Archive for July, 2007

Non-poetry post

As a brief break between poetry posts, I wanted to say something about book organization.  Right now, all 600 or so books that I own are in boxes and bins and waiting ever so patiently for the moving truck to arrive tomorrow (and the very nice grad students who have agreed to help us move in return for pizza and beer).  I feel bereft looking at the empty shelves, and I found myself feeling a wee bit panicky at the thought that I would not be able to immediately access the books that I haven’t tried to read in 3 years (or more).  If anyone had walked into the office over the weekend they would have seen this:

Panicky-book-lusting-me: “Ooooh, I forgot I had David Harvey’s The Condition of Postmodernity!  I should read this.”

Rational me: “Right now?  Seriously?  How about putting it in that nice box over there instead?”

Panicky-book-lusting-me: “But what if I need it in the next, oh, five days?”

Rational me (rolling eyeballs): “When did you buy it?”

Panicky-book-lusting-me (with much indignation): “Only a year ago!”

Rational me: “Right, a year on your shelf and you haven’t read it.  I think you can go without it for another week.”

Panicky-book-lusting-me: “But, but…. (drops book in hand for another dusty tome) what about this one?”

And so on, and so on….

I don’t know what I should be more concerned about: my apparent inability to read the books I buy, or the fact that I have full conversations with myself while packing.

I am excited about the new apartment, but is it wrong that I am primarily excited because I will be re-organizing my books?  Moreover, Apparent Dip has to leave town for a few days and I’m relishing the fact that I get to reorganize in solitude (well, except for the menagerie of animals who are soooo not helpful when it comes to packing/unpacking).  As a former bookstore employee, one of my favorite activities was shelving–there’s something so rewarding and soothing in a well-organized shelf (particularly for someone who’s perhaps a tad bit OCD).  As far as fiction is concerned, I’m going to be organizing it chronologically (and then by author, title, etc).  My reasons for doing so are: a) I have everything catalogued in Library Thing and Bookpedia so I can find it there, b) books that I use for school/work are also cataloged in Bookends with original publication date, and c) it really helps solidify the context in which these books were written.  For instance, Jane Eyre will now be placed near Vanity Fair because they were written in the late 1840s (a piece of information that never really sank in before).  It feels like I can see the different conversations that books/authors were having with each other right on my very own bookshelves.

There will be some tough choices to make though (note: tongue is firmly in cheek at this point).  I have a very nice bookcase with glass doors: what gets pride of place?  Where should biographies be shelved?  I am generally undecided about my non-fiction books.  Do I try and arrange by subject matter, then alphabetically?  Do I just arrange alphabetically?  You can bet that I will be thinking about this all afternoon instead of finishing the rest of my packing….


Dante’s Inferno: Part One (Summer Poetry Challenge)

NB: this is the first of my posts for the Summer Poetry Challenge sponsored by Ted at bookeywookey (head over to his blog to see the list of other participants in his sidebar). I do not pretend to know much of anything about poetry. In fact, I joined this challenge precisely because I do not read enough poetry and it’s something I’d like to change. So I apologize in advance if what I have to say about the poems is overly banal.



There are any number of translations and editions of the Inferno, but I decided to go with two versions: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 19th-century translation and a modern version by Robert and Jean Hollander. I’ll write another post about the translations, but I really liked the idea of reading the Longfellow translation: it was the version that was popular amongst U.S. readers in the 19th century, and there was something about the historical context of this version that appealed to me. Moreover, the Longfellow edition has wonderful images by Gustave Dore, some of which I’ll try and include in the posts (the one above is Dante entering the dark wood at the beginning of the poem).

There is so much to say about The Inferno that I don’t know quite where to begin. So let’s just start with the beginning shall we? The poem begins with Dante arriving at a cross-roads in his life (something of a mid-life crisis):

Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
What is this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.

So bitter is it, death is little more;
But of the good to treat, which there I found,
Speak will I of the other things I saw there.

Dante tries to climb “Mount Delectable,” but finds his way blocked, first by a panther, then a lion, and finally, a she-wolf:

And lo! almost where the ascent began,
A panther light and swift exceedingly,
Which with a spotted skin was covered o’er!

And never moved she from before my face,
Nay, rather did impede so much my way,
That many times I to return had turned.

At first in motion set those beauteous things;
So were to me occasion of good hope,
The variegated skin of that wild beast,

The hour of time, and the delicious season;
But not so much, that did not give me fear
A lion’s aspect which appeared to me.

He seemed as if against me he were coming
With head uplifted, and with ravenous hunger,
So that it seemed the air was afraid of him;

And a she-wolf, that with all hungerings
Seemed to be laden in her meagreness,
and many folk has caused to live forlorn!

