Monday, September 23, 2013

The Joy of Prosody (and Free Verse)

Expanding One’s Lexicon
By Liz Mastin

Lexicon – all the words and phrases used in a language;
all the words one knows; vocabulary or dictionary.
I had a difficult time this month deciding whether to write this column on “Expanding One’s Lexicon” or on “How to write the Heroic Couplet.” I felt an entire column could easily be written on the value of a wider vocabulary to both the poet and the prose writer; after all, writers use “words” and the more words a writer has at his or her disposal, the better.

I first became interested in words when I felt helpless in describing a cloud for one of my poems. Frustrated, I decided to write down as many adjectives as I could possibly come up with that might describe a cloud. I became somewhat obsessed and ended up with several hundred adjectives, until finally realizing the same adjectives could apply to many other things (besides clouds) as well.

Among my adjectives for clouds were: crumpled, galloping, doleful, smothering, powdery, scrambled, roiling, placid, indeterminable, mesmerizing, comical, sun-tossed, frayed, spongy, mottled, undulant, woven, clotted, soft, earth-puffed, cantilevered, erupting, brooding, shifting, eclectic, noble, hovering, dancing, redolent, blended, haphazard, coy, ribald, plethora, oblique, untidy, pulled tuffs, rippled, fulminous, shunting, sheering, tie-died, pervasive, tumbling, effusive, congregating, orchestrated, diffused, gesticulating and  on it goes. I believe it might be a handy list for me to keep by the computer.

But -- I have been so impressed with Harvard educated poet Louis Brodsky and his poetic trilogy on Wisconsin’s Lake Nebagamon. He is compared to Thoreau for his romantic visions of nature and his immersion into a single natural setting. What strikes me most is his considerable vocabulary and his superior use of it. Here is an example of some of his excellent word mastery in his poem “Grace”: note it is written in free verse.

by Louis Brodsky

The hundred-fifty foot green limbed white pine tree
Leaning precariously shoreward, just off my cabin’s deck,
Is caw-cawing with a cohort of eight bellicose crows.
Five crazily calling Canada geese fly by high.
Wailing loons insinuate the distance with their primordial chorus.

Silvery mist, this fifty degree morning,
Lifts dizzily, sinuously as breath on a cold day
From each of Lake Nebagamon’s warm bays.
And spreading in creamy, opalescent tints above everything,
Is the yet-unrisen sun’s ubiquitous annunciation of its coming.

What’s missing from this tableau approximating Genesis
I needn’t ask myself; I already know. It’s me.
To complete this scene, I have to make my relevance felt,
Define and posit my raison d’ etre,
A quintessential sense of consequence to proclaim my presence.

But what that might possibly be, I’m not altogether certain,
Lest it have everything to do
With whether this rendition of Creation gets written down,
Passed on as a reminder to mankind’s generations,
That our place in nature is defined by imagination’s grace.

You can see how this poem radiates with its expanded lexicon. Among words I love in this poem (yet might fail to use myself) are: insinuate, sinuously, ubiquitous, annunciation, tableau, raison d’ etre, and quintessential. It is not that I don’t know the meaning of all these words, but truly, I don’t think of them, and thus I sadly fail to use them myself.

You can easily locate and acquire many kinds of “word books”; they are available on Amazon, at used bookstores and even thrift shops. These word books enable you to scout for “original” words, words that add strength and texture to your writing and contribute subtle nuances (that your first-thought word choice) may not have offered.  I have a growing collection of such books, plus I am going through my LakeNebagamon series, picking out intriguing words that I may hopefully begin using. After all, “words” are our tools!

Liz Mastin Bio
Liz Mastin is a poet who lives in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho during the summer and Bullhead CityArizona in winter. She thrives on the study of the great poets, their biographies, the schools of poetry to which they adhered, and the poetic conventions of the times in which they lived.

While she enjoys free verse as well as metrical poetry, her main interest lies in prosody. She notices that most of the enduring poems are those we can remember and recite. Liz enjoys poetry forms such as the sonnet, the sestina, the couplet, blank verse, simple quatrains, etc. and she hopes to see modern poets regain interest in studied metrical poetry.

Liz is currently putting together her first collection of poems which should be completed this winter. The poems are a mixture of metrical and free verse poems.

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