Collecting Words


Why do you write?

For many people, poetry is a vehicle of self-expression. They write because they have something to say.

For me, it’s all about playing with language. Words are like gaudy costume jewelry, and I’m a little girl playing dress up.

In her book PoemcrazySusan Goldsmith Wooldridge suggests collecting words, literally cutting words out and taping them on those “Admit One” tickets that come in big rolls. In her workshops, she often has participants (often kids in juvenile detention centers) create wordpools–lists of words from which they can make a poem. It’s like magnetic poetry, but better because it can be any word you want. You can even toss in some foreign words.

I used to use this assignment with my own students (I taught high school English for a hundred years or so). We would make word tickets and keep them in a box. On poetry-writing days, I’d have students draw out a handful of words. They didn’t have to use them all–and they could trade if they needed to. The point was to get them started, to push beyond the blank page, and to make the language of their poems more alive (and surprising) than it otherwise might have been.

So this is your assignment: start a wordpool. Or you can think of it as a word-hoard, which is the Old English word for vocabulary. Use tickets if you’d like. Steal words from everywhere. Keep them in a box and pull some out when you need them.

Here are my words for today:

explore, shallow, detectives, cottage, green-skinned, intrepid, guises

We are intrepid detectives,
Green-skinned explorers,
Spiraling across the night sky,
Diamonds flung into space.
Or maybe we’re just
Sunburned cats,
Khaki-sporting cottage-dwellers,
enamored of our own wistful guises.

Now write your own poem. Use my words or gather your own.




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