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By using the tag Popular songs I am able to trace the development of my short and unsuccessful songwriting efforts. I started in September &...

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Baseball IQ

"I didn't know you knew so much about baseball." I don't, but I was at someone's house with people who talked about scoring "points." It wasn't hard to seem like I knew something about it. I view it as "territorial" knowledge. Growing up as male in the 1970s I simply know the minimum that anybody in my situation would have to know. Like someone living in a town would know where the major streets in the town are.

You would know that if the catcher drops the third strike, he must throw to first.

That if the home team is ahead toward the end of the game, they can skip the bottom of the ninth. If they are behind in the bottom of the ninth, the minute the score, the game is over.

I knew that RISP is runners in scoring position (2nd or 3rd base). I know what era and rbi stand for.

***

I underestimated my baseball IQ because I am do not follow baseball very much, or watch it much except for when the local team is in the world series. I am not a baseball expert or serious fanatic at all. Yet I know that baseball has umps, not refs, the meaning of some basic terminology. I know you score runs, not "points."

We probably underestimate or overestimate our knowledge of many things. A speaker we had yesterday said that I new more about American poetry than most people in English departments would know. That is true.

The Historical Future

I've written about this meme before: my version of the time traveler going back with orders to kill baby Hitler is that, upon his return to his own time, he is put on trial for killing an innocent: having killed baby Hitler, there is no holocaust anymore either, so his crime has no justification. He himself has no evidence of being sent on this mission. His only vindication might come in having his own baby-self killed, thus negating his killing of baby Hitler but also re-instating the holocaust.

***

Imagine a person alive in 1900. Various people. They have no fucking clue about what will happen in the next 50 years of history. Nothing is foreseeable. It seem like it is, or should have been, because we know now what happened. They seem tragically blind to us. History explains why things happen, and gives an aura of inevitability to event, but this is an illusion: we can only explain because we know the outcomes already.


***

So the truest form of historical fiction would be science fiction. The only true test is whether we can predict the future, because prediction of the past is based on purely circular reasoning. We are tragically blind to what is about to happen, in the same position now as people 100 years ago.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Dahl

I made kind of a sofrito with onions, hot peppers, and tomatoes and Indian spices, then added a cup of red lentils and three cups of water. That had to cook for a while, basically until most of the liquid was gone, with some stirring toward the end. Roasted peanuts and cilantro completed it. I put more hot peppers in my bowl before I ate it, but spared my dining companion those. Salad and grilled pork chop made the meal complete, with some asparagus from the night before.

Folk Hermeneutics

My students told me last summer that they like poetry in free verse, because the meaning is open. A sonnet will have a fixed meaning. Therefore, they like fixed-form poetry in class because the professor can tell you what it means.

In the course this semester, my students say they like poetry because it is open to whatever meaning the reader wants to attribute to it. Narrative prose has more fixed meanings.

I don't bother to argue with these conceptions. Rather, I find them interesting. I would argue with a grad student, but not with an undergraduate. This is simply the folk hermeneutics of the bright but not professionalized student. The Spanish major / minor is not a specialist in literature, but studies literature as one of the components of the course of study, enjoying it when it's taught well and h/she can be caught up in the enthusiasm of the prof.

Shadow CV

Nobody cares about your list of rejections and failures. When I first saw the title of this essay I thought it would be about something much more interesting: the parts of the scholarly formation that seem less scholarly but that somehow affect one's writing: my study of jazz and percussion, my obsession with prosody: all the things I never wrote about but that are essential to who I am: for my friends, it could be their work as zen masters, or being in a band: the translations someone has worked on but not published.

The point the article is trying to make is that we see a cv loaded with stuff but don't see the rejections and failures that everyone experiences. The longer the cv, the longer the shadow cv too, because someone more active will also have more opportunity not to get grants they apply for. Everyone knows this, so it's supposed to be great for younger people to see that these successful people have also failed. I get the point, but it is a stupid article because it is not the one I would have written with this title. (Sorry.)

