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Poetry foundation on Bishop Her father died before she was a year old. Her mother suffered through serious bouts of mental instability and...

Monday, October 16, 2017


Poetry foundation on Bishop
Her father died before she was a year old. Her mother suffered through serious bouts of mental instability and was permanently committed to an institution when Elizabeth was only five years old.
Bialosky (p. 162):  

Her father died before she was a year old. After suffering from mental instability, her mother was committed to an institution. Elizabeth Bishop was five 

 Here is a stream of twenty five words in which three are not present in the original (if we count suffered and suffering as the same word.) Defenders will say that there are only so many ways to state basic biographical facts.  But statistically speaking, the odds are against such a heavy coincidence of language. This is not mentioned in Logan's review, because he only went after some of the most egregious examples of the verbatim borrowing of phrasing. Her defenders point out that most of the borrowing is biographical, and this would bear out that (partial) excuse.  Still, as part of the overall pattern this does not look good.

A modest problem

Poems online are often represented with every line centered on the screen. 
This is incorrect: poems should not be centered on the screen, but reproduced according to their original typography.  I even had a graduate student turn in a paper 
with her poetry quotes centered on the page (each line that is). We must put an end to this for the integrity of the art form. 
Do not center
each line 
of the damned poem.  
Never link to a site that engages in this heinous practice.

This is a modest problem that we can tackle together. Impeaching Trump, ending sexual harassment in among the stars (whether in astronomy or Hollywood) are things I can do very little about.  But I can try to stop people from citing poems incorrectly, and I can promote the wearing of bowler hats.  

A Scam

Suppose you offered free gambling tips for a limited amount of time.  People call in a number and are advised to bet for or against a given team.  The catch: the hotline tells half the people to bet on one team and half on the other.  So if 10,000 people call, then 5,000 will be winners. You can offer them the chance to get another tip. The same thing happens, and half of them are winners, or 2,500. That quarter or so of the original group starts to think this tipline is something special. Then by the time you whittle it down to people who have won six bets in a row or so, they think this gambling advice is golden and will be willing to pay for the previously free tips.  They will buy a subscription to your service.

No matter which team wins, half the people will win their bet any given week.  People who bet on contests where the odds are against them will feel especially lucky.  

Sunday, October 15, 2017


Here's a fragment of another long poem by Cashberg, written in the mid 50s.  You can see that Ashbery's style of the md-seventies is heavily indebted to Cashberg's:

As we sifted through the hotel archives of past indignations

the white hot edges of them burned through our memory,

though the root causes were forgotten: the way the word demotic

does not belong, itself, to any vernacular, and thus was misunderstood

by those to whom it was directed. They were right to be insulted,

perhaps.  So too, the prize designed for the undiscovered village crank

genius went, as always, to the Princeton professor du jour.  Are you getting this down?

Are you taking notes quickly enough, ma cherie? I thought not.

My sprezzetura was taken as simple carelessness, but to correct the mistake

would have made it all the worse, limping into twilight-burnished

corridors, under cover of stale leaves...


Walking bass (ii)

One youtube video showed me how to play walking bass in the piano.  Basically, you can just set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes, and metronome to a slowish tempo, choose a chord progression, and just walk with it until the timer rings. Apply as many concepts as you want to or can. Repeat in a different key or with a different chord progression. You can put a rootless voicing in the right hand, like a 3 and 7 or 3,6,9.

What this video, by Dave Frank, taught me is that a bass line is a melody. Since I can write melodies I can write bass lines.

The amazing thing is that after doing this with a few progressions, I found I could do it my head thinking of very precise notes rather than just vaguely.  I did a 2/5/1 in Bflat and then in C, a blues progression in C, and then a 1/6/2/5. I also wrote a bass line for the A section of "Lulu's Back in Town."

I'm not good at it yet, of course, but I made very rapid progress, from barely being able to play one at all to being able to play one with some fluency. When I don't set a metronome I just continually speed up.

This will provide a different kind of left hand for my playing, as opposed to my usual block chords.

Linguistic Exercise

Take this poem by Frost and, without consulting any secondary source, explain the use of definite and indefinite articles (or their omission), in the following noun phrases:  "a crow" "the dust of snow" "a hemlock tree" "a change of mood" "some part of a day I had rued." Write out a set of rules that a person learning English as a second language could apply to know how to use these articles. 

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.

In the Wreckage

In the wreckage

of yesterday

I try

to find today's

meat and potatoes

Saturday, October 14, 2017


A woman in the English department here wrote a YA novel.  Before it was even published it was attacked by people on Goodreads for what they thought it would be: presumably it would feature a "white savior" plot of some kind. Kirkus pulled a positive review of the book due to this pressure, even though the review was written by someone in the demographics that should supposedly be offended.  It got negative, one star reviews on Goodreads from people who confessed openly that they had never read the book!  This is typical of the censorious environment in which we live.


