Guest Blog Posts

Before and After Dictionary Poems – guest blog post by Kimberly Burnham, PhD

Kimberly Burnham’s most recent book, Awakenings: Peace Dictionary, Language and the Mind, a Daily Brain Health Program is on free download on December 24-25, 2018 at http://www.NerveWhisperer.Solutions.


In an English dictionary the word “peace” is often found between the entry for “pay” or “pea” and “peacock,” “peach,” or “pearl.” Since other languages spell the word for “peace” differently, words like “paix,” “vrede,” and “damai” are found between different word entries in a bilingual dictionary. It is in these dictionary entries, before and after a particular word, that poetry is found.

One way to write a dictionary poem is to look at the bilingual dictionary entries before and after the chosen word, in this case, “peace.” Use those words, definitions, and example sentences in your poem. There are many places to find dictionaries online, in libraries, at bookstores, in tourist shops, and more. All these dictionaries are full of fodder for dictionary poems and studying the words contributes to our understanding of other cultures and by extension our own. It also stimulates our brains to be healthier, more flexible, creative and compassionate.

The SIL International website has this to say about languages and the people who speak them, “Language is a deeply personal part of individual and community identity. Connecting with people by using their own languages speaks to their hearts.”

One of the language dictionaries SIL International features is an English – Agusan Manobo dictionary. The Agusans live in the Philippines near the Agusan River Valley. The word “hagsay” is an adjective that means good, peaceful and well-made. “Hagsay” is translated “Peace” but what it holds is different for an English understanding of peace and where it is found in the dictionary is unique to the Agusan Manobo language. [https://philippines.sil.org/resources/online_resources/msm]

Peaceful Places with Cats Purring in the Tall Grass

Good places
peaceful places and well-made things are found
between a whisper and an effort
we can find the best parts of the Agusans’ world
“peace” or “hagsay” found after “excitement”
or in the local dialect “hagam” and a “whisper” “ha’gas”
in the Agusan Manobo-English dictionary

Next comes “‘hagbay” “long ago” and “‘hagdan” “a ladder or stairs”
climbing towards peace there are trees
and vines creeping across the entries
“ha’gimit” or “a kind of medium sized softwood tree that grows on flat ground
and bears large bunches of edible fruit”
and “hag’naja” “a kind of strong vine that grows well in moist places”
the tops of which are eaten as a vegetable
near the water “‘hag-om” means to soak in water
and also refers to a kind of water snake

Following the trees, vines and snakes
is “‘hagong” to snore or the purring of a cat on the “‘hagpà”
a noun that means low flat ground
characterized by tall grass and low trees

And there near the tall grass we come to peaceful
“‘hagsay” means good, peaceful, well-made
it is said of places and things
in hot countries cold is a pleasant experience
good peace is followed by “‘hagsiy” “cold”
and “‘hagtong” “quiet”
the respite before the “effort” or as it is called in Agusan Manobo “‘hagù”

Then crashing through the words
“ha’gudhud” for “people or animals to stampede”
are more flowers and plants
“ha’gunuy” a kind of vine bearing yellow bell-shaped flowers
and “‘hagupit” a plant with sandpaper-like leaves
another snake “hag’wason”
a large venomous cobra with a yellow belly and black back

Before ending the “hag” words with “‘hagyung”
“roomy, to have plenty of room or fit loosely”
making me marvel at this roomy landscape
filled with trees, vines, people and snakes
where good things and those well-made are equated with peace
as the land stirs with the sound of purring cats in the tall grasslands
of the Philippines’ Agusan River Valley

The Cree Online Dictionary sponsored by the Miyo Wahkohtowin Education Authority is another place to find the vocabulary for a “Before and After Dictionary Poem.” Notice how this journey through a Cree-English dictionary shows how peace can wind through caution and end up making life easy. [http://www.creedictionary.com/search/?q=peyah&scope=1]

Finding Peace with Cautious Contemplation

In Cree, a Native American language “peyahtik”
means carefully, with caution, gently, slowly, softly
used with other words means even more
“peyahtik ka ayâhk” is “peaceable, “imperturbable”, “implacable”, “tranquil”
as if peace and tranquility come with imperturbability
while “peyahtik ka kitahamakehk” is “to admonish”
and “peyahtik ka natohtamihk” is “hark”
as if we need to listen slowly, gently and softly to find peace
in our words, thoughts and actions
as we move from “peyahtik ka papâmohtehk” “saunter”
towards “peyahtik mâmitoneyihtamowin” contemplation
and “peyahtik pimâtisiwin” “easy living”
as if on the journey of life we can saunter, listen and think
and that makes all the difference

