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.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Imitation as learning tool

I'm taking a poetry writing class with local Sage Cohen (31-day poem-a-day) and our prompt recently was to analyze a favorite poem and then use some elements from it for our own writing. One of my all-time favorites is The Lake Isle of Innisfree by Yeats. Here is the original and then my own poem using some of his meter and phrasing.

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow, 5
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore; 10
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.


I will arrive on the ferry, the last 10 minutes of wind and expectation in my hair.

The pavement, the swoosh of cars on the city hill beside me, gone now.

Instead, deep in the night there will be the coyote call, the deep hoooo of the barn owl, and the stars will glitter over the silent garden gone to bed.
The alders will keep watch over the marsh as peace comes dropping slow, dropping away the stories of not enough.

I will arise and go now, but in my heart, the peace remains, a living space in the deep heart’s core.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Letting my manuscript rest

This past writing Friday, I opted not to work on the novel I'm writing. I finished the first draft a little more than a week ago and then did plot map cards in the two days following. Using index cards, I wrote one for each chapter, with a list of the characters in the chapter, location, main plot events, and point of view. It was a great way to get an overview of the story without reading it all the way through and I began to see some of the problem areas and made a list.

But instead of working with the cards last Friday or even setting in to make changes, I opted to write some poetry and do some visual art. And I made a decision to do that for the rest of the month--to just let the manuscript rest. I am going to write some fictional prompts, more poetry, maybe do some reading in some of the books on creativity and writing that I keep around. But I need some perspective on the story and its strengths and weaknesses and jumping back in doesn't seem the best idea at the moment.