Photo provided by Joyelle McSweeneyJoyelle McSweeney is the author of six books of poetry and prose, most of which also contain plays: Salamandrine, 8 Gothics (Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2012); Percussion Grenade (Fence Books, 2012); Flet (Fence, 2008); Nylund, the Sarcographer (Tarpaulin Sky, 2007); The Commandrine (Fence, 2004); and The Red Bird, which was selected by Allen Grossman to inaugurate the Fence Modern Poets Series in 2001. Her play Dead Youth, or, the Leaks won the inaugural Leslie Scalapino Prize for Innovative Women Playwrights and is available from Litmus Press. Her book of critical essays, The Necropastoral: Poetry, Media, Occults, was published in 2015 by the University of Michigan Poets on Poetry Series.

Joyelle McSweeney talks about hyperdiction in an excerpt from “The Contagious Knives: A Necro Pastoral Farce” (Act 1, Scene 5).


Excerpt from “The Contagious Knives: A Necro Pastoral Farce” (Act 1, Scene 5)

Louis Braille (he literally wipes the smile off his face; is in love with his double he’s just heard of)

Bradley Manikin, my hypnotist double,
my hiccupping download, my credit card debt;
my event; my embedded chip; my embedded
reporter with his lens split wide, and now his legs,
and now his lip; erotically, heroically, scatologically
similar; that is, like; that is, like this, a likeness;
the boy next store, except; would that we were
Siamesed twins, and could return to Old Siam
for a verdant romp and ride on the rickshaw: I’ll stitch
myself to your chest. You play the rich Chinese lover;
I’ll play the ingénue in her cabaret shoes in French;
I’ll play the hand-me-down vamp. Cover my knuckles
with rings like eyes. Fat diamonds. Kohl, coal. And I’ll give
you a thousand kisses and smack on the cheek
and in the eye: a power vamp. Amp to the chest.
Defibrillate, resuscitate, advance: zombie music,
Lub dub. These things are for sail, these things are a hit
at the port, down on all fours on the deck, these things
on the ship’s log are manifest; which can be shipwrecked,
black-boxed, indexed, finders keepers, law of the see:
when this you see remember: No indian giving, no taking it back,
except when you take it from me,
Indian, Chinaman, Brad-lee,
no man is an eyeland, everyman must come to port
or ride the continental railway or nail ties; you’re bleeding from the
you’re naked at roll call; you’ve been demoted; you’re underground,
underfed and listless, you watch your retinas detach, catch
the popfly, sleep inside the poptab or the synapse, dream
of a ballpark thrownup popcorn on the jumbotron; kisscam;
appear, appear, grey gnat; kid-lithograph; self-engraving;
wax-caste; sans toothpaste, sans cotton, totally unrecognizable
as an American; I receive your transmission, I develop you in my bath;
red light, red light; I ware the sailor suit I wore in life,
yes, like a Tsarevich, yes, and my pearl button eyes,
and my ligaments and stretchers like a cat-o-nine,
yes, one for every bullet I caught in CGI, this suit
cuts into me, cuts a fine figure, and yes,
now I wander the magasins and empty a magazine, yes,
into the bust of, and yes, into the right eye, I punch
your ticket, I trash the Louvre, and now I arrive as from the Ballets
from the last century’s caboose, and yes, like a kid Nijinsky,
I arrive, I come alive, I contract and percuss, suppurate and pus;
like a pageboy, I turn the page; like a cancer I take the stage;
like a monk I see the flashbulb bloom like a nacreous lily
and like the moon in the ocean liner’s wake I foam and rage
and like napalm and cocaine and mercy and mercury I
down can rain.

Bradley Manning, I’ll find you. I’m coming down the drain. (Folds up; burns like a monk; snuffs out; resumes young boy stature. DEVIL and SWAN resumes siege.)

[Published in Percussion Grenade (Fence Books, 2012).]


Writing Prompt: Brainstorm first about your home town, creating lists in response to the following questions:

  • What are foods only eaten in your home town?
  • What are the names of the two streets you drive on the most?
  • What’s the name of a street you’ve not driven down yet?
  • What’s a noise you hear at night?
  • What’s the name of a person from home you used to see, but don’t see anymore?
  • What’s a word you hear at home but not at school?
  • What are plants/animals/insects you see at home?

Now, write a poem inspired by the language of your hometown, accessing this (and all your other) language.

Definitions of Terms

Diction refers to how we use language, specifically the word choices we make.

Hyperdiction is, as Joyelle McSweeney explains in her video, what happens when you crank your diction all the way up, accessing all the language you know when you write a poem.

Mouthfeel refers to how a poem feels in your mouth when you read it.

Idiolect refers to the unique way a person uses language.


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