Category Archives: Poetry

We’re moving! Go to “The Life of Words”!

For the last two and more years, I’ve been posting here on topics related to poetry, dictionaries, computers, and so on. Over 100 posts later, it’s time for a new home. As of June 15, 2014, I’ll be posting at my new project site: The Life of Words I hope you’ll visit us there […]

Vnhouzzled, disappointed, vnnaneld: Hamlet in the eyes of the OED

In my last post I demoed my OED Recontextualizer, which annotates texts according to how they have been used as citation evidence in the Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition. The program re-writes the file in HTML, showing the number of times a particular passage of text is quoted in OED, and the headwords under which […]

OED Recontextualizer

I’ve written a little program that annotates texts according to how much the Oxford English Dictionary cites them. This lets you see how different parts of a work have factored in the compiling of the dictionary – as if you were looking at the text through the collective eyes of all the OED readers, lexicographers, […]

Muti-lation at the end of the line

In Broken Hierarchies: Precursor to a Variorum? I noticed major revisions to a poem in Geoffrey Hill’s Broken Hierarchies: Poems 1952-2012, which I argued amounted to a totally altered poem following a new and different philosophical development. Because the revisions in BH are widespread and significant, I suggested that critics writing on Hill are now and […]

Shakespeare’s Dictionary

There has been some recent press on the claims of George Koppelman and Daniel Wechsler, two rare books dealers based in New York, to have discovered William Shakespeare’s own dictionary. What’s more, the claim is based on the extensive annotations in the reference work, John Baret’s Alvearie, or Quadruple Dictionarie (1580), which they bought on […]

Sandwich Police make Burrito Bust

In my first-year poetry class, when introducing the idea of poetic ambiguity (rich ambiguity), I like to begin with a few examples of every-day ambiguity, in the form of so-called “crash blossoms“, those newspaper headlines that can go in two often amusing directions (e.g.: “Friends help murder victim’s family“). This morning my #CapeCod Twitter stack […]

Seamus Heaney in Between

At last weekend’s Seamus Heaney conference and commemoration at Queen’s University, Belfast, I gave a paper in which I referred offhandedly to “a pretty conventional way, by now, of understanding his poetics” as in some way conditioned by a sense of being “in between”, which goes back to the first word of the first poem […]

“Making sense” in The Excursion

At the “Poetry and Happenstance” conference last Friday, there was a question from the floor about a line break in William Wordsworth’s long poem The Excursion. The lines are from Book IV: The light of love Not failing, perseverance from their steps Departing not, for them shall be confirmed The glorious habit by which sense […]

Poetry and Happenstance at Cambridge

Notes and thoughts from “Poetry and Happenstance”, a day-long symposium at Cambridge University, which took place last Friday, 4th April. There were eight papers in all: Anne Stillman – “What appears to be yours” In the opening talk, Stillman expressed some unease about what was really meant by the symposium’s key title word, happenstance. This […]

Is Empson responsible for “ambiguity” uptick?

A quick addendum to yesterday’s post on the increase of metpahor and ambiguity in the Google books corpus. A faithful correspondent writes that at the time Paul Ricoeur’s The Rule of Metaphor (La metaphore vive) came out in 1978 (1975), it seemed everyone was all of a sudden talking about metaphor. For once, the case-sensitivity […]

“Metaphors,” which to scholars cause pain and woe

I’ve recently been tracing out the history of a relation between two particular ideas in English culture, which I would call a metaphorical relation: one idea being described in terms of the other. In tracing it back, I’ve noticed that in the 19thC texts I’m reading, it is only rarely referred to as a metaphor […]

“Does steak love lettuce?” Most human-like computer poems (and vice versa).

I have happened upon Botpoet, a site that runs “Bot or Not”, a sort of Turing test using poems. It’s mildly entertaining to guess whether a poem was written by a human or a computer program, but I find most of the cases pretty obviously one or the other. What’s more fun is the “Leaderboard“, […]

Two Poetry Conferences in April

I’m currently getting material together for two conference papers in April. The first is for “Poetry and Happenstance” at Cambridge on April 4, which is a theme that fits nicely with the topics I’ve been pursuing over the last few years. The title I’ve given the organizers is “The way it is: authority, arbitrariness, and […]

From “London” to “Potato”, Seamus Heaney in graphs

Yesterday I tested out a method of exploring poetic diction in poetic corpora, using Geoffrey Hill’s opus up to 2012 [“Measured Words“]. I left several issues hanging in that post, which I thought I would follow up on today. For one, I implied that there might be value in comparing the general picture or footprint […]

How different is poetic diction?

