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The lute lies rusted in its green case odor of pines is synthetic; sweeteners artificial; even salt!  our tongues crave something dif...

Wednesday, April 30, 2014


A course I took over mid-semester from a colleague has been a little dead lately. I only had six students today, so I just took them all downstairs, bought them coffee, and we sat around a table in the cafeteria. The caffeine helped me a lot, for sure, and the students seemed to come to life. It was well worth it. Suddenly I didn't have to struggle to get them to participate.
And we make the news again.

Social Media (iv)

There is current case relevant to 1st amendment case law.

Formative (18): Mon père

My father, Leon, was a sociologist who later became a university administrator. I was born while he was doing his PhD at Harvard with Talcott Parsons, the main American sociologist of that period, with a dissertation on civil rights. One thing he told me later was a surprising finding: that companies that actually tried to discriminate less would often receive more complaints of discrimination. The explanation her gave was that employers who simply did not make an effort insulated themselves and were not approached by African-American workers in the first place. Complaints tended to arise, instead, in the contact between two culture. [I could be remembering this imprecisely, but this point has always stayed with me.]

It seemed logical that he would go to his school, as I went to mine. We lived in Ann Arbor in those days, the early and mid 60s. He was against the Vietnam war right from the beginning. I believe he was still working on the dissertation for several years while he had his job in Michigan. They just called him in one day and told him he had tenure: no paper work, no bureaucracy, and then he moved to Davis as full professor and chair of the department. For several years UMich was trying to get him back. He edited The American Sociologist in the early 70s. Then in 76 he became Vice-Chancellor and spent most of the rest of his career in administration until he got seriously ill. He had always been sickly, and a bout with rheumatoid fever triggered rheumatoid arthritis. He would spend a lot of time on his back when he wasn't working. When he was about the age I am know, (and I was finishing my PhD and getting my first job) he got pneumonia and never fully recovered. He died in 2001 a day short of his 65th birthday. He is still a frequent visitor in my dreams, though less intensely than in the past.

I never thought of going into social sciences. I hated how those people wrote: Parsons is probably the worst prose stylist of any intellectual of comparable fame. It was an advantage having an academic family, because I knew the expectations and could get professional guidance at home. My decision to go into academia was never really in question. That's what I would do. My younger brother also got a PhD (UCB, where my dad had done his undergraduate degree) in Finance. My father had extensive literary and musical interests. He was a bit of what you would call now a "mansplainer." He would go to a museum and lecture the guide about the exhibit he was seeing. It would drive my ex-wife crazy.

He subscribed to the New York Review of Books. I read it too, of course. I found the letters and responses to be formative of a style of intellectual debate.

He was used to being the smartest person around. He wasn't particularly imaginative in his thought, though. His last book was about the constitution of the public sphere and was indebted to Habermas, a figure with whom I feel very little affinity. We had two very different kinds of intelligence, but had great conversations over Chinese food. He helped me get out of high school into college where I thrived. I did get one B in college, but that is another story.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Formative (17): Americanness & Britishness

I have lived in the States of

Mass / Mich / California / NY / Indiana / Ohio / Missouri / Kansas. In that order. The most time in California and Kansas, with Ohio and Missouri also figuring prominently in my bio.

The Mayhews go way back in American history to colonial days. I am also related to the prominent Hinckley family. Gordon, president of LDS church, was 1st cousin to my grandmother. I have extended family in Utah. I am mostly of British descent (English and British Isles), with one great-grandmother from Switzerland.

So of course I am professor of Spanish. Otherwise I would be almost redundant. An English English professor. The American Bildung is to look beyond oneself.

Formative 16: Visual Arts

All arts are "visual." Even music.

I've always considered that a weakness of mine, my inability to draw well and my ignorance of visual arts. Really, though, I am not too bad. I would look at my parents' art books, like one they had of El Greco, and I admired ancient Greek sculpture in my mythological phase in mid-childhood. I know if there's an old painting with a guy with keys, it's Saint Peter. My favorite painter is Rothko. I went through an intense Joseph Cornell phase.

I always thought poetry had close connections with music and visual arts (all arts are visual). I've always thought that visual and concrete poetry was not visual enough. I remember Charles Bernstein saying, about a painter famous for incorporating text into her work, that maybe she should hire a poet to help her. I respond to visual art strongly, especially its poetic and rhythmic dimensions.

I keep finding more to say in this "formative" series. I see that Clarissa and Leslie have joined me in this thread. I still have to talk about: my parents, nature, sexuality. And possibly other topics.

Formative 15: Music

Not a musician, but music is important to me and a significant part of my Bildung.

My father liked classical music and pontificated about it, my mom taught piano, and my sister and daughter are trained classical musicians.

I trained myself in jazz listening. My dad had a few recordings and I would listen to faint traces of KPFA in Berkeley, and one of those hokey "music of your life" stations to get enough big band music. Just because once in a while they would play a real song. It was hard until the mid-70s when my local college station provided me with a steady dose of Coltrane. I thought I knew a lot about jazz but it took me a while to really know anything, as with anything else.

I wasn't into the pop music of my own youth.

Late came salsa and other afro-cuban styles. I reclaimed some of the legacy of my youth and returned to classical music too. Haydn string quartets; a lot of Bach. Morton Feldman. Flamenco. My musical interests are more varied than almost anyone I know, though once again I tend to go narrow and deep rather than wide and shallow.

I've played clarinet, piano, and percussion. I sang in choirs. Now I cannot sing well.

Plato told him / he couldn't believe him / Jesus told him...

Anyway, my dad used to point out that in Plato's republic, a utopia, there would still be slavery and war. Plato assumes this, simply. He doesn't think that these things will be, or even should be, eliminated in an ideal state.

The Bible is not an anti-war or anti-slavery text in the least. Paul says slaves should obey their masters. (What color of special bible-marking pen do you mark that in?) I don't know that Lao Tse and the Buddha were against slavery and war, either, or Confucius, or Mohammed. General (yes ma'am) Sherman was not against war, though he was certainly against slavery. Washington and Jefferson, founding fathers, owned slaves and helped to start a war.

It's not even clear that Jesus was against war and slavery. "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword."

I'd settle for someone against at least one of those two things. Opposing slavery seems very basic, but it is historically very recent. Pacifism remains rare. Almost everyone has a war they like, more or less. Many anti-war people still probably have a poster of Che on their wall.

Che Guevara told him. You told him. I told him. We all told him. He wouldn't believe it.

I think Cumming's point in this poem was that some scrap metal from a defunct elevated train line from NYC, sold to the Japanese, then became weaponized and killed an American soldier in WWII. That is the kind of cosmic irony to appreciate, brought home more directly than in religious teachings. I am not criticizing religious or philosophical traditions in particular here. What is frightening is not that religious traditions get it so obviously wrong, but that they make no difference at all. Secular or non-religious traditions will get it wrong too, most of the time. We can all tell him, he can tell us, and it will make no fucking difference at all.

Social media (iii): Pickering v Garcetti

[Once again, I'm speaking only for myself. I'm at home blogging and not using any KU resources for this post. Also, I am not a legal scholar, so my opinions are based only a few minutes reading the SCOTUS decisions and on a brief but excellent presentation by a constitutional law prof. I attended on Sunday.]

