Yo! Magnetic Fields frontman pens book on two-letter Scrabble words

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Good Scrabble words come in small packages.

Stephin Merritt is best known as the frontman of long-running indie-pop band the Magnetic Fields. But song lyrics aren’t the only words he is excited by — the musician has just published a book that pays homage to the smallest playable words in Scrabble: two-letter words.

“All the sex, money, and power in Scrabble lies in the two-letter words,” said Merritt.

Merritt will give a reading from his short read, “101 Two-Letter Words,” at PowerHouse Arena in Dumbo on Oct. 21. He said the idea for the book — which contains a four-line poem and an illustration for each of the words — came about while he was on tour and trying to bone up on the Scrabble-inspired smartphone game Words With Friends during his down time.

“I wasn’t very good at it because I didn’t know all of the two-letter words,” he said. “So I started writing my own mnemonic devices to remember them.”

Two-letter words are key to winning the game, because they allow a player to more easily put down multiple words on a single turn, Merritt explained.

“You need to know your two-letter words,” he said.

To help readers remember them even better, each poem has a drawing by New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast to create a visual memory cue. This is just good common sense to Merritt.

“It never occurred to me not to have the illustrati­ons,” he said.

Merritt, who once had a studio space near the Williamsburg Bridge, said he does not have a favorite two-letter word, but he does have a favorite poem based on one.

“My poems are like my children,” he said. “So I only like the first one.”

And that is “aa,” which is a type of lava.

“There are two kinds of lava: aa / and pahoehoe / Aa is more jagged, and / pahoehoe flowy,” the poem reads.

The PowerHouse Arena reading will include a discussion of the book with local author Emma Straub, who is also Merritt’s Words With Friends buddy.

Stephin Merritt reads from “101 Two-Letter Words” at PowerHouse Arena [37 Main St. between Water and Plymouth streets in Dumbo, (718) 666–3049,]. Oct. 21 at 7 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260–8310. E-mail him at Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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