October 3rd, 2006

ozarque figure

Linguistics; stylistics; making choices in poetry; part four (final)...

Topic for the day: second half of "patterning for the ear" -- this time, patterning based on the English phonemes [the meaningful sounds that distinguish one English word from another].

In any stretch of text, there are always going to be some phonemes that occur more than once. That's a statistical fact linked to such factors as context, the frequency with which particular phonemes occur in the language, and so on. One of the differences between poetry and prose -- except for prose that is intended to be "poetic," such as (for just one example) the prose in presidential inaugural addresses -- is that particular phonemes are deliberately used by the poet more often than would be likely to occur as the result of those factors alone. The poet uses particular phonemes in the same way that a painter would use particular colors and shades of colors and combinations of colors.

When I wrote the original version of the verse that we've been discussing, it looked/sounded like this:

"If raping a woman is a sexual offense,
you need a prison.
If raping a woman is a crime of property,
you only need to make a deal."

You'll notice that very little sound-patterning is going on here. There's some repetition of /p/ and /r/, and some repetition of individual words, but not -- in my opinion -- enough patterning to get the sequence past a challenge claiming that it's only prose with line breaks added in an attempt to pass it off as poetry.

When I revised the verse, I worked hard on fixing that; the result looks/sounds like this:

Draft Eleven of same verse:

"If raping a woman is a sexual offense --
if it's assault -- if it's abuse of power,
you need a prison sentence.
If raping a woman is a crime of property --
if it's theft -- if it's breaking and entering,
you only need to make an appropriate payment."

Phoneme sets

raping, power, prison, crime, property, appropriate, breaking, entering

raping, power, prison, property, appropriate, payment

raping, power, prison, property, appropriate

sexual, offense, assault, abuse, sentence, it's

if, offense, theft

/e/ [traditional schoolroom "long A"]
raping, breaking, make, payment

Word/morpheme sets

offense, sentence

raping, breaking, entering

Now it's certainly possible that that degree of sound patterning could happen accidentally in speech or in prose, just as it's possible that someone eating dinner could accidentally say "Pass the peas, please" -- a sequence of four monosyllables three of which begin with the phoneme /p/ and two of which rhyme -- but it's not likely. And it's very unlikely that that sort of thing would go on, accidentally, through one utterance after another. It's only likely in poetry.

Final note: There's a wrinkle in the sound patterning for the Draft Eleven version that probably wouldn't be noticed by most readers; linguists, phoneticians, speech therapists, maybe a few other groups, would notice it. (I'd call it a linguistics "in-joke," except that there's nothing funny about it.) It's the fact that there are lots and lots of stop consonants in the verse -- consonants that cut off the flow of air through the vocal tract completely. That's deliberate; one of the first things that came to my mind when I did that verse was that a verse about rape should have a lot of stops in it.