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the dictionary project presents: deep & Diana



Last Saturday, the dictionary project presents! featured the word deep with our writers parsing out, responding to, delving into, working with the word in the multitude of possibilities the word offers. There was sex and intimacy. There was grief and grieving. There was hiding and uncovering. There was literal and metaphorical digging. There were altars and beaches and coalmines.

We videotaped the readers, but until we are able to offer those pieces, we are posting the long overdue readings from our third the dictionary project presents! event in spring which featured the word Diana.

Lisa O’Neill:

Kindall Gray:

Ian Ellasante:

Tere Fowler-Chapman:

Tc Tolbert:

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the dictionary project author interview: tc tolbert

Today, I’m delighted to share an author interview with tc tolbert. TC is a brilliant poet and essayist whose work asks important questions about space, about the body, about how we interact with one another in regard to space and the body and about how we might do that better, about both the tenacious and the tender aspects of the human heart. In addition to his own writing, he is committed to seeking out, sharing, and providing spaces for the work of others. He has two chapbooks, spirare and territories of folding, and his first book Gephyromania comes out in 2014.  Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics, an anthology he co-edited, just came out in March of this year. He also co-curates Trickhouse Live, a reading series affiliated with the online journal Trickhouse, which features artists working in different media sharing their work. Please enjoy his words below!


Photo by Sam Ace

Photo by Sam Ace


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


I found the title of my first book, Gephyromania, in this thing called an “Illustrated Reverse Dictionary.” I bought it at a garage sale, strictly for the title. I don’t totally understand it but it’s got lots of random lists – kinds of boats, -ologies and –ographies, types of garden predators, etc – and from those lists you can either find the word you were looking for or find the word you didn’t know you were looking for but the word you clearly need. That’s what happened to me. I was just picking through it and I came across the list of phobias and manias and there was “gephyromania” – “an addiction to, or an obsession with, bridges.” And I had been working in a notebook I titled “bridge” – both for the idea that it was to carry me over some daunting (emotional) terrain and as a nod to the musical bridge that signals a contrast or a tangent. I desperately needed both and thus, the writing, the poems.

Also, I’m truly obsessed with what it takes, how it happens that two bodies (of any kind) come to connect. And what, then, is passed or carried over, along, or between them.



2. What is your current favorite word?


My favorite words have always been swear words. I grew up Pentecostal in Tennessee and there was a very real belief that how one used language could determine not just one’s experience of the current moment but all of eternity. Of course that’s dramatic but look at it this way. All you had to do was say, “I accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior” and boom, you were golden. My Papaw had cancer in his lymph nodes and people in the church laid hands on him and said, “you are healed” and, yep, he was. It was the words that made identity and body real. The flip side of that sort of literal relationship to language was with swear words – where certain words were off-limits and could cause eternal damnation (as opposed to salvation). So, “taking the Lord’s name in vain” was imbued with such a level of sacrilege and terror that I genuinely believed if I ever uttered the word “goddamn” I would be sealing my fate right then and there.

But I’ve never been one for just following the rule without testing it. So, as a kid I would wander into the woods near my house and sit in a little ditch and practice smoking cigarettes and saying “fuck” with different inflections. I tried to imagine every context possible in which I could toss around the f-bomb with clarity and grace. Then I would do the same with “goddamn.” Each day I was a little bit surprised and emboldened to find that I could swear and not be killed on the spot. But then again, I spent thousands of hours with major stomach aches and the shits thinking god was getting me back for all of the swearing (and masturbating) I’d done. As it turns out, I just have a gluten sensitivity and I ate too many Little Debbies. The god of my upbringing was not only severe but fantastically so.



3. What is the most obnoxious/insidious/annoying word?


Judge. I don’t like it b/c I think it’s too often wielded as an attempt to shame folks for being discerning or having boundaries. I don’t like the way judgment has taken on a sort of blanket negative connotation. To say, “I like that” or to have a clear sense that “I don’t want that in my life” or “I do want this in my life” that seems like a good and healthy way to move through the world. We make positive judgments all the time. That’s how we determine everything from what to wear in the morning to life partner to favorite ice cream!

When I worked at the queer youth center and I worked closely with the anti-violence project, I saw too many instances of people being abused and trying to get out of it but experiencing a kind of public shaming for “judging” the abuser and for “not being compassionate enough.” The words judgment and compassion became these linguistic vortexes to keep people in very damaging situations so I’m wary anytime I hear someone speak or act as if judgment is a universally negative thing.

