Treading in Poe’s footsteps

His imagination was singularly vigorous and creative; and no doubt it derived additional force from the habitual use of morphine, which he swallowed in great quantity, and without which he would have found it impossible to exist. It was his practice to take a very large dose of it immediately after breakfast each morning, — or, rather, immediately after a cup of strong coffee, for he ate nothing in the forenoon, — and then set forth alone, or attended only by a dog, upon a long ramble among the chain of wild and dreary hills that lie westward and southward of Charlottesville, and are there dignified by the title of the Ragged Mountains.

Upon a dim, warm, misty day, toward the close of November, and during the strange interregnum of the seasons which in America is termed the Indian summer, Mr Bedloe departed as usual for the hills. The day passed, and still he did not return.

— Edgar Allan Poe, "A Tale of the Ragged Mountains"

Today I learned that when I move to Charlottesville, I can go for a walk in those very same Ragged Mountains. I’d read the story several years ago but forgotten where the mountains in question were. It’ll be interesting to see if they’re as "wild and dreary" as Poe says they are.

(I just had to mention that. I’m still giddy with excitement about the move.)

But there will be no morphine or mysterious disappearances involved. Though there may very well be strong coffee…

Required reading

"Wanted: Really Smart Suckers", by Anya Kamenetz of the Village Voice, should be required reading for all aspiring graduate students. Particularly this quote from comp lit Ph.D. Dan Friedman: "I didn’t know what I was getting into. It would have been different if I had known. You’re committed to your subject and you think, I want to study literature. You don’t think of yourself as a 40-year-old trying to support a family." Yup.

Seven years ago, when I entered graduate school, people were still predicting that, while the academic job market admittedly sucked like a giant Hoover vacuum, there’d eventually be tenure-track positions opening up as all the older professors finally retired. Now that it’s becoming increasingly clear that many of those positions are being replaced by adjunct jobs, I wonder if the old "they’ll retire sooner or later" argument is still in use. If (as the Voice article reports), "[g]rad school applications are up slightly over the last decade, as unemployed college grads seek a haven from the job market," I suspect yes — though this also suggests that a lot of bright young people see grad school as a way of sitting out economically tough times.

The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of putting together a whole bunch of writings from the academic and postacademic blogosphere and turning them into a book for prospective graduate students. Someone proposed this idea already, I know. But who? I want to say I saw it at Caveat Lector, or possibly in an Invisible Adjunct thread, but my brain feels like a sieve today. If anyone has the link I’d be grateful.

Poem On Your Blog Day

I found out about Poem on Your Blog Day via this Metafilter thread, one of whose contributors has made me very happy by posting Frank O’Hara’s "Having a Coke with You." I find it all but impossible to pick just one poem, but for some reason I thought of this one:

But I Can’t

Time will say nothing but I told you so,
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
If we should stumble when musicians play,
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

There are no fortunes to be told, although,
Because I love you more than I can say,
If I could tell you I would let you know.

The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,
There must be reasons why the leaves decay;
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

Perhaps the roses really want to grow,
The vision seriously intends to stay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

Suppose the lions all get up and go,
And all the brooks and soldiers run away?
Will time say nothing but I told you so?
If I could tell you I would let you know.

W. H. Auden

See also this article from the UK Guardian on Auden and song.

(Elsewhere, Dorothea posts the entirety of A. D. Godley’s wonderful macaronic poem "Motor Bus," the first four lines of which got lodged in my head, inconveniently without any recollection of who wrote them, after I saw them quoted in some book or other I read years ago. And this is also happy-making.)

Post of utter miscellany

Thank you all so much for the good wishes. Gosh. [shuffles feet, mumbles something incoherent but pleased] We return you now to your regularly scheduled agenda:

In the department of Post/Academic Linkage, everyone has already linked to this, but I’m heartened to see the Invisible Adjunct getting some press. Everyone is also already linking to the discussion of the same article at Crooked Timber, but today is blogging catch-up day — a.k.a. "I can be in denial about when grades are due for a little bit longer" day — here at Household Opera.

In the department of Weird Referral Log Stats, I present the oddest Google search pointing here in recent days: "embellishing flip-flops." Curious. But if that person is still looking for embellished flip-flops, one can get lovely sort-of-flipfloppy mesh shoes with sequins at Pearl River for $4.50. After I bought myself a pair a couple of summers ago, I started seeing similar shoes for three or four times the price at trendier stores. Hah, trendy shoe retailers, I say, hah! I mock you with my mesh slippers!

