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part of the preface

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

Monday, March 20, 2017

Anger

Next time you feel angry, ask yourself:  "What benefit am I getting from being angry?" This is not a trick question: there may actually be a benefit of some kind. If there is, then hold on to your anger. If you see that there is no benefit, though, then your anger might dissipate a bit.

This is not to say that your anger is not justified.  All emotions are justified.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Breakthrough

I've suddenly felt an improvement in my piano playing.  My fingers are finding better chords with both hands, and I can actually improvise a bit. I've been trying to break out of a mechanical mode in which I was always playing the root, third, and seventh in my left hand and playing a melody in my right.  That worked for me up to a certain point but it is much better to play root and seventh, and then a third and a ninth or 13th above that, or skip the root all together.  Although I've known this in theory for a long time, it is hard to break out of a comfortable habit.

For example, my E flat flat seven is Eb / Db / G / E.

I still have a long way to go.  I could tell you all the things I still can't do.  It is strange though that I feel just as positive about those things, seeing them in my future.

As kids we imagine flying, and flight in our dreams feels very real and possible.  We can also fantasize about doing other things that seem barely possible. What if there is a thing that is as fantastic as flight, but actually plausible as a human skill? That's what piano playing is for me.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Language and the flat nine

The flat nine is a cool sounding chord extension. So I have an Eflat 7 flat nine in a song, right after a Cmaj7, etc...  The flat nine of E flat would be D. [correction: E]

But those words are meaningless, if you don't know what that sounds like. I myself barely know what this sounds like, because my ears are not that good.  I couldn't sing one for you on the spot. I could sing an octave and then up one half step, that's what it is.  I couldn't recognize one listening to music.

It seems inadequate, then, to say we think in language.  We can certainly use that label for that interval, and make ourselves understood, and understood to our own selves too, writing it down for future reference. But is the manipulation of such signs without understanding their meaning thinking? To really make the flat 9 the object of thought one would have to already be thinking musically, not just manipulating the signs of another system of thought--language.

Words cannot express, we say...  But it is a fallacy to think words ever express anything. I could try to evoke this in a poem:

"Ah, the flat nines of Bill Evans make me think of magnolia trees!"

You might get the illusion of understanding here.  The language is not really evoking the music, it is just gesturing toward it, and the person reading this line won't figure out what it really sounds like.  Words have their own sounds, and I guess those will never sound the same as any flat nine either.  Even people who claim that the referent doesn't matter won't read poetry in languages they don't understand semantically.  Of course, if we already know what magnolia trees in bloom look and smell like, then we can evoke them in a poem. The reader without this knowledge can substitute a similar kind of memory and go along for the ride.

Brilliant

From this same brilliant poet / philosopher.  She claims that Homeric poetry had a merely utilitarian function, to unite the community through myth, and that the only function of verse was to make these myths easy to memorize. Aesthetics was an afterthought, and the function of being pleasant [placentero] represented a kind of decadence. She say that ars poetica is decadent.

It is hard to know where to begin.  With people like this among the ranks of poets, who needs Philistines?

I am not using the word brilliant sarcastically.  She actually is brilliant. This is all the more disappointing because of higher expectations for such a person.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Persistence of Memory

As I write my memoir of reading--the appendix to my "Things to do with Poems"--I am coming across a phenomenon that my friend mentioned to me yesterday: if you spend a considerable time thinking about a particular era of your life, or a place you lived, then more and more details will come back. I'm not particularly concerned with accuracy here, since I'm confident that I will be inaccurate to some degree. I just have to be careful that may lack of accuracy is not too self-serving.

I do remember having a the Norton Library edition of Herrick and bringing it to school with me in High School. I don't think that is a false memory. I looked it up on amazon and it is the same color as I remembered.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

More things I don't like

1. Writers talking about jazz improvisation without actually knowing anything about jazz except that it's improvised. Can we be serious here?

2. Writers thinking that Andy Warhol brought actual soup cans into the gallery / museum, not realizing he painted quite painterly pictures of soup cans. (Yes, I just read an article that claimed that he just brought some actual soup cans to display.)

3. Generally, these kind of second hand remarks made by people who have no idea what they are talking about and just citing these things as cultural tropes, along the lines of the "Eskimos have so many words for snow" thinking.  Be serious, people! You can't just cite Heisenberg on uncertainty if you actually have no clue.

4. Soviet symbols used as kitsch.  Like people who think it's cute to have a CCCP conference (Contemporary conference ... something poetry.) I have to admit a coffee shop I frequent uses the hammer and sickle ironically in their logo. I'm not crazy about it.

Context

I read an article in Spanish by a poet / philosopher that spoke at length about anything seen in a museum being "decontextualized."  While true, and convincingly stated and argued, this seemed a tiresome argument because it made me realize that all reading (other than of texts produced yesterday in one's own culture) is decontextualized. That is simply the condition of reading, and the condition that makes literature possible in the first place.

We can pretend to privilege the original context, but it is our own context that really matters.