Dictionary Poetics: Toward a Radical Lexicography

Dictionary Poetics: Toward a Radical Lexicography

by Craig Dworkin University of Utah


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The new ways of writing pioneered by the literary avant-garde invite new ways of reading commensurate with their modes of composition. Dictionary Poetics examines one of those modes: book-length poems, from Louis Zukofsky to Harryette Mullen, all structured by particular editions of specific dictionaries. By reading these poems in tandem with their source texts, Dworkin puts paid to the notion that even the most abstract and fragmentary avant-garde literature is nonsensical, meaningless, or impenetrable. When read from the right perspective, passages that at first appear to be discontinuous, irrational, or hopelessly cryptic suddenly appear logically consistent, rationally structured, and thematically coherent.

Following a methodology of “critical description,” Dictionary Poetics maps the material surfaces of poems, tracing the networks of signifiers that undergird the more familiar representational schemes with which conventional readings have been traditionally concerned. In the process, this book demonstrates that new ways of reading can yield significant interpretive payoffs, open otherwise unavailable critical insights into the formal and semantic structures of a composition, and transform our understanding of literary texts at their most fundamental levels.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780823287963
Publisher: Fordham University Press
Publication date: 05/05/2020
Series: Verbal Arts: Studies in Poetics
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Craig Dworkin is Professor of English at the University of Utah. He is the author of Reading the Illegible (2003) and No Medium (2013) and is the editor or co-editor of six volumes of literary criticism and avant-garde poetry.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Toward an Experimental Lexicography | 1

1 Funk & Wagnalls Practical Standard Dictionary of the English
Language and Louis Zukofsky’s Thanks to the Dictionary | 33

2 Webster’s Collegiate and Louis Zukofsky’s “A” | 48

3 The Oxford English Dictionary and George Oppen’s
Discrete Series | 77

4 Webster’s New Collegiate and the Poetry of Clark
Coolidge and Bernadette Mayer | 101

5 The Random House Dictionary of the English
Language and the Poetry of Tina Darragh | 129

6 Juba to Jive: A Dictionary of African-American
Slang and Harryette Mullen’s Muse & Drudge | 161

Acknowledgments | 185

Notes | 187

Index | 239

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