow long developments, there is a way of entry into the music through works and fragments of extreme brevity. Start with the Minute Waltz and build up from there.

27 abr 2011

A Culture of Citation

The tradition of using the "commonplace book" to write down memorable quotes from one's reading, of citing ancient authors in support of one's points, of consulting dictionaries of quotations or anthologies of aphorisms... Not all "quotes" are aphorisms, of course, but a quote used in a particular way is an aphoristic use. This is different from citing an authority or author for the support of a more specific point.

"Lugares comunes" or "commonplaces" began to take on a more negative connotation with writers like Flaubert, with his dictionary of "received ideas." Commonplaces, received ideas, clichés, truisms, and old saws have acquire negative connotations. Someone who quotes too many proverbs is seen as incapable of original thought. The public speaker who quotes a dictionary definition or a phrase from Mark Twain begins to seem a bit hokey.

Wisdom from Alter

I was looking at Robert Alter's translation and commentary on biblical wisdom texts over the weekend. I would recommend them highly, although more for the commentary than the translations themselves.

26 abr 2011

Harris / Lombardo

We had a good reading tonight. Billy Joe Harris and Stan Lombardo. Stan read from his translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses. I didn't know Billy Joe's poetry very well, but I really liked what I heard.

Jarrett / Shostakovich

I have been enjoying Alexander Melnikov's versions of Shoskatovich's opus 87 (Preludes and Fugues) for most of 2011. Today I'm checking out a different version, by jazz pianist Keith Jarrett. Since my ears are conditioned by my first approach, I am finding Jarrett's rendering richly divergent and gaining a deeper interpretation of the work itself. He is heavier and darker than Melnikov, with more contrasting tempos and a more legato feel in most places. He sounds like himself, but he does not "jazz up" the music either.

Jarrett has recorded baroque music on the harpsichord too. He's totally legit as a classical player, not just a novelty. I wouldn't mind owning five or six versions of different pianists playing this set of 24 preludes and fugues.


I'm returning to Claudio Rodríguez for the last chapter I am writing, making a full circle with my dissertation about this same poet, that I completed in 1988. I remember a graduate student thinking that Claudio was nothing special, and dropping a few notches in my estimation. If you don't think Claudio is great, you simply don't get it. I return to him with a deep sense of awe. He is to the second half of the century what Lorca was to the first.

Part of my argument is that Claudio and Lorca complete (make whole) the idea of poetic "thought" that is usually identified only with poets who have a more elaborate theoretical apparatus, like Machado or Valente. I am making Spanish poetry whole again by restoring this missing half, against the arbitrary separation of other critics.

25 abr 2011

Miguel Hernández

The kind of musical effects the Joan Manuel Serrat uses to sing the poetry of Miguel Hernández, his voice and intonation, make me physically ill. The idea of singing this beautiful, delicate poetry as a kind of flashy pop music is a sacrilege. It probably does not matter what I think, though. In other words, my opinion has no sway over anyone else, or no claim. I know I am right, of course, but I have no argument that goes beyond my personal reaction. My only way of demonstrating my point would be to point to my own reaction: "this is how this makes Jonathan feel, can't you see that!"

But if you don't feel that, all that means is that are not Jonathan. I have no problem with Leonard Cohen's "Take This Waltz," based on a Lorca poem, or with Enrique Morente's translation into Spanish of Cohen's music for this song. Singing Spanish poetry to various kinds of music does not bother me in general, just in the specific instance.

Individual Help

What I really like to do is teach individuals, not classes that might be wasted on any given percentage of the students. I like the model of a private teacher in music, a teacher for one student. Now you might say this is too labor intensive for higher education, and I agree completely. Is it really less "efficient," though? If I am getting through to only 2 students, but having to spend a lot of my time on the other ones?

Song Studies

I'm devoting the last three weeks of my graduate course to the relationship between poetry and song, teaching entirely from my ipod with its almost 5,000 "songs." The scare quotes are because some of these songs are movements of Mahler symphonies or discrete sections of The Art of the Fugue. I did a thematic approach in this course, and we looked at violence, sexuality, alcohol and drugs, and, now, music.

The thematic approach worked fine with this group. I don't know that I would repeat it or do something completely different, like use the performance / performativity / music dimension during the entire semester.


I've figured out a way of finishing my book project by the end of the calendar year. The bad news is that this realization is oddly de-motivating.