Before continuing down the page to
find peace “peyahtikesâyawin” inexplicably between
“peyahtikesâyâwin” “the act of being boorish”
and “peyahtiko ayâwin” “insipidity”

Then spiraling forward through the words
“peyahtikosiw” “he is very slow and deliberate in his movements”
“peyahtikowatisiw” “s/he is a cautious person”
and “peyahtikowew” “he speaks slowly and gently”
giving us all the clues we need to find peace in Cree

There are so many dictionaries available online. Here is MacBain’s Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language [http://www.ceantar.org/Dicts/MB2/mb34.html] which compares the origins of words in several related languages. Notice the slightly different slant of the dot on the “I’ in this poem.

“Sìobhalta” means “peaceful” from the Irish “sibhealta”
and Early Irish “sídamail”
perhaps borrowed from the English “civil”
peace in the countryside

The next word in the Gaelic Etymology Dictionary
“sìochaint” or Gaelic peace
relates to Middle Irish’s “sídchanta” peaceful from “síth”
and the Irish “síocháin” or “peace”, “síothchánta” or “peaceful”
as well as “síodhchan” “atonement”
showing the way to find peace
as it saves us magically and completely

The following dictionary entry is “sìochair”
a dwarf or fairy from the Middle Irish “sidhcaire” or “fairy host”
and the Early Irish “síthchaire” from “síth” fairy
bringing to bear how magical peace is when we find it

Change the dot and “sith” means to “stride” or “dart”
from the Middle Irish “sidhe”
while “sìth” also means “peace”
from the Irish “síth” or “síoth”
and Latin “sêdo” or “settle”
as if peace can help us dart and sit
holding the energy of both
and settle peacefully and magical like the fairies

“Sìth” meaning “a fairy” follows
from the Irish “sídh” a fairy hill
and the Latin “sîdus” or “a constellation” or “dwelling of the gods”
would that peace could come from fairy dust
on a green hill where gods dwell
and we could dart from one perspective to another
sometimes sitting in that place that feels so tranquil
all the while maintaining “Sìth”

The words we grow up with influence our brain as do the words we learn as adults. More flexibility comes from constantly learning. Inner peace comes from focusing on the nuances of peace. Creativity and compassion spring from seeing the world in new ways.

In a research article, J. Martensson put it this way, “We studied cortical thickness and hippocampal [seat of memory] volumes of conscript interpreters before and after three months of intense language studies. Results revealed increases in hippocampus volume and in cortical thickness for interpreters relative to controls. These findings confirm structural changes in brain regions known to serve language functions during foreign-language acquisition.” (Martensson, J., J. Eriksson, et al. (2012). “Growth of language-related brain areas after foreign language learning.” Neuroimage 63(1): 240-244.)

In other words, learning new languages grows the brain, making it more functional. There is also research that supports the idea that learning a new language after age 50 decreases the chances of developing Alzheimer’s dementia. Because of this and research into the significance of poetry with people with dementia and memory issues, dictionary poems seem kind of perfect for stimulating the brain and learning something new as we make new memories each day.


Do you have something say about poetry? An essay on being a poet, tips for poets, or poetry you love? TrishHopkinson.com is now accepting pitches for guest blog posts. 

Contact me here if you are interested! 


See yourself in the pattern. As a 28-year-old photographer, Kimberly Burnham appreciated beauty. Then an ophthalmologist diagnosed her with a genetic eye condition saying, “Consider life, if you become blind.” She discovered a healing path with insight, magnificence, and vision. Today, a poet and neurosciences expert with a PhD in Integrative Medicine, Kimberly’s life mission is to change the global face of brain health. Using health coaching, Reiki, Matrix Energetics, craniosacral therapy, acupressure, and energy medicine, she supports people in their healing from nervous system and chronic pain issues. A current project is writing dictionary poems designed to enhance brain health, memory, creativity, and compassion. Her most recent book, Awakenings: Peace Dictionary, Language and the Mind, a Daily Brain Health Program is on free download on December 24-25, 2018 at http://www.NerveWhisperer.Solutions.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/kimberlyburnham

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