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everyday poetry

February 28, 2013

My car needs a new name. When I bought it 9 years ago, I was still in the mindset of creating names from foreign languages. Back then, to name objects (as well as people), I never really considered names in English. So, for my car, I grabbed one of my foreign language dictionaries, perused it, looking up likely concepts, and eventually picked “Tiwhao”, which is Maori for . . . something that I no longer recall.

I thought I was really clever. I loved saying the name because of my cleverness at coming up with it.

In the last couple of years, I finally noticed . . . I don’t really like physically saying it. As far as I could tell from the pronunciation guide in my Maori-English dictionary, it’s pronounced “tee-fah-oh”. (“wh” is pronounced as “f” in Maori.) I have to stop and remember how to pronounce it, every time. Those phonemes are never combined that way in English, so it’s a tongue twister. It’s not fun to say. And I don’t even remember what it means!

I was so clever I outsmarted myself. Ugh.

(I’d been thinking my dictionary was Maori-to-English only, but I just checked, and it’s 2-way. So I looked up “tiwhao” and it means . . . “wander”, which does makes sense. Still, all the other issues remain relevant.)

So I’ve been thinking of a new name. And these days, my criteria for names are very different.

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I spent years, even after my grandmother died, thinking if I just learned to speak Lithuanian, I would be a better person somehow. I would be more poetic, or . . . something.

I remain fascinated with Spanish, as I have been since I was a small child. (Ironically, in addition to her first language of Lithuanian, my grandmother spoke some Spanish, as her third language. English was her second language.)

Fascinations with other cultures are why I began collecting foreign language dictionaries, as a teenager. Whenever I’ve traveled to somewhere where English isn’t everyone’s first language, I delight in learning at least a few words to say in the other language. If it’s a Romance language, I can probably read (at least) a little bit of it, and possibly understand it spoken slowly, thanks to high school Spanish, and college Latin. While lost on vacation, I once received directions, in Italian, from some German tourists, and we made it work. I have a good ear for languages. With a phrase book in hand, I’ve gotten by in Croatian.

I’ve always thought being interested in other cultures is a good thing. I still think that.

+ = +

But only lately, in maybe the last six months, have I realized that my native language is English. I’m a writer in English.

So why do I first reach for a foreign language dictionary, when I’m thinking of naming something (or someone)?

Issues of cultural appropriation (which I’m now a lot more aware of; I wasn’t, years ago) aside, what’s wrong with English words? Why are they not good enough?

I actually love hundreds of English words. I write poetry in English.

Maybe it’s time to heal my inferiority complex about English words.

The spider in my kitchen garden last summer, I named “Cressida”, which is an English name. I created word-salad-ish names, in English, for 2 trees in our backyard: Tenimah, and Anamara. A brownish-grey squirrel with a stubby tail, I named “Cocoa Puff”.

“Hibiscus” (the long version of Hibby’s name) is in my dictionary, as is “zinnia” (the long version of the name of a new stuffed animal).

The name I’m currently introducing myself as is shortened from a word (actually several words) in English, that is/are in the dictionary.

And I’ve thought of a new name for my car. Something with a Yellow attitude: playful, silly, childish (in a good way). Something that’s fun to say. Spouse laughed out loud when I told him!

My cobalt blue-with-sparkles Tiwhao has become . . . Juicy Fruit.


5 words to include in a poem. What if I wrote five poems that all include those five words? What if I tried to make the subject matter and the tone of each poem as different as possible?

I’m not there yet. But I have written two more poems with those same five words. The third poem is my favorite of the series so far, and one of my favorite poems overall!

(Even though I’m not sure of the last line quite works — that’s where I had to include the last two required words.)

The third poem contains a rhyme scheme (which I don’t normally do), and internal rhymes, including one in the title. I think the title I ended up with is kind of witty. And the poem has a visual element, in that the words in one of the middle lines physically meander, echoing the word ‘meanders’ in the poem and the title (which is “wayward sine”).

= = +

The second poem includes anagrammed lines and words. I made anagrams out of 3 groups of the five required words.

For a fourth poem, I gathered up all 33 of the letters in the five required words, and then started making words. A great many interesting words are possible — all the vowels are available at least once; there are multiples of 5 consonants, and y. But another great many aren’t, because none of those five words contained these letters: b, c, f, g, j, k, q, w, z.

Some of the words I came up with reference the Southwest. As I’ve mentioned, I’ll be visiting the Southwest this summer for a writer’s retreat. I’d already been thinking that I should bring writing I’m working on with me, but hadn’t found the right topics to write about. If I’m finally getting serious about poetry, though, I should bring my own poems with me. This might be a good place to start! (Even if I don’t manage to incorporate the five required words.)

I can’t use snake or lizard or Gila, but I can use monster (and reptile). I can’t use fox or coyote, but I can use vixen. Also desert, sopaipilla, hyrax, Hopi, map, adventure, earth, poet, daisy, meander, pollen, purple, vermillion, sand, etc.

This is going to be fun!

+ + =

I wonder if I should reinvent my other website as a place for my poetry?

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