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Writing Free Verse Poetry: Adding Sound Effects

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By Dave Hood

When writing a poem, a good poet will choose words for their meaning and their sound. Memorable poems have a pleasing sound. A pleasing sound is like music to the ear. The poet who composes free verse can select several poetic devices to create a pleasing sound, such as alliteration, assonance, rhyme, repetition. The best writers also use these poetic when writing fiction or creative nonfiction. In this post, I will discuss the poetic devices poets (and writers) use to create a pleasing sound. The following will be covered:

  • Alliteration
  •  Assonance
  •  Onomatopoeia
  •  Rhyme
  •  Repetition/refrain

Alliteration

It refers to the poetic technique of repeating the initial consonant sound in two or more words on a line. Here is an example of alliteration from Jane Kenyon’s poem This Morning: “…Sunflower seed and bits of bread scattered on the snow.” The words “sunflower”, “seed”, “scattered”, “snow” begin with the consonant “s.” She also uses the words “bits” and “bread.”

Assonance

It is the poetic technique of repeating the same vowel sound of words on a line, in order to create a pleasing sound. A vowel is “a, e,i,o, u.” A poet can use long vowels, such as “o” in snow, or use short vowels, such as “u” in lunch. Here is another example of assonance from Jane Kenyon’s poem This Morning: The cats doze near the snow. The words “doze” and “snow” have the same vowel sound. Onomatopoeia
It is the poetic technique of using words that sound like the words they mean. Examples: whir, buzz, moo, thud, crackle, and so on. Poets use these poetic devices less frequently than alliteration or assonance. Example: Under the light of the stars, we roasted hotdogs over a crackling fire.

Rhyme

It is the repetition of the same sound of words in a poem. Three popular types of rhymes are slant or off rhyme, internal rhyme, and end rhyme.

Slant Rhyme or imperfect rhyme
A poetic technique that creates near rhyme or off-rhyme. Emile Dickinson was the first modern poet to use this technique. The poet selects words that have the same consonant sounds and different vowels (e.g. cap and cup), and places them close together on a line. The poet can also select words with the same vowel sound (e.g. talk and walk; snug as a gun) and different constants, and place them close together on a line.

Internal Rhyme
A poetic technique in which one word rhymes with another word on a line. This is a popular type of rhyme for writing free verse.

Example: We talked and walked along the beach.

End Rhyme
A poetic technique in which the poet rhymes the final syllables of words and places them at the end of lines. Here is an example for Robert Frost’s Dust of Snow:

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

You can see how “crow and snow” rhyme, and how “me” and “tree” rhyme.

If you intend to use rhyme in free verse, use it selectively. A good rhyme doesn’t make the reader think “here’s a rhyme.” Instead “good rhyming is a feat of skill with words.” (Western Wind, Page 177) Often, when two words rhyme, the meaning of these two words interact to create something different.

Free verse poetry does not have to adhere to a particular rhyme scheme, such as “ABAB,” which means that lines 1 and 3 rhyme and lines 2 and 4 rhyme. In fact, many free verse poems have no rhyme at all. And yet, poets use rhyme on occasion.

Repetition

It is a poetic technique in which the poet repeat words or phrases in a poem. The poet can repeat words or phrase at the beginning of lines, at the end of lines, in the middle of lines. Repetition is a way to create emphasis. It is a way to create energy. It is a way to draw attention to an idea. It is a way to echo the sound of words.

Poets use two types of repetition: Anaphora and repetend.

Anaphora
The poet repeats the opening words or phrase at the beginning of two or more lines. Here is an example from Mary Oliver’s When Death Comes:

When death comes like a hungry bear in autumn….
When death comes like the measle-pox….
When death comes like an iceberg between the shoulder blades…

Repetend
The poet repeats words or phrases at different locations in a stanza or poem. Repeating a word or phrase gabs the reader’s attention. It is a way to add emphasis to an action, person, place, thing, event, experience.

For instance, James Fenton writes in the poem “In Paris With You.”
…I’m one of your talking wounded. I’m a hostage. I’m wounded…I’ve been bamboozled…I admit I’m..

See how Mary Oliver uses repetition to write in the poem, Spring,:

My life is
with its poems
and its music
and its glass cities,

it is also this dazzling darkness…

Poet, Debra Spencer, uses the device of repetend in “The Discover of Sex”:

We try to be discreet standing in the dark
hallway by the front door. He gets his hands
up inside the front of my shirt and I put mine
down the inside the back of his jeans. We are crazy
for skin, each other’s skin, warm silky skin…

Learning How to Use Sound Devices

You can get into the habit of using sound devices–such as alliteration, or assonance, or repetition ——by learning how they are used and by practising how to use them. Here’s how: On a daily basis, open your writing journal and use these sound devices to describe the things you see, hear, feel, smell, touch, remember. For instance, suppose you passed a stinking sewer during your day, you could write: I strolled past the stinking sewer and wondered where the stench started. (Example of using alliteration)

As well, when reading poetry, short story, essay, or article that you feel is well written, analyze the piece of writing for these poetic device of sound. Answer the question: What poetic devices did the author or poet use to create such a pleasing sound?

How should you add sound effects your own free verse poetry? Some poets compose word by word. Other poets compose line by line. Many write out the entire poem, and then add sound effects during revision. I recommend that you write the first draft, and then revise for alliteration, assonance, repetition. If you also desire to create a few rhymes, add them.

Free verse poetry doesn’t require you use alliteration, assonance, rhyme, repetition. However, if you read the free verse poetry of great poets, such as Mary Oliver, you’ll quickly discover that these poets use these poetic techniques to construct memorable poems, poems that have deep meaning and pleasurable sound when read aloud.

Resources

For additional information on alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia, repetition, rhyme, read the following:

  • Good Poems for Hard Times by Garrison Keillor
  • The Poets Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux
  •  Creating Poetry by John Drury
  • The Discovery of Poetry by Frances Mayes
  •  Western Wind by David Mason and John Frederick Nims
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