Intersections: Bubble Words

In the interest of maintaining interest on A Prayer Like Gravity while I explore the idea of Getting Things Published Out There, I am exploring various ideas of What Else Can I Write And Publish Here? I don’t usually write non-fiction or essays and in fact I have either failed or dropped English Composition I no less than three times (it was a long time ago, but still…) so hopefully these Forays Into Non-Fiction and Poetics will be of interest to others and not so terribly written or long-winded as to be un-readable. Hopefully, they will improve over time. You’ll have to let me know how I do. 

So here’s one idea: Intersections. I am almost constantly struck (often dumb or like a bell) by the way in which so many of the things I am reading, listening to and thinking about intersect and how these things seem to feed off of each other. Things seem to Free-Associate in my world (call it the Poetic Imagination at work) and I constantly see connections and interconnections and I am trying to pay better attention to them.

Today’s Intersection is…..Bubble Words


Some days, I wake up with a word on my lips. A small word. A big word. It will simply be there in the mind like a bubble from the bottom of a pond. Sometimes it will be a word I know well. Sometimes, I will have to look it up. Whether I look it up or not, whether I know it or not, it will often continue to bubble up—periodically, seemingly at random—for a quite a while. I feel at the time like looking it up in the dictionary or on the internet might help it go away, like I’m trying to get rid of chronic hiccups or an itch or a song that gets stuck in my head. I try to pay attention to these words. I try to put them in my journal. At least the strange ones, the different ones, the non-mundane ones. I’m not always good about it and I know I should pay attention to all of them. Some of them become rather relentless and stick around for weeks or months. (Many find their way into my Word Wild Weft.)

The latest one was “interferon”.


That’s what I said.

Interferon? Really? Where the hell did you come from? I don’t even know how to spell you.”

Luckily Google does. So I looked it up. I won’t bore you with all the technical details that I barely begin to comprehend but suffice it to say that interferons help us fight disease. According to Wikipedia (I don’t care what your high-school history teachers say, that’s where I start all my research), “Interferons (IFNs) are a group of signaling proteins made and released by host cells in response to the presence of several pathogens, such as viruses, bacteria, parasites, and also tumor cells.”

(Kinda purty, ain’t they?)

“Interferons are named for their ability to ‘interfere’ with viral replication by protecting cells from virus infections.”

Okay. Cool.

Cute name.

Whatever, interferon. Talk to ya’ later.


Well, this word kept bubbling up–multiple times a day. They do that sometimes. I’ll be pouring granola into my yogurt, getting a soda from the fountain at work, staring off into space (I do that a lot), or reading some terribly profound poem and “POP!”





Fast forward about a week.

Interferon is still making its periodic bubbly appearances and I’m in my car listening to a Poetry Off the Shelf podcast. I’ve been listening to these podcasts from the Poetry Foundation for a while now. Some of them are as short as 4-5 minutes long and they are rarely more than twelve minutes long which makes them perfect for my short commutes to and from work.

Being the somewhat obsessive delver-into-new-knowledge that I am, and considering that I recently got a new phone with a ridiculous amount of storage, I’ve gone back to the very first Poetry Off the Shelf podcasts from 2006 and have been listening to them all in chronological order.  

I have gotten to the November 28th, 2006 episode, entitled “Call The Poet,” and our host, Curtis Fox, is interviewing (and lightly, good-humoredly grilling) poet Charlie Smith about his somewhat opaque poem, Sprung (I have a fondness for opaque poems, as long as I can still see the light through them):

Curtis Fox: “What are you getting at there?”

Charlie Smith: “I have no idea. It’s just a phrase that came to me that I like a lot. I like to think about things like ‘crimes of our nature’, whatever they might be. I don’t really know what it means other than that it probably means pretty much what it says.” (I love that bit.)

Curtis Fox: “So, when I’m knocking my head against the poem trying to figure out ‘what does he mean by “the crimes of our nature”?’, I shouldn’t be doing that.”

Charlie Smith: “Oh, you can do it if you like. It’s fine with me whatever you do with the poem. I mean, a poem is—poems blow the dust off of life. I mean, they’re like a kind of spiritual interferon (!) or wonder-drug. They make the fading spirit inflate again and come alive again and they do that in all kinds of ways. And you can get at them by knocking your head against them or you can get at them by treating them like a limbo bar or  you can get at them by seducing them or being seduced by them. But they’re supposed to in some way make it so that we see things a little more clearly.”


