Posts Tagged ‘compression’

Words for Poetry

September 20, 2011

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.



September 18, 2011

I’m leaving the initial invitation from WordPress to begin a blog as it has taken me around seven months from creating the site cjheries to actually adding any content.

It is a post Art is Everything by Julia Fry, a fellow member of Writing Our Way Home, to spur me into action.

Julia is concerned that a short piece of hers about falling in love with a splendid cake may not be suitable for WOWH – hard as the founders and owners of WOWH, Fiona and Kaspa, try to encourage members to write whatever comes to mind, and has numerous groups into which your piece may “fit”, there is still the hangover (from schooling for many of us, I suspect) to constrain us to place any particular piece of writing or visual which we create into an apt box.

There is no doubt that WOWH encourages members to begin with “short forms” (or pebbles or stones as members refer to them), and there is an unspoken pressure to be brief – Twitter tries for a similar push towards condensing language, as do the limits on comment-length on social networking sites.

Blogs like this one, as an instance, have no such constraints other than those the blogger decides to abide by for him or herself, unlike the blogs one may create within a community such as WOWH.

The lure of compression is also apparent in poetry being published in the U.K. at the moment as a glance at any of the popular poetry magazines (if any poetry magazine can ever be described as popular) such as magma, Smiths Knoll or The North, or study of the “under 30 lines” limit on so many competition entry. Some publishers even market their prose titles as “can be read in under 2 hours” as though reading has become sprinting training.

Today is the day of the annual Great North Run up in the North-East of England, and, whereas like most half-marathon and marathon runs do contain a genuine race for elite athletes, the chief purpose of most of those taking part is to raise cash for just about every registered charity in the U.K.

My purpose here is to try to understand the urge which grips people (often totally non-athletic people) to equate distance running with support for charities – why do we do it, and in such numbers, and why do local populations turn out in such force to cheer on the participants?

Contributions will be very welcome.