June 4, 2010

Thoughts of Pooh Bear, Sticky Words and Other Nonsense

Pooh Bear might have said, “Thinking makes me think things.”  He’s made so many profound statements in his young life that I’m almost certain that he did. At least I’ll blame him for the question that popped into my head yesterday during my walk through the park. “What,” he asked as I stood beneath an Elm, “is the difference between a poet and a journalist?”

Coming from a tiny bear, I knew it wasn’t a trick question. He’s too sincere. But when I searched for an answer, I hadn’t one.

A journalist writes facts, I might have told him. A poet doesn’t. But that isn’t true. A poet can write about facts, too. 

I could almost see my little companion nod his head in agreement. I tried again.

“A journalist has to be clear. A poet doesn’t. No, no, no.That’s not what I mean.

Pooh Bear looked confused. I tried a third time.

“A journalist uses words as simply as he can. He writes to be understood and or rather, he writes so clearly that he isn’t misunderstood.”

I could see another question forming on Pooh Bear’s lips, so I hurried on. ”Words get gummy with layers of meaning. Say ‘bloody’ in a hospital and they’ll give you a gown that opens at the back. Say ‘bloody’ to the Queen of England and you’ll be booted from the castle.”

Pooh Bear scratched one ear. “So a journalist tries to keep his words unstuck?”

“Yes but a poet doesn’t. A poet likes sticky words.”

Thoughts of sticky things made Pooh Bear dream of honey. He ambled off to search for bees and left me to ponder the question, “Why?”

I decided that poets like sticky words because they hold more than one connotation. Hamlet talks of ‘sleep,’ in his soliloquy. We know he means death but “sleep” draws a parallel in our minds between what is natural and a scary unknown. “If I should die before I wake…” 

I was glad Pooh Bear had wandered off because my example might have frightened him. But I thought of another difference and an example less scary.  Poets use the sounds of words to augment meaning.  Journalists?  Not so much.

One, two! One, two!  And through and through

The vorpal blade went snicker-snack.

The Jabberwock from Lewis Carroll’s children’s poem is a villain who threatens us with a slashing cadence and growling “r”s. Who wouldn’t be afraid? But what are we to make of a blade that goes “snicker snack? We’re meant to laugh.

Okay, I begin to see the differences between poets and journalists. If he were here to listen I bet Pooh Bear, like me, would prefer the sticky words.