Tuesday Trials:Getting Started: Words

26 Oct

10:00, Tuesday, 26 October, 2010 – Atlanta


Writers know words are the tools with which we express idea and emotion, mind and heart, tangible and abstract, and even a bit of soul sometimes. Without words we are, in the words of Amir’s speaker, in his poem “Nothingness,” no more.

Many writers collect words. For years I would write words on index cards, but I didn’t find that a useful method. Then I read Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge’s Poemcrazy and I started a “wordpool”. I bought a roll of admission tickets and as I collected words I typed them, I clipped them, I ripped them, and I would place one word, or phrase, per admission ticket. I liked the thought of admission to the world of poetry through the words on the tickets. I have a few hundred and I keep them in different containers: a ceramic bowl, a mug with top, a plastic box and possibly some I have forgotten. Every now and then I will shuffle through the words and let each word take a path through my head. I follow at a distance and sometimes the word[s] and I find a poem.

A good exercise is to pick five words at random and write a poem using those five words. I allow myself one trade in. And don’t think about it. Write. Just now I reached into my mug and pulled out: drought, ordeal, little fires, bend every rule, and dreams. Let’s see:

Dreams can reflect a drought in my mind/or dreams can express an ordeal of my heart/but sometimes, dreams light little fires/and then, I break every rule.

While it’s not something I can use now, later I might come back to it and work something from it, or take a line from it. Remember what I said a couple of blogs ago: never throw anything away. This next bit is based on suggestions of Wooldridge’s and I used this to start a creative writing class, at the beginning of a semester:

Write words down now, any words, quickly. Fly, lip, brass, scratch.

Look around you, whether you are at home, or sitting in a coffee shop, and copy down some words. Metro, Starbuck’s, dry-roasted.

Make up your own words. Fflipple, mupped, nogodoh.

Doublequick. Don’t think. Write words. Tumult, slip, scatter, strafe.

Wooldridge tells us “Don’t worry about meaning. Words carry meaning along with them.” For now, put words down and meaning will appear as your brain makes connections in the background. Needle, blackberry, cliff, chili, moan.

Associate a colour with each word. Periwinkle weather. Vermilion rage. Slate sorrow.

Give each sense a colour. Emerald sight. Crimson hearing. Silver touch.

Know words from other languages? Add them. Gesundheit. Au revoir. Sushi. Toko. Legato

Think sound effects. Buzz, ululate, salsa, avocado, thunk, humdrum.

Field guides, such as a birding book, repair manuals, instruction booklets, are all wonderful sources. Check the library. Collect pamphlets. Listen to Wooldridge’s examples:

window winged moth, globular springtail or porphyry

luminosity probe, pump link, diesel throttle, choke hinge pin, internal vent valve

What wonderful words.


And, finally, here is the text of Amir’s poem


I woke up at night and my language was gone
No sign of language no writing no alphabet
nor symbol nor word in any tongue
and raw was my fear — like the terror perhaps
of a man flung from a treetop far above the ground
a shipwrecked person on a tide-engulfed sandbank
a pilot whose parachute would not open
or the fear of a stone in a bottomless pit
and the fright was unvoiced unlettered unuttered
and inarticulate O how inarticulate
and I was alone in the dark
a non-I in the all-pervading gloom
with no grasp no leaning point
everything stripped of everything
and the sound was speechless and voiceless
and I was naught and nothing
without even a gibbet to hang onto
without a single peg to hang onto
and I no longer knew who or what I was–
and I was no more.
~Aharon Amir, translated from Hebrew by Abraham Birman

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Posted by on 26/10/2010 in poetry, writing


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