The Blown Definitions
Dictionary Definition Form in Contemporary Poetry
22nd May @ 6.00pm
The dictionary functions as a repository of collective cultural and linguistic knowledge. What happens if we don’t feel represented by the dictionary? In my own dramatic radio poem, ‘The Blown Definitions’ (dramatic radio poetry is defined here as radio poetry for two or more voices of at least fifteen minutes in length) I explore the processes and difficulties of definition – and the role of the dictionary – through an invented disappearing language and its one last remaining expert and arbiter. Throughout the poem the dictionary (an artificial intelligence) functions in a similar way to the chorus in ancient Greek drama, disrupting and commenting on the temporal narrative.
The dictionary definition is fundamentally different to the poem in its intended use: it’s designed to function as a record of existing language use, not as a space in which meaning can be questioned and re-created. The definition’s intended function requires a focus on more ‘rational’ and translatable aspects of language rather than the less directly representational aspects explicitly utilised in poetry. The dictionary definition provides a structure within which language may conform to its more utilitarian purpose and also exceed and transcend it. Through analysis of the work of contemporary poets including Robert Pinsky, Kei Miller, Anne Carson and Jen Hadfield, and in the context of my own dictionary work as part of my dramatic radio poem, I will demonstrate how the poet’s creative deconstruction of the dictionary definition can both celebrate and subvert the dictionary’s authority, playing with notions of subjectivity and objectivity, of closed and open texts. The dictionary definition’s association with cultural memory and history makes it an ideal space for discussion and reconfiguration of cultural meaning.
Kate Potts’ doctoral thesis works towards a poetics of the dramatic radio poem, focusing on the ways in which the medium of radio shapes and defines the form. Kate’s debut poetry pamphlet Whichever Music (tall-lighthouse, 2008) was a Poetry Book Society Choice and was shortlisted for a Michael Marks Award. She received an Arts Council Writer’s Award in 2009. Her first full-length collection is Pure Hustle (Bloodaxe, 2011). Kate’s poetry has been widely published in magazines and anthologies including The Forward Book of Poetry 2012 (Faber, 2011) and, most recently, Dear World & Everyone In It (Bloodaxe, 2013). She teaches Creative Writing for Morley College and The Poetry School, and is currently a writer in residence at Kingston University. She is co-organiser of a series of site-specific poetry events, Somewhere in Particular.