Poetry Challenge

One thing I love about poetry is the way you look at words differently. I won’t call myself a poet. I don’t spend nearly enough time on it for that. I know little about forms. Meter and rhyme mostly serve to frustrate me.

But I read this op-ed, and I was thinking. I know some poets. They have beautiful words to share. One thing about those writer groups where you go and take something to read out loud – poetry is perfect for that medium. It’s also easy to print out 20 copies of a poem to share so they can find typos or anything else.

A friend of mine is running a poetry challenge this month, and every day we’re writing a poem. The challenge comes in finding something to say about the prompt – yesterday was Celestial Musings – and not using any of the forbidden words while using all of the required words and it was the first day we had the option of finding a form (any form).

I find it very intimidating to go find a form and just use it. I like it when someone tells me to try a pantoum or a tanka or a jozzonet. There are so many forms out there I’ve never heard of and I’m not sure where to go find them.

When the month is over and I have 30 new poems – because I’m not the kind of person who backs away from a challenge – I’m going back to my novel edits. I’m doing it to look at the words differently. To change how I see them in my head. To alter how they come out while I’m describing things. Wish me luck. I have 17 down and 13 to go.

For the Love of Words

I’m a writer, so it makes sense I’m also a word lover. I have an interesting group of friends that also appreciates words. Some of them are writers, and most read voraciously. We regularly have conversations with words that don’t come up often otherwise.

So sometimes when I encounter a student that doesn’t know a certain word that seems like it should be beneath his level, I wonder. How many of these words did the people in my peer group pick up from their reading habits? There are many thousands of words in the English language. I’ll admit I don’t know a fair chunk of them. Only one visit to Save The Words¬†convinced me that there are many words in danger of extinction because the majority of the populace doesn’t use them.

How does someone figure out what level a word is? Sure, a word like blue is in the vocabulary of most with a high degree of understanding, with the exception of the percentage of population who are blind or color-blind in the blue spectrum.

An interesting thing at Word Count is that it counts instances used in our language. While it may not be a good measure of the difficulty of a word, since some large words are used a lot in business settings or to make fun of manager-speak – it can give insight into the exposure a person might have to a certain word.

A somewhat random sampling of their ranking includes:
the – 1
and – 3
blue – 973
navy- 4252
cerulean – 69082 (For those who don’t know, it’s a shade of blue.)
conquistador – 86800 (And the last word listed at the moment.)

It kept me busy yesterday finding the approximate relation of all the rainbow colors. It also helped me understand why some people might have a common vocabulary in the beginning stages, but learn words sporadically as the rank increases.

What direction would you wander in to find the relative difficulty of a word? How do you choose which words to use for whatever level of reader you want to target in your writing? How often do you use some strange word because it’s exactly the one you need even if it requires someone to check in a dictionary? The word lover in me is poised on the edge of my chair to know.

A Word on People

Do you wonder how the expectation of the words we use as writers?

Take people, for instance. Normally it means humans, but is that only because we haven’t met other species yet? Sometimes I find I need new words, or at least new connotations, in my science fiction.

We have limitations in our language because of our experiences. Other species, other creatures, other intelligences inhabit the imagination, but until they’re actually found, or someone writes a convincing story from another point of view, we lack words to describe some things. Making do seems the only good course.

Heinlein created a word in his book, Stranger in a Strange Land. I can’t say everyone knows it today, the word ‘grok‘ that the Martians had, but it is in the dictionary as the link shows. That’s a sign of success, influencing enough of the population to change language in that way.

To think, most people measure success by dollar signs.