Tuesday, April 13, 2010

THE IMPORTANCE OF SOUND IN POETRY

TUESDAYS WITH DONN TAYLOR - PART 2

Mr. Taylor is visiting with us again today. He is going to help us add sounds to our poetry and I'll guarantee his tips will make your poems stand up and shout.

One of the greatest distinctions between poetry and prose is poetry’s emphasis on the sound of words and the accumulation of sounds in sentences. Paradoxically, though, sound is probably the most neglected aspect of poetry writing today. Consequently, many poets deprive their work of an entire demension of meaning. Poetry should either be read aloud or else the reader should pronounce each word in his mind as he reads through the poem. Only by those means can he experience the beauty of sound.

As Lawrence Perrine explains in his book Sound and Sense, some words actually imitate the sounds they represent (snap, bang, hiss), while the sounds of other words seem to suggest their meaning (flicker, whisper, moan, slush). And the rhythms of poetry can also suggest meaning. The poet can use all of these elements to achieve a dimension rarely found in prose.

Perrine points out the importance of sound in this short poem (“Upon Julia’s Voice”) by Robert Herrick (1591-1674):

So smooth, so sweet, so silv’ry is thy voice,
As, could they hear, the Damned would make no noise,
But listen to thee (walking in thy chamber)
Melting melodious words to Lutes of Amber.

Perrine also provides an example of words and rhythms reinforcing meaning in these lines from a longer poem (The Princess) by Tennyson:

Myriads of rivulets hurrying through the lawn,
The moan of doves in immemorial elms,
And murmuring of innumerable bees.

These sound-and-sense effects are usually momentary, but once in a while sound and rhythm can combine as prominent elements in poems of moderate length. This happens in "Panhandle Dust Storm," the lead poem of my book Dust and Diamond: Poems of Earth and Beyond (© 2008):

Barn-battering blast of wind and dirt, this three-day storm
Brings terror to tin-roofed sheds, scours paint from walls,
Makes kites of aluminum siding and leaves them bent,
Bow-tied on telephone poles. It stings our skin
With pellets flung in our faces, buries our eyes,
Turns trees into train-whistles mourning their loneliness
In a visible universe shrunken to fifty feet.

Our ears grow exhausted with sound, with skirling and crackle,
Scratch and spatter of gravel against our house--
A snapped antennae wire's whiplash, flaying the roof--
The stutter of fluttering shingles about to take flight.

This swirling of gray-brown dust has stolen the sky.
The stars are all fiction now, the planets extinguished--
Sun and moon dull silvery disks too feeble to glow.
The law of gravity's gone--the earth's in rebellion,
Dissolving itself into space as an ocean of dust-motes.

Sea-surging, this wind comes in waves, assaulting the house
With breakers that pound and recede, then hammer again–
This house now a ship lost at sea, and leaking all over
While dust-streams puddle in corners in every room.

No weapon at hand, no way to fight back at this wind--
We've nothing to do but wait it out inside.
How long? Who knows? Till God grows tired of it all,
This showing a bit of His strength--decides to rest--
Restore repose.

Then soon, in quiet dawn
With winds quiescent on the settled earth,
We'll wake to stillness and a tranquil sky.

To summarize: Sound is essential to the full meaning and value of poetry, so in the reading we should sound each word and line in our minds.

Thank you, Donn. Your contribution is much appreciated. See you next Tuesday for more helpful hints in the world of poetry.

And, as always, check in tomorrow for POETRY-A GLIMPSE INTO YOUR SOUL.

Love ya,
nettie

1 comment:

Diana Jurss said...

awesome poem by Donn Taylor