Words for Poetry

Only Connect

From time to time there seems to spread a contagion attempting to erase from the vocabulary of poetry a word or two which seems to the campaigners to be currently overused.  The present whipping-boy seems to be the word “shard” which has taken quite a battering from contributors to the online blog of the excellent magazine magma.

The coverage given to this term reminded me to go back to a 1997 poem by Dorothy Nimmo published in the Vintage Original New Writing 6 edited by A.S. Byatt and Peter Porter:


Perhaps we could all agree to avoid the word

filigree.  Do any of you still remember

those pierced silver dishes filled with Turkish Delight,

grapes or nuts set among folded napery

(and that word too should be avoided)?  What would we lose

if that image was no longer available?


How do we feel about stipple?  Are we happy

with pock?  Patina?  Lambent?  These words are under threat,

their future uncertain but how would we describe

the interlocking rings of raindrops on water?

The distant sound of tennis on summer evenings?

The richly weathered surface of garden bronzes?


I would like to apply for a licence for pock,

stipple, shard, patina, lambent, filigree.

I feel under an obligation to keep them

alive when so much is endangered.  Could they be

recycled?  Tigree, stippent, lambock, stopple, filipat.

It might be kinder to let them go quietly.


Faraway a pock-a-pock-a and the evening sky

stippled, lambent.  The long high note of filigree

screams thinly for the last time gree! gree! and falls

apart and the fragments go fluttering across

the moon.  Ock lam ipp ent sha … sha … sha …

whispering into the silence.

Dorothy Nimmo

New Writing 6 (Anthology)   ISBN 0-09-954551-9  

I’m sure that a great many of the population divide quite neatly into those of us such as Dorothy Nimmo (and me) who delight in the gigantic range of vocabulary available to us, and who quite welcome the excuse to look up not only the dictionary definition of an unfamiliar word, but also its thesaurus variants and potential usage, and the “plain speech” tribe who recoil from any expressions which are not in their daily vocabulary, and resent anyone who dares to stray from the accepted parlance of their tribe.

The poem carries me along with it for its first three stanzas, and the selected words are favourites of mine too, especially “pock” which I remember especially not only for my own afterschool hours, but for their exact description by James Joyce in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

But I don’t believe the coinings in the final stanza are successful or necessary – I believe in Dorothy Nimmo’s case less would have meant more, and closing the poem with the final line of Stanza Three would have left the reader to make the decision.

Over to you if you’d like to comment.


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