The new ways of writing pioneered by the literary avant-garde invite new ways of reading commensurate with their modes of composition. Dictionary Poetics examines one of those modes: book-length poems, from Louis Zukofsky to Harryette Mullen, all structured by particular editions of specific dictionaries. By reading these poems in tandem with their source texts, Dworkin puts paid to the notion that even the most abstract and fragmentary avant-garde literature is nonsensical, meaningless, or impenetrable. When read from the right perspective, passages that at first appear to be discontinuous, irrational, or hopelessly cryptic suddenly appear logically consistent, rationally structured, and thematically coherent.
Following a methodology of “critical description,” Dictionary Poetics maps the material surfaces of poems, tracing the networks of signifiers that undergird the more familiar representational schemes with which conventional readings have been traditionally concerned. In the process, this book demonstrates that new ways of reading can yield significant interpretive payoffs, open otherwise unavailable critical insights into the formal and semantic structures of a composition, and transform our understanding of literary texts at their most fundamental levels.