Word Cloud Resized


I usually don’t feel the need to explain my one-word titles, but this connection is personal. “Soundings” are what sailors take when they are in shallow water or where there are hidden rocks. Sounding is also blowing a horn as warning. Sounding out words is how we learn to read.

And for me, it’s how I find out if a poem works – by sounding it out loud.

Music and poetry are very close kin. Both must have rhythm, and above all, Sound, which is: noise; whole; good; a channel; thorough; hard; a declaration; a signal; what it appears to be but may not be; a test; and a measure in time and in dance. Both must also have “feel” in the mouth and on the tongue and the lips.

Neil Gaiman is best known as the award-winning author of books like American Gods, Stardust, Anansi Boys, and Neverwhere.

He also writes poetry. As you might expect from the author of a children’s book like Coraline, his poetry is unsettling.


Sometimes I think it’s like I live in a big giant head on a hilltop
made of papier mache, a big giant head of my own head.
I polish the eyes which would be windows, or
mow the lawn, I mean this is my house we’re talking about here
even if it is a big giant papier mache head that looks just like mine.
And people who go past
in cars or buses or see the house the head on the hill from trains
they think the house is me.
I’ll be sleeping there, or polishing the eyes, or weeding the lawn,
but no-one will see me, no-one would look.
And no-one would ever come. And if I waved no-one even knows it was me waving.
They’d all be looking in the wrong place, at the head on the hill.

I can see your house from here.

These past months, I have been savoring his Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances, by reading just one piece, and then going away to other books and my own writing projects, and coming back for the next bit. Sometimes I’ve read a particular piece several times over two or three days.

Neil Gaiman

Witch Work is one of three poems he included in Trigger Warning. You should try sounding it:

“Witch Work”
The witch was as old as the mulberry tree
She lived in the house of a hundred clocks
She sold storms and sorrows and calmed the sea 
And she kept her life in a box.
The tree was the oldest one that I’d ever seen 
Its trunk flowed like liquid. It dripped with age. 
But every September its fruit stained the green 
As scarlet as harlots, as red as my rage.
The clocks whispered time which they caught in their gears 
They crept and they chattered, they chimed and they chewed. 
She fed them on minutes. The old ones are years. 
She feared and she loved them, her wild clocky brood.
She sold me a storm when my anger was strong 
And my hate filled the world with volcanoes and laughter 
I watched as the lightnings and wind sang their song 
And my madness was swallowed by what happened after.
She sold me three sorrows all wrapped in a cloth. 
The first one I gave to my enemy’s child. 
The second my woman made into a broth. 
The third waits unused, for we reconciled.
She sold calm seas to the mariners' wives
Bound the winds with silk cords so the storms could be tied there,
The women at home lived much happier lives
Till their husbands returned, and their patience be tried there.
The witch hid her life in a box made of dirt, 
As big as a fist and as dark as a heart 
There was nothing but time there and silence and hurt 
While the witch watched the waves with her pain and her art.
(But he never came back. He never came back…)
The witch was as old as the mulberry tree 
She lived in the house of a hundred clocks 
She sold storms and sorrows and calmed the sea 
And she kept her life in a box.

I actually believe that almost everything Neil Gaiman has written is Poetry, but most of it is in disguise as Fiction. It is by sounding it that we discover what’s behind the masque.

Thank you for reading Word Cloud. Visitors and comments welcome.

Sources and Further Reading:

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances © 2015 by Neil Gaiman, HarperCollins Books, ISBN 978-0-06-233026-0


Neverwhere © 1996 by Neil Gaiman, BBC Books, ISBN 0-7472-6668-9

Stardust © 1999 by Neil Gaiman, William Morrow, ISBN 0-380-97728-1

American Gods © 2001 by Neil Gaiman, William Morrow, ISBN 0-380-97365-0

Coraline © 2002 by Neil Gaiman, HarperCollins Books, ISBN 0-380-97778-8

Anansi Boys © 2005 by Neil Gaiman, HarperCollins Books, ISBN 0-06-051518-X

Word Cloud Photo by Larry Cloud

About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for over 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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