A lot of the language of SMP is taken directly from the Pickering case. A school-teacher wrote a letter to the editor criticizing the school board. He sued when the board took reprisals against him. Phrases like "best interests" and "harmony" and "close working relationship" come directly from the Supreme Court Decision. The Court ruled in favor of Pickering (the teacher), arguing that he didn't work directly with the School board and that he was exercising his normal rights as a citizen to express an opinion on matters of public concern. Although the court ruled in favor of 1st amendment rights, in favor of Pickering, it did so in a way that acknowledged government's interests in regulating the speech of its employees in the name of efficiency, harmony, and best interests.

The other relevant case is Garcetti v. Ceballos, a much more recent one. (Pickering is from the late 60s). Here the court ruled against Ceballos, a prosecutor who had questioned a search warrant, to the great displeasure of his supervisor. What is significant here is the right of the govt. to control the speech of its employee while such employee is performing official duties. Here the Supreme Court ruled wrongly (in my opinion) but still aided 1st amendment rights in drawing a line between official duties and private speech. For example, Ceballos would have been protected (presumably) if he were writing a letter to the editor on his private time expressing a political opinion that his boss, Garcetti, didn't happen to like.

[Dissents to Garcetti pointed out that Ceballos was fulfilling a whistle-blowing function and that he was bound by ethical obligations as an officer of the court and an attorney. I agree with those dissents.]

Now academic freedom works very differently than speech acts in the context of the prosecution of crimes. It is not absolute freedom: I don't have the freedom (inherently) to teach my Spanish classes in French, or to grade my students on their knowledge of algebra. On the other hand, in the normal course of things I don't take direct orders about how I am to interpret Lorca from the provost or my chair. The court ruled specifically, in Garcetti, that their findings were not necessarily relevant to issues of academic freedom. Yet the KBOR also uses a lot of language taken directly from the Garcetti decision. The Regents includes attorneys who are smart and know what cases to cite, what the relevant case law is.


The problem is that when I teach my classes, or write my articles, or blog, I am representing the university (in some sense) but not representing it (in another sense). The University doesn't care about the specific content of my writing or teaching. The University pays me to express my opinions, in the form of teaching and research. It doesn't really pay me to express its opinions. This is fundamentally different from the job of a prosecutor. I can see how the DA could tell her subordinates not to tell certain things to the press.


Ironically, I think Pickering is more pernicious than Garcetti, even though Pickering was decided more correctly.

Social Media (ii)

[See disclaimer on my previous post: my views are mine alone.]

It is said that the Regents' Social Media Policy (SMP) will not be applied very much, if at all. I should hope not. The faculty and staff does not live in constant fear that the chancellor will dismiss us from our jobs.

SMP does not have to be actually used, though, for it to have an effect on free speech. Instead, an overly broad policy, with sweeping language about "the best interests of the university," has a chilling effect, converting us all into self-censors. A lot of things are presumably in the best interest of the university:

*Having a Republican-controlled legislature look favorably upon the university and funding it generously.
*Having good publicity in the news media; high rankings in US News and World Report for our programs.
*Having our leaders and administrators have good public reputations.

It would be easy to see how numerous legitimate expressions of opinion might not be in the best interests of the institution. The Regents are saying that the 1st amendment still applies, but a lot of us are not too sure.

The same could be said of other sweeping provisions in the proposed SMP.

Social Media

I am writing here only as an individual faculty member and private citizen here, not in my capacity as President-Elect of the University Senate, nor as a member of the Faculty Senate or University Senate Executive committees. All opinions expressed here are personal opinions and do not represent the views of any of these organizations, nor of the University of Kansas itself. Many faculty members do, in fact, share my opinions, but I am not speaking for any of them in this particular instance.

The KBOR (Kansas Board of Regents) has proposed revisions of its social media policy. I am troubled by some phrases that persist from older versions of the policy.
“Improper use of social media” means making a communication through social media that:

when made pursuant to (i.e. in furtherance of) the employee’s official duties, is contrary to the best interests of the university;


subject to the balancing analysis required by the following paragraph, impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers, has a detrimental impact on close working relationships for which personal loyalty and confidence are necessary, impedes the performance of the speaker’s official duties, interferes with the regular operation of the university, or otherwise adversely affects the university’s ability to efficiently provide services.
What I find troubling, specifically, is the broadness of phrases like: the best interests of the university; discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers; the regular operation of the university; close working relationships for which personal loyalty and confidence are necessary; the university’s ability to efficiently provide services.

If a tweet or blog post did not meet with the agreement of my colleagues, that could damage "harmony among co-workers," for example. Does this language imply that I owe a chair or a dean or a chancellor or provost "personal loyalty"? Some of this verbiage is directly out of case law that applies to Police Depts. and other kinds of govt. bodies that are different from Research Institutions, one would hope.

Formative (14): Perloff & O'Hara

One day an issue of APR came with Frank O'Hara's picture on it. O'Hara was one of my favorite poets. Inside was an article by Marjorie P. on FO'H. Later, when I was about to graduate from college, I went to the new book section of the library and found a book called Poetics of Indeterminacy. This was the book I wanted to have written. I wanted to write a book like that about Spanish and / or Latin American poetry. I didn't meet her until several years later but she was a formative influence.

In the first place, there is the canon. MP has legitimated the study of whole swaths of material, from O'Hara to Goldsmith. This has met with a lot of resistance. How dare she treat language poetry or John Cage as legitimate objects of academic study? Often, the argument is that she has been too successful in this enterprise. In other words, people complain that all the things she has studied are now too academic, forgetting that they weren't always such.

Secondly, a method or approach, consisting merely of writing clearly and forcefully, with attention to what the words on the page actually are. That gets you very far.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Formative (13): Percussion & Translation Theory

I took up percussion when I was about 35. I'm not particularly good, but that is hardly the point. My project for my free semester is to get good on a single kind of drum, or really two: to be a decent conguero and bongocero. I could play timbales too if I wanted to learn.

I can play a four against five polyrhythm without thinking about it too much. I know cáscara and clave, martillo and tumbao. I can play a jazz ride pattern and comp with my feet and left hand.

This part of my formation is really more of an obsessive-compulsive reaction. I need to understand rhythms, since that is the way my mind works. It is "the prosodic imagination," as it were. I do not play in bands.


I started translating almost the second I started learning Spanish. Really before that, because I remember trying to translate Blake's poem about the Fly into French. The first poem I translated from Spanish was by Lorca or Jiménez. "La rosa / no buscaba la rosa." And "Mariposa de Luz." I've always thought translation was central to everything I wanted to do, though I've never published a book of translations. Somehow I always put that off and do another book of scholarship instead.

Translating Mallarmé, or, Someone is Wrong on the Internet.

See the prosody bully at work here.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Formative (12): Le surréalisme

Je suppose que je pensais, comme tout le monde, que la poésie espagnole plus importante du XXième siècle était "surréaliste": Neruda, Lorca, Aleixandre. Ce ne pas vrai, mais j'ai commencé de cette façon. Le surréalisme m'a influencé beaucoup.

