28 ago 2012

Chicken with paprika, oven roasted vegetables (red potatoes, garlic, onions, jalapeños, carrots, red bell peppers, parsley, olive oil), red wine. On a plate I got for my birthday, bamboo placemat.

I simply cut the vegetables to the size you see here, drizzled with olive oil, stuck in a lasagna pan in a 350 degree oven for 50 minutes. The chicken, I simply coated with paprika and based for an hour. Strangely enough, I didn't need to add salt to either dish in this meal.

The garlic was just half a head of garlic that I didn't even both to chop. Garlic roasted in its skin like this is very creamy in texture and mild tasting. Between the garlic, the jalapeños, the onions, and the parsley, and the paprika, the food was quite flavorful unsalted. The natural flavors of the food shone forth: sweetness of the carrot and onion. I was particularly proud of the balance of flavors,colors, and nutritional elements.

Of course, I made twice as much food as you see here on the plate. I will eat the rest for dinner tonight. Not bad for about 10 minutes of preparation.

15 ago 2012


The first section of Libro del frío, a major long poem by Antonio Gamoneda, bears the Virgilian title "Geórgicas." It consists of 11 short sections, each consisting of 2-3 paragraphs of poeetic prose. Georgics comes from a Greek word meaning "farming," and the poem is a kind of anti-pastoral: "this house was dedicated to farming and death." "I saw serenity in the eyes of the cattle destined for industrial knives." Industry, or modernity itself, is off-stage, but the rural world is in decay.

The most characteristic rhetorical trope is syntactic parallelism. The most salient phrasing is noun + past particle + prepositional phrase: "Esta casa estuvo dedicada a la labranza y la muerte" / "las maderas atormentadas por la lluvia" [wood tormented by rain] This pattern appears in virtually every section of this first section of the poem. [As I write this entry, I hear Gamoneda come on randomly on my ipod! He is reading a different poem, but one with almost identical structure. The noun + participle + prepositional phrase pattern appears several times.]

The most common verbs are those of perception or cognition in first-person singular: I heard / I saw / I remember, or the existential there is / there are. There are also verbs of motion: rising and falling. Very few other human agents appear aside from the 1st person speaker, who adopts a grave, prophetic voice. The only one I notice is a "neighbor woman" who "washes the funereal clothes." The result is a kind of ghostly world, in which the speaker has no other close human companions.

Semantic elements recur from section to section. Rain and lightning. Dampness. Farms animals or stables. A flock of sheep. Images of rot or decay. Shadows. Tears, lamentation, or weeping. The repetition of nearly identical phrases or images undercuts the independence of each section, creating a kind of plotless narrative. In other words, each section seems to recount an anecdote, but the evocative lyrical repetitions overshadow any kind of narrative coherence. Is this the same narrative told in 11 different ways? Or 11 stages of the same story? We could easily imagine a more straightforward prose narrative treatment of each anecdote. One phrase from the poem gave rise, possibly, to the title of Gamoneda's memoir.

The next section will be "El vigilante de la nieve," in which the narrative elements become stronger, and the 1st person gives way to the third.

I wrote this entry in 25 minutes, giving myself a kind of "test" on the poem, which I recently memorized.

9 ago 2012


I decided to listen to all my music on my ipod in random order. Almost 6,000 songs, though some of the "songs" are lectures, poems, movements of a string quartet, etc... The idea is to prevent myself from buying any new music, to see what stands out particularly. To see what I am not as fond of. So far, Ornette's "Sound Grammar" album has stood out.

Right now the shuffle has brought me Coltrane. This is going to be an excellent sabbatical project. I have listened to about 10% so far. It will be about 23 days of music all told.

28 jul 2012


I dreamed that I was with a group of strangers, staying in a house. There was a bald man they called their uncle David. Later, I asked the people what their last name was, and they said "Antrim," or "Antim." Somehow I got it in my head that this was David Antin. I wanted to introduce myself to him, tell him I had been a fan for a long time, but I didn't get to meet him again before I woke up.

26 jul 2012

Another Take

Another take on art and life is that the artist puts his or her best self into the work of art. It is a process of purification. There could be all sorts of unpleasant aspects of the artist that don't get expressed in the art work, because the art work is not an x-ray of a personality.

Therefore, bringing up that unpleasantness in judging the art work is illogical: this is exactly what the artist was leaving behind. Transcendence and all that.

Other views have it that the artist needs to be kind of unpleasant, that he or she cannot afford to be a good person. With that I disagree. Artists should be judged exactly like anyone else in their personal lives. No excuses are allowed.

So give Pound a prize for his poetry, then try him for treason. There is no contradiction here.

Response to Clarrisa

I left this comment on Clarrisa's blog:
A lot of people feel exactly the way you do. My approach is somewhat different: the art work is independent of its creator. The creator is just the medium through which the work came into being. The composer Kyle Gann expressed this in the phrase: "I am not my music's fault."