That said, I also understand that judgment can easily turn into a sort of rigidity that is then used as a measuring stick for what others should like or believe and that is obviously counterproductive.

I’d like to see the word judge used in a less “judgy” way, I suppose. I mean, it’s a complex word and idea and I think that’s what people are pointing at when they use the word judge in a negative way (do we ever complain when someone judges us positively? I don’t think I do) – that lack of context and complexity.



4. What word has been your recent or past muse?


Troubled and troubling. I like these words especially for the bl sounds – how silly they make our mouths – how you can’t actually be that serious when you say trouble – it’s so buoyant and playful. I like the contrast between their vocalization and meaning. I also think it’s hilarious – this idea of “being in trouble.” I mean, it’s something I worry about so much (see above – Pentecostal) and yet I recognize the absurdity. It’s an adolescent kind of word, I think, with grown-up aspirations.

Also, both words reference Judith Butler and the Bible, simultaneously. I love how they conflate danger/threat and healing/freedom. These themes and references all went into the title Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics, a book I just co-edited with Tim Trace Peterson. (link to purchase book: http://www.upne.com/1937658106.html) I think trans and genderqueer poets and poetries are dangerous/threatening to our gendered cultural confines and we (trans and genderqueer poets and poetries) offer multiple avenues of freedom and healing from those confines.

Also, fricative. I love that word. How it makes your mouth do what it means. I want all of my poems to be that embodied.



6. I bibliomanced a word from the anthology and that word was “splendor.” What would be your personal definition of “splendor”?


I think of splendor as an undetermined space – the space of the question – Rilke imploring that we “love the questions themselves.” I’m picturing the component parts of a computer caught on film in midair – are they falling or flying? I have no idea.

The space of unknowing. Pause. A kind of holy attention.

That moment in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, this:

“What is the meaning of life? That was all—a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one. This, that, and the other; herself and Charles Tansley and the breaking wave; Mrs. Ramsay bringing them together; Mrs. Ramsay saying “Life stand still here”; Mrs. Ramsay making of the moment something permanent (as in another sphere Lily herself tried to make of the moment something permanent)–this was of the nature of a revelation. In the midst of chaos there was shape; this eternal passing and flowing (she looked at the clouds going and the leaves shaking) was struck into stability. Life stand still here, Mrs Ramsay said.”

I feel myself moving into that space of splendor right now, actually. As Troubling Tucson: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry Symposium is only 2 days away and my life has been so completely consumed with logistics for the symposium and yet here I am – on the cusp of seeing it realized – in that liminal space right where the thing moves from an idea into a being. It’s thrilling, a little bit terrifying, and a way of focusing my attention so clearly on exactly where I am. There is a beautiful and open calm right now – it feels like a gift to me.



7. Where do words reside in the body?


Well, my words reside in my right trapezoid. I know that because for quite some time now I’ve had an overuse injury there and I literally feel the words start there when I write.



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


ca·ba·na  (kəˈbanə; Sp. kəˈbanyə),  n.  [Sp. cabaña; LL. capanna, hut], 1.  a cabin, cottage, or hut.  2.  a small shelter used as a bathhouse. Also cabaña


“Oh, Mandy. You came and you gave without taking. And I need you today, oh, Mandy. When you kissed me, you stopped me from shaking. And I need. You.”

 The next person to sing this to me (which would also be the first person to sing this to me) will have my ever-lasting devotion. I’m just saying. I fucking love Barry Manilow. Now you know the way to my heart.



dis·place·ment  (disˈplāsmənt),  n.  1. a displacing or being displaced.  2.  the weight or volume of air, water, or other fluid displaced by a floating object, as a balloon or a ship.  3.  the difference between a later position of a thing and its original position; hence, 4. in geology, a fault.  5.  in psychiatry, the transference of an emotion to a logically inappropriate object.


I used to hate my body. I thought it betrayed me. Then John Cage said, it’s lighter than you think.



di·e·sis  (ˈdī-ə-səs),  n. [pl. DIESES (-sez’], [L.;Gr. diesis  <  diienai, to send through  <  dia-, through + hienai, to send], a reference mark ( ‡ ) used in printing: also called double dagger.


