Poetic Terms

Alliteration

Alliteration is a stylistic device, or literary technique, in which successive words (more strictly, stressed syllables) begin with the same consonant sound or letter. Alliteration is a frequent tool in poetry but it is also common in prose, particularly to highlight short phrases. Especially in poetry, it contributes to euphony of the passage, lending it a musical air. It may add a humorous effect. Related to alliteration are assonance, the repetition of vowel sounds, and consonance, the repetition of consonant sounds. Starting three or more words with the same sound.

  • Round the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran.
  • Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
  • The crazy crackling crops.

Assonance

A repetition of vowel sounds within syllables with changing consonants.
Example:

  • Hear the mellow wedding bells. — Edgar Allan Poe
  • Try to light the fire.

Image

Images are representations of sensations perceived through the five senses: sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste. Visual images are the most common e.g. William Carlos Williams’ famous:  ‘a red wheel/barrow/glazed with rain/water’. However, images can rely on any of the senses. ‘Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn’ from Keats’ To Autumn is an example of an auditory image.

Imagery

The creation of images using words. Poets usually achieve this by invoking comparisons by means of metaphor or simile or other figures of speech. In his famous line from sonnet 18 Shakespeare creates an image by comparing his love to a ‘summer’s day’.

Imperfect or Forced Rhyme

A word that is intended by the poet to fit a rhyme scheme but does not rhyme “perfectly”. For example, the words yellow and willow might be used.

Internal Rhyme

Either where a word in the middle of a line of poetry rhymes with the word at the end of the line e.g. The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe or where two words in mid sentence rhyme e.g. ‘dawn-drawn’ in The Windhover by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Metaphor

A word or phrase used to have a completely different meaning.
Example:

Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” being a constant reminder of his loss and not truly a raven.

Meter

The measured arrangement of words in poetry, as by accentual rhythm, syllabic quantity, or the number of syllables in a line. The definitive pattern established for a verse (such as iambic pentameter).

Simile

An expression that compares one thing to another using ‘like’ or ‘as’.
Example:

The milk tasted like pickles.

Slam Poetry

The term “Poetry Slam” is an umbrella category (not form) for any form of poem (Couplet, Rhyme, Free Verse, Alliteration, etc) meant to be performed for a live audience in a competitive environment. These performances are then judged on a numeric scale by previously selected members of the audience. Typically, poetry slam is highly politicized, speaking on many issues including current social and economic issues, gendered injustices, and racial issues. Poets are judged not only on the content of their slam but the manner of delivery and passion behind their words.

Stanza

One or more lines that make up the basic units of a poem – separated from each other by spacing.

Syllable

A unit of pronunciation making up a word. For example, the word ‘badger’ consists of two syllables ‘bad’ and ‘ger’. In English, syllables can be defined as either stressed (long) or unstressed (short). See meter.

Syllable Counting

Technique used in both traditional metrical verse forms (see meter) and in Japanese inspired forms such as haiku or tanka.  In traditional metrical forms the counting is based on the regular patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line. In Japanese forms, the syllable count is based solely on the total number of syllables. Some modern poets such as Marianne Moore and Peter Reading have used this second type of syllable counting to give their work intricate structures.

Symbol

A type of image that transferred something that represents something else, such as Spring for youth, or darkness for death. Symbols are useful in transferring ideals carried in the image without stating them. A symbol works two ways: It is something itself, and it also suggests something deeper. It is crucial to distinguish a symbol from a metaphor: Metaphors are comparisons between two seemingly dissimilar things; symbols associate two things, but their meaning is both literal and figurative.

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