THE BLOG

Word Games

08/01/2015 10:43 GMT | Updated 09/03/2015 09:59 GMT

New Year, New You - so much nonsense. I'm still here. I'm still me, still boring, still a creature of habit, still deeply flawed and still ... well, still whatever it is that people think of me. But I'm trying new things ... mostly in the name of self-preservation (like more rest and less screen-time), but also to keep students in my classes more alert and entertained.

The first thing I'm trying is a collection of magnetic word games to spark some creativity in writing poems. I'm trying it out on a weekend school Open Day, and, getting ready, have been playing with the games myself. Not really because my inner child needed some structured play to start a dark and stormy Wednesday, honestly ... the words came in blocks and needed broken apart into individual pieces so that they could be rifled through and chosen to be placed on the magnetic board and made into a poem.

Working with icy fingers through my three small, silver boxes of words, I seem to have picked quite dark things. Dark clouds, winter landscapes, the image of someone staring out a window rather longingly. But there's aspiration there as well: wishing for better things, even if it's only better weather... a sort of search for fulfillment or at least its literally-expressed manifestation. Not so much staring idly out of the window, as searching for some kind of overarching meaning, attempting to make sense of things, just as picking words out of the box to create a poem draws meaning out of what seems like total chaos.

Someone with an awful lot of time on his hands has, I read yesterday, created a video which layers every single episode of 1990s sitcom Friends on top of each other, creating a terrifying verbal chaos a bit like the worst, loudest cacophony of voices and perpetual movement you could imagine encountering in an overcrowded setting like a busy rush-hour railway station or a really scary nightclub. The effect is bewildering: a vision confirming what Jean Paul Sartre once said, that 'Hell is other people', other people who are not benign and whose words, if you can interpret them at all, appear to make no sense. The hostility of other people's laughter when you're not in on the joke. The terror of constant talking into which you have no opening. Words without meaning or connections are just that: latent weapons. They say the pen is mightier than the sword... possibly not the case if faced with both in single-handed combat, but even so: words can hurt. Damage. Inflict terror. Most of all: bewilder, lose and alienate...

We all play word games with each other. It's an election year (oh the excitement...), and the games will soon begin which will see politicians setting out their stalls as eminently electable and trustworthy. Gone will be the voting patterns based on policy and experience; in will be the manifestos, the promises, the sweet-talking. Just as the card shops sell off the final Christmas cards in the last gasps of the Sales, the Valentine Cards will begin to appear (indeed, early-hatching Easter eggs have already been spotted!). The lonely, would-be lovers will begin the quest to seduce with words. Sweet nothings, after all, are healthier than sweets, carrying no risk to cholesterol or waistline. Impressions will be formed which may lead to success, whether in dating websites, workplaces or the minefield of the teenage locker room. Friends and family members, the forced merriment of Christmas at an end, will veer between peace and war, glossing over reality or telling one another how they really feel. Social media ought to offer just one relationship status for everyone, everywhere, at every time of life and for every type of thing: it's complicated.

We choose our words at random from a silver box of possibilities, as new years and new conversations start in the seemingly-hostile darkness of empty loneliness. We place ourselves on the blank canvas of others' judgment and opinions: longing to be liked, afraid of being hated, desperate for our words to find common ground with someone, even for a moment. Children's deliberate fingers choose words from the boxes on their desk, making patterns, making wilful nonsense, rhyming, finding humour... maybe something which will semaphore a hidden codeword to that friend across the room. We do the same in worlds apart from classrooms, in conversation which is anything but poetry. We make sentences- meanings- friendships- battles- lives. We play beyond and sometimes even according to the rules. The delight when someone senses on what you mean outbalances the million lifetimes of despair when it seems quite certain that no-one ever will.

Words are magnetic, whether they're made to stick to a shiny board, or whether simply clinging to the surfaces of who we are.

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