J'amais, aussi le poésie surréaliste française. J'ai conservé un livre d'André Breton: "Young Cherry Trees Preserved Against Hares." Le vers: "Jersey Guernsey dans le temps sombre et illustre."

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Formative (11): Le français

J'ai étudié le français pendant plusieurs années. Ce que j'ai fait, essentiellement, est étudier la poésie espagnole comme si c'était poésie française: avec un esprit plus moderne. J'ai appris le français avant l'espagnol, mais d'une façon imparfaite. Je peux lire les romans de Balzac sans grandes problèmes. Est-ce que je peux écrire en français sans erreurs? Certainement non, mais mon "browser" m'indique quand j'ai fait une erreur d'orthographie. Comme s'il savait que j'écris en français!

Un écrivain avec une influence bien forte sur moi est Raymond Roussel, sur tout ses premières ouvrages en vers. John Ashbery a écrit sur lui, et Michel Foucault aussi.

Formative (10): From the Narrow to the Broad

So I have been accused (by myself among others) of having narrow interests. But I have gone from relatively narrow and circumscribed interests to broader ones. So aphorism, prosody, jazz, poetry, Borges, Lorca, New York School poetry, translation theory, crossword puzzles, Latin percussion. That's "all" I'm interested in. But each one of those things opens up entire worlds. It's like Wallace Stevens image of a planet on a table. (The planet is book; it fits on the table.)

The academy tells you you should be interested in: novels, films, popular culture and most especially the sociological and historical themes in novels, films, and pop culture.

I end up somehow very knowledgable about the civil war. Lorca dies at the beginning of it. Unamuno too. Machado at the end trying to escape. Miguel Hernández dies in jail a few years earlier. Gamoneda's most striking poems evoke the early years of the war. The war determines the fate of exile writers. My entire field is defined by the war and its aftermath, then.

Formative (9): Prosody

So I learned how the iambic pentameter worked by reading Milton and Wordsworth. I was shocked in grad school that people didn't know this. I also knew French and Latin and Greek prosody, and I did my graduate exams on this subject. I was shocked when a science fiction novelist on a blog (the valve) a few years back thought he could translate Mallarmé, but he didn't know what the definition of a feminine rhyme was in French. People thought I was outrageous for pointing out that that showed a level of ignorance that disqualified you from even thinking intelligently about Mallarmé. I was the bad guy here, simply because I thought that it is important to know a simple rule of French versification, one followed by Racine or Baudelaire in all their verse. I'm sure people write about Afro-Cuban poetry without knowing the difference between the son and the rumba clave.

I enjoy the technical aspect of prosody. It's one of the few things you can know about in a fairly concrete way in literature. I enjoy the fact that others find it dull or incomprehensible: more for me to do.

I had to train myself to hear an 11-syllable line as 11 syllables (in Spanish), and scan it more or less instantaneously.

I am prone to ear-worm, but with me it occurs with words and phrases, not just melodies.


My attitudes did not win me many friends.

Formative (8): Aphorisms & Blake

I created my own avant-garde movement in high school. It was called "schmoe." I wrote the "the proverbs of schmoe" around this time, inspired by Blake's "Proverbs of Hell." Blake was a big influence on me. Of course, I was the only member of this movement, which I named by picking a random word from a slang dictionary. (Being a West Coast guy, the Yiddish word was not in my vocabulary.) The proverbs of schmoe is my great, lost work. It is great because it is lost: if I had it, I would have to deal with its obvious imperfections. Schmoe, after all, means idiot.

My imagination was always aphoristic, tending toward apodictic concision. Many years later I would teach courses on the aphorism. I get impatient with people who write and write and never get around to the important things. With the aphorism, you formulate the important idea first, and then if you want you can explain it, or not.

Blake was attractive to me because of his heterodox religious sensibility and his invention of free verse before Whitman. His proverbs come from his greatest work, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Since Blake admired Milton, I also read PL.

Formative (7): DQ

I read Don Quijote (DQ) late in undergraduate or early in graduate school. I know I've read it three times all the way through, but not recently. Somehow I don't feel the need to go back to it any more. It really is not very difficult to read, and it formative of the canon of Spanish literature, Spanish intellectual and cultural history, of the novel itself as a genre, etc... It is rich and complex, and lies behind Borges and Lorca, Unamuno and Goytisolo, Graham Greene and Smollett. I wrote a paper in grad school proving that the standard, lazy-ass interpretations of Borges's "Pierre Menard" got it all exactly backwards, since the unreliable, Anti-semitic narrator of Borges's story view DQ itself as a dull text, whereas Borges's actual view is the exact opposite: there is no need to introduce Menard as a modern reader in order to infuse interest in Cervantes's already postmodern text. (See "Magias parciales del Quijote:
En el sexto capítulo de la primera parte, el cura y el barbero revisan la biblioteca de don Quijote; asombrosamente uno de los libros examinados es la Galatea de Cervantes, y resulta que el barbero es amigo suyo y no lo admira demasiado, y dice que es más versado en desdichas que en versos y que el libro tiene algo de buena invención, propone algo y no concluye nada. El barbero, sueño de Cervantes o forma de un sueño de Cervantes, juzga a Cervantes... También es sorprendente saber, en el principio del noveno capítulo, que la novela entera ha sido traducida del árabe y que Cervantes adquirió el manuscrito en el mercado de Toledo, y lo hizo traducir por un morisco, a quien alojó más de mes y medio en su casa, mientras concluía la tarea. Pensamos en Carlyle, que fingió que el Sartor Resartus era versión parcial de una obra publicada en Alemania por el doctor Diógenes Teufelsdroeckh; pensamos en el rabino castellano Moisés de León, que compuso el Zohar o Libro del Esplendor y lo divulgó como obra de un rabino palestiniano del siglo III.

Ese juego de extrañas ambigüedades culmina en la segunda parte; los protagonistas han leído la primera, los protagonistas del Quijote son, asimismo, lectores del Quijote. Aquí es inevitable recordar el caso de Shakespeare, que incluye en el escenario de Hamlet otro escenario, donde se representa una tragedia, que es más o menos la de Hamlet; la correspondencia imperfecta de la obra principal y la secundaria aminora la eficacia de esa inclusión.
One book can be formative. Books I re-read regularly include LOTR, The Cave, by RPW, and Catch-22 and Forgetting Elena. Usually, though, I realize that I don't need to re-read a book a fourth time.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Formative (6): dissertation

When it was time to write my dissertation I turned back to my undergraduate professor, Claudio Rodríguez. CR was a poetic genius and the tendency of the Spanish critics was to condescend to him, especially his earlier work, so I attempted to prove that he knew what he was doing, that his poetry had a poetics behind it, a theory of language.

His work was not extensive, so I essentially interpreted the hell of it. The dissertation forms the scholar. I had had good ideas before, but this made me an expert on something. I published articles and a book from the dissertation with very little effort. It was not just a good enough dissertation: it was exactly what I wanted to write and I still think that it kicks ass.

The main formative phase of my life, then, occurred between the ages of 8-28. The part I liked most was college. Before then it felt like I was just waiting to go to college. Graduate school was formative but not enjoyable.

