Poetry & the Dictionary

BookPoetry & the Dictionary

Poetry & the Dictionary



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‘This fascinating collection of essays offers a set of new perspectives on experimental poetics as a tradition and as a current practice. This will be a book of substantial interest to scholars, critics, students and readers of contemporary poetry.’
Professor Andrew Roberts, University of Dundee

Poetry is an ancient verbal art, which has its roots in the oral epics and fragments that survive from classical times. Dictionaries of English, by contrast, are a comparatively recent phenomenon, beginning with the ‘hard words’ that Robert Cawdrey gathered in A Table Alphabeticall in 1604 and extending to the present edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, with its ongoing revisions. This innovative collection of essays is the first volume to explore the ways in which dictionaries have stimulated the imaginations of modern and contemporary poets from Britain, Ireland, and America, while also considering how poetry has itself been a rich source of material for lexicographers. 

As well as gauging the influence of major dictionaries like the OED, the essays single out encounters with more specialised works and broach uses of words that are not typically included in dictionaries. In doing so, the contributors not only cast familiar questions of ambiguity and etymology in a fresh light, but they also reveal a number of surprising and energising points of contact, from Hugh MacDiarmid’s rediscovery of Scots to Tina Darragh’s visual appropriations of dictionary pages. As such, Poetry & the Dictionary will prove an indispensable volume for all readers – academic or not – who find themselves fascinated by the language’s many involutions.

'This collection affords the poet, the lexicographer, and the literary scholar a fruitful and rich cross-disciplinary dive into the mechanics of both language and lyricism... a worthy collection of essays.'
D. A. Lockhart, Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America

Author Information

Andrew Blades is Lecturer in English at the University of Bristol. Piers Pennington completed his doctoral studies at Corpus Christi College, Oxford.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Part 1: Poetry & the Dictionary13
1. Introduction15
2. ‘When I feel inclined to read poetry I take down my Dictionary’: Poets and Dictionaries, Dictionaries and Poets38
3. Poetry in the Oxford English Dictionary: A Quantitative Profile69
4. Lexicography and Modern Poetry93
Part 2: British and Irish Poetry & the Dictionary115
5. Jamieson, Jargons, Jangles, and Jokes: Hugh MacDiarmid and Dictionaries117
6. not even invented139
7. Proper Names, the Dictionary, and the Poetry of Experiment163
8. Etymology and Elegy: Paul Muldoon’s ‘Yarrow’ and ‘Cuthbert and the Otters’187
Part 3: American Poetry & the Dictionary205
9. Briefer Mentions and Lyrical Lexicons: Marianne Moore’s Responses to Dictionaries in The Dial and Observations207
10. A Collected Unconscious: James Merrill’s Dictionaries228
11. ‘All Things are Words of Some Strange Tongue’: Dictionary Definition Form in Contemporary American Poetry250
12. Long Poems about Everything: Dictionary as Subject and Model for Poem, 1974–2016269
Notes on Contributors293