Another of My Favorite Words

Several months ago, I allowed myself little verbal self-indulgence by writing about a few of my favorite words. As summer was ending, I encountered another of my old friends on a beach in Kittery, Maine: detritus.

“Detritus” has one meaning for me: seaweed left on the beach by the outgoing tide.

Just conjuring the word in my mind brings the smell of salt and fish and ocean–and the blue, blue sky of a day on the beach when childhood would never end.

Poems for Troubled Times: “The City Burns”

The City Burns

Ann van Wijgerden

Author’s Note: This was an intense ‘overlapping’ of sensation and thoughts; I literally had a split second sense of being swept away. The background: Firstly, being impressed by the acting skills of Andrew Scott and his portrayal of Professor Moriarty in the ‘Sherlock’ TV series. Then, being distressed and perplexed by the constant stream of killings in the Philippines’ ‘War on drugs’ while it would seem many of the public couldn’t care less, seeking distraction in entertainment instead.

First published in Slamchop Poetry:

Mindfulness in the Sand

A few weekends ago, my husband and I took a drive over to Fort Foster Park, on the coast of Kittery, Maine. As we explored the beach, my attention was caught by the leaf-like patterns that the outgoing tide had left in the sand. I was struck by the realization that as many times as I have walked the beaches of southern Maine, I had never noticed these patterns before. Had they not been there, or had I just not seen them?

This simple pattern in the wet sand put me in a state of mindfulness that I experience all too seldom: getting out of my own head to truly see and experience what’s right in front of me. I’ve always known that being closely connected to the natural world is important to my writing, but I never really thought about why. Now I know.

Poems for Troubled Times: Seeking Solace

I subscribe to two poetry sites, Poem-a-Day, sponsored by the Academy of American Poets, and Postcard Poems and Prose. Poem-a-Day is a curated compilation of poetry with a wide range of publication dates, while Postcard Poems and Prose publishes new work. Reading the poems that the people behind these sites consider important in the current moment, I’m struck by the number of poems that take as their subject the troubled times we live in.

This has gotten me thinking about the two primary roles poetry can play for people facing difficult times: providing solace and providing a means of expression. A third role that writing can play in times of trouble, a call to action, I’m seeing more in prose.

When I think about looking to poetry for solace, the 23rd Psalm in the Bible is the poem that immediately comes to mind–although I have never once turned to it for solace myself. In fact, I can remember actually reading it only once, when I took a Bible as literature course in college–and I think that’s the key. My experience of the 23rd Psalm has been through the spoken word, not the written word. I think I associate these verses with solace, not because of their meaning but because of their sound. The rhythm of the lines is soothing.

However, the verses I’m familiar with are a translation. The cadence of the original Hebrew would have been very different. Thinking about translation prompted me to, look up the King James Version of the psalm and compare it with the Good News Translation that came out when I was in high school in the 1970s. The difference in effect between the two translations is striking. The soothing cadence I remember from the King James is gone in the Good News version:

Psalm 23: King James Version (KJV)

23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Psalm 23: Good News Translation (GNT)

23 The Lord is my shepherd;

    I have everything I need.
He lets me rest in fields of green grass
    and leads me to quiet pools of fresh water.
He gives me new strength.
He guides me in the right paths,
    as he has promised.
Even if I go through the deepest darkness,
    I will not be afraid, Lord,
    for you are with me.
Your shepherd’s rod and staff protect me.

You prepare a banquet for me,
    where all my enemies can see me;
you welcome me as an honored guest
    and fill my cup to the brim.
I know that your goodness and love will be with me all my life;
    and your house will be my home as long as I live.

While the message of the two versions is still that we can find solace in God, the experience of solace is lost without the rhythm of poetry.

Both translations of the 23rd Psalm are taken from the following website:

The Zondervan Corporation, L.L.C. Bible Gateway. Accessed September 11, 2017.

A Few of My Favorite Words

Do you spend much time thinking about your favorite words, calling each one to the forefront of your mind so that you can explain to yourself once again just how much that word delights you and why? I tend to have these little reunions with my old friends when I’m driving to work in the morning.

Allow me to introduce you to a few of them.

Leonard Cohen

Lugubrious. Now, “lugubrious” is a fellow I love dearly, but I just can’t take him out in public. How I long for an opportunity to say, “I have a deep appreciation for the lugubrious musical stylings of the late poet-singer-song-writer Leonard Cohen,” but the opportunity never seems to present itself.

Family Photo

Pixilated. I was introduced to “pixilated” years ago in a work of regional fiction (Southern, I think, although it could have been New England). It was used to describe an eccentric old woman who behaved as though taking direction from pixies. I can’t imagine a more delightful way to live: charming and mischievous, with little thought given to responsibilities and no need to justify oneself. Unfortunately, I can never introduce “pixilated” into a conversation because she’ll always be mistaken for her homonym “pixelated,” what happens when your Netflix video starts breaking up.

Modality. “Modality” is one of those words that I am unable to take seriously because of the way it sounds. While I understand its place in the health care lexicon, I simply cannot say it with a straight face.  I have to syllabicate it and put air quotes around it: “It is regrettable that the latest treatment ‘mo-‘dal-i-ty’ has had no salutary effect on her regrettable condition.”

Snark. I can appreciate “snark” because it connotes a certain agility of thought and facility with language that the simple passive aggression or petulance its cousin “sarcasm” lacks. Think of Samuel Johnson’s description of poet Edward Young’s poems: “Young froths, and foams, and bubbles sometimes very vigorously; but we must not compare the noise made by your teakettle here with the roaring of the ocean.”1

Buffoon. Now, as insults go, few come better than “buffoon.” So much more elegant than [expletive not inserted]. By far, my favorite use of the word was by a former colleague to describe a dysfunctional department. He referred to the department as a “cadre of buffoons,” going so far as to label them as such on a flip chart! They had a certain cohesion and delineation of roles that enabled them to function as a group, but individually and collectively they were completely inept.

And I’ll end with “edification,” which is what the purpose of this post should have been but wasn’t.

1 Jack Lynch, ed., Samuel Johnson’s Insults: A Compendium of Snubs, Sneers, Slights, and Effronteries from the Eighteenth-Centry Master (New York: Levenger Press, 2004), 68.

Image of Leonard Cohen by Rama, Wikimedia Commons.

Image of Cover, Samuel Johnson’s Insults, Levenger Press.

An Unexpected Victorian Kinship

Image of Helen Hunt Jackson: Academy of American Poets

One of the greatest joys that comes from reading poetry is the ability of a poet, someone I’ve never met, someone who knows nothing of me, to use language to articulate my own experience in just the way I’d always yearned for–but without knowing it. There’s a jolt of recognition, then an instant feeling of kinship and gratitude. The poem I’m sharing with you today, “August,” by Helen Hunt Jackson, is just such a poem. Ironically, when it came into my inbox from the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day series, I almost stopped reading after the second line because the language was a little too Victorian for my taste.

“August” is in the public domain. For more information about Helen Hunt Jackson and her work, go to