YW Workshop – Part 6
Poetry – Section “A”
by Julie A. Serroul
Poetic Effect on your Writing
Whether you write poetry now, or simply enjoy reading it, as a writer, poetry can enhance your work. Reading and/or writing poetry, appreciating it in its many forms and styles, will allow you to absorb the nuances, the musical qualities into your writing. You may not even be aware it is happening. But have you ever found yourself picking up the common sayings of a new friend and then, after a time, have those sayings become part of your every day speech? It is the same with poetry. The influence of the poetry you read, or write, will appear in your other written work unconsciously. Reading wonderful poetry, classic or modern, can alone affect your work. But analyzing poetry and, even better, exploring your own poet within can have a powerful effect on your style.
Perhaps you struggle with which style of poetry you’d like to write. The simple choice of whether or not to use rhyme is a question for some dabblers in poetry. Personally, my own poetry is varied and dependent upon my mood. Sometimes I use rhyme, sometimes I don’t. I never try to force a poem into a particular form, either. However, if I detect a natural trend toward a certain form, I may rework it to coax it into that particular form. If in doing so I’m ruining the spirit of the poem, then it lives on its own terms.
When it comes to reading poetry, it is not a particular form or style that I gravitate to, but rather how the poem makes me feel after I read it. So, my own approach to reading and writing poetry is unstructured (although yours certainly does not have to be), however, I enjoy learning about proper mechanics and form because I believe it can only help my poetry. It’s safe to say that I don’t feel confined by the “rules”, though.
T.S. Elliot was one classical poet who was also ambivalent toward the rules of poetry. He had said that although he meant no disrespect to those who studied it and didn’t mean to infer it “to be utter waste of time. It is only that a study of anatomy will not teach you how to make a hen lay eggs…”
And what he said is very true, I believe. Study the technicalities, by all means, but by firstly “reading” and secondly, “feeling” poetry, you will have acquired a most valuable tool. An acute inner ear for poetry that allows you to perceive the world in a different way, and to express your new perceptions in a poetic manner. We can all share our observations of the world, but those who present it poetically will be heard above the rest. The great orators of history, as well as today, are proof of that. (Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandella, Pierre Berton, etc.)
Rhyme, or in particular, End Rhyming, can either present as Perfect Rhyming or Slant Rhyming (Imperfect Rhyming). Most words can be perfectly rhymed, but there are some that cannot.
Coaxing the lines to form a band
The words themselves, they lend a hand
Life has a rhythm, thumping on
So learn the words, or miss the song
In this example, the first two lines are an example of Perfect Rhyme, but the second two lines are an example of Slant Rhyming. Slant Rhyming is the rhyming of two words that sound so similar that you can almost fool the ear into believing that they sound the same. Slant Rhyming is also known as Imperfect Rhyming.
Counting beats applies to rhyming poetry only, not Free Verse poetry. In order to count the beats in a poem to see if each line has the same number of beats, you must be able to identify how to break words into their separate syllables.
Syllables are individual sounds within words. A word can be made up of one syllable or many syllables. For instance, the word “Word” is made up of only one syllable. The word “Syllable” is made up of three syllables. The following are some words and their syllable breakdowns:
Once you feel confident counting off syllables, you’ll be able to try counting off beats. Take two fingers and beat out the syllables on a table or other hard surface. It will sound elementary and silly at first, but soon it will come quickly to you and you will be able to do it on your fingers and then in your head. Each paired off, or rhymed sets of lines in your poem should not only rhyme, but should also count off to the same number of “beats”. Use the following piece of rhyming poetry by Robert Lee Frost to practice your new skill. It is a beautiful example of both Rhyming and Imagery. Count the beats in each line.
by Robert Lee Frost
He is that fallen lance that lies as hurled,
That lies unlifted now, come dew, come rust,
But still lies pointed as it ploughed the dust.
If we who sight along it round the world,
See nothing worthy to have been its mark,
It is because like men we look too near,
Forgetting that as fitted to the sphere,
Our missiles always make too short an arc.
They fall, they rip the grass, they intersect
The curve of earth, and striking, break their own;
They make us cringe for metal-point on stone.
But this we know, the obstacle that checked
And tripped the body, shot the spirit on
Further than target ever showed or shone.
You should have consistently counted off ten beats for each line. Now as a further exercise, go back and find the rhyming lines. As you will see, they don’t always have to be one after another, that is one aspect of rhyming lines that can determine the form – which rhyming pattern you choose.
That was a brief look at some aspects of End Rhyming. There is also the concept of Internal Rhymes. This can be as simple as rhyme within a line such as:
“With baleful eyes, you stalk the skies”
But there are more complex forms of Internal Rhyming, such as Assonance and Alliteration, which we will examine next.
Assonance is a type of Internal Rhyming (as opposed to End Rhyming). Assonance is the rhyming of vowel sounds. Vowel sounds can be broken into “long” vowel sounds, and “short” vowel sounds.
The following is a typical chart of the primary long and short vowel sounds.
A - Short (bad) - Long (bake)
E - Short (bed) - Long (beet)
I - Short (bid) - Long (bide)
O - Short (bob) - Long (bone)
U - Short (bub) - Long (imbue)
The best way to appreciate the rich sound that assonance lends to a poem is to read it out loud, and hear its repetition resound like a drum beat throughout the piece. The examples of assonance are italicized.
March on and on, throughout the song,
Though others fall and can’t go on,
As they lie still, the song sweeps by,
How lonely is their piteous cry,
Its echo fades with all the rest,
Save the sole beat, in the lone chest.
See if you can find the lovely echoing sounds of assonance in the following example taken from Shakespeare’s The Tempest:
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
Another type of Internal Sound in a poem is Alliteration. Whereas Assonance is a gentle echoing of like vowel sounds, Alliteration is a powerful pounding of consonants. It is the repetition of complimentary consonant sounds to create a pattern.
The following are powerful combinations of patterning that can be used in conjunction with each other to great effect:
Plosives – P / B
Dentals – T / D / TH
Sibilants – S / SH / Z
Nasals – M / N / NG
Fricatives – F / V
Gutturals – G / K
Others – J / CH Or H / WH / W
If you repeat each of the above consonants aloud you will feel within your mouth and throat their similarities to each other and why they complement each other. As different sounds elicit different emotions, you can use Alliteration to, not only create music in your reader’s mouth and mind, but to also help encourage the mood you are weaving. Harsher sounds are going to create discord, whereas soothing, soft sounds will create a sense of calm and well-being. So, weave your words and playfully mold the music to fit.
Let’s attempt some alliteration, shall we?
Write down the Consonant Combinations above on separate tiny pieces of paper. Fold the pieces of paper and put them all in a bowl. Now choose one from the bowl and write 4 lines of poetry using it as well as its partnered sounds (use the chart above) as much as possible. If you can, see if you can include some examples of Assonance as well.
(If you are very ambitious, keep choosing different pieces of paper and repeating the process until you have an entire piece of poetry.)
In Section “B” of POETRY we will discuss Sound and Sight Devices.
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