Trying to become a better writer, I look at the moon, or a tree, or the sky and seek to find words to describe them. Words are rough tools. Working with words is like sculpting with a chainsaw. Yes, it can be done, and art can be made this way, but somehow…often… it is unsatisfying.
For one thing, words mean different things to different people depending on their experience. What can evoke a pleasant feeling in me may invoke revulsion in you.
If I talk about licorice. What does that mean? Do you like it or not? If I write the phrase…
honeysuckle dew the flavor of licorice
is this a pleasant image or an unpleasant one?
I could just tell you what I meant. I could say…
Licorice tastes good.
But what will this mean to someone for whom it is not true? Also it makes the phrase redundant if you already agree.
Some words have too many meanings. What does it mean if I say the phrase…
The moon was blue
It could mean that it literally looked blue. I have seen this when the sky was blue in the daytime and yet the moon was visible. It was white, yes, but the shadows were tinged light blue.
Image: A day-time baby blue sky. A moon, hard to see, probably not full.
Or it could mean “blue moon”. A time when there are two full moons in one month.
Such events are rare, happening no more often than once a year, so ‘blue moon’ also means extremely rare.
A good artist would use more than one meaning, for example.
It was the 29th of the month. A blue moon was in the sky even though the sun had not yet set, and Joseph was back in town again.
This passage could incorporate all three meanings. But using the complex connotations of words can simply end up sounding like you are making a series of puns.
Simplicity is often better, even if it leads to text that seems unsophisticated.
The pink carnation bent in the wind, its petals almost touching the sandy ground below.
Very little of the passage can be misinterpreted. It is easy for a person to understand, except perhaps why you’ve had the bad sense to plant carnations in sandy soil, and what gage of storm it must be to take such a long-stemmed flower and cause it to bend so low.
So I sit here everyday, carving poems with a chainsaw.
I suppose that if the tools can get no better, the only solution is for us to work hard to develop the skill to cut more carefully and finely with the tools we have.