I’m going to assume for the time being that none of you have formal training in poetry. I’m also going to assume that you have enough interest in the form to have written at least a few.
Assuming those two things, I want you to throw out those old poems or at least put them off in a drawer to collect dust. We’re starting from the bottom. Beginner’s mind and all that. There’s a good reason for this, no matter how stuck-up it makes me sound. See, it doesn’t matter which meter or rhyme scheme you use, how flowery your language is, or what it looks like on the page. All of these are window dressings that build on the basic structure. What matters above all else with poetry is how it sounds. Get that one straight and the whole thing works better.
Now, it’s all well and good to say that, but how do you do it?
For starters, you need a few tools too work with, which you’ll find below.
Alliteration: the repetition of a sound at the beginning of words.
It’s a bit more complication than that, but for now, that’s all you need to know. Pick a sound, any sound, pick two or more words that start with that sound, throw them in a poem, and you have alliteration.
Example: This is from one of my own pieces. Alliterative words are italicized.
Excerpt from Bad Luck With Lawn Equipment
Six mowers, standing still
witness to the woe of weeds overgrown.
One by one they waned and retired as
sidelined and silent stony faced men.
Notice that it doesn’t matter if the words rhyme or not, and in fact, in this example the form requires that there be no rhyme. All you have to worry about is the sound. Which is why “one” alliterates with “waned” but “woe” doesn’t alliterate with “overgrown.”
Consonance: the repetition of any consonant sound.
Placement in the word doesn’t matter. Other than that, it’s pretty much the same as alliteration.
Example: Probably one you all know. This time, consonant letter italicized.
Excerpt from Pity This Monster Manukind by e.e. cummings
pity this busy monster, manukind,
not. Progress is a comfortable disease:
your victim(death and life safely beyond)
plays with the bigness of his littleness
—electrons deify one razorblade
Note that the “ct” in victim is consonant with the “ct” in electron, but not with the “c” in comfortable. if this is confusing, further note that the “ctr” in electron represents two different sounds. The “c” and “t” together, and the “t” and “r” together. Also note in razorblade, the “b” is actually part of a blended sound with the “l,” keeping it from being consonant with the “b” in beyond. Keep in mind that while I have had some training in linguistics, I am not an expert. If you disagree, try something different and see if it works.
There is some overlap with alliteration, but I hope you wont find that confusing.
Assonance: the repetition of any vowel sound.
Pretty much the same thing as for consonance, except with vowels.
Example: I figured we’d take this one from dear old crazy Dylan Thomas.
Excerpt from Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Here’s where things get good and tricky for me, and why you really have to read these things out loud to get them right. “Do,” though spelled with one “o” is assonant with “good” and “should” but not with “not” or “old.” Beware of falling into the trap of relying on spelling cues. Note that my mid-western drawl has made “against” into “aginst,” so I paired it with “into.” If you say if “agaynst” pair it with “rage” instead.
Sounds good to everyone? Then we’ll leave off with that, and pick up with syllables next time.
Homework for this week is to write a poem, any subject, of at least two lines using any two of the three tools covered this week.
- Phonaesthetics (worldofpoets.wordpress.com)