Sailing into Poetry
I build my word power with sailing adventures
by Maureen Miller
Boats and words are two of my greatest pleasures. The one allows me to physically explore meandering creeks, open seas and tidal rivers. The other gives me the mental ability to discover the subtle shifts, slow twists and abrupt turns of communication. Sometimes the two pleasures mesh.
I was trying to relate to a fellow writer my first experience of sailing through lobster pot farms off the coast of Maine. Watching his face, I realized that my words didn’t give a good illustration. It was then I resorted to an exercise I created when I found an old batch of Reader’s Digests at a beach cottage. Each issue contained a piece called Word Power. After testing my vocabulary, I used the words to write a poem.
The October 2005 Word Power list contained these words: serene, veritable, harbinger, surmise, malign, provocation, penetrate, imminent, cretin, tripe, assent, mandible, calibrated, trajectory, onslaught and spelunking. They were just the inspiration I needed to properly describe my Maine experience in a poem.
On a serene summer sail off the cost of Maine
we encountered a veritable field of confetti
Multi-colored buoys bobbing boldly on the water.
A harbinger, I surmised, of a treacherous minefield below.
Now I have no wish to malign those who farm lobster in Maine,
But I consider this haphazard method
of stringing pots from shore to shore,
To be a true provocation.
“Impossible to penetrate”
I, at the helm, yelled to my captain
“Imminent disaster awaits
should we collide with one of those vivid blobs.”
Babbling like a cretin,
I quickly staunched my tripe outburst
At her calm words.
“Take heart,” she encouraged,
“Turn the wheel in anticipation,
before you encounter each buoy.”
I nodded assent.
With clenched mandible,
I calibrated the trajectory of least resistance
A course through the onslaught of reds, greens, yellows and blues
marking lines to traps hidden in the depths.
For an instant,
I thought I might prefer spelunking.
But then, the rhythm took hold.
Twenty minutes later,
having run the gauntlet,
I relinquished the helm for a beer.
The minefields behind me, I continue to look for ways to mate my two pleasures. In a file on my desk are several Word Power lists I’ve collected over the past months. As I look through the lists, I am awed by the boating memories the words exhume. Will words like adagio, baton, impromptu, encore, venue, timpani, vivace, timbre and berceuse allow me to describe the wonder of sailing with a playful herd of dolphins? Or would they be put to better use capturing the beauty of kayaking through marsh grasses on a hot summer evening? Perhaps I should save them to describe my fear and awe of canoeing the Okeefenokee Swamp by full moonlight.
Ah, what pleasure boats and words induce.