A poetry collection that playfully questions the meanings of words.
Walter Ancarrow’s collection Etymologies considers language as a process, rather than as a singular fixed history. These poems build imaginative worlds with a variety of creative word uses. They form a playful amalgamation of linguistic interpretations that flips and questions conventional narratives about word origins—including the idea that clear origins even exist. Throughout the collection, Ancarrow questions the intent of writers who use etymology in attempts to prove a specific meaning for any word. In so doing, Etymologies pays particular attention to relationships between the cultures and conflicts, the migrations and hegemonies, that create our words, and it considers how their meanings are furthered by us as we keep them alive through speech.
Etymologies won Omnidawn’s 2021 Open Poetry Book Prize, selected by John Yau.
About the Author
Walter Ancarrow lives in New York City and Alexandria, Egypt. His work has been published in Poetry, Tinderbox, Avery Shorts, Folder, Apogee, and American Arts Quarterly, among others.
"Both analogy and allegory find lyric form and concrete-poetic form throughout Ancarrow’s book." — Los Angeles Review of Books
"Ancarrow's Etymologies, mostly comprised of brief prose pieces, opens with three words: 'ahuakatl / aguacate / avocado,' encompassing Aztec origins, Spanish colonialism, and branding at the hands of California farmers in the early twentieth century. This entry, and the collection's closing two words 'banana / banana'—which follows, from the previous page, 'A search ensued for the loose word, that if pulled out, would cause indescribable destruction'—frame the book’s imaginative linguistic dives." — Harriet Books (Poetry Foundation)
“Ancarrow combines extreme precision with a wild imagination. In a ‘Note’ at the end of the book, he writes: ‘The etymologies in this book are correct, though not necessarily complete, sometimes poetically so.’ And therein lies the magic of Etymologies. The author seems to have made nothing up, to have been, it would appear, coolly objective throughout the writing of each study of a word’s origin. And yet, despite this claim, which I do not doubt, feelings and fancifulness emerge–like a swarm of genies freed from many bottles–at once impish, amatory, mysterious, provocative, funny, delightful, and dazzling.” — John Yau, Judge for the 2021 Omnidawn Open, and author of Genghis Chan on Drums
"Ancarrow's fabulist maxims are laced with surprises. His entries are either notational or so profound, they seem etched in stone: 'we live between impermanences of language—building a home is settling on translation.' Etymologies are glorious distillations of mischief and erudition." — Cathy Park Hong, author of Minor Feelings and Engine Empire
"With Etymologies, Ancarrow returns us to the source and medium of all literary art: language itself. Formally playful, brimming with knowledge, and a poetic event with the subtle, yet dazzling contours of a puzzle, this collection unveils new insights on every page. Etymologies marks a marvelous debut!" — John Keen, author of Punks: New and Selected Poems and Counternarratives