Poetry: Part 1 Words and meaning

I’ve talked about the rhythm we can create with words and the emotion we can convey with them.  What I’d like to do now is talk about meaning.

The values we assign to words depend on our experiences, or point of reference and our culture– the key when writing, especially when writing poetry is to find the words that resonate on a very primal level.

Poetry takes us away from the head (unless you’re writing sonnets which are poetic word puzzles I have yet to master) and focuses on the heart, maybe even the spirit.

Pull out a thesaurus, and look up a feeling, like “fear.” Synonyms of fear include: angst, despair,  dismay, dread, panic, terror. They all mean fear, but they bring out different aspects of a very primal thing.  Take a minute to try them out.

Read them, speak them… taste them.  They all feel different, some stronger, some softer: each has a different value.

Fear is soft in comparison to dread but sometimes it’s the softness that is poetic.

Fear comes to me as a mistress cold
She grabs at me until I cannot breathe
And leaves my lungs aching for release
I scream, but there is no air to give my terror voice.

Here I gave the fear a human form and, if I did it right, gave the feeling we have in nightmares where we’re so afraid we cannot even scream. In prose, I would be left with describing it, but with poetry, I can paint the picture… guide the reader to my values and hopefully fill in some of the blanks, while allowing them to assign their own values and meanings.


Each word has a different meaning, but when you combine them, they lead the reader to yet another value… Afraid is one thing, but being unable to breathe, to have that which we need to survive denied us, and then, being unable to call out, to truly be trapped by that fear… that is the power of meaning.

The poet’s job is to convey that primal fear without losing it in words.

Just a thought.

October 27, 2013

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