English Reading Series: Kristen Eliason

BYU alumnae Kristen Eliason presented her work and answered questions about her new book, Picture Dictionary, at the English Reading Series.

PROVO, Utah (Sept. 16, 2014)—How does the structure of a dictionary lend itself to memoir and the translation of grief? Kristen Eliason explores the nature of language and profound self-reflection through this unique format in her recently published book of poems, Picture Dictionary.

Eliason’s reading depicted her experiences while living in Japan in 2008 as an English teacher. She explained how she used a picture dictionary as a form of communication while teaching English. She said, “This was the way we would triangulate meaning, which was particularly important for me being a person steeped in language who found herself totally illiterate.”

This, in turn, inspired Eliason to write her book of poems in the form of a dictionary, a format that allowed her to construct the meaning of intense grief she felt after a loved one’s death, as well as the cultural disorientation she experienced while living in Japan.

“The format of the dictionary came about organically because I used the picture dictionary so often teaching English, and also a translation dictionary in trying to construe meaning out of where I was,” said Eliason. “This book also serves as an elegy. I believe it felt necessary for me to create a reference material for navigating both the country that I was unfamiliar with and grief.”

Eliason’s poems are memoiristic in nature. She explained that she finds it difficult to write something she doesn’t know anything about. “I feel like without that innate understanding of something the things that I write feel very hollow,” said Eliason.

Writing Picture Dictionary allowed Eliason to construct her memoirs in a profound way, formatting a unique language process that embodied the difficult nature of introspective expression.

“I am a real introvert,” said Eliason. “I think that writing became a way for me to make sense of things very early on. Externalizing things on paper made the most sense to me. That is evident in this book in terms of grappling with something and trying to make sense of it by externalizing.”

For more information about Kristen Eliason and her work, visit her online magazine, Menagerie, or her blog.

–Sylvia Cutler (BA English ’17)