Category Archives: Poetry


Summarize Your Thesis (One Line)

The game at is to reduce the main message of your thesis or dissertation down to a single line, ideally one short candid sentence. Much self-deprecating humor can be found on the site, along with occasional signs of cynicism or desperation.

Not many theses in my discipline show up, for linguistics is a minority pursuit. But I did find this one, from the University of Colorado:

“It appears, based on experimental evidence, that vowel perception is pretty much magic.”

I can well bel…



Elizabeth Bishop in 1954

Elizabeth Bishop in 1954

I’ve been waiting 40 years for The Incredible Sestina Anthology (Write Bloody Publishing), without realizing it. Like many people, I was introduced to this poetic form by Elizabeth Bishop’s breathtaking poem “Sestina,” which originally appeared in The New Yorker in 1956 (hence the spelling of the key word “marvellous”), and which my roommate was reading for a college class. The poem begins:

September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother


Who’d Want to Be a Dick Swiveller?

Dick Swiveller

“What’s going on with this ’twas ever thus thing?” said my partner, Tricia. The phrase had been uttered twice before 9 a.m. on the BBC’s radio news program already that morning. Prime Minister David Cameron said it when talking about Syria, and later another Conservative politician used it in a segment about badger culling.

“A couple of years ago I’d never heard it,” said Tricia, “but now everyone’s saying it.”

Casual claims about the suddenness of additions to the language are al…


Couples and Couplets

coupletsProfessors of a certain age, start your engines!

And students of a certain different age, start yours too. It’s time to begin daydreaming about the coming academic year.

Not about grades and exams and papers, of course, but about the things that really matter—romance, passion, sex.

The inspiration comes from a hot new novel, My Education by Susan Choi. No, I haven’t read it, but listen to this snippet from

“Regina Gottlieb had been warned about Professor Nicholas Brodeur long befor…


Thinking of You (and Here’s the Card to Prove It)

Every once in a while, even in the age of e-mail and Paperless Post, a professor needs to send an old-fashioned greeting card, one of those folded notes with lovely pictures and great effusions of sentiment printed on sturdy cardboard stock. Outside of a hymnal, the greeting card may be the only place most people read verse on purpose.

The greeting-card business has seen a lot of changes in 30 years. Now cards are in the drug store (in Aisle 8, just past the aspirin), or they’re near the holiday…


Creative Challenge: Ireland Gets a Head


Photograph by David Benbennick, via Creative Commons

Compared with a headline, a sonnet is a piece of cake.

That’s what I said last week, pointing to the difficulty of constructing an old-fashioned newspaper headline that fits to exact measure and that, in no more space than a haiku, exactly reflects the information, emphases, and tone of the story it heads.

I took as evidence a 1950s wire-service story used as an example of headline writing by Bruce Westley of the University of Wisconsin at Mad…


The Poetry of Headlines


In the composing room of the “Daily Mail” in 1944, a newspaperman locks the blocks of type into place on the metal frame or “form,” which will be inked and used to print the newspaper page. UK Ministry of Information Second World War Official Collection.

Newspaper headlines, as I said last week, are prose poetry. Not only do they have distinctive grammar and diction, they also have a tightly constrained form and even more tightly constrained content. Compared with a headline, a sonnet is a piece…


The Mixed Blood Project

This will be my last post for Lingua Franca. It’s been a good experience but I need to put my shoulder to some other wheels.

Last month, in Berkeley (at University Press Books), we launched the third issue of Mixed Blood, the national publication I started with two friends at Penn State. (Mixed Blood began auspiciously—it’s the result of a series of late afternoon conversations at Whiskers, the company bar at Penn State. The publication continues to reflect the interests and involvement of i…


Mother Hubbard’s Bone, Alexander Pope’s Tea

Alexander Pope (1688-1744), from crayon drawing by W. Hoare in the National Portrait Gallery, London

Poetry has its uses, even if your attitude toward poetry is like Hotspur’s in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1:

I had rather hear a brazen canstick turned,
Or a dry wheel grate on the axletree,
And that would set my teeth nothing an edge,
Nothing so much as mincing poetry.
’Tis like the forced gait of a shuffling nag.

But if you shuffle through the landscape of earlier poetry, you can find fossils t…


So Much Depends …

A recent post in The Stone, a New York Times blog, has been sitting on my browser for a couple of weeks now, bugging me. I refer to “Philosophy and the Poetic Imagination” by Ernie Lepore and Matthew Stone, which uses a poeticized version of a Craigslist personal ad to advocate for what the authors dub “the poetic imagination”—an imagination they locate in the minds of readers, not poets. Lepore and Stone describe a number of features they find especially salient in the “lineated” vers…