Category Archives: Poetry

How to get “D’oh!” and “Bullshit” into the OED

I’ve been writing about missing links in chains of quotation evidence in OED. In the first case [redress] I think it’s likely OED staff came across the word in The End of the Poem and didn’t think it necessary to chase down the full referential context (which would have been fairly evident from about one […]

Emily Dickinson was a Dinosaur

In a graduate student’s paper this morning I came across a description of Emily Dickinson’s handwriting by T. W. Higginson, who in 1891 remembered receiving a letter, almost thirty years earlier, postmarked Amherst, MA. The letter was the now famous one that begins “Are you too deeply occupied to say if my verse is alive?” […]

“OED’s Poetic Acquaintances” – Slides

Here are my slides from the very good Poetry and the Dictionary symposium last weekend at St Peter’s College, Oxford. Slides: “OED’s Poetic Acquaintances” For anyone not at the conference, the slides may be difficult to interpret. I’d be happy to provide context over email, and provide higher quality images [depending on your version of […]

Smithers, Redress the Hounds!

This post is about evidence loops in the OED. But let me begin at the end: In one of his Oxford lectures collected in The End of the Poem, Paul Muldoon refers back to his predecessor’s famous discussion of the word redress. Muldoon writes: … in “The Redress of Poetry,” Seamus Heaney’s inaugural lecture as […]

Poetic Antagonyms

The verb “cleave” has two contradictory senses in English: it means both “to separate” and “to join together” (and so figures its own self-separated, self-joined meanings). Out this week is a journal article in which I discuss “cleave” and other self-antithetical words (I call them “antagonyms”) when they occur in English poetry, as well as […]

Serendipity & Contingency

In the latest lecture to be posted online [], the Oxford Professor of Poetry tells us: Because I don’t go online in any way, I think and work almost entirely by serendipity. Serendipity works by the rule that the book which is to change your life stands next on the shelf to the book that […]

Sorts of Hierarchies

I was intrigued when I read that Geoffrey Hill’s forthcoming collected poetical works would be called Broken Hierarchies: Poems 1952-2012 (OUP: 2013). I recognized it as the title of a poem in Without Title (itself a title that suggests the breaking of a certain kind of hierarchy), but I hadn’t thought of that poem or the […]

Broken Hierarchies

Oxford University Press has announced this coming November as the publication date for Geoffrey Hill’s collected poetical writings, Broken Hierarchies: Poems 1952-2012. [Update 25.3.13: Cover Image] Who else will OUP be publishing this year? Here’s a complete list of all poetry titles: Geoffrey Hill, Broken Hierarchies Rumi, The Masnavi (bk 3) Robert Herrick, Complete Poetry […]


From Choate’s American Bird Names: Shite poke. An attempt to render more delicate by a change in spelling a name for the bird derived from its habit of ejecting effluent when making a startled departure. In America applied indiscriminately to the Black-crowned Night Heron, the Green-backed Heron and the bittern. Poke, now E. dialect, “bag”, […]

Poetry and the Dictionary Conference – Oxford 2013

The CFP for this summer’s conference in Oxford has been posted. I expect to be there discussing some aspect of the OED and poetry. This symposium will be held at St Peter’s College, Oxford, on 15 June, 2013, with a view to opening up and exploring connections between poetry and the dictionary. Proposals for papers […]

Three OED Poems

Recent posts on found poetry reminded me of several OED entries I  bookmarked out over the years because they gave me more than the usual pleasures of etymology, definition, and commonplace-book-like selection of previous uses. So I decided to work up a couple of these into poems. Other than acts of lineation, punctuation, elision, and […]

Domokun and Symbolism

In my poetry classes I often find myself going on about symbolic conventions and symbolic systems, especially in the context of broader discussions of figurative language, and often to point out some distinctions between symbol and metaphor, or to show why a certain set of symbolic equivalences are irrelevant to the poem at hand (colour […]

Found Auburnun, by Geoffrey Hill

Inspired, or egged on perhaps, by my own recent discussion of found poetry in the satirical, parodic, or derivative mode, I’ve put together a new poem by Geoffrey Hill. Source below, plus the rules of composition, but let the poetry speak: Auburnun      fiede at acesaga ubur in ex lecta none Plumage coloration: sexually selected […]

Poetry. Whatever.

This from Ernie Lapore and Matthew Stone at the NYT Opinionator blog, “Philosophy and the Poetic Imagination” [2.12.2012]: In short, a poem — and artistic language more generally — is open to whatever we find in it.  Whenever we notice that an unexpected formal feature amplifies our experience of a poem in a novel way, […]

Hesitation, Naming, Poetry

This from one of these staged “conversations”, this time between Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Fiona Sampson, on the topic of “Language Under Stress” [audio here].  Sampson is trying to make vague point about hesitation as a “mark of authenticity” when Williams cuts in: “Hesitation” is a word that means quite a lot […]

Razor Tight

‘What part of “razor tight” don’t you understand?’ This was the question posed by Stephen Colbert to Nate Silver on election eve [clip 5.11.12], following a bit about some newscaster silliness leading up to the election [transcript from Daily Kos; clip here]: BILL HEMMER (11/5/2012): This race is absolutely razor tight. CHUCK TODD (11/5/2012): A […]

Geoffrey Hill, Modern Thamus?

