Poetical Dictionary

The Poetical Dictionary is a book of poetry and prose that uses poems to convey each word’s sense: its unique combination of sound, mood, logic and meaning. The book contains a brief introduction, the definition of 43 different English words, and a handful of tables and charts. Here words are not so much defined as they are depicted in a kind of informed portraiture, a conceptual calligraphy, a combination of lexicography and poetry—a lexetry that knows the style of information, the viscosity of concepts, the atmospherics of these sonic cum tropic logics that we call words.


purple—drop two large ink-drops on water-covered paper: “pûr pel”
adj. [Old English purpul, purbple from Latin purpura from Greek porphyra]
1. of a power absorbing the vibrant hush between blue and red, brooding
and blithe it beguiles your unsettled eyes, so subtly doused with air, this rich flame.
An eloquence of exaggeration; it finds its stately avatars in shades of mourning
and wine, of dahlias, pomegranates and penitence, in the fuzzy profundity of velvet
rustling in folds about the slowed shufflings of a time-harried cardinal,
or in the quiet unease, deep like a splenetic king’s sleep, of Tyrian dye twilight.

spine—stiffen before the
charge: “spîn” n. [from Latin
spina, backbone, thorn
or prickle]
1. the stout
threat of a thorn,
projected stiffly
through wooden
or bony processes into
an entangling array
of erect spicules,
quills, or spikes,
(see angelfish, urchin)
each reaching like
a lightning rod
to touch an
instant trauma
against its
waiting point
of puncture.

2. a column of bone
held taut to muscle.
The white bones stack
in hinging jigsaw pieces
down the animal’s
axis, or the bones
ancestrally fused
make it one stiff span.
The bones protect,
brittle vertebrae
bracket the vital mesh
of firings, hunching
over it and rising
from the back in a line
of bone bulges,
the knuckles of a fist
clutching life’s cord.

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Cover art by Robert Hullinger