The formative person in my academic life was my father. In another post I'll have to talk about his role in making me into an academic.

Formative (5)

So far we have

*religious education (rejected)
*academic family, with easy access to books and libraries, encouragement
*intense periods of self-directed study
*languages & study abroad

My dad wanted me to go into classics, I'm not sure why, but I always wanted to study modern literature. I am also interested in other periods, so I could have done medieval or baroque (though not 18th or 19th century).

My writing of poetry was also formative, but at a certain point I came to an impasse. A lot of poets did not seem smart enough, frankly. Of course there are poetic geniuses, like Claudio R. or Lorca, but a poet seemed to have to rely too much on pure ego. If you are poet, but you aren't actually a good one, then you are really more of an arch-enemy of poetry, so that seems a contradictory kind of existence. I wanted to write the poetry I wrote, but without making my professional identity dependent on that in the least, or even less have my ego depend on how talented I was (or not). My strictly amateur approach does not mean I write bad poetry, or don't take it seriously, but that I have enough respect for it not to make any claims for myself.


Next: the dissertation.

Formative (4)

So the one missing piece in my early education was language. Because of my interest in prosody and poetry generally I became a very good language learner. That, and my exceptionally robust memory. My junior year abroad in Spain was a formative experience. I learned the language by reading hundreds of pages of literature while I was in the country and speaking only Spanish as much as I could. While my Spanish wasn't perfect on my return, it was good enough to be a Hispanist.


In Spain I studied with Claudio Rodríguez. That was a formative experience, because I had never been in the presence of pure poetic genius before. I quickly left Bousoño's class. Whatever the opposite of poetic genius is, that is Bousoño.


Naively, I thought I needed to be better prepared for graduate school, so I read most of the boom novels the summer before. Oddly, I found when I arrived that I had read more than a lot of other people. It was odd that we were to read Roa Bastos, whom I found to be a mediocre writer. Maybe I was wrong but I haven't returned to him.


Another formative experience was the discovery of the periodical room at the UC Davis library. I used to go there before I was even in college, and it was fascinating to discover that there was a journal just for works of William Blake. That seemed a marvelous thing, simply that that existed. I have spent many hours in periodical rooms and bookstores. Library stacks are wonderful too.


I read the introduction to O'Hara's collected poems, by JA. He had a list of writers that O'Hara read, so I read those writers, especially Henry Green and Flann O'Brien. I had invented a technique that might be called backwards reading. You start with Borges, say, and then you read everything that Borges thought important. I tried Ronald Firbank too, but I didn't get it at all.


At Cornell, where I lived for a time, I systematically trained myself in my field, by reading all the individual books of poetry I could find by the novísimos.


I am sorry that my formative experience did not consist of sitting in the classroom and learning from some charismatic professor. I did learn from the British poet Thom Gunn, and from a guy named Richard Coe, a French professor who was also a specialist in autobiography. I took a class from a noted Beckett scholar, Ruby Cohn, and found her a mediocre mind. I liked Elliot Gilbert, a Victorianist married to Gilbert, of Gilbert and Gubar fame. Elliot later died tragically due to hospital incompetence. I did study a bit with Sandra too. Still, I am mostly an autodidact.


I would go to all the poetry readings. I saw Richard Eberhardt and Stephen Spender, and many others. In Spain I saw Rafael Alberti and Luis Rosales.


While preparing to write my dissertation, I came across a new book by Debicki, Poetry of Discovery. I was really shocked that a third-rate mind like this could be the big name in my field. That meant, in my arrogant opinion at the time, that I could be an even bigger name. Later I became friends and colleagues with him, and even taught the rest of his course once when he had cancer.


The Nobel prizes for Neruda and Aleixandre in the 1970s really motivated me to go into this field. Naively, I expected that this would be a normal kind of thing to have happened, but I have never met a colleague who entered the field for that reason. The journals were filled with translations of Neruda, so I thought that it would be cool to read him (and others) in the original. There are many Spanish professors for whom poetry is a complete mystery. They do not read it (aside from what they read for exams in grad school) or teach it. There are others who specialize in it, but have a very rudimentary understanding of it.


We talk about experiences that are formative. Formación in Spanish means professional training & education. Bildung is a similar concept: culture, development. We might also look at Greenblatt's concept of "self-fashioning," or my own idea of the "scholarly base." If we look at the idea of "cultural capital" that is another approach to this question, from a sociological perspective. I don't like the idea of capital as much, because it makes it sound like it is a mere birthright, something you acquire effortlessly just because of your social class. Of course I did inherit a good deal of this "capital," in the sense that the materials for study were always right there.


I play congas and bongoes. An analogy might be a Cuban whose whole family plays percussion. The kid might be playing at age 5 or so, and never have to wonder what the clave is. The drums will just be around in his house. The kid might grow up to the Changuito, or might never become a player of that caliber.

Thursday, April 24, 2014


Twain ad you should not use the word "very."

But he used it 79 times in Tom Sawyer.

So to be like Twain, you should use it.

But say you don't / you shouldn't.


A guy at the faculty senate meeting, a business professor, speaking to real college professors about how to teach better, put up power point slides and explained them in a sleep-inducing way. He advocated "flipping" and "hybrids," but he himself just lectured us and showed us the damned slides. Eventually, the room erupted. He lost us and the group just started raising objections for the next 15 minutes. Paradoxically, we were already doing what he was telling us to do, and in fact, were better at it than him. He was way out of his league. My students earlier in the day had better pp slides.

Formative (3)

So the decision to be a poet took root in me and determined the rest of my life. I continued to read fiction assiduously, but studied poetry quite intensely. I wrote, of course, but I had this naive notion that you also had to know about the art form itself. I was already a little professor. I studied X.J. Kennedy's textbook. My dad had some anthologies like Oxford Book of American Poetry and English Poetry. I wore out a copy of the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry.

I went through an intense Cummings phase, like probably every other kid who likes poetry. I bought the paperbacks, individual books that were not expensive. Then I saved up to buy his collected poems, which I think cost all of 12 dollars in the early 70s. I moved on to WCW, Berryman, and then to all the New York School poets.

By Junior High I no longer read children's books very much. (The "Young Adult" category did not yet exist, thankfully, or existed but held little interest.) Our class would in elementary school would order books from scholastic. I would be given the box to carry my books home in, since I would have 15 or 20 compared to one or two for the rest of the class. Soon, though, I put aside childish things. I devoured Bradbury & Vonnegut.

So you could say I was "formed" by about 14. The entire stage from ages 8-16 was when I taught myself what I would need to be a professor. The missing element was language study. I actually learned the rules of French prosody in High School from a very traditional teacher, but my French was unsteady. I began Spanish in college, starting with a summer course slightly before my 17th birthday. I had a selected Neruda at home, that I had read before I knew a word of Spanish.

Many people are talking now of GGM being a formative influence in getting into this field. In college those of us who were interested in Spanish wanted to read all of García Márquez, Cortázar, etc... This was close enough in time to the boom that the boom was still actually occurring. It was not until I went to Spain that my interest shifted to peninsular. I would have been a Latin Americanist, but I went to Stanford and the Latin Americanists there were dogmatic Marxists with a deep contempt for literature. I was forced back into peninsular, because it was what I already knew. I had read most of Galdós, except for the 36 historical novels.

