Category Archives: Questions

My OS is terribly corrupted

I cannot update system software because third party repositories are interfering — my package system is broken. I must also say sudo apt-get install-f in the terminal, and have it understand and act on this, which it is not doing.

I will resolve these things when I return from the tropics — I am going to Miami — but I am not sure whom to ask. I need a boot disk but the boot disk I have, if I find it, is not for this version of the OS.


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Someone agrees with me on composition and the introduction to literature, Dieu merci

Q. Do you have comments on the idea that “literature is not for everybody, and should only be taught in literature classes” — ?

A. That idea makes me mad. I could point to cognitive theory, which makes the argument that literature is an important way we develop our ability to empathize with people who are not like us. I could point to the fact that “literature” in the sense of “storytelling” has been a part of every major culture, even non-literate ones, and every single student in our classes needs to learn how to understand what other people are doing when they are telling stories (and to identify it when it happens) because it is embedded in our advertising, our politics, our leisure activities, and yes–our art.

Literature should no more be limited to “literature classes” than math should be limited to “math classes.” We use math to understand physics, chemistry, sociology, psychology, and yes, even occasionally literature. The case of literature is the same (Flatland is a good example).

A. The Research Compliance Committee has determined that literature is too dangerous for general access, and must be handled according to strict guidelines, using proper and approved reading methods. Literature courses focusing on such methods are the most responsible way to expose students to working with literature, but other courses may be approved on a case-by-case basis by the Committee.


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On Language Log

First, do you think Language Log is incredibly pedantic and literal minded to feel as they do about Orwell and about The elements of style, or am I simply not modern and/or not doctrinaire enough as a leftist? I really want to know.

Second, I submitted to Ibbetson Street but not Slipstream. And that is enough for now, I will look at journals in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Miami, perhaps even here in Maringouin. I have to subscribe to the places I have submitted because I cannot see them here easily, otherwise, and I always say do not submit where you do not read regularly. I keep liking, have always liked the poems in TriQuarterly, the tension in them, but I do not think I reach their quality and my ideal for professionalism at least, continues to be the Beloit Poetry Review because they are interested in the poem and not the author. And my opinions in these matters have not varied since college, which I find amusing. (I would like to just think about poetry at this moment. I would like to have so many lives.)

Third, I woke up this morning thinking that if my life were ideal it would not be very different from what it is. Certain major details and features would change but the only major change would be that the university would treat me like a valued colleague, not like a prisoner, abused dog, slave, resented poor relation, or the other McDonaldized ways they come up with to treat the three research faculty there are in my field and the myriad instructors.

In college and graduate school, and in the R1 places I worked, they did not act like this. I had impostor syndrome in college, of course, because my family (my mother) did not seem think I was qualified to be studying where I was and also (my father) did not seem to think my degree was valid becaue I had not paid for college entirely on my own. But the university did not seem to think like that until they started caring about me, which was when it became obvious I would finish the PhD. That was when they started in with the cant about how I was arrogant and my work was bad.

It becomes clear that I really, definitely, internalized all of these things and more and must really, definitely, react instead. I have been told I scare people and hurt them because they can tell I see through them and because I am psychologically so much freer than most, and because I am more intelligent, and because really intelligent people respond to me. I feel so guilty about those characteristics I have, the people they have hurt, when I had nothing against them.

These things are why it is important for me to be in good environments — environments where it is not considered arrogant or cruel  to be intellectually oriented, and where people are able to great each other with genuine respect. I have, it is clear, to treat my own self with more respect than I do but it is difficult in negative or deprived environments and any sociologist could confirm that: the academic advisors base what they say, I find, on wishful thinking in the same way as the self-help industry seems to do.

Nonetheless I do wonder whether it is possible to end the self-torture in which I obviously indulge … this at the very least. I woke up in the middle of the night last night, it was beautiful clear weather, and learned about this resident artists’ program which I have already discussed. Just thinking about it, thinking about being there and working like that, I felt like such a different person, but that identity seemed so close, almost within reach.



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It is of course better than any of the alleged poems in that book I reviewed, but beyond that is it worthwhile to persons besides myself, je vous le demande.


