For the love of beautiful language…

[edited from a post I wrote in 2016]

My writer friends, do you ever find yourself using the same or similar words and phrases over and over again? It’s inevitable. We tend to write the way we talk. Most of us use a characteristic phraseology that makes up our everyday language. Our speech may be reflective of the region we live in, our ethnic origins or even our age. While these peculiarities lend color and flavor to our writing, even they can get repetitive after a while. It will be especially evident if we write longer fiction pieces or novels. What can we do to add variations to the words we pen?

Some of my earliest writing was in the form of poetry. That is not a coincidence. Poetry is introduced to us in the cradle by means of nursery rhymes and bedtime lullabies. As we grow and mature into our teen years and beyond, often music becomes a huge influence. Thus the lyrics of songs speak to us the way nothing else can. Many musicians like Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, Patty Smith, Joni Mitchell, and Bruce Springsteen are considered to be not just song writers but poets as well.

Anthropologically, poetry in the form of song or saga has been used to help the balladeer or the skald keep the oral history of a people alive through story telling. It is some of the earliest writing ever discovered. The Epic of Gilgamesh, for example, dates back to 2000 BCE. Another Sumerian text, The Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor, may be even older than that.

What am I getting at, you ask? Poetry composition can be a delightful way to hone our skills in using creative vocabulary and illustative terminology. “But, I don’t want to be a poet,” you say. Shut up, yes you do. Here’s why…

I do enjoy writing poetry, but it is not my main avenue of expression. I am primarily a fiction writer. However, composing poetry demands that we paint a picture with our words, if you will. Putting things into verse, even if the verse doesn’t rhyme, pushes you to use descriptive and colorful terms that you wouldn’t use in day-to-day speech.

In describing my front lawn, for example, you could simply state, “the lawn was full of dead dandelions,” and that would be true! Before you write that ask, “What do those dandelions remind me of?” “What idea do they conjure?” They are dead, so how about headstones in a graveyard? They are skinny, so how about emaciated refugees fleeing a disaster or famine? They have tufts of thin, white spores… does that remind you of hair or clouds or even foam at the crest of a wave? Now write it like this, “Like a wave of fleeing refugees, the dandelions marched across the expanse of grass.”

I didn’t write a poem, but I wrote a poetic sentence. Obviously, a little of that can go a long way, too. Every sentence does not have to be metaphorical in nature. But in the right place, it can transform ordinary writing into extraordinary writing. I encourage you, if you have not attempted to write poetry before now, give it a try. Follow other poets here on WordPress; there are a multitude of talented poets to choose from. Learn the different styles and structures. Perhaps you will find you want to be a poet, after all!

Monday Morning Coffee

Today marks two weeks to go until the sale of the house. We fly out the very next day. As you might imagine, my time has been filled with tasks related to the move. Since no writing whatsoever has been getting done, I haven’t been posting much either. But if we were to sit down and have a cup of coffee together and you asked me what was happening in my life, this is what I’d tell you:

  • We moved my mother to a very nice senior citizen residence in late May. I’m still running back and forth delivering items she left behind and organizing her place. Fortunately, she seems to really like it and is making friends. It’s a funny thing though… she realizes her age being around other older folks. She said she’s going to get old now that she’s with them instead of with us.
  • Older people leave a debris field in their wake. When mom left her part of the house it still looked occupied. I’ve been purging and cleaning all the stuff she left behind. I’m taking the last load to the thrift store today.
  • Meanwhile, my own stuff is nearly packed. All that’s left is the kitchen gear that I will use until the end and our personal items like clothes, etc.
  • Our shipping crate should arrive this week. When we fill it and send it on its way, it will take 6-8 weeks to arrive at our door in Ireland. One of my packed bags for the plane will carry a minimum of daily life essentials like a small pan, a small pot and a couple kitchen utensils. Can’t be eating at the pub every night!
  • We aren’t taking any furniture with us. The biggest items going along are my easel and my grandmother’s hope chest. That chest came with her when she immigrated to America from Scotland in 1921. Now it’s going back across the Atlantic with me almost 100 years later.
  • Now the really difficult part has started. We’ve been getting together with all our good friends to say goodbye. These are friends that have become our family for the last 26 years of living in Bucks County. Fortunately, many of them are enthusiastic travelers so we expect lots of visitors. Even so, saying goodbye is never easy. I’m feeling the weight of it.
  • Among all the chaos, we remain excited and anticipatory for this move. It’s an adventure, a fresh start and a brand new book waiting to be written.

For the Birds

I love all four seasons, but this time of year has to be my favorite. I have all the windows open overnight so that I wake in the morning to the sound of the birds singing. Our current house is technically in the suburbs but it’s nestled in the woods on a narrow, lonely road. I’ve always said it’s the best of both worlds —five minutes from civilization but it feels like you’re in the country. The birdsong is deafening at sunrise. For me —not generally a morning person— it’s the only kind of wake up call I can tolerate.

I’ve drawn the birds to our yard with feeders —hummingbird feeders in the summer, thistle and black oil sunflower seed in the colder months. I have wild raspberry bushes growing along the perimeter of the woods which I’ve left uncultivated so the birds and deer can have the berries. I’ve enjoyed watching them discreetly from the windows and snapping photos with the zoom lens. Bright red cardinals against the blinding white of snow, goldfinches and purple finches competing for seeds, three kinds of woodpeckers mistaking the house siding for wood [and sounding like a machine gun at 5 AM!] bluebirds, and once an indigo bunting. It was a rare and unexpected treat to have a mass of starlings gather on the front lawn before rising as one in murmuration.

That’s just a sample of the varieties that populate my little patch of earth. With the melting of snow come the robins —those early harbingers of spring. But I always know the season is in full swing when the Baltimore Orioles arrive. Their distinct song is a two-toned warble and one of the most beautiful natural sounds on earth. Yesterday, I heard my oriole in the morning —summer is just around the corner.

I’m leaving behind my Audubon Society Guide to North American Birds. But I promise that the first book I buy in my new home will be a Guide to the Birds of Ireland. And a new feeder will go up in the garden at my little house in Headford.

Header image thanks to Hinterland