Writing Prompt: National Grammar Day


Today is National Grammar Day, which is a GREAT excuse to write a poem, if you ask me. Poets play with, and push the boundaries of, grammatical rules all the time in our quest to "make it new." Grammatical innovations in poetry can be truly arresting, and the best part of playing around with grammar is that it's easy and deeply fun. 

Consider, for example, the fresh, joyful quality of the language in Shira Erlichman's Be/Hold: a friendship book, which plays with (and teaches children to read) compound nouns: 

A friendship is like that.

With sails powered by

the deepest of breaths.

Some might call it a loveship..

or a songship...or a wowship...

and they'd be right. 

But even if your ship's makeshift,

come beloved, be loved 

by me. 


There are earths to quake and sees to saw.

There's sand to quick and bones to wish...

Erlichman's text uses compound nouns as a springboard for the imagination, deconstructing some and reconfiguring others. What kind of poem could you build from compound nouns? What new words could you join together; what words could you productively break apart and re-imagine?

Another common grammatical move in poetry is "verbing the noun," that is, using a noun to describe an action. This practice has been common in the English language for centuries--Shakespeare, for example, was a master of it--and is as likely to be found in memes and in casual speech as it is in poetry and literature. Verbing nouns often results in surprising, fresh, arresting, language, and it makes for a useful and rewarding poetic exercise. Consider these examples:

"I'm gonna have to science the *^&$%^ out of this." --Matt Damon, "The Martian"

"Still virginalling upon his palm?" --Leontes, in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale

"...to wimple (indeed)

our own way to the furies underneath..." --Vona Groarke, "Nouns and Verbs"

Try this out for yourself! Write a description of a scene familiar to you. Then circle the verbs. What nouns could sub in for those verbs? What suprises can you find along the way? 

Grammar and language itself are constantly changing, and these changes and fluidities can be a source of delight and wonder. As poets, we have opportunities to seek those moments of linguistic surprise in our creative work. What happens to our poems if we deconstruct and reconstruct their grammatical conventions a bit?