Tuesday Trials: Sound as Imagery and Inspiration

30 Nov

8:46 am, Tuesday, 30 November, 2010 – Atlanta

Sound is one of the more complex elements of writing. It involves rhyme, rhythm, imagery, onomatopoeia and word choice that contributes to each and all of those aspects. Sound can be tricky. But sound underpins almost every other element of poetry. Think about it: all words are associated with sound. Remember that poetry started as an oral tradition. Poems were meant to be heard.

When writing you should not feel the piece is complete until you have read it aloud, or heard it read and are satisfied with how it sounds. The rhythm of the phrasing and the melody of the words grouped together is integral to the piece. “It is like choreographing a dance: each word is a member of the company and you are in charge of orchestrating their movements.”[17] Goldberg

Think of words and phrases you enjoy saying because you like the way a word sounds as you say it. They feel good both to your ear and mouth. One of my favourite poems is Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” because of the way the first few lines sound when they roll off my tongue. It is the sounds of the words more than their meaning that give me pleasure.

As there are several was to approach sound, I may give you a three-parter, so as not to overwhelm with information, ideas and writing. We will deal first with how words sound rather than imagery of sound.

List ten words each that sound [not necessarily are]:







Figure out what makes these words sound the way you hear them.

List words and phrases whose sounds you like and dislike. Can you figure out what it is you like or dislike? Be as specific as you can. Chances are the effect on you is the effect on most people. A writer needs to know the effect of the sounds of words.

List onomatopoeic words [words that are the sound made], as many as you can think of: whine, buzz, squeal, thunk…try to come up with at least twenty.

If you have an ear, wonderful. If you do not, you need to train yourself. This is a good way to start. Tomorrow we will play with sound imagery and next Tuesday, bring the two, sound and sound imagery, together. I will also have an exercise using sound as inspiration for story, which may go into the week after next. As I said, sound is more complex than the other senses.


Posted by on 30/11/2010 in exercises, poetry, writing


2 responses to “Tuesday Trials: Sound as Imagery and Inspiration

  1. Music&Meaning

    30/11/2010 at 11:02 am

    thanks for reminding me of “Kubla Khan”–you may have just given me my next post.

    & the relationship between sound and meaning *is* complex–I once was on the verge of buying a dictionary that related the meanings of words by their sounds–now, I wish I had gotten it! RT

  2. mroby

    30/11/2010 at 11:16 am

    My pleasure. I tend to use not contemporary poetry for my examples and I am finding that people are enjoying coming across a poem they had forgotten about.



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