I’ve been reading the brilliant collection of essays Why I Write Poetry edited by Ian Humphreys from Nine Arches press. In his essay Zaffar Kunial spoke about getting a word cloud from the text of his collection Us. This is a collection of all the most common words to appear in the text (aside from obvious ones like “the”, “and”, and “a”) The word that came out as largest for him was “first”. This was a surprise to Kunial but also seemed to give him a sense of what was working underneath his work
“This wasn’t planned or a consciously repeated usage of the word “first”. I think it reflects an inner obsession that comes to the surface during composition to source an origin, or even asl whether a beginning in space or time is possible to locate. Where do I begin?”
Being very curious about my own pamphlet and the common words I used in it, I decided to make a word cloud from the text of “The Living Museum”
I was really shocked to see “always” as the largest word. But it also makes a lot of sense. In a way, this is telling me something I know deep down but hadn’t realised, my poetry is about longing, hope and this dream of constancy in love, this always. Note also that we don’t have the word “love”, but we do have “loved” a much more complex expression of that emotion. I think this speaks a lot to the place where these poems came from in my life. Bridging the processing of past heartbreaks whilst enjoying an exciting and safe life in a stable and meaningful relationship with my husband.
I’m so glad I did this. I would recommend you do this to, after you have written something, not during the process of writing it. As Kunial says it gives you a window into these unconscious preoccupations during the writing process. Knowing too much during that process might put you on a different path and also make you self-conscious of using those words too much.
I used Free Word Cloud Generator for this and you can juzzh up your word cloud by changing the colours you use as well.
This doesn’t just apply to poets. I think it’s useful for everyone to have this sense of reflection on the language we use. Language is powerful and being conscious of how we express ourselves can be valuable in lots of settings. If you email your colleagues and tend to use pessimistic and negative language a lot without realising, maybe this is something to be aware of and reflect on. If you did a grant application or a report that you had negative feedback on, maybe try doing a word cloud for the text and see what words rise to the top. That might be the key to why an audience react to something in the way they do, it’s not always the big things the writer signposts that stick, like the title, it’s often the subtle things that underpin everything else. Just like my always.
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