So I care more about what Goytisolo expresses directly in his work, than about some private behavior of his that I may never hear about. My position is exactly opposite from yours. Of course, your approach is not wrong (for you). There is no reason to try to force yourself into liking something you associate with the repugnant behavior of its creator.

I am not my music's fault.

16 jul 2012

Sam Beckett's Ride Cymbal

If quick decay short sustain. And so to conclude vice-versa. To conclude no. Too early. Just about begun. Again. Struck with authority with butt-end of stick near the bell it speaks out brightly. Then continues its dark rumbling. A long while. Unless stilled by hand. Still. Which cannot but feel the vibrations it stills. Again.

From a distance the rumbling inaudible. Visible perhaps to the naked eye the vibrating surface. Vice-versa again. Before little by little dying long sustain interrupted. Long interrupted. By glancing blows. When not the choking hand. Still or once again. In the wash and swell still be heard when not seen or felt blows. This time with stick’s tip. Dog walk the dog walk the dog walk the dog walk the. How else affirm the undying pattern? Fading or about to fade again when struck again so never silent. Unless stilled. For several minutes thus. Then finally still. This time of own accord.

Held close to the surface the ear savors the undying roar. Not long after last blow struck. Untouched this time by hand or stick. As though measuring long relatively long decay. Sustain. Brighter voice gone in a flash. Roar outlasting it by a minute. A minute and a half. Except when stilled by impatient hand. Throttled! As this time not for worse or better. Or struck again therefore to begin again slow measuring of decay. From the top. The vibrations perhaps still visible to impatient eye. Palpable were the hand to grasp it again.

How long? The scene to hold attention or the surface to shimmer fainter and fainter till struck again? Both. Neither. Both or neither. To conclude again not having concluded from the top. Little to have concluded when not yet started. In haste now the bell ever brighter struck in same repeating pattern each stroke engulfed in its turn in ever less audible wash! Stilled again or still of its own accord. What difference?

13 jul 2012


I am uninterested in poems that sound "poetic," in language that seems chosen for being lyrical. Here is the beginning of a poem I found at random, for example,
Adrift in the liberating, late light / of August, delicate, frivolous,/ they make their way to my front porch / and flutter near the glassed-in bulb, / translucent as a thought suddenly / wondered aloud, illumining the air / that's thick with honeysuckle and dusk.
I've italicized elements that seem to be the kind of "fine writing" I don't care for in my own work. Obviously it takes some talent to create a lyrical mood through the use of such writing. Maybe I don't have talent for evoking the translucent, shimmering dusk or honeysuckle illumining the tender dawn of fluttering bulbs.

The idea that you don't need to use that kind of language is probably a novel one for most readers and even poets. Everyone knows poetry doesn't have to rhyme, but not everyone knows it can do without poetic-sounding language.

Now am I correct in this prejudice? That is to say, can I justify it beyond my own preferences? I don't think that this kind of language is undesirable all the time. After all, that would be a rigid rule that might be counterproductive. What I think is that elevated lyricism shouldn't be a kind of "default" register for the writing of poetry.

I Dislike Chilled Soups

I dislike chilled soups

as a general rule

for you I'll gladly make an exception

given your penchant for assassination

As a general rule

I sleep only on Thursdays

Given your penchant for assassination

I'll give up even this small pleasure

I sleep only on Thursdays

Such is the limit of my wit

I'll give up even this small pleasure

a tax levied on my very existence

Such is the limit of my wit

A vaster corral would require too much effort

a tax levied on my very existence

equal to 150 pounds of flesh

A vaster corral would require too much effort

I am unaccustomed to mental labor

equal to 150 pounds of flesh

a calculation foreign to my nature

I am unaccustomed to mental labor

I dislike chilled soups

a calculation foreign to my nature

For you I'll gladly make an exception

Another poem

You replaced gold with silver.

I replaced the fibers in your clothes.

You ate my plums.

I ruined your make-up.

You rewrote my prose.

I rewrote your prose.

You rewrote my prose.

I rewrote your prose.

Listen to what they're saying.

What they're going around saying.

Listen to it.

Listen to it.

12 jul 2012

Distinctive Features in Translation

Suppose the original work or author has distinctive qualities, features that are particular, unique, or recognizable.I can more often than not tell a particular piece is Beethoven if I have never heard it before. It is "Beethoveny." A question I ask in the Master's oral exam, often, is how you would recognize a poem by a given poet without the author's name attached.

Some writers are ornate. Some use extensive word-play. Some are given to metonymy. Some have long sentences and others short.

