Many notable minds, like Noam Chomsky - a multidisciplinary linguist, have recognized that: “language creates reality”. But who creates language and decides how it’s used?
People. The power of creating a reality starts with you.
What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘sweevil’? What creature do you imagine when you read about the ‘Jabberwocky’? Can you picture a cow jumping over the moon?
These words might seem ridiculous and you will ask yourself what is the point of something that makes no sense?
Well, nonsense poetry wants you to take the time to consider the alternate reality created by its nonsensical verses.
There is an undeniable purpose behind the gibberish of this style of poetic expression.
Nonsense challenges the established way of thinking. It bends the accepted use of language until it breaks open the shell of where you’ve been hiding your creative genius.
So, what do you need to know about nonsense poetry?
We forget that language is a living, breathing entity as it is an extension of us. Words are coined and come in and out of use all the time.
Just think of Shakespeare. He is credited with inventing and reinventing the uses of thousands of phrases and expressions like ‘gloomy’ or ‘night owl’.
Words like ‘boredom’ or ‘freelance’ did not exist once but now, they are part of our everyday interactions and no one bats an eyelid when hearing them. ‘To tweet’ and ‘to google’ are now action words whose validity is never questioned.
These are just some of the examples of how flexible language can be.
Yet, nonsense poetry pushes us even further out of our linguistic comfort zones.
First and foremost, what nonsense poetry does is it allows the creator and the reader to be playful in their communication while expanding the possibilities of what you can imagine.
You may already be familiar with literary nonsense, also known as nonsense verse, if you’ve come across children’s stories and nonsense poems by Dr. Seuss, Edward Lear and Lewis Caroll. You may even be fond of them.
Aside from children’s stories, you can find nonsense literary techniques streaming through nursery rhymes, limericks and even some old-school riddles.
The essential component to nonsense poetry is that it is, you guessed it, utter nonsense. It doesn’t need to make sense, it doesn't even need to include real words. It allows full discretion of the author to define (or not) the words they want to use in their writing.
Let’s have a look at some examples of nonsense poetry.
“‘O Oysters, come and walk with us!'
The Walrus did beseech.
A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a hand to each.”
- The Walrus and the Carpenter by Lewis Carroll
What is the purpose of this nonsense? It is here to entertain, to surprise you, and revert you back to the childlike freedom of play.
Through poetry, you get to access your inner creativity, and everyone is capable because creativity is something that always rests within you.
It is often assumed that creativity is reserved for the special few who are born with innate talents. The likes of Da Vinci or JK Rowling. But that creative genius sits quietly in everyone, overshadowed by the rationality of the adult mind until you release the grips of control and structure.
What is creativity? It is simply the juxtaposition of two or three ideas that don’t seem like they can go together and be able to find a connection. Like a walrus and a carpenter taking a walk on the beach when some oysters decide to join them.
“There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, 'It is just as I feared!
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!’
- A limerick by Edward Lear
Take a moment, and think back to your child self.
As kids, we always come up with the craziest ideas. Why? Because kids think in possibilities. Their intellectual world hasn’t established the patterns and neural connections of an adult-thinking brain just yet, which means they are open to a world of nonsensical imagination.
As adults, the tolerance for nonsense becomes weaker. So, it’s all about reviving your creative genius who indulges in nonsense on the daily, and who’s always been within you.
It’s about connecting with your inner self. Your playful inner child that doesn’t care if something sounds silly, that is ready to explore all the options and once those options are explored you will create more options.
There are some more steps you would want to follow to get your nonsense flowing.
“’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.”
- JabberWocky by Lewis Carroll
This is the fun part when it comes to writing a nonsense poem.
Whether you take two/three words that already exist and mash them together, or play around with writing out sounds, onomatopoeia style, like ‘splash, quack, and zing’. You can even completely make up new words, following in the footsteps of Dr. Seuss or Lewis Carroll.
Making up words is a foolproof way to have fun and begin writing your own nonsense poem. You might find yourself lost in this stage, giggling away to yourself at what you came up with, and that in itself can be said to be successful nonsense already.
Laughter connects you and your potential readers to a pathway of letting go of any constraints, pain, and sorrow. If you are able to laugh and remain lighthearted; all the pressures of a limited, serious life start to fade away.
Think of it as playing a language game. Your stylistic devices are your powers. Make it paradoxical, make up your own metaphors and sayings. Assign meaning however you wish and don’t shy away from fictional words.
“Hey, diddle, diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon;
The little dog laughed
To see such sport,
And the dish ran away with the spoon.”
- By Mother Goose Club
Although nowadays, most nonsensical poems are written to entertain kids, that doesn’t mean you can’t follow the lead of these seemingly simple nursery rhymes and create your own work of art.
Whether your nonsense poem is intended to be complete nonsense or you wish to convey some meaning or a message, adding absurdity is a surefire way to challenge the norms of your (and your readers’) understanding of the world.
Use words that make little sense in the context they are used in: “a dog laughed”, how often do you see laughing dogs? Or running cutlery? Now that’s one for widening your imagination.
Whether your words are meaningless or have no business being paired with other words in a sentence, let it all be acceptable.
“Every Who Down in Whoville Liked Christmas a lot...
But the Grinch, who lived just north of Whoville, Did NOT!
The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason.”
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
Nonsense poetry could be all over the place in meaning but it is not structureless.
As you are setting out to challenge everything that you and your potential readers know about language use in the physical world, it is important to keep some consistency to not completely blow your mind.
Think: everything in moderation.
Using common rhyming techniques of every two lines, or every other line keeps things simple and, at the same time, easy to read. You can use a rhyming structure AABB like in the poem about the Grinch or ABAB like in Jabberwocky above.
In other words, begin by rhyming the last words at the end of each sentence. For example, rhyme the last word of line one and line two, or rhyme line one and line three, then line two and line four.
Play around with your rhymes, read them out loud, hear what the poem sounds like when you read it aloud.
You don’t need a rational interpretation when it comes to nonsense literature. The truth of your poem can remain elusive.
What you need to know about how to write a nonsense poem is: keep it lighthearted, keep it simple and enjoy yourself. And if you are ever stuck for ideas, play around with word association and then just add connecting words in between them.
Let’s try together, shall we:
The arrows are the direction of word association and the last words on each line will rhyme.
Moon → Cheese Board → France → Romance
Aliens ← Sci-Fi ← The Future ← Chance
“The moon loved the cheese board in France it’s romance
Until aliens made sci-fi against their future by chance”
Never let inherited speech limit your creative process. If you think Dr. Seuss created the ‘Grinch’ by staying within the realm of acceptable language, you can think again. It is up to you to choose what’s possible.
In the nonsense reality, the possibilities are infinite. All it takes is practice. The practice of getting back to the uninhibited child's mental state where your inner creative genius awaits.