Teaching Series Prosody, Rhythm and Metre

Poetry is writing using concentrated language to make specific emotional responses through meaning sound and rhythm.

To write exemplary poetry as opposed to ok poetry one needs to understand these elements… the ability to manipulate language, how words and syllables create sound and how to work with these – the rythmic quality of speech and of life.

By manipulation of language I do not mean going through a thesaurus and plucking out the most obscure words and using them but being aware of how words work together and how sounds work together to choose the right combination to get the right effects.

Serious poets need to study these things .

Don’t get hung up on the obscure words related to poetry theory look beyond them to the concepts that will enable you to up your poetic game.
Remember that to master most things you need to understand the fundementals football, painting, driving, swimming each one has a set of skills attached and poetry is no different.

So those elements of language group under the umbrella of PROSODY.

Prosody, the study of all the elements of language that contribute toward acoustic and rhythmic effects, chiefly in poetry but also in prose. The term derived from an ancient Greek word that originally meant a song accompanied by music or the particular tone or accent given to an individual syllable.

“Prosody the art of versification.” Stephen Fry.

Poetry though written these days is still designed to be read aloud, and even if not in voice then we read it in our minds and I would suggest that you should where possible at least mouth the piece as its pleasurable to feel the sensations as your mouth forms the words of poetry. Poetry is always a thing to be savoured.

The success of a piece of poetry depends on the choice of words their integration into phrases and the intonation, stress and rhythm of the piece.

Prosodic features are features that appear when we put sounds together in connected speech They are INTONATION, STRESS AND RHYTHM.

Lets go back to the basics of speech. How we write things is not often how we say them.

We have an alphabet – letters all with their own sound

Talking is all about using the sounds of letters and words to enable understanding, much of the sound we make comes from the sound of the VOWELS IN ENGLISH, these are the parts of words we emphasize as we talk. The constanants are the supporting players and mostly they blend with the vowels.
In Poetry we make use of the sounds of the letters particularly the vowels to give us meaning musicality, rhythm and flow. To rhyme we need to understand how vowels sound because perfect rhyme is about the identical sound of the stressed syllable and any subsequent constanants. In Assonance we place words with the same syllable sound in close proximity in a line.

There are 5 vowels in English a, e, i, o, u. but over 20 vowel sounds.
21 constanants each with their own sounds.
Vowels and constants are the building blocks of words and words lines.

Each English word is given its own WEIGHT or PUSH as we SPEAK it within a sentence. But when we string words together as we speak we give some words or parts of words stress and some we glide over and some we blend together.
As poets we need an awareness of such nuances!

When we talk we normally give weight to vowels and their accompanying constanants
Also we need to be aware of how we speak in that we STRESS SYLLABLES and make them LOUDER…LONGER in the important words as we talk.

What is a SYLLABLE?

As we speak we stress words emphasing the vowel sounds in the words we need people to connect with. So nouns, adjectives, adverbs, verbs tend to have stress but particles, prepositions, pronouns and conjunctions tend not to be.
So nouns
Tend to be stressed. Other parts of speech are not.

A syllable is the part of a word containing a vowel sound such as a, e, i, o, u
So ( credit) CRED / IT has two syllables because it has two vowel sounds.
(National) NAT/ ION/AL has three syllables.
In speech there is only one major stress in a word but in multisyllable word there is likely to be a secondary stress. In poetry we might utilise that stress in our syllable count.

When we stress syllables in words, we use a combination of different features. Experiment now with the word ‘computer’. Say it out loud. Listen to yourself. The second syllable of the three is stressed.

Com PU ter
What are you doing so that the listener can hear that stress?
• A stressed syllable combines five features:
• It is l-o-n-g-e-r – com p-u-ter
• It is LOUDER – comPUter
• It has a change in pitch from the syllables coming before and afterwards. The pitch of a stressed syllable is usually higher.
• It is said more clearly -The vowel sound is purer. Compare the first and last vowel sounds with the stressed sound.
• It uses larger facial movements – Look in the mirror when you say the word. Look at your jaw and lips in particular.

Let’s look at this sentence
From TIME to TIME and for as LONG as it TAKES.
I have written the words that we stress in capitals. We glide over the particles (‘from’,‘to’,‘and’,‘for’, ‘as’,‘it’) and give a little push to the important words (‘time’,‘long’, ‘takes’).
Also, we tend to accent the operative part of monosyllabic words when they are extended, only lightly tripping over the -ing and -ly, of such words as HOPing and QUICKly.

You need to understand syllables in order to understand metre.
So you have to start to be able to identify syllablles as the first step to learning metre.
Tip for identifying syllables in words.
Put your hand under your chin as you say the word you feel your chin drop as your mouth makes a syllable.

You need to practice breaking words into syllables.
Some words, ”CONE” for example, contain only one syllable.
Other words, such as (Circle) “CIR-CLE” contain two syllables. We have words built from any number of syllables – (Constitutional) has five syllables “CON-STI-TU-TION-AL”
Find the syllables in the following words.

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