Add Sound Effects
Through the use of alliteration, homonyms, and onomatopoeias, sound effects can help to draw your reader into your poem. As we look at each of them, watch for ways you can use them to add pizzazz to your poems.
Alliteration, the repetition of sound either in consonants or vowels, is one of many ear pleasing tools in your potential poetic palette. The repetition of “p’ in “potential poetic palette” is a demonstration of a mouthful of alliteration. Did you note the repetition of “ration” in “demonstration” and “alliteration?” More alliteration. My poem Breakthrough provides an example of its use within a poem.
God breaks through
not with fiery
but with a whisper –
I love you!
spend time with me.”
chaos with gentleness,
cries with comfort,
chatter with communion
He speaks peace.[i] MH
Choose one of your existing poems and circle each use of alliteration. If you don’t find any, look for a sentence or a phrase that might offer a natural opportunity to use the repetition of sounds. If alliteration doesn’t seem to fit in that particular poem, you might consider using a homonym.
Homonyms are words that sound alike when pronounced, but they have different spellings and meanings. For instance: doe and dough, feet and feat, pray and prey, mall and maul, and sew and sow. Circle the homonyms in my poem Excuses.
I would write, but
Tea kettles scream,
Pencils need sharpening,
Time for excuses
Even when the right time
to write isn’t found.[ii] MH
Read through your poem, looking for words that have a partner in sound. Circle them and see if using the homonym might work for that poem. Your thesaurus might help you find a noun or a verb with the same connotation as the one you’ve chosen that could serve as a homonym. Explore the possibility.
Perhaps the third sound affect may serve your poem best, especially if it’s humorous verse and/or written with kids in mind.
Snap. Crackle. Pop.
Do you find yourself suddenly hungry for a bowl of cereal or a marshmallow treat? Advertisers know the appeal of onomatopoeia words.
Onomatopoeias are words that sound out their meaning. For instance: pow, swish, mush, jerk, slush, zap, spit, splat. Remember the television show Batman? The onomatopoeias flashed on the screen along with the action they described.
My poem Autumn Acrobats demonstrates the inclusion of this third sound affect.
Acrobats in fall colors
twist and twirl
above our heads
on a frosty air trapeze.[iii] MH
The combination and arrangement of the consonants and vowels in “twist,” “twirl,” “soar,” dive,” “swing,” and “frosty” sound out and imply their meaning. Saying them aloud will help you see that. In addition to the onomatopoeias in Autumn Acrobats, I used alliteration, featuring two different consonants—“s” and “t.”
SOUNDING OFF FOR POETIC EFFECT
Read a lot of poetry
Anthologies give you the opportunity to taste a variety of forms and styles. Be sure to sample what’s being published today, along with past masterpieces. And don’t forget to read children’s poetry by Shel Siverstein, Jane Yolen, and others. Examine each poet’s use of word sounds.
While you read poetry—yours and that of other poets, begin a list of examples of alliteration, homonyms, and the onomatopoeia words used.
Play with words
Poets are freed by the very nature of poetry to play with words. Keep your thesaurus handy.
including or polishing the sound effects are part of the revision process. Use the “Your Turn” exercises with each of the sound effects mentioned to add pizzazz to your poems.
Temper your use of alliteration, homonyms, and onomatopoeias. Think of them as you would pepper. As is the case with any good seasoning, you’ll want to sprinkle your alliteration, homonyms, and onomatopoeias judiciously. Too much can cause your reader to sneeze partway through your poem and turn the page.
Read your poem aloud
Audible rehearsal of the sounds strung together will help you spot any pepper clusters, and determine if there should be any pepper at all in that particular poetic dish. Sometimes one light sprinkle is all you need.
What’s that I hear? Hopefully, it’s a passel of poets playing with sound for the love of words.
[i] First published in Decision magazine.
[ii] First published in The Christian Communicator.