The Wug Test

A collection of language-driven, imaginative poetry from the winner of the 2015 National Poetry Series Open Competition.

Jennifer Kronovet’s poetry is inflected by her fraught, ecstatic relationship with language—sentences, words, phonemes, punctuation—and how meaning is both gained and lost in the process of communicating. Having lived all over the world, both using her native tongue and finding it impossible to use, Kronovet approaches poems as tactile, foreign objects, as well as intimate, close utterances.

In The Wug Test, named for a method by which a linguist discovered how deeply imprinted the cognitive instinct toward acquiring language is in children, Kronovet questions whether words are objects we should escape from or embrace. Dispatches of text from that researcher, Walt Whitman, Ferdinand de Saussure, and the poet herself, among other voices, are mined for their futility as well as their beauty, in poems that are technically revealing and purely pleasurable. Throughout, a boy learns how to name and ask for those things that makes up his world.

Coming in Fall 2016
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Selected by

Eliza Griswold




Jean Berko Gleason

Gleason developed The Wug Test in 1958:

            This is a WUG. Now there is another one. There are two of them. There are two _______.
            This man zibs. A man who zibs is a _______.

The children made the pseudowords follow the rules that happen on the edge of knowing rule as she knew they would. Others believed that grownups merely handed down chunks of language—ice scattering down into the dark after sun hits the surface. But Gleason saw through the reflective glare of children’s speech to this:

            We goed to the park.
            He throwed the cup.
            In the store, we put some oranges in the basket, and then greenages too.

Wrong made the grammar flesh. Grammar as the right of the brain to wrong meaning into patterns. Grammar: The smell of a fourth dimension. The verb form of proliferation. The second tallest hill1. The fence that became incorporated into the bark. It’s resilient as I bash it against the stones. It fits us to the rules that rule what can fit as we rule them.



1The tallest hill is Mother Tongue.