12.12: Words as Words, with Linda Addison

Your Hosts: Howard and Dan, with Special Guest Linda Addison

Linda Addison joined us at the World Horror Convention in 2016 for a discussion of the shapes and sounds of words as seen from the perspective of the poet, and how this approach can inform our prose.

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18 thoughts on “12.12: Words as Words, with Linda Addison”

  1. Yay A new ‘cast! On a kind of unrelated note, I find myself getting bored with a story about five or six chapters in. What should I do?

    1. Shakespeare-
      Are you more of a plotter or a discovery writer?
      Does this happen with every story you write?
      And what point in the story do you typically reach at about chapter 5/6? (In other words, is the intro over? Has the main problem been discovered? Have you reached the middle of the story, where you need to figure out how to get from the exciting beginning to your awesome ending?)

    2. Episode 10.27 has some excellent information on writing the middle portion of a story… including tips for when you’re bored with it.

  2. This reminds me of your previous advice to accomplish multiple purposes with each scene, except we’re whittling down to words. Accomplishing more than one thing with our selections, conveying humor or sadness or longing or passion with the look and sound of the words, rather than just through their meaning…. Fantastic food for thought, and applicable to fiction as well as poetry.

    Linda, thank you for introducing me to another aspect of the written word. I enjoyed listening to you.

  3. An interesting – and probably unexpected – recent example for powerful poetry is the trailer for the Atomic Blonde (CAUTION: REDBAND).
    The visual poetry of the

    Academy Award Winner
    Charlize Theron

    caption is followed by the voiceover:


    Lorraine Broughton
    Expert in escape and evasion
    Proficient in intelligence collection
    “Let’s cut the crap, shall we?”
    … and hand-to-hand combat

    The alliteration in the expert in escape and evasion line anchors the pattern, and the last line keeps up the rhythm, but is curiously dangling, as you would expect it to start with another different term to complete expert and proficient in.

    1. And of course, recently, from the US Senate of all places, came another wonderful example of unintentional poetry:

      (Example involves politics; Reader discretion advised!)

      She was warned.
      She was given an explanation.
      Nevertheless, she persisted.

      Wherever you stand on the issue, it’s pretty clear how the effect of these words was the opposite of what the speaker intended, mostly because these words conveyed a lot more meaning than mere facts.

  4. Love this episode so much! I’ve written a lot of poetry in my early years before taking up fiction. This podcast has rekindled that passion for poetry, so much so that I will incorporate it again in my writing routine.

  5. When you visit the house of poetry, you may find some words too soft, some too hard, and some… ah, those are just right! So Dan and Howard met with Linda Addison, a poet indeed, to talk about the taste, and shape, and feeling of words. In the transcript, now in the archives or over here

    http://wetranscripts.livejournal.com/128081.html

    you will find plenty of ideas and suggestions, from keeping journals and how to use the raw material you put there, through ways to play with poetry and stories. You’ll even hear about the sibilants and the bebops, and why you need to pay attention to them! So, pull up a fire, and listen for the cadence of the storyteller, and… enjoy the poetry of your life.

  6. Excellent episode. Thank you for those thoughts about taking away, Linda! I often have done this subconsciously, but I’ve never thought about it as I’ve done it. A phrase wound it’s way through my brain. In storys, show, don’t tell. But in poetry, don’t show OR tell, suggest!

    I took the prompt and ran with it, but kept that in mind and specifically cut words here and there. I also determined early that I wanted to use I You We at the end, and built the first three stanzas to match, so that definitely let to thinking of the shapes of the words I use. Thanks again for a great episode.

    The sky weeps for me as my eyes are dry
    Slap of rubber on glass as I ask why
    No matter how it hurts I cannot cry
    Driving through the tears falling from on high

    We loved each other, I know this is true
    No longer together, our months too few
    Your picture sparked memory, brown, not blue
    Diving through the fears that I’ll forget to

    Sprout, bloom, seed, dead, a flower not a tree
    Kept in a pot, bound by plot, never free
    Something was lost, why does it hurt, my plea
    Striving through the spears of rain blinding me

    And I know that you sought to be with I,
    And I know I wanted to be with you,
    And I know we weren’t allowed to be WE,
    Driving through the tears falling from my eye.