Friday, October 23, 2015

Control

I believe certain things are under my direct and conscious control. For example, at certain point I decided I wanted to weigh 155 pounds, rather than 164, so now, after some months, I do. This could be a false belief (I don't know!) but you would have a hard time convincing me of it. I believe I could weigh 150 lbs or 145 if I wanted, or 180. There are limits at either end, but it's up to me how much I want to weigh within those limits.

I know this is heresy, since a lot of people seems to believe that their weight is as fixed as their height, even when these very same people try to modify their weight in largely ineffectual ways.

***

I want you to try to touch your knees together. (Ok. You were probably successful at that.)

Now I want you to touch your knees together. (Don't make an attempt at it, simply do it.)

What is the difference there? In the second case, you take out that intermediate step of making the attempt at doing it. That turns something remarkably simple into something overly complicated.

Trying to go to the gym effectively means NOT GOING there. I suppose if the police stopped you on the way and arrested you then you would have made a failed attempt to go the gym, but otherwise you simply did not go. So people who try to do things like this are setting themselves up for failure.

***

I could say that my fallow periods were the fault of other people preventing me from writing or publishing. This would be a lie, though. I simply did not write. I did not try to write and fail. I simply didn't do it. It's fine because I still published more than you did over my career (unless you are in the small percentage of people who've published more). It might even be true that I am correct in not have written another book or two, that those books would have been redundant. Nevertheless, there is nobody else responsible.

Ornithology

When I read poetry and Spanish and have to look up words in the dictionary, about 95% of this vocabulary is botanical or ornithological. A lot of times these terms are not in most dictionaries. At other times, the English equivalent is also unknown to me. So it would have made sense to have studied plants and birds to be a specialist in what I study. Why is knowledge of history and politics seen as essential but not knowledge of the natural world? Of course I know gorriones, gavilanes, gaviotas, golondrinas, palomas, halcones, perdices, petirrojos, águilas, avestruces, pavos, pavos reales, cuervos, mirlos, patos, gallos and gallinas, faisanes, lechuzas, buitres, and a few others, but I have birdwatcher friends who know hundreds of species.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

My next seminar

next academic year will be on both Latin American and Peninsular poetry. My idea is to organize it around the logo- melo- phano- poiesis categories.

I will read Gamoneda, Olvido García Valdes, Gelman, and Milán in the wake of Vallejo. (logos)

Poetry of the image will begin with Lorca and continue with Paz & Gimferrer.

Melopoesis will begin with Darío and Jiménez, and proceed from there.

These are not static categories, but rather pathways into poetry. I don't know what we'll find yet. The wiki on Pound's categories says that they are types of poetry. Absolutely not. They are ways of charging language with meaning.

visuality / musicality / language as such

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Confusion

As a child I was confused by deodorant ads on tv. They depicted people putting deodorant on the insides of their forearms, yet somehow I knew that deodorant (although I did not need it yet) was to be applied on the armpits, what the ads called, ambiguously, "underarms." Where were the "underarms," really? That was a plausible name for the forearms as well as for the pits themselves. Eventually I figured that out.

***

I was a Spanish professor already, and was translating a book by Lola Velasco. I translated the word "cometa" as "comet," when of course it means "kite." The difference is between "el cometa" and "la cometa." Just like "la frente" means the forehead and "el frente" is the front in a war, or "el corte" is a cut and "la corte" a court. I should have looked at the picture of kites that Lola drew in her book for me. (Kites not the bird but the flying diamond-shape toy.) Luckily I didn't publish anything from this translation.

***

A colleague, also a specialist in poetry, and a native speaker of English, asked me how to pronounce the word "prosody."

***

To be continued, perhaps...

