Language’s Power: across the universe

This year I had the pleasure of an excess of inspiration, both in my work and outside of it. First and foremost I had the amazing luck and pleasure of translating a book by Andrea Moro, an Italian linguist and neuroscientist. The book was about the verb ‘to be’, its grammatical (and in some senses philosophical) history, it’s unique position in linguistic theory and a tempting little possibility of a hint about how our brains ‘react’ to language. Fortunately for me, the book was geared towards a non-specialized reader and chock-full of fascinating stuff that I never knew about language. I learned more than I could have ever imagined. Meanwhile, in preparation for translating that book, I read a few of his other books, both in Italian and in English to get a sense of his perspective and voice before I began the translation. As soon as I read the following line from “The Boundaries of Babel: The Brain and the Enigma of Impossible Languages” my mind went straight to this essay that I would be writing to introduce International Poetry Month 2017. It so clearly describes the reader’s experience while also implying the writer’s:

Even now, your eyes are following a string of black signs that conveys ideas and images that were produced by a different brain in a different place at a different time. If I wanted, I could, simply by writing, activate images in your mind that may not have been there before: A long line of lizards crossed the desert without even stopping to dream. It is quite unlikely that you have already encountered this sentence. Nevertheless, the image was created in your mind with no effort, just by your scanning that string of black symbols.            -Andrea Moro

Imagine what power poets have to create in the mind of a given reader, who exists in a completely different place and time, a never-before-encountered image. What a joy it is to write! Communicating across time and space, creating a word-map of your own images, associations and experiences waiting to be unfolded and explored. And then again, what a profound pleasure to read! The unexplored word-map awaits only your eye to be revealed and, in the reading, creates a new map of your own associations and experiences.
Over 2016 the power of language to damage and tear apart has never been more evident, from Oxford’s word of the year, post-truth, to fake news, to political rhetoric, to harsh exchanges between friends and families. In February of 2017 I would like to counterweight language’s destructive power and offer instead an opportunity for language to link people and places in a shared ‘neural network’ of creative exchange between readers and writers.

Are you ready? IPM 2017 is now open for submissions.

Next up: Poetry as Time Travel – why is the woman planting trees with her foot? Why is the man crying over the peg? Wouldn’t you like to know?

By bonniemcclellan

Mother, poet, american ex-pat from Texas living in Northern Italy.


  1. I love the word transcendence to describe that phenomenon, and yes, it is absolutely exhilarating to think about. The potential ramifications are limitless and give this fledgling poet hope.

    1. Thanks Zane, I’m glad that you enjoyed this post and I hope that you’ll be inspired to submit some of your work for International Poetry Month this year. Best wishes for a rich and rewarding 2017 full of the joy of writing.

  2. Exactly THIS! That is what drives me in both reading & writing. Knowing that promise, eagerly waiting for it, for that new world that could unravel at any moment. Will it be this word? Or the next? Maybe on the next page, or the next line? Watching that string be stretch across the universe of your mind, connecting dots like constellations, watching it spill over and surrendering all of yourself to this unknown space that is synchronously nothing and everything.
    Thanks for this wonderful post!

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read my post and to comment and I’m very glad that you enjoyed it. Language is really a fascinating tool and, at least in the case of poetry, I’m often most intrigued by the image that is the most challenging to connect/resolve.

  3. This gives me hope. I needed to be reminded how powerful words are and how special and unique our words are. It’s a process of inviting others into an unknown world that is seen only by the writer and that is truly magical. Your blog offers incredibly interesting reading, thank you

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