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Genre: Poetry
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Freshly Cut Words

By: by: Ginny Carroll, Ph.D. and Kathy Jevec, BSA

About five years ago I was out of words but we were still interested in language. I was having a difficult time in my life and found myself collecting words that might be useful when I could make sense of what was happening. I had no plans, just envelopes stuffed with interesting and unrelated words.

Once, when I dropped an envelope, I started playing with the words, as anybody does with magnetic poetry sets but this was better.

These were odd words, culled from articles on geology, fashion, cooking, homemaking, politics, and carpentry. They were colorful, in different fonts. I became as curious about how the words looked as how they sounded and what they meant.

This led to a creative process that I've shared with other people even those who do not think of themselves as poets or artists.

When you dump thousands of words on a table you invite people to play with language to discover surprising combinations not just the pairing of “x” with “y” but the startling string of images that can be pulled from a single word. In workshops and in my6 experiences, the poems that result from the word pile are different from other kinds of poems we write: the voices are less distinguishable and the subject is often more playful and undefined. Sometimes a single word can generate the rest of the poem, as we build up lines around a word we just have to glue it. Sometimes the words can be images of a person's voice, what the eyes in an old photograph might be saying.

We've also found that collecting the words can be creative and collaborative. Old, discarded magazines are a prime source of found vocabulary. A diversity of magazine topics yields an eclectic word pile. Words and phrases occasionally call to be cut for no particular reason. We've heard groups of adults yelling, “I've found 'undulating'!” or “Look! Fresh-cut words!” and even “Can anyone find dance?”

Soon the pile threatens to overcome the table or someone needs the table and the pile must be moved. What to do? Envelopes seem the logical container. We couldn't stuff all the words into one envelope; a plastic folder was sterile. We found in the end we could connect several envelopes to make a book with a hard cover to hold and transport words.

If you'd like to see some of our 'glued' works and collage poems, Ginny Carroll and Virginia Schaefer are the same person.


  1. Use words as they are printed and cut: no adding a letter to change tense or to pluralize.
  2. Don't worry at all about capitalization.
  3. Leave punctuation out.
  4. Make interesting choices about line arrangement and length.
  5. Don't write the poem first and then find cut words to represent it. Find the poem in the words you have, returning to magazines for articles, prepositions, or small words to finish lines.
  6. This writing can be done in isolation but is very interesting in groups or try it both ways.
  7. Use rubber cement to glue down the final version. Glue sticks are easier but words tend to fall off after a short time.
  8. To preserve poems, scan them to digital format. Try printing them in different sizes.
  9. Color copiers can also be used to preserve your work and make them suitable for framing.
  10. Have fun — love words!

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