She brought upon me so much heaviness,
With the affright that from her aspect came,
That I the hope relinquished of the height.

Forced to face the path through the darkened forest, Dante calls on help and the shade of Virgil appears to guide him. Sent by Beatrice (Dante’s first youthful love and muse, who resides in heaven), Virgil promises to guide Dante through Hell and Purgatory, leaving Beatrice to guide him through Heaven. Gathering his inner strength, Dante turns to Virgil and prepares to follow him:

And I to him: “Poet, I thee entreat,
By that same God whom thou didst never know,
So that I may escape this woe and worse,

Thou wouldst conduct me there where thou hast said,
That I may see the portal of Saint Peter,
And those thou makest so disconsolate.”

Then he moved on, and I behind him followed.

A few words before I end this first post: Dante was revolutionary in writing himself into his poem, so it needs to be remembered that Dante the poet has already been through the journey that Dante the pilgrim is about to make. Moreover, Dante populated Hell with people that he knew in real life, including the father of one of his friends, and Pope Boniface VIII, Dante’s political opponent (Dante wrote The Divine Comedy while in exile from Florence). Boniface was not actually dead yet, but apparently he was so corrupt that his soul took up residence in Hell long before his body followed suit. As a recovering Catholic myself, I can say that Dante’s vision of Hell is fascinating and often quite heretical–perhaps that’s why I like it so much.

While I find Longfellow’s translation to be clunky in parts, it resonates with me (but more on that in another post). I have to say, however, that notes are essential for a greater understanding of the poem. There are so many references to politics and artists that I would not have caught if it wasn’t for the notes. But so far, I am quite enjoying my trip to Lucifer’s lair, if only because I do it vicariously through Dante.

Tomorrow: We enter Hell’s first circle! I can’t pretend to do Dante’s epic justice, but hopefully I can provide enough glimpses to convince people to (re)read it…

Personality tests and random blogging bits

Click to view my Personality Profile page

I’m never sure how I feel about these personality tests. There were so many questions that I felt I could answer multiple ways. The fact that I’m introverted is pretty spot on, however. Here’s what an INFJ personality is:

INFJs, making up an estimated 1% of all people, are the most rare type (males even more so). They are introspective, caring, sensitive, gentle and complex people that strive for peace and derive satisfaction from helping others. INFJs are highly intuitive, empathetic and dedicated listeners. These traits tend to act as a “tell me what’s wrong” sign on their forehead, hence the nicknames Confidant, Counselor or Empath. INFJs are intensely private and deeply committed to their beliefs.

I am rare! And I completely agree with all of the nice stuff (heh), and I’m sure I would be deeply committed to my beliefs…if only I could figure out what those are.  The thing is, I am a deeply private person, but with people that I trust and consider to be close friends, I think I transform into a much more extroverted personality.  Oh, and the whole “striving for peace” thing–it doesn’t really take into account the fact that I’m quick to anger (I blame my red hair) and I can swear a blue streak.  But again, I tend to flare up most readily with people that I’m close to (which is unfair to them).  I guess I do strive for peace in a theoretical sense and when strangers are involved, but let’s just say that when I have my cranky pants on and feel that I have been treated unfairly, I can be a bit, um, confrontational.  It’s something I’m working on.

Alright, that’s enough introspecting for one day!

Coming up on the blogging agenda:  I would like to start my summer poetry challenge posting early because a) one of my poems is Dante’s Inferno and b) I won’t have the interwebs at home next week as we’re moving.  So here’s my plan:

  • Saturday through Monday: a total of 3 posts on The Inferno
    • Post 1: Circle 1-5
    • Post 2: the rest of Hell
    • Post 3: translation-y items of interest
  • Sometime next week: the other three poems will go up when I sneak away from packing/unpacking to drink copious amounts of caffeine and sit in a cafe with internet access

Speaking of coffee, it’s time for my daily dose…

ooooh, a new toy

I am facing the fact that I have to move in less than a week and the packing?…Well, let’s just say that I’m still convinced that the boxes will fill themselves (talk about optimism!). Moreover, I am faced with the knowledge that my summer is dwindling and I haven’t accomplished much of anything. In order to counter my apparent lethargy, then, I made my way over to Library Thing, read through the comments on the grad student group, and discovered a new toy! My own personal wiki! Now I love any new tool or gadget that promises to make me more efficient, change my life, etc. Let’s face it: I am a product whore. I am an advertiser’s dream. Put something in fancy packaging, promise me the world, and I’m there! Apparent Dip believes that I should find a way to get a job test-driving software and organizational tools, because I love to try them. While I may never actually be organized, I do know the ins and outs of Endnote, Bookends (my current favorite), Nota Bene, and a myriad of other programs. At least I can look organized.

