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POETRY TOOLBOX SERIES: CONNOTATION - Cyndi MacMillan's Blog

About Cyndi MacMillan
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Cyndi MacMillan's current projects include three children's book series. Her "life as a writer' blogs can be read at  https://cyndimacmillan.wordpress.com/  Three of her poems have been published in Room magazine, issue 49.4, This Body's Maps, https://roommagazine.com/issues/bodys-map  Two poems have been published in the Prairie Journal ( Issue 67)http://www.prairiejournal.org/subscribe.html   Other poems can be found in Fieldstone Review, Issue 2015 http://www.fieldstonereview.usask.ca/article.php?article=167, Grain Magazine, issue 42.4, Summer 2015, Passed Signs/New Fields http://www.grainmagazine.ca/424  , The Steel Chisel, April 2016, http://www.thesteelchisel.ca/april2016_07.html.  The Centrifugal Eye, Spring 2016, the Unformed issue  http://www.centrifugaleye.com/ . She participated in the 20 Poem Challenge at The Ekphrastic Review: Writing and Art on Art and Writing, and thirteen of her poems have been published by the journal.http://www.ekphrastic.net/apps/search?q=Cyndi+MacMillan.

Her fiction has appeared in local newspapers and has won contests. Her short story, Missed Steps, has been published by the Windsor Review  https://view.joomag.com/windsor-review/0830468001484586649 . She enjoys reading literary journals, and she is actively pursuing further publication within their glossy covers while writing chapter books and early middle readers.

Poetry soup is a friendly forum which enables people from around the world to share their writing. It has some great resources and provides a nice space for people to connect.

Cyndi lives in a small town in Ontario with her husband, young daughter and far too many books.

.


POETRY TOOLBOX SERIES: CONNOTATION


Blog Posted:7/12/2017 8:51:00 AM

               

 

                Many beginning poets think that they can use synonyms willy-nilly.    But the fact is that even should we find words which have similar meanings, words come with connotation. The right word  can bring another layer to a poem and the wrong word can weaken it.

                Readers play word association as they digest our poems.  Words have been used in idioms, in speeches, in songs, in other poems, in old wives tales, in novels, in movies, in common expressions and in popular culture. 

                Recently, I worked on a poem and used this phrase:  burning sensation.  I quickly changed the word burning to stinging.   Because the word combination ends the line, I did not want the reader to start thinking 'urinary tract infection' or 'athlete’s foot!'   I wanted the reader to feel the impact of the words that followed (the completion of a very serious/sad image).  I did not want to trip-up readers, have them laughing as they came to the realization, “Oh... I thought this was about an STD.”  Uh. No.

                Words are not as interchangeable as a thesaurus would lead us to believe.

                Some of the best words to use in poems have several meanings. Multiple definitions of a word plays with possible connotations (and word play, but that is a subject for another blog.) By using these words, the poem will resonate within the reader.  It’s about building layers in our work, playing with the subconscious.

                The following poem is shared for study/education purposes only

                Okay... I’ve bolded certain words in a fabulous poem written by Ester McPhee.  The poem was published by the Maynard (to read the poem in its entirety, please click on the link.)

                I will change those few words, and by doing so disrupt the mood and tone which Ester has brilliantly woven throughout her poem. 

                Please, read this first, taking note of the bolded words.

 

Prayer for Our Past Selves (an excerpt)

By Ester McPhee

 

This year your birthday happens in absence

while I am looking back

over my shoulder at our two figures,

feet sunk in the mud of the river bank.

Lord, whatever you are, scatter

language over me like salt.

I’m trying to find a way to tell

those kids that they won’t become

who they think they will—

people more extraordinary than us.

They’ll simply carry on being themselves.

Days move us closer to more days

until there is a catalogue of mornings behind us

and we are done.  This year

a friend dies on my birthday

and I go to the water to say good-bye,

though he is not at the water,

not even in this city. Lord,

wherever you are, help me

make this strange translation

through time.  That now an ocean

away from you I am still a body

who is part of the world.  Night falls

as green as cedars, shaking us

into sudden forests.  Some days we wake up lost.

 

http://www.themaynard.org/Vol10No1/PrayerForOurPastSelves.php

 

(What follows is an exercise to show how a poem can be weakened by using words that have connotation which does NOT belong in the poem.)

