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"Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun the frumious Bandersnatch," my friends. No, seriously. And not just because the beasties described in Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky are terrifying. Beware of them and what they stand for: made-up words! *GASP!*

I'm not saying there's not a place for made-up words in children's poetry, because there is. Just take a look at the works of Dr. Seuss (Lorax? Sneetches? Sneetches with "stars on thars?") and of other renowned children's poets (Prelutsky has used "micicles" to describe frozen mice (rhymes with tricycles; Silverstein used the occasional odd word as well -- such as the Exactlywatt, or the title piece of his last book "Runny Babbit").


Thou shalt not use made-up words randomly. And thou shalt not use them in too many of your poems. Because if thou doest, thou shalt be REJECTED in the most frumious of ways.

And that is because most poets who choose to use them do so out of laziness, which is to say "for purposes of forcing a rhyme." Such as having a character named Mr. Borange just so you can have any word that rhymes with orange. And even the M&M people know there's nothing that rhymes with orange (per the commercial starring Megan Mullally). In fact, in lesser hands, Prelutsky's "micicles" would be a bozo no-no, but in the context of his poem, Nine Mice, it makes perfect sense. And that's the real point -- your nonsense words must make complete sense to the reader.

Go ahead and read the Jabberwocky. Even though nothing makes sense as you start it, by the end, everything makes complete sense, and you, the reader, understand what was conveyed. Ditto with Prelutsky's micicles and most of Dr. Seuss's made-up stuff (but certainly not all of it. Some of it was plain overkill, and some of it makes no real sense at all, which is part of why his works are a tad uneven and why he (and folks who try to emulate him) comes under fire from time to time).

A good guideline to follow: If you choose to use a nonsense word, be sure that it's because you really want to include nonsense. Don't ever, ever use one out of laziness (i.e., to force a rhyme). Use it deliberately for purposes of eliciting a giggle or some other intense emotional response, or don't use them at all. Because there are thousands of perfectly good words out there, and your job as a poet is to find the precise ones that convey your story, not to make up a bunch of crap words to fill space.

And no, I wasn't in rant mode, although I think I sounded nearly rant-ish by the end. Sorry -- the glare from my vorpal sword has irritated me something fierce.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 27th, 2006 02:00 pm (UTC)
So true
I remember doing an exercise (drawing a blank on what class it was, I can't even remember if it was high school or grad school!) where we had to come up with definitions for all the made-up words in The Jabberwocky. Most of the definitions were very similar, ie, we were all able to glean similar meanings from the context of the poem.
Apr. 27th, 2006 07:40 pm (UTC)
Did you know that some lines from "Jabberwocky" are included on the Alice in Wonderland statue in Central Park?

It's true!

Apr. 27th, 2006 08:06 pm (UTC)
I didn't realize there was a statue of her there at all. Must check it out next time I'm in NYC -- it looks way cool.
Nov. 28th, 2009 07:31 am (UTC)
And here is my point.....
WHY? is Kelly Fimeman not seen as the poetry goddess she is?

There is SUCH a WEALTH of information about poetry that should be in books!

You ARE the BEST, Kelly!
Nov. 28th, 2009 06:19 pm (UTC)
Re: And here is my point.....
Thanks so much, Kevin - some day, perhaps I'll gather up some posts and send them off to see if they might turn into a something.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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