{pf: poetry peeps play with words}

Greetings! Welcome to another Poetry Peeps adventure on Poetry Friday!

Poetry Peeps! You’re invited to our challenge in the month of November! Here’s the scoop: This month, we’re writing an Ode to Autumn. An ode is a lyrical song-like poem, and like the ancient Greeks, modern humans also enjoy marking an occasion with a song. Whether you choose an irregular ode with no set pattern or rhyme, or the ten-line, three-to-five stanza famed by Homer himself, we hope you’ll join us in singing in the season of leaf-fall and perfect pie. Are you in? Good! You’ve got a month to craft your creation(s), then share your offering with the rest of us on November 26th (the Friday after Thanksgiving, so plan ahead) in a post and/or on social media with the tag #PoetryPals.

Our wordplay poems this month are based on the very fun “________is a Word” poem challenge first introduced by Nikki Grimes when she visited with Michelle Barnes at Today’s Little Ditty. We had many directions we could go with these – so many that I, at least, had trouble choosing a word. Sometimes wordplay presents us an embarrassment of riches! When that happens, we have Laura on hand with her poetry dice to help us narrow things down.

Though many of these wordplay poems seem to land on concrete nouns for their defining roots, I began with an adjective. I chose “hungry” because honestly, when I started writing, I was.


Hungry is a hollow word:
The ‘h’ deflates a sigh
the ‘un-‘ hums onward greedily
Craves Havarti on dark rye…

Hungry swings its syllables
– two snicked-tight pantry doors
That house honey for your hotcakes:
Won’t you have some? Have some more!

Hungry growls its g-r-y,
Like stomachs growl their rage.
A hangry belly is the root
Of many a harsh rampage!

Hungry – just hung up on food?
Or starved, unfilled, abased?
That hungry ends with anguished “Why?”
We have extra, “just in case.”*

So, here’s to ‘hungry,’
Since the word we’ve chopped up to mincemeat
Has left me with a hole inside…
I’m just famished. Let’s go eat.

During our poetry time this month, The Poetry Sisters had a fun discussion about some of the words Laura rolled from the poetry Metaphor Dice. After rolling words we could use easily, we hit upon the word virtuous, to much commentary. It’s a difficult word, carrying baggage heavy enough for its own overhead compartment. Kelly reminded us of Míshlê from the Hebrew Bible, more familiar to some as the Proverbs (of Solomon). This book has a section called the Praise of the Virtuous Woman which Orthodox gentlemen sometimes sing to their wives. It’s a lovely image, but unfortunately, my 19th century British and American Literature undergraduate degree left me with the Nathaniel Hawthorne version of “virtuous.” It’s a hardtack, narrow, Puritanical, word, for me. The judgment I find within it is reflected in the poem I wrote. And, I’m aware – this technically isn’t quite fulfilling the wordplay challenge, because it’s less about the shapes and sounds of the word than my loathing of its meaning, but – oh, well, right?

Virtually Virtue

Virtuous is a sharp-edged word
It cleaves us with its ‘v’
and two looped ‘u’s restrain and herd
the ‘O’ for a pillory.

The frowning ‘ir’ looks down its nose,
At slattern, slanted ‘s’
A judging word, with narrowed eyes
Existing to oppress.

Though Puritans of Olden Days
Would judge me as unfit
History records less white than gray
Of those narrow hypocrites!

Um… Yay, Pilgrims? Happy Thanksgiving?

*clears throat*

Anyway! I loved doing those, and some of our discussion on this form really sparked some thoughts for me. I think I’m going to revisit wordplay poems during my “Gratitudinal” project this November.

Meanwhile, the Poetry Peeps in our digital neighborhood have superbly entertaining wordplay on tap. Sara’s poem is here. Cousin Mary Lee’s is here. Andromeda drops in here, and Tricia’s poem is here. Kelly’s poem is here as is Laura’s. Liz joins the party JoAnn’s poem is here. Rose’s poem is here, while Heidi’s is here. Carol’s playing along, and Michelle is too.. More Poetry Peeps will potentially be popping in all day, so stay tuned for a round-up of wordplay links.

Well, there goes October. What a strange end – torrents and floods in this state, and a wild, windy nor’easter on the other coast. Seems it might be a nippy winter – so I hope you have some wonderful autumnal adventures ahead to see you through. If you’d like to begin your adventures this morning, read more poetry! Poetry Friday today is genially hosted by Linda at Teacher Dance, and costumes are welcome (also, can you believe I’d forgotten it was almost Halloween!? Obviously I need to get out of my writing cave more often)! Here’s to the scarecrows and slightly spooky scares in store.

*I’m always horrified by the statistic that according the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations presented a few years ago, that the world produces agriculturally over one and a half times enough food to feed everyone, everywhere. But, that would require equal distribution, or sharing… something humanity hasn’t learned to do.

22 Replies to “{pf: poetry peeps play with words}”

  1. I did not do this challenge as my attempts were made while I was literally hungry before and after a procedure. I could relate to the anger that comes “hangry” as well as all the h-words. Wordplay is fun and I’m glad you wrote about Virtuous with its frowning ir. Makes me want to write about a word I hate. Ha! Thanks for always inspiring poetry.