20 abr 2011


I still get a frisson when i see myself in print. The book on Ullán to which I contributed, Las voces inestables came just now in the mail. Even though I can't do much with the book except read the contributions that aren't by me...

I was walking to my office and the student assistant was walking down the hallway at the same time. It's about the same time I know she goes downstairs to get the mail, so I thought to myself, "I guess she's getting the mail. I hope if there is something for me she just drops it off for me on the way back to the main office." I almost asked her to do that but it seemed rather silly, because I wasn't really expecting very much. Then, when she walked by my office door five minutes later, she asked if I wanted her to just hand me my package. She's never done that before, so I must have communicated my wishes to her at some sub-conscious level.

19 abr 2011

Quarter System

I haven't thought about the quarter system much recently, but my undergraduate school, my graduate school, and my first tenure track job all used the 10 week quarter system, and I actually prefer it to the 16-week, drawn out semester. I think I can present a lot of information concisely in 10 weeks. More time doesn't actually give you more efficiency with that time, or more depth. Quarters provide more flexibility.

In the Mail

Akiko's book is in the mail and should be getting to us soon.

More Obabakoak

The central section of Obabakoak, "Nueve palabras en honor del pueblo de Villamediana," is fascinating. The unnamed narrator goes to a small village in Castile, Villamediana, with nothing in particular to do. This section is kind of a parody of novels of the Generation of 1898, like those of Baroja or Azorín, in which a character spends some time in a Castilian village and complains about the low level of the culture. The novel was written originally in Basque, and most of it takes place in the mountains in the province of Guipúzcoa or cities of Northern Europe, so this section is a bit different in emphasis, although there are thematic continuities. One of the main threads is the idea of the outsider, the pariah.

Anyway, in one of the sections, the narrator comments on the two bars of the village. In the nicer bar, frequented by people of more wealth, they explain to the narrator that their bar is the progressive one, and that the other is frequented by Fascists. They believe that the narrator is a journalist, even though he is not, and constantly pester him for his opinions about issues of the day.

In the other bar, they explain to him that the difference between the two bars is economic. They are the poor people, and the other bar is frequented by those who own land. Here, the talk is not of politics, but of hunting, the epic struggle of man against animal. What is interesting is how the elite marginalizes the working class twice over, first economically and then culturally. The narrator ends up preferring the poor people's bar, because they only bother him when it's his turn to pay for drinks. It's true that he is repulsed by the killing of animals, and presumably by the politics of the poorer bar, but he doesn't like the condescending liberal elites either.

Of course, the Civil War in Spain was fought between the bourgeois and the proletarians, so we would expect the proles to be the progressives and the bourgeois to be the right wing, but during the period of the novel (1980s), the roles are reversed. Much like in the contemporary US, where impoverished people often vote to protect the economic interests of the ultra rich.

In another section of this part of the book, the narrator learns about the social marginalization of the shepherds. Shepherds are the social outcasts of the village, presumably because that is the lowest available occupation. However, a friend explains to the narrator that there are two classes of shepherds, the white and the black. The blacks (not literally black of course) drink too much, are violent, and curse. The white shepherds have blue eyes and are almost angelic in their behavior. You get the idea.

What I'm Really Interested In

What is it that I'm really interested in? I know my interest in aphorisms has been driving my page views down, but I think I have to figure out what the question underneath the question is.

(1) I'm interested in the pragmatics of literature, so i like short texts, proverbs or aphorisms, that can be separated from their source or context and used again in other contexts. When someone quotes a proverb to refer to a new situation, that would be a pragmatic use of the proverb. The meaning of a proverb or aphorism, I would argue, is its use. Kenneth Burke's "equipment for living."

(2) I'm interested in the relationship between poetry and "wisdom literature" in general. Of course I think didacticism is foul and uninteresting on some level. I don't really like the subordination of literature to moralistic concerns. I'm also fascinated by the counter-ideological current of the aphorism, the way it confirms or questions beliefs.

(3) I'm interested in getting leverage out of an examination of material that people have not looked at very much, or have not looked at in a very interesting way.

(4) I'm interested in finding out what it is that I'm really interested in, and why.

18 abr 2011

A Quiz

What do César Vallejo, Leopoldo María Panero, Luis de Góngora, Miguel Hernandez, Fray Luis de León, José Hierro, and San Juan de la Cruz have in common? (Aside from being male poets writing in Spanish.)

