Sleeping with the Dictionary

By Harryette Mullen b. 1953 Harryette Mullen
I beg to dicker with my silver-tongued companion, whose lips are ready to read my shining gloss. A versatile partner, conversant and well-versed in the verbal art, the dictionary is not averse to the solitary habits of the curiously wide-awake reader. In the dark night’s insomnia, the book is a stimulating sedative, awakening my tired imagination to the hypnagogic trance of language. Retiring to the canopy of the bedroom, turning on the bedside light, taking the big dictionary to bed, clutching the unabridged bulk, heavy with the weight of all the meanings between these covers, smoothing the thin sheets, thick with accented syllables—all are exercises in the conscious regimen of dreamers, who toss words on their tongues while turning illuminated pages. To go through all these motions and procedures, groping in the dark for an alluring word, is the poet’s nocturnal mission. Aroused by myriad possibilities, we try out the most perverse positions in the practice of our nightly act, the penetration of the denotative body of the work. Any exit from the logic of language might be an entry in a symptomatic dictionary. The alphabetical order of this ample block of knowledge might render a dense lexicon of lucid hallucinations. Beside the bed, a pad lies open to record the meandering of migratory words. In the rapid eye movement of the poet’s night vision, this dictum can be decoded, like the secret acrostic of a lover’s name.

Harryette Mullen, "Sleeping with the Dictionary" from Sleeping with the Dictionary. Copyright © 2002 by the Regents of the University of California.  Reprinted by permission of University of California Press.

Source: Sleeping with the Dictionary (University of California Press, 2002)

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Poet Harryette Mullen b. 1953

Subjects Living, The Mind, Activities, Indoor Activities, Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics, Reading & Books

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 Harryette  Mullen

Biography

Harryette Mullen is a poet and a professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she teaches creative writing and African-American literature. Her poetry has been hailed by critics as unique, powerful, and challenging. Elisabeth A. Frost wrote in Contemporary Literature: "Crossing the lines between often isolated aesthetic camps, Harryette Mullen has pioneered her own form of bluesy, disjunctive lyric . . .

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SUBJECT Living, The Mind, Activities, Indoor Activities, Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics, Reading & Books

Poetic Terms Prose Poem

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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