  2. Tanita, these are amazing! You poemed to the highest standard! My favorite bits are “Hungry swings its syllables – two snicked-tight pantry doors” and that pilloried “o.” I’m glad you’re going to explore this form more, because you do it brilliantly. There are lots of ways to approach it, and your virtuous poem fulfills every hope I look for in a wordplay poem :>)

  3. I love both of your poems–”Hungry” has so many layers to it, which you touch on in your notes–lots of food production and still too many bellies left empty. And Ah to these closing lines in your second poem,
    “History records less white than gray
    Of those narrow hypocrites!”
    But for so many, many years hErstory was recorded by mostly men. Thanks Tanita!

  4. Tanita, you nailed first wordplay poem with strong verbs in the first stanza deflates, hums, craves and swings and growls in the 2nd stanza. By the end you made me craving chocolate after eating a bunch during the children Halloween parade in my daughter’s neighborhood. Virtually Virtuous has such fine details to ponder. Happy Halloween. Maybe we should wordplay with that word.

  5. I love so many of the words you’ve chosen to describe hungry — rage, rampage, hangry, hollow, harsh, unfilled. And I adore the alliteration of “house honey for your hotcakes.”

    I’m so glad you tackled virtuous. The descriptions in the first two stanzas are physical and so spot on.

  6. I had to search for ‘hangry’, new to me & fits so well with those all over the world who know well “Hungry is a hollow word”. You showed it forcefully in that third verse, Tanita. And as for virtuous, wow for “It cleaves us with its ‘v”. Those who judge continue on with “A judging word, with narrowed eyes/Existing to oppress.” You nailed it there! And I use ‘nail’ with force! I wanted to try this prompt for my post but was sidetracked. All the group’s poems are inspiring like yours!

  7. *thunderous applause* These are just too brilliant and it looks like you had too much fun. Soooooo clever. Of course you had me at the title with “Hunger,” and I, too, drooled at the havarti on rye, and oh my, that “house honey for your hotcakes” slayed me. Also love the first stanza of Virtually Virtue. You’re so good at this; maybe you should consider becoming a writer? 😀

  8. Mary Lee and I are going to fight over who gets the Havarti on rye! (Usually no one else likes rye as much as me, so I get as much as I like) And brava to tackling virtuous. I had vacant, and those “v” words are vicious—I tried but didn’t get as far with it as I liked. You really nailed it with ” two looped ‘u’s restrain and herd
    the ‘O’ for a pillory.” OUCH.

    1. @Sara Lewis Holmes: Haha – you both have to share the rye with me! I wanted to make that v/vee cleavage more obvious, but the sharpness of the V-tip seems like it’s more stabby than enticing. I laughed at how much my view of the letter was colored by my perception of the word! I’ll have to have another go with ‘V’ eventually.

  9. I really love what you have done with these. My favorite lines: “Hungry swings its syllables
    – two snicked-tight pantry doors
    That house honey for your hotcakes..” The imagery and the alliteration are spot on! I think we need to keep this form on rotation.

    1. @Writing Ruminating: American history has buffed the Puritans to shining white highlights some places, but their real history is, like all of humanity’s, pretty grey… Depends on where you look. My history teacher in high school reminded us daily that “history is a lie agreed upon.” I guess it’s all in whether or not you agree!!!

  10. You had me at “Havarti on dark rye!” What a delicious dissection of HUNGRY! You chopped it up “mincemeat” for sure. (Your footnote about food production…oof. Yet another way we humans must. do. better.)

    I’m with you on VIRTUOUS. I definitely get more of the Puritan vibe from that word. Narrow hypocrites, indeed!

    1. @Cousin MaryLee: I had so much fun thinking of ANYTHING but the prosaic “ham-on-rye.” Havarti on rye was actually “beach food” we used to pack when we lived in the Napa Valley. On weekends when most people were wine-and-cheese-ing in the vineyards or in hot air balloons, we’d take fancy cheese and vanish to the shore.

  11. I’m with you, Tanita — I really like this form. I want to write many more. They remind me of the Deeper Wisdom poems we did a couple of months ago, actually. Such a good way to take a look at something we ordinarily let slip right by.

    These are both SO good — I especially love the Why in Hungry and cleaving V in Virtue 🙂

    1. @Liz Garton Scanlon: …Yes! I think that’s what I love about this form; it gives me space to move into the deeper wisdom I can find in such a small thing as a word, whether a noun or adjective. We discussed how most of these poems ARE nouns, which is why I didn’t want to choose one (why be normal, right?). I wanted to look further into the things we use to describe other things – and why we find meaning in them, really.

      1. For anyone who’s interested in etymology and orthography, these wordplay poems are like the grand adventure playgrounds built like pirate ships or rollercoasters! When you begin to take a word apart so many possibilities arise, and have you noticed how often serendipitous coincidences occur? I love both of these (you nailed “hungry”) and especially
        “It cleaves us with its ‘v’
        and two looped ‘u’s restrain and herd
        the ‘O’ for a pillory.”

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