Hint: Ben Jonson also shares this trait.

The Problem Student

This could be a good description of me, if you change she to he:
Now picture one kind of “bad” student. This child is obsessive, inflexible, a bad listener. Prone to daydreaming, preferring her own company, idiosyncratic in her tastes, she is a solitary, possibly discontented child. In one way, she is a classroom problem, with disorders of attention or attachment. She is also an eccentric; an artist; perhaps a “genius”; in any case, an economic burden, a proto-elitist, with the capacity for generative unhappiness. One might go so far as to call her a natural humanities major.

Oxford Book of Aphorisms

This book came today. It is a little disappointing. Why couldn't he have chosen the aphorisms that I would have chosen?

Oh, wait... Never mind. I have to stop doing that.

paremiological minimum

Here is an interesting concept, the paremiological minimum, defined as the set of proverbs that any speaker of a language knows. Some may know more proverbs, but there may be some that virtually everyone knows.

Judging by my students, though, I think the number is quite small.


Ah de la vida.
Y una sed desmedida me apresura,
y un hondo amor, y un derredor urgente.

The Canary Islands poet Luis Feria published the book Arras in 1996. The word in the title means:

1. f. pl. Cosa que se da como prenda o señal en algún contrato o concierto.
2. f. pl. Conjunto de las trece monedas que, al celebrarse el matrimonio religioso, sirven como símbolo de entrega, pasando de las manos del desposado a las de la desposada y viceversa.
3. f. pl. Der. Entrega de una parte del precio o depósito de una cantidad con la que se garantiza el cumplimiento de una obligación.

The first definition is the most general and hence the most relevant: "a thing given as a token or sign in some contract or agreement." The third definition seems almost a rephrasing of this in more legalistic term: "Surrender of a part of the price, or deposit of a quantity in order to guarantee the fulfillment of an obligation."

The first line alludes to a famous sonnet by Quevedo. "Ah de la vida..." This, in turn, is a turn on the once colloquial phrase "Ah de la casa," which means basically, "Is anybody home?" The rest of the poem means, more or less, that a measureless thirst, a deep love, and an urgent environment put some kind of pressure on me. The word "derredor" is somewhat unusual but is the perfect word for this poem.

It might be stretch to call these poems aphorisms, but they have the brevity and concision of the genre. The main difference is that they are cast in the 1st person singular. They seem less generalizable, more unique to a particular sensibility.

15 abr 2011

Stefano Zenni

I discovered a very good jazz podcast in Italian, by the musicologist Stefano Zenni. His commentaries enrich the music in a way that few are capable of. His Italian is very clear, so I understand him at a range between 80 and 99%. Check it out if you want to learn Italian and jazz at the same time.


David Shapiro told me that Lionel Trilling saw no value at all in Latin American literature, thought that it shouldn't be taught at all. I wasn't surprised.

Antonio Machado

Tal vez la mano, en sueño,
del sembrador de estrellas,
hizo sonar la música olvidada

como una nota de la lira inmensa,
y la ola humilde a nuestros labios vino
de unas pocas palabras verdaderas.

Since I learned Spanish to read the literature in the original, I started reading almost immediately when I started learning the language. I started with Azorín and Matute, writers who are complex but who write in short phrases. The first literature class I took we read Ramón Sender, Antonio Buero Vallejo, and Antonio Machado. I still remember reading these poems by Machado and I still have some of them memorized, or nearly so.

I tended to learn the grammar of the language the first time I was exposed to it. Not that I haven't refined my grammatical knowledge later, but I just learned the grammar, the verb forms or whatever, the first time. In subsequent courses we just got taught the same grammar all over again, and over again and again. I think I even skipped some courses, because I was better off just reading the literature. I went from Spanish 1 in my Freshman year to an advanced level during the last quarter of my sophomore year. Then I went to Spain and actually learned to speak the language by refusing to speak to other American students in English.

13 abr 2011


I suddenly remembered that as an undergraduate I wrote a paper for an anthropology class on folklore on the Spanish refranero. It wasn't a very good paper, as I remember, but that's not important now.

This is starting to freak me out. That was 30 years ago. I know exactly who the professor is, Professor Crowley, because I knew his daughter in high school and I am FB friends with her. She does very good work on sustainibility all around the world.


I wonder what else I'm interested in but don't even know I'm interested in? It was strange to gradually realize I had a strong interest in something to which I had never given that much conscious thought.


