Friday, January 14, 2011

Random Word Bank

46º ~ the beautiful sun has been hidden by an expanse of gray clouds, but the temps are staying up, so it's hard to complain, the melt begins

Thanks to Josh's comment from my process notes earlier today, I thought I'd walk y'all through one random word bank experience that resulted in a poem that has since been published, "Late Aubade."  

First:  I began with Pablo Neruda's book Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon, translated by Stephen Mitchell.  Neruda's word choices are divine, and Mitchell does a fabulous job holding true to that in translation as far as I've been told.  (I took French.)  I flipped through some of my favorite poems (the book is well dog-eared) and jotted down lists of words that jumped out at me.  Then, I numbered the words.  Here's the page from my journal.

After I had the list, I went to and used their random number generator.  I created pairs of words based on the roll of the dice, so to speak.  Once I had a healthy number of pairs, lines began to form.  The part that's a bit hard for me is to really keep the pairs random and not to force things.  If I force things, the draft usually ends up stunted.  There's something about the random smashing together of words that sparks lines in my head.   Here's that page from the journal.

You'll see that the second word pair is 'undulate' and 'foxes,' if you can read that mess.  I was probably ready to start drafting right then, but I kept listing the pairs and more sparks resulted.  The first three lines I have here in the journal are:
The foxes undulate
through the ditches filled with
cattails dense and wounded.
You might notice that 'cattails' came up in two different pairs, once with 'dense' and once with 'wounded.'  Having words come up more than once used to bug me, but that's the nature of randomness, and it worked out well in this poem.  Of course, everything gets fine-tuned in revision, so it's all about mindset at this point.

Finally, I was so inspired that I went right to the computer.  Usually, I draft more lines than this in the journal first.  To see the resulting poem, which went through several revisions, please go to the Connotation Press site and read, "Late Aubade."  You have to scroll to the bottom; it's the last poem on the page.

Thanks again, Dear Readers, just for being out there.


Kathleen said...

Yes, love this, and thanks for taking us through. I want all my poetry students to see this--current and past. Must learn to bend time....

Sandy Longhorn said...

Kathleen, just promise that when you learn to bend time, you'll post about the process! :)

drew said...

Sandy -
Thanks so much for the detailed explanation. Just tried this one and had great fun -- the unexpected word combos really took my head, and work, to new places. Thanks!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Drew. So glad you enjoyed it. It's one of my favorites!

SuziG said...

So, I was so excited to see this post and ear-marked it just for this occasion-- a poem due tomorrow. I was noticing that I have been jotting down more verbs than anything & was wondering if you felt your self drawn to particular types of words as well. Also, I just want to say thanks for sharing another awesome idea!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Suzi, so glad you found the prompt worthwhile. I have a poem due today (to myself!) and I'll probably try this one again. You've put a new twist on it for me, though. This time I'm just going to steal VERBS.

I love that you found a pattern in your word bank. I tend to have to remind myself to grab some verbs b/c I get so enamored of the nouns and adjectives (you know my work is adjective heavy, something I've never completely shed, even after so much workshop).

Here's hoping both our drafts are strong and worthy of revision.