Finding Words

As someone who writes poetry and prose, I spend a lot of time thinking about the best words – the best words in the best order, if you will. Often, however, I find myself frustrated at my own limited vocabulary, my tendency to use the same words and my irritating inability to summon the words I need when I want them. I seem to have come up against the limit of my own capacity to learn new words. I make an effort to assimilate a new one, use it several times in conversations in which it doesn’t really fit, and then forget it again. I wonder if this is a common experience?

I have a beautiful Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus set that my husband bought me for my birthday a couple of years ago. I also have a copy of Skeat’s Etymological Dictionary. These tomes sit accusingly on my shelf, a living embodiment of all the knowledge I do not possess. I brought them to Annaghmakerrig with me in an enormous suitcase last summer and didn’t look at them once. Faced with them, I experience the same anxiety I felt when I started to write poetry; I knew that to improve, I would have to do a huge amount of reading; to find where my voice sits alongside the voices of modern poets and to  unravel the mysteries of their relationships with other poets, both classic and contemporary. But where to begin? I had a slim Sylvia Plath volume and so I tried some Ted Hughes; there was a Selected Yeats in the house, so I tried W.H. Auden; finally, I bought myself the selected Derek Mahon and breathed a sigh of relief. Here was something I could identify with; something that excited me and challenged my notions of what a poem could/ should be. But where to next? The microcosm of poetry can be dizzyingly diverse, sometimes unwelcoming and utterly mysterious. So can the macrocosm of words themselves. Some people slip into the stream of words and paddle around happily, never suffering a crisis of confidence. Others, like me, find themselves overwhelmed.

‘Unputdownable’ (Guardian) ‘gripping’ (Times) and ‘very long’ (Daily Mail)

So how do I cope with this anxiety about my vocabulary? I have a plan to make proper use of my Dictionary/ Thesaurus set, but that hasn’t been put into action yet – in my current nomadic lifestyle I have no dedicated writing space and my dictionaries are locked away in the attic of my rented house.  In the meantime, I’ve decided to try to concentrate on clarity rather than worrying unduly about the impressiveness of the words themselves. I would love to be making use of words like simulacrum, solipsism and sybarite on a regular basis, but for the moment it’s not to be. I hope that my attempts to achieve clarity and precision will mean that readers of my writing can appreciate a message carried by words both humble and familiar.

Late Blooming

A quick post to talk about my reading last week at the Bloom Festival in the Phoenix Park. We arrived (my enormous fan club of three and I) in drizzling rain, which would continue for the entire afternoon, but it was warm and there was a lovely atmosphere – lots of people milling around ‘oo-ing’ at all the flowers and collectively lost for their names. The gardens were all beautiful and made me want to devote my life entirely to creating gorgeous wildflower meadows and getting to know my delphiniums from my digitalis. So that’s another pipe dream for the list…

Two of the bodyguards from my massive entourage take a short break

When the time came to read, I was ushered into a little tent and fed freshly baked carrot cake and coffee. Note to festival organisers everywhere this is how to keep performers happy. If people were to take this on board, there would be no more stroppy mid-concert storm-offs during Guns N Roses concerts.  I then made my way through a secret passage (well, a pathway between the tents) to the Stream of Consciousness stage, where President Michael D had opened the festival earlier. This is the design, which really doesn’t do the finished garden justice (I read on the wooden stage over the water):

Stream of Consciousness Garden

The stage faced into a little thoroughfare and at first I was worried I’d be bellowing at passers-by with the desperation of…well, a poet reciting her verses in the rain on a floating stage. But as soon as I began to read, a nice audience gathered and I even got a round of applause after each poem (I know this isn’t kosher for poetry readings, but it really is nice!)

When I finished reading I had a nice chat with the lovely Annmaria Fagan from Bord Bia who’d organised all the performers and Fiann Ó Nualláin who’d designed the Stream of Consciousness Garden. He had decided he wanted to add a performative element to the garden, because he felt it was important to re-examine the functions and possibilities of corporate spaces, along with public spaces and gardens. It certainly proved a perfect focal point to a relaxed, sociable festival and I was proud to be part of it.