Remember what Elisa Doolittle said in the musical My Fair Lady, "Words, words, words, I'm so sick of words!"

She practically shouts at Henry Higgins about life and their relationship, "Show me! Show me now!"  Elisa was clearly the poet of the two!  Elisa was on to the oldest adage in poetry "show, don't tell."  She wanted action.  Higgins was mostly attached to grammar, pronunciation and getting it right.  He needed to loosen up and more of a poet's spirit to speak to her heart.

Perhaps Elisa would change her mind about words (and change Henry's) if she encouraged him to discover how words are meant to be as delicious as her favorite chocolates.  After all, Elisa wanted to get endorphins firing!

Writing a poem is like making an artifact.

It is making something physical out of words.

--Galway Kinnell


Do you know the kind of words we're describing?  What words roll off the tongue or look like treasures on the page waiting to be opened? What words excite you as you say them, make you want to laugh at their sound or shout them out?

Treat words as if they were paint, clay or wood; allow words to be a physical material to shape, mold, chisel and blend.  Liberate simple, seemingly ordinary words from the prison of habit (for instance, how they are used—or misused to make us consumers!) and free those words to breathe fresh air together.

Say this:

...say threshold, cottonmouth, Russian leather,

say ash, picot, fallow deer, saxophone, say kitchen sink.

This is a birthday party for the mouth—it's better than ice cream,

say waterlilly, refrigerator, hartebeest, Prussian blue

and the word will take you, if you let it,

the word will take you along across the air of your head

so that you're there as it settles into the thing it was made for,

adding to it a shimmer and the bird song of its sound...

—Marilyn Krysl from Saying Things


Follow your heart and imagination...what will you create?  Circle five words from the list below and include them in a poem.

Here are a few words to get you started for your artistic pleasure; more words appear on pages 111-113 of Finding What You Didn't Lose: Expressing Your Truth and Creativity Through Poem-Making

dance   |    music   |    earth   |    tiger   |    farm   |    buckle   |    trees   |    monkey   |    peace   |    love   |    whisper   |    falcon   |    plucks   |    amaze   |    cook   |    regrets   |    urge   |    blast   |    smile   |    sadness   |    hands   |    listen   |    caress   |    splendor   |    sing   |    animal   |    asleep   |    purrs   |    sour   |    earth   |    magic   |    dreams   |    boat   |    snake   |    leaf   |    blaze


Here's an example:


the fertile

trees from

where you

and I

whisper into

the secret

place and

smile. The

old mill

now half-

covered with

moss had

that joyful

eeriness to

it that made

us wonder.


what the


used to


—Eric Kallman, 16 years old, from Finding What You Didn't Lose:  Expressing Your Truth and Creativity Through Poem-Making


The Institute for Poetic Medicine would enjoy reading the poem you just wrote. If you would like to share it with our on-line community, please use the form provided on the "Exercises to Stir Your Voice" page.

Exercise  One: Playing with Words

© 2006-2017 | The Institute for Poetic Medicine and John Fox