The latest Nestlings Press project is A Nestlings Press Miscellany, looking back over the thirty-six (thirty-six!) NP books published to date. (The thirty-sixth, which combines Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary with illustrations from Art Young’s Inferno, is not yet on the website, but will be by September.)
Rather than repeat material from the earlier books, the Miscellany will offer material I didn’t know about, or didn’t have access to, when I was assembling the original books: for instance, illustrations by Mervyn Peake for Quentin Crisp’s limerick satire of British wartime bureaucracy. There are also wild diversions. The chapter on Thirty Thousand Pigs (the NP book about hilarious typos) offers a piece by Rockwell Kent on being mistaken for Norman Rockwell. The chapter on Treasures in the Antic (which had a few snippets from U.S. humorist Will Cuppy) includes the footnotes that Cuppy wrote for Garden Rubbish, a later book by Sellar and Yeatman, authors of 1066 and All That. Unlike that classic book, Garden Rubbish was barely readable — which Cuppy apparently realized only after accepting the assignment to provide footnotes for U.S. readers unfamiliar with British vocabulary, etc. Cuppy proceeded to write footnotes that have nothing — absolutely nothing — to do with the book. It’s surreal. How could I not include this in a miscellany?
Oh, and I’ve adapted the first three cantos of Dante’s Inferno into simple rhyming verse. It’s a good thing Dante is out of copyright. Herewith the first canto:
A Child’s Guide to Dante’s Inferno
While on my journey through this life
I wandered in a thick, dark wood.
I’d hopped from virtue straight to strife
And told myself, this can’t be good.
I reached a hill. The sun shone high,
But only on the upper half.
Below, a leopard caught my eye.
She didn’t seem inclined to laugh.
“A leopard caught your eye? Wouldn’t that hurt?”
“It’s a figurative expression.”
“What does ‘figurative’ mean?”
“It means it’s not literally true.”
“So you start off your story by telling a lie? That’s not reassuring.”
And then a lion, tense and lean
And hungry caught my frightened gaze.
A she-wolf showed up, looking mean –
Not one of my more pleasant days.
I gave up trying to climb that hill,
Resigned to struggling through the dark,
When someone – something, if you will –
Whose aspect was a trifle stark
Appeared before me, tall and mute.
“Have pity on me, shade,” I cried.
“Are you a man? A ghost? A brute?
A fiend intent on homicide?”
“Please, make it a ghost. I love ghost stories.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Not man,” he answered, “any more.
Lombardy once I called my home
When gods were rotten to the core,
And later on I lived in Rome.
I was a poet, wrote of Troy –
But tell me, why did you decide
You wouldn’t climb that hill, my boy?
Its splendours cannot be denied.”
“You’re Virgil! Oh, my sainted days!
You are my master, and my muse,
Your borrowed style has won me praise,
Your template is the one I use.
You ask me why I’m turning back?
Behold that leopard in my path.
I rather think she might attack,
So please protect me from her wrath.”
“Who’s Virgil when he’s at home?”
“He was a poet who lived a long, long time ago and wrote in Latin. He died two decades before Christ was born, so he can’t get into Heaven.”
“That seems awfully unfair.”
“And he wrote The Aeneid, in which a man named Aeneas visits the Underworld.”
“The underworld? So this is about gangsters?”
“Not the underworld. The Underworld.”
“You do realize capital letters don’t help much in an oral conversation, don’t you?”
“If you expect to leave this place,
You’ll have to find another way.
The more that beast stuffs in her face,
The hungrier she’s bound to stay
Until the Greyhound comes again
And does that thing he does so well.
He’ll make her perish in her pain
And drive the creature back to Hell.
For now it’s best to follow me
And treat me as a faithful guide.
Infernal regions you will see
And horrid cries from those who’ve died.”
“Okay, you lost me at Greyhound.”
“All will become clear.”
“Seriously? Like that time you tried to explain Finnegans Wake?”
“Do you want me to continue or not?”
“The jury’s still out.”
“From ancient spirits in distress
You’ll hear bone-chilling lamentations.
They cry out for a second death,
Exposed to terrible sensations.
In Purgatory, in the fire
You may see those who think things nice
Because they dream of rising higher
To blesséd be in Paradise.
But if you wish yourself to rise
You’ll have to find another guide.
I am not worthy in God’s eyes
Because I didn’t take His side.”
“There’s a lot of can’t in this canto. How about we switch to a canno?”
“Hush. The second canto is starting.”