Monday, January 16, 2006


I'm taking a break from this blog to concentrate on other projects of a more academic nature. Also, I want to stop approaching books of poetry (I've got an interesting stack to look at) in terms of what I'm going to say about them. I'm just going to read them now. Lots.

I'll pick things up again on February 15.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Close Reading Assignment

Compare and contrast Jennifer Moxley's "Life Policy" (Imagination Verses, Tender Buttons, 1996; rpt. Salt Publishing, 2003) with Billy Collins' "I Ask You" (Cortland Review 7, May, 1999).

Kasey Mohammad's answer can be read here. RJ McCafferry's response to Kasey can be read here.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Ladle, the Crutch (4)

Ziggy finds that the soup du jour had been a ruse all along, while Thomas' decaying body had drawn upon some charge from at least 1450. The crutch or crutchstaff, upon which he leans, was given to him out of respect for his age.

She is represented in homely garments, with a ladle or skimmer in her hand, leaning against the edge of the table, pulling up the empty pant leg. Attached there are small scraps of cloth.

An hour later, the crutch is done. The cross piece has been nailed into place using the ladle. She dips it into the hot water, then transfers pure honey in a timeless ceremony.

His trousers split completely (an incongruous sight) and as the oar creaks softly in the rowlock it pronounces, "Pasquale can get another from the main glass-house."

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


TELL them to read those books and SHOW them how to use the library.

Curiosity will kill the cat.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Open Letter to the Ideal Dean of Humanities

There is no man who knows so much about, let us say, a passage between lines 100 to 200 of the sixth book of the Odyssey that he can't learn something by re-reading it WITH his students, not merely TO his students.

Ezra Pound

Imagine a Department of Modern Language. Its faculty would be selected on the basis of expertise in one of six books, which they would be responsible for representing in both their teaching and their scholarship. In addition, two full professors would be responsible for intertextual integration, again, both in teaching and research.

In the first year of studies, students would read and be examined on the six core works in the programme.

Shakespeare's Hamlet.
Cervantes' Don Quixote

Joyce's Ulysses.
Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu.

Heidegger's Sein und Zeit.
Wittgenstein's Philosophische Untersuchungen.

While all these books would be approached through their English translations, students would also be introduced to the originals and the problems of translation. Very little would be done to contextualize them; the task in the first year would be to get them read.

In the second year, they would read them again. And again, these books would constitute the only background for examination. This time in various historical and intellectual contexts, suggested by the teachers and their students.

In the third year, students would read them again. But this time with an eye to selecting one of the following two groups of three works to concentrate on. It is only the works of one of these two groups that they would then be examined on. They would also be asked to explain their decision.

Shakespeare's Hamlet.
Joyce's Ulysses.
Wittgenstein's Philosophische Untersuchungen.

Cervantes' Don Quixote.
Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu.
Heidegger's Sein und Zeit.

In the fourth year, they would study those three books and be examined on them in various combinations. Honours students would write a thesis and take a comprehensive oral exam.

Extra faculty would be retained to cover Dante's Divine Comedy, Virgil's Aenied, Homer's Odyssey and Illiad. Students would only be examined on these if granted special dispensation (based in part on a language requirement) to replace one of the three books chosen for the third and fourth years

Before this idea is dismissed it is important to keep in mind that no student would be advised to read only the six core books. The list does not indicate what students would not read, but what all students would read.

The real challenge in thinking this sort of programme through is to imagine what one would have to know, or how many different combinations of things it would suffice to know, to make useful sense of the core curriculum. Each book simply provides a focus, both for students and faculty, to develop their mastery of the grammar; along the way, students might also learn one or two languages. The possibilities, I would argue, are endless.

Imagine someone saying, "I only know Hamlet, Ulysses and the Untersuchungen."

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Superior Amusement

For me flarf is primarily about absurdity in the service of elation and subversion. That’s the upper limit. Lower limit is making your friends laugh during their tedious day-job work hours.

Drew Gardner
April 16, 2003

This locates poetry almost exactly where I would like it to be. Somewhere between cultural politics and working life. I think, however, that the words "subversion" and "tedious" indicate a presumption that poetry offers an alternative or escape from more quotidian and less valuable pursuits. It would be sufficient for me that poetry offered us elation (in a culture that does not need to be, or is unlikely to be, subverted) and laughter (during working hours that are not tedious, or not unnecessarily tedious).

What I mean is, the thing that I appreciate about flarf is its ability to "leave everything as it is," as Wittgenstein said philosophy must, and yet find some pleasure in it. There is a good deal of poetry out there that can only imagine joy at the expense of leaving everything behind or turning it upside down.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Advantage, Distance, Happiness

The only advantage that any artist has, the only thing that any artist can really write about, and all artist do write about, whether they know it or not, is that distance from the world. Some realize it and some do not realize it. I do realize it and I know that I obtain it through media. And I know that I would have been very unhappy as a nineteenth century man.

Glenn Gould
(Tape 7283)

Friday, January 06, 2006


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Thursday, January 05, 2006

Poetic Diction (1912-2006)

"Scurrilous" was what the lady critic
called the poet Irving Layton.

And "scurrilous" were Friedrich Nietzsche's
final leaps and dances.

1 (of a person or language) grossly or
indecently abusive 2 given to or ...

No, I think that Nietzsche's dance
was something of a scamper

(bustle, haste, 3 a flurry of rain or snow)
that he took short, quick steps.

And that it was the poet's humour that
the lady critic thought was low.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Responsibilities and Preoccupations

I am more afraid of becoming confused than of anything else.

Michael Andrews

The epigraph comes from "Notes and Preoccupations", published in X in 1960 (volume 1, number 2, pp. 137-141). I don't know anything about Andrews, but what I've seen of his paintings is interesting. His prose, like the prose of many painters (Albers, for example), is refreshing.

He wrote a paragraph as a preface to his notes, which makes a good deal of sense to me. Here he tells us that

Making notes was a way of forestalling deliberations about distractions which presented themselves as substitute responsibility for what I was doing (for which I really felt responsibility). ... If I had not made notes of them they would have stuck in my mind and would have compelled an interminable familiarisation and analysis and I should have lost my presence of mind in a preoccupation.

I think blogging serves a similar function for me, though the Pangrammaticon itself, at times, becomes a kind of "substitute responsibility". As a philosopher, I feel that my real responsibility is to assist in the presentation of scientific results, and this is in fact what I spend most of my time doing, nine to five. As a poet, my felt responsibilities concern the arrangement of beautiful words in beautiful ways (or variations on this formula). I do that less often than I would like.

I get distracted by the desire to have opinions, to know things. My blogging, though it has at times been misunderstood in terms of this desire, is, as Andrews puts it, really just "a capitulation to the anxiety to be entrenched in a certainty of any kind." That probably accounts for their intermittent air of complete certitude. They are, more accurately, "intuitive approximations I scribbled down when they occurred to me", freeing my mind up to do other more responsible things, like editing. (On the advice of Borges, I try to keep my poems and my editing free of my opinions, "the most trivial things about us.")

Or that is what I like to think is happening.