Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Syllables and Endings

I have been reading The Triggering Town - Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing by Richard Hugo. I remember taking this book out of the library a couple of years ago when I was doing my Creative Writing degree but I can only assume that I never got around to reading it because I have no memory of the content - and I have had no feelings of deja-vu as I am reading.  If you haven't read it I would recommend it. I have certainly been enjoying it and will probably go back and re-read some bits at a later date.

One of the bits I found really interesting was about the use of single-syllable and multi-syllabic words in poetry.  I can't say that this is a topic that I have really thought about in great depth before. Hugo argues that multi-syllabic words have "a way of softening the impact of language" (p8) whereas single-syllable words get right to the point - they show toughness, rigidity, the warts and all world.  With this in mind I re-looked at again at a poem I have been working on - it is about dead things and starts off alluding to dead rabbits hanging on a market stall when I was a child - sure enough the first stanza which is all about memory is full of multi-syllabic words (remind, childhood, rabbits, muzzles, marbles etc), whereas the last line is almost entirely made up of single syllable words.  Obviously I am making this distinction unconsciously whilst I am writing. Maybe it is some kind of unspoken rule about the way we use language that is so ingrained in us that we do it without even realising. I am planning to look at some more poems tomorrow and see if the same rule has been applied. I suppose it could also help with those tricky endings - you know when that last line just isn't working and you just can't figure out why. I'm not keen on hard and fast rules about writing though so I think I will play it by ear!


Tim Love said...

Isn't what Hugo says just another way of describing Anglo-Saxon/Latinate differences. Here's a quote from a Jack Lynch page - "As a (very rough) general rule, words derived from the Germanic ancestors of English are shorter, more concrete, and more direct, whereas latinate words are longer and more abstract: compare, for instance, the Anglo-Saxon thinking with the Latinate cogitation."

Julia said...

Thanks for that link - and yes it does seem to be the same thing.