So one measure of translation would be success in carrying over or representing such distinctive features. If all translations sound the same in the target language then the style of the target language has essentially erased any distinctive differences. If an ornate poet is translated into a spare, anti-rhetorical style, then something has gone wrong.

Now, this means that the idea of a "default" style of "good writing" will distort the choice of texts to be translated. I can't translate poetry without visual images into a strongly visual style, for example.

It occurred to me this morning that I could write a "how not to translate poetry" book. Obviously I couldn't describe it like that except to myself.

Translation Experiment (iv)

Here is very minimalistic version (sent to me by my brother Stewart) of the Atencia poem I translated a little while back:

Time passes,

I forget.

Birds flutter by the window at night

like poets, reminding me

things haven’t changed so much.

(much more than the precisely necessary change has occurred)

Kerouac / Lorca

Kerouac didn't make it into my Lorca book but in this home recording about 5 minutes in he recites, misquoting from memory probably, "Romance sonámbulo" in a not bad Spanish accent, amidst some horrible harmonica playing.

8 jul 2012


Another poem from the past
ILLINOIS If I had a dog I would name him Illinois

We would go to the park and meet pretty girls

And other pleasant, down-to-earth people

I would not be allergic to him; life would be good

We would listen to NPR and the BBC World Service

And to Illinois Jacquet at Jazz at the Philharmonic

A real cool cat

A dog more cat than wolf

7 jul 2012

My Poetry

I guess I would have to say I'm not interesting in writing "difficult" poetry. I don't care for metaphors whose meaning is not obvious to anyone. Usually, the main effort goes toward the definition of the speaker's attitude and spoken voice. I'd rather write a line that is plausible for the speaker of the poem to utter, than one that is beauteous. If the tone is perfectly adjusted to where it needs to be, then the poem is complete.

The poem should look like it wasn't too hard to write. I don't want visible signs of effort. The effort is more in the attentiveness that made me pay attention to the poem before it was written. Since I'm an extremely good poet but not a very, very great one, I strive for a kind of modesty of effect, like the kind found in Ron Padgett.

The kind of poetry I write is one possible for me, and so it doesn't correspond to the kind of poetry I read. Or rather, it corresponds only partially to one subcategory of my readings.

6 jul 2012

I ruined your make up

I ruined your make up

You left my notebook out in the rain

You sanded down the head of my snare drum

I left coffee grounds on the counter

You derived pleasure

I ate your stale leftovers

I derided your niece

You saw “Throne of Blood” without me

I gave your parents a wilted houseplant

You ate my soup without giving thanks

You forgot to fulfill my dreams

I risked the life of your friends

Another poem from the blog that I had forgotten about. I was looking for the pantoum "I dislike chilled Soups" and found this one intstead.

5 jul 2012

Spam Comments

Dear Mischy:
I would not delete your comments if (a): you had something to say beyond "nice blog" and (b) you did not include advertising link.

I Was a Lazy Child

I was a lazy child

I lived only for poetry and masturbation

I was asthmatic; my father was arthritic

my grandfather would come over to do our yard work

We cut down an enormous fig tree--my grandfather and I

I dreaded his visits--the yardwork and asthma attacks

he would come over with a chain saw

we cut interminable logs of fig

You can't burn green wood in your fireplace

the wood of the fig tree is worthless

we built interminable fires of fig

I lived only for poetry and arthritis


So, yes, other styles are also possible, but the default is a kind of Lorine Niedecker concision, for poet-translators of a certain type (like myself). Exceptions might be perceived as crossing the line, as when Frank O'Hara uses the "dim lands of peace" construction decried by Pound.

But this default is balanced against the need for resonance with a larger tradition that includes Hopkins or Spenser. In other words, you can translate into a language that is more resonant than the more spare version of the Pound-Williams tradition. Pound himself frequently uses archaic elements when translating.

4 jul 2012

Imagism as Default

Strong active verbs, simple, Anglo-Saxon vocabulary, concision (absence of pleonasm and redundancy), concrete visual or sensory images. short, punchy lines.

You might say there is a default position for good writing, a kind of Pound / Hemingway consensus. Not to say that all good writing follows these principles, but many of us have internalized them, so that, for example, it would be natural to prefer

I bought a dishmop / having no daughter

to many other possible modes of expression. When translating, or even writing our own poetry, a lot of us strive for a kind of WCW default.

The sun / breaks in the black / air / on an axis / of air, / a knot, / a whirling / vortex of sun / in the slender / air.

I'm not suggesting there is anything wrong with this default or fallback position. In fact, I tend to prefer it, and usually need a good reason not to use it, especially in translation.

21 jun 2012

The Nation

One of my translations of Andrés Sánchez Robayna has been accepted by The Nation. I have sent others to three other journals. If you have a journal and want to publish some of these fantastically great poems, let me know.

