Slice of Life Story -Preserving Words
In these times of social solitude, I have been consciously delving back into books previously read. Pulling titles from the shelves and rediscovering treasure among the pages. It is proving a rich and rewarding experience. Stimulating thought, arousing curiosity and prompting action.
Yesterday, it was Robert McFarlane’s ‘Landmarks’ published in 2016. A celebration of landscapes and language. McFarlane writes with fierce enthusiasm for the wonderful words residing in the natural world. He cites a 2012 national report concerning ‘Natural Childhood’ conducted in the UK concerning the lives of children between 1970 and 2010. The report noted that the area children were permitted to play unsupervised shrank by 90 % across that period. A dramatic downturn in free range play in untamed or wild places. Across successive generations the roaming radius of children has collapsed to mean just the house, the garden if one exists and the pavement in front of the house. Increasingly, adults control where kids play and what that play looks like. I have no reason to believe this isn’t the same for children in other countries around the world.
The report noted that the area children were permitted to play unsupervised shrank by 90 % across that period. A dramatic downturn in free range play in untamed or wild places. Across successive generations the roaming radius of children has collapsed to mean just the house, the garden if one exists and the pavement in front of the house. Increasingly, adults control where kids play and what that play looks like. I have no reason to believe this isn’t the same for children in other countries around the world.
While this has been happening, screen time and passive recreation has risen exponentially. The backyard has been abandoned by many, as the siren of technology lures and traps kids indoors.
As a consequence, environmental literacy has plummeted. Kids can identify a transformer, a Pokémon, a play-station, but struggle with a skink, a woodlouse (slater) or a mudlark. The disconnection with nature is disturbing. This lack of interaction with natural settings represents a loss of critical natural experiences, a loss of opportunity for imaginative play and a depletion of authentic adventure. Vocabulary is less worldly, more stilted. There are huge consequences for language. It’s parameters not only shift, they suffer a form of cultural malnutrition.
Further to the writing of Landmarks, Robert McFarlane has also written The Lost Words (2017) a book designed to speak directly to young readers and preserve words such as- acorn, adder, conker, fern, raven, otter, wren and more. Words deemed no longer worthy of inclusion in the Oxford Children’s dictionary. Words no longer vivid in children’s voices, no longer alive in their stories. With the help of illustrator, Jackie Morris, McFarlane has woven these words into spells (acrostic poems) to restore their magic and to summon their use back into the mouth and the eye. This is a beautiful book in every sense. It has much to recommend it.
I realize how fortunate I was to have had frequent free range play experiences as a child. Creeks, lakes, forests, gardens, valleys, quarries, and gullies were some of my playgrounds. The stories I so readily tell today owe their origins to these places and the language that grew from the imaginative play and outright adventure that frequently occurred in these wonderful locales. What will happen to the world of adventure, stories and literature if today’s children are not permitted to be adventurers and explorers?
I have been taking my lead from language advocates like Robert McFarlane. In the past week alone a range of beautiful old words have found their way into my poetry and other writing. I want to open up language rather than close it down. Words such as: fizmer, blather, smirr, slomp, snicket, ginnel, pricking and cheesybug have all inserted themselves seamlessly into my writing. I hope you have previous acquaintance with some, or possibly all of these words...
Now that I’ve teased you, I’m not going to tell you what they mean. I trust you too will find your curiosity rising and go in search of some, or possibly all of these glorious words and their meanings.
In the poem, Fair Whack, (From, I Bet There’s No Broccoli On The Moon, 2016) I not only celebrate the game of cricket, I equally celebrate the wonderful array of words that exist when we wish to describe how people might leave a scene. It feeds directly into my love of wordplay. See what you think. I’m about to skedaddle…
All the kids
Gathered in the park to play cricket
Banger Barnes was batting
The ball exploded from the bat
High in the sky it flew
Above the trees
Away into the dazzling sunlight
Out of the park
And over the road
It bounced beside Mrs Bradford’s cat Boofhead
Then bounced again
Before shattering Mr Stravlakis’s front window
Over in the park everyone froze
Natalie nicked off
Flynn flew the coop
Wazza took to the woods
And Banger Barnes hotfooted it home
When Mr. Stravlakis entered the park
All the kids had split
Alan j Wright
I Bet There’s No Broccoli On The Moon, 2016