                I have changed the words which were bolded in the original work.  By doing so, I have dramatically altered (for the worse!) the poem’s tone.

[ All words in bolded capitals were not the poet’s choice.]

 

This year your birthday happens in absence

while I am looking back

over my shoulder at our two figures,

feet STUCK in the mud of the river bank.      Like a stick in the mud; a killjoy

Lord, whatever you are, SPRINKLE     sprinkles:candy on cupcakes, rainbow hues

language over me like salt.

I’m trying to find a way to tell

those kids that they won’t become

who they think they will—

people more OUTRAGEOUS than us.                          Too audacious, quirky...

They’ll simply carry on being themselves.

Days move us closer to more days

until there is an AGENDA  of mornings behind us    have an agenda,a sly purpose

and we are done.  This year

a friend dies on my birthday

and I go to the water to say FAREWELL,     Farewells feel less final.  Best wishes.

though he is not at the water,

not even in this city. Lord,

wherever you are, help me

make this strange CONVERSION   Conversion ... to convert... to change religions

through time.  That now an ocean

away from you I am still a body

who is part of the world.  Night falls

as VERDANT as cedars, shaking us        Verdant:  vibrant, bright.

into sudden forests.  Some days we wake up lost.

 

Let’s go back and look at two of the original words (wisely) chosen:

The words sink and scatter

Sink (sunk)

1. to displace part of the volume of a supporting substance or object and become totally or partially submerged or enveloped; fall or descend into or below the surface or to the bottom (often followed by in or into):

2. to fall, drop, or descend gradually to a lower level:

3. to settle or fall gradually, as a heavy structure:

4. to fall or collapse slowly from weakness, fatigue, distress, etc.:

5. to slope downward; dip:

6. to go down toward or below the horizon:

7. to penetrate, permeate, or seep (usually followed by in or into)

Scatter

1. to throw loosely about; distribute at irregular intervals:

to scatter seeds.

2. to separate and drive off in various directions; disperse:

to scatter a crowd.

3. Physics.

  1. to refract or diffract (light or other electromagnetic radiation) irregularly so as to diffuse in many directions.
  2. (of a medium) to diffuse or deflect (light or other wave phenomena) by collisions between the wave and particles of the medium.
  3.  

Esther McPhee chose her words carefully to suit her theme of loss and change. 

Scatter.  To scatter.  Scattered people.  Scattered thoughts.

Sunk.  Sunken treasures.  

Green. To be green.  To be young.  To be naive.   To be envious. To feel ill. 

 

Do you feel that other words in the above poem have a strong echo effect?  Have undercurrents?  Remind you of something? 

Do you intentionally use connotation within your work?  Do you notice it, later, and do you ever revise your work to include this poetic tool?

 