Monday, October 19, 2015

Green beans with cumin, red peppers, peanuts

I blanched some green beans, then roasted some peanuts and cumin seeds in a pan with no oil. I removed them from the pan, then sautéed some finely chopped hot peppers with the beans, adding back the peanuts and seeds later.

Meanwhile, I cooked a flank steak on the grill, and mixed some sour cream with some habanero dip mix.I had a sweet potato in the oven, so I had this with some sliced tomatoes and salad.

Passive alert

From a comment on the Washington Post:
“As a result of the confrontation, the officer discharged his firearm, resulting in the death of the subject.” Could this be any more Soviet-style in weird passive-voice denial of agency?

Translation: Police murdered a guy and he's now dead.
This idiot does not realized that "the officer discharged his firearm" is active voice? It is bad writing, but it has nothing to do with the passive voice or the Soviet Union.

Boneless Thighs

I did not have a lot of time or energy, so I got some boneless, skinless chicken thighs and marinate them only a little less than an hour in soy sauce and red wine vinegar. These went on the gas grill and cooked in fewer than 20 minutes, to be served with bbq sauce. Meanwhile, I made an eggplant parmesan, using pre-grated parmesan and a half-way decent pasta sauce out of a jar. With a little salad and red wine it was a meal for two.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Minimal seasoning

I came back late from Boston. I grilled a flank steak on my gas grill with salt and pepper. Had some sweet potato, and tomatoes with olive oil and balsamic, a little salad with some honey mustard vinagrette leftover, with sriracha on the steak.

The food network will tell you to "repurpose" your ingredients. I prefer to let the ingredients be themselves. Food must be seasoned, yes, but you don't have to do much.

The Last Hispanist

I am not the last Hispanist, ni mucho menos. Hispanism will survive me, for sure. Yet I note that my own field, the study of Spanish poetry, is in decline. Very few of us do it any more. Latin Americanists have abandoned the study of poetry as well, and I am the last poetry specialist in my department. It isn't likely that a poetry specialist who retires will be replace by another poetry specialist.

The same could be said for drama, and even narrative. It is fine for the field to reconfigure itself, but I wonder whether we will have people like me in the next generation.
Giving a talk at Harvard in front of Luis Fernández Cifuentes and Christopher Maurer, on Lorca, is intimidating. I did fine, and both of them were complimentary, generous in their responses to me. Daniel Aguirre, author of an excellent book on Gamoneda, gave a generous introduction to me as well.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Slowly and Well

Obviously some things must be done quickly. If you are diving off a diving board, the movements must be executed at a rapid pace. Yet for most things a certain deliberateness is best. I must constantly force myself to do things slowly and well because my natural tendency is to save time by working as fast as I can. The principal of festina lente comes into play here.

All the things you are (manifesto 6)

Suppose a singer gives a moving performance of "All the things you are." "You are the promised kiss of springtime / that makes the lonely winter seem long. / You are the breathless hush of evening / that lingers on the brink of a lovely song..." The singer could be male or female, but the singer did not write the words. The lyrics are by Oscar Hammerstein II, the music by Jerome Kern. The implied recipient of the lyric could also be male or female, and this does not depend on the gender of the performer or the gender of Oscar Hammerstein.

To find the meaning or emotional truth of the lyric or of the performance of the lyric, we don't go look at the biography of Hammerstein. He wrote it for a failed Broadway show, and we don't especially care about what he was thinking about when he wrote it. At least I don't. We could say it's conventional sentimentality, but is it? Its conventionality, after all, is what make it work for any performer in any decade. Sometimes I feel that the melodies of these songs are superior to the lyrics, which can become dated, or too specific to their time and place: Gotta get my old tuxedo pressed / gotta sew a button on my vest." Yet not really... The lyrics come alive again in a great performance, and even instrumentalists might be thinking of the lyric when they interpret the melody or chord changes. This song became a jazz standard and was beloved by beboppers.

