Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Word Play

“In a poem the word should be as pleasing to the ear as the meaning is to the mind.” Marianne Moore

I’ve logged in enough hours during my lifetime – fooling around with words, in search of just the right ones – to finally call myself a poet. For many years I would say only, “I write poetry.” To claim to “be a poet” sounds presumptuous, unlike other claims, such as “I am a gardener,” or “I am a mother.” But what other word do we have in our culture to explain one who is so fascinated with language and with using it?

I’m the sort of person who reads a “wet paint” sign, but still has to touch the bench to see if it’s true. I’ve always been curious about the alphabet that way too. I believe that alphabet sounds have properties, like foods have vitamins, plants have medicine and colors have the power to affect our moods. The M…M…M sound conjures a sense of manna, matter or mother. Whereas, the letter G…G…G, when it's hard, sounds antagonistic, especially if it’s followed by R…R…R (Grrr). Why does an L sound so light and lovely while D seems to say “downward descent”?

I like to play with the alphabet. I notice that the word “slack” has “lack” right in it. (Is slack somehow the plural of lack, the way too many pets become pests?) I notice that silent and listen are made up of the same letters, like note and tone are. I know that coyote is coy, because his name tells me so.

I once met a woman who made sock puppets, not the Sesame Street variety, but matriarchal figures, wise women, and witches. When I learned that her last name was “Weinstock,” I couldn’t help but point out that her name also said “Wise in Sock.” When I mentioned to another woman that if she added a G to her last name, “Robinson,” it would become “Robinsong,” she changed her name!

I believe that our names are our assignments and that there is mathematics to language. If we take a letter away or add another, everything changes. I don’t think it’s a mistake that the word “spell” means to put letters together in the right way, and it also means to make magic.

If you look at the word “universe,” you’ll see that it implies a unifying poetry. If you add one letter to “word” and you get the whole “world.” Why don’t they teach that in school? ~From Muses Like Moonlight by Colleen

Note: Originally posted on on June 5, 2005.

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