15 jun 2012

5 minutes ... or 5 hours

I might do a short translation in less than five minutes, or tinker with one for several hours. The quick translation might be virtually unimprovable. The long one, result of hours of tinkering, might never be satisfying, despite moving incrementally in the direction of being half-way acceptable.

14 jun 2012

Translation ... even more thoughts

Translation gives me access to poetic styles that I wouldn't use in my "own" work. That is, I can be more lushly romantic if I am translating that kind of work, work that I enjoy as a reader but wouldn't imitate in my own poetry.

That may or may not contradict the idea to allow no line into a translation that I haven't authored myself, that is not mine in voice, that I wouldn't accept in a poem of my own.

Not really, I hope, because it is an expansion of possibilities, not a transgression. That is, I know that that is how translations are sometimes errant, when the translator has allowed him/her self to expand the stylistic register, because of the demands of the task at hand, and written in a way that he/she wouldn't accept in an original poem. Some even justify this errancy as a legitimate expansion of range or register.

So the question would be one of acceptability? To whom? I don't quite know, but I do have an internal reader who would accept some things and not others.

Wood from a broken chair,

tossed away, unprotected.

It was fatigue and rest,

it was peaceful life in company.

It will take you to the sandy

shore of an abandoned

world. Look at it

and love what’s been destroyed.

Here is an example of what I mean. Nothing here is unacceptable to me, but some is on the border.

13 jun 2012

Resonance in Translation

You might want to think about translation as the place where two poetic traditions meet up. So to translate a certain line by a Spanish poet I remembered Kerouac's line "in the immemorial light of my dreams." The line in Spanish was "en los ojos del sueño inmemorable." I came up with a variation, "in the immemorial eyes of a dream." I am keeping all the content words but altering their order. When I see the word "coro" in Spanish I might think of "Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sing" or "Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn" or "a chorus of smiles, a winter morning." (That's Shakespeare, Keats, Ashbery, if you are keeping score at home.) For "convivir" I used "company," thinking of Creeley's use of that word. If I see the word "morada" (dwelling place) I might think of "Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, / And the round ocean and the living air, / And the blue sky" (Wordsworth).

Now this could be overdone, if the echoes are too blatant or shoe-horned in. One translator put in the phrase "from sea to shining sea" into a poem in a very arbitrary way, where nothing in the original seemed to give support to that. What I am suggesting is that the translator have ears pricked for a certain resonance in the poetic language of the target language, and not only to the contemporary spoken language or the language of contemporary poetry at its flattest.

It would follow that the most accomplished translator would have a certain level of poetic culture in her own medium of translation, as well as in the source language.

Grading Translations

I normally translate several poems by the same poet at once. I give each one a letter grade, based on my satisfaction with how good the poem is in English. It is good to do this cold, after a day or so, when no longer caught up in the excitement of the translation process. Now a lower grade might be because the poem is not as interesting in the first place, or because it simply doesn't "translate" well (in the intransitive sense of the verb), or because of my lack of skill, knowledge, or imagination. Or any combination of factors. It doesn't matter. A B- translation is just that, whatever the cause.

Of course, I could just give myself all A s, but I don't do that. I know the difference between an A and a B or C. If it is a C level translation, I try to work on it until it is a B. Then I have a group of poems that are on the A or A- level, good enough to publish. If I am committed to translate an entire book, I have to make sure that most of the translations are at B level or above. Naturally, there will be some variation in quality, because I'll never be totally convinced by my version of every single poem.

I have no way of imposing my grades on the reader, who is still free to think all of my work is mediocre. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that readers will consistently grade me higher than I grade myself, so I wouldn't expect work that I deplore myself to be accepted by the reader. (Actual readers might be far too indulgent for my taste, so I am talking about the reader who is a mirror image of myself, not an inferior reader whom I can easily deceive.)

12 jun 2012

Translation Notes

1. In the first place, I have to feel that the poem I want to translate it worth it. It has to be able to stand up to the process of translation without revealing any flimsiness. The questions you ask about a translation only make sense with a text of a certain solidity. You can ask if a translation of a weak poem is faithful, accurate, but it doesn't really matter too much.

2. Then, I have to feel that I, personally, am capable of translating this particular text. I could feel that it is simply beyond my powers, that the end result would not be an acceptable one. I wouldn't always know this in advance.

3. The results have to stand up on their own. I don't want to write any line in the translation that I wouldn't accept as a line in a poem of my own. (This simply rule would eliminate a lot of translations. Of course, many poets would accept poor lines in their own poems too, so that wouldn't work.) A translation that is a bad poem in the target language is a double betrayal: it tells the reader that the original poem might be bad, while also doing damage to the literary tradition of the target language.

4. The translated poem has to be my own. It has to have my voice, or a voice imaginable for me. It has to have a prosody that I accept, diction with which I am comfortable, etc...