So, instead of reading ahead for the coming semester, ordering books for my classes, revising the two papers on my desk, or researching a new project, I made my way over to and got myself a free version to try out. So far, it’s interesting. I can’t tell for sure if using wikis will be helpful in my research or not, because, well…I’d actually have to do some research instead of playing around with software. And where’s the fun in that?

give a warm welcome to my new nephew!

I’m absolutely thrilled to say that my sister-in-law and my brother-in-law welcomed their son into the world today.  He’s healthy (and soon to be very spoiled by lots of attention) and his mom and dad are doing well.  So I am an auntie!  Very exciting, as this is my first time being an aunt.  This means:

  • I get to have an excuse to knit lots of cute toys and sweaters–oh wait, who needs an excuse for that?
  • I get to spoil a cute little kid and then give him back to his parents
  • Apparent Dip and I are already pricing drum sets and electric guitars with amps that go up to 11 (cue evil laugh)

So if everyone can send good congratulatory thoughts their way, I’d appreciate it.  Congrats to my sister- and brother-in-law!

Long-term projects

As the name of my blog states, I am addicted to “loose baggy monsters,” those novels that are so big they could also serve as doorstops and/or weapons (although that would require throwing a book, which I don’t usually do*). As friends and family enjoy pointing out, if there is a fat book on the bookstore shelves, it fixes me in its sights and compels me to buy it. My general reading weaknesses are short stories and poetry. Where short stories are concerned, I think my problem is that I finally get into a story, the characters come to life for me, and then it ends too soon, leaving me with a sort of hollow feeling. On the other hand, you would think that my increasingly short attention span would thrive on a volume that I could dip into in relatively short intervals. I love essays, why not short stories?

Poetry is difficult for me in part because I am too concerned with other people’s opinions. It may sound ridiculous, but I can’t help a nagging feeling of pretentiousness from creeping over me whenever I try to read poetry. It is ridiculous, in fact, because I rarely read poetry in public–ensconced in my office, who besides the cats will ever see me reading it? And yet, despite the fact that I have 2 (smallish) shelves dedicated to poetry, I don’t read it as often as I should.** Perhaps it’s because I have a hard time divorcing it from the “serious reading” done in classrooms and I don’t envision it as something that can be read at home, “for fun.” Such divisions are completely arbitrary and often rather unreasonable and I suspect that it would be liberating if I could break down the mental block that sustains them.

Whatever my silly prejudices, I’ve been thinking of taking on a long-term project of sorts, in which I read (and hopefully get around to posting about) a poem and/or short story each week. I was spurred to think about this because of the upcoming summer poetry challenge and my acquisition of Tatyana Tolstaya’s White Walls: Collected Stories (it’s a New York Review of Books Classics edition–so lovely). In addition, I have a collection of Katherine Mansfield’s stories on my alternates list for the Unread Authors Challenge. Apparent Dip and I are thinking of subscribing to some poetry journals to keep a flow of poems coming into the house. Can anyone recommend journals/magazines for fiction? We have several years’ worth of New Yorkers to wade through, so that’s one avenue, and then there’s The Paris Review

One other note: in preparation for the unread authors challenge it has come to my attention that I tend to shy away from literature written by men. My initial list of six unread authors was completely composed of men until I threw two women in to mix it up a bit more. Now I feel like I have more of an equilibrium, but again, I have some ingrained (and baseless) prejudices that need to be defied wholeheartedly.

If anyone has poetry/short story recommendations, I would be glad to have them.

* Generally I’ve only thrown a couple of books in my lifetime, but only when truly desperate. In part, this is due to the embarrassing shoulder injury I sustained while picking up my unabridged dictionary with one hand. It’s one thing to become injured through participation in athletic endeavors, it’s something else entirely to mess up one’s rotator cuff because of a book. On the other hand, I have been known to throw rolls of toilet paper at Apparent Dip while working on some problem sets for physics back in college (I actually was aiming at the wall, but can I help it if AD’s head got in the way? Or that my aim was off?). Sometimes I’m amazed that the man was crazy enough to marry me…

**Despite the fact that Apparent Dip and I have been together for almost 13 years, he continually surprises me. I was amazed to discover that he loves poetry and reads it on a regular basis… I’m not sure why this surprises me, but in addition to having an “inner drunken cowboy” (he has a fascination with Edward Abbey, cowboy hats/boots, and country music of the “my girl stole my truck and now my dog has left me too” kind [although I should also note that he’s extraordinarily eclectic in his musical tastes]) he also has an “inner poet.”

Did you make it?

For those of you who followed me from my former blog site, I hope the journey was a smooth one. Welcome to the new blog!