I always knew Walt Disney was a sinister guy. 

There's a great thread at little.yellow.different about irrational childhood fears, many of which involve TV moments that weren't originally intended to be scary. I don't think I was ever freaked out by the Muppet Show or the animated Edward Gorey credits on Mystery! (actually, I loved those Gorey cartoons). What did terrify me when I was a kid was that scene from Dumbo where Dumbo gets drunk and sees pink elephants. With that creepy "Pink Elephants on Parade" song. I mean, really, look at the lyrics:
Look out!
Look out!
Pink elephants on parade
Here they come!
Hippety hoppety they're here and there
Pink elephants ev'rywhere

Look out!
Look out!
They're walking around the bed
On their head
Clippety cloppety arrayed in braid
Pink elephants on parade
Who in their right mind puts a song like that into a children's movie, complete with nightmare-inducing visuals of pink elephants popping out of nowhere? But thanks to the wonders of the internet, I see that I am not the only person to find that scene terrifying.

I was also afraid of mirrors for a good long while because of the ghost stories we used to tell each other in elementary school, many of which seemed to involve summoning evil spirits in the mirror. I used to avoid looking at mirrors whenever possible because I was convinced I would see someone else's face looking back. I'm still a bit phobic about them; I was watching What Lies Beneath on TV this summer, and there was a scene involving an ominously fogged-up bathroom mirror, and I had to change the channel. For similar reasons, the mirror-writing scene in The Shining creeps me out (though not so much as the two little girls in the hallway saying "Come play with us, Danny...for ever...and ever...and ever").

Oh dear. Maybe I didn't want to remind myself of that. Off to find some sufficiently soothing bedtime reading so I can sleep with the lights off tonight...


Personal anthology: Sylvia Plath 

Poppies in October

Even the sun-clouds this morning cannot manage such skirts.
Nor the woman in the ambulance
Whose red heart blooms through her coat so astoundingly --

A gift, a love gift
Utterly unasked for
By a sky

Palely and flamily
Igniting its carbon monoxides, by eyes
Dulled to a halt under bowlers.

O my God, what am I
That these late mouths should cry open
In a forest of frost, in a dawn of cornflowers.

-- Sylvia Plath
Plath's poems disturb the hell out of me, and this one is no exception. For some reason, it's the line about the carbon monoxides that keeps sticking in my head -- that and the odd phrase "cannot manage such skirts," as if the clouds were involved but ineffectual witnesses of what's going on below.

(Can you tell I'm holding office hours and nobody's showing up?)

The Ph.D. as digital librarian 

This report on library career possibilities for Ph.D.s got me very excited, especially the following:
While libraries will always need experts in information management, technology, and business practices, the council [i.e. the Council on Library and Information Resources] also sees a need "for a new type of librarian" who has training in an academic discipline and an understanding of digital technology.
They're even going to award a handful of postdocs for humanities Ph.D.s "who believe that there are opportunities to develop meaningful linkages among disciplinary scholarship, libraries and archives, and evolving digital tools."

I think I'm going to apply for one of these fellowships. Wish me luck.


First encounters with poetry 

A post about Blake's "The Ecchoing Green" at frizzyLogic got me thinking about first encounters with poetry. qB writes of the anthology in which she first read Blake's poem that
The anthology was called The Dragon Book of Verse - not the edition from the OUP but an older collection, published in 1939. It's been lost, of course, in all the wanderings and dissolutions, which is sad. The smell of it was slightly sharp, acidic almost, the paper yellowed. The hardback covers were red. I remember so many of the poems: Tartary by Walter de la Mare for the lines And in my pools great fishes slant Their fins athwart the sun; Cargoes by John Masefield; The Fairies by William Allingham; Up-Hill by Christina Rossetti; The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning - I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

I memorised many of them, learning them like incantations, caressing the multicoloured jewel-words, sounding the sonority, riding the rhythm. It must be where words and I met and our love affair began.
I'm fortunate enough to have hung onto the first poetry anthology I had as a child, The Faber Book of Children's Verse, which was given to me as a present when I was eight. Looking back through it, I can see that it offered me my first tastes of quite a few poets I later read much more extensively: Yeats, Marvell, Hardy, Coleridge, Shelley, Auden. Eliot I had already met via Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (and, mind you, this was before Andrew Lloyd Webber turned Eliot's cat poems into a moneymaking machine), but I learned an early lesson in allusion and intertextuality when I realized that a line of Eliot's poem "Usk" ("Gently dip, but not too deep") was a quotation from a song by George Peele, which I'd also read in the same volume. My own love affair with words probably predates my being given this anthology, but, like qB, I ended up memorizing quite a few of the poems.

It's still on my shelf because the poems in it weren't selected because they all fit some conception of a child's reading level; Edward Lear and Robert Louis Stevenson appear in its pages, but so do Ezra Pound and Edmund Spenser. There are poems about death and poems about war as well as cheerful poems about animals. (My youthful morbid streak was greatly pleased by A.E. Housman's "Infant Innocence," in which "The infant child is not aware / It has been eaten by the bear," and Poe's "The Raven.") In retrospect, my favorite thing about this anthology is that the compiler, Janet Adam Smith, chose the poems without regard for their apparent "difficulty," relying instead (as she says in the introduction) on the suggestions of various young people. Too bad it's out of print. If it were still available, I'd be giving copies of it to younger cousins and friends' children right and left.