Wednesday, April 30, 2014


James Joyce said to Jacques Mercanton of Finnegans Wake, "You are not Irish...and the meaning of some passages will perhaps escape you.  But you are Catholic, so you will recognize this and that allusion.  You don't play cricket; this word may mean nothing to you.  But you are a musician, so you will feel at ease in this passage" (quoted on page ix of John Bishop's introduction to the Wake).  I read Zukofsky's "'Nor did the prophet'" this morning which mentions Jannequin and birds.  That made me think of Pound's Canto LXXV, which consists mostly of a violin transcription of Janequin's "Le Chant des Oyseaulx."  Pound thought birdsong had inspired troubadour Arnaut Daniel's poetry and that the music of Daniel's poetry evoked the music of the birds.  Pound thought that troubadour poetry inspired Janequin's piece where singers imitate birds.

The first time I read that Canto back in 1984 I didn't know all that.  I probably didn't know it the second, third or fourth times I read The Cantos either.  Only I when I started teaching The Cantos did I start to read a bunch of secondary sources.  It strikes me that many books demand many readings for deeper understanding.  Of course, each of us can only read a fraction of the books out there, and we likely only reread a fraction of the ones we read.  I think of the Kabbalistic notion Phil Dick mentioned in The Divine Invasion that 144,000 different Torahs exist for each of the members of the Twelve Tribes.  We each create our own versions of each work of art we deeply experience.  This gets me thinking of Borges.

I've devoted a good chunk of my life to understanding Bob Wilson's books.  Participating in the Illuminatus! group read over at reminds of how limited my perception of his work seems.  "Remove infinity from it and infinity remains."  Bob quoted that Upanishad line in Masks of the Illuminati, and it seems true of all great works of art.  I remember hearing Andre Previn saying he loved conducting because he spent his life immersing himself in works greater than himself.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

"Mantis," A Misinterpretation

Zukofsky wrote a sestina called "Mantis" and a poem explaining it called "'Mantis,' An Interpretation."  I don't think he knew anything about the mantis as a source of Chinese martial arts, and I know he didn't know anything about the Marvel Comics character who became the Celestial Madonna in Avengers.  However, he does refer to his mantis as a "prophetess."  In another of his poems he used the word "inhuman."  Thinking about writing this blog today, that word made me think of the Inhumans in the Marvel universe.  When I read the word "overweening" it made me think of my friend Michael's blog.

Reading Zukofsky makes me think of listening to Bach.  Right now I have Bach playing, thinking about reading Zukofsky.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Introduction to Nothing

"I have nothing to say
and I and saying it."  - John Cage

I read that Zukofsky chose the publisher for 80 Flowers because they had published a book by John Cage.  For John Cage's centennial I did 4'33" with some of my classes.  On page 433 of the hardcover edition of Finnegans Wake the word "SILENCE" appears.  I've often wondered if that inspired the Wake-enthusiast Cage.

While writing this blog just now a student told me his band had composed a piece by randomly opening a book of scales and using a scale they randomly pointed to.  They chose C minor.

Joseph Kerman wrote a terrific piece called "Beethoven's Minority" about Beethoven's pieces in minor keys.  Beethoven had something of an obsession with the key of C minor.  His pieces in C minor tended to end up in C Major (such as the Fifth Symphony).  Kerman observes how rarely Beethoven's pieces in other minor keys followed that pattern of ending up in the parallel major key.  Beethoven seemed to associate the key of C minor with heroic/Promethean struggle.  I love the line near the end of The Trick Top Hat by Bob Wilson that says something like people such as Beethoven see evolution as an Promethean struggle, when they only need to cooperate with the DNA blueprint.  Following the comments on the morphogenetic circuit in Quantum Psychology, I tend to reword this as "cooperate with the morphogenetic fields."

I plan to read more Zukofsky so I'll have more to say about him in future posts.

"The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley" - Robert Burns

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

R.I.P. Joseph Kerman

I learned from Michael Johnson's comment last week that Joseph Kerman, one of my favorite writers, had died.  I've read some of Prof. Kerman's writings on Beethoven this week and listened to some Beethoven as well to go along with my reading.

This morning, thinking of writing this blog, I put on the companion CD of Bach's music to Kerman's The Art of Fugue, and when I got to work I put on a Bach Cello Suite.  (I tend to listen to Bach on Wednesdays to help me with this blog.)  In had an email from The New York Review of Books with a reprint of this article by Kerman on Mozart: .  I read this article and two other Kerman articles on Mozart today.  I also looked up Mozart in the index to "A" and I read the pages listed.  Bach dominates "A", but Mozart makes a  handful of appearances.  Many of the references to Mozart in the poem relate to Louis Zukofsky's violinist son Paul.

Classical music seems my music of choice in recent years.  I find artistic canons fascinating, and I've commented before how I find it interesting that both Pound and Zukofsky centered their musical world on Bach.  Robert Anton Wilson, Donald F. Tovey, and others center theirs on Beethoven (as do I).  Mozart stands between them, and his stock has certainly risen in the last century.

I feel like I've begun to ramble.  It looks like I will teach Advanced Placement Music Theory again next year, so I look forward to continuing to improve my understanding of the music of the Common Practice Period (1650 - 1850).  I've spent fifteen years teaching mostly English.  Perhaps as I teach fewer English classes I can improve my writing and my understanding of poetry and also improve my understanding of music theory.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Thanks to Wikipedia

I love Wikipedia, especially when I hear other educators disparage it.  I don't trust it completely, but I don't trust any text completely.  I love that I can change it if I disagree with it or find it factually incorrect.  I love that it has so much of the information I want to find quickly.

I looked at Frank O'Hara's Wikipedia page last week.  I learned that the TV show Mad Men has references to his work.  I learned of his birth in 1926, the same as Robert Creeley and Allen Ginsberg, and of his death in 1966.  I had thought of him as born later and dying even younger.

I've begun reading Zukofsky's Complete Short Poetry again.  I love Bob Creeley's introduction.  I don't understand "Poem beginning 'The'" but I look forward to finishing rereading it and rereading the whole book.  I plan to read some Catullus in Latin along with Louis and Celia's Catullus versions when I reach that section of the book.