Beginning this week, this column will alternate from week to week, focusing on poetic devices one week and narrative points of view the next.
This week the subject is the sound of the words, the music of poetry, the sonority of language.Â As Edward Hirsch says, â€œThe sound of the words is the first primitive pleasure in poetry.â€ I dare say this is a singularly important aspect of all poetry, not just modern, which is often neglected by beginners and casual poets.
The sounds of words add to the pleasure and richness of poetry just as the texture of food adds to the pleasure of eating, or the texture of music (vigorous or placid, the unique character of each instrumentâ€™s sound, the mood evoked by the harmonic materialâ€”joyful major, mournful minor, harsh dissonance) is an indispensable part of the composerâ€™s art.
Iâ€™ve chosen not to concentrate on one single sound device at a time, alliteration, for example.Â The sound of the language is not so easily compartmentalized.Â Instead, I will ask you to read some poetry, read it out loud, think about how the sound of the language reinforces the poemâ€™s meaning.
Alliteration: the repetition of consonant sounds, which, remember, may or may not be at the beginning of the word.Â The nature of the consonant, harsh or soft, playful or sibilant (whispery) may enrich the meaning of the words, and add to a sense of momentum.
Assonance:Â the repetition of vowel sounds.Â A more subtle form of alliteration, if you will, assonance can add to the sense of movement or lend an air of formality.
Internal rhyme: rhyming words inside one or more lines.Â These can give the language a sense of rhythm and momentum.
Approximate rhyme: words (notably end-rhymes--at the ends of lines) which donâ€™t rhyme exactly, but are similar-sounding.Â They may have different vowels but end with the same consonants (bell, fall), or they may have the same vowel sound but similar but not identical consonant endings (chip, skiff).Â Approximate rhymes can add to a sense of musical structure without calling attention to itself and short-circuiting the momentum the way a too-predictable exact rhyme can.
Repetition:Â the exact repetition of words or phrases can add a powerful sense of rhythm, or intensity, or impart a singing quality to the language.
For example, Sylvia Plathâ€™s â€œDaddyâ€ is a bitter, bombastic rant comparing the narratorâ€™s father to a Nazi officer, or perhaps Hitler himself.Â She invokes images such as the swastika, jackboots, barbed wire, locomotives headed for Auschwitz.Â But Plathâ€™s masterly use of the sounds of the language adds so much more to the poemâ€™s power.Â The avalanche of hard, thick consonants almost sounds like German (she also throws in some actual German).Â The pulsing, pounding rhythm created by the internal rhymes, the alliteration, the repetition, reinforces the sense of a headlong, out-of-control outpouring of white-hot anger.
It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speakâ€¦
An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jewâ€¦
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like youâ€¦
Other wonderful examples for study of poetic sound devices:
Prose: Choose one of the above poems, or find one equally apt, and analyze the poetâ€™s use of the sound of the language and specific sound devices.
(If you choose the Roethke, I suggest limiting your analysis to the first section.)
Poetry:Â Write a poem using at least one (hopefully more) of the sound devices we talked about.
- PutÂ SunWE in the title and tags.
- Indicate in some way which devices/techniques/figures I should be paying attention to.
- Deadlines are open.Â This prompt does not turn into a pumpkin a week from today.Â If youâ€™re piece isnâ€™t done by next Sunday, get it in when you can.Â This is supposed to be fun.
- I will comment on every submission and include a link to it in the next column.
- If you would like a little more academic critique--but still very friendly and positive--include the word "rigorous" in your post (e.g. "rigorous critique wanted").
Here are responses to previous prompts.Â Let me know if I missed yours.Â I hope you can take a few minutes and read some of the other submissions.
Â© 2012 Douglas J. Westberg. All Rights Reserved. Â Please share this on Gather.com, and elsewhere on the web by means of a link back to this page, but please do not copy. Â Doug's latest book is The Depressed Guy's Book of Wisdom from Chipmunka Publishing.
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