How many roads lead to Heaven?
If you trip on the bridge, do you fall?
Had some event marked her,
did a single moment fix her to that chair?
Or had a slow accretion, a maze
of impasses melded her bones to the rock?
It may be either or both, as damage comes at every speed
and the effect is the same

We caught fragments of tales but dreamed of loving
an object that would look across at us and not be set
above or below.
A diamond or a comet, perhaps
a fiery gem that would hit us right in the chest

They wanted to tell each other about themselves
sat in twin chairs and rehearsed
What really happened, do you remember,
did you see, was it true? I had heard,
can we know, did he love me, should we call.

Sitting in chairs they repeated fragments.
Interiors once deep, dissolved slowly
They threw and caught lines but
did not hold out their hands

a fiery gem was desirable indeed

We are sifting fragments,
the fragments are of bone.
How many roads lead ahead,
if you trip on the bridge

we are sifting fragments,
the fragments are of bone
the stories have been lost
the fragments told their own

How many roads lead
a world of texture and gaps
figures falling to darkness
settling to the ground



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Only one section to go, and I am learning from doing this, and/but is it too negative?

Writin’ La Vida Loca: Laundry, Poetry, Love

Ella qué será
She’s livin’ la vida loca
Y te dolerá
Sí, de verdad te toca
–Ricky Martin

No one should try to climb this
Mexican electric fence

The title of Natalia Treviño’s collection Lavando la Dirty Laundry (Norman, OK: Mongrel Empire Press, 2013) is most surely a direct allusion to Ricky Martin’s 1999 pop hit “Livin’ la vida loca,” but it also recalls Carlos Drummond de Andrade’s series “A vida passada a limpo” or “Life in a clean draft,” first published in Poemas (Rio de Janeiro: Livraria José Olympio, 1959).1 Poetry for Drummond does not purify life, but heightens experience by stripping it down to essences. In the series’ title poem the moon illuminates both the bedroom it has entered and an obscure corner of the self, stirring dark residues to bloom and superimposing sky, room, and consciousness in a “shimmer of death that recalls love.”2 Treviño’s cleaning metaphor, on the other hand, does not work toward metaphysical abstraction but embraces instead the detritus of life, the crumbs swept up, and the significance of the stories these may tell. The prose poem “A Lesson in Elements” (38) explains how atoms seek mates to form molecules that join again to form soap. Soap and water make suds, which join dirt in an eager marriage that undermines the contrast between clean and dirty, taking life all together. Love is like that.

These autobiographical poems are stories of the joys and sorrows of women in families – wives, mothers, grandmothers, aunts – on both sides of the border between Texas and Mexico, and of relationships between women as well as with husbands and sons. In the title poem “Lavando la Dirty Laundry,” for instance, the young speaker’s grandmother tells her that her grandfather had girlfriends. He once mistook a man who comes to tell her this for someone come courting, and threw her pile of clean laundry out into a muddy street. He muddied her, that is to say, and the laundry had to soak for days because rain prevented her from washing soon again. The incident is narrated years later as she prepares to bake a cake, pressing dough into a form, “a metal heart yielding below your fingers” (34), the grandmother loving still, the form responding now to her love. “Well, God” (21-23), the most interesting poem in the book in terms of anecdote, tells of how this grandmother, after one of her sons died in babyhood, adopted a girl from a beggar woman who was giving her children away:

I will take your girl, you said.
And Raque was yours, Raquenel.
A girl you named after yourself. (23)

This grandmother is perhaps the best drawn character in the collection. The speaker, or author’s much more modern loves are implicitly contrasted with hers, and the grandmother’s homely wisdom often applies to her as well. The volume takes us from a first marriage to a divorce, to a remarriage, the birth of a child and a husband’s cancer treatment, often illustrated with references to Greek mythology, the New Testament, or the folktales gathered by the brothers Grimm. A good marriage is like a carefully prepared sauce, we learn in “It Was the Chef Who Finally Explained” (37); a second marriage is like a stew crafted of disparate ingredients, explains “Second Marriage, Stew” (51-52). In a bad marriage the wife, ignored by her husband and his friends and feeling annihilated psychically, seduces him in such a way as to make sure the friends hear her breathe, hoping this will remind them she is a person (“An Ex Recounts,” 5).

