Ever since I was a child I’ve been attacked by words. One of my first words was ‘hernia’ because I loved the sound of it; but later in life I developed what was almost a speech impediment, in that I found myself unable to alliterate. I simply could not say a phrase like ‘free on Friday afternoon’. I’m not sure I can explain why; the sound of the words and the repetition just affected me too much – so I would have to find a way round it. ‘I’ll be available at the end of the week after midday,’ I’d have to say. Or something like that. It was only when I started to write properly that this went away and I was able to control words instead of them controlling me.
Of course any writer knows that this is an illusion. You do not control words. You try, but it’s like a mariner trying to control the tides: all you can do is to observe them; get to know them and feel them so that you can work with them. Words are what they are and stubbornly refuse to be what you think they are – or to do what you want them to do. Anyone who’s ever tried to write a poem will tell you that. So that nowadays, even though I can speak a sentence that has alliteration in it, I am still held hostage by the beauty of words. Look at the word ‘inchoate’. Isn’t it lovely? It sounds beautiful, what with the vowels and the ‘ch’ in the middle – and there’s so much you can do with it. You can add ‘col’ to make ‘inchocolate’*, you can chop a bit off to make ‘inch’; you can snip off the end to make ‘ate’ – it’s just bursting with fruity goodness.
I love our words. That’s why I find it so hard to forgive those who use them without caring. I don’t mind people making mistakes – what I mind is when they just can’t be arsed.
Like in this poem:
For your Good
(on the horribleness of the expression ‘my bad’)
The incompleteness of the sent-
it sends me into shudders
though realising what you meant
it lacks grammatic rudders
so as you blunder into shot
so I must thunder ‘My bad what?’
What is it that is so ‘ungood’?
Bad leg? Bad arm? Bad winter?
A mouldy apple? Rotten wood?
Bad finger after splinter?
It sounds as awful as it looks
I’ve written you in my bad books.
….and so on. There’s more, but I won’t give it you now.
oh! and listen to Radio Leicester on Saturday at 7.30 when I shall be on with Sheila doing my poem ‘There’s a War on’.
PS And come down to the Town Hall at 5.30 to protest the proposed opening of a Tesco on Clarendon Park Rd.
* yes, I know ‘inchocolate’ isn’t a word – but it’s fun, isn’t it?