I suppose we could go back to that Broadway Show and find out who the characters were, and interpret the song in its dramatic context. Nyah. Nobody cares anymore. Not only was the show, "Very Warm for May" (1939) a failure, but the song has achieved independence from those origins.

We could also find meaning or emotional truth in the performer's biography. This, also, might matter to us, or not. We don't have access to the performer's inner life to know whether he (or she) is thinking about as the performance or recording was taking place. We can invent a story about it, but that story is not essential, or will not be significant to those who don't know or care to know.

I don't even know if I have to finish this thought: the conclusion should be obvious. The meaning is in its repeatability and in its immanence, not in its origins or circumstances. Its meaning in one immanent circumstance might be that it is sung at a wedding, and its meaning specific to that occasion, but it will be sung at other weddings as well.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Viva voce (manifesto 5)

Research is attested to in writing. Yet teaching is quintessentially oral. The living presence of the voice is what matters. I spoke at my Friend Ken Irby's memorial service today. I started out by saying that the world was a less literate place without Ken, a gifted and acclaimed poet and teacher. This literacy, though, (I continued) was transmitted to me orally rather than in writing. In Ken's teaching, in his conversation, it was a particular mastery of cadence and intonation that carried the day. I said that I couldn't imagine him trying to convey information through a power-point slide (laughter). Later someone told me they couldn't even imagine him knowing how to work power-point at all. I can't imagine him working from lecture notes. Of course, he was a professor of poetry and of Shakespeare and Melville, of sonorous words. It is not accidental that he taught beat and black mountain poetry. He himself is perhaps one of the last poets directly involved with this kind of poetics.

This does not exclude the love of the written work. He would bring many books to martini night to show us, and had a keen appreciation of a book in its physical form. In his teaching I'm sure he brought in the physical text to consult as well. (I found myself yesterday in the engineering building, a third of a mile from my office, about to teach a class but without a copy of the novel we were reading. I still did fine, even referring to specific words and passages. Essentially I was teaching naked, though clothed in suit and tie,)

Some students complained about a lack of linearity in Irby's teaching: his was an aggregation of evocations rather than a straightforward account. Others figured out that they could learn more from Irby than from almost any else, since he had read more and knew more. He is the only person I have ever known that knew more about jazz than I do. Devoted students of his call themselves the company, or members of the company, perhaps using the word that Creeley used in a similar tenor.

You should be able to teach viva voce. If you need specific formats for information, such as tables of statistics, in your field, that's fine. In poetry we depend on the written text too, and typographical details of the text can be extremely significant. But you shouldn't have to look at notes to be able to teach something that you know well.

68. Mella y criba

Ida Vitale. Pre-textos, 2010.

This book is by the Uruguayan poet Ida Vitale. A bird (a rook) complains in a tree; a cat, inside, wants to get outside to get the bird; a third element, a person observing bird and cat; a fourth layer is the reader of the poem, trying to understand the triangular relationship between these three "languages." Conceptually, that is an amazing poem.

69. The Torches

Tate. Unicorn Press, 1971.

I've probably owned this book since the 70s. It is one of the best examples of the "deep image" school of the time, and it is beautifully printed in a small edition.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

70. Sobre una confidencia del mar griego / precedido de Correspondencias

Andrés Sánchez Robayna. Huerga y Fierra, 2005.

This is a beautifully printed book with prints by Tàpies. I translated a few poem from this book.

Composition (manifesto 4)

In poetry every word, every punctuation mark, counts. Even the typeface matters. That a noun is masculine or feminine has no particular importance as an inert linguistic fact, but in a poem a masculine and a feminine noun cannot be interchangeable. If you are a scholar of poetry, then you know how to pay close attention to every word and every space. You have, then, a certain prose responsibility to poetry. You must write well and accurately. You don't have to be a poet, but pretty close.

