Sleeping with the Dictionary by Harryette Mullen

Language is a tricky thing, any translator will tell you. You think you know it, and then you miss. A mis-heard word, a mis-read phrase. Expectations aroused and thwarted. The work of the poet. This book explores with delight, despair, and demanding the slipperiness of the English language in the American idiom. An abcedarium of intentionally misdirected language, it is playful and political. She employs a range of techniques, from the occasional (and recognizable) N+7 to some far subtler slidings around in language. The uncannily familiar cadences lull, then surprise you. It’s the kind of book that nearly demands dissection, interpretation, further investigation. Begs for close, critical readings.

What I loved most about the work is where it was most overtly political, engaging with feminist, gender, and racial identity politics, class politics, art politics (the “aggressively ironic” art critic!). It leaves no stone unturned.

Others have already written much more thoroughly on it than I have. I especially liked Rosamond King’s review in Callallo (Callaloo , Vol. 26, No. 2 (Spring, 2003), pp. 536-538) and Joel Bettridge’s review (Chicago Review , Vol. 49, No. 2 (SUMMER 2003), pp. 160-165). There’s a lot more scholarship and review on this work out there, and I bet it’s worth digging into. This is a book that deserves close engagement.

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