I'm afraid I've been outdone in the bad poetry department. Rupi Kaur is a best selling poet who gets defended in the Guardian like this:

As a young woman of colour in a world where white, male delectations are treated as the definitive barometer of taste, Kaur speaks a truth that the literary establishment is unlikely to understand. Even the most sincere critique of her work can slide from healthy debate into vicious attack at the turn of a page. But to read Kaur’s success as an omen of the death of poetry would be to unfairly dismiss writing that contains bravery, beauty and wisdom. Frankly, the literary world is saturated with white male voices of dubious quality. Kaur’s poetry should be given the same freedom to be flawed.

This is specious reasoning. Yes, I think Billy Collins is vile too, so I should give Kaur "the same freedom to be flawed"?  But what does "flawed" mean here? Surely Kaur does deserve vicious attacks, and it is an insult to every female poet and every non-white poet to wrap the defense of her in the oppositional rhetoric of "white male" taste.  A typical Kaur poem goes like this:  "“If you are not enough for yourself / you will never be enough / for someone else".  

Friday, October 13, 2017


This is no way to live:

Understand, even though I am using callouts as a prime example, I am not against them. Several times, I have been called out for ways I have carelessly exhibited ableism, transmisogyny, fatphobia, and xenophobia. I am able to rebound quickly when responding with openness to those situations. I am against a culture that encourages callouts conducted irresponsibly, ones that abandon the person being called out and ones done out of a desire to experience power by humiliating another community member.


I am not a very good musician, so my plan to be a songwriter after retirement seems like the classic delusion of grandeur.

But that self-doubt is more stupid than any delusion I might have.

Walking Bass

I'm figuring out the walking bass (on piano). The root of the chord goes on the "1." The 4 can be a note a half step lower than that root. Ascending lines are better than descending ones, all other things being equal; stepwise motion is better than longer leaps. If there is the same chord over two measures, you can have a good deal more freedom in the second measure. If there are two chords in a measure, you can basically do the roots and the half-steps below them. The trick is to play with a metronome over a given set of chord changes repeatedly.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

How to Surrealism

Cashberg's other masterpiece of the early 70 is How to Surrealism.  This long poem goes for the opposite effect attained by the semantic saturation of Brackishness Scruple.  It aims instead of the semantic diffuseness and non-repetition. He said that his aim was to avoid the development of any thematic threads, but that has not prevented critics from reducing it to a kind of quest narrative, in which the poet-hero makes his way through a labyrinthine landscape in search of the perfect musical phrase.  I offer a brief sampling of this 700 page poem:

Arrest. Hysterocommuncal. Brackish. Mudlip. Froggish. Imp.  Stereoderivative.

Greenlight. Densehouse. Immune. Ity.  Foreigneity.  Garage. Toadfill. The.

Asteriskite.  How? Mumblebirds. Championkite. No. Isthmus.  Isthmus.

Sur. To. Tainment.  Brockstyle. Fandom. Austerishity. Sheepishtude.

Hunger. Hattrick. Mysteriousheit.  Under. Mambo.

Ach!  Moonbroom. Fingerscale.  Fingerclaw.  Ugh.

Peninsularlarlar.  Umpteenth. Clinging.

Howitzer. Tulane. Surfeit.  Howitzer. Tulane. Surfeit.

Howitzer. Tulane. Surfeit.  Howitzer. Tulane. Surfeit.

Arugula. Impress. Naturaleza.  Zippified.

Mustardine.  Goateesimilitude.

Why. Bitters. Turpentudinous.


Ascot. Benjaminish. Restitude. Amore. Puck. Margarine. Awe. Mainline. Lagging. Hurt. Flog.

Asterdine. Mug. Hantine. Lake.

Howitzer. Tulane. Surfeit.  Howitzer. Tulane. Surfeit.

Never. Impactifullness.


Deterioration. Binding. Differential. Genius. Sacred.

Missment. Thole. Snifter.  Banal.

Mugrunt. In.

However. Twostep. Surgeon. Aggress.

Hypnotonormativity. Whether.

Vista. Masculinitad.  Obviate. Osteoneurosis.  Illfit.  


Jack Cashberg's BRACKISHNESS SCRUPLE is one of the lost masterpieces of postmodern literature. Published by Black Sparrow Press in 1970s in a limited edition of 40 copies, numbered and signed by the author, this 500-page poem was never anthologized, due to the author's refusal to compromise the work's integrity. It is with some trepidation, then, that I offer this all too brief excerpt. To the critic who called the work "a tedious exercise in semantic saturation" he replied: "don't you think I know that, you fucking idiot." To the Freudian critic who associated brackishness with the id and scruple with the superego he was equally withering. Though often accused of copying Coolidge and Ashbery, he always maintained that his own Self-Portrait in a Bowler Hat was published 10 years before Ashbery's similarly titled work. 

Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.

Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.

Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.

Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.

Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Hindemith. Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness

scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.

Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.

Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  So much depends. Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness

scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Upon. Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness

scruple. A. Brackishness scruple.  Red. Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness

scruple.  So many. Brackishness scruple.  Wheel. Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.

Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Ple. Barrow. Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness

scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Hindemith. Glazed.

Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple. With Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.

Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Rain. Brackishness scruple.  I had not thought death

had undone. Brackishness scruple.  Ish. Brackishness scruple.  Water. Brackishness scruple.

Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  So many Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.

Beside. Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple. Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.

Brackishness scruple.  The. Brackishness stumble.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.

Brackishness stumble.  White. Among twenty snowy mountains. Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness

scruple.  Brackishness scruple. Of Man's first disobedience. Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness

scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Stumble. Brackishness

scruple.  Hindemith. Brackishness scruple.  Ish. Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.

Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness stumble.  Brackishness scruple.  Hindemith. Brackishness

scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Ish. Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness

scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  And the. Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple. Brack. Back.

Ple. Ple. Ple Ple. Ness. Brackishness scruple.  Apple pie. Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.

Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Hindemith. Brackishness

scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Fruit. Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness

scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Of That. Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness

scruple.  Brackishness scruple. Scruple stumble.  Scruple stumble.  Scruple stumble.  Scruple

stumble.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.

Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple. Ness.

Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.

Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.

Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.

Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple. The only

moving thing. Brack. Brack. Ple. Ple. Ple Ple. Ness. Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.

Brackishness scruple.  Hindemith. Glazed. Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  With

Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Rain.

Brackishness scruple.  I had not thought death had undone. Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness

scruple.  Water. Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  So many

Brackishness scruple. Brackishness scruple. Beside.Hindemith stumble. Brackishness scruple.

Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.

Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple.  Brackishness scruple. Brack. Brack. Ple. Ple. Ple Ple.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Sincerity Kincade


I have soft dreams, the texture of ancient silk.

They take me to fragrant palm isles, billowing

and shimmering sheets of whiteness and bliss.

I awake from them rested and well-put-together

like an actress in a movie-scene awakening in utter felinity

and femininity.

...Others are coarse, delivered in strange packages on my doorstep.

But those will be discussed in their due time...


I've discovered this poem by Sincerity Kincade in the Spencer Library here at KU, written by hand in the margins of a book by a more prominent poet. I haven't authenticated the handwriting yet but the poem is signed by her and has her characteristic lightness of touch and ethereality.

Kincade has often been attacked by sexist critics for her unabashed celebrations of her own womanhood, or sentimentality, and for a certain preciosity. In fact, her poetry is a wily trap designed to expose this very sexism, according to some feminist critics. Others have celebrated it as the heartfelt confessions of a tragically misunderstood soul.

No, the plagiarist is not the author of the wikipedia articles she plagiarized

How do we know this? Well, that was not defense offered by herself or her supporters.  It would be exceedingly strange in any case to write wikipedia articles about things that you are going to treat in the highly personal modality of a memoir.  Also, she would know that "Richard Cory" is a work from the 1890s, not the 1930s. In other words, she does not have even a wikipedia level knowledge of some of the texts she is treating.

Someone pointed out on Facebook that some of those defending her are teachers and probably would flunk a student doing what she did.

I was disheartened to see Rae Armantrout among the signatories of the letter in Bialoksy's defense.  The others are more or less mainstream figures like Pinsky...  

Tuesday, October 10, 2017


I've decided to start the Bowler trend.  Remember, you heard it here first. What else unites Billy the Kid with Magritte?  I'm getting a lot of serious compliments when I wear this hat around town.

This style hat was what was popular in the old west, before the Stetson became popular, then mythologized in Western movies.

The Defense

To the Editor:We, as writers and friends of literature, wish to register our concern in regard to “Author Fights Plagiarism Charges by Critic” (news article, Oct. 8). The Timesby giving a large platform to a small offense, has tainted the reputation of this accomplished editor, poet and memoirist.
It is important for your readers to understand that the charges brought against Jill Bialosky by the critic William Logan refer to a handful of commonly known biographical facts gleaned from outside sources. Given the trust that is assumed between a writer and her readers, this mishandling is not something to shrug off. Yet it bears saying that Ms. Bialosky’s inadvertent repetition of biographical boilerplate was not an egregious theft intentionally performed.
All 72 of us stand with Ms. Bialosky and her statement of apology. She is working with the publisher on adjustments to the text, which will appear in future editions of the book. It would be a terrible disservice to Ms. Bialosky and to your readers if the article kept people from appreciating her substantial contributions to American letters.
The writers are authors whose works have been edited by Jill Bialosky. The letter had 70 other signers, including Jennifer Egan, Louise Glück, Amy Hempel, Claire Messud, Robert Pinsky and Roxanne Robinson.

The Times has not tainted her reputation: she has done that to herself by plagiarism and by the low quality of her writing. By implication, a "large platform for a small offense" would preclude the Times from reporting on any such "small offense," since the Times is a big newspaper. It is also simply not true that all the plagiarism here is biographical in nature. Five of the eight instances of plagiarism found by Logan are biographical, three are not.

