Archives for December 2015

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This C.S. Lewis Quote Would Make An Excellent New Year’s Toast

"You are never too old to set another goal  or to dream a new dream." -- C. S. Lewis

The time for new dreams is now.

Here’s a toast to you and your dreams. Best wishes for the coming year!

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The Big Problem With Meter, Assonance, Consonance, & Rhyme

I could say that it’s the big problem with the artistry of poetry, but I figured I’d ruffle enough feathers as it is. No matter how I say it, however, all of these literary devices rely on how people say words, and that’s something that is simply not consistent.

When writing, we have little choice but to rely on how we pronounce words. Someone from a different region, however, might pronounce the vowel or consonant sounds differently from how we do. For example, the midwest United States tends to pronounce a “t” in the middle of a word as a “d” (“liddle” instead of “little”). That means words that have consonance for people from that region may not for people somewhere else. Vowel changes are even more drastic from region to region, affecting assonance and rhyme.

The other problem with pronunciation changes is that they can shift where the emphasis is placed on syllables. For two-syllable words in English, the first syllable is usually emphasized for nouns and adjectives while the second syllable is stressed for verbs. That doesn’t mean that everyone is going to say it that way, which can make all the effort you put into the meter of your poem feel wasted (just wait until you hear someone say it completely wrong).

Sure, the dictionary gives rules for pronunciation, but no one’s going to check every word in the dictionary while writing. Even if you did, people aren’t going to speak that way simply because the dictionary said to, so why bother?

Instead, resolve yourself to the fact that people may not get the full effect of the meter, assonance, consonance, and rhyme that you intended. Whether they’re from a different region, or whether the pronunciation has simply changed since you wrote the poem 20 years ago, there’s no guarantee that it’ll be read as intended.

All we can do is write as well as we can and hope that our writing will reach others – whether the literary devices come through or not.

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Top 10 Terms for Discussing Poetry

Although poetry and prose share plenty of literary devices, there are some that are more common to poetry, and it can be hard to discuss poetry without them. Here’s a few of the most important ones:

  1. Stanza: A stanza is a group of lines. It’s the paragraph of the poem, and different stanza types are named by the number of lines contained in the stanza (a couplet, for instance, has 2 lines).
  2. Verse: This term either refers to poetry as a whole or a single line of poetry.
  3. Meter: This is the rhythm pattern of the poem. If you ever learned to read music, it’s the same idea only using words. It’s generally measured in stressed (/) and unstressed syllables (u) since the way words are pronounced is what creates the rhythm pattern.
  4. Perfect Rhyme: A perfect rhyme is when two words sound exactly the same except for the starting sound (Wait, freight, and late, for instance).
  5. Rhyme Scheme: A rhyme scheme is the pattern of rhyming words at the ends of the lines, so a rhyme scheme of ABA means that the word at the end of the first line rhymes with the word at the end of the third line (but not the second).
  6. Assonance: This is when words have matching vowel sounds (such as “meet” and “unity” – note that the spelling doesn’t matter).
  7. Consonance: This is when words have matching consonant sounds in the middle or end of the words (i.e., “little” and “bent“).
  8. Slant Rhyme: This is cheating at rhyme. It’s not perfect. Either only the suffix rhymes perfectly, or there’s a vowel/consonant sound off at some point in the series.
  9. Internal Rhyme: Internal rhyme is when words inside the line rhyme.
  10. Alliteration: Two words have alliteration when they both start with the same consonant sound (who and have).

These are only the tip of the iceberg: Meter and stanza types alone could add another 10 at the very least (and without breaking a sweat). These 10, however, make a good start.

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If All They Get Are Dull Readings, No Wonder Teenagers Loathe Poetry

In my regular job, I write educational material for teenagers, and their reaction to poetry is almost always “ugh.”

Now, they’re teenagers, so “ugh” is one of their main reactions to anything; however, many of them really, sincerely loathe poetry. Some have enough trouble reading already (literacy in our country is really going downhill), and others have only experienced poetry as technical analysis or as a horrible, dry reading. When you read poetry with the same expression as reading a recipe for meatloaf, of course it’s not going to be entertaining or interesting!

Unfortunately, due to copyright limitations, reliance on written materials, and the censorship that goes with trying not to offend any parents, I can’t share with them the videos of spoken poetry that would be most likely to change their minds – videos like Katie Makkai’s “Pretty,” where the poetry is about modern concerns and subjects and is read with feeling and meaning.

Isn’t it amazing what a difference that makes?