‘Sapir and Whorf’ by Melissa Mesku

— Reneé Bibby

A few days ago, I discovered the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, a literary project by John Koenig. He creates words to give a name to emotions we all might experience but don’t yet have a word for. It’s the sort of creative project you didn’t know you needed—a vague, ineffable sensation of lacking that eases once you find it. Melissa Mesku’s found poem ‘Sapir and Whorf’ is the poem version of the Dictionary project. As soon as you read it you feel eased. Created through erasure of an academic text, her theory of mind is in itself unsettling: that because of language, we may be unknowable to each other—our inner cosmologies pinwheeling and expanding with entirely different laws of physics than another person’s. Yet, what is so comforting about Mesku’s poem, as it is with the words of Koenig’s dictionary is the naming of it. Maybe our native language blinds our brains in a way that makes it impossible to truly understand the way another human views the world, but isn’t it great that Mesku manages to explain that very sense of being unable to know?


Unlost Journal