This week I participated in a webinar with poet Georgia Heard offered by my state reading council. Heard spoke about wanting students to see the world like poets. Then she shared specific ways to help students find poetry, write using mentors, and revise their poems. The point of revision, she noted, is to match the words you wrote on paper with what’s in your heart.

I have read most of Heard’s books and used her poetry techniques for as long as I have been teaching. However, there was one revision lesson she shared this time that I heard with fresh ears: don’t teach students to use thesaurus dot com, rather teach them to use the thesaurus in their minds.

The example she gave was the word gray. She shared this screenshot of an online search for synonyms:

screenshot from webinar with Georgia Heard

The results of the search through the thesaurus in her mind were very different: wrinkled elephant gray. This is how those words appear in her final draft of “Where Do I Find Poetry?”

“In trees dancing on a windy day,
when sky is wrinkled and elephant gray.”

from “Where Do I Find Poetry?” by Georgia Heard

What a simple revision technique! I have been sifting through the thesaurus in my mind ever since Heard planted this seed.

As I walk, I notice there is finally green on the trees. I wonder, what kind of green? The green of young spring leaves. Young green.

At the food pantry I notice the tidy rows and rows of cans and boxes. They are neatly organized, like soldiers, I think. Orderly rows of canned food waiting for deployment.

I open the back door to let my dog into the yard and hear the white noise of the wind in the trees, now that there are finally leaves to flap around. I have always thought it sounds like waves. Now, I think about what kind of waves because using a thesaurus is always about specificity. It is not a search for a word, but rather a search for just the right word. Wind and leaves dance together like waves rolling over themselves far from shore, like a waterfall spraying stones.

This close attention to word choice walks hand in hand with imagery, and something about Heard’s reference to the thesaurus in our minds makes revision buzz with purpose and heart. I think it might have caused me to see the world a bit more like a poet.

7 thoughts on “Gray

  1. “ I have been sifting through the thesaurus in my mind ever since Heard planted this seed.” I like the way you phrased this. It is an idea I (like you) could easily package and take along with me. I am not used to crafting poems in this way. However, if it can inspire in me such an adept word picture as “Orderly rows of canned food waiting for deployment.” that might happily change!


  2. I want to remember “The point of revision, she noted, is to match the words you wrote on paper with what’s in your heart.” That is the key to finding just the right word. Which leads me to, have you read The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus by Jen Bryant?
    Now my task is to search the thesaurus of my mind.


  3. Mmmm…”a waterfall spraying stones.” Perfect word choice. I love Georgia Heard and can’t wait to practice what you’ve said here.


  4. I like the idea of thesaurus in the mind and revision form the heart. I love Georgia Heard’s advice. Thank you for sharing your learning and your thinking with us.


  5. I think the world is always better when more of us see it like a poet. What a lovely exercise, and so much truth to revision. Thank you for sharing and for the challenge to spend more time in the thesaurus of my mind.


  6. Like you said, such a simple revision technique, but how many of us have looked at revision like this. It makes me want to look around and sift through the thesaurus of my mind. Maybe some notebook writing for me tonight?


  7. Wow, your words and Georgia’s advice give me much to think about. I readily use the thesaurus, but maybe it’s time I mined the thesaurus in my mind. I have to admit to a bit of pea green envy crept in when you mentioned a webinar with Georgia. Remember when she sat at our table at All Write? I never fail to be entranced by her teaching. This is a line to keep in my notebook: “The point of revision is to match the words you wrote on paper with what’s in your heart.”


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