Word Play with Harryette Mullen

So I’ve talked about it before, but when I was in my first workshop we read Sleeping with the Dictionary  by Harryette Mullen and it opened my world! First, I love that Mullen writes about her experience of being a black woman and yet the way she writes about it isn’t really what people would expect. This really helped me as a Latinx writer because I felt for a long time that when I said “I’m a writer” to someone looking at me I immediately introduced an elephant into the room, an elephant that asks where the Spanish and horchatas are in my writing. But now I’m more comfortable identifying as a Latinx writer without writing about those things, maybe someday I will, and Hispanic writers that do are awesome too! We just write about different things or we write about our experiences in different ways.

Image result for harryette mullen

Anyway, I really loved Mullen because of the intense wordplay she does in her work. She would most likely say the word “recycling” as her volume of poetry collections titled Recylcopedia, which is perfect titling. To give you guys a good idea of her writing I’m providing links to the poems “Any Lit” and “Sleeping with the Dictionary.”

Image result for harryette mullen sleeping with the dictionary

But for the sake of the blog post, I’ll just touch on why I love her writing in “Any Lit;” in this poem she turns the phrase, many ways to say the same thing on its head. For example, here is a quote,

“You are a ukulele beyond my microphone/You are a Yukon beyond my Micronesia/ You are a union beyond my meiosis/You are a unicycle beyond my migration/You are a universe beyond my mitochondria/ You are a Eucharist beyond my Miles Davis”

Image result for eucharist        Image result for miles davis

So, at first this feels very just repetitive, but this is only a small portion of the poem and every line functions similarly. The you is something beyond the I’s possession. The terms seem so far apart sometimes but Mullen makes you think about how these differing terms could be related. For instance, Eucharist and Miles Davis, Eucharist is a Catholic sacrament and Miles Davis is a Black American jazz musician, Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ and Miles Davis was an extremely influential figure in many stylistic jazz developments; in a way these are “essentials” of their respective literacies and can be linked with white western culture and Black American culture, though they are not particularly defining of either. But that also doesn’t understand why the you is qualified by Eucharist and the I is comparing the two. As the poem goes on the you feels very gendered and is often qualified as what we would consider important figures of white, male, and Eurocentric spaces (Yuletide, urinal, youth, euphemism, U-boat). But what is the most compelling is that the poem ends with the line “You are a uselessness beyond my myopia.”

When I google myopia I get this:

Myopia n.


  • Lack of imagination, foresight, or intellectual insight.
    • “historians have been censured for their myopia in treating modern science as a western phenomenon.”

Mullen exits the poem with a mic drop that essentially is saying, you, as someone who does not treat my culture with as much reverence as your own and others me, are useless. But the I is calling herself “nearsighted” but the you is so useless that it cant compare to her nearsightedness. Her writing really helped me think about the importance of words and their implications/connotations as a beginning poet.



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