Powerful Prose

6 Nov

Bite That Bullet

Recurrent ovarian cancer is not curable; it’s manageable . . .  with diet, exercise, and chemo.  My future will undoubtedly be a series of chemo and remission, chemo and remission.  Many women manage to do this and maintain a good quality of life for many years.

Last April, even though my CT scans showed tumors, I decided to put off chemo because I felt too healthy.  Chemo makes you sick, and I didn’t want to go there.  Also, the research shows that starting chemo right away as opposed to later doesn’t seem to make an overall difference; it may just add up to more chemo and a lower quality of life.   I’ve continued to feel great, and we’ve had a super wonderful healthy energetic carefree delightful summer and fall.  Unfortunately,  in spite of all those adjectives, a miracle didn’t happen.  My cancer has continued to grow.  I’m now scheduling four rounds of chemo, starting soon after Thanksgiving.

All this is to say that I remember my chemo brain of two years ago.  This blog may go in spurts and pauses for a while.  What I say may not even make any sense.  Who knows what my befuddlement will bring us.  It could be interesting.  Stay tuned.

Power in our Writing

A couple of years ago, I taught a course called Powerful Prose.  The first class was a banquet as we tasted our wonderful language — listening to the noise words make.  We filled our platters with alliteration, made-up words, preposterous ideas. We talked about why some phrases are “catchy”:  Leave it to Beaver; Breaking Bad; Gone With the Wind; Make Love Not War; Power of the Press; and so on.  (Why are those memorable?  Is it because of the shortness of the words?  The repetition of consonants?  The rhyme?)

All of the above.

Learn to Listen

Little children are tuned into the sounds of words.  “Trip Trap Trip Trap went the three billy goats gruff.”  “Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin.”  These lines NEED to be read out loud.  Once we begin to read silently, we lose some ability to listen to the sounds of words.   How can we get that back?

For starters, in class, we made lists of words that intrigue and delight us.  We shared these with a buddy, speaking each word with great attention to how it feels in the mouth, how it hits the air.  My list had these words: artichoke, bountiful, bodacious, outlandish, to name a few.   Parsimonious . . . a good one.  I want to say this word over and over.  I keep a back page of my notebook for more words:  punctilious, scappoose, plainsong, brunch.

Fool Around

In class, we read out loud from Gertrude Stein, Jabberwocky, and a Just-So story.  Nonsense flowed, and we began to loosen up our ideas of what makes a proper sentence, a proper story.  We noticed prose rhythms, the effects of consonants and vowels, long words, short sentences.  We noticed powerful verbs that surprised us with flexibility of meaning.   At home, you can reach for a book of poems or prose by a good writer.  Forget about meaning.  Read out loud, with great attention to the sounds.  PERFORM them.  Have fun.

“Steering the Craft” by Ursula K. Le Guin

Writing Prompt

Many of these ideas come from Ursula LeGuin through her book, Steering The Craft.
On page 26,  BEING GORGEOUS, she says:

Write a paragraph to a page (150-300 words) of narrative that’s meant to be read aloud.  Use onomatopoeia, alliteration, repetition, rhythmic effects, made-up words or names, dialect — any kind of sound-effect you want.

Write it for children, if that’s the only way you can give yourself permission to do it.   Have fun, cut loose, play around with word sounds and rhythms.  This is a read-aloud piece, performance prose.

This can be done more than once, by the way, as a warm-up piece.  I’m interested in what happens when YOU follow this prompt.  Did you find a voice that you don’t often use?  Did you hate doing this?  Love it?  Share the piece in your writer’s group.  It’s not for critique; it’s for enjoying.  Please let me know what happens.


7 Responses to “Powerful Prose”

  1. mfrances stilwell November 6, 2012 at 1:30 pm #

    If I have trouble sleeping and make up my mind TO sleep I focus on the first word that comes to mind, then the second until I have four. No rhyme nor reason required to connect them. Next think the first of the four wiht a deep breat, then the others and then repeat the cycle. Eventually an image will appear that relates to nothing familiar (I know inside the time is coming and not to interfere, ie not to edit.) After a couple more nonsensical images I wake up from a good night’s rest.

    Nonsense sings and is not to be analyzed. It’s part of our process, at least in my case it is.

    I’ll have to admit that those four words have a certain kind of rhythm to them and sometimes rhyme. Isn’t that interesting how the subconscious can be awakened?


    I’ll go with you on this journey no matter who nonsensical you become.

  2. Connie Barr November 6, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

    You have been very open in sharing your talent and knowledge, now equally forthright about your challenge with the big C. I applaud your courage and wish you well as you overcome illness yet again.

  3. PETER BURKE November 6, 2012 at 5:47 pm #


    I so love this blog. I don’t usually read most blogs more than once. They are too precious most of the time. I think I’m reading yours partly because you are being more open than you often are in conversation, partly because I know you and mostly because they are thought provoking, well written, occasionally make my filters fall off and give me ideas to at least think about, if not write about.

    Thank you.


  4. Tim&Kim Smith November 7, 2012 at 11:48 am #

    hello sweety been so long since iv seen you or heard from you mom and al sent me your blog and my and Kims heart go out for you please add us to your list love ya TIM

  5. Mar November 12, 2012 at 10:43 am #

    My thoughts will be with you often, especially during those weeks of treatment. SO much more often than you know!

    • Robin Koontz November 16, 2012 at 12:14 am #

      Parsimonious! I had to look it up – exhibiting or marked by parsimony. Okay, next I’ll look up parsimony, but what terrific words and what a fun exercise to share. It’s also a helpful loosening up exercise when writing nonfiction for kids. 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

      • annewarrensmith November 17, 2012 at 10:51 am #

        Hey Robin,

        I LOVE your comments. Thanks so much for making the blog more fun. Also, it’s good to be in touch with you. –Anne.

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