Poets, like any craftspeople, work best with a good set of tools–interesting, meaningful words. Inspiration may take a draft poem out of the box, but words are the tools that assemble it. The verbal tools that are often hardest for me to keep handy are, well, verbs.
Verbs can serve as an engine in a poem, hefting both cool images and heavy reflections. A strong verb, one with shape and body, functions like a specific drill bit or screw driver, one with a crafted point that will actually get the job done. (Sure, if you are like me, you can try to tighten your loose screws with a quarter or Euro or whatever other coin comes to hand. Just like you can chop cheese by hand because you’ve misplaced your grater. But these efforts don’t always work so well–i.e. your screws fall out and your parmesan is served in big oddly-shaped lumps.)
Keep in mind that all verbs are NOT created equal. Some, passive or generic, are kind of pudgy, blah, while more active verbs can be tensile instruments, verbs that really do things–sift, rattle, splatter, caress.
It is easy to slip into the groove of the passive voice writing poetry, relying for color only on nouns and adjectives — i.e. roses are red, violets are blue. When more active verbs are inserted, however, a whole new dynamic arises; different points of view can be instantly assumed and sharpened: i.e. roses burn, violets frost; roses rouge, violets shadow; roses lip, violets tattoo; roses redline, violets ink; roses kiss, violets weep.
One way of injecting some active verbs (or colorful words of any kind) into one’s poetic tool box involves thinking about a specific craft or trade. Just as specific jobs have specific skill sets, they also have specific verbs. A cook, for example, chops, broils, burns, curses. A carpenter saws, hammers, fingers, curses. (There’s often a bit of overlap.)
These technical verbs can be especially interesting when used in a completely different context from the craft or job with which they are associated–i.e.the ocean braises the beach. The job poached her brain. Her glance peeled his clothing.
An exercise that I sometimes do to spice up my own verb usage is to choose a profession – something relatively manual like a cook or farmer, sailor or sculptor, pirate! (To name a few.) Then, I think make a list of all of the specific actions that people in that job do – the job’s verbs.
With that list in mind, I then try to write about something completely different. For example, if the occupation is nurse, the poem might be about a sunset. If the job is carpenter, the poem might focus on family reunions.
Sticking to one single profession or craft, rather than a bunch of different crafts, is nice as it creates a single extended metaphor.
Here’s a short poem of mine that illustrates the exercise. (The chosen job was butcher.)
The frogs mince the night with
keening chants that haggle with the moon
for precedence: whether still, dead, light can outweigh
the cry of living tissue, deboning the memory
of barefoot afternoon in the black green
lurk, a leather of
heavy leaf and humid longing.
(Some of the butcher verbs: mince, haggle, weigh, debone.)
So! The prompt for today is to pick a craft, trade, job and to think about the specific verbs (or really any words) associated with the craft. Make a list of those words, if it helps to have them in front of you–if you push yourself a little, the list can get quite long. THEN, write about something completely different, incorporating, if you can, some of those specific strong technical verbs.
If you do not want to be bothered with this type of exercise (and I know it’s a SATURDAY!), then think about any craft or trade or job that interests you and use that as a jumping off point. But do try let some of the specific grit and intricacy of the craft’s words inform your poem.
Here’s how it works…
- Write your crafty poem! (If you’d are game to try my job-verb exercise, please do! If you want to just use a craft or job or trade as a jumping off point, go ahead.)
- Post your poem on your blog.
- Click the Mr. Linky button below, and in the new window that opens up input your name and direct url of the poem.
- Visit others who have taken the challenge.