Palmalysis by Aaron Samuels (Used Furniture Review)

One of my favorite things to write when I’m playing with language in, for example, a letter, is: “Is that a word? It is now.”  I had to look up “palmalysis” to see if it were a real word: it doesn’t appear to be.

Rendered as an exact replica of a dictionary definition format, Aaron Samuel’s poem of the same name  in Used Furniture Review takes the form of a precise definition of the term. There are three possible meanings: the first, a literal paralysis of the hands, but “often caused by weakness, fear, confusion and/or love.” The second definition concerns an unwillingness to move one’s hands in space due to “knowledge that alternate locations are cold, unwelcoming, non-community-oriented, and/or racist.”

The third definition goes even further – and pertains to “the decision making process one undertakes when determining whether or not to shake someone’s hand.” This last and longest definition is the one for which I feel the greatest affinity, and not just because I have OCD.

It’s because it draws into itself notions of language and meaning and the use of words at all. It plays with the idea of the extension of a word beyond a dictionary, and the value of dictionaries themselves. To render a poem in this form seems to suggest that poetry remains a frontier where the fate of words can be decided, or left up to chance.

The nature of Samuels’ definitions informs, intrigues, and even calls into question aspects of words and meanings and the privileging of information in “reference” form. I never thought before of a dictionary author casting an editorial slant upon language, and how single words can evoke lifetimes of memory and collective history:

forcing one to question the many handshakes one has experienced in one’s lifetime, causing a temporary paralysis as one stares at the enveloping digits and wonder what it really means to be clean

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Rosemarie Koch earned her MFA in Poetry from Arcadia University in 2013 – the culmination of a lifelong dream. For her, poetry is an art form that crosses all forms, and is also a great source of joy – both reading it and writing it. She has recited Hopkins’ “Windhover” at many poetic and non-poetic gatherings, regards William Blake and Emily Dickinson as close personal friends, and finds poetry in everything she hears and sees. Her work with Minotaur’s Spotlight is an extension of her love of verse. [/author_info] [/author]