e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

Archive for the tag “Drysalter”

Redundancy and discount

I recently discovered that our language is full of obsolete words, threatened with removal from dictionaries and other places where words gather to be noticed.

drysalter coverAren’t they still needed? Can one write a historical novel without frigorific or charabanc? And how about the poets? Michael Symmons Roberts recently won the Costa Prize with a book called Drysalter, another threatened word.

I wonder sometimes how this rationalisation is managed. Perhaps the dictionary editors call the words into the office, one at a time, and tell them quietly, with overtones of regret, that they are no longer needed. Redundant! Having experienced the shock of the ‘we don’t need you’ moment, I can sympathise with those lackadaying words.

What sort of payout do they get? I’m not sure what the current requirement is, but if it’s a week’s pay for every year of work, then after a few centuries jargogle is going to get a good whack.

Does he have a leaving do? Or does he rush home and invest his money becoming self-employed, with an ad in Yellow Pages? Later he’ll send out flyers to historians and poets offering his services as a scene setter or a new rhyme. He’ll mention his hourly rate:

Anent this bargain price; ’tis discounted if you twattle me on Twitter.

Cover art from Goodreads.


Downhill winds blowing to hell

Snow scene

While reading a poem entitled Antarctica by Michael Symmons Roberts, I came across a new-to-me word – katabatic.

To quote the relevant verse (I recommend the whole poem and Drysalter, the book it occurs in):

No one sleeps alone here, and only fishermen dream
of wax-white orcas, blind and red-eyed, circling
under ice-sheets swept by katabatic winds.

This phrase refers to winds that blow downhill – a bit like invisible skiers. The word is usually found with ‘wind’, but can be applied to other downhill things. There is a noun – katabasis.

There are other poems using the word. Lucy Tonic has written one called Fever that begins:

Cut the rock moon out with scissors
But you can’t trace the shape of the gas sun …
Katabatic winds
Predatory cold

So Roberts isn’t the only poet to associate downhill winds with cold.

On the hot side, katabasis has been used by Randa Ayash-Abikaedbey to describe the descent into hell.

It also seems to be used by academics in discussions of poetry, as in Heaney, Virgil, and Contemporary Katabasis by Rachel Falconer. In the academic world katabatic poetry is narrative rather then lyrical.

Having read all this varied material, I have a vision of a poem about hell surfing a down-flowing wind through the Antarctic wastes.

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