5. Finally, the translation has to find an audience. Translation is for people who cannot read the original, so the translator cannot translate for himself alone. The translator does not belong to that group. Nor does the most expert judge of a translation belong to its intended audience.

6. One more point. I tend to be more literal with the "content words," while tinkering a lot with prepositions, conjunctions, and articles. If the translation is to be my own text, one that I can defend as a poem in its own right, I have to find elements to play with, or elements that have some "play" to them in the sense that they can "give" a little without breaking.

The way a crow

Shook down on me

The dust of snow

From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart

A change of mood

And saved some part

Of a day I had rued.

If I was translating this poem to another language I would only care about way / crow / shook / down / me / dust / snow / hemlock tree / heart / mood / saved / part / day / rued. Maybe my target language doesn't have "the" or "a" or doesn't use "my" or "of" in the same way.

1 jun 2012

A Paradox

The movement I am studying, late modernism, is extremely significant, in my view. Yet it barely registers with my colleagues. This is a difficult paradox for me to manage. My own view is that of course the object of my study is the most significant possible. Yet I have to maintain a certain modesty, because my belief is not widely held.

30 may 2012

Summary of Chapters

Chapter 1, “ Spanish Exceptionalism, Poetics, and Intellectual History,” examines the problematic legacy of Spanish “exceptionalism,” a tendency in intellectual, cultural, and literary history that emphasizes those elements that make Spain distinctively different from other European nations. Historically, Spanish modernism—from Miguel Unamuno and José Ortega y Gasset to Federico García Lorca and María Zambrano—is strongly tinged with exceptionalism. The legacy of this exceptionalism is strongly present not only the late modernism of Valente and Gamoneda, but also in the critical discourses surrounding this movement. Exceptionalism, in particular the problem of Spain’s recalcitrant or uneven modernity, is also one of the central themes of the discipline of Hispanism itself. This introductory chapter, then, situates modernist poetics in relation to this wider debat.

The next four chapters, “Genealogies,” trace the legacy of historical modernism in the postmodern period. Chapter 2 addresses the work of Jorge Guillén and Luis Cernuda, poets associated with Lorca’s famous “generation of 1927” who were at one time considered to be paragons of two distinct strands of modernist poetry. Guillén has traditionally embodied the self-confident assertion of modernist plenitude, while Cernuda has represented a missing connection with the Romantic and Victorian traditions of German and British literature. The decline in the reputations of these two poets provides an indication of how late modernism has shifted away from both these models. As early as the 1950s, Guillén’s modernism began to seem outmoded, but at the same time his effort to transcend modernism was unconvincing to younger poets like Valente and Jaime Gil de Biedma. Cernuda was ascendant in this same decade, but from the vantage-point of the early twenty-first century his understanding of British and German national traditions looks much less profound than it once did.

Federico García Lorca’s “Juego y teoría del duende,” the subject of Chapter 3, is both a key text of modernist poetics and an overlooked antecedent of the late modernism of late twentieth and early twenty-first-century Spain. Like Roland Barthes in “The Grain of the Voice,” Lorca expounds a theory of cultural nationalism that emphasizes the performative dimension. This text has been relentlessly simplified by readers who view Lorca’s duende as the anti-intellectual manifesto of a poeta tonto. I view it, instead, as a constantly shifting network of references with no fixed center. Lorca’s lecture also prefigures the mysticism that is central to Spanish poetry of the late modern school. Chapter 4, “Postmodern Lorca: Motherwell, Strayhorn, García Montero,” serves as a postscript to my 2009 book Apocryphal Lorca: Translation, Parody, Kitsch. Here, I view the persisent kitschiness in Lorca’s cultural afterlife as a sign of the transition between modernist and postmodernist ideas of art, examining the repetition of Lorquian motifs in the paintings of Robert Motherwell, in the music of Billy Strayhorn, and in the poetry of Luis García Montero.

It is the philosopher María Zambrano, more than any other single figure, who provided the intellectual ground for late modernism in Spain. Zambrano’s prominence during this period is ironical, given that she would not have been seen as a major modernist writer at all during the period of historical modernism itself. Chapter 5, then, traces the intellectual genealogy late modernism by following the thread of cultural exceptionalism that runs through the work of Miguel de Unamuno, Lorca, Zambrano, and José Ángel Valente.

The second section of the book, “Continuities,” is devoted to three major poets of the second half of the twentieth Century. Chapter 6, “Fragments of a Late Modernity: Samuel Beckett and José Ángel Valente,” is an exercise in comparative literature that attempts to tease out the implications of the paradoxical belatedness of Spanish modernism at the end of the twentieth century by examining Valente’s mostly unacknowledged debt to Beckett, a major figure of late modernism. Antonio Gamoneda, for many decades a relatively obscure poet, has become an increasingly dominating figure in contemporary Spanish poetry in the past few decades. His work fulfills certain expectations associated with the lingering prestige of high modernism, while also confronting the question of historical memory. Unlike Valente, whom he admires very much, Gamoneda is not primarily an ideologue or a theorist. It is interesting, then, that he identifies so closely with Valente’s poetics, benefitting directly from the institutional structures identified with Valente’s high modernism.