I could have been a classicist. I excelled at Latin in college, then took an intensive Greek workshop. I promptly forgot ancient Greek because I was going to be a modernist, so my timing was off. I didn't care for grammar-translation, the method for teaching classics that still persists today. I could have been an English professor too, but it seemed to me that I already knew that tradition. German was not attractive to me, though I was a great reader of Kafka. Italian seemed to small and narrow. I knew modern French poetry fairly well, but I didn't like the ethos of French students: they seemed more ethereal to me.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Formative (2)

The notion of not sinning anymore proved to be rather difficult. The problem was not bad actions, but bad thoughts. God could see inside your head. This idea produced, in me, an almost unbearable self-consiousness bordering on obsessive-compulsive disorder. After all, if you could sin by thought, and thoughts appeared in my mind without my conscious intention, there was no way around it. It seemed unfair and obtrusive.

I read most of the Old Testament. I enjoyed the Hebrews kicking ass on the inhabitants of the land they wanted. It was exciting but not very conducive to religious belief. It didn't make too much sense, because these were God's chosen people, but they kept messing up every time. Once God saved them again and they were righteous for a time, they would just screw things up for themselves again.

When we moved to Davis my obsession shifted from history to mythology. I liked to read about classical myths, and knew all 12 of the Olympian gods. That was my intellectual life for a few years, from 9-11 or so. I read Of Human Bondage, my first adult book. I became a reader of fictions. By about now I had given up religion. I tried to believe in it very hard, but I couldn't. I guess the idea of belief being a voluntary act is difficult for me to understand. For example, I couldn't believe that Michigan St. where I live now in Lawrence KS, is East of Mississippi St, since it is actually West of it. No matter how hard I try, I cannot force myself to believe that the streets are differently arranged than they are. Now I might not know where streets are arranged in some other town. I can believe that your are telling me the truth about streets in your town, but I can't believe something that I don't really believe, just by willing a belief in it.

Anyway, religion made me smarter because I had to reason all this out myself. I was incapable of belief in that sense, so I had to make do with the cognitive dissonance. Now I realize most kids just tune it out or believe in a kind of minimalist way without worrying too much about it. My mistake was taking it seriously.

I did ok in elementary school, without being excited about it. Our 5th grade teacher read The Hobbit to us out loud. I read it myself, then the complete LOTR. It was of a piece with my mythological imagination. Tolkien, after all, created his own mythology.

One day in sixth grade we were to write poems. I decided I would be a poet. All the energy that had gone first to history and then to mythology went to poetry. At one of my Grandmother's house there was a book of Poe's. I thought it strange that Poe was poet without the t, and that he had two poems for Helen and Lenore, who happened also to be the names of my aunts who were also writers. I had Babette Deutsche's Poet's Handbook, learning about forms like villanelles and sestinas.


When I was 8, we moved to Piedmont, a wealthy Oakland suburb, occupying my Aunt's house while they were in Guam for a year. The school had a library, which I don't remember my Ann Arbor school having. I checked out some books on history there, short books for children I'm assuming, but they purported to tell the history of the entire world. I was hooked on history for several years, and on reading. I had learned to read, of course, and read children's books like those by Milne, but this was qualitatively different. I had an actual intellectual interest for the first time. I had been a slow student in Ann Arbor, doing laborious worksheets at a snail's pace. Now it was as if a switch had been flipped in my mind. They played basketball in California, a game I had never played before, and I was conscious of being unathletic for the first time. In Michigan we had skated, played around in the snow, etc... but I had not even played catch with my dad. He realized very late and started teaching me sports, but it never really took with me. So being unathletic and also a bit bookish seemed to go well together.

I still didn't excel at classroom schoolwork, but I didn't need to. All I had to do was read books.

Around the same time I was baptized. Something great was going to happen right after the baptism: you were to feel the holy spirit descend on you. For me, it didn't happen, although I naively expected it to. So all of a sudden I also doubted religion too. Baptism washed away your sins, so of course I decided not to sin anymore...

The rap on brevity

We know that "lo bueno, si breve, dos veces bueno," for example, or "brevity is the soul of wit." The rap on brevity, though, is that it is simplistic. The idea that what fits on bumper stickers or "sound bites" represents a superficial knowledge. That the short form is authoritarian because apodictic. What can you say in a 140 character tweet? We've all heard this arguments. Whenever someone quotes Kissinger to the effect that academic politics are vicious because the stakes are low, my heart sinks. The person seems to think that the aphorism explains something (it doesn't) that K. said it first (he didn't) that this is the first time we're hearing this (it isn't) and that we will be impressed by the quotation (we aren't and won't be). As though academic politics were more vicious than, say, invading Cambodia?

The narrator of Cinco horas on Mario quotes from Proverbs but then doesn't understand the biblical verses. She speaks in a serious of idiomatic expressions, clichés, cursilerías, and proverbs in order to express a deeply conservative philosophy. The book, then, is a wonderful compendium of linguistic items. Every single page contains dozens of them. The fact her language is like this is supposed to explain something about her, her rigidity and lack of imagination.

The Celestina, the proverbs are there for there bitter cynicism.


The Argentine poet Girondo has a genre he called membretes. The word means something like "letterhead."

Great minds

think alike. A rising star in my field also has thought of giving a course in the short form.

Barthes on LaRochefoucauld

On peut lire La Rochefoucauld de deux façons : par citations ou de suite. Dans le premier cas, j'ouvre de temps en temps le livre, j'y cueille une pensée, j'en savoure la convenance, je me l'approprie, je fais de cette forme anonyme la voix même de ma situation ou de mon humeur; dans le second cas, je lis les maximes pas à pas, comme un récit ou un essai; mais du coup, le livre me concerne à peine; les maximes de La Rochefoucauld disent à tel point les mêmes choses, que c'est leur auteur, ses obsessions, son temps, qu'elles nous livrent, non nous-mêmes. Voilà donc que le même ouvrage, lu de façons différentes, semble contenir deux projets opposés : ici un pour-moi (et quelle adresse! cette maxime traverse trois siècles pour venir me raconter), là, un pour soi, celui de l'auteur, qui se dit, se répète, s'impose, comme enfermé dans un discours sans fin, sans ordre, à la façon d'un monologue obsédé.

Ces deux lectures ne sont pas contradictoires, parce que, dans le recueil de maximes, le discours cassé reste un discours enfermé; certes, matériellement, il faut choisir de lire les maximes par choix ou de suite, et l'effet en sera opposé, ici éclatant, là étouffant; mais le fruit même du discontinu et du désordre de l'œuvre, c'est que chaque maxime est, en quelque sorte, l'archétype de toutes les maximes; il y a une structure à la fois unique et variée; autrement dit, à une critique de développement, de la composition, de l'évolution, et je dirai presque du continu, il paraît juste de substituer ici une critique de l'unité sententielle, de son dessin, bref de sa forme : c'est toujours à la maxime, et non aux maximes qu'il faut revenir.

