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When students only have read a few poems, in exclusively academic contexts, they often approach poetry with what the li...

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Chard & Burnt Ends

Take some burnt ends you have picked up at your local bbq place. Chop up some chard and garlic, and sauté the garlic in a tiny bit of oil. Add some of the some burnt ends and the chard; cook until wilted and add a little beer. Cover for a few minutes. Season with vinegar, salt, and pepper. Serve with the rest of the burnt ends and some left-over sweet potatoes and squash. And the rest of the beer.

Another manifesto

There is a puzzling dichotomy in twentieth century poetics. Let us call it the division between aesthetics and the anti-aesthetic. It manifests itself in the debate between art itself (on the one hand) and socio-political uses of art. We are all familiar with it, on both sides of the debate. Poetry has to do something important and socially useful to be justified; poetry that does not do this should be condemned. On the other side of the debate, there is an "art for art's sake" position that claims that doing this, sacrificing aesthetics, will ruin poetry.

Both sides of the debate are actually in complete agreement with each other, deploying the exact same dichotomy without questioning it. In other words, everyone agrees that making poetry or art politically useful ruins it, and that politically useful art will have to subscribe to anti-aesthetic principles. You can try to make it work, by saying that some people have managed to make poetry come out politically correct without ruining it, but within this conceptual frame we pretty much know that these will be seen as exceptions.

So the puzzle is that this dichotomy would have not been comprehensible 100 years earlier. If you asked Shelley about this, he would not have understood what you meant. Or Milton or Spenser. The terms were not yet in opposition; the debate was not framed in that way in the least.

So there had to be a moment in which the debate got framed like that. It had to be in the Victorian era, in the debate between moral earnestness and aestheticism, because I don't see it before that. Spenser would not have seen a dichotomy between expressing his particular point of view and writing good poetry.

***

Now we could see the separation of the aesthetic as such earlier, in the 18th century, but without all these implications in play. This separation of the aesthetic is the original sin, since it leads to dire consequences. In particular, it seem both to exalt the aesthetic and to diminish it as merely aesthetic. To say that the aesthetic was not distinguishable as such from other considerations is not to say that it did not exist, but rather that everything was aesthetic in the broader sense. In other words, there was a total ethos that encompassed the entire creative enterprise, but this entire enterprise remained a creative one: there could be no tension or dichotomy between writing a great epic like the Iliad and doing something else that would diminish the value of the work in order to achieve some other end.

***

When that total ethos is broken, then we can ask whether we can still appreciate poetry that tells us the opposite of what we believe. From the hermeneutic perspective, we get the problem of belief. The aesthetic now serves as a way of expressing enthusiasm for works that don't allow us to identify with ideologically. This is easy to see, since we don't have deploy aesthetics separately if we already like what the work is telling us. We can simply embrace the work enthusiastically, in its total ethos. There is no turning back at this point, because we realize that this embrace is going to be rare occurrence.

73. La última costa

Brines. Tusquets, 1995.

Surely this is one of Brines's most beautiful books of poetry. "Vente, luz, a mis ojos, / descansa tu fatiga / en ellos, tan cansados."

Monday, September 28, 2015

Let's Instrumentalize Everything

Once we instrumentalize poetry, judge it by its racism or anti-racism and only by that, for example, then there is really no way out. As Aaron Kunin puts it:
If you didn’t care about poetry itself, would you attend a poetry reading in hopes of snacking on the cheese and crackers that might possibly be served afterwards? Wouldn’t the poetry reading make you impatient? Couldn’t you think of more efficient ways of satisfying your hunger — other social gatherings where you wouldn’t have to hear any poetry, and the cheese and crackers came out right away?

People used to read that way in Graduate School. The idea was to judge how racist or sexist something was. But why bother unless you like poetry in the first place?

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Raspberry Mint Salad

Salad ingredients:

Salad greens
Mint leaves
Fresh Raspberries
Bacon
Ibérico cheese

Dressing:

Olive oil
balsamic vinegar
honey

I saw a recipe for a berry / mint salad. I changed it up around and came up with this. It was nicely balanced and went very well with a marinated flank steak & red wine.


74. Nuevo tratado de armonía

Colinas. Tusquets, 1999.

