This week’s prompt is inspired by two things — which happen to be closely related. First, the group of beginning poetry students I had the pleasure of teaching this spring. Second, the end of the school year, which, for those of us tied to the academic calendar, signals a shift in many things: schedule, work pace, travel & place, life rhythm…
Midway through spring quarter, a group of my students developed a writing prompt, or “pitch,” in which they asked their classmates to write a poem that paid particular attention to sound. In class, we’d been discussing Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook: A Prose Guide to Understanding and Writing Poetry (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1994), in which she introduces the concept of “sound families”: vowel and consonant sounds divided further into mutes, liquids, etc. I’d asked the class to develop their own families of sound, based not only on Oliver’s taxonomy of vowels and consonants, but on their intuitive sense of language as well — what sounded “spiky,” what sounded “smooth;” what sounded “purple” versus “yellow,” and so forth.
What emerged from this class session was the following prompt: write a poem whose use of sound dramatizes a change, or shift, in mood and circumstance. I found this to be a brilliant way of getting the class to explore the use of dynamic structures in their work, as well as to think about the possibilities of sound in enacting meaning.
After all, why not use sound to signal change? When frightened, it’s our ears that prick up first — sounds acquire sharper, more jagged edges; loud noises reverberate in a clanging, dizzying cacophony. The change of a season, the death of a loved one — these are dramatic moments that shift the ways in which we understand our surroundings and, thus, alter our sense perception of the world.
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Write a poem that dramatizes a shift or change, not simply in its narrative or rhetorical structure, but in its sonic textures as well. Think about the relationship between sound, speaker, and tone; ask yourself how your piece’s aural qualities can become a dynamic force that alters the mood or circumstance of your poem.