Letters as wordsPosted: May 1, 2012
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.
I thought the shape test would prove useful: If Webster’s says the letter is used to illustrate a shape, that seems legit. But as it turns out, Webster’s thinks that all letters can be used to illustrate a shape. Even q. Perhaps it’s a matter of degrees of legitimacy: If a letter is a note in the Western scale, for instance, or if it has some other meaning in addition to being a shape, that’s better. So: x, in; o, in; h, q, use sparingly, if at all.
I prefer to treat letters with a bit more caution than I do particles. I permit repetition of them between two or more anagrams. But I don’t approach the anagram as a subtractive exercise (what can I make now that that pesky second d is out of the way?). A philosophical difference rather than an empirical one, perhaps, but important.
No upper limit for the repetition of letters like this has occurred to me yet, but it may. It’s like the rose garden at the writer’s residency I’ve been at this week: No one told us not to pick the roses. So, furtively and at dusk, I went out with my scissors. Knowing that the absence of a rule depends in part on inconspicuousness, or, to put it more cooperatively, on appropriate use, I picked a small bunch of roses rather than wreaths of them. Once I had them inside, they nonetheless seemed extravagant. Likewise with the ds and rs. My dearest dear yielded quite a bouquet of anagrams, even without squeezing every possible r-less permutation from it. (From semiprecious stones to flowers—you’d think it was Valentine’s Day. But that, my friends, has come and gone.)
The last evening I went out, two white horses were in the corral next to the rose garden. Dart-eyed? Soft-eyed. They came up to the fence, greeted me, discovered I had nothing interesting, and went back to grazing.
One more question: Why does it feel less like trespass if you bring your own scissors?