Early this spring, I perched on top of a table (it was the only space left) to hear Fred Moten talk about “Blackness and Poetry.” The room was teeming with poets, critics, academics, and students. At the end of the talk, a question about the contemporary “mania” or “fetish for rule-based constraint-based poetry in a lot of poetry circles” was asked. More specifically, Nada Gordon wanted to know what this contemporary mania for rules might be a symptom of.
I am pleased to present a glimpse at John Shea’s Tales from Webster’s project — a prefatory note about purpose and method, followed by one tale, which is a tale unto itself but also serves as a note to readers of the book of tales.
The “tales from Webster’s” are a new literary form invented by me. What is a “tale from Webster’s” — a poem in prose, a short (very short) narrative, a verbal arrangement? A combination of all of them? There may be no conclusive answer. On the other hand, the structure of the “tale” is clear. The bolded key words on the left of the page are consecutive entries in Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition (World Publishing Company, 1970). The text on the right is my connective tissue that links the key words into a kind of narrative, scene, or evocation of personality. The tale is read the customary way, from left to right, beginning at the highest point — with the additional frisson of a leap across the white space after each dictionary entry. There must be at least five key words; and the linking text is no more than three lines long. Get ready for some good, not-so-clean, intellectual fun. — John Shea
John Shea is writing a series of "Tales from Webster's," each constrained by inclusion, consecutively, of words from the dictionary. A recent work in the series runs from respiratory system to resuscitator. It has been published in Literal Lattehere. He calls them tales; to me they read like poetry; the magazines published them under fiction. Pay the category no mind.