Why Spelling Poorly is Important

It doesn’t take much time around my poetry before you notice something’s off. At first, maybe it slides by, unnoticed, but then after a few recurrences you realize the glaring problem: “Hey! This guy’s spelling stuff wrong!”

Yes. Yes, I am. But I have a reason.

Maybe you’ve seen my video for Deeskripshuns ov Tha Owtsyde  (Descriptions of the Outside) or you’ve bought my book and are familiar with Sirkle tha Gayts (Circle the Gates), and you wondered with equal parts annoyance and artistic curiosity (probably more the former, I realize), and you wonder why. Perhaps you’re shaking your head and wringing your hands at the sky and shouting: “WHY?!!” You’re not alone. Why? is actually one of the most frequently asked questions I get.

It’s because of my sister. My sister is one of the smartest, hardest working, and honest people I know. She also can’t spell to save her life.

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I was over at her apartment a few years ago and saw her “growshuree list” and spent a few minutes trying to figure out what sellry was (celery). For as long as I’ve caught them I’ve always found her misspellings to be charming, because they are unequivocally her. From there, the idea to write poems in that style was inevitable. But it only took a few weeks away from a poem before I couldn’t read it at all. So, fortunately, my gusto for it quickly died. I can tell you it was near unbearable having to translate those poems back into “normal” English.

I did, however, maintain the fonetik spelling for many of my poem’s titles. Not only that, but I will on frequent occasion still assign these totally jacked up spellings into new writings. I do this because I have discovered something. Not anything new to the world. Just new to me.

Poetry, all poetry, is about discovery. It’s about looking closer at life and love. About noticing the overlooked and the under-appreciated. About nodding with narrow eyes at the “big things” we all know plenty enough about already. And the most satisfying thing about poetry is that it articulates feelings that are otherwise elusive. When you read a good poem, and really “get it” it can change your life. I can think of many poems that have certainly changed mine.

And that’s how we want to feel when we read poems: we want to “get it.” We want to be archeologists and unearth whatever it is that’s buried beneath the stanzas. We want to discover. I don’t want my writing to be confusing (not too confusing anyway). I want people to experience that moment of discovery with every single poem. Which is a lot to ask as a poet. In fact, it’s everything to ask.

So, what I’m trying to do is let those ever-important misspellings by their nature build that moment into a poem.

When you see those indecent titles, you’re forced to read over them two or three times, trying to figure out if it’s just words you’re not familiar with or if it’s some tasteless joke or some play amongst the letters (Duhpreshun). But when you finally get down into the meat of the poem, and you’re sucking the marrow from the bones of rhyme and rhythm, it looks familiar (depression) and it connects. You discover a little key of meaning. You get it. You’re included. You’re in the know. And then the rest falls into place.

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