The first woman I fell in love with was the 3rd base woman on my softball team. We were in 6th or 7th grade. I suppose you could say we were girls.



keep  (kēp),  v.t.  [KEPT (kept), KEEPING], [ME. kepen; AS. cepan, to behold, watch out for, lay hold of; ? akin, via *kopjan, to ON. kopa, to stiffen, gape, MLG. Kapen, to gape, stare at, AS. capian up, to look up at; ? IE. base *gab-, to look at or for],  1.  to observe or pay regard to; specifically, a) to observe with due or prescribed acts, ceremonies, etc.; celebrate or solemnize; as, they kept the Sabbath. b) to fulfill (a promise, etc.). c) [Archaic], to show observance by regularly attending (church, etc.).  2.  to take care of, or have and take care of; specifically, a) to protect; guard; defend. b) to look after; watch over; tend. c) to raise (livestock). d) to maintain in good order or condition; preserve. e) to supply with food or lodging for pay: as, she keeps boarders. g) to have or maintain in one’s service or for one’s use: as, they keep servants. h) to set down regularly in writing; maintain (a continuous written report or record): as, he keeps an account of sales in the store. i)  to make regular entries in; maintain a continuous record of transactions, accounts, or happenings in: as, businessmen keep books, she keeps a diary. j) to carry on; conduct; manage.  3.  to maintain, or cause to stay or continue, in a specified condition, position, etc.: as, keep your engine running. 4.  to have or hold for future use or for a long time. b) to have usually in stock for sale.  5.  to have or hold and not let go; specifically a) to hold in custody; prevent from escaping. b) to prevent from leaving; detain. c) to hold back; restrain: as, the rain kept us from going out. d) to withhold. e) to conceal; not tell (a secret, etc.)  f) to continue to have or hold; not lose or give up. G) to stay in or at; not leave (a path, coruse, or place).


Three women were found alive in a Cleveland home last night. One of them has a 6-year-old daughter. All of them have been missing for over 10 years.



medium bomber  (B-25 Mitchell, 1940 from image: Types of Airplane)


It’s in me. That’s the thing. It arrived in me, too.




TC Tolbert is a genderqueer, feminist poet and teacher. Assistant Director of Casa Libre en la Solana, instructor at University of Arizona and Pima Community College, and wilderness instructor at Outward Bound, s/he is the author of Gephyromania (forthcoming, Ahsahta Press, 2014) and chapbooks spirare (Belladonna*, 2012), and territories of folding (Kore Press, 2011). TC is co-editor, along with Tim Trace Peterson, of Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics (Nightboat Books, 2013). TC writes monthly lyric essays on the trans body, intimacy, architecture, and public space for The Feminist Wire and s/he recently curated a trans and queer issue of Evening Will Come for the Volta. TC is a regular curator for Trickhouse, an online cross-genre arts journal and s/he is the creator of Made for Flight, a youth empowerment project that utilizes creative writing and kite building to commemorate murdered transgender people and to dismantle homophobia and transphobia. Thanks to Movement Salon and the Architects, TC keeps showing up and paying attention. John Cage said, it’s lighter than you think.


*Definitions taken from Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language: College Edition, copyright 1955

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diana cropped


Last night, we held our third the dictionary project presents! reading at Casa Libre en la Solana. And we finally revealed the word that our writers and readers had been working with for two weeks: Diana!

We were all grateful for having to engage with Diana: Roman goddess of the hunt, of the moon and childbirth, of all things wild.

One of the most exciting things about our reading series is assigning the same word to a group of writers and seeing the different ways these brilliant minds and hearts experience and interpret that word.  I am grateful to Ian Ellasante, Hannah Ensor, Kindall Gray, Tc Tolbert, and Teré Fowler-Chapman for their writing and for reading last night. And I am grateful to everyone that came.

We will post photos and videos soon from the event, but in the meantime, I would like to share with you the piece I wrote as an introduction. Wishing you a beautiful day.



As many of you know, whenever I bibliomance a word for tdp, I close my eyes and run my finger through the dictionary and then over a page. This time, I landed on the image of Diana.



In yoga asana practice, there are several poses named warrior. In my favorite warrior pose—I say favorite because I’m not holding the position for several minutes now—the right leg lunges forward, knee bent, while the back leg is straight and sturdy, giving the illusion of stillness even as the muscles are working and the tendons wrapping strong around bone. Arms are outstretched in a T-shape with palms facing down, hips positioned to the side. Shoulders are released. And the chest, the chest is open.


