Landscape of language
Last week I sent out a post to friends praising The Guardian which has a feature called The Saturday Poem. “Another reason to love The Guardian,” I rang out into the still dark of Saturday morning.
With roots as a poet in my first and earliest writing life, I find myself drawn to The Guardian for the news, yes, but also because my appetite for language is well fed, even far from the poetry page. There are not many places left where I can delight in words such as crag, scree or beck, and not many publications left that give space to writers who use those words or mention Wordsworth.
Words like these contain history. They are old words. They are good words. They are words poets know. In them are the roots of an older language. Our older earth selves.
“He clasps the crag with crooked hands,” Alfred Lord Tennyson writes in the opening line of his poem “The Eagle.” Ah, and we can see him, can’t we?
These are words with descriptive heft and a particular texture on the tongue. Without a photo snapped on a smartphone, these words immediately conjure a landscape for the mind. Or they should.
In this age of streaming, tweeting, and posting, language is too often asked to succumb to the grab for market share. First, it becomes a watery simplification, a verbal gruel in order to allow skimming and rapid digestion. Next, it becomes unknown. Notice I did not say unknowable, but unknown. Lost among bright icons and then cast out of the lexicon like an old shoe.
Of course there are many different genres and styles of writing. Not every word works in every situation. Yet if you approach language as a rich and varied landscape to be discovered, if you seek it out in your reading, you'll find your writing benefits.
Still not sure what a crag is? “Look it up,” my mother used to say, “and then it will be your word.” How frustratingly wise.
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