In “Measured Words” I made an assertion that “some words aren’t very common in speech but show up fairly frequently in poetry, and vice versa.” This is intuitive, but I’m going to demonstrate it anyway, to make good my other assertion that “seeing what you already know or think you know displayed in an unfamiliar […]

Measured Words

Paul Batchelor’s 2012 review essay in the TLS of recent work by Geoffrey Hill and his critics was called “Geoffrey Hill’s measured words”. As many who write on Hill do, Batchelor keyed in to a series of resonant words in Hill’s work, drawing connections between Hill’s poetry and prose via shared terms such as uncouth, […]

Sappho, not a poetess – THE Poetess

The poetry world is all a twitter with the news that two new poems by Sappho have been discovered. And the Twitter world is spreading the news, chiefly linking to this write up in The Daily Beast: Many tweeters simply reproduce the headline, with a link. But some are evidently annoyed by the term poetess […]

Joseph Brodsky, Social Parasite

Joseph Brodsky died eighteen years ago today. Seamus Heaney, in his elegy for Brodsky, referred to it as “Yeats’s anniversary, | (Double-crossed and death-marched date | January twenty-eight)”. This year also marks the fiftieth anniversary of Brodsky’s show-trial on charges of “social parasitism.” In observance of these milestones, below are some key passages from the […]

Headline: Pentagon Requires Poetry Expertise

I’ve come across an old piece on Guantánamo Bay censorship policy, via a new piece on the same. The recent piece is about poetry going into the US facility there; the earlier article is about poetry coming out. It quotes some fascinating rationale for the close monitoring of poetry written by inmates: But most of […]

Advance Access: Method as Tautology in the Digital Humanities

My article, “Method as tautology in the digital humanities” has gone up on Literary and Linguistic Computing‘s advance online publication area. If you have an institutional affiliation that lets you access Oxford Journals, it can be found here: [It appears Oxford are now offering the article free: download PDF here] In the article I […]

Wood, a poem

Here is “Wood”, a kind of poem:

O hell-kite! All? – Antedating verse coinages

In case you thought any of the top eleven most common words invented in verse were actually invented in verse, it’s worth following up with an illustration of the inherent contingency in any lexicographical record. As everyone knows, the OED is in the midst of its first complete revision. My list of poetic neologisms was […]

Top Eleven Most Common Words Invented in Verse

Poetry and lexicography, buzzfeed style. Having recently ranked the neologisms of prolific poetic word-coiners, I decided to look at all verse-coined words in OED [*caveat], and rank them according to their frequency in British National Corpus. Only words first attested after 1500 are included, on the basis that a large proportion of the lexicographical record […]

Unremarkable Poetic Neologisms

The word soulmate is by now at least verging on cliché, if not well in that category, which is why it was somewhat surprising and refreshing to learn that the OED lists Coleridge as the first user of the word. It was a reminder that common words can have uncommon origins–and that the coiner loses […]

Broken Hierarchies: Precursor to a Variorum?

I’ve always felt it was a peculiar kind of luck to live in the same times as many of the poets I read, and write on. Of course there’s the great luxury of hearing the poet “live” (what was Keats’s voice?)–but really what I’m most grateful for is to be able to look forward to […]

Soulmate, Yokemate, Housemate, Helpmate

Today’s Facebook brings a thread that does most of the legwork for a regular P&C-type post: In OED2, soul-mate was listed under soul, n., along with other compounds, such as soul carrier, -curer, -thief, and -twister. The new OED3 Online gives it its own headword, soulmate, n. and updates the Coleridge quotation to what you […]

Hanover, Hannover

In early December I’ll be in Germany, presenting a poster and short talk at “(Digital) Humanities Revisited – Challenges and Opportunities in the Digital Age”. The whole trip is generously funded by the Volkswagen Foundation, which among its various activities supporting research in academia and beyond, puts on a series of conferences at the Herrenhausen […]

You must be devastated today

From Paul Muldoon’s eulogy for Seamus Heaney, spoken at his funeral, yesterday:   I flew into Belfast International Airport yesterday morning…. The border security officer was interested in what I was doing in the US. I told him I was a teacher, and he asked me what I taught. I said, “poetry.” And he looked […]

At the MSA – Levinas, Poetry, and Criticism

This past weekend I was in Brighton, UK, attending the Modernist Studies Association annual conference. I was there mainly to participate in a round-table discussion on “Modernist Poetry Criticism and the New Ethics”. The abstract said, in part: …in the wake of the interdisciplinary debate between literature and/as moral philosophy, and the critical reception of […]

Inter (and Intra-) necine?

You probably have used, or heard used, the word internecine. But what could the word intranecine mean? Either you have an intuition regarding this or you don’t (even if you’ve never encountered the word). If you do have an intuition about intranecine, take a minute to examine it–what basis can you come up with for […]

Dies Caniculares

Lines against lines in summer:   Though I in Prochyta with greater ease Could live, than in a street of palaces. What scene so desert or so full of fright, As towering houses, tumbling in the night, And Rome on fire beheld by its own blazing light? But worse than all the clattering tiles, and […]