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Sounds Like Poetry

Photo of Margaret

Sound as an element can help you create a better poem. Here are some great poetry techniques from Margaret Christakos, Writer-in-Residence:

 

Echo

I'm on a bus and in the seat behind me is a young child being helped to skype with a relative. I can hear a loving older voice cooing and sliding softly from high sounds to low, expressing pure greeting. The child replies by echoing the same warm sonic slide. Then the adult makes a string of tut-tut-tuts to delight the child and the child replies with a rat-a-tat rhythm. This sonic mimicry creates a field of echoes, and I am reminded of how beautifully repetition can work in a poem. More than direct rhyming, try building a field of echoes in your phrasing, to yield the get-go of what amazes. 

 

Silence

Artists such as musician/composer John Cage and minimalist painter Agnes Martin have created bodies of work that respect the great ground of "negative space" that surrounds making sound or marks on a page. The same awareness of silence is really vital in poetry. Try building a poem that uses white space to move one phrase a distance away from another, and you'll both see and hear in the space an interval of quiet thinking and breathing. This can become quite dynamic, making a poem feel a lot more like a musical score than a prose paragraph. Try it using all lower-case letters and the effect is even stronger. 

 

Anagram

One of my favourite approaches to building the poetic line is to consider how every word contains phonetic material that can be remixed to form a great range of words. For example, even a simple word like "range" gives the material to also build "gear," "near," "rare," "rag," "age," "garner," "anger" and "rage" -- wow, this word is potent! If I build some phrases using the anagram's bounty I can make a textured richness that energizes both the poem's ideas and its musicality. Here's a go: "Near orange rage/ our ear grants grace." It never fails to encourage my writing to return to exploring all of the sonic material in a single word! 

 

Sounds like a Porch!

I live in Toronto's Little Portugal, where the porch is a social space that has great meaning. A porch is both private, part of the home, and a little bit public, where voices lilt into the night air and passersby can wave hello. A poem is a lot like a porch, I think, in the way it can be a private space for thinking about your own concerns and an invitation to the public to listen in and respond. Make a good poem by recalling that your writing creates the possibility of being overheard, and answered. Even if it is on the page, unspoken, poems let us sound out our own thinking and build community. 

 

Chorus

From the Ancient Greeks, the roots of poetry are in the joining together of many voices in a performative chorus. Gradually, individual performers gained the bullhorn, and our habit of thinking of the poet as a solo bard playing to a quiet audience became the West’s standard. I love the unique power of the poet to give voice to a singular sound, but I also want to find ways to re-build the idea of multiple voices working in concert. Nursery rhymes teach us rhyming poems can be memorized and chanted together. Collaborative call and response is one structure that can be a lot of fun. Having a solo voice read verses while a chorus synchronizes on a refrain is also an exciting form. Creating opportunities for everyone to vocalize different “parts” at the same time is also tremendous music! Build room for other voices in your idea of a poem.

 
Want to learn more?

Join Margaret on January 25 at 7 pm for "Writers Using Sound, from Mild to Wild and Back", an experiential workshop of fun writing and vocalizing activities exploring rhythmic elements and sonic texture. Everyone is welcome. No experience required. Free.