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 Ling 131: Language & Style

Topic 2 (session A) - Being creative with words and phrases > (Semi-) Automatic poetry > Tutors' Versions

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Session Overview
(Semi) Automatic poetry
Introducing word classes
More on word classes
Manipulating word classes
Changing word class - affixation
Changing word class - functional conversion
New words for old
Word class problems
Word class checklist
Useful Links
Grammar Website

Tutors' versions of (semi-) automatic poetry

Below is poem based on the form we have been using by Mick Short, a cat lover (see the Author's Acknowledgements page to his Exploring the Language of Poems, Plays and Prose to see what we mean):

cat in the basket
in a long piteous wail -
veterinary check
I watch quietly

Mick says: 'I started off by substituting the dog of the original with a cat (I do like dogs, by the way!). Then, once I got the verb it was pretty easy to think up a situation to match the activity. I thought long and hard about the final adverb, and almost chose "guiltily" and then "parentally" to get particular aspects of how I would feel at the vet's. In the end I chose "quietly" to get the contrast between my activity and the cat's, which I felt also allowed by weak implication the possibility of the other manner adverbs I had rejected. Can anybody improve the poem for me?

If I try randomly choosing from the word lists in the exercise I sometimes get rubbish and sometimes quite good poems. This shows you that you can create some reasonable short poems without having any talent at all!

If you choose items from inappropriate word classes you sometimes get really weird, if not impossible effects (e.g. "in a customised dangerously dog"). This shows you the effect of grammar. The grammatical rules we all intuitively know make some choices fine, others a bit odd (and therefore often rather interesting), and yet others completely unacceptable. Choosing from within the correct word class lists almost never produces this last, unacceptable, situation.

It is interesting to see why it is that sometimes selecting what appears to be an inappropriate word class still turns out to be OK. This is because the particular form of the word involved can act as an exponent more than one word class (e.g. the word "hit" can act as a verb or as a noun). So you can choose an inappropriate word class but in context the word just assumes its appropriate word class guise, as it were (e.g. if you try to insert the verb "hit" in the phrase "a smash ____".'


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