Clearly I’m in the mood for poetry, so I’m not going to fight it. I’m just gonna let the sweet sweet meters wash over my hunger for verse. Onomatopoeia is just so much fun. If you’re a writer who loves linguist-nastics like I do, I bet you’ve got a few choice words you’ve mashed up on a napkin and now carry around in your wallet. If this sounds like you – you’re safe here. I give you full permission to own your dorkiness and fist pump, chest bump aight!

Onomatopoeia is a narrative device, whereby the word used also closely resembles/denotes the sound one is trying to describe. The sounds don’t always have to be pleasant to the ear, it can be discomforting as well as natural.

Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is often cited as a classic example of onomatopoeia, particularly with the dialogue from that stoned ginger cat. His poem Jabberwocky (1871) is also another great example.

I’ve given a sample here from a poem I wrote a few years ago – ahh the memories, boy did I have fun writing this one!

TV Dinners

Squish splat pinch of salt
Celebrity Chef grins at Camera Two
Hot fingers melt butter and malt
Nude egg glistens ready to stew

Meat at room temperature!
An absent audience chastised
Keep the off-cuts for left-over
Serve drizzled with French fries

Floured fingers stamp white smock
Chicken blood drops on sterile tiles
As devotees to the bookstore flock
To own a slice of his culinary files

Celebrity Chef smiles, Producer yells cut!
The stage over stove dimmed lights
Macaroon white hat falls flat, but
Tune in for tomorrow’s lime and fig pies.

Onomatopoeia can not only be applied to singular words, but can also be used in phrasing or whole passages to denote or give greater emphasis to anything – whether it be size, length, force or feeling. It’s all about echoing an impression that you want the reader to feel. It’s a terrific device and you can get carried away by it all… but I guess that’s the whole point.

Till next time,

WordSmith Jo

Women Wait in English Literature

Whether we are waiting for our man to return home from war, or waiting to be proposed to in marriage, waiting to receive equal remuneration for equal efforts, or waiting for just plain old-fashioned respect, throughout the Western Canon, women wait, and wait well.

In literature, waiting is a thoroughly feminine pre-occupation.  We don’t read about men standing by the window, hand on pane as the rain falls down the sill, watching the street for his love to come home. Men don’t wait. Men charge ahead. Men ride off into sunsets. Men rise to challenges.

So, to mix things up a bit, I wrote a poem. About a man that lives in the Southern Highlands of NSW. He waits. Waits his whole life for the woman he loves, who never noticed him in the end.

When I finished this piece, I didn’t find his waiting effeminate. I found it wholly masculine. But maybe that’s just me. Either way, it’s a lesson as a writer, to tackle a common theme from a different angle, which often yields unexpected results.

Till next time,

WordSmith Jo


The Highlands Way Cafe

Clickety clatter, splash ‘n batter
At the Highlands Way Cafe, my love
I’ll wait for you, by old belly rose.
Rickety rattler, brews ‘n splatter
At the Highlands Way Cafe, my love
I waited for you, till evening’s close.

Raised in the south, near Mittagong’s fray
Your sun-speckled shine and short refrain
Dreamt of black-heeled style and tinted frames.
‘One day, one day, I’ll skip out this small town,
I’ll marry a suit with cashmere lines
And trade buckskin boots for silver cuffs’.

Shy of nineteen, I kept my voice steady
Your breath is soft, yet your words fall hard
My love since sixth grade in Miss Faye’s class,
Trading cards under Gib Gate’s Wattle.
I always thought we’d see our lives through
Behind vineyard’s gate at Crescent’s pass.

You traded walks along Box Vale’s Track
For concrete treads and dark tinted glass
The Blueberry Ash no more a treat.
Just sapphires blue and cloaked valets
Fantasy drunk on tower skylines
Your future’s past the Old Hume Highway.

Our Sunday last, we sipped Earl Grey
At the Highlands Way Cafe, my love
Near the feet of old rose’s fire.
No heat stopped my heart turn to winter
At the Highland’s Way Cafe, my love
You said we would meet again, someday.

Clickety clatter, splash ‘n batter
At the Highlands Way Cafe, my love
I’ll wait for you, by old belly rose.
Rickety rattler, brews ‘n splatter
At the Highlands Way Cafe, my love
I waited for you, till evening’s close.

Remember Mrs Main Street Chatter?
She said you married a city bloke
Clever with stocks, Nellie Melba kind.
You had traded black teas for lattes
And wore Manolos with gold thread ties
And muted freckles with Chanel shine.

The Secretary on Station Street
Said you are now living penthouse dreams
Walking on silk spun from Isfahan.
Your lashes charcoaled, and accent combed
Feline hats at races, Champagne light
Next stop to Tokyo, fashion’s height.

At Howard’s Lane the gardener there
Said you’ve had a darling baby girl
Behind my back, my unsteady hand
Held quick and tight the cellar door frame
But your joy is mine, and will remain
My love for you will forever stand.

Think! Secret space by Nattai River
Eyes shut you would lift your naked face
And beautify the sun. I recall
The way you stared at Forty Foot Falls
In wonder, as we drank from her spine
And dried atop the sunny stone arch.

Clickety clatter, splash ‘n batter
At the Highlands Way Cafe, my love
I’ll wait for you, by old belly rose.
Rickety rattler, brews ‘n splatter
At the Highlands Way Cafe, my love
I waited for you, till evening’s close.

And the years went by, colliding time
News of you no longer passes way
I tilled my soil, pressed grapes into wine
Leaves renew, summer willows fading
As the world around us keeps swirling
Life moves on, unchanged in southern winds.

