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Poetry Moment: 'Everyday Syntax,' by Ann E. Michael

Ann E. Michael
Ann E. Michael

This is poetry moment on WPSU – a weekly program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Your host is poet and author Marjorie Maddox, a 2023 Monson Arts Fellow, and professor of English and creative writing at the Lock Haven campus of Commonwealth University. 

Welcome to Poetry Moment.

Words save us. Words fail us. In today’s poem, “Everyday Syntax,” Ann E. Michael looks at our compulsion to name everything. In doing so, explains Michael, sometimes we understand even less about what surrounds us.

Ann E. Michael lives in eastern Pennsylvania, where she raised two children and numerous pets, gardened extensively, and for many years ran the writing center at DeSales University. Her most recent book, The Red Queen Hypothesis, won the 2022 Prairie State Poetry Prize. The author of six chapbooks and the previous book, Water-Rites (2012), she was awarded a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts poetry grant in 1998 and earned an MFA in poetry from Goddard College. Her work appears in print journals and on the web and has been widely anthologized.

It is easy to fall in love with words—their beauty, their quirkiness, their accuracy. Most writers live for precision, for clearly naming what they see. The hope is to expand vision, to open up the view and enlarge experience for both the self and for others. But what happens when labels and explanations limit rather than enhance our encounters? Ann E. Michael explores how words can both add to and detract from our interactions within an increasingly cluttered world.

Here’s Everyday Syntax by Ann E. Michael

             “In the domain of the human, all things are
               potentially words.” Eric Gans
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The flower pot and the volcano,
the sugar bowl with its cracked lip,
the subway car handle, an acre of wheat,
two cents. These are the nouns
we live by, stacked around edges
of memories, joining clusters
of adjectives and the constant motion
verbs make in any enclosed space.
No wonder our minds are noisy:
placemat, carburetor, zinnia, jug.
No wonder we share, laugh, fight, flee,
evolve, lactate, shiver, weep, sleep.
What we can build with every letter,
whole or broken, every word,
voiced or unspoken, meshing and shoring
endless possibilities crammed into
finite lives—bed and grave,
open and shut, between, between!
Floss, fountain, boudoir, bean,
you, I, we, kiss me. Our child
runs from us, twilight dwindles,
there are always losses, we died
for empty phrases, for words out of which
we made a world, named it “everything”
and knew almost nothing of it, though
we said and said and said.

 - - - 

From Ann E. Michael’s book The Red Queen Hypothesis; first published in Country Dog Review
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That was “Everyday Syntax” by Ann E. Michael. Thanks for listening.

Listen for Poetry Moment with Marjorie Maddox Mondays during Morning Edition and All Things Considered on WPSU. You can more episodes at

Our theme music is by Eric Ian Farmer.

Marjorie Maddox is the host of WPSU's Poetry Moment for the 2023-24 season. She has been a professor of English and creative writing since 1990 at the Lock Haven campus of Commonwealth University.