30 April 2012

Craft Tips Monday: Word Play

Welcome to the second Craft Tips Monday, where I'll be sharing some of the writerly advice I've received and learned from, as well as some of the themes and/or topics in the poetry and writing world I've been thinking about and working with lately!

"Word play"

Word play: When we let words "swing" there's no telling
where they'll take us. (Image: "Swing" by Derrick Collins)
This week, let's talk about word play. In the description of this blog, I discuss in a limited way the rationale behind the name "our lost jungle." I think of the "lost jungle" of poetry as the place where we let go of the strict realm of "sense" in poetry and allow the words to take over, play, dance, and wonder. At the heart of the philosophy behind this blog is the idea that word play--letting the words guide us instead of us guiding the words--is one of the essential tools for letting our creativity breathe, function, and flow.

Seeking out the word playground

The question is: How do we go about playing with words?

What makes this topic so fun is that the answer is quite simple: Any way you want. There are a multitude of activities you can do to play with words. Some of my favorites include lists: making a list of twenty-five beautiful words (words that I love the sound of as they roll off the tongue like a child down a hill or dance in the ear like a Viennese waltz) and using them all, in any order, in a poem; or making a list of words and phrases I associate with a color (for blue I might say sky or ocean or the chill of winter or a kiss goodbye) and using them to write a "biography" of color; and so forth.

Maybe for you it means starting to write and not thinking about whether or not what you have to say makes sense. Maybe you'll start a poem about rain, but once you write the word "window" you start thinking "rust." Suddenly you're writing about the rusty color of an old doorknob and you're back in your old house, remembering your favorite doll and how you would brush her hair ... Suddenly you're remembering and writing about how your mother would brush your hair, as gently as when that boy first touched his lips to your cheek and sent you soaring ... Soaring like a roller coaster? Suddenly you're writing the fair where you first learned that joy and fear could be wrapped up in one slice of life.

See where the mind can go if we just let it?

The "Rainbow Poem" Form

I'd like to share a poetry activity and form I came up with as a way of helping me "channel" the word playground. While the form itself can be viewed as quite formulaic and rule-bound, I've found that it also helps my mind make connections I otherwise wouldn't make. Maybe it will help you channel your own inner word playground.

1. Write a list of six words--the first words that come to mind, words you find beautiful, words that roll over your tongue like a sip of coffee or a drop of caramel
2. Write a second list, this time a list of words that rhyme with the words in your first list. These can be straight rhymes or slant rhymes (slant rhymes are the swing set to the straight rhyme slide; both are fun, but maybe the slant can take you in more directions). For example, if my first word was "red," the first word in my second list might be "bread" or "dead" or "dread" or "offered."
3. In a third list, write a list of words that you associate with each word in the second list. So, if I rhymed "red' with "dread" I might think of the Dread Pirate Roberts from The Princess Bride and the word I associate with "dread" might be "pirate."
4. Randomly number the words in each list. Try to mix the lists so that none of the words coincide with the words they were originally paired with. These lists will create six "base-lines" for your poem: six lines with three randomly assigned words each.
5. Add some flesh to your base-lines by "filling in the blanks" between the base words. For exampl, if my first line had the word "red bean flow" I might write:

Read the red from your crushed beans, and watch the colors flow

Maybe the line will make sense; maybe you won't know where it's going until you start filling in the blanks on the next line. But a story will start to emerge, if you let it; all you have to do is follow it.

When you finish, you will have a six line poem. Play with the line breaks to lengthen the poem. Don't, however, combine lines; you poem should be at least six lines.

Here's my try:

6 Gasp
2 Wasp
3 Sting
2 Wheat
4 Heap
6 Pile
3 Rain
6 Refrain
2 Sing
5 Poem
1 Room
4 Door
1 Trace
3 Place
5 Land
4 Leather
5 Feather
1 Air

Line 1: trace room air
Line 2: wheat wasp sing
Line 3: rain place sting
Line 4: leather heap door
Line 5: poem feather land
Line 6: gasp refrain pile

What little girls are made of

Little girls trace the room
with the air of their wings,
threshing the silent space
like wheat--buzzing
like wasps as the sing
against the rain, stirring
this place with melody,
rich tunes like the sting
of a knife sharpened
on a leather swatch.

Little girls heap
on the floor,
closing the door
like a poem
that weaves a feather
from sky to land,
each one gasping
her own sweet refrain
from deep inside
the pile.

Now it's your turn! Give it a shot, and be sure to let me know what you think of this form. Or, share your favorite form of word play--How do you let words take you where they want to go? 

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Check out these related posts from Our Lost Jungle: 


  1. Khara, I have to try this rainbow technique because I used to right poetry and now I can't remember how to start. Also, I am nominating you for a Liebster blog award! Here it is: dirtygirlswriting.blogspot.com

    1. Thanks for your comment, Lauri, and the nomination! I'll check out the post soon! :)

  2. I love this technique! I'm going to have to try it... it looks like a lot of fun. Thanks for this great post. Oh, the Princess Bride is one of my all time favorite movies.

    1. It definitely it a fun form, Dana (although I'm a little biased, admittedly!) ... And I agree, TPB is a 100% classic! :)


Thank you so much for your comments! Please feel free to share your thoughts here; I look forward to engaging in conversation with you!

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