The idea that there would be future editions of such a miserable book is laughable.

Another thing: there are 52 poems, and 222 pages, so each poem gets four pages or so, and many of the entries are very short. There are 8 cases, and another 5 or so that Logan didn't mention, so let's say 12 total, in entries for nearly a quarter of all the poems, I'm guessing. I've already shown that a good deal of the commentary on "Richard Cory" is borrowed from wikipedia. I'm sure the memoir part (her descriptions of her actual experiences) is original, but then it seems that she grafted that unto "boilerplate" material from wikipedia and the Academy of American Poets.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

There's more...

On facebook, the reviewer who found the plagiarism, William Logan, told me, in a comment visible to hundreds (so I don't think it's wrong of me to cite it):

Thanks, Jonathan. I didn't include thefts from articles on Robinson (Wiki), E. E. Cummings (Poetry Foundation), and Claude McKay (Poetry Foundation), because they weren't as extensive or striking--and, well, more would have been beating a dead horse. I cut out the error on "Richard Cory" because the list was getting too long--but you convince me that it should go back in.


Imagine a language with 10 words, with sentence length limited to 10 words as well.  This language has no syntactical rules so the words can come in any order, the number of sentences in this language is 10 billion:


Now imagine our language, with thousands of words, not 10.  Our sentence length has no fixed limit, but let's say a lot of sentences are in the 30-word range. If we didn't have rules of combination (syntax) and the rule that sentences had to make sense on the semantic level, then we could have utterances like

pig pencil the the the and snare strives Houdini motion over arbitrary the contraption whiggish...

If my base ten example with 10 digits yielded 10 billion, then there is no way I can calculate the number of 30 word strings possible. I would be typing zeros all day long.

But we have syntactical rules, so we might think of utterances as syntactical patterns that we can plug lexical items into.  The the game of saying adjective noun transitive verb adjective noun.

Fat pigs devour small toads.  There are five slots, and in each slot can go as many different adjectives, nouns, and verbs exist in English.  We are still talking about large numbers. If we filter out the ones that don't make any sense, then there are still huge numbers. With numerous syntactical pattern available, and relatively longish utterances, we are getting into multiple zeros of sentences that make sense, so that it is fairly easy to produce unique utterances like

The small vase contained a mixture of coffee beans from numerous regions and a specially trained cat was charged with the absurd task of separating them into fastidious piles.

This is what Chomsky called the creativity of language.  There are other limits, I suppose. For example, language consists not only of words but of phrases in statistically probable combinations, so there will be hundreds of instances of "charged with the absurd task" on google. The more improbable the combination, the more unique, the less cliché-like, it is. It is easy to see why statistically common phrases exist: language is not random, and has no obligation to be. There are conventions of discourse and easy short-cuts like "this book makes a significant contribution to the field."

Some factual information is difficult to state in a unique way. So-and-so was born in this year in this place. The attempt to state it differently would sound affected. But the chances of several sentences in a row being identical without direct copying (or a common source) are infinitesimal. Imagine Thomas awaking today and coming up with the sentence: The small vase contained a mixture of coffee beans from numerous regions and a specially trained cat was charged with the absurd task of separating them into fastidious piles as his example of a unique sentence. We would call it a psychic phenomenon. We wouldn't believe it a coincidence.

It gets worse for the plagiarism defenders. When you are writing carefully and thoughtfully about something your ideas and your language will grow more unique and original, and probably more statistically improbable for that reason. Your writing will have an autonomous voice. This is what we expect from Mr. or Dr. or Ms. Prominent Writer.  Will a good writer avoid all statistically common patterns? No. Good, fluid writing has to rely on some expected chunks of language that don't call attention to themselves. But if you never, ever find a luminously surprising adjective-noun combination or a semi-original turn of phrase you simply aren't a writer.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

More plagiarism excuses

Shakespeare had a source for Hamlet.

Trump is president and ruining the world... it is not the time to complain about plagiarism.

It is not possible to be totally original.  Everything has already been said / thought. Nihil novum sub sole.

Nobody cares anywhere.

It's not plagiarism if the source is anonymous, in the public domain...

There are only so many plots anyway...


Here is another likely source for a passage in Bialosky's book--one not noted by Logan:

The poem describes a person who is wealthy, well educated, mannerly, and admired by the people in his town. 
The song "Richard Cory", written by Paul Simon and recorded by Simon & Garfunkel for their second studio album, Sounds of Silence, was based on this poem. 
 At his death, many critics[who?] considered Robinson the greatest poet in the United States. He is now best remembered for his short poems characterizing various residents of Tilbury Town, which was based on his hometown, Gardiner, Maine. A quiet, introverted man, Robinson never married and became legendary for his reclusiveness.  (wikipedia entry on "Richard Cory.") 

Bialosky writes:

The poem describes a wealthy, educated gentleman who is admired by his community. 
It is no wonder that the poem endures nearly a century after it first appeared, adapted into a song by Paul Simon, and that its maker, Edgar Arlington Robinson--himself a quiet, introspective, reclusive man--was considered one of the greatest poets in America at the time of his death.  

