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 Landmarkspublished 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. 

Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane


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 Pok√©mon, 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. 

The Lost Words: A Spell Book: Macfarlane, Robert: Amazon.com.au: Books

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…

Fair WHACK

All the kids
Gathered in the park to play cricket
Banger Barnes was batting
WHACK!

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
Then…

Scotty scarpered
Veronica vamoosed
Davo decamped
Skeeter skedaddled
Abdul absconded
Dominic dashed
Betsy bolted
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
Game over 
Stumps…


Alan j Wright
I Bet There’s No Broccoli On The Moon, 2016



Comments

  1. Wonderful poem, the scene came alive. Thank you for a very interesting post.

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    1. So pleased my closing poem had this effect on you as a reader.

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  2. The more I read McFarlane, the more I love his explorations. I read Lost Words some time back and still, it resonates with me in wonderful ways ...
    Kevin

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    1. I'm with you Kevin. Robert McFarlane is informative and thought provoking. The Lost Words is a gem.

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  3. You're preaching to the choir, here :)
    I appreciate most your exploration of the lost words, and I'll read McFarlane's book- thanks.
    Clever poem!

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    1. Thank you Fran. It appears you got a few take-aways from this.

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  4. I haven’t read McFarlane, but your post is inspiring me to do so!

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    1. That's a great outcome from my perspective Stacey. Cheers, and happy reading discoveries.

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  5. I consciously speak to my children in elevated language, incorporating words they need but also ones for fun. They're only 3 and 5, but I've already noticed that through reading together nightly and this practice, my 5-yr-old has become quite articulate. He says he's "clumsy", describes the "earth rotating", and revels in telling his own stories set in places like the Winter West, a frozen wild west with icy tumbleweeds.

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    1. Danielle, I find myself nodding in agreement with your shared remarks. It is growing within your children a rich and diverse vocabulary. It is a joy to hear. More power to you.

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  6. Alan: I adore Macfarlane's work. He's a lyrical, gorgeous wordsmith ... on another level, I never realized my own affinity with the natural world until I started writing consistently. Another of the magic doors that writing opens, when a person decides to show up and receive its gifts. Your poem ... I have never played cricket, have only seen it in movies (alas), but reading of it here so reminds me of impromptu games of softball and baseball from my childhood. Your scenes are so vivid - I can see the children, the ball, the cat, and (oh no!) the window, and certainly the skedaddling. The alliterative bursts add to the enchanting quality. Love the title of your book as well - so compelling.

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    1. Thank you Fran, your remarks about my cricket poem and the language used. It pleases me to think the imagery shone through. So glad to hear you too are a devotee of Robert McFarlane. It does not surprise me...

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