Claudio Rodríguez, the subject of Chapter 7, “What Claudio Knew: From Pragmaticism to Mysticism,” is a Lorquian poet ... [to be continued]

29 may 2012


While working on my writing in the morning, the rest of my days are spent doing household chores, hanging out with my daughter, and reading (memorizing) English romantic poetry. The revival of the sonnet is particularly interesting. I don't associate it with 18th century poetry or neo-classical poetry at all. No prominent sonnets by Dryden, Pope, Johnson,or even Blake or Burns, in contrast with the centrality of the form for Shakespeare, Spenser, Sidney, and Donne. Milton wrote few, but significant ones: "soul animating strains, alas, too few." Wordsworth really makes the form his own, in a very self-conscious way. Shelley uses the form to denounce Wordsworth, "once having been, that thou shouldst cease to be." Keats writes a very technically self-conscious sonnet, "If in dull rhymes our English must be chained." The sonnet is the perfect length to memorize easily and a kind of perfect laboratory for poetic form. Rhyme schemes, which seem fixed, are extremely variable in practice, from Keats' almost random lay-out in this sonnet, to Frost's terza rima ("Acquainted with the Night") or couplets ("A bird half wakened in the lunar moon."). The English-language sonnet is often more Italianate then Shakespearian.

28 may 2012

2nd paragraph of kitsch chapter

My 2009 book, Apocryphal Lorca: Translation, Parody, Kitsch, partially addressed this problem, but without reaching a satisfactory conclusion. One reason for my incomplete treatment of this critical problem was my negative view of certain North-American manifestations of Lorquismo. The word kitsch, of course, bears an unavoidably derogatory charge, and my natural tendency in this study was to privilege American versions of Lorca that side-stepped groan-inducing stereotypes: I preferred the American Lorca before he became completely identified with a cartoonish version of the duende. It was also important for me to exercise my own aesthetic judgment in order to evaluate the degree to which US poets were able to engage with Spanish culture without reducing it to a caricature. What did not occur to me, however, was that kitsch (among other things) is the perfect name for a certain kind of commodification of modernist aesthetics in the postmodern period. In this sense the kitschiness of the American reception of Lorca is not only inevitable but also revelatory of the historical relation between modernism and posmodernism.

27 may 2012

1st good paragraph I've written in a while

Federico García Lorca is one of the most influential Spanish poets of the twentieth century, and yet his ongoing legacy, both in Spain and abroad, is strongly marked by kitsch. His influence, in other words, frequently takes the form of flattened, simplified, and caricatured versions of Andalusian folklore or of other manifestations of Lorquismo, including his evocations of the urban landscape in Poeta en Nueva York. Since kitsch is, in some sense, the dialectical opposite of modernism, the persistent kitschification of Lorca has serious implications for Lorca’s place within the modernist canon.

25 may 2012

Another SR poem

Gulls in the old cloister:

light, wing, and stone together.

Who has come here, who sees them

perched on noon.

Years before he crossed these patios

under other fleeting clouds.

Who is the shadow passing now.

Who would recognize him.

23 may 2012

Sánchez Robayna Translation

“The White Street”

Your steps have brought you to the edges,

to an open place, an empty street

in the immemorial eyes of a dream.

It is a white street. Between high walls

the sky spills out, and there’s no longer anyone

in the muteness of the air. In the silence,


all shall be fulfilled.

And you flow through the dream, through the etched light.

Words grow quiet, you walk along the white street.

22 feb 2012

The Paradox of Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis rejects the notion that surface motivations, or intentions held consciously in the mind, are sufficient. It delves deeper down. It seems naive to accept human consciousness as self-sufficiently aware of itself.

Yet these deeper motivations are inherently less knowable than the contents of consciousness. The human mind cannot know itself consciously, but it can know even less about the unconscious, and what it can know it can only know through the conscious mind's ability to construct systems of thought.

With literary criticism, for example, we might distrust what the author says about his or her own work. It might be self-serving, a conscious lie, or simply a statement that does not reveal the real, hidden motives. But we have no way of knowing better. It seems even more naive to suppose that we can uncover the unconscious of a writer with any greater degree of certainty.