…like a party popper…


This is why I pay attention to these wordy bubble-ups, these stray neural firings, these apparently random but somehow loaded sleepwalking words that wander through my day-time life. Because stuff like this happens.

Now, I’m not particularly superstitious nor do I believe that “things happen for a reason” and I am basically a rationalist and a skeptic but I do believe that we should pay attention to the things that happen and that we can learn a lot about ourselves when and if we pay attention and that when I pay attention to the things that happen in my life my mind begins to feel like a Large Hadron Collider as things and words and ideas bing and bong and ping off of each other and things seen or read or heard some where and some when seem to link up quantumly with things seen or read or heard some other where and some other when and…..


…and now again I am reminded also of a quote from Billy Collins:

“I think of a poem as an interruption of silence and I think of prose as a continuation of noise.”

Which is of course hilarious in its own Billycollinsian way but I find myself thinking, what if what we think of as silence is more often in fact just the white noise that the mind has been fooled into thinking of as silence when in fact it is all the far-too-much-noise that has drowned out the silence at the heart of our souls, the silence that we need desperately to listen to, the silence that we must make space for, the silence that we must find time for, so that when we read poems, they have some silence to interrupt.

I often think of poems as pebbles, pebbles that we toss into the pools of our minds, but what effect can these pebbles have if the pool is not still? Like tossing a pebble into a pond in a heavy downpour, will we see the ripples? Will we notice the effect? Will we even be able to tell where the pebble hit the water? Will we notice the things that bubble up from the bottom of the pond?

You never know, some of them might even be shining, golden fish…


So tell me, have you had any Bubble Words simmer to the surface of your life lately? Anything bing or bong or ping in that LHC you carry around on your shoulders?

8 thoughts on “Intersections: Bubble Words

  1. I love this meandering word-association post. It’s so interesting how the mind hops around and links disparate things. Love the idea of poems like pebbles too, tossed into the pool of the mind. great metaphor.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Deborah. That metaphor is one that has been haunting me for quite some time and continues to do so. It never seems to lose its depth…

      I have you to thank in no small part for my decision to post more of these musings. Your O’Keefe/Oliver post from a while ago got me really thinking about these things and how I might pay more attention to them and track how they run through my mind. I am still, believe it or not, working on the “ripple” post that your pebble started in my mind.

      It’s coming….


  2. Great post, Johnny…. sure, words bubble up all the time. It’s like following bread crumbs on the trail. A few years ago ‘renascence’ just popped up in my mind. What? Then it set itself in a poem (words can be pushy) and I still drew a blank every time I’d read the poem and have to look it up. I had a solid resistance to renascence which still cracks me up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Renascence. That’s a good one. So close to renaissance.
      I love too the idea of words whose concepts still elude us even as and after we engage with them in our writing. In this way, good words are like good poems:

      ‘“We want to feel poetry turning against itself again and again,” James Longenbach suggests, “not only because we need to interrogate our best ideas but because we want to experience the sensation, the sound, of words leaping  just beyond our capacity to know them certainly.” One sign that it may be a good poem — I feel this especially when I’m “teaching” poetry — is that, whenever I return to it, I’ve forgotten it. Or: not forgotten it, but forgotten my way through it.’
      –Matthew Bevis in this great essay from Poetry:

      This issue and this essay will be mentioned again….

      I know that feeling of resistance. Perhaps it is the analytical mind, the ‘alphabetical’ mind, wanting all those ducks to line the F up. Shall we call it the “Cat-Herding Mind”?

      Thanks for reading and engaging, Ms. Light–


      • Thanks for the link Johnny…. and the conversation. In this instance I had more to learn, to encompass. You know how poetry can be….like cracks in a door. The simple crack can stay open for years, the door opening slowly…or not… as another door opens instead. But when I find myself returning to an older poem that begins to “niggle” and nudge, I pay attention. The word “renascence” fell at the end of a poem …. after this line

        (held hostage)
        until falling into the well of time
        “there is no measure in kinship”
        renascence, so unexpected
        is mine

        ….and morphed into this

        I’m glad you are exploring this topic Johnnny, and look forward to more!

        Liked by 1 person

        • I love the idea of this word, renascence.
          Looking at the roots of it, not just “rebirth”,
          not just “being born again” but “again being ready to be born.” As though one has been nascent the whole time and the first was an “almost birth” and now, only now are we ready for true birth. I’m off to explore your second…


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