Sound and rhythm as well as images of great sensorial impact make the collection lush despite some heavy-handed metaphors:

Before bed, my son told me, You’re not you anymore.
“You’re like my shoes! When they’re tied too tight!”
(“The Mother Who Tried,” 20)

My serrated, magnetic teeth.
My one volt eye.
(“Shock,” 54)

Yet my ex would have me ash again,
While I dine on our Phoenix.
(“Forgive Me That My Empirical Self Still Rules,” 72)

There is obvious pleasure in language here but it is the content of its narratives and the observant eye of its narrator that drive these poems. Several of the briefer pieces would also be brilliant openings for short stories:

He would spark a joint in the living room
Ask, “Wanna hit?”

He always said he wanted to be good to her.
Share his life. Stuff like that.
(“The Happy Couple,” 3)

Mexico is the volume’s ancestral home and some of its most evocative pieces are set there, but Treviño has grown up in English and her literary roots are most clearly located in the conversation poetry or prose lyric (Plumly 3) of the contemporary United States.4 Spanish is not used as part of the elaborate systems of code-switching and cultural layering one finds in poets like Lorna Dee Cervantes or Gloria Anzaldúa. It serves to provide local color, as foreign languages often do in the regionalist tradition, and it indicates entrance to a rawer world:

I ask this of a language where
the heads of pigs hang above sodas
three houses away. Where newspapers print, ¡Accidente!
Above bright photos of half-bodies, twisted, red metal.
Where with this same paper,
they wrap the meat you will eat for lunch.
(“Translating Birth,” 16)

This needs one more section, on the body, and a few remarks to bring us back to Drummond and Martin, perhaps, and then revision depending on what anyone says, and that is it. I have not yet used the phrase “that having been said,” but I can still do so or do something similar.



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On death in Vallejo. On Pyncheon.

Is it something like this? Something in an apocalyptic landscape? My piece, which is “killing” me, begins and ends with Nelson Osorio and the avant-garde as a “reajuste cultural a nivel global.”

The choice is a clear one. We can continue acting as if tomorrow will be just like yesterday, growing less and less prepared for each new disaster as it comes, and more and more desperately invested in a life we can’t sustain. Or we can learn to see each day as the death of what came before, freeing ourselves to deal with whatever problems the present offers without attachment or fear.

The linked article is really worth reading. This is another piece about modernity and the subject that one should really consider. Vallejo is about being in modernities, and so much work on him that does not reduce to biography still reduces to individual experience and a few clichéd problems or philosophical ideas. I exaggerate, of course, as there is other and better work.

Still I think there is something yet larger afoot in this writer than has yet been articulated — and at the same time as I say this so grandly, I know I have not mastered either his texts or the bibliography on them. Some of the bibliography, it must be said, is highly illuminating and other parts of it are so stultifying as to make one want to give up the field. The patience for sifting is what I need, and the time — and the courage, because I lack necessary intellectual background to grasp all of these things, and that is not my usual situation, even with unfamiliar material. A good scholar told me in October that that is how it is with this poet.


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Notes for next time

When I have to give that pesky Spanish class again, I will have grades recorded all the time in a gradebook they can see electronically, with comments. Grade structure will be very easy to average at the end, because everything will be worth 10%.

Four quizzes or tests taken online outside class time, that include “objective” questions and an essay graded on one grammar point only, 10% each. The essays will be the ones from the workbook that we did not assign.

Two in-class essays, where they have to read something ahead of time and then come in ready to do reading comprehension exercises on it (vocabulary, short answer, essay), 10% each.

Recitation in class, i.e. quality of spoken Spanish as noted through class participation, 10%

Workbook, 10%. If it is done electronically, the essays will not be assigned, but the videos will.

Reading together in class, week of Thanksgiving.

Oral presentation, 10%, last week of class, on reading.

Final exam, on the format of the in-class essays, on reading just done or a related reading, 10%.



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