20 feb 2012

translation experiment (iii)

Here is a 3rd attempt. It's closer to the poem that I would write itself, but not quite there yet. Sometimes that involves getting closer, not further from the original, even if further from literality in some instances. I plan to do this with all twenty poems in this particular book.
Now, with so many hours getting left behind,
forgetting already their shaping and possession,
I feel once gain, in a flash of wings behind glass
reversing the darkness of the skies,
as though, with their plumage of major poets,
petrel and kingfisher had come to inform me
that no more than the precisely necessary change had occured
in this thread of life on which I succeed myself.

Atencia is a wonderful poet from Málaga who stopped writing between the early sixties and about '76. When she came back to poetry she developed into one of the most strikingly original poets in the contemporary Spanish language. She's received a lot of attention among American Hispanists as well. Her poetry perpetually plays with the border between self and non-self, inside and outside. Here we see the speaker in her house, behind window panes, being advised by messenger birds from the sea that the thread of her life continues. There have been changes, but no more than the necessary ones. There is an equilibrium, an equanimity.

19 feb 2012

Translation Experiment (ii)

Here's a second version. Not a poem yet, but maybe 2/3rds of one.

Now that so many hours are getting left behind
and I’ve forgotten by now their shape and property
I feel once more in the flash of wings behind the panes
that starts to undo the dark sky
as though with their wings of major poets,
the petrel and the kingfisher had come to let me know
that this thread of life in which I succeed myself
has still not changed any more than was necessary.

[Oriiginal goes like this:
Ahora que tantas horas van quedándose atrás
y olvido ya su hechura y pertenencia,
vuelo a sentirme en un aletear tras de los vidrios
que empieza a deshacer la oscuridad del cielo
como si, con sus plumas de poetas mayores,
viniesen el petrel y el martín pescador a avisarme
de que aún no ha cambiado más de lo preciso
este hilo de vida en que me sucedo.

A Translation Experiment

Here is a first version of a poem by María Victoria Atencia:

Now that so many hours are shifting to the back
and I forget already their shape and property
I once again feel in the flash of wings behind the panes
that begins to undo the darkness of the sky
as if, with their wings of major poets,
the petrel and the kingfisher had come to let me know
that this thread of life in which I succeed myself
has not changed more than the precise degree necessary.

The experiment will consist of making this translation of a poem into a poem, pushing it as far as I can without making it no longer a translation at all. I don't consider this translation to be a poem in the least. There will be words or phrases that will stay in the final version. Atencia uses wonderfully rich words words like "hechura" and "aletear," "pertenencia" and "preciso." My translation should be almost Yeatsian. I could use the word "fashioning," straight out of "Sailing to Byzantium," instead of "shape," for "hechura." I wouldn't go so far as to say 'the bell-beat of their wings above my head" for "aletear." Pertenencia and preciso are hard, because they each suggest more than one meaning. Pertenencia is two kinds of belonging: a human being belonging to an organization, and property belonging to someone. Possession might be better than property. Both words are polyvalent in English. Property belongs to me, but is also a trait or characteristic. Possession is property but also invasion by an alien spirit. Preciso means necessary, and precise. I used a periphrasis in my 1st version. 'Me sucedo" (I take my own place / I succeed myself). I believe Atencia could be thinking of Quevedo's "presentes sucesiones de difuntos." "Let me know" might be too flat for "avisarme."

Of course, I need to also find a convincing rhythmic shape (hechura) for the poem. That does not come automatically by any means.

16 feb 2012

Enjambment (3)

Now let's take part of the Chorus from Henry V. Note how the "positive" description of the French constrasts metrically with the negative one of the "poor condemnèd English."

Proud of their numbers and secure in soul,
The confident and over-lusty French
Do the low-rated English play at dice;
And chide the cripple tardy-gaited night
Who, like a foul and ugly witch, doth limp
So tediously away. The poor condemned English,
Like sacrifices, by their watchful fires
Sit patiently and inly ruminate
The morning's danger, and their gesture sad
Investing lank-lean; cheeks and war-worn coats
Presenteth them unto the gazing moon
So many horrid ghosts.

Enjambment (2)

The 2nd example is from Thomas Hardy. Here you can pause at the end of the lines for rhetorical effect, even when there is no punctuation.

Enjambment (1)

To understand enjambment you first have to understand end-stopped lines. Here is a poem without any significant enjambments at all. Each line is a separate unit.

30 ene 2012


I am going to use these recordings as a baseline. I notice several things: I tend toward a falling intonation that makes my voice sounds overly tired. I sometimes drop small words or syllables. The voice quality is sometimes overly hoarse and raspy. My facial movements are distracting, and I move my eyes to the side to remember what's coming up next.

Minding true things by what their mockeries be

I realized that the last line of a Shakespeare passage I have been reciting to myself in the shower every day applies perfectly to my approach to Lorca. The via negativa of criticism. I can only decide what I think about Lorca but questioning and problematizing everything.

29 ene 2012

More Henry V

This is the last one, I promise. For today.

