Thursday, June 21, 2007


Where rhyme would never fly, assonance slips lazy verbal patterning under the radar.

Assonance: the MSG of modern American verse?


Mike Young said...

This hits me where it hurts.

I think you may have something here.

I want to say assonance is more subtle than MSG, but eh.

rodney k said...

Hi Mike,

I’m a recovering assonator, too. My own beef’s with the “lazy” part, where you go back to parse a line that just ‘sounds right’ and you see it’s hanging on assonance like a drunk on a payphone. Annie Finch talks about a similar phenomenon in poems with no regular metrical structure that unconsciously revert to iambic pentameter (or something close) in their last line, to lend that ‘whoosh’ of traditional completion. Not a bad thing in itself, but most effective IMHO when it’s a controlled effect and not an accident of the ear.

The larger thing I’m thinking about dovetails a little with the ‘competence’ discussion Kasey sparked. We often judge the success of poems by the intricacy and variety of their verbal patternings. The great shift early last century was to recognize patternings that aren’t primarily metrical as competent poetry. We’re still working through that; in poems where assonance stands in for rhyme—a patterning at the level of the line that signals skill and competence—are we just looking to sneak back to the ‘good old days’ of meter: a clear (if not always clearly articulated) measure for determining what counts as fit ‘poetic’ language?

Where the point, it seems to me, is to abandon the idea of poetic language altogether without abandoning poetry.

Mike Young said...

Hey Rodney,

Yeah, I've seen that iambic pentameter flourish and have been guilty of indulging in it. But I try to keep track.

How odd--in one way--that a particular sonic pattern can signal "competence."

I suppose the big question is whether that's all received--like listen to this, this is poetry--or somehow innate. I read the other day that Yeats' vowel play, when read aloud, can make you a better kisser. Where does our attraction to these patterns come from?

I mean, "Emma is a humming" just sears me whenever I read it. And I don't really want to be skeptical of my reaction because it's such a good reaction.