Having a Lovely Time Writing

Playing With Words: Jan Dean Explains the Poet’s Tool Kit


Playing With Words       

Playing With Words

 

1: POETRY      

Being a poet isn’t a job.  It’s who you are.  It’s to do with a way of seeing the world – mainly about seeing connections between things and then having an irresistible urge to recreate that connection in words.     

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 Eg.  In a poem called Davy Bones I wanted readers to hear the sinister and mean laughter of a scary skeleton.  I used the idea of an old neglected gate and the creaky sound of its hinges to make the nasty laugh happen:     

Davy Bones will get me, I known he lies in wait     

I hear his rusty laughter in the hinges of the gate     

2: PICTURE     

I love rhyming, but I don’t think it’s the most important thing about a poem.  I think the meaning, the mood and the pictures the words make matter most.      

3:RHYTHM     

Rhythm matters more to me than rhyme.  Every word comes with a natural speed – ‘hop’ is a naturally fast word.  Try saying it very slowly and you’ll hear how silly it sounds.  ‘Moan’ is naturally slow.  Say it very quickly and it sounds totally daft.  When we string words together their natural speed and their built in bounce ( tap out the rhythm of ‘built in bounce’ and you’ll hear the beachball-i-ness of it) make a rhythm soundtrack that plays underneath the meaning of the words.  A good poem always has a rhythm track that complements its meaning.

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4:RHYME     

I love rhyme, and rhyme and rhythm often go together, but it’s a tricky customer.  First you have to make a poem – a juicy concoction of dancing words.  Words that are so good to say out loud that speaking them is as good as chewing a caramel.  If you can make it rhyme as well – that’s  great.  But making it rhyme instead – well, that’s disappointing.  When I’m running a workshop in a school I advise against putting all your effort into finding rhymes.  Young writers over-value it and will often write almost anything in the body of the line and only really care about the rhyming word at the end.      

Any old rubbish, any old rubbish – anything is fine     

I really don’t care what it means so long as the last word is ‘line’

(pine, columbine, turpentine, mine or sign)

Carrots and cabbage make soup if you’re hungry and you have the time

Dinosaurs, rhubarb and grandmas da-di-dum- dooo make it rhyme.     

 Stupid, isn’t it?  And sad, because so many young writers put so much of their creative energy into rhyming they’ve nothing left for making great pictures and super sound effects.     

5: OH     

Poems are a strange mixture of recognition and surprise.  When the reader connects with the poet’s pictures and thinks ‘Yes, it is like that – but I never thought of it like that before.’  A poem is a place where you meet the poet and look at the world from the same window.     

6: COY     

You can write a poem about anything.  But beware the cheap laugh.  A poem doesn’t have to be about big serious stuff.  Small pleasures and small fears can make good poems.  Embarrassing people, or shocking them is very easy – too easy.  It’s a cheap way of getting a reaction.  Poems should never be cheap.

 

        

 

    

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 7 & 8: PRETEND & ORDER     

Writing is a mixture of play and struggle.  When I begin a poem I’m always playing.  I pretend I’m a crocodile, or a plant and write from that point of view.  Or I pretend I’m in a spooky place and describe it.  I play with words and listen to how they sound together.  I juggle them and wobble them, mash them and mix them.  I also shuffle them around so that they make sense.      

Jan Playing With Words

 

9&10: PERFORM & EARS     

I perform my poems as part of the process of writing.  Saying something out loud – really saying the words for all they’re worth, not just dashing them off like a shopping list – helps me understand what’s happening with the sound and meaning of my poem.  I listen to myself when I perform my part-written poem, and make choices and changes based on what works well in performance and what falls apart….  Even if a poem is not written as a performance piece, its sound matters.

 

        

 

    

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Jan Dean is a regular Writer in Schools     

 http://www.jandean.co.uk/index.html     

Thanks Jan for a great interview and the game of scrabble! (Which of course Jan won as usual!)     

      

Playing With Words

 

Being a poet isn’t a job.  It’s who you are.  It’s to do with a way of seeing the world – mainly about seeing connections between things and then having an irresistible urge to recreate that connection in words.

2 Comments »

  1. Thanks for some lovely ideas! :-)

    Comment by em1981 — March 6, 2010 @ 1:53 pm | Reply


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