A is for Alliteration

| March 11, 2014

Alliteration is always a little annoying. At least, to me. Personally. Poems piled with persistent puckers and sequenced, snaking sounds seem slightly silly. Still, schools sure emphasize educating every moldable mind about all about alliteration, assonance, and consonance—the constant, consistent virtues of vowels (and consonants) create certain values for every ear. Don’t get me wrong. The techniques tend to render a rhythmic quality, but quantitatively, when overused, can quickly taint the tone. Poetic devices can become poetic vices when writers write with them ALL of the time. Oh—and let’s not even get started on rhyme.

I want my students to understand that a poem doesn’t need to rhyme. It doesn’t need to be an endless list of similar sounds. Yes, these poetic devices can add all sorts of layers to a poem, or any type of writing. They serve a purpose, and they surely shape the aesthetic experience of the poem as its read or spoken, but they are merely devices—not requisites—for poetry. I remember, personally, in sixth grade being told for the first time that we could write a poem in free verse. A lot of us had asked, just to double check, “Are you sure we won’t get points off if it doesn’t rhyme?”

When you grow up on Dr. Seuss, and every single poem you write around Valentine’s Day in elementary school, is filled with these devices, it becomes hard to separate device from the form itself—how to separate the toolbox from the actual building being constructed. Yes, they can contribute to the whole. They certainly aren’t “bad” either (in spite of the attitude I may have taken in my paragraph rant above). But when poetic value depends on the use of these structures, I think things can become slightly problematic, especially when so many poets choose to write without them.

For example, here is an article about the slightly controversial Aram Saroyan, known for his one-“word” poems: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/179985