Writing 201: Fingers

It’s Day 7. Time to think about vowels, with your fingers. Prosaically.

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Your prompt: fingers

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Sure, eyes are expressive. But there’s so much more we can do with our fingers — today’s word prompt — from opening a gift and plucking a guitar to signing words and waving goodbye. If you want to go beyond actual digits, you could write about any finger-shaped object you find interesting, or about something that comes into frequent contact with your fingers: a ring, your keyboard, a glove.

Piano Keys

Today’s form: prose poetry

Prose poetry at a glance:

  • A prose poem is any piece of verse written using the normal typography of prose, while style maintaining elements of poetry, like rhythm, imagery, etc.

Today’s suggested form might sound like an oxymoron: the prose poem. Unlike some of the other forms we experimented with — say, the limerick — a prose poem, by definition, has no fixed rules. Whether a reader sees the prose or the poetry in it hinges on a variety of factors beyond your control.

Still, often enough you can tell a prose poem when you stumble on one, like these lines from In Provincetown, and Ohio, and Alabama by Mary Oliver:

Death taps his black wand and something vanishes. Summer, winter; the thickest branch of an oak tree for which I have a special love; three just hatched geese. Many trees and thickets of catbrier as bulldozers widen the bicycle path. The violets down by the old creek, the flow itself now raveling forward through an underground tunnel.

If you’d like to read a few examples of contemporary prose poetry, Elsewhere is a well-produced literary magazine dedicated to the form.

The words may be arranged typographically like any piece of prose, but the sounds, the rhythms, and the imagery all pull us in the direction of poetry. (Looking for another example? Charles Baudelaire, one of prose poetry’s earliest masters, has a crushingly good prose poem on… being drunk.)

Since you can’t use the page (or screen) the same way you do with regular verse — you simply write to the end of each line — the power of the language needs to come through via other channels: repetition, well-chosen consonants, striking similes and metaphors, or any other device you feel might tip the scale toward poetry.

Today’s device: assonance

We’ve tackled alliteration last week — the strategic repetition of consonants in close proximity to each other. Today, let’s give assonance a try. It’s the same thing, only with vowels.

Different vowel sounds apparently affect our mood. Choose yours wisely!

Assonance is subtler than alliteration, but can have a profound cumulative effect on a poem, especially when the repeated sound resonates somehow with the topic you’re writing about:

He opens his mouth, but the words won’t come out
He’s choking how, everybody’s joking now
The clock’s run out, time’s up, over, bloah!
Snap back to reality, Oh there goes gravity
Oh, there goes Rabbit, he choked
He’s so mad, but he won’t give up that
Easy, no

That rounded O sound in Eminem’s Lose Yourself — isn’t it a great way to underscore the feeling of choking for words, of making false start after false start?

Reading your work out loud is always a good idea, but even more so if you’re trying to use assonance. Exaggerating the sound of your vowels will help you see how they affect the overall feel of your poem.

A good assonance doesn’t have to stretch over multiple verses containing multiple instances of the same vowel. It can be just as effective in creating quick links between words and tying together separate clauses of the same sentence. Show us how it’s done, Emily Dickinson:

My best Acquaintances are those
With Whom I spoke no Word

Whether you go for the full-on assonance treatment, or decide to use it sparingly in choice spots in your poems, thinking about assonance can really help you focus on the pace and rhythm of your lines. Give it a try!

Photo by Pelle Sten (CC BY 2.0)

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