Four Questions about The Lapidary’s Nosegay

13 February 2018 Written by   Lara Candland
Poem from The Lapidary's Nosegay, p. 65. Poem from The Lapidary's Nosegay, p. 65.

Lara Candland answers the questions she's been most frequently asked about her new volume of poetry, The Lapidary's Nosegay, and explains the creative impetus for the work.

Q: What is a lapidary?

A: (Noun) A lapidary works with stones or gems, engraving on them, polishing, and cutting stone; a lapidary engraves on stone monuments; a lapidary is an artist or artisan.

(Adjective) Of or relating to stones or gems; enhanced, refined, polished, engraved, cut. Concise, elegant.


Q: Who is the Lapidary?

A: The Lapidary is a shared role. I am a Lapidary, and so is Dickinson. The book of Revelations contains many of the gem references that Dickinson drew upon and refined in her poems.

Emily Dickinson is typically imagined as her famous austere black-and-white daguerreotype from 1847, or as the white-gowned, center-parted so-called Nun of Amherst. Dickinson eschewed the wearing of gems on her person. Her poems, however, have jewel fever. “If the percentage of jewel words in the total wordage of the individual poets were to be compared, she would appear even more begemmed than such lapidaries as Browning and Tennyson,” scholar Rebecca Patterson asserts in her book Emily Dickinson’s Imagery.

If you think about it, the earth is a Lapidary, always refining, engraving, polishing, and cutting. The process of lapidary is ongoing, and one aspect of the second law of thermodynamics states that entropic changes in the universe can never be negative. In my basic understanding, this means that matter can neither be created nor destroyed, only refined.


Q: How is this book related to gems or stones?

A: We are all related to gems and stones, though we tend to think of gems and stones as immutable—compared to, for instance, blossoms or leaves or bodies.

Are they? Are we?

Aesthetically, I wanted to excessively ornament with latinate words a marking scheme that offered another kind of image, concrete reinforcements for imagistic language. So I decked the pages with parenthetical arrangements suggesting pictoragraphical flowers, suns, stars, gods, queen crowns, prophetic voices, ghosts, and gems. I arranged some lines into embroidered layouts and employed some decorative typography. I envisioned baroquely excessive pages and tried to construct a space inside the book that could accommodate my attraction to material decadence and ornamentation as well as more abstract, symbolic, or intangible ideas. Could I generate ideas through piling up a jumble of pretty, concrete nouns? The act of accumulation seemed to me to expose facets of light through the juxtapositional commentary of objects. Virtual facets. The building blocks of sparkle.

I thought I could hear the material world talking amongst itselves.

The Lapidary’s Nosegay was constructed by using lists of words mined from Dickinson’s poetry. I searched for linguistic gems and stones; sought out fancy, floral, anachronistic, sparkling, eccentric words; and pulled them out of their original poetic settings. In Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, the delighted and childlike Dopey rides out of the mines atop a mound of glowing, multicolored gems. I felt similarly charmed and delighted sitting before the lists of highly textured, ornate, and obscure vocabulary plucked from Dickinson’s verses. I polished, engraved, and cut the poems into their current form, fashioning new settings for old words.


Q: What is a nosegay?

A: Most people know that a nosegay has something to do with flowers. The word conjures images of tight, round bouquets, something bridal, something from the 1950s perhaps. Small, tidy, and dainty.

The word “nosegay” used to mean “ornament”—a nosegay might provide ornamentation for a bride or a gravesite.

Some people know that “nosegay” has two parts: a nose that is gay, as in happy, because back when people thought that bathing would make you sick or expose you to evil influences, the populated world was a more pungent place. A bundle of flowers, called a nosegay, was worn in a little silver chalice around the neck or attached to one’s clothing. Somewhere close to your nose, to mask the bodily smells of a crowded room—say, at church.

Of course flowers have their own language, and so a nosegay contains messages, codified symbolism. When given as a gift, the nosegay’s flowers send an unspoken message; symbols rather than words convey the giver’s sentiment.

When she was fourteen years old, young Emily Dickinson wrote in a letter to her school friend Abiah Root: “I’m going to send you a little geranium leaf in this letter, which you must press for me.” The friends corresponded about their herbaria, and so gifts of friendship and meaning were conveyed through both words and flowers. Enclosed in envelopes, pressed into books, preserved for the future, a remembrance. A nosegay is an exchange—love, friendship, concern, etc.—and the ephemeral life of blossoms contradicts the message of lasting feeling conveyed by this gift. Emily Dickinson’s teacher, Mrs. Almira H. Lincoln Phelps, “recommends that you compile your own floral dictionary—following your own heart and sentiments.”

One meaning of the word “nosegay” from the Emily Dickinson Lexicon is this: “Bouquet; posy; fascicle; bundle of sweet-smelling flowers tied with a ribbon; [fig.] chapbook; packet of poems; gathering of verses.” Dickinson bundled her own poems into chapbooks that Dickinson’s posthumous editor, Mabel Loomis Todd, named fascicles—handwritten fair copies of her poems stitched with red thread into little booklets, a gathering of verses into packets and posies. These small books were kept in a trunk, which her sister, Lavinia Norcross Dickinson, discovered after Dickinson’s death and then spent the last thirteen years of her life championing and propelling into wider publication. Dickinson died with a trunk full of nosegays laid by for futurity. Lavinia preserved somewhere around 1,700 discrete poems, depending on how you count them.

In The Lapidary’s Nosegay, I set out to cultivate a patch from Dickinson’s saved seeds, to enact at least one of the possible futures she might not have imagined for her poems. By tracing voices, histories, and lines across space and time, my purpose was to bind and seal two seemingly disparate dimensions: Amherst, Massachusetts, 1830–1886, and Provo, Utah, 2011–2018.

When flowers die, their seeds disseminate or their bodies disintegrate, reemerging somewhere else, in new and possibly unrecognizable forms. No new material can be created, nor can any existing material be eradicated. All matter already exists.

The bloom is temporary, the flower is not—flowers and words and pages—pressed into books, inscribed with messages, symbols shaped and reshaped, further refined into dust, particles, memory, and maybe a whiff of floral poet breath blows past another poet’s lyre. Or a dandelion walks off to form another sphere.



Emily Dickinson

Lara Candland is a poet, musician, singer, and co-founder of and chief-librettist for the Seattle Experimental Opera. Her work has appeared in FenceColorado Review, the Crab Creek Review, the Likewise FolioBarrow Street, and many other journals. Her first book, Alburnum of the Green and Living Tree, was published in 2010, and her performance with Lalage—poetry and live electronic looping and manipulations—appears on the CD Lalage: Live on Sornarchy. Her opera Sunset with Pink Pastoral was a finalist in the Genesis Prizes for New Opera and was presented at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London as well as in performances in Seattle, Washington; Vancouver, BC; and Salt Lake City, Utah.

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