Shit. I don’t want to be the one to bring this up, but I have to.
We all cheat in some way—whether it’s finding inspiration from the indexes of poetry anthologies or twisting the title of our favorite song into something incoherent but meaningful. We’re thieves. For me, my half-nutty need for perfection mingles nicely with my meticulous melancholy just enough to create the perfect storm of obsessive word choices. Obsessive. Ob. sess. ive. You thought line breaks were bad…
It’s a poem, right, and so word choices are pretty damn important. I would argue MORE important than prose, speaking to differences in size/line-lengths alone. I’m sure I’ll get whacked for that one. (Sorry, prosers.) Rhythm is important too. Alliteration. Listen, kids, I work in marketing so I know a thing or two about alliteration. (And it’s killing me softly.) For all of these reasons, repeating words in a poem are like orange suits in a line-up. Guilty.
“Don’t you ever, ever, ever pick up a thesaurus!” I can still hear my undergrad professor belch.
Of course, she didn’t know we were all guilty of the right-click-Synonyms function in Word. Pshhht. Like we’d pick up a real book if we didn’t have to. Writing majors or not, we were 18.
So I stopped. No more right-click-Synonyms for me. No. Instead, I dizzied myself tediously with nouns and verbs and adjectives. Whatev.
That was until my grad school professor pulled out her Roget’s and flashed it in front of the class like an insult.
“Here’s what you need,” she said.
We’re all different writers. Some revise, some don’t. Some simply flow and let the words come, probably finding this damned post itself a tedious foxtrot. But for those of us putting together manuscripts, submissions or series, we start to notice our word choices. We repeat things. The first time you said “orbit” was coolio—but after the third time, it becomes your very own homemade cliché. Wait, you used the color green seven times in nine pages? Um, maybe there’s something to that. I’m all about imagery reoccurrences and looping themes and yada-ya, but maybe you weren’t really plotting so well.
I mean, pulling together poems to form a manuscript is like lassoing a zillion moments in your head, thoughtspaces where language has since evolved.
The bottom line is be wary of repeated words. If you notice it, the reader will probably notice it more so. It’s okay to go back and read just for your vocabulary choices, especially you, poets.. But the thesaurus? Hmm… I can’t say yet. I’m not sure if it’s right, but yes I do it. I just know there are rules if you do:
- Don’t be a freshman and choose words you can’t pronounce just because they look smart.
- Think about the time period of your newfound thesaurus word—is it too archaic or out-of-date?
- Be cautious not to stray from your intended meaning. Just because Roget’s says that’s what you want, it might not be so.
- Lastly and this is the big one—don’t tell anyone you do it. Ha! And as my dad used to say, “Lie even if they have pictures.”
So after all that huffing and puffing, I am really trying to get to you. Where do you go for inspiration? Have you tried Blackout Poetry or stream-of-conscience writing or listening to Kenny G with your typewriter? How do you overcome your DIY clichés and repetition? And more importantly, how do you feel about the thesaurus? I’d love to know.
C’mon, where my fellow right-click-Synonymers at? You can tell me.