A lot of new poets forget a very important rule when it comes to writing.
I’m hoping most of you know or at least have heard of the poem Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll. It’s often part of the staple diet to children’s poetry and you might wonder why I’m bringing it up. Those lucky to have studied this in school may have exhausted analysing this piece but I think the lessons it teaches about poetry are often forgotten in a lot of new writer’s work. Let’s get back to the basics.
Here’s the opening stanza:
Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogroves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
To start, two words: ‘slithy and ‘mimsy.’ These are both examples of portmanteau; ‘slithy‘ is a combination of ‘slimy’ and ‘lithe’ whilst ‘mimsy‘ is a combination of ‘miserable’ and ‘flimsy.’
Well done for pointing out the obvious, Gibley.
But Carroll obviously knew these weren’t words. He could have found an alternative word or he could risk butchering the meter with an additional one but instead, he stuck to what he wanted. He fused the words together in a maverick movement. He knew these weren’t words but did it anyway and continued to do it throughout the piece. And it worked – we can understand what slithy means by just the sound of it – it’s brilliant.
That’s the importance of this poem and it teaches a lesson that should remain prominent when producing your work: there are no rules when it comes to expression. You create what you feel, what you think and what you love. A lot of the times you’ll think what you want is undefinable – often, there isn’t a word close enough to accurately portray what you want to say. Carroll couldn’t find the right word for the expression he wanted – but he had to. In his creation of the (then) new portmanteau device, he broke those barriers we seem to impose on our work and allowed the poem to expand, to flourish, to breathe.
This isn’t maths. There are formulas you can break. There are ways you can manipulate lexis, syntax and punctuation, phrases, adjectives and clichés and you should if it feels right.
What rule does the new poet forget? There are no rules. Making sure you are not bound by your vocabulary is one of them. Keep writing. Speak your heart.