Everything I regret in my own work is the result of failure to live up to this ideal. I realize others don't share it, and I won't worry about them for the time being. I remember being outrage when a doctoral student used the word "thusly" in a chapter. That was an exaggerated response, but I still would never use that word.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Manifesto (3)

Reading poetry is a ruminative activity. Instead of being absorbed for hours in the reading of a continuous narrative, you read very short texts over and over again and then think about them for a long time. To read (really read) vast quantities of poetry is guaranteed to make you somewhat insane, since it invites solitary rumination. In my case, I am often reading three or four books of poetry at a time. Sometimes I read through a book in one sitting, or a few sittings. At other times, I'll read a few poems a day from a book. There seems to be a contradiction between the concentration required to even read a few poems well, and my desire to have read and to be constantly re-reading every significant poet in great depth. I am now the only poetry specialist in my department, so the effects of isolation are even greater.

My stock trades

I have a method for investing in the stock market. This is not my normal TIAA=CREF retirement but just a few bucks that I took from my savings account. I buy a stock for about $1,000 or 1,500 and then wait. If a stock does very well, earning me at least 1,000, I sell that thousand off and buy something else, thus diversifying my risks. I have done that 3 times in total, twice with my best performing stock. I also reinvest all dividends.

The other way would be to cash in on any substantial gains, removing that money from the total pot. But money just sitting in the bank loses its value to inflation so that is a guaranteed loss.

If a stock does poorly, or gains more slowly, I just let it ride indefinitely. Since there is a transaction fee for selling and buying, I have to factor in that before I know I have made money. That fee also makes me more disciplined in not doing a lot of smaller trades.

With one mutual fund, I buy $50 dollars automatically every month, or $600 a year, so my total stake increases there. If the market is doing worse, then I am buying this fund at a lower cost.

If I needed money for an emergency beyond what I have in the bank, I could sell a stock that has done well, but not too well. The most I would lose with the total bankruptcy of a single company would be about 1,500 of my original investment. This is a form of very conservative gambling. You don't lose the bet unless you are obliged to sell an asset for a loss, but you can always win by selling an asset that has gained value. That means that the trick is not investing money that you need to use right away.

Freud / we know nothing about the brain

I was sitting at a table with two sociologists, including my friend Bob A.. I was reading a magazine but I decided to join their conversation so I started to argue with the other man (?) about Freud, whose name I had just heard in their conversation. I claimed that Freud had to be read through his epoch, while ? argued that Freud transcended his own times, that the key to reading him was to not historicize him. I made the polite remark that it was interesting that we had such polar opposite views. I started to say that we knew so much more about the brain now than in Freud's period, but the guy responded "we know nothing about the brain!"

Monday, October 5, 2015

Pork loin

I brined a pork loin in a brine of soy sauce, brown sugar, vinegar, fruit juice. I rubbed some paprika and rosemary on it and grilled it on my gas grill until slightly pink in the middle with some small sweet potatoes. I had a salad too of fresh greens, parmesan, and cherry tomatoes, with a honey mustard vinaigrette, and some green beans sautéed with onions, garlic, tomatoes, and Indian spices (cumin seeds, coriander, cardamon, hot pepper flakes, turmeric). I called a beautiful woman up to come and share this with me, with some Free State Stormchaser beer. Keith Jarrett's Standards in Norway played in the stereo. Life is good, my friends.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

71. Arden las pérdidas

Gamoneda. Tusquets, 2003.

This book largely recycles images and motifs from Libro del frío and Un armamrio llano de sombras. "Some afternoons, Billie Holiday puts a sick rose in my ears." Blake's sick rose?

Friday, October 2, 2015

72. Edenia

Padorno. Tusquets, 2007.

This is a strange and beautiful book of poem organized around a central conceit: an imaginary, Edenic world with ample descriptions of plants, animals, terrains... Manuel Padorno was a poet from the Canary Islands and I don't know much beyond this book. It isn't quite great poetry, because it ends up being too descriptive and loses energy too often as a result.