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Sunday, September 23, 2012

With a Little Help From My Friends

I just emailed two of my sisters asking them about their work as potters, so I could make sure I was getting a metaphor straight.

I love asking my friends and family for help with details I need for my poems. Once I wanted to write about water, about how water sounds so different in its myriad of forms. I wanted one stanza for rain, one for a stream, one for a river, one for the ocean. I emailed everyone I knew and asked them to write out in letters the sound of rain, the sound of a stream, and so on (not words, but letters, the transcription of rain for instance). Then I tallied up the letters that got used the most to describe each kind of water, and in each stanza I focused on using words that employed those letters heavily to capture the sound of that form of water.

Recently I use Facebook a lot to ask my friends if they are familiar with certain words that I think might be too obscure, or to ask what the word is for an item I can describe but have no name for, or I ask their advice on grammatical matters. I could use databases from corpus linguistics (databases of words collected from thousands of sources of actual usage in print) to ferret out some of these items (I learned about this as part of my studies in applied linguistics), but it's more fun to see what other people in my life and from my past have to say. Do they remember a certain fad from our childhood era? Do they know what a one-armed bandit is? Would they say "the secret to baking" or "the secret of baking"?

Connecting with family and friends over these minutiae, which are momentarily extremely important to me while I am building a poem, makes me feel less alone in my mind as it bangs about trying to get everything right. And it's gratifying how generous people are with their time, their opinions, their expertise. Thanks to everyone who's helped me with my random questions, who will help me with the ones I have yet to dream up.

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