"amicus, amici, amico, amicum, amico,
The window, with its morning salty joke
of squinting scowls, unfolds a dusty yellow ray
of light on you, while I still close-eyed soak
in shadows in the middle of the room.
We resurrect the third declension, bring
the plural genitive alive, resume
linguistic worship, conjugate the Mass, and sing
our hallelujahs, pater nosters, pronoun penance
for our poor grade in repentance
for our reprobate translation of this sentence."
FitP Poet Highlight 27/82: Arwen Taylor, “Lingua Doctrinae”
In this poem, Arwen’s lyric is crisp and pointed. And her poetic engagement with words is a means of “linguistic worship” centered on the conjugation and communion of bodies through rituals of the tongue. Speaking to an unnamed “you” (a lover? the reader? God?) upon whom “light unfolds [in] a dusty yellow ray,” she discusses their conjugal acts of language, witnessing that in their continued relationship, in their textual communion, they “resurrect the third declension, bring / the plural genitive alive.” The poet renews the complexities of linguistic inflection and possession in the plural pronouns “we” and “our” as, in her’s words, “we” “conjugate the Mass, and sing / our hallelujas” and “pater nosters,” paying “pronoun penance / for our poor grade in repentance / for our reprobate translation of this sentence.”
Such trouble as the poet’s punning and rhetorical uses of ritual may make is, at once, as these lines suggest, the source of the poet’s need to repent and the means of that redemption. Through the “locution of [… this poetic] system” of worship, she thus explores the relationship among languages, doctrines, individuals, the sexes, human and the divine, in ways that highlight the subversively redemptive possibilities of humanity’s communal acts, including communication. And by so doing, the poet presses readers to consider that language is something more than mere garments for our ideas, more than mere marks on the page, more than a series of vibrations that pass through the aural cavity, even as seemingly meaningless as these garments, these marks, these vibrations can sometimes seem.
Because language, especially poetic language, is ultimately much, much more than any of these materialities combined.