The Elements of Poetry Part 4: Diction

For the final week of National Poetry Month, April, I will continue my brief introductions to the four elements of poetry. These four elements are Prosody, Rhyme, Form, and Diction. The last in the four-part series I will discuss on the elements of poetry is Diction. The simplest way to define diction is the words chosen for the poem. This includes what words a writer chooses for describing a person or place. I would argue it even includes what point of view of the speaker in the poem.

Metaphor, simile, and tone of voice are important things to consider in a poem’s diction. Modern poets often choose to ignore these rhetorical devices. They attempt direct presentation and explore tone. Surrealists often stretch rhetorical devices to their limits. Other elements of diction include allegory and imagery. Refrains can add to the effect of imagery, be it a small phrase or longer line. For example, Homer’s “rosy-fingered dawn.” Imagery in poetry describes things in different and unexpected ways. A writer should look for new ways to describe things readers have seen before. 

In my experience with my own writing, diction is often considered before from, rhyme, or rhythm. One should not be against trying different words or new descriptions of old things. Writers may consider writing from the point of view of an inanimate object. Or they may consider writing about an emotion through a metaphor of something physical. The one takeaway I want people to get from this four-part introduction is that anything goes. Writers should write what and how they want and write what they feel.

The Elements of Poetry Part 3: Form

For week three of National Poetry Month, April, I will continue my brief introductions to the four elements of poetry. These four elements are Prosody, Rhyme, Form, and Diction. The third in the four-part series I will discuss on the elements of poetry is Form. Form is one of the things that distinguishes poetry from prose. The structural elements of form include the line, the stanza, and larger combinations such as cantos. These structural elements combine into larger structures of poetic forms like sonnets or haikus.

The most common form in contemporary poetry is free verse. There is no set rhythm, rhyme, or pattern to the poem. One could say it is free of all structure. Blank verse has no rhyme but its rhythm is in iambic pentameter. Other forms include sestinas, villanelles, and terza rima. Many forms have specific rhythms, rhyme schemes, and refrains making the different forms unique. Structured poetic forms are less frequent in contemporary poetry.

Visual presentation is also an important characteristic of poetic form. Deciding where to place words, lines, or groups of lines on the page can add further effect to the poem and its meaning. For example, a poem about losing control may have words and lines move around the page in a spiral. Choosing whether to align the words to the left, center, right, or combination of all three on the page is another stylistic choice. A structured form or visual creative positioning of words is not required to write poetry. I will always encourage writers to play around with different ideas when writing poetry. Poetry provides more freedom of expression than prose.

The Elements of Poetry Part 2: Rhyme

For week two of National Poetry Month, April, I will continue my brief introductions to the four elements of poetry. These four elements are Prosody, Rhyme, Form, and Diction. The second in the four-part series I will discuss on the elements of poetry is Rhyme. A poem need not rhyme but the use of this element can enhance the goals of the writer. The lyrics of many songs rhyme adding a sing-song effect to the rhythm of the lyrics or poem. There are a few ways one can create repetitive patterns of sound in poetry that most people are not aware.

Rhyme is most often identical sounds or similar sounds placed at the end of lines. Identical sounds called hard-rhymes (true, blue) and similar sounds called soft-rhymes (hate, fake). These hard and soft-rhymes can occur in the middle of lines depending on the effect the writer wants. Another type of repetition of sound is alliteration. Alliteration is the repetition of letters or letter sounds at the beginning of two or more words (Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers). Assonance and Consonance are other ways to create repetitive patterns of sound.

Assonance is the use of similar vowel sounds within a word as opposed to the beginning or end of a word (go slow over the road). Consonance is the repetition of a consonant sound throughout a sentence without putting it at the beginning of words (some mammals are clammy). Rhyme schemes are a structured way of using repetitive patterns. Labeled as “aabb” where the first two lines of a poem rhyme and the following two rhyme. But the four lines do not use the same rhyme sound. Classic structured form poetry uses rhyme schemes more than contemporary poetry. 

I recommend writers play around with different patterns of sound in their poetry. It develops the mastery of language. This device can benefit writing prose as well but only when used in small amounts. Repetitions of sound in poetry are most effective with spoken word poetry.