Erin's Poetry Tips

40 tips to poetry and poetry forums

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Vocabulary


It’s 11 o’clock, do you know where your thesaurus is?


One of the defining devices of poetry is vocabulary. Poetry is a distinct and determined effort to avoid common language. The most basic building block of our entire field of literature is vocabulary -- new words, beautiful words, uncommon, unusual an interesting words, more words than most of us keep stored in our minds. This means that when we can’t find a ‘good’ enough word in our own brains, we must strive to find one elsewhere.

This is where the thesaurus comes in. I personally find mine indispensable. I can honestly say that the most prized gift I’ve received from my husband in 13 years of birthdays and Christmases was the thesaurus he gave me a few years ago. I have since worn it to the same condition as the one I had been using at the time; it’s pages are bent and dog-eared, the cover is scuffed, the binding is broken, and I love it. (I wonder if he knew then how many brownie points he would earn himself with a ten dollar gift?)

The significance of vocabulary is indescribable. I doubt I can offer any more valuable advice to poetry writers than to advise them to expand their vocabulary base. The thesaurus is an excellent tool to aid in this expansion. There are innumerable synonyms for most every word in our language, and hundreds of thousands of them lie waiting, like buried gold, in its pages. But you have to be careful when using a thesaurus to use words with the correct intonation and mood, and to employ them properly as far as inverting the usage. Be careful not to sound as if you opened the thing and used the first synonym you came across.

I also advise you to read. Read, a lot, read poetry and fiction and non-fiction and newspapers and novels, just READ! Sign up for “word of the day” email notices (such as they have at dictionary.com. ) Keep a dictionary handy, for the times when you read or hear a word you don’t know the definition of. Another activity I enjoy that also exposes you to new words is completing the daily crossword puzzle.

Regardless of how you do it, make a conscious effort to learn new words as often as possible, and definitely make use of a thesaurus. If you don’t own a copy of one, you can buy a copy for about $10, and until you do, there are several online to make use of (Thesaurus.com and Mirriamwebster.com are two that come immediately to mind.) Also, most word processing programs have one bundled in with their tools – use it.

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