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Kiss My Assonance - 5 ways to improve your poetry

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Sat Dec 24, 2011 2:25 pm
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barefootrunner says...

Poetry. What is it?

The answer is, especially with the invention of free verse, wrapped in controversy and dispute. The current definition is a vague "literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm".

So, poems use special techniques to refine feelings, experiences or whatever else is being written about. Then how do you do it? Well, the answer to that may be even more difficult. But, here is a cross-section of tools at your disposal to help with the distillation process.

1) Simile, metaphor, personification


A simile is a comparison between two ideas or things, using the words "like" or "as". Look at these examples from literature:

"I wander'd lonely as a cloud"
- William Wordsworth, The Daffodils

"And looked at me vaguely, as drinking cattle do,"

- D.H. Lawrence, Snake

"hours crawled by like years,"
- Alfred Noyes, The Highwayman


In this comparison, one object is used to represent another. These two objects must have some common traits. Here are some examples:

"Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;"

- William Shakespeare, Sonnet 18
(The sun is represented as an eye.)

"The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight looping the purple moor,"

- Alfred Noyes, The Highwayman
(The moon is compared with a ship, the road with a ribbon.)

"Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow."

- Langston Hughes, Dreams
(Life is called a bird and a field of snow.)


This means giving human traits to a non-human thing. (Some people derive enormous enjoyment from calling it "anthropomorphism" and watching painful spasms of ignorance cross young poets' faces.)

"Nor shall Death brag thou wand'rest in his shade"
- William Shakespeare, Sonnet 18

"The kind old sun will know."
- Wilfred Owen, Futility

(To see an extended personification, you can read my poem, Culprit, where a person represents a fire.)

2) Assonance, consonance and alliteration

These sound devices are absolutely fantastic and so often ignored in modern poetry, but they give subtle and unpretentious atmosphere to a poem.

Alliteration is the trick of starting successive words with the same letters. The repeated sounds often describe the sound of the object of the poem, as in the first example below.

Assonance is the repetition of vowels inside successive words, absolutely beautiful and so subtle. Longer vowel sounds create a calm atmosphere, shorter vowel sounds create more energy.

Consonance is the repetition of letters or whole syllables inside successive words. Check out these examples:

“Beat! beat! drums! – Blow! bugles! blow!”
- Walt Whitman, Beat! Beat! Drums!

“He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,”

- Alfred, Lord Tennyson, The Eagle
(Alliteration and consonance)

“And frightful a nightfall folded rueful a day”
- Gerald Manley Hopkins, The Wreck of the Deutschland

“Hear the mellow wedding bells,”
- Edgar Allan Poe, Bells

3) Caesura, enjambment and end-stopping

Caesuras occur when there is a pause in a line of poetry, usually coupled with a comma. It can also be described as “when a syntactic phrase ends in the middle of a line.” It is often used to create rhythm.

is when an idea in one line is carried through to the other, without pause or change. The phrase does not stop at the end of the line, but continues on into the next.

End-stopping is when an idea ends with a line and is often heralded by a punctuation mark. The phrase ends at the end of the line.

“I am not prone to weeping, as our sex
Commonly are; the want of which vain dew
Perchance shall dry our pities; but I have
That honorable grief lodged here which burns
Worse than tears drown.”

- William Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale
(Enjambment and caesuras)

“i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by me only me is your doing,my darling)”

- E. E. Cummings, i carry your heart with me

(Yes, he did write it without those spaces, no typos. Cummings turned enjambment into an art itself.)

“A glooming peace this morning with it brings.
The sun for sorrow will not show his head.
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things.”

- William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
(Heavily end-stopped lines.)

4) Rhyme

Ha ha, yes, the old friend, or should I say old fiend? There are many different kinds of rhyme. Included in the bunch are:

Identical rhyme: Rhyming two identical words (horse rhymed with horse)

Perfect rhyme:
The kind we know best (tactical - practical, sublime - grime)

Imperfect rhyme: A rhyme between a stressed and an unstressed syllable (bring and tiring)

Semi-rhyme: Rhyme with an extra syllable on one word (hold with bolder)

Half rhyme: Rhyming with only the final consonants (hard and bird, cold and chilled)

Syllabic rhyme: In which the last syllables of the words sound the same but are not necessarily spelt the same (potion and ashen, exact and intact)

Slant, oblique, imperfect rhyme: Rhymes sharing only a vowel sound, or only a consonant sound, so they really are no more than assonance and consonance (pen - gun, cake - hack, kid - big)

Head rhyme: Alliteration (black - block, crazy - crouch)

Rich rhyme: Rhyming with homonyms (read and reed, hail (frozen water) and hail (calling someone))

Eye rhyme: Rhymes that look like they should rhyme, but don’t (dove and move, head and bead)

Mind rhyme: Words that don’t rhyme at all, but make you think of ones that do... It’s weird, but works.

(I’m making a fire with sticks,
And building a hovel with bricks,
The magician is up to his tricks,
Three times three is...)

Did you think six? The answer is nine! Can’t you count? Don’t worry, it’s the mind rhyme that does it, your math skills are still fine!

All these types of rhyme are intertwined and often share names, so this guide is just to show you what you can get up to with the little blighters.

Rhyme binds lines and puts more stress on the rhyming words, so be careful with which words you rhyme, if you want to rhyme at all. Do not twist the meaning of the poem to fit the rhyme scheme - the rhyme should fit the meaning, not the other way around. Do not force rhymes either. Rhymes should be natural and unassuming - if they are not, you have committed the heinous sin of bad rhyming.

5) Humour

This is the best of all. Implementing humour in poems makes them a pleasure to read, and they are also instantly more original, seeing as the most current poetry is all doom-and-gloom. You can use satire, parody, sarcasm, irony, puns...

Satire: Exposes and mocks people’s vices or stupidity. This is often applied to political issues or public problems.

Parody: This means making a humorous imitation of another work, artist or genre.

Sarcasm: When irony is used for mockery or contempt. (As the couple walked into the empty restaurant, the man said, “Fortunately, we booked!”)

Irony: Expressing yourself humorously by saying the opposite of what you really want to say. (“Yeah, go on ahead, don’t put on the scarf, see where it gets you,” is a phrase commonly uttered by angry mothers.)

Puns: These use the different possible meanings of words, or alike-sounding words for humorous effect. (“This vacuum cleaner really sucks!”)

This brings me to the end of my terribly long soliloquy. I hope that you found it - if not educational, at least somewhat interesting.
"Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts" - Einstein

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Wed Mar 15, 2017 1:23 pm
mikey says...

Hello bearfootrunner, I've really enjoyed your so called 'soliloquy' and i have gained a lot of knowledge from it especially where you have distinguished various types of rhyme which i was only aware of three initially only to realize that they are up to eleven though i haven't gotten well on the min rhyme....keep it up # Mikey

If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they'll kill you.
— Oscar Wilde