An Evening Poetry Reading with Walter Ancarrow & Peter LaBerge

Tuesday, July 11th, at 6:30 PM

Please join us on July 11th for An Evening with Walter Ancarrow & Peter LaBerge as they discuss Ancarrow's new poetry book, Etymologies. 


"Etymology—the study of the origin of words—has had many lives. In Plato’s Cratylus, Hermogenes took the position that nothing but local or national convention determines which words are used to designate which objects. He recognized that language was a set of conventions or, what Ludwig Wittgenstein called, “devices.” The same names could have been attached to quite different objects, and the same objects given quite different names, so long as the users of the language agreed upon their usage. He seems to have been a literalist.

Cratylus took the opposite position. He believed that names were embodiments of the object’s essential identity, and that if you referred to something by a name other than its natural one, you failed to refer to it. In Plato’s dialogue, Socrates’s own position has engendered much discussion among scholars without leading to any consensus, as he seems to either side with Cratylus or mock him or perhaps both, all while not quite fully rejecting Hermogenes. Did the ancients encode each word with meanings, which are waiting to be unlocked by a future reader? What stories does the changing usage of a word tell us? What has shaped their usage?

In Etymologies, Walter Ancarrow writes up his findings of words, such as caravan, pumpernickel, and sequoia. Out of his choices the reader will sense a moiré pattern of associations emerging, at once particular and elusive. We seem to see it, but we cannot fix it in our mind’s eye. 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." 


Walter Ancarrow lives in New York City and sometimes Alexandria, Egypt. He received a BA in linguistics from New York University and an MFA from Rutgers-Newark. He is runner-up in the 2021 92Y Discovery Contest for emerging writers and winner of the 2021 Omnidawn Open for his first book, Etymologies, selected by John Yau.


Peter LaBerge is a poet, writer, and editor. In 2010, Peter founded The Adroit Journal, a literary publication that has since featured forty-five issues of writing and art selected from 100,000 submissions. His work has received a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in AGNI, American Poetry Review, Best New Poets, Kenyon Review, New England Review, and elsewhere. Featured from Teen Vogue to TED to Poets & Writers, Peter graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Summa Cum Laude from the University of Pennsylvania and received his MFA in Creative Writing (Poetry) from New York University as a Writers in the Public Schools Fellow. Currently, Peter lives in Philadelphia, where he runs an online creative writing and college advising company called Ellipsis Writing.



Event date: 
Tuesday, July 11, 2023 - 6:30pm
Event address: 
Head House Books
619 South 2nd Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147
Etymologies By Walter Ancarrow Cover Image
ISBN: 9781632431134
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-3 Days
Published: Omnidawn - May 6th, 2023