In the department of Exciting Opera News, my friend R. and I are thinking of seeing Der Rosenkavalier at the Met in the spring, assuming I have time for a New York trip. (Or several. I want to see their production of Rodelinda as well. Heck, I’d get season Upper Upper Balcony tickets if I lived in New York.) Ah, Susan Graham. And then there’s Handel and Rameau and all kinds of other coolness at the New York City Opera, too. What is one to do?

And, in the department of Reasons Why I’m Glad I’m Moving to Warmer Climes: today was cold enough that there were snowflakes drifting from the sky. Not many, but they were definitely snowflakes. "Charlottesville is kind of muggy and hot in the summertime," cautioned one of the people I shared my news with yesterday. I just laughed. Anywhere where it doesn’t snow in April is fine by me, and I grew up in Baltimore — I’m already adept at dealing with sticky heat.

An announcement. A big one, in fact.

Addio, addio, o miei sospiri! O, pieno di gioia il cor!

Apologies for breaking into song like that, but I have some very good news: my long-shot Plan A for next year has come through.

I’ve just been offered the postdoctoral fellowship I applied for, and I’ve just accepted it. I’m officially going to be spending next year at the University of Virginia Library. [Update, to clarify: It’s not a traditional academic postdoc; it’s actually a Fellowship in Scholarly Information Resources, administered by the Council on Library and Information Resources.] I was all but positive that I wouldn’t get it, but then late last week the call came through. I still keep catching myself thinking that I’ve hallucinated the good news; I think I’d forgotten what it feels like to be happy. But, so help me, I’m going to make sure I don’t forget it it this time around.

(On a related note, Terry Teachout theorizes about why happiness is harder to articulate than unhappiness. I’ll just add an inarticulate "what he said" and save the longer thoughts for later. Consider that a placeholder for the longer and more thoughtful posts that I haven’t been composing because I’ve been distracted these past few days.)

And now I have to think about moving, which is going to happen at the beginning of July. And what books I can sell to the used bookstores without causing myself too much separation anxiety. And which pieces of furniture it won’t be worthwhile to haul back east. And finding an apartment in Charlottesville. I’ve never lived there; do any of you, gentle readers, know the area? Suggestions concerning good restaurants, early-music concertgoing opportunities, interesting areas to live near campus, etc., would be greatly appreciated.

And hey, bloggers of the greater Virginia/Maryland/D.C. area! I’m going to be in your neck of the woods, sort of! Anyone want to have lunch in D.C. sometime late this summer or thereafter, assuming I have time to schedule a weekend excursion?

There’s still the big question of what happens after the fellowship year is up. But I hope to have more of an answer to that when the time comes. Right now, I’m enjoying a startlingly novel surge of optimism about my future. It’s all a bit overwhelming, like I might float away if I’m not careful — but this week my feet are still firmly on the ground, because I have portfolios to grade.


First, Andrew Marvell. I have a hard time choosing favorite seventeenth-century poets, but at any given point, Marvell’s likely to be among my top three.

The Mower to the Glo-Worms

Ye living Lamps, by whose dear light
The Nightingale does sit so late,
And studying all the Summer-night,
Her matchless Songs does meditate;

Ye Country Comets, that portend
No War, nor Princes funeral,
Shining unto no higher end
Then to presage the Grasses fall;

Ye Glo-worms, whose officious Flame
To wandring Mowers shows the way,
That in the Night have lost their aim,
And after foolish Fires do stray;

Your courteous Lights in vain you wast,
Since Juliana here is come,
For She my Mind hath so displac’d
That I shall never find my home.

— Andrew Marvell (via the University of Virginia’s Electronic Text Center)


Marvell’s Mower, who appears in several of Marvell’s other poems, is a strange figure, sometimes angry, sometimes comic. This poem is one of the calmer ones, deliberately keeping its distance from the larger world in which wars and princes’ funerals figure. Juliana, the Mower’s always unavailable beloved, doesn’t appear until the last stanza. I find those last two lines stunning: Marvell seems to articulate something essential about the experience of being crazily in love with someone and suddenly having the entire world look unfamiliar. It reminds me somewhat of Freud’s "uncanny," the unheimlich or un-home-like. (Also of a bit from Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse: "I walk back and forth in my room: the various objects — whose familiarity usually comforts me — the gray roofs, the noises of the city, everything seems inert to me, cut off, thunderstruck.")

