An Abecedarian

Some of you probably already knew this long before I did, but an abecedarian (sometimes also called an abecedary) is a poem or sequence of poems structured around the letters of the alphabet. In the original sense of the term, words beginning with particular letters would be used to organize individual lines or stanzas. More recently, it’s been more common to see this alphabetical strategy applied to entire cycles of poems, with each individual poem governed by one letter, as was the case with Jeffrey Yang’s debut, An Aquarium, which won the PEN/Osterweil Award for Poetry in 2009. Another example is Harryette Mullen’s Sleeping with the Dictionary.

An abedearian particularly close to my heart is German poet Uljana Wolf’s Falsche Freunde, which in an earlier incarnation was known as DICHTionary, an interlingual pun based on Dichtung, the German word for “poetry.” Each of the alphabetically inspired prose poems in Wolf’s collection is based on words that exist in some form (homonymic, homophonic and/or homographic) in both German and English. Take for example the German word Mist, which translates as “manure.” Or Igel, which is pronounced “eagle” and means “hedgehog.” In her poems, the words flip back and forth between their English and German meanings, always on the cusp of signifying both at once. This approach results in a wonderfully playful book that also tells a hidden tale: there’s a love story secreted between the lines of these poems, which – although written in prose – often slip into an iambic cadence. I liked the book so much that I translated it, even though much of the book’s original bilinguality becomes invisible in English, replaced by wordplay of other sorts.
Anyhow, the main point of this blog entry is to announce that the resulting English-language book is about to be published by the wonderfully adventurous Ugly Duckling Presse of Brooklyn, NY. And since there’s no point launching a book without a launch party, we’re throwing one. If you are reading this, you are most cordially invited to join us. The party will be held on Thursday, April 21, 8:00 p.m., at 380 Broadway, 2M. Hope to see you there!

P.S. The book just got the loveliest write-up on the New Directions Tumblr.

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