Aphorisms, proverbs, the other kind of texts that I am becoming interested in can have a sententious, apodictic, self-assured, or didactic tone. I can understand someone who doesn't like the genre at all for this reason. The poet Jorge Riechmann told me once that he didn't distrusted aphorisms because of their apodictic nature. I was a bit confused because he had just handed me a copy of his book of original aphorisms.

I can understand not likely the particular sensibility behind a certain author of aphorisms. As with any genre, there are differences in sensibility. I just ordered a copy of Christopher Maurer's translation of Gracián. This book (Maurer's translation) actually became a best seller, because people love pithy didacticism. Not everyone, of course, but a lot of people.

Everyone has proverbs in his or her vocabulary, even if they are only mottoes from the world of sports of advertising or the self-help culture, or jokes from Mark Twaiin like "Golf: a good walk spoiled." It would be interesting to do some experimental research on this, to see what people know actively and passively.

Anticlerical proverbs

In the Spanish tradition there are many anticlerical proverbs, like

Con putas y frailes, ni camines ni andes. (With whores and friars, neither walk nor walk.) There are also misogynist ones, or simply ones in which the woman is the indirect source of misfortune.

Eramos muchos y parió la suegra. / Eramos muchos y parió la suegra. (We were too many already, and grandma / mother-in-law gave birth.)

Mujer que sabe latín, no encuentra marido ni tiene buen fin. (The educated woman, a woman who knows Latin, won't find a husband or come to a good end.)

Proverbs, then, are the source of knowledge about popular ideology. I don't know any pro-clerical or feminist proverbs from the oral tradition.


I'm teaching one of my favorite books today, Obabakoak by Bernardo Atxaga. Not only one of my favorite pieces of prose fiction, but one of my favorite to teach. It's like the Basque version of Calvino.

(Unfortunately, the movie version is not good. At least, it is not good if you've read the book. They create an attractive female student who is doing a film project in the fictional town of Obaba, as the narrative thread.)

One thing we've been discussing is the idea of a minority literature. This will become clearer to them in the 3rd section of the book.

12 abr 2011

More Polysemy

tolerate / invest / erect / prepare to box

The Happiness Base

The poet Kenneth Koch in one of his short stories talks about the happiness base, a concept he credits to one of his friends.

The happiness base is not happiness itself, but all of the contributing factors. Health, personal relationships, personal autonomy, the ability to enjoy sensual pleasures, satisfaction derived from accomplishments, temperament and brain chemistry, absence of extreme stress, etc...

Koch then went on to develop the idea of the "poetry base" in a book called Making Your Own Days. I stole this concept and transformed it into the "scholarly base" on my other blog.

But back to the happiness base. Having all the pieces in place, or even most of them, does not guarantee happiness. Not having a few of these pieces will make you less happy, but does not doom you either. A single thing like seriously messed-up brain chemistry can override everything else.

Looking at this in this way has helped me a great deal to work on things that make me unhappy and achieve a kind of balance.

11 abr 2011

Still more aphorisms

I had forgotten completely about Wallace Stevens's aphorisms. This subject is getting better and better all the time. I simply have to open up my memory to where other examples come flooding back. This would be an outline of a lecure on the subject:

The pre-Socratic aphorism (Heraclitus). Here the aphorism appears to be a form of precursor to all philosophy itself.

The Humanist aphorism (Erasmus). Aphorisms in the humanist age reflect the idea that human cultures themselves are repositories of wisdom. The Marqués de Santillana collected proverbs in "Refranes que dizen las viejas tras el fuego."

The baroque aphorism (Gracián). Associations with wit (ingenio).

The neo-classical / enlightenment aphorism. Aphorism is the voice of reasonableness but also of paradox.

The Romantic aphorism (Blake).

The decadent aphorism. (Wilde)

The modernist aphorism. Juan Ramón Jiménez / Wallace Stevens.

The late modernist aphorism...

Various sources of distrust for the form. It is too sententious, too categorical. It commands assent that we might not want to give it.

Undergraduate dynamics

A student in my undergraduate class follows my blogs, which is fine. it's a public blog and I always see the possibility of someone reading a comment about the class itself. Here was the dynamic today, in a class of 17:

3 or 4 were absent.

A few had done the reading, but didn't have the book with them.

One had the book in English rather than Spanish, due to misleading advertising by amazon.com.

