Friday, January 14, 2011

Writing about sound

I've been writing poetry this month with Sage Cohen and find myself longing for a better vocabulary of nuance and expression. I'm well read and have an excellent, I think, vocabulary for prose but I'm finding that I need more words, words for color, for the names and qualities of trees and birds and flowers, for the weather. And in particular for the way things sound. For it's not only the sounds of the words but the way the world sounds that I want to express more clearly.

One of my graduate courses was in a French literary exercise called Explication de texte. This is a very formal, structured reading of a poem or piece of prose in which you dissect not only the meanings, large and small, of the content, but you explain (explicate) the way the author does this through word choice, repetitions, rhythms, etc. At first, I found this extremely difficult to do, but with practice, I learned a great deal about the writer's craft.

As part of that course, we ended up with a lot of vocabulary study in words and one list I remember in particular had to do with verbs of sound. I've no idea where that list is and since it wasn't French to English but rather French words with definitions in French, it wouldn't give me what I'm looking for in English. The issue is further complicated by the fact that French is a considerably more precise language than English (it's why for so long French has remained a crucial language for diplomats of all nations) and leans more heavily on the verb for denotation and connotation where English leans on noun structures.

I specifically remember learning the word "grincer," which describes the sound of metal grinding on metal. I'm wanting to discover and express some of that precision in my work. Maybe I have to make up my own words. Maybe there's a source out there. If anybody knows one, I'd love to know of it.

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