The first hundred times I did this shape, or any warrior shape for that matter, I focused on where I felt weak. My arms ached. My legs shook. Holding the position for any length of time felt impossible.


Years later, I have a different relationship to the pose. Instead of noticing my weakness, even though the pose is challenging, I can instead embrace my strength. I can feel my feet and legs holding me up. I can radiate out from the extension in my arms. I can be aware of my chest as it continues to press into the air, opening.


I realize now that the challenge of the pose also reveals my capacity to hold it, but first I have to choose to see it that way.


All week I have been thinking about the different meanings of the word warrior.


I have been tuned in to the presence of violence and the threat of violence, in our country and in the world. First, with the horrible bombings at the Boston Marathon that resulted in the death of three and injury of almost one hundred and fifty. Second, with the news of car bombs in Iraq that killed at least thirty-three people. I listened to politicians and advisors talk about the difference between the word “terrorism” and “murder” on The Diane Rehm Show. I heard a filmmaker talk to Terry Gross about how he survived an IED when he recorded footage on the frontlines in Iraq and about the documentary he just finished about his partner filmmaker who was killed from a shrapnel wound while filming the uprising in Libya. Then, I read and heard about the Senate’s decision not to pass revised gun control legislation that would require background checks before purchasing these weapons, and the responses of both our president and victims of gun violence saying “shame on you.” And finally, yesterday and today, I have watched the unfurling of armed robbery and gunfights and gun deaths and the ongoing manhunt as Boston police search for the surviving suspect of the Boston Marathon bombing. Perhaps by the time I read this, in front of all of you, he will have been found and thus we will have someone to hold accountable. Perhaps we will have some resolution to one particular tragic event that harmed so many and incited fear and anxiety in even more.


And without lessening the burden placed on those that committed all these individual atrocities, the truth is that every one of us is accountable. We are accountable for living in a culture where power and privilege aren’t always used mindfully but instead used with arrogance and thoughtlessness. Accountable for when we choose aggression over talking things through. Accountable for valuing purchasing more and more objects over spending time with our neighbors. Accountable for electing people whose job is to protect us and who have made decisions that do exactly the opposite. Accountable for every word said in anger, every aggressive face or hand gesture made while driving. Accountable when we harm ourselves or others, when we do not live up to our best potential.


At one point or another, we are all guilty of being the wrong kind of warrior.


I grew up in the South, in a city built on the backs of slaves, and in a time when I could count the African-American women who attended my private Catholic school with me on two hands. There were firm divisions by race in this town, ones I was never asked to question but merely recognize and keep. In every unspoken gesture, I read clearly who I was supposed to be friends with and how I was supposed to be. It took going to a poor bordertown in Mexico when I was ten to show me the devastating impact of poverty, as I witnessed children my age begging on the streets, because I never went to neighborhoods where I would have seen it in my hometown.


Life was constricted not only by issues of race and class but by issues of gender—by pantyhose, by scripture passages, by too few female role models giving permission by their presence for me to be creative and curious and strong. For a long time, I struggled to reconcile my femininity with my strength, so entrenched in me were the values of my culture which said that these things could not exist in one person, in one body, in a woman.


My freshman year of high school, I was assigned Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. The front cover of the paperback was black with bold white letters and an image of a man riding on the back of a winged horse. I had been an avid reader since early childhood so I was familiar with stories, but these struck a new note. These were mythological figures that I was allowed to think of as icons (as was not permitted with biblical ones). Here were stories I needed. They were the stories of men and women, trying and failing and trying and failing again. They were the stories of gods and goddesses, all of whom had tremendous power and inevitability colossal flaws. One of the goddesses that bewildered me most was the Greek Artemis, or in Roman culture: Diana. She bewildered me because I grew up in a town where pearls hung around the necks of the women who hosted garden parties and gathered children round their legs. I didn’t see any women walking around with bows and arrows, not even metaphorical ones. Even my mother, who I now see as one of the fiercest and most warrior-like women I know, didn’t appear that way when I was growing up. I read her through the lenses that were provided to me and as a result she seemed more careful and cautious than bold and brazen.


Diana, Giampietrino

Diana, Giampietrino


So when I first read about Diana, I judged her for what I perceived as her “overly masculine” behavior and I wondered how I could fit her into my perception of female heroines, who I had learned thus far were to be smart but not too smart, conversational but not in a way that took up too much space, and above all, beautiful.