Others had the book with them, but hadn't done the reading, or were unwilling to contribute to the class.

Others had the book at home, and hadn't done the reading.

Other neither had the book nor had done the reading.

Three or four had done the reading, had the book, and were willing to talk about it.

Teaching People to Think Like Me

I've always wondered whether there was a way of teaching someone how to be smarter. You can teach information, you can teach skills. You can help someone learn stupid tricks to improve their performance, but often students are impervious to learning to change the way they think. I don't mean to change their opinions, which I don't really care about anyway, but to change their thought processes so that they start to see things in a more interesting way - kind of like I do.

What would be the elements of this? (1) Curiosity. Asking questions about why things are the way they are. Not accepting easy or simplistic answers. Not being bored by anything. (2) Dedication. Being immersed enough in something that your perspective is altered. What else?

Another puzzle

foam / part of the body / chief of an organization / to begin to move in particular direction

Another One

expert / fissure / form of a drug / sharp sound

Another quiz

What do support poles, staff positions, battery terminals, army encampments, blog articles, earring stems, trading stations, and snail mail have in common with billboard advertising, accounts recording, making bail, and assigning diplomats?

This one, also from Pullum, becomes easier simply because of the sheer number of elements.

The Unprestige of Prestige

People working on popular culture can complain that their field is still not taken seriously enough. They still feel that canonical literature holds sway. Working in a more canonical field from a more or less high modernist perspective, I feel that there is a certain unprestige of prestige, In other words, a suspicion cast over the canon itself. My field is extremely canonical, since it includes Antonio Machado, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Federico García Lorca. Yet many Ivy league and other prestigious universities don't feel the need to have a specialist in this area. A colleague at Duke tells me he doesn't teach poetry much, because of the demand for prose fiction courses. Almost all Spanish majors there are double majors, with Spanish being the second major and oriented toward the study of language. I think I would be even more famous in my field than I am if I had the same number of publications in the same journals and presses, but devoted myself instead to film or novel. I am not complaining, because I think I'm well enough known to suit myself, and I understand complaints coming from the opposite direction might be equally justified.

A Polysemy via Language Log

"What is the link between (a) denigrating, (b) ceasing to hold in one's hand, (c) making written notes, and (d) euthanasia?"

(via Language Log and Geof Pullum)

That took me all of 30 seconds to solve.

Here is an even easier one of my own:

apply eye shadow / compensate for missing funds / reschedule an exam / reconcile with a loved one

10 abr 2011

The Modernist Long Poem in Spain

Here is another dissertation topic. We know that the modernist long poem is a genre in Anglo-American poetry. What about in Spain? To what extent does the unitary book, like Cántico, take the place of this long poem? Is the long poem in late modernism built on the model of Pound and Eliot, or of St-John Perse?

9 abr 2011


I remember being surprised that my colleagues in Latin American literature felt guilty or conflicted about teaching literature. I have never, ever felt guilt about teaching literature.

More on Aphorisms

I suddenly remembered that Eugenio d"Ors and José Bergamín were also aphorists, and the Heriberto has an essay in one of his books about Mexican aphorists. I remembered the aphorisms of José Lezama Lim I thought of what the thesis statement of my chapter was going to be...

A Funny Guy

When I gave my last talk in Spain in January 2010 I had the audience in stitches. I wasn't even trying to by funny, I just was. I didn't have any jokes, I just started with a particular line that got a few laughs. Then the audience was in my hands. I ended up making a few other extemporaneous remarks that got bigger and bigger laughs. I read my talk over recently in page proofs and I could see nothing humorous about it in the least.

I just don't think they are used to a less solemn, extemporaneous mode. I hate canned jokes, but I don't mind being funny if it emerges spontaneously.

8 abr 2011


Juan Ramón Jiménez wrote several thousand aphorisms. It was one of his favorite literary forms. Of course, since the aphorism is considered a rather minor genre, this work is largely invisible except to specialists in Juan Ramón.

The Third Percent

Here are the 90 books I read for the third percent. You'll notice I mostly read Koch, Ashbery, Milán, Coolidge, and Spanish and Latin American poetry.