I have a lot of these brown books from Tusquets in Barcelona, many published in the 90s, probably a few thousand dollars worth. Colinas writes reflections in prose, in a sequel to another treatise in harmony. I like Colinas, in some sense, yet he fails to convince.

75. El equipaje abierto

Benítez Reyes. Tusquets, 1996.

This book is a relentless and skillful deployment of a few clichés. A less original poet is hard to imagine. Yet he has a talent for this, so if you like it, it will please you.

I've now documented about a quarter of the books in this project. Many I have read half of and will get to sooner or later.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Manifesto

I am very sick today so came up with a manifesto of what is really important to me:

1. Nobody knows what poetry is for. I think it is for something of great importance; that it is not trivial. The best formulation I've come up with is that it is supposed to "kick you in the ass with its transformative power." The motto for my other blog was: ""The very existence of poetry should make us laugh. What is it all about? What is it for?" (Kenneth Koch). Another formulation would be just as good as mine, but I won't budge on the idea that it is something transcendent. Koch's aphorism allows us to fill in the blanks.

2. It follows that the reading of poetry is a spiritual exercise. For me, what poetry is about is the experience of awe. I only really care about poetry, or music, or art, that offers this sense of wonder about being alive in the first place. If you've never felt this reading a poem then you need to read someone else's blog and leave me alone.

3. This should simplify things, but it doesn't, because mystic poetry might not do this. Or other poetry, that is not mystic, might lead this way as well. Even a poetry that seems to set itself off from awe might lead there anyway. There are no road maps, no system of correspondences that allow for the "translation" to occur. You still have to learn about poetry in all the conventional ways, even in the ways that are clearly idiotic but that others have found useful.

4. A lot of things that we think are important about poetry, though, might not be. The things that make a poem acceptable according to an institutional requirement; the arguments that academics might want to make about a poetic practice in relation to other social formations. These things might be important, or not, but we can tell if they are important by whether they have to do with the purpose we think poetry has.

5. All the prosody, the style, everything to do with the language of the poem, is part of the awesomeness of poetry; it is not unimportant. But we can care about it in unimportant ways if we give it the wrong emphasis. The awe of poetry comes from the poetry itself, not from its awesome subject matter.

6. There are poets who write poems, and have a decent, acceptable, style, but don't seem connected at all to anything related to the awesomeness of poetry. There are critics who make nice arguments about which poetry belongs in which category. I have done that myself. A lot of this has nothing to do with poetry and can be safely ignored.

7. The style of the poem is really a weakness: I mean the grab-bag of things that the poet knows how to do, and depends on to get through the writing of the poem. A good poet should be able to write without a style at all, responding to the situation without using anything used before. This is not possible, of course, but it is desirable. We wouldn't need poetry set off from anything else if this were happening more. We would still need a word to point to the poem and say: "this is it."

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

5 ingredient salad

This is as close to perfection as possible. You'll need five ingredients:

arugula
grated parmesan or romano (the real stuff, not salty crap from can)
freshly ground black pepper
olive oil
red wine vinegar

Place the ingredients in a bowl in the order listed. Toss and serve. Quantities will depend on how much you want to eat. The rest of the meal will be a protein source and a starch or other vegetable.

Trick of the day: subtend

Here is my trick of the day: do not use the word "subtend." It is a real word, but I would not use it when "underlie" would do. It has the smell of the pedantic. It has technical meanings:
1 (of a line, arc, or figure) form (an angle) at a particular point when straight lines from its extremities are joined at that point.
• (of an angle or chord) have bounding lines or points that meet or coincide with those of (a line or arc).
2 Botany (of a bract) extend under (a flower) so as to support or enfold it.
But usually, when used in the humanities it is not a technical term like this. My objection is that it seems technical, as though it had a precise meaning, when it really just means underlie:
• be the cause or basis of (something) : the fundamental issue that underlies the conflict | [as adj. ] ( underlying) the underlying causes of poverty and drug addiction.
Generalizing, this objection pertains to any such pseudo-technical usage. Do not write in a way that makes you a parody of the sort of writing you are doing.