Another Video

I know it is not my greatest talent. Take it for a first attempt at trying to lose my embarrassment. Hearing it I notice that my interpretation is far too subdued.

Pop Art Shakespeare

I have been trying to get a fragment of video that will work here and not be too embarrassing. Texts I know very well seem to escape me when I am taping myself. Or I make funny faces at the camera. Many times I perform perfectly until the last line.

27 ene 2012

More Self-Promotion

Here's another blog post that mentions my book. Self-promotion is the order to the day.


Just found this through googling myself. It is a nice write-up of my Lorca project in the NEH on-line journal.

24 ene 2012

Memorize the text, not the performance

When I memorize a text for performance I memorize the words, but I don't develop a single reading or performance of it that I repeat every time. Instead, I let the text speak through me each time. My performances are probably more similar than I realize, but at least in principle I want each one to be fresh in where I slow down or speed up. There is also a difference between a performance in front of people, a recording I make for myself, and the mere repetition of words to myself as I am learning. It is hard to be fully "performative" when I am sitting by myself.

I know some actors, like Brando, did not want to know the text too well. By not knowing the text too well, they could keep a certain freshness. Since I am not an actor, I have other interests, but I too want to have a certain freshness. A performance which is too routine can be deadly. I prefer to improvise the performance even if the text is fixed.

17 ene 2012


While I am not a sports fan per se, I totally get why people love sports.

There is an aesthetic appeal, a beauty and elegance of movement. The physicality of sports relates to that of the performing arts, dance, music, theater, poetry, and even the physicality of painting and sculpture.

Another source of appeal is intellectual, if you can call it that. The analytical breaking down of matchups. To speculate on whether Athens or Sparta is going to be the dominant power in the next few decades is not too different from debating the relative chances of the Niners and the Patriots.

The appeal to group identities, to imagined communities, is also strong. This, to me, is the least appealing aspect of sports, but I do understand the power here.

Now aesthetic uselessness and purity, group allegiance, and a physical competition that is basically a simulacrum of warfare, make up a powerful and dangerous combination. The aestheticization of ritualized violence.

Here's what Williams had to say about it:

The crowd at the ball game
is moved uniformly

by a spirit of uselessness
which delights them—

all the exciting detail
of the chase

and the escape, the error
the flash of genius—

all to no end save beauty
the eternal—

So in detail they, the crowd,
are beautiful

for this
to be warned against

saluted and defied—
It is alive, venomous

it smiles grimly
its words cut—

The flashy female with her
mother, gets it—

The Jew gets it straight— it
is deadly, terrifying—

It is the Inquisition, the

It is beauty itself
that lives

day by day in them

This is
the power of their faces

It is summer, it is the solstice
the crowd is

cheering, the crowd is laughing
in detail

permanently, seriously
without thought

5 ene 2012


2012 will be about performing for me. Improving my performance skills in the poetry reading, the classroom, the academic conference, or wherever else. I've been taping myself a lot to see where I need improvement. I will consult vocal coaches as needed. I'll improve my drumming and singing skills as well.

I feel I am already adequate. Just not good enough. Why be just as good as I am when I could be even better.

4 ene 2012

Three Kinds of Magic

Literature is a form of magic. What I mean by this is that it enacts transformations approaching a magical effect. So I distinguish three kind of magic.

Narrative magic. Narrative magic makes the room in which the reader is reading disappear. The reader disappears into this other world, parallel to reality but not identical with it.

Theatrical magic The magic of the theater is to represent through spectacle a reality that goes beyond the dimensions of the stage. It is to "cram within this wooden O the very casques that did affright the air at Agincourt."

Poetic magic. Poetic magic is to cast a magic spell through the sound of the words themselves.

These three forms of magic do not exclude one another and in fact can be found together. Words on the stage can narrate, or cast a verbal spell, etc... The verbal spell might be a kind of story involving narrative magic.

Literary criticism assumes that this magic has a technology, in other words a series of ways of making this magic occur. There is no conflict between the idea of magic and that of technology. At the wizard school, after all, there are classes on potions and spells. Or if we see magic as mere sleight-of-hand there are props and tools as well as technical skills to be mastered. Either way. A dull approach to literature would be one that failed to remember the magical dimension that makes literature exist in the first place.

A fourth kind of magic, I suppose, is the effect of transforming the reader herself into a different person. This is the cumulative effect of reading, the long-term effect of all those magic spells, all those trips out of the room.

I think it follows that literature belongs to readers and not to authors. I am pretty sure I have spent more time with certain poems by Frank O'Hara than he took to write them, and multiply that by the number of his readers. To think that our aim should be to go back and see what was in his mind on that particular day is pretty ridiculous. The author doesn't have access to all those trips out of the room by all potential readers over decades or centuries after the author is deceased.