As I spend time thinking about words, digesting words, rolling them around in my mouth and then my chest, I realize more and more the power of efficiency. Poetry, good poetry, capitalizes on the efficiency of language. So often when I speak, write, or even think, I’m not using the word that I actually mean to use. Being accurate with language is no longer valued in speech. Sure, we all appreciate hearing well-read, witty people share their views, but I rarely make an effort to search for the most accurate description possible. This is pathetic, since I call myself a writer.
Writing poetry daily has forced me to slow down and examine my words. I’m learning how to cut the fat, so to speak. Now I’m learning how important it is to go inside the poem with a scalpel and take out all of the waste.
Perhaps I was drawn to form poetry, namely the sonnet, in college because form demands efficiency.
Brad Leithauser, in an essay titled Poetry and Efficiency for The Best American Poetry’s website, writes of the sonnet:
“Efficiency? Effectiveness? What could be a more effective and efficient human interchange than the one in which someone you’ve never met offers you, in a tidy package of fourteen lines–a gift whose unwrapping will require no more than a minute or two–an intact and insightful new vantage on the universe?”
This accuracy, this efficiency, is necessary in poetry, so that once you cut away the fluffy lines and useless or unclear images, you’re left with the purest, most concentrate words on the page.
I would love to hear any thoughts on word choice and efficiency in poetry, or in life in general! Thanks for reading.
My friend Mari Stanley and I have started exchanging poems for our own little workshop sessions done via email. Now April is here and we both signed up for The Southeast Review’s 30-day Writer’s Regimen. For 30 days we’ll both get a prompt, access to podcasts, a reading-writing prompt, a “craft talk” with an author, and a literary quote delivered to our inbox. I’m pretty excited about it. The challenge is to write a poem a day for 30 days, even if the poem isn’t great. We have to “flex our writing muscles” — and I want to do just that.
Mari also told me about Poetic Asides with Robert Lee Brewer, which will also have a prompt a day for the entire month of April.
Let’s celebrate the enchantment of words!
My good friend the psychiatrist informed me of a way I could make some extra cash. She gave my information to one of her colleagues that teaches at a medical school in the area. I will not disclose here which school.
Before I know it, I’m asked to be a Standardized Patient for a full body exam. I would be the guinea pig that taught med students how to test reflexes, how to properly palpate the liver, how to feel for glands and other exciting things of that sort. The director told me to wear a bathing suit top and shorts, so the doctor could check for horrible diseases without having to disrupt too much clothing.
To my complete and utter horror, when I walked into the exam room, there was only a bed, a doctor, and a cameraman. Whaaaaaat????
And in my head I’m trying to figure out what on EARTH my friend signed me up for. Don’t porn videos have similar beginnings? Where are all the students? I was ready to be funny and witty in front of a group; I was not ready to have my body parts zoomed-in on and then broadcast to a lecture hall of students.
But I quickly forgot my anxieties when I reminded myself how much money I was racking up per hour. I could do this. I can do anything.
The exam was strange, and I was constantly trying not to look directly into the camera, pick my nose, burp, or embarrass myself to the mysterious people watching me. After a while I completely melted away. As the doctor’s hands were percussing, palpating, I was on a boat feeling wind in my hair. I was lying on my own bed, staring at the ceiling, counting sheep. I was calling upon my deepest meditation powers. I barely heard the doctor address the class, and then me.
“Female patients have breasts. But they also have lungs underneath them. Just ask your patient to move their breasts out of the way.”
And then to me: “Could you please push your breasts to the sides?” Done. “Could you push only your left breast to the left?” Done. Listening, breathing, listening. “Now lift your left breast up.” Done. It’s normal, fondling yourself on camera. After three rounds of “lift up your left breast”, I was the perfect puppet. I knew exactly when he wanted to listen to the underbelly of my boob.
After four hours of poking, prodding, palpating and percussing, we were finished. I had made it through a slightly mortifying yet financially lucrative situation. When they asked if I would come back again two days later for another demonstration, I accepted.
Somewhere in here, there’s a poem. I haven’t found it yet. But the things we English majors do for money never ceases to surprise me.
Does anyone want to pay me to write a poem? Or move my breast to the left? I’m pretty good at both.
When someone says “Amy and me were at the mall the other day”, we all wince. When someone forwards you an email with the subject line “send this to ten people or your doomed”, we turn our noses up and hit delete. When your boss sends out a memo reading “employees are wasting to much lunch time”, we physically recoil/roll our eyes/bang our fists.
Why do you work for someone who doesn’t know the difference between too and to? Or –gasp!– why are you working for someone who wouldn’t care about the difference even if you told him?
The trouble with grammar is, no one cares.
Say my mother were correcting you on how to bake cookies. I bet you would listen to her, because you want cookies. But grammar-correction comes with nothing but embarrassment. I’ve embarrassed you because you were wrong. You’ve embarrassed me because everyone thinks I’m a nerd. No one cares about the difference between who and whom.
My boyfriend’s expertise involves math, computers, sound, engineering. He is a very smart audio/electrical engineer, and he frequently attempts to explain his projects to me, and sometimes I even understand them! I, being the nerd that I am, listen with zeal, excited about another academic challenge. Can I follow? Can I understand a tiny fraction of accoustics, with absolutely no training? I am a genius! I knew I could’ve been anything! I just chose to be an English major because it was my passion!…
Wait, why didn’t I choose something else…?
And there. I’ve really gotten away from the point, but I’ve found it again. The point is, you listen to the plumber so you can unclog your drain. You listen to my mom because you love cookies. You listen to my boyfriend because he can tell you how to hook up your electronics. Why do you listen to me?
So I can berate you on your ignorance of homonyms?
There’s really no reason to listen to me. Just read something funny, stimulating, or intelligent. Words on a page don’t talk back; I do.