Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The World of Words

When my university library arranged online access to the complete Oxford English Dictionary recently, I found another convenient outlet for my almost lifelong fascination with the world of words—their definitions, connotations, pronunciations, and origins. From my first words learned as a child to the most recent examples of technological jargon created to characterize aspects of the evolving environment in which we live, I always have been intrigued by these signifiers made up merely of markings on a page or pixel dots on a digital screen.

Even for entertainment, I have enjoyed word games. When I was a graduate college student and worked at the New York Public Library’s research center on 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, on fair afternoons I’d spend every lunch hour on the front steps between the famous library lions, and I’d challenge myself to finish the daily crossword in the New York Times while I ate a hero sandwich or a couple of knishes, testing myself by trying to finish the puzzle before consuming my final bite.

Repeatedly, during lunch breaks while working on the computer, I now find entertainment for myself by dipping into the online dictionary just to discover additional etymological tidbits about words or terms with which I thought I had a fair degree of familiarity. Nouns, verbs, and adjectives I have appreciated and thought I had known so well—through everyday use in prose composition, during crossword play, or within lines of poetry—suddenly seem even richer upon my opening of their page in the online OED. I relish each detail of a word’s historical development (as well as the multiple quotes gathered over time, chronicling gradations in their meanings and minute alterations in the shadings of their connotations or tone) due to a series of successive changes throughout the chronological stages in the English language.

Like many other writers and editors, I often have considered the various elements of vocabulary as the rudimentary tools with which interesting literature can be constructed. Each semester I try to emphasize to my creative writing students the way words seem to be nearly tangible to many authors. Words sometimes invoke supplementary sensory responses among writers. In addition to images, certain traces of sound, scent, texture, or taste arise with every complex combination of vowels and consonants that distinguishes one word from another.

When advising my writing students, I encourage an intimate knowledge of language that allows them to draw their readers fully and persuasively into the atmosphere of any scene they imagine in their works. Additionally, I urge an exploration of the unique layers of language associated with specific words, knowledge of the exact definitions and multiple secondary meanings each word carries with it when entering one’s written work.

Indeed, even words that at first appear to be synonyms frequently feel different to individual writers, particularly when placed side by side with other words. Though I hesitate to present a baseball analogy on this day when the investigative report on steroid use in the major leagues has been released, I must say that when I consider use of a certain word choice, I am sometimes reminded of my days playing baseball so long ago, and I recall how I’d lift each bat strewn around the on-deck circle as I awaited my turn at the plate. Even those bats labeled with the same length or weight felt different when held in one’s hands. Nearly negligible degrees of variation could cause each one to appear to have a distinct balance. The slightest disparity in the width of the bat’s handle could create greater or lesser comfort for the hitter when he stepped into his stance at the batter’s box. Any one of the bats could propel a baseball upon contact; however, whether as the consequence of an objective decision based upon the bat’s length and weight or a subjective choice made upon a player’s simple instinctive feel, each hitter felt better with the bat he’d selected, convinced the results would be beneficial.

For writers, perhaps particularly for poets, unusual details hidden deep in dictionary entries often have supplied pleasant surprises that enhance a word’s attraction for inclusion in an imaginary work of literature. Therefore, I was delighted by the sample poem highlighted today at Poetry Daily, Barbara Hamby’s “Ode on Dictionaries,” which originally appeared in Subtropics. I recommend this poem to all who have written a poem, who value those basic components that constitute our vocabulary, or who have wondered about any writer’s fascination with dictionaries.

In the poem Hamby recalls “the dictionary I bought / in the fourth grade, with so many gorgeous words I thought / I’d never plumb its depths.” Even now, so many years later, the poet discloses: “yet here I am still at it, trolling for pearls, / Japanese words vying with Bantu in a goulash / I eat daily, sometimes gagging, sometimes with relish, / kleptomaniac in the five-and-dime of language, / slipping words in my pockets like a non-smudge / lipstick that smears with the first kiss.” Reading these lines in Hamby’s wonderful poem, I thought once more of those days in my own history when I have spent time over lunch learning and loving words, being nourished by them.


Anonymous said...

Lucky you. I genuinely miss the OED.

Edward Byrne said...

Hi, Robert:

Yes, I am fortunate the university made the OED available. But I believe this also demonstrates another advantage of online accessibility to literature of all kinds.

Gwyn said...

Hey Ed,

Are you on Facebook, and if so, would you fancy a game of Scrabble there?

Cheers, Gwyn

Edward Byrne said...


I do have a facebook page, but I haven't used it for much at all thus far, and I have yet to use it for correspondence or any other activities. I only opened it because I had to when I was advising a group of creative writing students who had started a Facebook reading group for sharing their poems with one another. Perhaps sometime when I have an opportunity, I'll turn my attention to it more fully.