“The Poetry of English” by Laurie Pollack

Editor’s Note: As some of you may know, the TLA Network offers a Certification program. Chronicling TLA practice is a part of that process, which can be fulfilled by writing multiple pieces for the blog. This is the second post from Laurie Pollack, a poet and artist currently pursuing certification.

The Poetry of English

By Laurie Pollack


I am a very verbal person. Have always been. Have been writing poems since age 7, when I started writing little rhymes with my poor handwriting.

Words are who I am. Meaning is, too. I am constantly trying to figure out what things mean, both analytically and intuitively.

I have a constant internal mental dialog going on, as well as a mental soundtrack.

Thus, I am constantly flooded with words.

I also have had since I was young a very strong need to understand and be understood. I would feel frustrated when this did not occur. Recently I started to let go of this. To realize that one person really cannot understand another. Because each of us is different.

As I let go of the obsessive need to communicate, I started to look at language. Not what it means, but what it sounds like. And to realize there is a sort of poetry in language sounds.

I first experienced this when I lived in Israel for a year in 1982 at age 23. Although for part of that time I was enrolled in a 6 month Hebrew work-study program, still most of the time what people said in Hebrew was unintelligible to me other than a few scattered words. I felt as if I were behind a wall, a wall of not understanding. At times this was extremely frustrating. I wanted to connect but could not. At least not in the usual way.

But because I could not understand what was being said I found I listened more carefully to the feeling behind the conversation and looked more carefully at expressions and gestures.

I also found that I could hear a sort of melody in the language itself. But it was hard to explain this to others so I didn’t try.

Lately I started listening in the same way to my own language: English. Put up the wall of misunderstanding of meaning, deliberately. And was amazed at what I found.

All my life I had heard that English was a harsh, guttural Germanic tongue that is not “pretty”. This may be true, but I found to my amazement that when I tried, I could imagine a sort of poetry in the way the words sounded.

If you are a native English speaker, try this. Everyone’s reaction will be different. You will hear English different from what I hear.

It is hard to do this when you understand the words. So make a deliberate attempt to NOT understand.

Listen to the sound of an English sentence. It can be an interesting experiment in mindfulness and attention. In going beyond the habitual.

How does it sound? Are there visual pictures or images? Colors? Does it have a certain feel to it?

What does your English look like? Sound like? Feel like? Taste like?

What is its poetry?

Try any sentence. How about this one?

“English is a harsh, guttural, ugly language”.

To me, the above sentence looks like a purple tree blowing around in a hurricane, with the leaves being torn roughly off. Smells like the earth of a newly dug up garden. Feels like sandpaper being rubbed against a block of wood. Sounds like rocks falling down a cliff.

If you really want a powerful experience: try looking, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling a sentence from Shakespeare, or the King James Bible, or Walt Whitman. Or better yet: your own poetry.

Contemplate a single English word.

Consider the word “HAT”.

To me it sounds like the wind blowing.

“Water”.

Feels like a tidal wave sucked out to sea then crashing back to smash whatever is on shore.

“Dance”

Looks like a tornado in the distance.

“Blue”

Tastes to me like a butterfly flapping its wings.

NO, English is not pretty.

To me, English is the power of a cold waterfall full of icy shards.

English is the energy of a crackling bonfire.

English is the strength of a room full of dancers celebrating a wedding.

It is the warmth of the sun on the pavement, on a hot July day

English is not beautiful. Is not pretty. Is not delicate. Is not spun glass.

English is not a chocolate mousse. It is a crockery of unfired earthen pottery filled with split pea soup fragrant and filling.

Look, listen, touch, taste and smell your English. And dance!

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