Friday, September 18, 2015

What's wrong with this picture



The initial vote taken of audience members finds that about one-third of them are undecided. More than half support giving the courts decision-making authority in sexual-assault cases, and just 12 percent support assigning such a role to colleges.


Compare:

The post-debate vote comes in. Fifty-six percent of the in-person audience supports having the courts decide sexual-assault cases, an unchanged statistic. The share of support for having colleges do so, on the other hand, more than doubles, while the undecided vote declines to 14 percent. Nearly half of the people in the crowd have changed their minds.

56% is unchanged from before and after the poll, so the "nearly half of the people" who have changed their mind are in the other 44%. Presumably the decline in undecideds (33-14=19%) corresponds to the rise in "colleges" (more than doubles, from 12% to >24%). I don't understand where the other 5% went, though there is some wiggle room in "about one third." In any case, 25% is not "nearly half," but more exactly one quarter.

This is poor reporting. The numbers are reported in inconsistent ways and the conclusion does not follow at all.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

MLA talk--The plot thickens

Prevalent translation practices have had a difficult time dealing with Vallejo's brand of modernism. At the same time, his poetry prods translators into taking into account these other aspects of the poetic art. Vallejo’s avant-garde poetry is heavily dependent on logopoeia, or to poetic effects that are purely verbal, rather than on phanopoeia, the evocation of visual images. These effects include punning and other forms of verbal or orthographical play, shifts in register, neologisms, scientific terms, the use of words for their etymology, the wrenching of words from their normal contexts of usage, linguistic patterning (for example, the accumulation of reflexive verbs in certain poems), the exploitation of enjambment for dramatic value, and the proliferation of rhetorical figures, including but not limited to antanaclasis, antithesis, metonymy, catachresis, and anaphora. Rhetoric itself might be a synonym for logopoeia, but I prefer the term logopoeia because it is more oriented toward a particularly modernist deployment of linguistic resources.

My partial list of logopoetic devices, most if not all of them already noted by previous scholars of Vallejo’s poetry, provides some idea of the difficulty of translating him. While Lorca and Neruda present multiple problems to the translator, Vallejo’s logopoeia tends to be even more resistant to the poetics of translation that was prevalent in the period in question. Melopoeia, needless to say, also suffers in translation, since many translators default to prosaic free verse or undistinguishedly loose blank verse, rather than following Pound in his careful attention to prosody. (Some merely put in line breaks that mirror those of the original, with virtually no attention to the line of verse itself as a prosodic unit.) Nevertheless, for the purposes of this paper I will assume that logopoeia is the area where Vallejo’s poetry loses the most in translation. Vallejo actively avoids or disrupts mellifluousness, and puts prosodic devices to the service of rhetoric.

I am not suggesting that Vallejo’s style is the sum of his rhetorical devices, but I am suggesting that a translator ought to reproduce features of his style that make it distinctively his. Appiah, in “Thick Translation,” formulates a fairy obvious maxim: that the translation of literature ought reproduce the most features of a literary work that which makes it valuable. He call for “a translation that aims to be of use in literary teaching; and here it seems to me that such ‘academic’ translation, translation that seeks with its annotations and its accompanying glosses to locate the text in a rich cultural and linguistic context, is eminently worth doing.” I would add that what makes a work valuable has to do with its fine-grained distinctiveness, what make it different from other works by other authors. Secondly, a translation should convey what is valuable about the work not only through its explanatory apparatus but through the quality of the translation itself.

Trilce is strongly logopoetic, of course, but my main examples will be drawn from the sonnet “Piedra negra sobre una piedra blanca,” from Poemas humanos, a particularly dense compendium of logopoetic devices:

Me moriré en París con aguacero,
un día del cual tengo ya el recuerdo.
Me moriré en París —y no me corro—
tal vez un jueves, como es hoy, de otoño.

Jueves será, porque hoy, jueves, que proso
estos versos, los húmeros me he puesto
a la mala y, jamás como hoy, me he vuelto,
con todo mi camino, a verme solo.

César Vallejo ha muerto, le pegaban
todos sin que él les haga nada;
le daban duro con un palo y duro

también con una soga; son testigos
los días jueves y los huesos húmeros,
la soledad, la lluvia, los caminos...