My hands, now rivets of raised blue lines
Crocheted skin hold tired eyes true
And my hope an endless arroyo.
As the old Fitz Roy Iron Works hold
A space in the present through its past
Your distance keeps me closer to you.

Another Tulip oasis late
Springs, and November Waratah brings
Florid visions, visions of you, you.
The grapes ripen longer on the vines
In the South, so too, flavour of you
So too, this love wanting, wanting, waits.

Then one Sunday, Christmas carnival
At the Highland Way Cafe, my love
The doorway you pass, as if you knew
I was at our old table for two.
Your eyes met mine, with no memory
Or want, at the Highland Way Cafe.

Clickety clatter, splash ‘n batter
At the Highlands Way Cafe, my love
I’ll wait for you, by old belly rose.
Rickety rattler, brews ‘n splatter
At the Highlands Way Cafe, my love
I waited for you, till evening’s close.

Unleash the Tipsy Balladeer

We’ve all been there before, it’s the end of a long week, your boss is a bore and you’re feeling kinda footloose restless. It sounds to me like you might be hungry for some good old verse… How about penning a bawdy sea shanty to cure what ails ya?

The ballad. The ballad! Fellas, mollies and the old street wretch can’t help but tap tootsies to a folksy ballad. It is pleasant and puerile pub poetry, carefree and coarse, cute and crude, corrupt and callous, crass and creepy. It’s a nose up stink to high flutin’ talk and corporate kites, it don’t care about what’s proper or polite, it’ll calm down tempers or start brewin’ a fight…yikes, I’m getting carried away…

Anyway, my point is, instead of getting drunk at the end of a work week, why not write a ballad, and then get drunk.

How to write a ballad with yer mates

Everyone put your business card on the table.

Agree on a topic.

On the back of a card, write one quatrain per card – which is four lines with an A B A B rhyme scheme (alternating cross-rhymed iambic pentameter for those whom are interested in the proper parlance). Clap each line in your mind or aloud as there should be four or three beats per line. For example:

There’s nothin’ like a ballad song (A) (4 beats)

For makin’ tools stand out (B) (3 beats)

They’ll sing aloud and carry on (A) (4 beats)

Till the bouncer gives ‘em clout (B) (3 beats)

Once everyone has written a quatrain on the back of their card, order the cards together in a natural sequence to create an original swashbuckling ballad!

Till next time, crack a queer whid!

WordSmith Jo

Psst! Did you know that the English word Ballad comes from the Italian word ballare, which means ‘to dance’.

Dinglichkeit: The Marvellous Reality of Triviality

Our attention is often captured by stories of extraordinary feat and courage and rightly so. However, it may be argued that our most heart soaring experiences can be reduced to a slight moment; a simple nod of encouragement from a person we hold in esteem, or observing the way light filters through trees in a passing car.

Good writers understand that capturing simple moments in time and representing them well, are what makes a seemingly banal moment, a textually rich and meaningful experience.

A very famous screen example of this is in the film American Beauty by Sam Mendes. The character Ricky, narrates some footage of a plastic bag and dead leaves swirling around in the wind – and invites us to see the beauty in the banal.

Poets in the Victorian Period (1830s to 1900) were masters at capturing and rejoicing in the Dinglichkeit of things. There is something seriously sensational about being able to tread a fine line between expressing an observation that is Romantic in its sense, but delivered with poise and control.

One Victorian Poet who did this well was John Clare (1793-1864). He was deemed mad by his contemporaries and spent the final twenty years of his life in an asylum.   While we can only speculate about Clare’s troubles, we can appreciate his legacy of works, which demonstrate a talent for showing quiet intensity in observation – particularly in rural settings.

Clare’s poem Signs of Winter, is a fantastic example of finding eloquence in the daily routine:

The cat runs races with her tail. The dog
Leaps o’er the orchard hedge and knarls the grass.
The swine run round and grunt and play with straw,
Snatching out hasty mouthfuls from the stack.
Sudden upon the elmtree tops the crow
Unceremonious visit pays and croaks,
Then swoops away. From mossy barn the owl
Bobs hasty out – wheels round and, scared as soon,
As hastily retires. The ducks grow wild
And from the muddy pond fly up and wheel
A circle round the village and soon, tired,
Plunge in the pond again. The maids in haste
Snatch from the orchard hedge the muzzled clothes
And laughing hurry in to keep them dry.

Keep Clare’s spirit in mind next time you’re elbowing for a seat on the train, or about to lose your cool over a parking space. Stop and observe your surroundings for a moment; you may just stumble upon something wonderful, and wholly unexpected…

Till next time, crack a queer whid!

WordSmith Jo

Lack Inspiration? Try the Graveyard Poet

Next time you have a whinge about there being a lack of good venues to wow your Missus with, spare a thought for our old eighteenth-century British poets, whom often dilly-dallied after dark in the local graveyards for a sense of the romantic.

Enduring indentured labour since they were probably ten years old, bad dental hygiene, and no fresh fruit, I can personally understand the appeal of a refreshing nightwalk around the graves to get one’s creative juices flowing after putting in a 15 hour day at the local textile factory.

Many a nightwalk produced some Western Canon Classics, such as Thomas Parnell’s ‘Night Piece on Death’ (1721), and the very uplifting, Thomas Gray’s ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’.

If you’re feeling adventurous, pack the pen and paper, with your missus on arm, and jump on a train to Newtown. For every two parking meters there’s one Goth. Tap him on the shoulder and ask him to recommend his ‘top ten tombstones’ and then, go!

Till next time, crack some queer whids!

WordSmith Jo