And secondly, glow-worms. It occurred to me that I didn’t know precisely what a glow-worm (or, in the earlier spelling, which I love, "glo-worm") was; I had a vague idea of their being sort of like fireflies. However, thanks to the UK Glow worm survey, I now know that they’re a type of beetle, that they’re related to fireflies but don’t flash, and that people organize glow-worm walks to look at them. If I ever visit the UK (and I hope I will at some point), I shall add glow-worm watching to the agenda.


A meme from Caterina:

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 23.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.

I cheated a little bit, because I’ve got a stack of books on the table at my left elbow and a bookshelf at my right, so "the nearest book" could be any of several. I’m going with my Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens:

"Fill your black hull / With white moonlight."

Update, 4/21: and an even cooler variation, via Languagehat:

1. Take the nearest six to ten books from your shelf.
2. Open them to page 23, and find the fifth sentence.
3. Write down those sentences and arrange them to form a short story.
4. Post the text in your journal along with these instructions.

I’m going to do this with every bookshelf in the apartment now.

Grading’s done

…and I’m zonked out. Generally fried, in fact. I should sleep before long.

However, in trashy-television news, I watched part of tonight’s episode of The Swan out of a certain sick, fascinated curiosity, and it’s every bit as loathsome as people are saying it is. Further commentary is probably superfluous; I must, however, register my special loathing for the moment where the plastic surgeon happily describes how they "feminized" the "tomboyish" woman (who was thus designated on the show) by lifting her brows and liposuctioning all the spare fat off her body and giving her disproportionate fake boobs. She was "desperate to become a woman," according to the voice-over narration. Oy. Where’s Simone de Beauvoir when you need her?

Up yours, Fox executives. Some of us like tomboys. You know what I want to see? I want a reality show where millionaire television executives get stripped of their designer suits and their luxury cars and their stupid beach houses, and turned into regular slobby middle-aged guys. There could be plastic surgeons to give them beer bellies and receding hairlines, and wardrobe consultants to dress them in track suits. And then I want a pageant where said executives parade on a platform while average-looking, "unfeminine" women compete to see who can lob rotten tomatoes at them with the greatest accuracy. Now that I would watch. I think it would make the world a better place.

Well, Fox executives, how about it? I’m a television viewer in the all-important 18-to-35 demographic; doesn’t my revenge fantasy deserve a shot? It might even assuage some of my annoyance at the way you’ve canceled almost every Fox program that I’ve ever actually liked.

Things I would rather do than grade papers

1. Clean the refrigerator.

2. Go to the nearest big grocery store, which is two or three miles away. On foot. (Actually, it’s a nice energetic 45-minute hike if the weather is good and I’m in the mood for exercise, which I was yesterday. And I take the bus home, because another 45-minute hike with groceries is too much. But still.)

3. Visit my local knitting store and fondle every type of yarn in succession — though, to be fair, I do that on non-grading weekends as well.

4. Obsessively check my e-mail.

5. Obsessively check my referrer stats.

6. Watch cheesy movies starring Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, and CGI aliens on network TV.

7. Check my Bloglines subscriptions over and over.

8. Recategorize the books on my bookshelves.

9. Stare at the wall, humming to myself.

10. Plan elaborate menus for tonight’s dinner, involving recipes I probably won’t have time to make.

11. Do laundry.

12. Try to win the "Expert" level in Spider Solitaire.

13. Collect and recycle all miscellaneous and non-important pieces of paper in my apartment.

14. If it comes down to it, chew off my right arm so I’ll have an excuse for not writing any more comments.

[Y’all know I’m not serious about the last one, right? Actual posting of substance will resume in a few days.]

Personal anthology: A. R. Ammons


It was May before my
attention came
to spring and

my word I said
to the southern slopes

missed it, it
came and went before
I got right to see:

don’t worry, said the mountain,
try the later northern slopes
or if

you can climb, climb
into spring: but
said the mountain

it’s not that way
with all things, some
that go are gone

— A. R. Ammons

I love the inversion of "my / attention came / to spring" instead of the more expected "spring came to my attention." My own attention is trained minutely if not steadily on spring. The students have taken to wearing flip-flops and lobbying to have class outside, I’ve been seeing croci and violets and even daffodils, and the trees outside the building where my office is have red buds, which make them look from a distance as if a warmly-colored mist has settled on their branches.

Loren Webster writes about Ammons as well. I refer you to his entry on "Eyesight," and to Modern American Poetry’s A. R. Ammons site.

Oh, heck, one more:

Chiseled Clouds

A single
wipes out
of my
skinny old
leaning this
and that
in stray
holding names:

still, enough
cathedrals fill
afternoon sky
house everyone
lost from
light’s returning.