Dante’s Divine Comedy, Terza Rima & Why the Limerick Is the Greatest English Poetic Form

I took a class on Dante’s Divine Comedy in college. The class was taught by a visiting professor from the University of Padua. He talked about Dante the same way English speakers talk about Shakespeare, only even more so. The Divine Comedy is widely considered by native Italians as having invented the modern Italian language. This professor spoke of it as the purest and most perfect expression of his “mother tongue” (see footnote).

He spent significant time analyzing the terza rima structure of the work. In particular, he stated that many native Italians consider it to be, once again, the greatest expression of their language. It’s perfectly suited to Italian: the cadence captures the robust, rounded, plosive earthy lilt and rolling quality of it; Italian is one of the most rhyme rich languages in the world, and the complex rhyme scheme of terza rima is calibrated to make the most of that fact. Moreover, terza rima doesn’t work well in any other language. It’s purely Italian.

This got me wondering if there’s a poetic structure equally well suited to English, a structure as deeply native to English as terza rima is to Italian.

I’ve concluded that the limerick comes closest.

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Proud to Be a Librarian: Thoughts on the KLA/MLA Joint Conference

Last week, I attended the three-day joint conference of the Kansas and Missouri Library Associations, “Libraries Without Borders.” I attended half a dozen sessions, learned about some useful projects and products, met lots of people – all the things you go to a conference to do. It was an enjoyable and productive few days. Every night, I went home excited to talk about all the new ideas in my head.

But the part of it that I keep going back to, the bit that sticks with me most powerfully, is the awards reception that was held at the end of the second day. Representatives of both the KLA and MLA handed out awards to various individuals for meritorious service, distinguished professionals, best library, etc. Pretty standard, as awards ceremonies go. What struck me about it is this:

Every single person who received recognition that evening made it a point to pass on credit for their work in their acceptance speech. Every one of them made it clear that they didn’t do their work alone, and that their awards belonged as much to their staff, or their director, or their board who supported them. Every one of them acknowledged that their success was the result of the efforts of many other people, working on many fronts.

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Libraries Are…

Semi-related follow-up to my last post.

Libraries are uniquely qualified to recognize both the value of current popular titles and also the enduring benefits modern readers can realize when they take the time to explore our ongoing literary heritage.

Libraries celebrate education and entertainment both as necessities of a life well lived.

Libraries are on the front lines of diversifying the stories available to our communities, undertaking the essential work of expanding our cultural consciousness and mutual understanding.

Libraries are where you find yourself and also discover the unknown.

Libraries are where we learn what it means to be human, in all our myriad aspects.

This Is Why Books Are Dangerous

I recently finished reading The Meaning of the Library: A Cultural History, edited by Alice Crawford (Princeton University Press, 2015). Several passages from the concluding essay, “The Modern Library and Global Democracy” by James H. Billington, stood out:

Books are our guardians of memory, tutors in language, pathways to reason, and our golden gate to the royal road of imagination. Books take us to new places where boundaries are not set by someone else … . Books help us to pose the unimagined question and to accept the unwelcome answer. Books convince rather than coerce. They are oases of coherence where things are put together rather than just taken apart. Good books take us away from the bumper cars of emotion and polemics in the media into trains of thought that can lead us into place we might not otherwise ever discover. (p. 263)

This is why some people are afraid of books. This is why some people see certain books as a threat. Books are transformative, books empower—books encourage independence of thought. This is why some people seek to control them.

Libraries are antidotes to fanaticism. They are temples of pluralism, where books that contradict one another sit peacefully side by side on the shelves just as intellectual antagonists work peacefully next to each other … . (p. 263)

This is why some people are afraid of libraries. This is why some people see libraries as a threat. This is why some people seek to control them. Pluralism is anathema to control and dominance.

My favorite quote, though, and the best conclusion we can come to, is this:

Reading can balance our noisy, hurry-up, present-minded world with what Keats called “silence and slow time.” Whatever else you do in life, do not fail to experience the simple pleasure of being alone with a good book on a rainy day. (p. 265)

Public Domain Matters

I recently reviewed Cory Doctorow’s book, Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free. Copyright is a passion of mine and I think this is a good opportunity to summarize my position on the matter.

For me, the single most important aspect of copyright is the public domain.

Most of the major copyright reforms over the past half century have made it a priority to prevent creative works from entering the public domain for as long as possible. On the other hand, there are many creative workers and educators of all stripes who depend on public domain materials to do their jobs—people who can’t afford to pay for usage rights to copyrighted stuff. This is one of the central conflicts of our copyright system.

When I was first taught about copyright, I was told that there were two equally important purposes that it was designed to serve:

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Logos vs. Branding

My rant last week about library logos arose from a discussion I had with a co-worker about branding libraries.

Too often, people seem to think that their logo is their branding. Or that coming up with a good logo is the most important first step in creating their brand. The conflation of logos with branding is such a universal issue that there’s a whole school of thought dedicated to correcting this misunderstanding. Google “branding is not a logo,” or “brand vs logo,” and survey the results.

Whenever I discuss library logos, someone always brings up the New York Public Library’s lion as an example of how effective a logo can be. But the reason the lion works so well as a logo is because it was already an iconic image of a library with a deeply rooted history in the community. It’s specific to the NYPL and encapsulates the reputation and history the library already has.

The purpose of a logo is simply to reference the larger identity of an organization.

That larger identity—not your logo—is your true brand. Your brand grows out of the interactions you have with your patrons and the role your library fulfills in its community.

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