Here is something about computers: They make it easy to come up with a plethora of options, and harder to take the time to think about a single option’s merit. I always begin writing an endearment by hand before typing it up. Despite this, I often end up with several nearly identical electronic iterations. On the screen they start to blend together; I print them out, but it can still be hard to tell what’s what.
Thus the trusty scissors, which I have just employed for cinnamon. The poem has started to shape itself into phrases—often one of the first things that happens—but their relation to one another has been eluding me. So I printed the poem out and cut it into word- and phrase-sized slips of paper. A few rearrangings, a hand-written recording of the result, and suddenly a new option leapt out. Not a change to make the poem perfect, but one I hadn’t seen on the screen.
Was it the slips of paper? Was it the clean, blank page, with title at the top and final word at the bottom? Was it the writing of a slantwise draft in the margin, which is now the only draft on that page? Or was it just that essential ingredient of the endearments (and of most poems), time?
Speaking of time, cinnamon is from a very other one. I encountered it in a post by Katherine Connor Martin on the Oxford Dictionaries blog, about endearments that have fallen from use. Cinnamon is Chaucer-era, and it seems a fine one to bring back. Next in line: turtle (although I am taking the liberty of using the full phrase turtle dove).
And speaking of computers, and vexation, a project I’ve been working on for a while is just released. Forces of Attention, a series of objects designed to help people mediate their relationships with their computers, debuts with series 1: THE WORLD IS NOT IN HERE. You can get a copy at todointhenewyear.net. If you do, and if you have thoughts about it, I’d like very much to know.
It arrived, and I sat it up in a chair and took its picture. It’s not in bookcloth, like my tenth edition (outdated, but the dictionary of record for almost all of the endearments thus far). It has that shiny paper-over-boards binding. I’ll try not to hold that against it.
The plastic shrink wrap with its silver sticker showing a cloud of new words and saying “defining the 21st century” is definitely not the dictionary’s fault either. The volume keeps its integrity in the face of gloss, whether in binding or in marketing.
I unwrapped it and opened it up—the pages are all still white, and still fitted against each other perfectly, never been thumbed through. This won’t last, but it’s nice.
The page to which I opened is the one with Markov’s principle as one of the headings, and with the little drawing of a desk, which accompanies the entry for marquetry. (Which, incidentally, shares ancestry with marketing.) As with Scrabble, with the endearments, the chances of a q are small. M is not so common either. It’d be nice to have both sometime.
In nanopoems, precious yields a dinner suggestion—
Yum! As well, a pair of nanopoems in the voice, perhaps, of a farmer testifying against Monsanto. A farmer who knows the art of conciseness:
crop I use
corp I sue
Also in the realm of small and sweet, the chapbook of endearments mentioned earlier this year was a finalist in the 2013 Center for Book Arts chapbook contest. Congrats to this year’s winner, Sandra Beasley!
Thanks to Catherine Daly for tagging me for the Next Big Thing! Here at last are my responses to this little questionnaire. (I think I will stop saying “at last”—everything takes time, and the more everything you do, the more time is taken up.)
So: here and now, on the first or the second day of spring, depending how you count, are my responses. The book that has occupied most of this year for me is first. But there’s news of the endearments too! (See parentheses.)
I am tagging Meryl DePasquale, whom I am very happy to have met recently, who is a fine companion in poetic pursuits, and whose next big thing promises to be awesome!
Where did the idea come from for the book?
I was planning a train trip. I was imagining pleasant hours in the dining car, imagining I’d want to write, and possibly to play with some poetic form or other. But I knew I wouldn’t lug a giant book along just in case I got the notion to write a rondelet. So I made a small one.
It also came from my love of practical genres: signage, instructions, guides. And of small books, like the one of Edward Lear’s poetry and drawings that I bought on a trip to London in seventh grade.
(From the endearments, a group of poems made via an anagrammatic procedure and for which this very blog provides occasional annotations.)
Anagramming “precious,” a word rich in vowels and thus rich, I have begun noticing almost-possible words: if only I had one more c, I could have succor; if an h, ichor. If only an n, so many words—prune, coin. Despite the addition of repeated or new letters, these words keep the virtue, which a set of bona fide anagrammed words has, of consistent color or flavor. They are tangential to the project; I offer them here in case anyone is in need, for instance, of matchy-matchy repetends for a sestina.
osprey (I knew there was a bird in there—)
In which I ask myself what color each letter is, in order of the alphabet and with a side excursion into musical notes
Letters have had colors for me for a long time. When I’m reading, they recede and the meaning of the words takes up most of the room. But when I’m thinking of words or letters specifically, the colors float there. Some are less vivid than others. Sometimes to see a letter’s color I need to see it next to other letters. Some change depending on what other letters they’re next to.
A result of this synesthesia is that certain of the endearments have colors. The originating word, in my mind, has a palette that infuses, transforms, as it appears in the words that make the poem. Thus “dreamboat” is grass green (d), pinky red (a), bright blue (e), all dulled down a bit by the dark black-brown of the r and the muddy purple of the m. “Sweetheart” has a similar blue-red thing going, deepened by the blue of the w and cheered by the vague but warm-colored h.
Where do these colors come from? I think the A comes from a Fisher-Price magnet alphabet that we had on our fridge when I was growing up. That bright pinky red. But of the others’ provenance I am less sure, because that alphabet does not continue to match up. Oliver Sacks could probably tell me.
Below, a record of what colors the letters have in my mind as of this September. The problem being, of course, that saying one version of a thing can make it more true. Thus I intend to avoid rereading this record. I like shift.
In the first nanopoem mentioned earlier, I wanted the singular: dart-eyed mare. But astute readers will notice that this creates a missing letter: the s makes 13 letters and completes the anagram. I don’t think such a choice would be true to this variety of nanopoem, as I have defined it here. These little byproducts of the endearments are found things. One that had had words excised from it to make it sound better wouldn’t feel sound. In addition, I had already used mare in another anagram: stare eddy mare.
Although they crop up less often in sentences and thus make for fewer satisfactory nanopoems, I’ve become more lenient about using letters as words with recent endearments. (This may partly explain why it took hours to finish anagramming my dearest dear.)
But what is a word, for my purposes? All letters get the definition “a speech counterpart of orthographic [insert letter here],” and, oddly, all letters but j get “a graphic representation of this letter,” but both of these definitions seem too meta to count. Letter as letter: no thank you. I am already subjecting the alphabet to enough strain.