I was struck by that back in Graduate School. The idea that the short form could be read in two ways: the individual maxim for its meaning, or a whole bunch of them at once, producing a wholly different sensation that leads directly to a structuralist analysis. I discovered him through a poem by John Ashbery, that cites the maxim: "We are all strong enough to withstand the suffering of other people."

The last sentence of Barthes seems to be saying the opposite of what it is really saying.

I was also an assiduous reader of Blake's "Proverbs of Hell" in High School.

Frost Memory Test

Acquainted with the night
The road less traveled
Mending wall
Death of the hired man
Gold Dust
The master speed
Fire and Ice
"A bird half wakened in the lunar moon"
"I'm going to blah blah blah ... you come too."
The Silken Tent
"He would declare and could himself believe / that the birds there in all the garden round"
The Oven Bird: "There is a singer everyone has heard..."
Stopping by woods on snowy evening
[The poem about mountain pools that suck up all the light and water]
"Out, out..."
[The poem about the guy wanting to buy all Frost's Christmas trees]
Two tramps wanting to cut his firewood for him "Two tramps in mud time"?
"The land was ours before we were the land's"
The way the crows / shook down on me / the dust of snow
Nature's first green is gold / Her hardest hue to hold / Her early leaf's a flower / but only so an hour, etc... [Nothing Gold can stay]
Other poem about the could who have lost a child, husband's insensitive reaction?
Poem about a guy who treats his workers with disrespect, almost gets killed

Ok. That's what I got for Frost in exactly 10 minutes. I didn't think of Frost much for a few days prior to this. I think I got the majority of the chestnuts, and a few more. I have either titles, the first line, or some other identifying info for 22 poems. These results are predictable. It is always easy to come up with about 10 poems for anyone, and then... what else?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Cummings memory test

Ok. So here's a test. I'll give myself 10 minutes and type all the Cummings poems I can remember (enough of their beginnings to identify them).

in just spring ... the little queer balloonman

I sing of Olaf

Mr u will not be missed

Buffalo Bill's / defunct who used to

I like my body when it is with your body

if you can't eat you gotta smoke

Little Joe Gould has lost his teeth and doesn't know where to find them

Next to of course god America I love you

As freedom is a breakfast food

these little children singing

all in green went my love riding

when serpents bargain for the right to squirm

Plato told him / he didn't believe it

somewhere I have never traveled, gladly beyond all experience

my father moved through the dooms of love

if there is any heaven, my mother has one all to herself [sorry, mangled that one]

the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls

Pity this poor creature manunkind / not

at McSorley's

because feeling is first, whoever pays attention to the syntax of things will never wholly kiss you

Ok. That's 7 minutes and that's about all I can come up with. I did listen to part of a Cummings reading on youtube last week but I didn't look at anything C-related this week. I'm sure I "know" about twenty others and have read them all at some point in my life. My conclusion is the Cummings is memorable if nothing else. He reads aloud in this horribly affected voice and he was a scoundrel in many ways. I think the tricks he's known for are not what makes him good, when he is good (not infrequently) as a verse technician.

This is a good test for any poet you haven't read for a while.

Saturday, April 19, 2014


One of the only poems by Cummings I can still stand goes something like this:

If you can't eat you got to

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

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

Sing and we aint got

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

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

nothing to die,come on kid

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

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

Let's go to sleep)

I'll have to clean up the text once I get the book from which it comes.


Reading James Shapiro's Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare, given to me by a friend retiring from the Eng. dept., puts some things into focus about hypercanonical authors like Lorca. Of course I'm reading it, selfishly, for what it can tell me about my own project.

The first factor is the deification of Shakespeare. Once bardalotry sets it, then the stakes get very high, and the need arises for an extraordinary person to have written such an extraordinary work.

A second mistaken assumption is that Shakespeare was writing out of his own personal experience, his feelings and beliefs and first-hand knowledge of things, that his work is basically autobiographical. For Shapiro, this is a modern assumption (rising out of romanticism, really), that all literature is autobiography.

Thirdly, there is cryptology: the belief in secret codes.

Now it might be true that modern beliefs about authorship are not valid for Shakespeare, but are for Lorca, who after all is a modern figure. In other words, I am fighting a losing battle if I try to contest the biographical dominance in the construction of the author figure. Deification, though, is the first step in investing so much in the authorial subject.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Short Form

While my students were taking an exam, I designed a course on the short form. The trick will be to make it a long enough course! Perhaps it should be a mini-course.

First of all, the genres:

Idiom. This is the shortest form of all (above the level of the word). It is a lexicalized combination of words.

Mottos and slogans.

Proverb. The lexicalized sentence.

Glosas. The proverb explained in a slightly longer poem.

Aphorism. The aphorism is the proverb with an author.

Greguería. A humorous aphorism of the type written by Ramón Gómez de la Serna.

Sofisma. A genre similar to the greguería invented by another Spanish poet, Vicente Nuñez.

Haiku. In the Western tradition, a short poem written in imitation of a Japanese genre, or inspired by it in a general sense, like WCW's Wheelbarrow.

Microcuento. The short, short, short short-story.


Epitaphs. Short texts written to be inscribed on tombstones, or written in imitation of such inscriptions.

Minimalist works of other sorts, like the extremely short poems of Aram Saroyan. ("lighght")

Other genres of short songs: cantares, coplas, etc...

The fragment. A short text, that, while it stands alone, could seem to be a part of a lost whole. Or an actual fragment.

So the idea would be to spend a day or a week on each category, with some requiring two to three weeks (proverbs).

The theoretical approaches would begin with the "poetic function" (RJ) and move to cognitive psychology, cultural history, etc... Not every shortish text or poem is an example of the "short form." In some sense brevity itself must come into play in the text.

"Only incorrectly formulated problems have viable solutions." Vicente N.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Poet Voice

I've noticed that sing-song up and down "poet voice" reading style more and more. Even poets I like (their work and them personally) seem to rely on it as their default. Though it seems less prose-like and hence more musical, it really reduces musicality by reducing the intonational variety to one damned pattern. Every stressed word is an up and every unstressed is a down. POETS: STOP DOING THIS. Couldn't this be just Creative Writing 101? (Except the teacher probably does it too.)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Secondary Stress in Spanish

There is an emphatic style of speaking that emphasizes the secondary stress, normally very weak in Spanish. I'm listening to a lecture now and just heard the lecturer say


Normally you would say "interpretación, and the secondary stress, very weak, would be on the syllable "pre."

He also says "cualquier caso." That is interesting because the real stress should be cualquier. I'll have to look to see whether the "rhythm rule" has been documented in Spanish, where stress clashes are avoided through leftward shift of stress. An example in English would be the difference between "Tennessee," and "Tennessee Williams."

I find that in my own lecturing mode in class I do speak, also, in that more emphatic mode. It has the advantage of being easy to understand and dynamic, well, emphatic.

The one article I've found documents the emphatic style in newscasts and the like. Where I'm going with this is an approach to stress clash in versification, where the norm, for Spanish is iambic or trochaic, and stress clashes tend to occur with relatively stressless prepositions.

Jesus's Wife Not a Fake!

