Drafting: “Carajo”/Writing Exercise

I haven’t written much since I got to Spain. Right now, I’m focusing on journaling, writing down images, scenes, etc. in the hopes I’ll have a good amount of material to go through once I get home.

The one thing I have completed has been as part of an assignment. The assignment required us to look up  “false friends” in Spanish, as in words which sound or look like English words, but mean different things. For example, caro doesn’t mean a car, or to care, but means “dear” and is most often used to mean expensive. Some words in Spanish also have many more meanings than the ones we have in English. For example, cara can mean “face, look, front, or side of a phonograph record.” For the assignment, we had to search in our dictionaries for at least three words in Spanish that are either false friends and/or have a number of meanings that we usually don’t have for them in English. Then bring those together in a poem.

I decided to research “dirty” Spanish words for starters, since those in English happen to have a lot of different meanings. I was completely surprised, though, when I got to the word, “carajo,” which means “penis.” It also means “a crow’s nest” (literally, as well as the lookout basket at the top of a mast), “a small cup of coffee,” “garlic-shaped face” (a term used to refer to the Moors when they invaded Spain), and “a far away place, like hell.”

The last thing I read before leaving Memphis was RookeryTraci Brimhall‘s first book of poetry. As soon as I read “crow’s nest,” I thought of her beautiful poem, “Aubade with a Broken Neck,” and her opening line became the opening line for my poem:

“The first night you don’t come home,
the crows in our elm jilt
their brood.”

The poem right now is about 20 lines and relies heavily on the Brimhall poem (pulling in the “auspices” part, as well as some of the love relationship). I may do this a lot in a first draft: rely heavily on whatever inspired it, and then come back to it later with a different set of eyes. What’s important for me usually is to just write and get it onto the page, even if my head is telling me, “Oh my God, you’re just rewriting her poem and her poem is like 80 million times better!” A lot of times, while I’m writing, I’ll discover something new. For example, in the case of this poem, the woman’s lover is a sailor and the “garlic-faced women that line/the dock” can divine that she is in someway doomed.

For those of you who like exercises, this one is a really good one. Another option is to look through the Oxford English Dictionary and its Historical Thesaurus (or just dictionary.com) to check out the etymologies of words and/or words we no longer use. “Harlot” originally meant “young idler or rogue” and referred only to men. “Petrichor,” a word never really used, means “the scent of rain on dry earth.” You can also think up words or phrases you so rarely hear today: “carriage return” (found on typewriters, the equivalent of today’s enter key), “Be Kind–Rewind.” Or even strange place names: Mamungkukumpurangkuntjunya Hill in Australia happens to mean “where the devil urinates.”

The important thing is to see what comes up just by doing the research. I was surprised how inspired I felt after seeing how many meanings “carajo” had (oh, and it’s most “common” meaning never even made it into my poem!).

If any of you try this out, let me know what words/meanings inspire/titillate you!

4 thoughts on “Drafting: “Carajo”/Writing Exercise

  1. Wow, now that is a freighted word. Of course, I love Traci’s work, but your draft already sounds different and intriguing.

    Thanks for reminding me of petrichor, which definitely deserves to be used more often, as people are always waxing poetic about the smell of rain on dry dirt, and look at that, we already have a perfectly wonderful word for it!

    BTW: I just got another rejection for the Weather book and hadn’t been able to get anything started today at the desk of the Kangaroo, and then I read your post and was alive again with possibility. THANK YOU!

    1. Sorry to hear about the rejection. 😦 It’s been interesting following your at-home residency progress. In many ways, I’m jealous, because it’s been hard for me to write here in Spain, since it’s so out of my element.

      But congrats to you! You’ve nearly done the first run of drafting for your second book! Quite a feat!

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