Monday, December 14, 2015


I'm about a third of the way through indexing the book—that is, entering all my highlighted elements into an alphabetized document—and I figure I'm working at the rate of about ten pages a hour, twelve when I'm doing well. That's not bad at all, but I'm sure not going to get rich doing this.

My drummer-colleague in the history department as a 900-page manuscript he needs indexed; he tells me he's contacted an indexer who'd do it for $1.50 a page; which seems rather low—this page recommends expecting between $4 and $6 per page for an academic book. Even if we take that top number ($6) and my fastest rate (12 pp. an hour), we need to figure in probably at least as much time spent going over the proofs in a preliminary fashion. So 6 pages an hour, all told, at $6 a page = $36 an hour.

That seems like an impressive number, or at least it would have when I was eighteen. These days, in white-collar land, I feel like I might be working beneath my normal rates. On the other hand, I'm going to come up with an index that I can truly call my own.

Sunday, December 13, 2015


So I read and returned the proofs of Michael Moorcock: Fiction, Fantasy and the World's Pain. By my count, 15 corrections total, and only two of them were the press's mistake. The rest were bits I'd overlooked. Like I said in my last post, a very clean set of proofs.

Now I'm deep into indexing the book. This is I believe the fifth book I've indexed, and I've gotten into a rhythm with the thing. I read the proofs with three different colors of highlighters at hand; I mark (1) proper names, (2) titles, and (3) concepts/ideas/miscellaneous, each in a different color. Some pages end up looking like Monet paintings; others are relatively white. Then I go back thru, a page at at time, and transfer each marked item to a Word document.

That sounds pretty slow and painstaking, and, well, it is. I like it that way. By the time I'm done, I know my book inside and out. I know what needs indexing, and what really doesn't. Yes, I've tried it with a PDF of the proofs, doing the word-search thing, and I can easily imagine how that procedure might make the whole business much easier and more palatable for someone who's in a hurry. But there's something about moving from one medium to another—from the printed-out proofs to the Word document—that makes me a bit more careful.

My antiquated indexing habits (hey, at least I don't use index cards!) make for a better book—at least for me.

For one thing, I end up reading proofs at least twice. That is, I read once, with pen in hand, for proofing, looking specifically for errors. But I don't send corrections in until I've done the highlighter-armed pre-indexing markup. That means that I've read the entire script, closely, at least twice. It works for me—so far as I can tell, there are fewer than a dozen typos in The Poem of a Life, and less than 10 in Intricate Thicket.

And I feel that it makes for a better, more comprehensive index. And yes, as one colleague tells me, everyone uses Google Books for their words searches anymore—but they'll be better off using my index for Michael Moorcock, because I can do concepts, which Google Books can't.

My new life motto: I am an anorak, and proud of it.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015


I've been feeling not great about my writing lately, so it was a mixed blessing to get page proofs for my forthcoming Michael Moorcock: Fiction, Fantasy and the World's Pain, which should be out (hopefully early) in the new year. But reading the proofs, in the interstices of grading papers and preparing exams, has actually been kind of fun. For one thing, they're really, really clean—very few corrections necessary. (I pat myself on the head for that, frankly—I gave them a clean ms to work with.)

And I've been having a ball reading the reference notes, and am reminded of one of the things that I love about doing criticism/scholarship. I try really hard to project a kind of sprezzatura in my text, to just "toss out" whatever insights I have come to as if they're perfectly obvious. But it's in the notes that I record my real labors, all the various texts I've collated, the stuff I've brought together and thought about and disentangled.

When I re-read my own notes—and this is true of The Poem of a Life: A Biography of Louis Zukofsky, especially—I can't help thinking, damn, this guy knows some stuff, he's read a bunch of books. The notes are a kind of gesture towards the clich├ęd 9-10ths of the iceberg that's out of view; the text is the visible portion.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015


I often wonder what I might have accomplished—as poet, as scholar, as writer in general—if my attention were more disciplined. As it is, the string of things I've published over the years seem to me to represent a trail of half-accomplishments, of projects half-done and half-thought-through.

I taught Milton this semester—indeed, since we haven't had finals yet, I suppose I'm still technically teaching Milton, or at least at the moment avoiding grading a stack of Milton papers. As an adjunct to re-reading Paradise Lost for the umpteenth time, I read a couple of translations of the Aeneid I'd been meaning to get to. (And thus the Susanna Braund podcasts I mentioned in the last post...) Along the way, and because of a stray FB comment by my friend Alex Davis, I decided I needed to read Lucan.

