If you are interested in wordplay, the Northland branch of NZSA is launching their NorthWrite 2020 programme on Saturday 21 March in Kerikeri at the Tūhono Kerikeri Festival Day with magnetic fridge poetry. Magnetic words (in English and Māori) will be provided so the general public can create short poems or creative sentences for others to enjoy.

To build their word bank, NZSA Northland is hosting a competition and invites all Northlanders to submit short sentences and/or poems for that purpose. Full details are available on their NorthWrite 2020 page.

This got us thinking about sentences so we went on a treasure hunt through Scoria: Short prose from the cinder cone to find sentences that were striking no matter how simple or complex. Here are a few of them:

  • “He’s lower than slime on a snail’s arse” from The good intention of angels.
  • “This is not how the story is supposed to go” from The girl in the drop-hem dress whose mother was stung by a bee (which is also one of our favourite phrases!)
  • “You join me, yawning as if you are swallowing the day” from Sunrise.
  • “Later, tucked into the curvature of his body, she hears the thrumming of his blood and imagines herself afloat on his briny swells and furrows” from Staying in bed.

We also got to thinking about words in general and went searching for 2019’s word of the year. Every dictionary has chosen a different word reflecting the social and political climate of 2019.

  • they – Mirriam-Webster. “Lookups for they increased by 313% in 2019 over the previous year.” In September, Mirriam-Webster also added a new definition to they to define its use as a non-binary singular gender pronoun.
  • existential – Dictionary.com. “Existential, as a word and theme, was prominent in discussions of topics that dominated 2019: climate change, gun violence, and democratic institutions.”
  • climate strike – Collins Dictionary. Climate strike “has seen a four-fold increase since 2013, with news stories and images such as those seen in the BBC’s Blue Planet II steeply raising public awareness of the issue.” Greta Thunberg’s pleas have also pushed this and the Oxford Dictionary word of the year to the fore.
  • climate emergency – Oxford Dictionary. “This year, heightened public awareness of climate science and the myriad implications for communities around the world has generated enormous discussion of what the UN Secretary-General has called ‘the defining issue of our time’.”
  • upcycling – Cambridge Dictionary. “We think that our fans resonated with upcycling not as a word in itself but with the positive idea behind it … upcycling is a concrete action a single human being can take to make a difference.”

The word of the year for Pavlova Press is more personal than political:

  • scoria – scoria represents for us “the small bubbles and glassy fragments of the human condition.”

We also decided we wanted, as individuals, to select our own word for the year.

  • pōhutukawa – Kathy. As part of a current fascination with Rangi Matamua’s work on Matariki, I have discovered that one of the stars in the Matariki constellation is called Pōhutukawa, the star that connects Matariki to the dead. In one of my stories, written years before I learnt of Pōhutukawa the star, a woman is lying under a pōhutukawa tree, trying to come to terms with a stillbirth. This is such a poignant coincidence that I changed the original story title from Crimson tears to Pōhutukawa to reflect the connection. Pōhutukawa is no longer just a tree but a multi-layered word that resonates strongly with me.
  • narrative – Jac. Loosely meaning an orderly account of connected events, or story, narrative is considered an important component of fiction. Many also consider it vital to contemporary poetry, although personally I like to challenge that idea. But it is my word of the year because of its relevance to the creation of identity and meaning in our lives – instead of using logic to explain and understand our experiences we construct narratives/stories to help us deal with them. This can be healthy – for example, silver-lining narratives help us deal with negative experiences. However, when we operate as if our narratives are fixed, we can distort evidence to justify those narratives rather than change them or our behaviour.

Let us know your word of the year in the comments.