This was a kind of silly incident. Scientists examining a fragment of papyrus mentioning Jesus's wife said that it was indeed "ancient." Possibly dating from the seventh century. Well that is interesting, because that is some 600 years after the time of Jesus (if there was such a person). The word ancient is very misleading, because it implies a historical proximity that simply is not supported. What did the Coptic Christians in Egypt a half a millennium later know about the historical Jesus? That's the same time span between us and the early 16th century!

I'm not arguing he didn't have a wife, or that he did. On that I'm agnostic. Of course there are interests on both sides in arguing about the authenticity of the fragment, but none of that has any bearing on anything real.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


I am doing a thing where I listen to all of my ipod "songs" in random order. I have done about 230 of out 7,000. Some "songs" are hour-long lectures. I heard Carmen Martín Gaite talk for on hour on Cinco horas con Mario, and Antonio Colinas on María Zambrano; Ricardo Gullón on Machado; Abellán on Unamuno. I would have loved to have this technology when I was an undergraduate and thirsty for this knowledge. It is wonderful not to know what is coming next.

A Pocketful of Lorca

That's how one of my students interpreted the title of my book orally. A nice little mondegreen. I should actually write a book called A Pocketful of Lorca! Either that or articulate my words more carefully.

Law of Lengthening Limbs

I've done a little more research. The German phrase Carlos Piera cites translates to "The Law of Lengthening Limbs." This is the tendency to order list-items in ascending order by syllable length:

and the American way

Roman Jakobson mentions this briefly in "Closing Statement: Linguistics and Poetics." He says that you are more likely to say "Joan and Margery" and "Margery and Joan," associating this tendency with the "poetic function" of language. He doesn't say why, just that it sounds better. Piera is another one, citing the German guy who coined the phrase, so there are at least four or five people who have noticed this, including me.

It is probably weaker than a law. It is more of a tendency. Let's say it will happen more often than not, in the weakest formulation. The implications are not profound, maybe, but I find this kind of thing fascinating. As far as I know, there has been little discussion of word length in linguistic or literary prosody.

The nuclear stress rule (Chomsky and Halle) says that you stress the right-most stressable element in a phrase. We know that important elements tend to go last, and that ascending order is preferred in the rhetorical figure of gradation. Curiously, most dictionary definitions don't talk about word-length in relation to figures like "climax" or "gradation."

Monday, April 7, 2014


I'm enjoying my stint as linguistics professor. I'm not a linguist, but that makes it even better, since I get to teach something that's usually nothing but a pure hobby for me. There are two small area of linguistics I know a slight bit about, prosody and phraseology.

Here is a question I've been pondering.

Pullum, one of the funniest writers I know, doesn't like the term "people of color."

First of all, two caveats. He doesn't dislike it because of any dislike of the politics associated with it or motivating it. Secondly, he doesn't say that anyone else has to like or dislike it, or that there is anything grammatically or linguistically wrong with it: "When I say that the phrase person of color just irks me, and I refuse to use it, that's a fact about me. It's like the fact that I will never (I hereby pledge) write an academic paper with 'revisited' (or its Latin verson 'redux') or 'whither' in the title, or write a blues song that begins with the words 'Woke up this morning'."

It is, rather, the "the quasi-archaic syntactic weirdness of the phrase makes my teeth itch." He makes an argument from "failure of pattern": "you can't refer to someone who is freckled as a person of freckles, or a person who is dazed as a person of daze. Batman, the caped crusader, is not a person of cape."

Here's my take on it: the "person of _____" pattern is used in English mostly in set phrases:

"man of the cloth"
"person of interest"
"women of distinction"
"people of the book"
"man of steel"
"soldier of fortune"
"men of good will"

It is a productive pattern, in that it generates set idiomatic phrases, but what is not idiomatic is to simply use the construction willy-nilly. Pullum admits that "There are, of course, such things as entirely idiosyncratic one-off constructions." I'd further say that the "of" construction marks such a phrase as an idiom. As such, it is not an idiosyncratic way of forming an idiom, but a rather commonplace one. One thing that makes the phrases idiomatic is that you cannot deduce their meaning from their constituent parts. So "people of freckles" would not be a well-formed idiom in this sense. Of course, "man of wealth" is also transparent from its parts.

I know if you add an adjective then you can make this pattern very productive: "person of enormous empathy" or "woman of great intelligence."

Do I personally like "person of color"? I'll never say. I do love the phrase "quasi-archaic syntactic weirdness" and promise to use it in a blues song.

La ley de la lista

La ley de la lista: en una lista de dos elementos o más, habrá una preferencia fuerte para proceder en orden ascendente (según el número de sílabas). Se relaciona con la figura retórica de “clímax” o “gradación.” En las frases hechas y en los títulos se encuentra frecuentemente esta estructura.

“… many conjunctive and similar constructions tend to be arranged so that their elements appear in order of increasing length” [Carlos Piera, “Spanish Verse and the Theory of Meter,” 159]

¿Una relación posible entre la prosodia y la fraseología?


damas y caballeros / hombres y mujeres
sal y pimienta
aceite y vinagre
vinos y cervezas / vinos y licores
radio y televisión
“el viento mueve, esparce y desordena” [Garcilaso]
“sin oficio ni beneficio”
“capa y espada” [“cloak and sword”: a genre of Golden Age play]
“sol y sombra” [section of bull-fighting arena; drink with anís and cognac]
“sintió un miedo grande, enorme, terrible, sobrecogedor”


ladies and gentlemen / men and women
oil and vinegar
principles and parameters
salt and pepper
care and feeding
rules and regulations
parks and recreation / rest and recreation / rest and relaxation
every Tom, Dick, and Harry
meat and potatoes
trials and tribulations
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”
“Friends, Romans, Countrymen”
“It was a dark and stormy night.”
Abbott and Costello / Penn & Teller / Wells Fargo
dazed and confused
“no rhyme or reason”

But: “bacon and eggs” !! / “eggs and bacon” / “enroll and pay”

It is not a grammatical rule: if we say "I bought potatoes and meat at the store" the phrase is still grammatical. It does not affect the semantics of the phrase either. But to say "he's a meat and potatoes man" you need the elements in that order. "Capa y espada" is genre; you can't call it "espada y capa." So the word order is lexicalized.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Prosodic analysis

[content warning: prosody, nerdiness]

First, the poem:
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
Now, it should be clear that the first 3 lines of every stanza have the same structure, divided into two parts. The first part looks like this:
I will arise and go now
And a small cabin build there,
Nine bean-rows will I have there,

And I shall have some peace there,
Dropping from the veils of the morning
There midnight’s all a glimmer,

I will arise and go now,
I hear lake water lapping
While I stand on the roadway,
All the lines have 7 syllables, except this one: "Dropping from the veils of the morning." So, we can see that it is an iambic trimeter with a feminine ending, with that one line having two anapestic substitions. In the first line of each stanza, there is slightly heavier syllable in that extrametrical position; those I have italicized.

Now the second half of those lines:
.. and go to Innisfree,
...of clay and wattles made;
...a hive for the honey-bee,

...for peace comes dropping slow,
... to where the cricket sings;
.. and noon a purple glow,

...for always night and day
...with low sounds by the shore;
...or on the pavements grey,
6 syllables, except for the 7 of "a hive for the honey-bee." Another anapestic sub there. Iambic trimeter.

