Dive in! The Power of Wordpools


I discovered wordpools in Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge’s Poemcrazy. “I collect…hats, coins, cougars, old Studebakers,” she writes. “That is, I collect the words. Pith helmet, fragment, Frigidaire, quarrel, love seat, lily. I call gathering words this way creating a wordpool. This process helps free us to follow the words and write poems.”


When I read this, I’d been writing poems a long time, but the idea of collecting words to spark creativity was new to me. That a poem might be lurking in some random words—surge, hit, new, kiss, overallfork, innocence, bumblebee, fingers—was exhilarating.


Around this time, the late 1990s, Magnetic Poetry kits appeared. I received many as gifts. They came in sheets, requiring the recipient to detach the words from each other. I’ve lost count of how many kits I processed this way, only to find the words I’d carefully separated uninspiring. Staring at a refrigerator covered with words that someone else selected did little for my creativity.


The best wordpools I make came from the newspaper: history, fringe, inspection, pattern, risk, untangle, or subject-specific writing, as in these words I found in an article about waterfalls: cascade, erosion, drop, plunge, plummet. I’ve also had some luck creating wordpools from my own writing. Some examples: “Object Lesson” began with cart, plastic, warning, children, words I found in one of my journals from 2018. I pulled ocean, explanation, distant, feet, trick from some of my unpublished poems; those words became “The Reflection of Visible Wavelengths.”


Like Wooldridge, I like to attach words to inanimate objects. For example, I propped “solitude” against my desk lamp. A jar of sea glass received “lighthouse;” a roll of masking tape, “clean,” a picture of a butterfly, “visitor.”


I made a wordpool from the titles of books on the shelves by my desk, and came up with the following phrases:


steal the good life

ideas make birds

I collected, rhyming

new seeds don’t cry

the beautiful survivor


Creating poems from wordpools never gets old. It feels like play, because it is. It’s the best kind of nerdy fun.


More fun with words:

Check out Poemcrazy, now in its 30th printing.

William S. Burroughs on the Cut-Up method: “All writing is in fact cut ups.”

The history of magnetic poetry began with a sneeze.

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