Roots Home little black book with all the rest, trivia, weather and wonders. I write to remember, to record the smallest thing.
But before meaning, before writing, a word is a sound. It is voiced, sung, spoken, single and slow, by someone leaning over a cot or a pram, smiling and mouthing a word, or a little rush of words, a phrase, a sentence; or the mysterious music of nursery rhymes. We love the sound of words before we understand them. I loved them because I could not understand them. I liked the pattern they made in books before I could write them. I mimicked words I heard. Family legend tells that I was heard chanting and stamping out the rhythm to these words: ‘Ga puts Mentholatum on her sciatica, and Ceri soaks the clothes in Parazone.’ Ga was my grandmother, Ceri my aunt. I collected strange words grown-ups used. I scribbled pretend ‘words’ on my bedroom wall through the bars of my cot. The wall was an empty page. Even now, setting down the first, uncertain words when beginning a poem, I feel the seduction of a new page. Describing his writing process, the poet R.S. Thomas said that he took a pen and paper to see what words would do. The child, scribbling on a bedroom wall or a page, is doing what a poet does. The child’s first scribbled attempt at a word is primitive and instinctive. It is early man’s mark on a cave wall. You can see what R.S. Thomas meant by ‘seeing what words will do’.
I recently read of research into the development of language in babies. Scientists tested the babies’ brain-reaction to the sound of a word and to the object it named.The babies connected the word with the object, listened and watched the speaker, responding to the spoken word. Some time passed before each baby’s first attempt to say the word. It was concluded that a baby thinks about the word long before trying to say it.
I love that! Of course it does. The unspoken word is like the not yet articulated poem that awaits the pen, or the thought unspooling into a sentence in an essay or an article ready for