Linguists, I’ve read, often find the relationship between the sounds of words and their meanings arbitrary. Sometimes not. Depends on the word. Depends on the linguist. You and me, not as linguists but lovers of whatever ghosts within language, like to pull up the roots beneath our favorite words. We do so for various reasons, one of which, for me at least, is to find them there, artifacts clinging to their clods of sound. We find breaking them apart satisfying.
A poet’s ear develops first — She’s got a really good ear, I remember Linda Gregg, my first workshop professor, praising the grad student a few of us undergrads had heard at the reading the night before — and then the voice, as it creates lines and sentences from this auditory, visual and vocal confluence, triangulating things with their sounds and text-based signs representing experience. If we trace and uncover our earliest, favorite words through repetition, we release their strange, incantatory magic, a hard-to-identify psychic energy shimmering with past and presence. Uncovered, the word contains organic material mixed with sediment from former versions of self and world, associations both pleasant and not. And if we rearrange the word with tone by, say, recontextualizing while repeating it within our figure and image systems, the verbal schematics we use to structure our materials, a lively poem enters into this space.
If all of this happens just right, if indeed a dynamic poem appears, as you can hear it does in A.N. DeJesús’s prose poem (first appearing in Bear Review Vol. 5, Issue 1) “Well," a specific time and place becomes referentially palpable. In this recording, you’ll hear her careful soundwork open up the word “well” to recreate tangible spaces from formative phases of her life’s development. Upon listening, this repetition generates a recognizable sort of joy for those of us who live close to poetic diction as adults because, as children and teens, we first lived with language like a track played in heavy rotation.
But it’s more complicated than the joy of childhood, right? Sobering up from our word binges, our juvenilia, we discover our voices and learn to interrogate our pasts. Sometimes a single word, “insistent upon dimension," as DeJesús puts it, contains unknown quantities of pain seeping from porous rocks of the good old days, compressed just beneath the surface. Saying the evocative word while composing the poem, you might find it, as she does, “bloody” on the “tongue," as your “hands shake” to say it. And when “the word” “falls out of” “mouth and onto the floor,” holding fragments of the years-ago internalized sun, it’s bewildering to hear.
— Marcus Myers