Please Login to post a comment
Date: 7/14/2017 2:16:00 PM
I might consider transition for translation because translation feels a tad uncomfortable used there.
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cornish Avatar
craig cornish
Date: 7/14/2017 9:18:00 PM
Hmm--interesting perspective
MacMillan Avatar
Cyndi MacMillan
Date: 7/14/2017 3:45:00 PM
Also, I was confused by the use of 'you.' It's a prayer, the word "Lord" is used but the 'you' feels like a talk to the dead friend.
MacMillan Avatar
Cyndi MacMillan
Date: 7/14/2017 3:42:00 PM
I thought so, too. I think, though (just a gut feeling), that the poet is talking about translating the language of the living to the language of the dead. The lines before... how to break past that barrier? The word kept popping out at me..
Date: 7/13/2017 5:47:00 PM
In the first poem, a catalogue of mornings (mournings) behind us, and then we are gone, in no way has anything to do with an agenda. One is a noun, the other a verb, in the way that it portrays a motion, if only of thought. In my poetry I do use particular word choices for connotation. Interesting blog. Love and hugs, Catie
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Lindsey  Avatar
Catie Lindsey
Date: 7/14/2017 3:45:00 PM
Yes, a list of things to do. But doing them is not the motion, the motion is time. Hour moves on to hour moves on to hour moves on to hour, or days or months or years. Thus, there is an inherent movement within the agenda.
MacMillan Avatar
Cyndi MacMillan
Date: 7/14/2017 3:38:00 PM
Because an agenda is a list (usually) of things to accomplish... that is the action you are speaking about. YES!
Lindsey  Avatar
Catie Lindsey
Date: 7/14/2017 1:10:00 PM
Yes, I can see that catalogue is a noun. Once plural it becomes both a noun and a verb. The word Agenda, once created is a noun, but... Within the agenda there is motion (verb) of time moving forward.???
Lindsey  Avatar
Catie Lindsey
Date: 7/14/2017 1:04:00 PM
But since this poem is about loss, the imagery which comes to my mind is perhaps a 'catalouge' of photographs. A photo album, perhaps. Memories of those whom have passed before, and then 'we are done. 'As if to say, these are those who have gone before us, and one day, we too shall go.
MacMillan Avatar
Cyndi MacMillan
Date: 7/14/2017 12:47:00 PM
The poet chose catalogue for its weight... you are right... to catalogue, catalogues like the Sears catalogue which used to have a "WISH BOOK." All that connotation, lost if changed... and yet an agenda is: a list, plan, outline, or the like, of things to be done, matters to be acted or voted upon, etc. and a catalogue CAN BE...any list or record. So related, but definitely not identical...
MacMillan Avatar
Cyndi MacMillan
Date: 7/14/2017 12:42:00 PM
Hi Catie! Catalogue is both a verb and noun. Agenda is noun. My daughter has a school agenda which is used to record homework assignments and teacher/parent written communications. BUT.. if you go here...http://www.thesaurus.com/browse/catalogue and if you scan down to "directory" then the thesaurus lists 'agenda.' This is illustrating my point :DD They AREN'T truly interchangeable.
Date: 7/13/2017 2:46:00 PM
Great teaching blog! Keep them coming Sis!
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MacMillan Avatar
Cyndi MacMillan
Date: 7/14/2017 12:37:00 PM
:) Will do!
Date: 7/12/2017 9:35:00 PM
Very valuable advice. Creativity comes from something "new" and from something you have said many times is "uncommon", so much so that beyond connotation a single word can become cliché and overused in a particular context. Andy Warhol wouldn't have made a dime painting a "normal" painting. He took the "every day" and made it unique and that is what we must do to set ourselves apart, we must put red where pink used to be and purple where blue was. Or create a feeling with words that takes the reader to a totally different place even if it is done simply and unexpectedly, but make it your own.
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Date: 7/12/2017 12:19:00 PM
You are correct in your examples, the right words chosen are important....sunk in this poem gave me a sense of long contemplation, stuck seems to be as if I'm moving, passing through...the rest of the words you changed made a dramatic difference to this poem
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Parker Avatar
Frederic Parker
Date: 7/12/2017 1:16:00 PM
yes another meaning would be not to accomplish something but in the poem, it was about mud, that's why it gave a sense of motion if stuck was used,
MacMillan Avatar
Cyndi MacMillan
Date: 7/12/2017 12:44:00 PM
Stuck... another meaning is not being able to accomplish something or not being able to deduce a meaning... So stuck would lose the deeper 'sinking' feeling. Thanks for the visit, Frederic :)
Date: 7/12/2017 10:00:00 AM
Great examples! Yes, I do use this intentionally - but often I do it instinctively: I play around with word choices, and I admit that I sometimes use the Thesaurus to see if there is a better word I didn't think of (Eglish is not my native language.) Then, suddenly, one word opens a whole new layer of meaning. Sometimes I discover this later and find that there are layers that I did not remember putting in :) I am not as diligent at revising and editing as I should be; it is something I am planning to improve as I become more intentional about my work.
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MacMillan Avatar
Cyndi MacMillan
Date: 7/12/2017 12:42:00 PM
Good point, about using a thesaurus. A thesaurus is a good way to find a word which adds MORE to a poem. If we focus on connotation while browsing a thesaurus, we can find that 'perfect' word. And its magic when we place a word in our work only to realize later how well it suits a line! Cheers

