Micro Lesson: Writing Associative Verse with Judith Skillman

Posted Thu, 7/07/2016 - 4:58pm by  |  Category:


Let it riff in Judith Skillman’s six-week poetry class, Writing Associative Verse, where you’ll explore the process of associative writing and employ strategies that enable the reception and articulation of what is perhaps any poet’s better half: his or her subconscious.

The class takes place Tuesday evenings beginning July 26. More info here.

Using neologisms and nonce words

A neologism (/niːˈɒlədʒɪzəm/; from Greek νέο- néo-, “new” and λόγος lógos, “speech, utterance”) is the name for a relatively new or isolated term, word, or phrase that may be in the process of entering common use, but that has not yet been fully accepted into mainstream language.

And, only a little bit more extreme—to the left, as it were—lies the nonce word:

noun: nonce word; plural noun: nonce words: a word coined for one single occasion only.

“Coinage” has everything to do with getting the mind out of its conscious rut and into the unconscious/subconscious mode where imagery flows.

Paul Celan, one of the writers we’ll read and discuss in the class, was the master of invention when it comes to making up words. Take a look at these two fragments, translated by Susan H. Gillespie:

Invasion of the unsplit
into your language,

ban-magic, stronger.


Eyes, world-blind, in the dying abyss: I come,
fibrous growth in my heart,
I come.

In these two short poems, there are four new words: “unsplit,” “nightglazed,” “world-blind,” and “ban-magic.” Granted, three of these are compound words, but what’s to keep a writer from using kennings? Though the term means “compound expressions in English and Old Norse poetry,” why not employ it today? Can we do this? Certainly, if we allow ourselves to play with language.

Play and associative writing are linked in many ways. Think of dreaming as a kind of play done by your mind while you sleep. It can be scary, but it may also be surprising, even a thrill, to discover how bizarre connections come and go at this most vulnerable time. During sleep, you become the overlord of a world full of, if not words, then certainly scenes and stills entirely unique to your own personal experience.

Did you ever make up a language as a child, one you shared with a sibling or a friend? Think back to that time and see if you can conjure up any of those words or phrases; or, if it was a written language, what kind of shapes did the letters hold?

Here’s an example of an exercise we’ll do in the class: Find a poem written a year ago (or even a week ago or yesterday) and revise it using neologisms and nonce words.

*Note: poems by Celan from http://hyperallergic.com/93932/eye-voices-a-choir-new-translations-of-paul-celan/


Judith Skillman’s poems have appeared in Poetry, FIELD,Tampa Review, The Southern Review, Seneca Review,The Iowa Review, and many other journals and anthologies. Recipient of an award from the Academy of American Poets, her most recent book is Angles of Separation (Glass Lyre Press, 2014).