Poplollies & Bellibones

A writer is naturally a logophile, a lover of words.  Words are our charcoals, pencils, inks, paints and film cameras.  Writing is a mixture of archeology, art, music and synesthesia.   The writer yearns to unearth the language to create depictions that can be seen, heard and felt, often in ways that transcend the literal meaning of the words themselves.

That’s why “lost words” are so interesting.   I recently came across a used copy of Poplollies & Bellibones:  A Celebration of Lost Words  by Susan Kelz Sperling in a bookstore.  This book resurrects words that are considered obsolete, seldom used in today’s writing or speech, many of them Elizabethan, many of them referring to customs, beliefs or objects that have fallen out of use.  They vividly describe a visceral Jabberwocky of the past that breaths new life into the way we use language.

Here are some examples:

A bit of a chitty-face (pinched face), with a bugle-beard (shabby beard), he globbed (swallowed greedily) too much bellytimber (food), and became a porknell (fat person).  Arriving too late for the maw-wallop (a badly cooked mess of food), he had to kiss the hare’s foot (have only scraps).  At sparrow-fart (daybreak), the scrow (sky) gave him gwenders (cold shivers).  He listened to a fliperous (gossiping) flerd (fraud), which led him to become widdershins (misfortunate).  His wife firefanged (scorched) the eggs and the smoke made her gleed (squint-eyed).  There was garboil (commotion) outside, so she yelled, “Gardyloo!” and poured dirty water into the street.  Her husband had a nose of wax (fickle personality) and treated her with pumpkinification (exaggerated praise), though she was a drassock (drab woman), while he indulged a poplolly (mistress) on the side.  His mistress was a bellibone (pretty lass), but was often carked (anxious) and fizgig (frivolous).

These “lost words” remind us how extraordinary language can enhance our descriptive palettes.

Of course, pyrotechnics can only go so far in writing.  In a recent sketching class, our instructor was discussing the power of the visual and ways of seeing, and shared a descriptive fragment from his sketchbook:  “she was wearing the reddest coat possible.”  This simple phrase blooms with color.

Everything Is a Mirror

Organic Fractal by Sven Geier

Organic, an original fractal by Sven Geier

Everything Is a Mirror was the title of the “Night Owl” adult workshop I attended this week at the Telling Room. Subtitled “Nonfiction and the Art of Interpretation,” I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Instructor Jaed Coffin turned out to be a great teacher, full of energy and ideas. Although the workshop was targeted to memoir and nonfiction, most of the ideas were applicable to fiction as well, and since I am interested in essay writing, criticism and journalism, besides fiction and poetry, it sounded interesting. And it was.

I have been to a small slew of creative writing workshops, and a lot of them feature a published author, writing prompts, writing time, and some relatively gentle critiquing. I’ve always found them valuable for the interactions, insights and motivational aspects, but sometimes they can get repetitive. It’s hard to teach great writing — to convey where it comes from and how you do it. This workshop was a departure from the norm, in that there was a lot of discussion about narrative structure and theory. Jaed had some extremely practical advice on how to tap into the most energized synapses within a narrative. We also discussed how narrative often has an underlying theme or themes of which the writer is not even aware. Some of his ideas were a little formulaic, but they were good and useful ideas.

This workshop made me really think about how dominant the desire for linear narrative can be. Life isn’t really linear (though we often look at it that way), but chaotic. We try to impose order on reality, but we actually experience it in complex and startling ways. Reality is often synaesthetic. Every moment is a fragment of a multidimensional web of memories, thoughts, cultural references, psychology, fears, desires, etc. We are interconnected with the world in aggregates of ways. We don’t live, we collide. Why should writing or art be any different? Truly interesting writing explores those interconnections, the places where the synergy happens. In my own writing I can tell the difference between a boring, plodding passage and a lively, gripping one. That excitement needs to drive the narrative. Sure, order is useful and traditional narrative is very effective. But sometimes mixing up the process a bit can be good too. There is magic in the unexpected. New approaches are invigorating. There are patterns in the chaos.



Winter Flowers 1 by Annie Seikonia

The Word of the Day is “ensorcelled”:  from the Free Dictionary: en·sor·cell or en·sor·cel  (n-sôrsl)

tr.v. en·sor·celled or en·sor·celed, en·sor·cel·ling or en·sor·cel·ing, en·sor·cells or en·sor·cels

To enchant; bewitch.

[French ensorceler, from Old French ensorcerer, ensorceler : en-, intensive pref.; see en-1 + sorcier, sorcerer; see sorcerer.]

en·sorcell·ment n.
As in:  She was ensorcelled by the delicate calligraphy of the remnants of Queen Anne’s lace.  By November the living lace had become embalmed by autumn, transformed into a spectral version of summer’s intricate ballet of miniscule white blossom and dense green stalks.