Now the last lines of each stanza:
And live alone in the bee-loud glade. (9)

And evening full of the linnet’s wings. (9)

I hear it in the deep heart’s core. (8)
So iambic tetrameter, with anapestic substitutions again in two of the lines.

The rhyme scheme is ABAB, CDCC, EFEF.

The complexity comes from stress clashes, like "nine bean-rows," "bee-loud glade," or "deep heart's core." The anapests.

The reduplicative structure: "I will arise and go ... and go" "peace now ... for peace..."

The alliteration of the ells: "lake .. lapping ... low."

A high degree of parallel structure, but a great amount of variation within this structure.

I can't really explain what makes this poem so extraordinarily musical. It is a tiny miracle.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Kitsch (ii)

So kitsch is the parodic degradation of sacralization of the poetic imagination in romanticism, maybe? That explains a lot. I don't know why I didn't see that until today.

So I want to say there is a good romanticism, like Lorca's own, and a bad one, for example the degradation of that.



A lot of the things that bother me in Lorca studies are the same things that bother me in the aesthetic afterlife of Lorca generally: the predominance of kitsch elements. Of course this is very obvious. It hasn't occurred to me until just now to say this out loud. (Well, not really out loud since I am writing not speaking.)

Thursday, April 3, 2014


I bought this book, Emily Dickinson: The Gorgeous Nothings. It is an art book, with all of her "envelope poems," very short and aphoristic texts of a rare beauty, in many cases.

But are not
all Facts Dreams
as soon as
we put
them behind
us --

The Experiment

Here's the experiment. The final project for SPAN 453 is a glosario of Lorca's "Juego y teoría del duende." I divided the class into 5 groups with 5 themes. Each groups has 3 or 4 students in it. Each student is responsible for 5 entries in the glossary, so there will be 85 entries:

The five groups are

Geography and Culture
Literature and Philosophy
Duende in the English Speaking World
Visual Arts
Music & Dance

Each group will give a group presentation. There will also be one entry by each student that deals with a topic in depth, in a paragraph rather than in a brief entry.

The goals are:

A pedagogical tool that other classes can use, both to understand Lorca's essay and to see what they themselves might be capable of.

Practice writing in Spanish. All the entries have to be grammatically correct.

Narrowing the gap between the research that students are able to do and the kind of research a professor might do, rather than isolating students from faculty research.

An article for Hispania that I will write on the results of all of this?

A critical edition of the duende that I could do at some point. The closest this comes to what real scholars do is the preparation of the Clásicos Castalia, those black paperbacks that exist for every canonical work of Spanish literature. I showed my students one of those and what it was like.

Incommunication (ii)

I am aware that incommunication is not a word in English. I am using it as though it were the translation for incomunicación. Anyway, I am thinking that would be a good research project for the social epistemology of an academic field. I am fascinated by what gets cited and what doesn't in a large subfield like Lorca or Pound studies. Say, any author with more than 100 books about her. Study design would be tricky, involving both quantitative and qualitative measures. It would be a good appendix to a Lorca book by someone like me, though I'm not sure I'd do it.

Some factors:

--Geographical citation. Spaniards who don't cite American work? etc... Networks of people citing one another.

--Segregation by genre. Do we need to cite work on theatre when studying poetry, and vice-versa?

--Broadness or narrowness of topic. Distance among topics.

--Theoretical approach, diversity of.

--Recency. Tendency to cite more recent (or more established?) work.

--Importance. Tendency to recognize some work as more important than other work. Judgments of quality, reputation of scholar.

The implied contrast would be: an author with a limited bibliography, in which everyone cites (almost) everything of necessity.

--Functionality. Does the field "work" in this configuration?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

"A" received a very short email in Spanish with at least 8 mistakes

I don't know what to do with a common problem: the senior level Spanish major who does not yet know enough Spanish to graduate without being embarrassment to himself. The email is a good example because

1) It is a written communication, so it cannot be chalked up to a case of common mistakes in oral production.

2) The errors are pervasive, with an average of more than two in each sentence, and are not subtle ones.

In oral production, I notice students without basic correctness in pronunciation.

In reading, I notice that students could not recognize the form of the verb matad, were unfamiliar with the "quien pudiera" construction, still had not grasp of subjunctive.

Some students are very good: near-native accents, or at the least generally decent pronunciation; idiomatic speech and good vocabulary. A good Spanish major is very, very good. A bad one is awful (though usually a lovely person in most other respects).

The gateway courses tend to be at a lower level. There is no gateway to graduation, where the student has to meet a certain standard to have the degree.

Metrical Complexity

[content warning: prosody]

I'm taking April off from Lorca. Since I can't exactly turn my brain off, I will be working a bit on prosody, with an eye toward my 2015 book project, a study of Spanish versification melding linguistic and literary perspectives, and integrating literary criticism and pedagogy, and addressed both to people who know Spanish and those who want to understand it from the point of view of English poetry.

Say the zero degree of metrical complexity is a situation in which the pattern wswswswsws... of the metrical pattern meets no resistance in its realization. I am thinking of lines like

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

Each foot is a phrase, each strong position is a content word of one syllable, each weak syllable is a preposition, etc...

This could be a kind of metrical joke, in a way. Most lines in the stanza are obviously more complex:

Then, in the blazon of sweet beauty's best--
Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow--
I know their antique pens would have expressed
Even such a beauty as you master now.

So the metrical pattern is not a metrical norm, from which complex lines deviate; rather, it is an abstract pattern of positions. Lines that exhibit no tension will be extremely rare, as a consequence. Because of the short phrases of the tensionless line, the effect is not even smooth or mellifluous, but, on the contrary, a deviation from the normal average degree of metrical tension. These lines are even more unusual in Shakespeare than lines of enormous complexity. Hence, paradoxically, a line of no tension will exhibit an aesthetic tension of a sort.

If we can formulate metrical rules in precise linguistic terms, then we can see that lines with a high degree of tension are not a matter of breaking rules, or introducing variations or substitutions, but of following the rules exactly while keeping an eye on the mismatches between metrical patterns and other linguistic factors.

[So to review briefly: metrical tension will be caused by:

Any kind of mismatch between the metrical pattern of swsw and phrasal boundaries, word boundaries; heavier syllables in weak position; lighter syllables in strong positions; the resulting stress clashes; enjambment, etc... Verse without a lot of complexity will be fairly dull, but by the same token fairly difficult to write, since a good degree of complexity is more natural. For the same reason, it is unnecessary to read verse aloud in a way that unduly emphasizes the metrical positions.]

Excepting the Dryden through Johnson period, most canonical English poetry in iambic pentameter tends toward a high degree of complexity, as in Donne, Shakespeare, Milton, Keats, or Yeats. Blank verse especially, and blank verse with a heavy degree of enjambment, even more. This blank verse tradition is one of the greatest poetic accomplishments I know of, comparable to the best Latin poet (Horace), and the development of the baroue sonnet in Spanish by Lope, Quevedo, and Góngora.