Those of us who consider ourselves to be creative writers want, most of all, to be able to control words. Though we may not think of it as control, I suggest the word fits. Careful word control can make ideas clear to others. Control exposes emotions felt by our characters and creates emotion in readers. Control builds suspense, paints word pictures, sets a stage, explains an event. (This could be a long list, couldn’t it?) Control makes words do what we want them to.
I am not talking about self-control, about keeping our cool, about stopping the angry shout before it happens. That’s not the kind of control I mean, though the two are related. This is about making words do nifty things because we want them to.
If, as writers, we need to practice word control–how do we learn this control, practice it, show it off?
I suggest we can learn, practice, and show it by writing poetry. Yes, that’s what I said, write poetry.
YES, you can!
Poetry has been a means of self-expression, born from word control, for centuries.
“Full fathoms five thy father lies;/ Of his bones are coral made;//Those are pearls that were his eyes:/Nothing of him that doth fade,/ But doth suffer a sea-change/Into something rich and strange./ Sea -nymphs hourly ring his knell: Ding-dong./Hark! now I hear them–ding-dong bell.” (“Full Fathoms Five” by William Shakespeare)
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–/I took the one less traveled by,/And that has made all the difference.” ( From “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost)
“I never spoke with God,/ Nor visited in heaven;/Yet certain am I of the spot/As if a chart were given.” ( From “I Never Saw a Moor” by Emily Dickinson)
“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways./I love thee to the depth and breadth and height/My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight/For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.” (From “How Do I Love Thee” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning)
“Hark to the whimper of the sea-gull;/He weeps because he’s not an ea-gull/Suppose you were, you silly sea-gull,/Could you explain it to your she-gull?” ( “The Sea-Gull” by Ogden Nash)
“I stood at 6:00 a.m. on the wharf,/thinking: This is Independence, Missouri./I am to stay here. The boat goes on to New Orleans./My life seemed minutes old, and here it was ending.” (From” Someone’s Blood” by Rita Dove.)
“I wish the fall would not arrive/just yet – /I need a bit more time to pay/my debt./I wish the meadows would not turn/to flame -/I wish encroaching snowfalls would not come – /Nor birds forsake the glen/Nor icy winds begin/For I am without a scarf to wrap my heart. (“A Wish” by Charles Doss–written from his prison cell in Arizona.)
“But these are famous poets,” you may say. Um, maybe. But you are as able to control words as they. Just get quiet–and think your words out. “No one is going to hear but you/ unless you want them to.” (Ohmygosh–I rhymed.)
There’s this: “Mary had a little lamb,/Its fleece was white as snow,/And everywhere that Mary went,/The lamb was sure to go.”
Or this: “Oklahoma morning, Oklahoma night, We’re on your side, Fight team, fight.”
See what I mean?
Try it now. Swing the words out, and remember, they do not have to rhyme. Rhythm is good. Rhyme is your choice.