Indigo Bunting. Selected Poems (Dupin). Oracle Night. Transmigration Solo. Underground with the Oriole. The Double Dream of Spring. Poems of the Late T'ang. At Egypt. When the Sun Tries to Go On. Three Poems. Houseboat Days. A Wave. The Burning Mystery of Anna in 1951. The Tablets I-XV. Questions of Travel. Loading Mercury with a Pitchfork. Growing Darkness, Growing Light. Mirrors. The Tennis Court Oath. Desdén. Young Cherry Trees Secured Against Hares. A Conversation with David Antin. Days & Nights. Straits. Determined by Aperture. Rabbit Lesson. Mystery of Small Houses. If and When. Same Enemy Rainbow. Hello: A Journal, February 29-May 3, 1976. Wakefulness. The Country of Our Consciousness. Manifest and Furthermore. Mexico City Blues. All That Jazz: Writings on Kerouac & the Sounds. Tres. Chinese Whispers. Your Name Here. The Romantic Dogs. El molino y la higuera. Life & Death. Río turbio. El alumbrado y otros poemas. Mesh. Si yo fuera otra. If I were writing this. La mordedura blanca. De barro la memoria. Million Poems Journal. La condicíon del pasajero. El espejo del cuerpo. El azul en la flama. The Crystal Text. Odes of Roba. Luces de travesía. Complete Mimimal Poems. Centauro. Firefly Under the Tongue: Selected Poems. The Cave. Cuarto de hotel. Acontecimiento. SPACE. Por la noche los gatos. Poemas prohibidos y de amor. De una niña de provincias que se vino a vivir en un Chagall. De mí haré una estatua ecuestre. Island Road. The Rova Improvistations. Báculo de Babel. Singularities. Cosas claras. Al margen del margen (antología 1975-1991). Circa 1994. Ganas de decir. Acción que en un momento creí de gracia. Desnudo en Punta Brava. Antología poética (Milán). Por fortunas peores. Naturalezas. Los cinco entierros de Pessoa. Lápidas. Clima. Viernes en Jerusalén. No duerme el animal (Poesía 1987-2003). La perseverancia del desaparecido. A Form of Women. Código. Liturgia.

Other Flowers


*Schuyler. Other Flowers: uncollected poems. New York: FSG, 2010.

Wow. I delayed purchasing this book but finally did for half price in New York at the Strand. Who'd have thought the James Schuyler wrote so many great poems not in his Collected Poems. Of course it's uneven, but who cares. Part of the fun is going through and looking for the great poems amid the mess of good poems with great lines and bad poems with good lines.

How One Idea Leads to Another

Teaching my translation course more than five years ago, I became very interested in idioms. One problem in translation is whether you should translate an idiom with an equivalent or translate the idiom as a calque. I also began to think about proverbs, which are related to idioms. There was an essay by Anthony Appiah with the title "Thick Translation," that began with an African proverb and the problem of how to translate it.

My course on oral literature, proverbs, ballads, etc... arose out of my interest in proverbs. I couldn't teach a course just on proverbs, so I decided to do a combination course.

After teaching this course several times, I co-taught a graduate seminar on poetry and performance, taking ideas from the part of the course on orality.

My interest in proverbs continued. I got the idea to teach another 522 (Advanced Topics in Spanish Language) about idioms and proverbs. That will be given in Fall '11.

I never thought that this course would be related to my research, but then I wrote an idea for my class to use in the exercise in which they exchange seed-ideas for their papers. It was one of 14 ideas I wrote in about half an hour. One day I realized that this idea (which no student chose to use) would be a chapter of my book. It would be on aphorisms by modern Spanish poets. Because of my teaching the translation course, the refranero, cancionero, romancero course, and the course on poetry and performance, I all of a sudden knew enough to have a very highly developed idea for this chapter, with very little effort on my part. (Very little, meaning years of studying and thinking about this genre.)

7 abr 2011


I should probably explain again my 9,000 books of poetry project. That seems like an absurd number, and it is. My idea is to keep track of 9,000 books of poetry that I read and make blog entries about them. Now obviously I will never finish this. One percent of this might take me a year (90 books) and I won't live another 97 years. So the idea is just to do as much as I can, to read as much poetry as possible and keep track of what i read over the course of many years.

Why not 10,000? Well, I want to get through a percent of it in a reaonsable amount of time, so I'm just knocking 10% off from the beginning. I only have to reach 900 to get to 10%, etc...

You might think I am racing through these books and reading too fast to really derive any benefit. This is not true. I still stop and stare at some poems for a long time, some I read several times. Some books are ones I've read in the past and am returning to. Reading in quantity does not replace reading in small doses too, as when I prepare a handful of poems for a class, or when I analyze a single poem for an article.