In Odi Barbare (2012), Geoffrey Hill writes: Google my old blind of Platonics with Mc- Taggart’s mystic corpulence deemed endearing. Whatever that means. Scratching his head, blogger Bebrowed did the sensible thing (i.e., did what he was told) and more: I’ve now googled every single possible permutation on Hill, his response to McTaggart et al […]

Walking Wound

On NPR’s Fresh Air yesterday, Stephen Colbert said of his television show character, also called Stephen Colbert: He wants to have a champion that he can champion and that just doesn’t exist in Mitt Romney right now. He’s just a walking wound. [link] As a figure of speech, to me this is both compelling and […]

Teaching Time

Well it’s teaching time again, which means less blogging time in the next, oh, three to six months. But I still hope to post every couple of weeks or so, and hope especially to have cause to add to the “Teaching Poetry” section of the site. On the title of this post, at least three […]

The most and least poetic alphabetical ranges in the OED

In my presentation at DH2012 I made a couple of comments on Giles Goodland’s paper ‘OED Online’s Single-Quotations Entries: an Analysis‘, mostly about the sampling method that Goodland employs, and which everyone else has employed so far when trying to say something about the OED that isn’t facilitated by whatever the current online functionality happens […]

Discovery: the most poetic word in the English language

Now that I’ve tagged more than half of the evidence quotations in OED2 for genre [see here and here for a discussion of this process], it’s time to start having a poke around in the data. A question that occurred to me last night was: ‘is there anything interesting about the relative density of poetic vs. […]

Electronic OED, Poetry and Intertextuality :: DH2012 Presentation Slides

Here are the slides for my presentation today at Digital Humanities 2012 in Hamburg: PDF: Electronic OED, Poetry and Intertextuality [de-linked*] At the moment this is for reference or information only, and is presented here without the necessary context and discussion in my conference paper (to be posted at a later date). An abstract with […]

Geoffrey Hill Cant Count

Here are two excerpts from a work on Hill I’m finishing up, both of them basically usage counts. I’m hoping readers who have spent time with Hill’s work can point out any gap in these two lists. Actually I’m hoping they can’t, but still I would be grateful if they did. First, ‘cant’: Hill uses […]

Noah Webster was a terrible phonologist

I’ve been in the NYPL last week looking at Noah Webster’s papers. One of his handwritten lectures reminded me of what a bad phonologist he was. Objecting to John Walker’s Critical Pronouncing Dictionary (1791), Webster singled out the grouping of p, l, t, s, k, and th (as in ‘think’) together under the epithet ‘sharp’, […]

‘Poetical’ Etymologies?

This post is more about how the term ‘poetical’ tends to be used pejoratively, and how it corresponds to the term ‘etymologies’, rather than about any actually poetical etymologies, or etymological poetry, both of which I do think exist. This morning’s Language Log brings us a post called ‘Poetical Etymologies‘, which reproduces this Wondermark cartoon:

Ways of Looking at “The Windhover”

Gotthold Lessing is credited (among other things) with pointing out that it’s weird for Classical writers to describe the art of poetry in terms of the visual arts, since poetry happens sequentially in time, and painting happens statically in space. But Lessing is wrong, or at least overly categorical. Before a word is read, a […]

Literally Truly

Or, whence the Literalville Contradiction? In the comments to LL’s repost of my “Literally Metaphorically” , Jeff Carney writes: D-AW has missed the boat here. Don’t think I like Rush, but nowhere in the transcript we’re linked to does he contrast being literal with being figurative. He seems to equate being literal with being true. […]

Attributions and intertexts: ‘Wrinching and spraining the text’

Recently I posted about my idea to teach a computer to look for allusions to the Oxford English Dictionary in poems. A while ago I came across an instance of intertextual reference in a poem by Geoffrey Hill which illustrates really well several of the issues that arise when dealing with the OED, which is […]

The OED in Poetry

Some poems mention looking etymologies up in the Oxford English Dictionary. Paul Muldoon’s “Cows” does this, near-rhyming ‘protestations of O.E.D.’ with ‘fade’ and ‘jade’ (the rhyme works best if you lexicalize the acronym and pronounce it with its preposition, like ‘of owed’). His “Hedge School” remembers ‘tracing the root of metastasis‘ in the New Shorter […]

“Obsession” on the active-passive divide?

Geoffrey Hill’s poem “Of Commerce and Society: 4” has received critical attention from almost everyone (partial list: Sherry, Knottenbelt, O’Neill, Robinson, Wainwright, Hart, Bloom, Ricks, and me). So I was surprised recently when I had (what I think is) a brand new thought about it.

Poetical Lexicography

The OED was conceived as a dictionary ‘on historical principles’. The practice employed from the beginning was to illustrate the several sense definitions of a word over time with quotations from published material across the lifespan of that sense. Currently I’m engaged in trying to quantify the extent of poetical sense illustration in the OED.  […]