The Power of Words

Back in high school, I heard the word, “concrete” applied to poetic images. My friends and I thought it was funny. One joke was that concrete poetry was harder than other poetry which seemed true at the time. Our teachers (Miss Cohen, Mrs. Zinn) led us through the forest of sophisticated, grown-up people’s poetry, often poetry from the movement known as “Imagism” which is defined as (yep) “An early 20th-century poetic movement that relied on the resonance of concrete images drawn in precise, colloquial language rather than traditional poetic diction and meter.”

An example of this is William Carlos Williams’ poem about the Red Wheel Barrow which, so far, I am unable NOT to think of whenever I see a wheelbarrow which is daily as there’s one in my backyard. Not much depends on it at the moment as it’s upside-down in the dirt, but who knows? It isn’t even red.

Here’s the poem in case you want to be plagued with it for the rest of YOUR life:

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens

Strangely, all that discussion about concrete language was good for me as a writer and as a thinker (who knew?).

People say a lot of stuff all the time and other people believe it, even more, I think, in our media driven world, electronically connected world. Whole subjective realities are defined by how we “get our news.” “Our” news, not “the” news. We all know this. Some of the most abstract words have the most power, words like “rights” and “freedom.” People will kill each other over those words without even knowing what they actually mean, what their meanings imply. There are a lot of abstract words in our world right now that sound “concrete” but are essentially meaningless.

One example, every day I check in on Marjorie Taylor Greene to see how she’s doing down there in Georgia. She and her fan base are a laboratory for this. Here’s an example of her rhetoric this morning:

“This is the whole reason why I endorsed JD (Vance) early on, because I know he’s a business guy, he’s a family guy. He cares about traditional values that Americans want desperately Congress to care about,” Greene said.

I don’t know what any of those bolded terms actually MEANS, and I’m an American who’s supposed to be wanting them, not just wanting them, but DESPERATELY wanting them.

As long as politicians rely on abstract language that evokes knee jerk reactions from Americans who believe the politician has actually SAID something, we’re fucked. Concrete language may or may not be effective in poetry (I think it is but I’ve been brainwashed) but it would sure help us now. We have idioms that demand that: “Put yer money where yer mouth is.” “Talk is cheap.” “Actions speak louder than words.”

This current guy has made good on many of his words.

11 thoughts on “The Power of Words

  1. Interesting thought, that I hadn’t really thought about, but you are right. What do those words mean. What they mean to me may be completely different than what they mean to Vance, hence he may get votes based on false assumptions because the average person may not dig any deeper than the surface level.

    • Exactly. Who is against families? No one. Traditional values? Every family has its own traditional values. If a politician says those things are under attack, it has a very personal — not universal — meaning to anyone who hears it and NO one will oppose it but they WILL oppose those whom they believe are out to destroy them. It’s like “Life of Brian” —

      “You are all individuals!”

      “We are all individuals!”

      “Uh, I’m not…”

      It’s wacky…

  2. I once wrote a poem about concrete. If I remember correctly, the language was pretty concrete as well. It was after I had made a section of city sidewalk (to cover up the water and sewer lines I had just run from a house to the street) and I was thinking about how we take craftsmanship for granted. No one notices, thinks about, or appreciates a well-made sidewalk, but we sure notice when it shifts, cracks, or otherwise goes bad. (You check in on MTG every day? Do you delight in torturing yourself?)

    • MTG is a very informative source for how the other half is “thinking.” I just want to know. It’s total and complete madness over there, but I don’t want to be surprised at the next major election. It was terrible the last time. I was completely unprepared.

      One of my first short stories was about an Italian immigrant bricklayer and his passion for building a beautiful brick wall. His son took over the business after the old man died. Years later, the son happened on a wall his dad had built. It said more to him than his father had ever said in words. I liked the story a lot, but it was kitsch. Our old high school has brick work like I imagine that fictional character having done. ❤

  3. It is ironic that you check on MTG every day. I always read whatever Trump or DeSantis have to say. Total garbage that makes my blood boil, but, like you, I don’t want to be surprised, either.

  4. I love this post – the discussion on concrete poetry and the political aspects. I just had a conversation with son#2 where he was ranting about conservative Christians who have completely forgotten about Jesus’ admonition to perform corporal works of mercy. He went on to say that the WWJD movement has veered so far from what Jesus would do that they are only nominally Christian! I guess I’ve done something right as a parent!!

    • You definitely did something right (a lot of things right) as a parent. It’s that old argument between Catholics and Protestants taken to a very drastic degree — salvation through works vs. through grace. Stupid argument to start with. I think the WWJD idea is a long long way from what a lot of people call Christianity today. For my “money” Christianity is all summed up in the “new commandment.” What is there beyond that any Christian (or anyone) is called upon to do? ❤

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