Sunday, October 21, 2012

Wordly Writing Exercises

Playful words make learning writing fun.

Just ask anyone who has discovered The Transitive Vampire (a handbook of grammar for the innocent, the eager and the doomed) which includes dissections of such sentences as:
Meet me under the magnolia at twilight without your wig
The robot and the dentist tangoed beneath the stars
Leopold's bloomers are lost!

Some of the earliest poetry we encounter is nonsense verse, like the Jabberwocky from Alice Through the Looking Glass, or the poems of Edward Lear. And of course we can't forget Dr. Seuss.

The poetry of make believe words may seem silly, but learning the cadence of words is an important part of writing. As former poet laureate Billy Collins said in one interview:
Another [influence] is my interest in bridge columns. I don’t play bridge. I have no idea how to play bridge, but I always read Alan Truscott’s bridge column in the Times. I advise students to do the same unless, of course, they play bridge. You find language like, South won with dummy’s ace, cashed the club ace and ruffed a diamond. There’s always drama to it: Her thirteen imps failed by a trick. There’s obviously lots at stake, but I have no idea what he’s talking about. It’s pure language. . . 
Of course, coming up with useful nonsense words isn't always easy.

The blog Pen to Paper offers up this intro to inventing your own way of saying things in Juxtaposition or Just Plain Silly. Or try this exercise from the book What If? - simply invent names for the following (examples taken from the book):
  • Desert Town (Drymouth)
  • Race Horse (Windpasser)
  • Planet (Pica)
  • Chihuahua (Bruno's Lunch)
  • Poetry Collection (Camphor, Floral, Mint, Musk)
  • Burglar (Nick Spieze)
  • Lipstick (Screaming Salsa)
  • Polluted River (Floop River)
  • Summer Cottage (Bric-a-brac)
And finally, you can always turn the tables by choosing real words to receive imaginary definitions through the dictionary game. This game has multiple forms (including on the radio program Says You and the board game Balderdash) but the rules are pretty simple, outlined here.

Have fun!

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