So I hauled out the only translation of Lucan's Civil War I own and set to work. The poem is fascinating, entirely different from the classical epics I know (Virgil, Homer, Apollonius). It's clearly one of the great missing elements in my background knowledge of Milton, certainly. And now I have in hand Braund's own Oxford World's Classics translation of the poem, and have begun reading it again.
But the death of Christopher Middleton (1926-2015) the other day has sent me back to his work, which I've been reading, off and on, in no systematic fashion, for some twenty years. I have a stack of Middleton books I haven't read; I'm looking at them now.

What should I be doing? I should be grading essays, of course, and making up final exams. Or I should be reading or re-reading the books that I've assigned on my syllabi for the coming spring semester. Or I should be working on the conference papers I've committed to delivering in a couple months' time. Or even working on my own poems, or thinking about the vast, rangy book on Ruskin and modernism that I hope to write before I go gaga. Instead, I continue to litter my mind with distantly related facts and impressions, continue to scatter a few words on pages that I'll probably never go back to re-read.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

my iTunes U

I've been walking a great deal, in part for my health, over the past 6 months. I like to look around, pay attention to my surroundings. But I'm of a bent that I feel occasionally guilty for not spending the time reading, or writing, or doing something (alas) productive.

Over the course of the semester I've taken to listening to podcasts on my phone, mostly by way of the iTunes U application. I can without reservation, indeed enthusiastically, recommend John Rogers's series of 20-odd Milton lectures from Yale. They are wonderful. He's talking to an undergraduate Milton course, twice a week (the third meeting is apparently discussion sections) for about 50 minutes a shot. The lectures are beautifully paced, well-written, and delivered with a delightful sense of off-the-cuffness.

More recently I've begun listening thro Susanna Braund's Stanford series on Virgil's Aeneid. Not so happy an experience. This is not an undergraduate course but an "adult learning" class of some 30 students, meeting four times for 2 hours a session. Braund's got a wonderful English accent which I could listen to all day—but she's clearly much less prepared than Rogers: she's working from outlines rather than composed lectures, and sometimes fumbles her way thru things she knows well. She does a decent job of fielding questions from the class—sometimes off the wall, often very sharp indeed—but she's all too likely to get diverted from her main point by answering an ancillary query.

Most irritating of all is her round-up of available translations. Day Lewis she dislikes—too "monumental." Mandelbaum is okay. Fagles she's not so keen on. Lombardo she owns but hasn't yet assessed. She is of course teaching from Fitzgerald (and one gets the sense that she's doing so more out of inertia than anything else). But her primary criterion for picking a translation, in the end, seems to be that it stay close to the Latin in line-count, so that students reading criticism that cites the Latin line numbers don't have too much trouble finding passages in the English.

I know it's more complicated than that—but that's the impression she gives to her adult learners. In the end, alas, I feel all too often than Braund's talking down to her not-quite-up-to-Stanford-standards students. Which isn't the way I'd go about doing an adult learning course.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

24 ix 2015

[essay in the quotidian]

Last night Daphne left her phone at the froyo place in the mall; it had been our last stop of the evening, a kind of compensation to the girls for tagging along as we badgered an old friend into trying on and ordering some spectacle frames rather more flattering to his features than the standard-issue Wayfarers he affected. When she found her phone—her lifeline to Instagram, to her various virtual pets, to her constantly-phoning and -texting friends—was missing, she was in tears. So we phoned the phone, & a few minutes later the young woman at the froyo place (it was late, but they were still cleaning up) phoned us back.

I walked over to collect it earlier today, rejoicing in a slightly cooler than lately (only in the upper seventies) and overcast day. I've been walking a lot lately—more on that later—and welcome any opportunity to pursue a pedestrian errand within a mile or two. And on the way to the mall and back, maybe a two-mile walk, I saw:

•At the pond in our neighborhood, the Muscovy duck and her brood of ducklings, grown out of the incredibly-cute-and-fuzzy stage, but still charming as all get out: not yet developing the red wattles that distinguish their parents.

•Also at the pond, what must have been a foot-and-a-half to two-foot turtle, scooting about just under the surface. Never got a decent look at him.

•Loads of the usual tiny lizards, and one or two foot-long, bright green iguanas. The population has bounced back after the killing winter a few years back; on my usual walk from the parking garage to my office at Our Fair University, I regularly come eye to eye with three-foot specimens.

•Sprawled on the sidewalk, and most definitely dead, a six-inch lizard of unidentified variety. His skin, on his limbs, tail, and head, was bright green; his body, a periwinkle blue.

•And finally, on the walk home from the mall (starting to sweat a bit, which always reminds me of Frank O'Hara), a four-foot Great Blue Heron wading in the canal, who cast an imperious and uninterested eye my way, then resumed scanning the murky water for lunch.