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¡Bemsha SWING!

Email me at jmayhew at ku dot edu "The very existence of poetry should make us laugh. What is it all about? What is it for?" --Kenneth Koch “El subtítulo ‘Modelo para armar’ podría llevar a creer que las diferentes partes del relato, sepa

Updated: 2016-04-09T14:33:50.236-05:00


Not much going on


Not much going on here. Check my other blog, Stupid Motivational Tricks.

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

Another Take


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

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

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

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

Response to Clarrisa


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

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

I am not my music's fault.

Sam Beckett's Ride Cymbal


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

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

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

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



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

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

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

I Dislike Chilled Soups


I dislike chilled soups

as a general rule

for you I'll gladly make an exception

given your penchant for assassination

As a general rule

I sleep only on Thursdays

Given your penchant for assassination

I'll give up even this small pleasure

I sleep only on Thursdays

Such is the limit of my wit

I'll give up even this small pleasure

a tax levied on my very existence

Such is the limit of my wit

A vaster corral would require too much effort

a tax levied on my very existence

equal to 150 pounds of flesh

A vaster corral would require too much effort

I am unaccustomed to mental labor

equal to 150 pounds of flesh

a calculation foreign to my nature

I am unaccustomed to mental labor

I dislike chilled soups

a calculation foreign to my nature

For you I'll gladly make an exception

Another poem


You replaced gold with silver.

I replaced the fibers in your clothes.

You ate my plums.

I ruined your make-up.

You rewrote my prose.

I rewrote your prose.

You rewrote my prose.

I rewrote your prose.

Listen to what they're saying.

What they're going around saying.

Listen to it.

Listen to it.

Distinctive Features in Translation


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

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

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

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

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

Translation Experiment (iv)


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

Time passes,

I forget.

Birds flutter by the window at night

like poets, reminding me

things haven’t changed so much.

(much more than the precisely necessary change has occurred)

Kerouac / Lorca


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



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

We would go to the park and meet pretty girls

And other pleasant, down-to-earth people

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

We would listen to NPR and the BBC World Service

And to Illinois Jacquet at Jazz at the Philharmonic

A real cool cat

A dog more cat than wolf

My Poetry


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

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

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

I ruined your make up


I ruined your make up

You left my notebook out in the rain

You sanded down the head of my snare drum

I left coffee grounds on the counter

You derived pleasure

I ate your stale leftovers

I derided your niece

You saw “Throne of Blood” without me

I gave your parents a wilted houseplant

You ate my soup without giving thanks

You forgot to fulfill my dreams

I risked the life of your friends

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

Spam Comments


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

I Was a Lazy Child


I was a lazy child

I lived only for poetry and masturbation

I was asthmatic; my father was arthritic

my grandfather would come over to do our yard work

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

I dreaded his visits--the yardwork and asthma attacks

he would come over with a chain saw

we cut interminable logs of fig

You can't burn green wood in your fireplace

the wood of the fig tree is worthless

we built interminable fires of fig

I lived only for poetry and arthritis



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

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

Imagism as Default


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

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

I bought a dishmop / having no daughter

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

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

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

The Nation


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

5 minutes ... or 5 hours


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

Translation ... even more thoughts


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

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

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

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

Wood from a broken chair,

tossed away, unprotected.

It was fatigue and rest,

it was peaceful life in company.

It will take you to the sandy

shore of an abandoned

world. Look at it

and love what’s been destroyed.

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