Wednesday, February 06, 2008

paper, piper, pit

Is this a found poem? It looks like Warren Slesinger grabbed three definitions from a dictionary. He liked the way they fit together? If these were lifted directly from a dictionary it’s not one currently online.

Sandpaper, Sandpiper, Sandpit

sandpaper (sand pa.per) n. –sPaper that
is covered with sand or some other rough,
abrasive substance used for smoothing or
polishing a surface. -v.sandpapered,
sandpapering, sandpapers. To work with it
or as if with it: My mother sandpapered
the edges of my father’s moods until she
made their marriage smooth.
See true grit.

sandpiper (sand pi.per) n. -s 1. An Eastern
shorebird that walks at the water’s edge
quite rapidly; it frequents the flats of
the tidal estuaries whenever the beaches
of the region are enveloped in a chilly
fog; it is streaked with a brownish gray
or a buff, but it is completely white at
the breast. 2. A woman with the impulsive
movements of a sandpiper: She hurried on
ahead of me just like a little
peeping with pride.

sandpit (sand pit) n. -s 1. A deep hole
in the sand. 2. A point of depression.
3. A hollow of loneliness that is left,
if a loved one is lost. See true grief.


If the definitions are invented they are convincing pastiche of dictionary speak.

I’ve worked with the dictionary in poem-making. Words in random (& arbitrary) orders create new meanings. The reader seeks patterns, sees connections that become stories. I’m not completely taken with Slesinger’s poem but I like the method. There is something these words are saying to each other, he asserts. Even if I don’t see it I still like the words and the definitions, those bits of figurative language that illustrate a context for the words. I keep expecting a whole to coalesce from the parts. That one doesn’t would be the reason I leave the poem behind, a backward glance or two, an appreciative shrug, and I’m off.

source: Anthology of Magazine Verse 1980


Jim Murdoch said...

I'm with you. I like the idea but he doesn't really pull it off. I always wanted to write a novel in the form of a dictionary, even started it once but couldn't pull it off. Sylvia Murphy wrote The Complete Knowledge of Sally Fry which starts off like a dictionary but she cuts the whole thing short. The idea hasn't gone away though. I'll have a crack at it some day.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

A dictionary novel. There's a challenge!