I suspect that there are many other passages in her book that are cribbed from wikipedia, beyond what Logan found. This is a borderline case that might not qualify as full-blown plagiarism. What interests me here is the general badness of the scholarship. She states that a poem published in the 1890s is a product of "the Great Depression" and says that the poem has lasted nearly a century after its appearance!  She calls the poem a ballad (it is not).

Encylopedias are sources of first resort. We go there first if we don't know anything. Then we find better sources.  And seriously, if you cannot do a simply summary of a poem without echoing this banal wiki, you shouldn't be writing about poetry.  Almost everything of substance in her comments on this poem is taken from the first thing you might google about this poem, including the Simon and Garfunkel song.

Friday, October 6, 2017

It's not plagiarism

... if my friend did it (or a powerful person I want to defend)

if the accuser is a jerk

if everyone does it anyway

if the source is wikipedia

if it was unintentional, inadvertent

if it only occurs x many times in a book of y pages

if the plagiarist doesn't do it all that often

if it wasn't the most important part of the argument: just "ancillary".

it is just the matter of missing quotation marks and references

if the plagiarist was in a hurry

if it's just "intertextuality"

it is "unoriginal genius"


No free speech for Nazis

That sounds good: no free speech for Nazis.  But how about others? We could say no free speech for misogynists; we could sign on to that too. Soon, we will have other categories of people that don't deserve free speech.

But then the next step is for no free speech for an old leftie organization, the ACLU, long attacked by the right for defending Communists and atheists. If the ACLU defends free speech for Nazis, then they should be shouted down too, right? (As they were by BLM protestors at William and Mary.)  Soon, then, free speech is only for someone who defends the exactly correct orthodoxy of the moment, including ideas about what speech should be free or not.  If you can't even discuss the issue of free speech, then there is no free speech for anyone, really. At the very least you should be able to discuss that.

Then, as a "card-carrying member of the ACLU,"* I am suspect too, and you are too if you defend me, and anyone defending your right to speak, and so on.


*This phrase was used by George Bush's democratic opponent in 1988, Michael Dukakis, and Bush pounced on the ACLU as a far left organization.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

More disgusting plagiarism

A famous poetry world person plagiarized from Wikipedia in her memoir about how poetry can change your life.  A typical passage taken from Wikipedia is this:

Although Lowell’s manic depression was a great burden for him and his family, the exploration of mental illness in his verse led to some of his most important poetry, particularly as it manifested itself in Life Studies. When he was fifty, Lowell began taking lithium to treat his mental illness.

The worst thing about this is that this is not even worth stealing. It is boilerplate encyclopedia crap writing. I've never called poetry "important" in my entire life. What a disgusting case.  

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Flamenco Blues / Statement of poetics (two poems by Icarus Jonson)


Check the jails and the morgues
for my soul

¡Ay, madre!  

Check the bars
bars and hospitals
for it

¡Niña de mi corazón!

Check my usual places
haunts and homes
for my body

¡Ay, madre,
niña de mi corazón!  



There are few things on earth--softer

than--a hard-boiled egg--

if you think about it--

my heart--too--is soft--

underneath this hard shell--

my impregnable--poems.

Friday, September 29, 2017


Phyllis Phyllis is often denigrated as a humorless disciple of Jorie Graham and Jack Cashberg, but the poem "Haunting Beauty" is certainly a masterpiece. Harold Bloom once called it "a poem of haunting beauty."

Haunting Beauty: In Memory of Jack Cashberg

I am haunted by beauty; it haunts me. It: strange sexless pronoun for it,
epicene like nothing else under the sun. What if I and you had a gender in English?
Then we would better know the identity of lovers
in old love letters! I sit down at my desk to pay the bills,
but what of the bills of more transcendent sort?
Who will pay them while iridescence dissipates in advance of the storm?
Out the window there is something that still lingers, haunts if you will,
(but what you are we talking about? the masculine you would ruin the mood
though you were masculine singular in life, to my feminine plural)
or is that only a figure of speechlessness,
an alabaster figurine amid my own haunting ruins.
I sigh awhile, reflecting on the loss of such a significant voice
in American poetry. Who could find a ghostly houserhyme for that?  

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Given Name

I had to fight for my name

though I was given it

[with little right: Pa warn't no Daedalus

though handy with the jigsaw and the chainsaw

{¡Bulging Muscles! though saw the wild look to my eyes

and shirked away (then I knew I was crazier than Jesus

Icarus Jonson founded the hard-boiled school of American poetry sometime in the late 40s. He is known for his unconventional and expressive punctuation and unsentimental view of life, as well as his feuds with Jack Cashberg and Valance Fullerton. Biographical details are sketchy.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Phyllis Phyllis

I've decided to collect an anthology of six of my favorite undiscovered poets:

Jack Cashberg

Sincerity Kincade

Icarus Jonson

Chaplin O'Mallus

Phyllis Phyllis

Valance Fullerton

Stay tuned...