MLA VALLEJO TALK, well begun being half done

Vallejo and The Trials of Translation:
The Erasure of Logopoeia

What would happen if I approached César Vallejo in a way parallel to my treatment of Lorca in my 2009 book Apocryphal Lorca: Translation, Parody, Kitsch—using similar analytical and theoretical tools but adjusting them to the case at hand? That is the question I would like to pose in my talk today. Like Lorca, the Peruvian poet had a strong presence in US poetry in the 1960s and ‘70s, and has continued to be studied and translated by eminent poets and scholars in the years since. The boom for “Latin American surrealism,” often neither Latin American nor surrealist, made both poets famous (at least among readers of poetry) in the English-speaking world, along with a handful of others like Borges, Neruda, Machado, Jiménez, and Aleixandre. This boom in poetry translation begins in the late ‘50s, a few years before the “boom” in the Spanish American novel began to produce abundant translations of García Márquez, Vargas Llosa, Cortázar, and others. The idea of Latin American surrealism, in fact, prefigures later understandings (or misunderstandings) of “magical realism,” which remains a prevalent cultural cliché in the reception of Latin American literature in the Anglosphere.

The most influential mode of verse translation in the United States at the moment when translations of Spanish-language began to proliferate (the 1960s) emphasized visual imagery over both sound and verbal play. The name for the school of American poetry inspired by these translations is the “deep image.” The idea was to link the ordinary language of William Carlos Williams and other imagist poets to the depth of Lorca’s “deep song” and of Neruda’s surrealism, supposedly less cold and superficial than orthodox French surrealism. It was Robert Bly who popularized the idea that both the Anglo-American modernism of imagism and the “Pound-Williams” school, and its immediate offshoot, the Black Mountain school, were excessively concerned with the technique of verse and, as a corollary, somewhat lacking in inwardness or psychological depth.
It is easy to see why translation—or, rather, a certain understanding of translation—is key to the deep image school. Bly’s translations, like his original poetry, did employ free verse and “the American idiom,” but without the obsession with “breath” and “measure” that Creeley and Levertov brought to the table. In fact, the emphasis falls completely on those aspects of poetry that are easiest to translate: visual imagery and semantic meaning. Unless the translator makes a conscious and strenuous effort, at least two main aspects of the original text will be invisible to the reader: sound (prosody), and the actual language of the original, its purely verbal textures.

Bly’s notorious argument that American modernism, along with its successors, lacked the full range of imagination of the European and Latin American avant-gardes would have been a valid one, except for one paradox: the way in which he proposed an alternative tradition was so oversimplified that it resulted in a less, rather than a more complex variety of modernism. Speaking of his own early poetry, Charles Simic, a figure associated with the deep image, says that “the idea was to make poems entirely of images, not caring too much about sound, using the simplest possible vocabulary” (Simic). Indeed, the modernist heritage was reduced to a single movement—surrealism—and a single aspect of poetic technique, the visual image—whether deep or shallow. My thesis here, simply stated, is that it has taken quite a while for the poets who were championed by the deep image school, poets like Lorca and Vallejo, to emerge fully as avant-garde / modernist poets in the American consciousness, and that one of the major stumbling blocks have been translation itself.

Although Vallejo was quickly recognized in the US as a major figure of 20th century Latin American poetry, he did not fit, very well, into the dominant paradigm of Spanish-language “surrealism,” despite being translated by Bly and his confederates. For one thing, he is not a surrealist. Trilce (1922) precedes Breton’s surrealist manifesto by two years, and Vallejo became overtly hostile to surrealism while living in Paris and writing the poetry of his third phase. Secondly, his poetry—I would argue—is pre-eminently verbal, characterized by what Ezra Pound called “logopoeia,” or the “dance of the intellect among words.” Quevedo, too, is a strong influence on Vallejo. The particular kind of verbal wit found in Baroque poetry is strong in Vallejo, long before the rise of the Spanish American neo-baroque, and finds its parallel in T.S. Eliot’s admiration for John Donne, or Pound’s intrest in Laforgue.

