Posted by: jeannineatkins | October 15, 2014

Grateful for all the Wrong Words

I’ve been walking around with the sense that it isn’t summer anymore. Yes, July gave us good sunny days, but clutching those memories can make me miss fall’s beauty. I can gripe too much about a soggy day and forget to take a walk when the rain stops.


Most words are as surprising, imperfect, and glorious as October weather. I can get bothered by all the not-quite-right words and forget that if words were perfect, they’d all have been chosen already, lined up in perfect poems or glass cases. Words never quite fit ideas, but are meant to be kicked around the way a child strides, shuffles, and stamps through fallen leaves, pleased by the sounds and scatter that no one can hold, so must crackle and whoosh again. Writing means near constant kicking of language, paying attention to pauses and the ways sounds meet. All the wrong words give us something to hear and direct our next steps.


Every word is inexact, with some holding metaphors meant to stretch or shrink. We can relax if we remember we’re never going to get a perfect match of thought and word. What engages us is the striving, and that’s what we hope will matter to readers, too. They might feel the reach to something they can’t quite catch, but feel changed by the stretching. We’re doing good as long as we pay attention, don’t drift too far back to summer or brace ourselves for winter. And feel grateful, which is more than a thank you nod, closer to belting out a song. In a recent Washington Post interview, Billy Collins says, “With poetry, you don’t have to go through a windshield to realize that life is precious.” I’m trying to take in the yellow bounty in the branches, thinking of a friend who told me about her mother in Hospice who was recently wheeled with her oxygen tank into a garden. Knowing it might be her last time among the trees, she spent eight hours looking, listening, smelling, and appreciating. Every stalk of milkweed or bramble of late roses might not have seemed like much at first, but as with the words we let stick around, beauty was revealed.



  1. Ah, magnificent! Wonderfully layered – writing and life.

  2. Love the zen-ness of this piece, Jeaninne – the feeling that even imperfect words lead us to better ones, just be patient and open.

    • I guess fall brings out the zen in me. Thanks for reading, Tara.

  3. Wonderful insights here, Jeannine. I especially enjoyed the line, “Writing means near constant kicking of language…”

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