Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Perfect Word

If you don't believe that ideas originate in the ether and are transmitted into brains that are operating on the correct frequency, witness John Corrigan's entry on poetry, below. You will notice that his theme this week is quite similar to mine. I have stolen other people's ideas on more than one occasion, but in this case I can assure you that this time it's simply
a matter of similar brain vibes.

Poetry is in the air. I have mentioned more than once that my husband, Don Koozer, is a poet who has had many dozens of his pieces published in small literary magazines. Last year Bellowing Arc Press published an entire book of his work, and just this month eight of his pieces were published in a new anthology called Current: A Journal of Experimental and Metaphysical Poetry, from a very small poetry publisher called Primeval Press out of Seattle.*

A poet is continually striving to distill something as huge as a universal truth into a single image. This is a skill that is invaluable in good story-telling. No matter what sort of thing you write, learning to construct poetry will improve your narrative skills like nothing else will. I heard a Famous Author say that one of the best things he ever did to improve his prose style and technique was to learn to write poetry. I’ve pondered this statement, and I must agree that there is nothing like poetry to teach you how to use the fewest possible words to make the biggest possible impact on the reader.

The amazing thing is that once you have written a few poems, once you have learned to fit your idea into the shortest possible form, your long-form style automatically changes without your having to even think about it. Your prose gains a vigor that it didn’t have before, because its power is no longer dissipated in a miasma of unnecessary words.

Anyone who is enamored of words knows what it’s like to try and find that perfect word to convey the subtle shade of meaning you want to convey. The first drafts of my novels are filled with blank spaces, because even though I can think of one hundred nouns/verbs/descriptors that would be perfectly adequate in that place, I know the Absolutely Perfect Word exists, and I can’t quite come up with it. However, I can’t afford to spend fifteen minutes wracking my brain for it, so I leave a blank and torture myself with it on the rewrites. Sometimes I do end up having to use one of those one hundred almost-right words, but when I do, I feel a sense of failure for not having adequately communicated with the reader.

If you ask an author why he writes, the better and probably more successful writers will answer that it’s because they love language. I think that learning how to manipulate language is akin to learning to manipulate the keys of a piano. Language is our instrument, and if we don’t practice, study, experiment, and play with it, we might end up writing “Chopsticks” instead of Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor”.

This very morning Don told me that he thinks of poetry as "the music of literature". I'll leave you with one of his very short poems from the anthology and let you judge for yourself.

The rising moon stops me
on the illumined road
I never thought
the first person I'd meet
would be myself.
*So hot off the press it is not yet available on Amazon.
Primeval Press
PO Box 65144
Seattle, WA 98155

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