Sleeping with the Dictionary

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University of California Press, Feb 22, 2002 - Poetry - 85 pages
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Harryette Mullen's fifth poetry collection, Sleeping with the Dictionary, is the abecedarian offspring of her collaboration with two of the poet's most seductive writing partners, Roget's Thesaurus and The American Heritage Dictionary. In her ménage à trois with these faithful companions, the poet is aware that while Roget seems obsessed with categories and hierarchies, the American Heritage, whatever its faults, was compiled with the assistance of a democratic usage panel that included black poets Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps, as well as feminist author and editor Gloria Steinem. With its arbitrary yet determinant alphabetical arrangement, its gleeful pursuit of the ludic pleasure of word games (acrostic, anagram, homophone, parody, pun), as well as its reflections on the politics of language and dialect, Mullen's work is serious play. A number of the poems are inspired or influenced by a technique of the international literary avant-garde group Oulipo, a dictionary game called S+7 or N+7. This method of textual transformation--which is used to compose nonsensical travesties reminiscent of Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky"--also creates a kind of automatic poetic discourse.

Mullen's parodies reconceive the African American's relation to the English language and Anglophone writing, through textual reproduction, recombining the genetic structure of texts from the Shakespearean sonnet and the fairy tale to airline safety instructions and unsolicited mail. The poet admits to being "licked all over by the English tongue," and the title of this book may remind readers that an intimate partner who also gives language lessons is called, euphemistically, a "pillow dictionary."

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User Review  - rmharris - LibraryThing

If there were a poetic equivalent to the "Talent Deserving Wider Recognition" category on Downbeat's annual Jazz Poll, Harryette Mullen would be found there. While her first works were more obviously ... Read full review

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User Review  - maureene87 - LibraryThing

Poetry book for poetry class. My least favorite out of all of them. I felt there was no substance to the poems. There were a few here and there I liked, but overall I could do without it. (Feb. 2008) Read full review


All She Wrote
The Anthropic Principle
Any Lit
Ask Aden
Bilingual Instructions
Black Nikes
The Lunar Lutheran
Mantra for a Classless Society or Mr Rogets Neighborhood
Music for Homemade Instruments
Naked Statues
Natural Anguish
Once Ever After
O Tis William
Outside Art

Bleeding Hearts
Bolsa Algodón
Coals to Newcastle Panama Hats from Ecuador
Daisy Pearl
Dim Lady
Dream Cycle
European Folk Tale Variant
Exploring the Dark Content
Fancy Cortex
Free Radicals
The Gene for Music
Hitched to a Star
Junk Mail
Kamasutra Sutra
Present Tense
Quality of Life
Resistance Is Fertile
She Swam On from Sea to Shine
Sleeping with the Dictionary
Souvenir from Anywhere
Suzuki Method
Swift Tommy
Ted Joans at the Café Bizarre
Variation on a Theme Park
Way Opposite
We Are Not Responsible
Why You and I
Wino Rhino
Wipe That Simile Off Your Aphasia
Xenophobic Nightmare in a Foreign Language
Xray Vision
Zen Acorn
Zombie Hat

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About the author (2002)

Harryette Mullen is Associate Professor of English and African American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is the author of Tree Tall Woman (1981), Trimmings (1991), S*PeRM**K*T (1992), and Muse & Drudge (1995).

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