Picking the Right Words

A few moments from our workshop have stayed with me and I have come to notice that they all speak to the same idea: poetry is a matter of picking the right words.

Well, obviously, but what intrigues me further is how we go about doing this once, and then again, and again, and again, ideally. The first moment worth considering is our sestina word gathering exercise. We all have words that float closer to the surface of our thoughts, words that we need to express our ideas, and this exercise helped us scratch the surface and gather a morsel of our lexical materials. So, first, I encourage this exercise along with other generative writings. Make a list of words that resonant, gather 10 new words from the dictionary, write a letter to someone and circle words that repeat or extract ideas (don’t plan on sending the letter, just write!)

An example from class has become a laughable phrase, but actually teaches a useful lesson about diction and syntax. In reference to Rachel C.’s “cosmic latte,” Lytton said: “There is a coffee in your poem.” The point is that each word stands alone as much as it stands together, and some words are more willing to coalesce than others. In this example, we found that “cosmic” and “latte” met with friction. Perhaps our goal is having every word be in conversation with every other word in our poems.

Once I built a rock path to maintain a hiking trail. I learned that a rock is more stable and unmovable the more surfaces it makes contact with. So, first we found the best rocks, boulders in some cases, and rolled them down the hill and into the hole we’d dug. That took a few days. Then, we arranged and rearranged the rocks to make sure they were locked in place, that they touched on at least seven surfaces. That took a couple more. When we walked the path the next day, even though I’d worked with each rock separately, I could barely tell them apart.

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