Monthly Archives: November 2013

Walt Whitman and the origin of all poems

My favorite part of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” is where he promises the reader the origin of all poems and that you’ll no longer take things at second hand. “You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me, / You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.” He’s not going to impart information so much as show us a new way of looking at the world, and then turn us loose to look for ourselves.

Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self. Continue reading

Cliché is the box food of language; plus, Orwell on abstract words

Kraft Mac & Cheese boxLast time I looked at how children are often better poets than teens or adults because they haven’t yet mastered the usual, clichéd ways of expressing oneself. Today I want to look (briefly) at how language shapes thought. George Orwell considers this in “Politics and the English Language,” which is mostly about language as propaganda, but which also offers provocative advice for writers: Continue reading

“Let’s be-say”: What we can learn from children as natural poets

I remember the girl next door who was a few years younger than me. One day she wanted to play and I found that I knew a word she didn’t: pretend.

“Let’s be-say,” she said.

I don’t remember how old she was. Just old enough to understand pretending, but not old enough to know the word. And I was just old enough to know that “be-say” was clever, but wrong. For some reason it has stuck with me all these years. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I had witnessed how language evolves: we build with the tools at hand, combining and adapting them to new purposes and meanings. And, at least at first, before an expression is either rejected as incorrect (”No, you mean ‘pretend.’”) or it becomes a cliché — the result is poetry. Continue reading

The impotence of proofreading

Just for fun. This has been out for several years, but a colleague just sent me the link. As an editor I’ve warned writers and students before about the dangers of failing to proofreading, or of trusting spell check… but never as memorably as this guy. Continue reading