Each poet will be represented by 7 poems of variable length.  There are two male poets here, two female, and two whose gender I have little idea about.  I still need a title for the anthology, but the idea only occurred to me 10 minutes ago so don't rush me.

Yes, but what have you done recently?

I'm quite adept at discounting my own achievements. Maybe you are as well. You can always say...

I haven't done a whole recently.  (My achievements are in the past: who's to say I'll ever do anything else?)

I'm just a literary critic. (Not a real poet, or a physicist.  I'm not even a real scholar because I don't do archival research.)

I haven't submitted and published a peer review article to a journal blind (not being invited) in quite a while.

No major grants or awards in the last five years.


Yet a look at my cv does not reflect this negative opinion of myself.  I wonder...

Monday, September 25, 2017

Late Ashbery

It is known that Ashbery didn't revise much, instead preferring to write many poems and throwing out  those that didn't match up to his standards. Here's one of the uncollected poems of Ashbery, that I found once written on a napkin in a New York City restaurant shortly after he had dined there. I can't prove that he wrote it, but I'll offer it to you anyway, just to set the record straight. It certainly is not one he would have wanted to save:    


Roses are red, and that disquiet among the almond leaves
like antique shelves, told you the gig was up. Meantime
Elmer sold his last possessions, you know the type, always
looking for an angle of repose among angelic figurines.
He didn't dig it, he said. That was that. I on the other hand
foreign to that lexicon and the start-ups it implied, could
not finish anyone else's sentences, much less my own.

You think it's easy being this uptight. Singing for my supper was ok
as long as this was understood as a lame excuse for a metaphor
but what then? More derivative gargling in the movie set saloon?
Hot cakes? Merchandise returns? In the routine
rambling there is a certain snapping point, one you'd
have to be a fool not to improvise on your own while
unseen forces move into position, just before the fall.

Après moi...  But how did this end, really? Not like this
surely, as afternoon gathered its forces amid crumbling icons.
We turned the page, and there was nothing written there.
But the expected result turned up anyway, as though
they had forgotten to cancel the newspaper for their trip,
and the seedy music died down once again, but not for good.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

It's De-Lovely: Fragment of a Treatise on Aesthetics

and loveliness... what of prettiness, is that the same thing?

Being easy on the eyes? (But that won't apply to the lilting tune.)

Glamour? Sex appeal? Those are separate streams

Like attractiveness and the handsomeness of a "handsome woman,"

applicable only to human beings and other living creatures

where sexual attraction needs strikingly gorgeous visual feasts.

 Beauty itself is none of these things, though not separable from them either...


Saturday, September 23, 2017

MY JA (2)

Ashbery published acclaimed books of poetry in 7 separate decades:

[50, 60, 70, 80, 90, 00, 10...]

What is not quite as remarkable, but is remarkable for me personally, is that I bought and read books by him during 5 of these decades, over and approximately 40 year span of time.

I am a poet

I am a poet

but care little for my archives


The way liar and lyre are pronounced the same way

is like the way I once used to confuse "In a Mellow Tone" with "On Green Dolphin Street"

Or "On Green Dolphin Street" with "Stella by Starlight"

as forgivable as losing one's train of thought in the crowd

as the misuse of baking soda


Writing bad poems was no defense

just a defense mechanism

he said

when people were yearning for quality


So it is with you

Mary McCarthy

Mary McCarthy

read my poems aloud

in her Dublin accent

and made them seem

not written by me

in my dream

including this one

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Cleaning Poem

What if cleaning was your hobby?

You could subscribe to magazines, take classes,

(maybe teach them yourself in night school

once you got really good),

indulge in fine cleaning materials

and tools, treat it like any other pastime

like bridge or mountain climbing,

crossword puzzles or playing a musical instrument,

with the added benefit of cleanliness.

Why do we call some things work and other things hobbies?

You might think I'm being facetious, but this might be a good one for you

or, if not, for someone utterly unlike you in all respects.

“Let me just say that nearly every academic I know — this includes feminists, progressives, minorities, and those who identify as gay or queer — now lives in fear of some classroom incident spiraling into professional disaster,” Kipnis writes in her book. “A tenured female professor on my campus wrote about lying awake at night worrying that some stray remark of hers might lead to student complaints, social media campaigns, eventual job loss, and her being unable to support her child.”

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

10 Things about Me

The idea is to guess which 2 of these 10 things is false.  The prize is free lifetime access to SMT.

1. I never graduated from high school.

2. I wear a hat almost everywhere I go.

3. I am a huge opera fan.

4. I have an extensive collection of books from the New York School of Poetry, almost every book written by Ashbery, Koch, O'Hara, Guest, Schuyler, and many of the 2nd generation, like Berrigan, Padgett, Shapiro.

