A Word I’d Never Seen Before

July 15, 2013

Contributor’s Marginalia: Michael Bazzett on “The Art of Reading” by Rebecca Morgan Frank

The letters on the page are the information. Curled ink. Hieroglyphs. A code evoking the world, while building sounds and songs in the brain.

Reading is one of the most basic ways of transforming that information into meaning. Once we learn it, we forget how odd the process truly is. How utterly interior and difficult to track. How invisible. We don’t encounter reading so much as its evidence.

You’re in the midst of it right now. Synapses are firing that would not otherwise have fired had you not encountered this particular arrangement of letters & words strung along the invisible thread of syntax. That those synapses might mirror a network of connections from the mind of another seems both mystical and somewhat dubious.

Or, to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, The biggest illusion about communication is that it happened.

All these notions were kicked up in my mind, and remained floating even once the music of Rebecca Morgan Frank’s “The Art of Reading” began to settle. (Because its music is rollicking and propulsive, right into the whirring R’s of that closing line. It’s a semantic treatise trapped in the body of a sonnet.)

The poem turns on the joys of discombobulation: it’s true that “a word can sock you with a kick.” It was the marriage of nap and kin that struck me. It took me back to learning to read, the riddle-cracking and the strangeness of it:

                                                                Napkin
is a sleeping cousin drooling on my bed:
it’s noon.

But of course. Nap weds kin. What else could it mean?

I was suddenly both seven and forty-seven. Frank had managed to evoke both Hamlet punning on the space between the letters (more than kin and less than kind) while simultaneously vaulting me back to my boyhood bedroom, A. Conan Doyle hinged open in my lap.

I’d just encountered a marvelous new word, a word I’d never seen before, and in my mind’s ear I heard it as the marriage of miser and gristle. Something along the lines of myzle. Its meaning from the context was clear: while searching for the true path, you had been led astray due to villainous circumstance. In short, you had been misled.

That one word has tracked me, all these years, “burning to be read wrong, read right.” To this day, whenever I encounter this word in print, I hear it as a cousin of miser.

A poem that makes words new again has done its job. Take up its invitation. “Come on, give it a try. Hot dog? Wild / flower?” The word Humdinger comes to mind.

Michael Bazzett

Michael Bazzett’s  poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Massachusetts Review, Pleiades, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and Prairie Schooner, and been featured on Verse Daily.. He is the author of The Imaginary City, recently published in the OW! Arts Chapbook Series. Two more chapbooks,They: A Field Guide (Barge Press) and The Unspoken Jokebook (Burning River), are forthcoming later this year. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two children.

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