(275) Creeley. Echoes. New York: New Directions, 1993. 113 pp.

I thought that I had already done this book for this project, and it turned out it was the 1982 Creeley chapbook of the same title.

Many think Creeley's later work is mediocre, but this isn't so. When people think of his early work, they are only thinking about a few spectacular anthology pieces. Actually, Creeley's early work also had many unspectacular poems, just like his later books. I don't know if his batting average is any different. Late Creeley stratches the same itch for me as early Creeley, and has the advantage of being less known, less cliché.

Entire memory
hangs tree
in mind to see
a bird be-

but now puts stutter
to work, shutters
the windows, shudders,
sits and mutters-

because can't
go back, still
can't get
out. Still can't.

This poem is called "Echo," one of several with similar titles ("Echoes").

6 abr 2011

Two Kinds of Paradox

I think that there are two kinds of paradox in the proverb or aphorism. One seems to go against the doxa but really doesn't. "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." It is paradoxical from a naive perspective, but it expresses the actual ideology of the community. Or LaRochefoucauld: "There are women who have never had a love affair, but very few who have had just one."

The other kind of paradox presents a belief that really is not socially acceptable. Here the aphorist is original and truly paradoxical. The aphorism does not command assent but puzzlement. To agree with the aphorism is to cross over to another kind of belief. (Oscar Wilde).

5 abr 2011

Life Is Good

I sat down at a coffee shop and mapped out my chapter on aphorisms. It's going to be quite original.


The guy i sent an article to wrote back with really detailed suggestions that are going to improve the article a lot.


I went to Love Garden and bought a Coleman Hawkins box set for 15 bucks. It's called "Coleman Hawkins: The Bebop Years." There was a really cool R&B track record playing, so I asked the girl behind the counter what it was. Mama's Gun by Erykah Badu. I would have guessed another spelling (Erika or Erica), but the voice and the groove are really great.


I had drinks with two friends.


Life is good. (Or can be.) I have problems like anyone but I am in the prime of life and more fortunate than most people on the planet.


I did a few consultations, giving advice on how to improve some articles. I helped two people out and earned a few bucks.


I used to be only interested in older literature (before 1900) to the extent that it anticipated literary modernity. So I was interested only in older works that seemed surprisingly modern. There are a lot of these, so I never ran out of texts to read, but my papers tended to emphasize the forward-looking aspect of the past. Perhaps I was influenced by some of my professors in Spain, who would praise an older text by calling it "muy moderno." Modern meant interesting.

Now this strikes me as the wrong way to approach things, and most probably a symptom of my earlier immaturity as a reader and scholar. The dichotomy between older and newer texts no longer makes sense to me, and I view any text as potentially interesting whatever its epoch. I still like those forward-looking texts I always liked, but I no longer have to find the modernity angle in order to make something interesting to myself. Now that I am myself ancient, newness seems less crucial.


I'm a little embarrassed that the only work of criticism in the wikipedia article on Lorca is my own book. I don't do wikipedia editing, so I cannot fix this myself, but this is pretty ridiculous. There are many excellent books of criticism on Lorca, and my book is not even a book about Lorca himself, but about his influence on American poetry. (Flaco favor me hacen.)

Borges, Sonnets


*Borges. The Sonnets. New York: Penguin, 2010. 301 pp.

Borges is a great practitioner of the sonnet form. This is a bilingual edition edited by Stephen Kessler. I tried to avoid the translations as much as I could. When I saw Alistair Reid translate "palabras" as "such words as these," or Kessler bury an allusion to Góngora by translating "polvo y nada" as "nothing but dust," I got rather disgusted.

In so many sonnets, you start to notice repeated rhymes. Borges was fond of the "verso" "universo" rhyme, for example.

4 abr 2011


If I add a chapter on Lezama Lima and the chapter on aphorisms, then I will have 10 chapters. I can then skip the chapter on Lorca's Diván del Tamarit, for which I have no ideas anyway. That will give me the following chapters to complete this year:


I probably won't finish the book in 2011, then. Realistically, I could finish Lorca and Zambrano, since I have substantial work done on those already, over the summer. I could finish three more over the next AY.