5. I suffered from very intense "ear worm" in adolescence, especially with phrases from poems.

6. I often eat salad for breakfast.

7. I have lived in four states: California, Kansas, Missouri, and Ohio.

8. I have had coffee almost every day of my life since I was 17.

9. While a child of the sixties and seventies, I have had very little interest in Rock music for most of my life.

10. I didn't go to any Spanish speaking country aside from Spain until I was in my 50s.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Frameworks: late night thoughts

There are several models we might consider.

*Your main problem is your enemies.
*Your source of obstacles is your rivals.
*Your problem is a system or set of circumstances that is rigged against you.
*Your problem is your own self or behavior.
*It is something else? Random events? Sheer luck or the lack of it?

Any of these frameworks might be correct for a given problem. I don't think I have enemies to speak of, and if I do I don't think they are doing much harm to me. My rivals aren't hurting me. I might envy Christopher Maurer and Andrew Anderson their superior knowledge of Lorca, but nothing they do holds me back in any way, and in fact it furthers my own ends.

The system is rigged in my favor so it's not that.

So in my case the majority of barriers to productivity are self-generated. And, frankly, I am productive so even here these barriers cannot be all that frightening.  Yet I find that they are... I'm publishing my book later than I thought it would come out, for example.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Barthes on Racine

Racine's theater is highly stylized and formulaic. As formulaic and rule-driven as a soap opera. All Barthes does is point out the patterns. He is not even that psychoanalytic, considering Racine's obsession with kinship, incest, and rivalry (once again, like the soap opera plots). It is hard to see what Barthes would have seemed so controversial: he isn't even applying a structuralist method to Racine, as much as he is pointing out parallelisms and recurring structures. I'm almost finished reading Sur Racine, with only the analyses of the individual plays remaining. Here he intelligently discusses each play and looks for its distinctiveness within the rule-bound structures. Like any intelligent critic ought to do. He never seems to be forcing a plot into a particular interpretative straight-jacket.

What was all the fuss about? Was there really that much difference between Barthes and his detractors?

memorization: a dream

I was surprised in my dream that someone was reciting poems from memory and I was able to match him word for word. So he would be saying "Buffalo Bill's defunct who used to shoot a watersmooth silver pistol and kill onetwothreefour pigeons just like that Jesus he was a handsome man..." and I would be saying it along with him as fast as he could go. We went through several poems. It is unclear whether I or he was initiating the poems, but I was sure I wasn't going to do an easy one like 'so much depends upon the red wheel / barrow..."  I was sitting down talking to someone in the English department and this other poetry reciter was standing near us. Suddenly they left and I woke up.

Competition against the self? After all, the reason I knew all the poems he did was that it was my dream...


I've discovered I can combine two songs with similar concepts into one longer suite. Then I don't have to worry that two songs are too similar to each other: they are sections of the same composition. They can have contrasting rhythms but be linked by being in the same key and by using some of the same harmonic devices.

Then a problem--all my songs written within month or two sound the same--turns into its own solution. I can also add on to songs written in the past.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Neurodiversity case for free speech



How not to Wittgenstein.

In the first place, this is not LW's opinion about whether speech can be violence, as the title of the piece implies. I would be very surprised if he had had an opinion about that!  This is a purported application of Wittgenstein's notion of language games to the problem of whether speech can be redefined as violence.

Secondly, it doesn't really go to what is distinctive about LW's ideas of language games and family resemblance. The article simply says that we can redefine speech acts as acts of violence if we want to because words don't have fixed boundaries of reference. A rather trivial conclusion.

Acts of speech which are violent in nature are already not covered under the first amendment. For example, a threat of violence is often illegal. So the only reason for making this argument is to redefine non-violent speech acts to make them exempt from the first amendment.

Suppose we wanted to redefine any other term. We could use that method to expand any term in any direction we wanted.

--exercise improves physical health
--sleep improves health
--therefore sleep is a form of exercise

Financial tip

Don't go to the ATT site to pay your ATT bill, your apartment complex site to pay your rent, your auto loan company to pay your auto loan, etc... Instead, pay everything through your own on-line banking.  Then you can cancel, resume, accelerate, a payment without having to go through a special process at five different sites.

Making it look easy

My recent discovery of an easier, more relaxed piano technique made me think of my distaste for overly labored styles of prose and verse. I want to read someone who makes it look easy, not the one who wants you to admire the effort of the writing. Even when I am playing on an instrument that is not particularly sensitive to touch, I can still hear more fluidity and continuity, an easier rhythmic flow, than I do when I keep my wrists very stiff.

You can revise, but you should revise in the direction of spontaneity rather than in the direction of revision. Take out bits that sound overworked, even if you are proud of them.

I think polish is an inappropriate metaphor, because sometimes you will want to ruffle up the style, roughen it.

You can study Ashbery or Kerouac for two contrary methods of stylistic spontaneity.  You can also have models of worked-over prose and verse. It is really a preference rather than an absolute: maybe a tighter style is what is needed for you. Where do you situate yourself along that continuum?