    1. I’m delighted you were inspired. I’m always inspired by reading others poetry and views and trying new things. Your first line made me want to write: “The sky weeps for me as my eyes are dry”
      Well done!

  7. Also, I was kind of expecting Poetry in Prose to be addressed. For example, prophecy or magic spells.

  8. Great episode! I’ve never read much poetry. I imagine it could help beautify my writing a little. Other than Addison, does anyone have recommendations for other great poets? Or resources to learn how to approach poetry as an art form? (Seriously, I’m a total noob here.)

    1. For starters, you might consider checking out the work of Mary Oliver and / or David Whyte. A lesser-known poet that I also really enjoy is Barbara Crooker. Happy reading!

  9. Wow, the first episode of Writing Excuses I hear happens to have a poet with a maths degree, and mention an unintentional haiku, and unintentional poetry in a mathematics textbook. I am also a poet with a maths degree, and I wrote an app which detects unintentional haiku (see http://spondee.software/haiku-detector/), and ran it on a mathematics textbook. (see https://angelastic.com/2013/05/18/unintentional-haiku-in-the-princeton-companion-to-mathematics/) Some of my favourites were:

    For every person
    P there exists a drink D
    such that P likes D.

    But then again, who
    can deny the power of
    a glimpse at the truth?

    Sometimes relations
    are defined with reference to
    two sets A and B.

    The answer turns out
    to be that we should weaken
    our hypotheses.

    It is important
    to have a broad awareness
    of mathematics.

    (I like it when you don’t know it’s about mathematics until the last line.)

    I’m definitely staying subscribed to this podcast! 😀

  10. As Howard mentions “bebop” sounds, I thought it might be useful to drop in with some basic linguistics and mention that the adjective Howard was searching for to name those b and p sounds is “plosive,” (like “explosive,” but with more lip sounds and less chemical potential energy) and you can also get similarly harsh sounds from the letters t, d, k and g if you want a “hard” sound, although none of them use the lips in the same way, (because they “stop” the sound at different areas of the mouth) and thus are more useful for poetic language than for humour, as I would suspect it’s specifically the labial plosive sounds that are funny because their sound is more dramatic.

    Likewise, you can also use a ch, j, zh, (that sound in the middle of vision, and the second half of “j”) sh, or z sound, not just an s-sound for the soft fricative sounds that do a job similar to sibilance. (In fact, linguistically those sounds are all called “sibilants”) You can also use non-sibilant fricatives like f, v or either type of th (yeah, there are two! Contrast “thistle” and “those”. We just memorise which sound belongs to which word in English, and don’t bother distinguishing them most of the time) for similarly soft sounds, but they do a slightly different job. For examples: “a chart of shady cheaters,” “zany zillionaire,” “sheepish shooter,” and “massage judgement.” Note that I’ve mixed ch and sh sounds and zh and j sounds: that’s because ch is just t+sh, and j is just d+zh, so it’s as valid as including “special” “stop” or “justice” in normal s-based sibilance.

    I’d highly recommend looking into at least basic linguistics if you’re interested in the kind of prose that is best read aloud to be understood, as it’s basically the science of human mouth-sounds, and it’s just as useful to understand as the poetic or humourist perspective on language, not least because it’ll actually teach you that if you’ve “caught the cot,” that might or might not be assonance, (it depends on the accent of the reader! See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cot%E2%80%93caught_merger) and that “thanking teacher” or “closing church” isn’t actually alliteration when read aloud despite looking like it when written.

  11. One of the few podcasts I’ve listened to twice, the examples you gave were so wonderful and thought-provoking. I’m normally not much of a poetry fan but I am definitely giving your book a try!

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