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More interesting words… or moving house and stuck for words

Forgive me for repeating a post, but in the middle of moving house I don’t have a landline or internet, so am quickly borrowing someone else’s. Here’s a post from 2011 and was first published in The New Writer.

MIW: My new campaign

Where did the phrase “make the ordinary extraordinary” come from? It’s something I hear myself saying over and over in workshops. When I say it, I just mean dazzle me; bring me something unexpected; hit me in the gut with a “wow line”. Sometimes it’s all we need to spin our poem on its head and make it remarkable and astounding. So, how do we write “wow lines”?

when+you're+tired+of+your+own+words+jpeg

First thing to do is buy a thesaurus; the second is to use it. Plenty of lazy words appear in our poems. I’m as guilty as the next person. But why walk when I could amble, lope or lurch; or push when shove, jolt or cram is more exciting. In an early draft of my poem Now He has Left, I wrote:

Sliding grief under her pillow,
she watches it gasping for air;
pillow moving up and down.

I’ve noticed in my work slide, curl and slip seem to be overused words and watches here seems particularly dull. In order to find new ways of saying things look at each word carefully and ask yourself, “Did I really try hard enough? Is that the best I can do?” After several rewrites I finally came up with something much better:

She stashes the tears under her pillow.
They gasp for air.

And I don’t think stashes appears in any of my other poems. But you’ve probably spotted the abstract noun. The poet Bill Greenwell has single-handedly rid me of my tendency to use them. Greenwell – 1, Morley – 0. Which is great, I’m glad I lost. On my last Arvon course we were all so well trained not one abstract noun slipped into our sentences (there’s that slipped again!) Maybe someday there will be an Abstraction Renaissance, but until then I’ll continue to boot, shed, eject and heave them from my poems. And as you can see, I expelled grief.

So my new campaign is to use more interesting words or MIW as it shall now be known. Going back to the example of my poem, I had also crossed out scream – a bit too much perhaps?

Memory presses her tongue
pulling it back silences screams.

If she’s that grief-stricken, then I guess we’d expect her to scream. Is that too ordinary? The rewrite:

…her tongue
is pressed between grave clothes.

Now that’s more like it. I expect the reader is surprised and it works much better. Somewhere there’s probably a list of words we should avoid. I know in a previous editorial I mentioned some words that I and other magazine editors would rather not see in our submissions, but I think we can list our own no-no words that are unique to us. A way of doing this is to put all your poems into one Word document and do a search for a particular word. At the top of my list is slip. Click on Find and then be prepared to be amazed (but not in a good way). Next, haul out your thesaurus and pluck the best words you can find. Instead of hold, try grab, instead of grab use clench or clutch. I could go on, but I think you’ve got the general idea.

If you want to see Now He has Left in its entirety see below, and whilst you do that, I’ll re-read this editorial and highlight all my lazy, work-shy words.

Now He has Left

She stashes the tears under her pillow.
They gasp for air.

She presses, keeps pressing down
until the only movement
is the tremor of her hands,
the pulsing in her neck.

By day she stuffs them in her purse as
loose change —
turns heads, then tails
over and over,
metallic. Her tongue

is pressed between grave clothes.
She feels his pillow,
puts grief beneath it. In the morning
she clears his name from her throat.

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3 thoughts on “More interesting words… or moving house and stuck for words”

  1. p.s. I have been having great fun finding synonyms in the thesaurus for your new “house” – so far my favourites are “abode” and “dwelling place” 🙂 http://www.thesaurus.com/browse/abode As an aside – there is an unusual word that I came across in my search i.e. “commorant” – One residing or inhabiting a particular place. Barnes, 162. And it implies that you sleep overnight in your “commorancy” . I found this word interesting because I had to figure out that the spelling is different from the bird “cormorant” !!

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