Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Get Listed ~ Elephants Dance in Fancy Pants

ManicDDaily, a/k/a, Karin Gustafson here visiting With Real Toads from a semi-blog break.

"Elephants Dance in Fancy Pants" 
© Karin Gustafson

When Kerry asked me to come up with a Real Toads word list, I must confess to resistance.  On the one hand, lists of words compiled by another person CAN get a poet out of the worn knees and stretched-out seats of typical usages. On the other, the words can feel arbitrary, forcing the poet into expressions that just don’t jive with their passions. But Kerry is too great a person and poet for me to refuse her anything!  So, for the last few weeks, I have been thinking (make that, worrying) about the concept of both poetic lists and words.

"Toad Bestowed" 
© Karin Gustafson

For what it’s worth -- and to buy a few more minutes before actually setting forth a list-- here are some of those thoughts: 

Lists: I do, in fact, often make word lists when I write a poem, particularly a formal poem such as a sonnet or villanelle.  These lists, jotted done on the spot, are rhymes with the end words of my first couple of lines.  When I make these lists, I try not even to think about the context of the poem, but just to brainstorm rhymes, to come up with all possibilities.  This allows me to come up with combinations that would never have occurred to me if I’d stayed in the box of what I originally thought the poem was about.  It’s a way, for me, not just to find more interesting rhymes but also to open up the poem. 

Now, words!  Obviously, they are the building blocks, the meat (or, if you are vegetarian like me, the grain) of poetry!  To my mind, when the words used are overly vague, abstract (naming emotions rather than conveying them), commonplace, they can feel like mush.  They can turn a poem into a kind of pablum, something that’s swallowed without the slightest chew, but also without very definite taste. (Maybe just a syrupy sweetness.)

On the other hand, a poem jammed with shiny vocabulary can make me feel as if my mental mouth is being stuffed with marbles.  This type of poem can feel like a choking hazard, as well as a danger to my teeth.  (By shiny vocabulary, I mean very long words, excessively latinate words, compound words, words that feel unnecessarily arcane. It’s perfectly wonderful to use arcane words--especially if they are aimed towards an  otherwise inexpressible meaning, but overuse of the arcane can feel oddly superficial and grandiose, i.e. a little goes a long way.)  

I’m not saying here that word usage should be safe--but simply that it should be particular--with words chosen (ideally) with a certain precision, because they mean what you say, because they are visually vivid or active, because they are musical (or possibly anti-musical); because they are referential, multi-layered, full of echoes, or maybe because they are startlingly original.  Fun.  I guess the idea is you want words that have the energy and particular limbs to carry the freight of your poem.  Weak words just can’t carry that much. 

All of which makes me very nervous at the idea of compiling a list of them! 

So, here goes.  Below are some words that I’ve chosen (i) simply because they seemed vivid or particularly multipurpose, or (ii) because they are used in poems (I will not mention here) that stick to my memory (and so I thought of them as memorable poetic words).  The challenge is to use at least three words - please feel free to use any form of the word or even a homonym.  

"Cat ON a Hat" 
© Karin Gustafson

An ancillary challenge is to also use rhymes with at least one or more of the words below.  So that your poem would include a few of the words below AND words that rhyme with those words.  (This is only for those of you who like rhyming, and want to try a more formal poem.  I have tried to choose words that lend themselves to rhyming.  If you want to cheat you can use the rhymes of a word from this list, and OTHER words here.) 

Finally, please do not feel compelled, for the sake of the exercise, to use any word that does not speak to you.  


Good luck!


Kay L. Davies said...

Oh, what fun, Karin. And I love the cat on the hat. LOL
It's almost midnight here, the dog is asleep, my husband is asleep, and I'm thinking of your word list and what I can add in the way of rhyme.

Scarlet said...

Karin, the pictures are so charming, ha ~ I like the word list and will think of weaving them per your challenge ~

Anonymous said...

Thanks Kay and Grace and Kerry and All. I really enjoyed the opportunity of the post. I am working today and then traveling down to Florida for my mother's 90th birthday so will be slow to get my own poem up and also to visit people's blogs, but I will be visiting! Thanks again. Karin Gustafson

Kerry O'Connor said...

Thank you, Karin. You have given us lots to think about when it comes to the use of words in poetry.
When it comes to rhyme, I'm afraid I cheat and use rhyme zone.

Maude Lynn said...

Thank you, Karin. This was fun and just what I needed.

Travel safe and Happy Birthday to your mom!

Anonymous said...

I have never heard of rhyme zone - I'm guessing it's some kind of online dictionary! Agh! No!!!! Oh well.

Thanks to you MZ - hope things are settling down a bit. Long road ahead. k.

Kerry O'Connor said...

Just type in the word, and the rhymes are generated.

Margaret said...

Thank you. I found three words that worked with my subject matter today and helped shape it! Thank you! I will be back and post it as soon as my accompanying video is done being uploaded. :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Kerry, for posting this. I used the whole damned list... it just fit, nothing forced at all. And it's a prose poem, I suppose, or actually prose, but I hope it still sings. I'm a storyteller at heart. Amazing list! Amy

Margaret said...

Just wanted to say I am glad to be back (my vacation was nice and relaxing - mommy/daughter time - but it's nice to be home and blogging again :)

hedgewitch said...

Thanks Karin. I'm not a big proponent of lists, but you made a very good case for why they can be useful, inspirational nad part of the creative process instead of a substitute for it..sorry to be so late, but real life so often gets in the way of real desire. I'll try to get something in before it's too late.

Marian said...

rhymes? you betcha! ;)

Outlawyer said...

Hi Amy, just got in after very delayed flight--almost 3 am--but will visit all tomorrow--todAy! But later. This is Karin on an old blogger blog.

Fireblossom said...

Kerry's a cheater!

TCPC said...

This was fun. Well, I haven't used the rhymes; but i have dabbled in all the words. Apprehensive still of the piece looking laboured but the process was not, for sure!

Janine Bollée said...

Promise: won't happen again :-)

Kerry O'Connor said...

Really late to the party.

Anonymous said...

Many apologies - I have been traveling and working (on my job at the same time -- all day virtually - and though I've written my own poem, sort of, have not been able to do anything personal online. I will visit and comment and get my own poem up soon, I hope. Tonight. Agh.

Thanks so much. K.

Anonymous said...

Karin, as Yoda would say, "To yourself grant break, very large." You are overwhelmed! Sorry I forgot to mention that the list was yours! (My bad....) Who cheated? Shay? How? Need the 411!! Amytoad

Outlawyer said...

Ha. Working on that bit about granting breaks but somehow my boss never got the memo. Now Internet where I am visiting is on re blink but have trusty phone so will try to visit on that. I fear my comments will be made as outlawyer rather than Manicddaily. Anyway thanks for patience. K.

De Jackson said...

I love a good word list. This was a great one, and got me unstuck from a bit of a writing rut. Thank you!

Janine Bollée said...

Karin, this was such a well considered post. Thank your for putting these thoughts in order.
Be assured that my trivial poem does in no way reflect on these thoughts so well expressed.

SandyCarlson said...

These are beautiful photos.