Diana is the goddess of the hunt. She is also the goddess of the moon. And she is the goddess of the process of birth. In her, the power for livelihood, for the ebbing and flowing of tides, and for the creation of new beings come together. In her, masculine and feminine energies combine, and it is this balance that gives her so much power.




I’ve been thinking about Diana this week, not just because her name is the word for tonight’s event, but because I feel that her particular kind of warrior spirit is needed in our world right now. Hers is the warrior spirit that stands up against the would-be warriors who say that background checks aren’t necessary, that the solution to weapons is more weapons, that the solution to violence is to meet it with more violence. I’ve been thinking about her because her warriorship is not about using her power to benefit herself; it is not about killing innocents; it is not about encouraging war or bloodshed. Her warriorship is about living from the marrow of the bone, the tender tissue of the heart. Her warriorship is about expressing the fiery aspect of her being without entirely letting go of the reins. Her warriorship about being assertive but also compassionate. Her warriorship requires us not to back down from that which is right but also not to meet those who oppose us with unchecked anger. We will meet them with our minds, with the strength of our spirit rather than swords and shields, rifles and semi-automatics.


In 2011, the United States’ military budget totaled 644 billion dollars. We praise our servicemen  and women, but when we see images of them, we don’t so much see their human bodies as we do the items that cover them: guns, magazines, helmets. As a culture, we praise their power and bravery but when they suffer, we refuse to see their humanness, we refuse to recognize that violence does damage to everyone involved. We only honor the fierceness of these warriors without acknowledging their tenderness.


“I came to the Greeks early,” Edith Hamilton told an interviewer when she was 91, “and I found answers in them. Greece’s great men let all their acts turn on the immortality of the soul. We don’t really act as if we believed in the soul’s immortality and that’s why we are where we are today.”


Diana of Versailles, Leochares

Diana of Versailles, Leochares


In it’s most simple definition, a warrior is a brave or experienced soldier or fighter. It is up to us what we fight for. Because being a warrior at its core is not about death and is not about killing. Being a warrior is about responsible use of one’s power and energy. To be a warrior is to act with bravery and courage and to make wise choices in situations of extreme pressure.


It’s not that we don’t need warriors. We desperately need warriors. But we need the kind who soldier for love, compassion, and understanding.


When I was fourteen, I might have thought that a goddess could not be charged with the duties of hunting and also of midwifery. I might have seen these powers emerging in Diana as completely contradictory. But I don’t think that anymore. Both hunting and childbirth require intense physical and emotional strength. Both require fierceness working alongside wisdom and compassion. In both rituals, there must be encouragement, there must be patience, there must be integrity, there must be a time to hold still and a time to push forward.


–Lisa O’Neill, written for The Dictionary Project Presents!, April 19, 2013



Diana, goddess of the hunt and the moon, Hans Makart

Diana, goddess of the hunt and the moon, Hans Makart


Diana bathing with her nymphs, Rembrandt

Diana bathing with her nymphs, Rembrandt






Diana and Cupid

Diana and Cupid




Diana, David Swift Photography

Diana, David Swift Photography




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so·lo (ˈsōlō),  n.  [ pl.  SOLOS  (-lōz); rarely SOLI (-lē)], [It.  <  L. solus, alone],  1.  a musical piece or passage to be played or sung by one person, with or without accompaniment.  2.  an airplane flight made by a pilot alone, without any passengers or instructor.  3.  any performance by one person alone.  4.  any card game in which there are no partners.  adj.  1.  arranged for or performed by a single voice or instrument.  2.  performing a solo.  3.  made or done by one person v.i. in aviation, to make a solo flight, especially one’s first.


It’s the last day of April and the last day of National Poetry Month! So today, we have our last word and last post for our first annual na·po·mo. The word is so·lo and the poet is TC Tolbert. Thanks so much for joining us.






















TC Tolbert is a genderqueer, feminist poet and teacher committed to social justice.  Co-editor of the forthcoming Anthology of Trans and Genderqueer Poetry (Nightboat Books), TC is the author of two chapbooks, territories of folding (Kore Press) and spirare (Belladonna).  His first book, Gephyromania, is forthcoming from Ahsahta Press.  He is the Assistant Director of Casa Libre en la Solana, Adjunct faculty at University of Arizona and Pima Community College, and founder of Made for Flight.  www.tctolbert.com

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