Saturday, July 09, 2005

Try This

I’ve been playing in the fields of the dictionary lately, a result of reworking a poetry collection yet again. Some of the poems are years old – back and back and back – past Carolina to West Virginia and memory before. I’ve spliced and splintered, put new wine in with the old, hoping this tempers the soft with the sharp, the discursive with the abrupt. Hoping the whole will blend and layer, revealing allusions the way sycamores (a childhood tree) and crape myrtles (my beloved Southern tree, even more than magnolia) each unfurl themselves from themselves.
“Wake” is the operative word, in all its derivations, a fine clipped single syllable that expands in all directions.
Poems leave wakes. Words, too. A word is no small thing, I think Edith Hamilton said, or so my memory has it, as variable as any word. The smaller the word, it seems, the more leeway. It can fly many flags.
And so to pirate, and this entry. The dictionary’s lovely forests part to reveal that the root for piracy is peiran, Greek for to attack or to attempt. And that makes me think immediately of essay, and assay, the same word, at root. To try something, to weigh its value, to seek out its true nature. Both from the Latin exagium, a weight.
Here we are in the age of blogs, a word with a much less elegant derivation, but like the essayists of old, bloggers test and try, pry and occasionally run up the Jolly Roger and borrow what’s needful – testing reality, striking off sparks.


Unknown said...

This kind of word-drilling is what makes the whole enterprise fun! And speaking of dictionaries, I just got a "dictionary card" (about the size of a quarter, if quarters were rectangular) for my new-ish PDA. Presto--a huge dictionary and thesaurus that can go with me anywhere. What a gift!

Gordon Smith said...

Great post.

As a dictionary collector, I got a real charge out of your word finding, cross referencing, stream of dictionary consciousness writing.