by Susan Wooldridge
|photo by Linzi, morguefile.com|
I have a strong gathering instinct. I collect boxes, hats, rusty flattened bottlecaps for collages and creek-worn sticks to color with my hoard of Berol prismacolor pencils. When I was a kid I’d lie in bed imagining I was a squirrel who lived in a hollow tree, foraging for acorns, twigs and whatever it takes to make squirrel furniture.
Most of us have collections. I ask people all the time in workshops, Do you collect anything? Stamps? Shells? ’57 Chevys? Raccoons? Money? Leopards ? Meteorites? Wisecracks? What a coincidence, I collect them too. Hats, coins, cougars, old Studebakers. That is, I collect the words. Pith helmet, fragment, Frigidaire, Quarrel, love seat, lily. I gather them into my journal.
The great thing about collecting words is they’re free; you can borrow them, trade them in, or toss them out. I’m trading in (and literally composting) some of my other collections—driftwood, acorns and bits of colored Eater egg shell—for words. Words are lightweight, unbreakable, portable, and they’re everywhere. You can even make them up. Frebrent, bezoncular, zuber. Someone made up the word padiddle.
A word can trigger or inspire a poem; and words in a stack or thin list can make up poems. Because I always carry my journal with me, I’m likely to jot down words on trains, in the car, at boring meetings (where I appear to be taking notes), on hikes and in bed....
When I’m playing with words, I don’t worry about sounding dumb or crazy. And I don’t worry about whether or not I’m writing “a poem” word pool. world pool, wild pool, whipoorwill, swing. Words taken out of the laborious structures (like this sentence) where we normally place them take on a spinning life of their own.
- Toss words, say them, sing them, chant, notice and let yourself get excited about them
- Collect nouns and verbs especially. We want the heart and guts: blood, sweat and tears. We want the action: lure, slink, release, trickle, churn
- Label things strangely. Put lightning on a shoe, trigger on a stone. Label a car, spoon. This turns everything upside down and loosens us up.
- Pair verbs with nouns. You might wind up with a tarantula spin or table exiting the long room
- Collect words for things you love. Mix these with your verbs.
- Create a word ocean for your classroom
- Create your personal universe of language that includes at least one word that’s an important abstraction, like truth.
If you were to start collecting words today, what are some favorites you'd add first?
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