A “Building Block of Verse”

by April Bulmer

I’m not one for traditional rhyme (though no one would suspect given my choice of birthday cards), but do appreciate assonance in poems.

Image: Ventrilock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What is assonance?

Technically speaking it is the repetition of a vowel sound with different consonants, or the same consonant with different vowels in lines of literature or poetry. For example stony and holy or mystery and mastery.

But put simply, it is a resemblance of sounds in syllables or words, especially of vowels. Lake and fake demonstrate the concept of rhyme, whereas lake and fate assonance. Thus, it is also referred to as “vowel rhyme.”

Wikipedia tells us that this internal rhyme within phrases or sentences “serves as one of the building blocks of verse…It is used in (mainly modern) English-language poetry, and is particularly important in Old French, Spanish and the Celtic languages.”

It is characteristic of Emily Dickinson’s verse, as well as the work of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Dylan Thomas.

Assonance is used to emphasize the meanings of words or to create a mood. Examples of assonance are sometimes a challenge to locate in a poem because they can operate subconsciously and are often subtle. The long vowel sounds (“o”) can drag the pace and create a sombre tone, while high sounds (“i”) often accelerate the energy of the piece.

I wrote a poem recently in which I utilized assonance more than any other literary vehicle. The repetition of the long “o” sound is intended to underscore the main character’s mourning over her lost child. She is dramatic and vocal and expresses the visceral ache of her grief as a kind of moan. This sound is juxtaposed against the assonance of the final stanza where a long “e” sound is created beginning with the word “heal.” Here, I wished to summon a kind of female energy. A return to life, a zeal.

Lucille Sky: Temple

I rose like dough.
My breasts like loaves.

But Blessed Virgin
took her in swaddling clothes.

Her voice rose
with the lament of crows,
though she visits in dreams
and in the dim.

I packed a soft valise:
flannel blankets, a tortoise comb,
the scent of my shadow–
an offering of sage and tobacco.

My heart the slow root
of sumac.
The seasons of woman-blood:
reap and sow.

I am a half-breed
from the lake’s
wide hip.
I plait my hair,
anoint with the breath
of bonfire
my lobes.

Though the Amen Corner
is the place I heal.
My womb a temple
of ripening fruit,
healthy as an apple.
Red and white root.
Core of flesh and seed
and peel.

April Bulmer

poem written with support from

April Bulmer has published six books of poetry. The most recent is entitled The Goddess Psalms (Serengeti Press, 2008). She has graduate degrees in creative writing, religious studies and theological studies and often writes about issues pertaining to women and spirituality. April received Ontario Arts Council funding through Black Moss Press in Windsor for her new manuscript “Temples.” She is grateful for this support. Contact her at aprilb (at) golden.net

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