the dictionary project author interview: amaranth borsuk


Today, I am pleased to share with you an author interview with the amazing Amaranth Borsuk. Amaranth, not the author but the word, refers to “a cosmopolitan genus of herbs. Approximately 60 species are recognized, with inflorescences and foliage ranging from purple and red to gold.” And if you haven’t seen Amaranth Borsuk’s book Between Page and Screen (a collaboration with programmer Brad Bouse), you should probably check it out right about now (click here). Please enjoy her interview below!




1. Please share a memory/story/thought in relation to a dictionary/dictionaries:

When I was preparing to apply for jobs a few years ago, my friend Andrew and I did mock interviews for one another. He asked me what book I’d like to be stranded on an island with, and I drew a blank. I eventually came up with The Library of America edition of Stein’s work, but wasn’t satisfied with my own answer. His was awesome: the Oxford English Dictionary. I was terribly jealous that I hadn’t come up with it. I still love that answer, but the more I think about it, I’d rather be stranded with the American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Word Roots. It’s my go-to book because more than etymologies, it shows you relationships among words (often unexpected) that share a common root, which is what really drives my fascination with language. It leaves a lot up to one’s imagination. It’s also much more portable than the OED.


2. What is your current favorite word?

Saddle. I love the way it implies motion while holding one in place. One might be saddled with a burden of some kind, but the saddle itself, on a horse, a bike, a shoe, provides a means of transport.

More than that, I love that saddle has a little sadness in it—perhaps it’s the melancholy of language that wants to be in motion, but that is being held back. The word has been on my mind because I’ve been spending some time with Stein’s “Yet Dish,” which includes this delightfully conflicted poem:

Tea Fulls.

Pit it pit it little saddle pear say.

In her typically punny way (typical for this long poem in parts, anyway, written during WWI while she was developing the style of Tender Buttons), Stein reminds us that tea is made with a beautiful tea-full: a petite, pitted little saddle percée (pierced, you could say pitted, with little holes through which the tea seeps). A tea strainer thus weeps tears through its little holes because it is a little sad: a saddle. Its immobility allows the motion of water through leaves to produce a comforting hot drink. Motion and stasis, beauty and sadness all wrapped up in a pun at once linguistic and visual. Those strainers that perch across the lip of a cup do look a bit like saddles.


3. What, in your opinion, is the most obnoxious/insidious/annoying word?

For me it’s cleave. Oh the tempting cleave, with its implications of both conjunction and rupture. Cleave and cleave!! Cleave is like a drug for me. After reading my first manuscript, my father said “You use the word cleave a lot.” That’s when I knew it had become insidious. I would never, or rarely, use it in conversation, yet it keeps creeping into my poems. I’m trying to kick it out.


4. Please respond to the following words and definitions*, picked exclusively at random for you:


stare  v.  gaze steadily nlong, steady look

taser: a geeky old lead toy: zing sans volt.


e·lon·gate  v.  lengthen  — e·lon·gat·ion n. 

get·alone: navel on, gentle nothing.

sting  v.  stung, sting·ing to hurt with a sting  cause or feel sharp pain  —   n.  1 a stinging, or pain from it  sharp part in some plants, bees, etc. that pricks: also sting·er

tings: tungs, ting·ings  1 to sing with a truth  2 fail or curse neap phase — n. 1 a singing, or main profit 2 harps in some arts that respect black pen tips: also ting·ers


through·out  adv., prep. in every part (of)

our·thought: verve parade; nifty prop


bawd·y  a. i·er, —i·est  lewd yet humorous  —bawd·i·ness

weary·idea·bits: you must heel, word —bad·sinews



Amaranth Borsuk is the author of Handiwork (Slope Editions, 2012), selected by Paul Hoover for the 2011 Slope Books Prize, the chapbook Tonal Saw (The Song Cave, 2010), and, with programmer Brad Bouse, of the book of augmented-reality poems Between Page and Screen (Siglio, 2012). Her creative work spans translation, performance, book arts, and electronic literature, and she collaborates with a number of authors, including Kate Durbin, Gabriela Jauregui, and Andy Fitch. She joins the faculty in the MFA in creative writing and poetics at the University of Washington, Bothell this fall.


*Amaranth’s words were bibliomanced from Webster’s New Pocket Dictionary (copyright 2000)

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