Diction~ Part 2

Six Critical Questions About Poetry

Sound Devices pt 3


Part 2

Is the diction fresh?

Individual words rather than phrasing are the focus when the poem is revised. And all poems must be revised or it is a pastime and not a craft; when you submit a poem it should be flawless even if you were seized by the Muse and wrote a brilliant work on a napkin or laundry bag. Revise, revise, revise checking for cliche’s; familiar phrasing; echoes from song lyrics; and conventional adjectives which provide no overtones. When a poem fails to have effective images and also fails to use fresh, precise diction there is usually a lack of poetic compression. Such a poem can be said to be prosaic in so far as its language is close to that of prose. Before submitting a poem the poet owes it to her readers to locate specific samples of dull, wordy, over-modified writing or flat, unimaginative images.

I have lived on the lip of insanity,

wanting to know reasons,

knocking on a door. It opens.

I have been knocking from the inside.


You grasp the idea in this very short passage that we all spend so much of our lives in a mad rush; trying to get to some promised land, when, in fact, we’re already there.

Finally, after reading this you may still wonder; just what is diction? It is the cradle of your imagery, your brightly plumed bird in flight, “the difference between the grand and the grandiose” and, a way of, as Wallace Stevens says, “making the unimaginative or the commonplace, imaginative.” The truly best way to learn to write poetry is to read poetry; it is imperative to see the poetry that touches you and what is like a Hallmark card; predictable, trite, commonplace. Alexander Pope advised writers to have an antipathy to that falsity which is expected in greeting card sentimentality but not in a poem that is discovered first by the poet; the reader; and, finally a bond leading to a re-creation as the reader and poet are united in emotion.


What Pope advised was to:

  • Search then the ruling passion: there, alone
  • The wild are constant and the cunning known;
  • The fool consistent, and the false sincere;
  • Priests, princes, women, no dissemblers here,
  • This clue once found unravels all the rest….

~Alexander Pope

Image by Dascha Freidlova

Image by Dascha Freidlova 
An Example of Diction within Poetry……

This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
to break my heart
as the sun rises,
as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers

and they open–
pools of lace,
white and pink–
and all day the black ants climb over them,

boring their deep and mysterious holes
into the curls,
craving the sweet sap,
taking it away

to their dark, underground cities–
and all day
under the shifty wind,
as in a dance to the great wedding,

the flowers bend their bright bodies,
and tip their fragrance to the air,
and rise,
their red stems holding

all that dampness and recklessness
gladly and lightly,
and there it is again–
beauty the brave, the exemplary,

blazing open.
Do you love this world?
Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?

Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden,
and softly,
and exclaiming of their dearness,
fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,

with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
their eagerness
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
nothing, forever?

Dascha Friedlova

Using a working poem or the process of creation may help; it is Randall Jarrell who writes that the composition of a poem is not so much made “as discovered” and that things “come into the poem” as if by their own free will. They begin to arrange themselves in patterns that “become plain even to the writer.” If you feel envious of a poem that writes itself, read “Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” by Jarrell. Search it out, read it and see how the images flow with wording tight as the pieces of a finished puzzle. The more you read the better writer you will be.

Try it!

You will attain an innate sense of what is tightly laced and what trails along dragging you and the work sprung from your own creative loins down. It is your creation; if you got this far then you care about writing poetry; the poetry that will be a part of your very best “ruling passion.”

Another good example on how to use Diction, Surfacing~ by Willow Rose

Article by Willow Rose

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