Saint Teresa of Avila

I had the joy of telling my student who Satin Teresa of Avila was today. I know at least one student thought that the reference was to Mother Theresa. Here's what Lorca wrote about Teresa in his lecture on the duende:
Recordad el caso de la flamenquísima y enduendada Santa Teresa, flamenca no por atar un toro furioso y darle tres pases magníficos, que lo hizo; no por presumir de guapa delante de fray Juan de la Miseria ni por darle una bofetada al Nuncio de Su Santidad, sino por ser una de las pocas criaturas cuyo duende (no cuyo ángel, porque el ángel no ataca nunca) la traspasa con un dardo, queriendo matarla por haberle quitado su último secreto, el puente sutil que une los cinco sentidos con ese centro en carne viva, en nube viva, en mar viva, del Amor libertado del Tiempo.

She is infused with the spirit of the duende, she is "flamenquísima." Not because of her bullfighting prowess (though she had that) and not because she slapped the emissary of the Pope (though she did that too, but because the dart of the duende pierced her and almost killed her because she had revealed its ultimate secret.

My students had a hard time with the idea that a woman who rebelled against the church and was persecuted by it would end up being a saint. Welcome to Spanish literature and its wonderful contradictions.

3 abr 2011

Juan Bernier


*Juan Bernier. Antología poética. Madrid: Huerga y Fierro, 1996. 109 pp.

Bernier is another poet of amazing linguistic talent. He has an amazing description of water mixed with oil in port of Málaga. I've discovered that Bernier and García Baena are a little more interesting that Álvarez Ortega.

Dios de un día


Manuel Álvarez Ortega. Dios de un día. Madrid: Palabra en el tiempo, 1962. 115 pp.

Here, again the poet creates a single mood by using a consistent rhetoric. The book is made up of two sections, Dios de un día and Tiempo en el sur, both written in the 1950s.

Los campos Elíseos


*Pablo García Baena. Los campos Elíseos. Madrid / Valence: Pretextos, 2006. 67 pp.

PGB has real poetic chops, with an amazing vocabulary and powers of sensorial evocation.

One poem that stood out in an excellent book begins like this:

He dejado las puertas entornadas
tras el suicidio. Sé que vienes, llegas
por la cal del pasillo con la luna
y es hermoso el verano que escogiste...

The funny thing is that in this poem, where I did not have to look up any words, I feel much more emotion than in all the rest of the book put together.


Here begins the fourth percent, or 90 books, of the 9,000 books of poetry project.

Código / Liturgia

(270) Manuel Álvarez Ortega. Código. Madrid: Devenir, 1993. 52 pp.

(269) Manuel Álvarez Ortega. Liturgia. Madrid: Devenir, 1990. 56 pp.

Two books by the Cordova poet MAO. Código is dense, surrealistic plotless narrative, in long dense prose poems. Liturgia consists of shorter prose poems, each divided into three very short paragraphs. I am not fond of how these books seem to be saying the same thing over and over again, caught in a particular rhetoric.

There concludes the third percent of the 9,000 books of poetry project. Only 97% to go.

Proverbios y cantares

As you know, I have been interested in aphorisms lately. As you also know, I am writing a book called What Lorca Knew: Late Modern Spanish Poetry and intellectual History. Yesterday, I realized that I needed a chapter of this book that deals with the tradition of the aphorism from Antonio Machado to Ángel Crespo and Vicente Nuñez. I am so happy I am a scholar of Spanish literature because these lightbulb flashes make me feel very good. I was working on the aphorism project simply as a side interest, without even realizing that it was going to be part of the book. Now I have the chapter in my head inchoately. I know the authors I'll need to consider. I know exactly why I need this chapter and the gaps that it will fill. What I don't know yet is whether it will take the place of the chapter on Lorca's Diván del Tamarit. This chapter is not well developed at all and was there as a kind of place holder and because I felt the book was lacking in poetic analysis: chapters where I just take books of poetry and do close readings of them.

I love feeling smart and competent.

Bueno es saber que los vasos
nos sirven para beber;
lo malo es que no sabemos
para qué sirve la sed.

2 abr 2011

Juan March

A friend told me about these lectures that can be downloaded for free from the Fundación Juan March in Madrid. I listened to some before I went to sleep last night, and so of course I had a dream that I was giving a lecture there on the group of poets from Córdoba associated with the journal Cántico. In my dream I was lecturing all night but could never quite come up with the name of Manuel Álvarez Ortega, one of the poets I was supposed to be talking about. Only when I woke up and had some coffee could I remember his name.