My Past Blog Posts

 
THOUGHTS ON POETRY AS ART ... AND WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
Date Posted: 9/5/2017 11:13:00 AM
Emotion in poetry: laying it on heavy by leaving it to the reader, a response to Brian's Blog
Date Posted: 9/1/2017 5:00:00 PM
POETRY TOOLBOX SERIES: CONNOTATION
Date Posted: 7/12/2017 8:51:00 AM
RESOURCE LINKS TO POETRY JOURNALS & EXCELLENT POETRY ARTICLES. HELP YOURSELF :)
Date Posted: 6/12/2017 5:27:00 PM
A HAIKU SHABU SHABU PUB - SHOP TALK & SMALL TALK.
Date Posted: 6/9/2017 8:07:00 PM
THE POETRY PUB: SMORGASBORD
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THE POETRY PUB: CONTEMPORARY RHYME & THE NEW FORMALISM
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***EDIT. ALL FIVE MOSIACS COMPLETE. THANKS FOR PLAYING THE WORD PAIRING GAME. THE PAIRINGS WERE AWESOME!
Date Posted: 4/20/2017 2:06:00 PM
POETRY PUB: EMOTIVE. READ AND BLEED.****EDIT*****MORE ON THE POEM GRIEF!
Date Posted: 3/20/2017 11:32:00 PM
POET PUB: LET THERE BE LIGHT... (and poetics, friendly disagreements, shared observations and hot apple cider...)
Date Posted: 1/15/2017 9:11:00 AM
5 PROOF BLOG. IF YOU ENTERED A POEM, PLEASE READ THIS. JOIN IN ON THE DISCUSSION.
Date Posted: 2/25/2016 11:16:00 AM
POET PUB, TONIGHT'S SPECIAL: EXTRA TENDER, EASY TO DIGEST
Date Posted: 1/25/2016 9:40:00 PM
THE POET PUB, GRAND OPENING, NO WIFI, WARM SEATS
Date Posted: 1/11/2016 9:28:00 PM
CONTEST: 5 PROOF: FREE VERSE THAT SHOWS IT AIN'T NO PROSE
Date Posted: 12/23/2015 6:30:00 AM
A CLOSER LOOK AT PUNCTUATION. SOME, PLENTY, NONE.
Date Posted: 5/25/2015 10:05:00 PM
WORK WORK WORK! WAY TO GO! AND HOW TO USE AN ELLIPSIS.
Date Posted: 5/16/2015 8:51:00 AM
FARMHOUSE: Uncommon word pairings poem #2
Date Posted: 4/9/2015 6:02:00 PM
WHATTA PAIR YOU GOT THERE: A WORKSHOP ON IMAGERY AND WORD PAIRINGS
Date Posted: 4/7/2015 9:30:00 PM
MEMORIAL TRIBUTE ON THE CONTEST PAGE: A WORD COLLAGE FOR CHAN. PLEASE, Take up the challenge. <3
Date Posted: 11/10/2014 9:30:00 AM
A LOVE-IN & WAKE FOR CHAN. ALL SOUPERS WELCOME. PLEASE ADD SOMETHING.
Date Posted: 11/9/2014 10:03:00 AM
How I judge Contests by Cyndi MacMillan
Date Posted: 9/10/2014 9:58:00 PM
A RESPONSE FROM MAUREEN HYNES
Date Posted: 9/8/2014 8:54:00 PM
MAUREEN SAYS SHE LOVES MY RESPONSE
Date Posted: 9/8/2014 10:25:00 AM
READING POEMS LIKE A POET, INCLUDES AN ANALYSIS
Date Posted: 9/6/2014 6:23:00 PM
PUNK TUATION IN POETRY
Date Posted: 9/4/2014 9:39:00 PM

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9/20/2017 TOOTHSOME Free verselife,poetry,writing,
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8/16/2017 Whatever happened to the real poets Free versepoetry,political,society,
6/18/2017 FETAL POSITION IN THE ER Sestinadeath,heartbreak,my child
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5/4/2017 WATER, WATER Free verseafrica,sympathy,
11/18/2016 WE, NASTY WOMEN Ekphrasisallegory,history,politica
5/22/2016 THE CHRONICLES OF A PHONOPHOBIC Free versefear,life,people,
5/6/2015 TAIL SPIN, REVISED Free versecourage,fear,love hurts,
11/10/2014 CHAN Free versefriend,goodbye,
1/31/2014 JOURNEY COMPANIONS: THE FRIEND SONNETS PART II Sonnetfriend,hero,places,poetry
1/29/2014 DIVINE STEEPLES Sonnetfriend,love,places,poetry
1/26/2014 MUSE Sonnetfriend,love,places,poetry

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