My revision of poetry is mostly just cutting out whole poems or sections of poems, or very mildly tweaking fine details.


Routine is good and change is also good, and even the temporary breaking of routine can be good.

Routine is good because it is comforting, and can also be efficient if it is a good routine. But stagnation is bad, so the routine should be changed or temporarily altered in ways that do not disturb the comfort level or efficiency. Even a bad routine can have a certain comfortableness to it.

You might want to change your routine every month or so, just because. Not entirely, just mix it up a bit.

Breakfast salad 4

This one has strawberries, boiled egg, bacon, and cheese. It'd kind of ugly next to Clarissa's cucumbers and tomatoes.


People on Facebook complain / ask for advice when an undergraduate does not want to buy into a convenient formula from contemporary parlance like "white privilege." I want to suggest that a pedagogy based on slogans like this is not a good one, even if the topic under discussion is racism.

Paradigms shift. At one time the paradigm was "prejudice + discrimination." Then it shifted toward "diversity." Now there is talk of "privilege." Critical thinking would not just accept the latest version as the best one, simply because it dominates on social media right now.

If you are a good thinker you should actually be able to argue the opposite of what you believe. If you develop really good counter arguments to your own position then you can then refute them all the better.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

For a certain woman

If you think the mirror reverses writing
then write a message in the mirror for me
in lipstick

But you do not wear lipstick
so this poem is not
for you

Here are some changes you can make

Here are some changes you can make:

dietary: become a vegetarian or vegan; give up gluten

you can decide to give up a relationship or even a casual acquaintanceship that isn't helping you

you can begin a practice of something and do it every day for a month, like playing an instrument or drawing

you can stop doing something you feel you need to do, but that you don't really need to do (if you go to 4 conferences a year because you feel that need, but maybe 2 is enough?).

you can retire or quit or decide to look for other job


I don't recommend giving up things that you really love as a faux-askesis. It is better to bring more rather than less pleasure into life. The breakfast salad movement is all about aesthetic pleasure, not giving up on pleasures. The breakfast salad can have potatoes or bacon, or anything else you want. It should be attractive and offer a wealth of contrasting and complementary flavors: acid, sweetness, the fattiness of an avocado. Want you want to avoid is "pleasure" that really actually dulls the senses rather than heightening them.  

Breakfast salad 3

This one is more breakfasty with avocado, grated cheese, and boiled egg atop greens.  I decided to leave the egg whole.  If you think of the same ingredients it could be an egg fried in olive oil with cheese melted on top or a California omelet with avocado and cheese.

I'm thinking of smoked salmon for tomorrow, with cucumbers.


This is a bit embarrassing, but my new piano teacher pointed out to me that I was holding my wrist very stiffly, and pushing down quickly on the keys. This brittle attack produced a brittle sound and I immediately knew why my playing was so clunky.  The real way to play is to drop the hand on the keyboard and have the wrist give way; this draws a rich sound out of the piano. The good news is that I can learn proper technique and that even thinking of having the wrist more relaxed will automatically make my playing more smooth.  Of course feeling like an idiot is a familiar sensation for me.  

Never feeling like an idiot would mean never trying new things or exploring other dimensions. Aren't we child-like and idiotic when trying to learn a completely new language? Advanced students of Spanish have to learn to express themselves in writing as adults, rather than at the intellectual level of middle-school students.

Friday, September 8, 2017


I was looking at Operation Razor's Edge and I saw a goal I could achieve instantly, which is to buy a piano. (What I had is broken.) I just bought a keyboard off the internet and it will arrive tomorrow.  This conflicts with another goal, which is to pay off credit card completely, setting me back a few months from that.

But with this piano, a Yamaha electric keyboard of about $400, I can go to an open mic and play, which will achieve a second goal. I also had to buy a stand for it which wasn't expensive. I can also play at night when I am lazy to go to Murphy hall and find a room. I could have waited until I had money to buy a $1,500 instrument with cash and not credit, but I felt a strong impulse of something I could do right now.  


We think of habits as things hard to change, lose, or acquire.  Yes, this is true. But you can also make a change instantly.  Look at your own equivalent of ORE and find something you can do today.  Many things have happened to me like this. Incremental change is fine, but you also need to do things that will fundamentally re-orient yourself (assuming that you are not well oriented!). You cannot make fundamental changes every day, because there are only so many changes you need to make, and you cannot rush certain things either. I am not recommending impulsiveness as a general rule, but sometimes an impulse must be followed. End a toxic relationship?


How do you know if you are oriented? First, does what you do every day line up with your core values and identity? So if you want to be a professional musician but you are not practicing and playing, then there is a mismatch. If you are doing things to sabotage yourself, prevent yourself from doing what you really want to do.

Secondly, do you feel at ease with yourself, comfortable in your own skin? I have rarely if ever felt this in my entire life, but I feel it when composing music and bad poems, sometimes when lecturing my friends on poststructuralism. I begin to feel it when I feel completely accepted by someone I love, and get some inkling of what self-acceptance would feel like.