Pound himself stated explicity that logopoeia was the hardest kind of poetry to translate, but instead of simply ignoring it he developed modes of translation specifically designed to address its inherent difficulties. To simplify greatly, his translation of Chinese poetry in Cathay is oriented toward phanopoeia, or visual imagery; his work on Troubador poetry is oriented toward melopoeia; an example of his interest in logopeia would be his Homage to Sextus Propertius. Lawrence Venuti argues that Pound’s translation practice is modernist, oriented toward making the translator visible again, unlike what Venuti takes to be the standard practice of translation in the English speaking world: the creation of a new text that reads smoothly and unproblematically in the target language.

Write, Walk, Write

If walking or biking is among your exercises, I recommend walking after you finish writing. You don't even have to make a conscious effort to continue to work through your ideas in your head. Somehow, the ideas will continue to percolate there as you walk. Running or biking might work too, in the same way. What walking has is its more relaxed pace. Sitting at a desk removed from nature is not conducive to thinking per se. Almost everywhere else is better than your work desk, though that could be good for the actual writing.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Corn, quinoa, habanero

I sauteed some fresh corn with a small amount of tomatoes and an habanero pepper. The result was too hot to eat, so I combined it with some quinoa I had made in the normal way (1/2 cup with enough water to cook it, about 2 1/2 cups, cooked with some Indian spices). It was very good mixed with the corn as a side dish. To be truly superb as main course it should have something else, I'm thinking cilantro.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Sacks

Yagoda citing Sacks:

It seems to me that I discover my thoughts through the act of writing, in the act of writing. Occasionally, a piece comes out perfectly, but more often my writings need extensive pruning and editing, because I may express the same thought in many different ways. I can get waylaid by tangential thoughts and associations in mid-sentence, and this leads to parentheses, subordinate clauses, sentences of paragraphic length. I never use one adjective if six seem to me better and, in their cumulative effect, more incisive. I am haunted by the density of reality and try to capture this with (in Clifford Geertz’s phrase) “thick description.” All this creates problems of organization. I get intoxicated, sometimes, by the rush of thoughts and am too impatient to put them in the right order. But one needs a cool head, intervals of sobriety, as much as one needs that creative exuberance.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

76. Shroud of the Gnome

James Tate. Ecco, 1997.

There are poets who get worse by not getting better over the years. The late James Tate has his charms. I've been reading this book a poem or two at a time every morning as I take a xxxx. These are charming poems, but I think he hit his high point earlier on, in The Oblvion Ha-Ha, to be precise. It is probably the case that this book (Oblivion) hit me when I was ready for it. Tate is not responsible for me having been impressionable and then disillusioned by his subsequent work.

77. Amor mi señor

Luisa Castro. Tusquets, '05.

I'm a sucker for the series "nuevos textos sagrados" by Tusquets in Barcelona. This long poetic sequence is a strange turn on the trope of courtly love as a form of erotic slavery. The final part of the book is the original Galician poems that gave rise to the entire book, written in Spanish.

78. Cuatro noches romanas

This book by my old friend Guillermo Carnero (Tusquets, '09) is a bit bizarre, consisting of a series of dialogues between the poetic speaker and a rather grotesque female figure (muse?), on four nights in the city of Rome. Carnero is a prodigiously talented, but this book will appeal to very few readers.

79. Libro de los trazados

Vicente Valero, Tusquets, '05.

I re-read this very beautiful book at the cabin at the lake for my birthday. My only critique would be that it is too explicit: it tells you what it means and doesn't leave you guessing. It is very unitary and well-planned.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

80. El común de los mortales

Jorge Riechmann, Tusquets, 2011.

My girlfriend took me to a cabin on a lake for my birthday. I read several books published by Tusquets, the Barcelona publisher of the series Nuevos Textos Sagrados. This book by my friend Jorge Riechmann is an impassioned manifesto in favor of the environment.

81. The Richard Nixon Snow Globe

Rachel Loden sent me this book back in the day (Wild Honey Press, 2005). It is exactly what is seems to be: poems dedicated to RMN in an ironic, flarf-like collage style. Very good.

82. Between Two Walls

Pacheco. Trans. Dorn & Brotherson. Black Sparrow, 1969.

José Emilio was not very well known in English when this translation came out. It is actually just a single poem, a very beautiful one, though the translation could be greatly improved. The library copy is signed by author and translators.