While we speak of birds, I’ve heard that crows like things that glitter. I somewhat like things that glitter myself. Plus I dress all in black sometimes. Humans have something else in common with crows (besides me). We like audio glitter, little sparkles of sound that catch the attention. Repetition does this, and that repetition is so popular we’ve even made up special words to describe different varieties.
When the repetition is at the end of words, for instance “dumbo” and “jumbo” (and I don’t mean you), obviously we call that “rhyme”. The repetition of sound can also occur at the beginning of a word, which we call “alliteration”. It’s very popular, but these days in America alliteration seems to be used mostly for naming businesses: Dunkin Donuts, Kwik Kopy, Krispy Kreme, Best Buy, Circuit City.
In the artistic revolution of the 20th century, when the rules for pretty much everything went to hell, form in poetry (in English, at least) was abandoned, and yes, I know, not everyone followed the rule to have no rules. Robert Frost held out. Still, one of the mainstays of English poetry for hundreds of years—rhyme—was generally thrown away.
Long before rhyme ruled, the alternative audio glitter of alliteration was the popular technique in English poetry. I’m talking about Old English poetry, not Shakespeare (who is considered modern), but waaaay old English, the time of Beowulf. More than 1,000 years ago. At that time it was popular to create poetry in which individual lines used as much alliterative repetition as possible.
A couple of months ago I began a poem while sitting in a meeting, bored to death, and the first line came out with alliteration. That gave me the idea to try it on the whole poem. (Note: it’s hard as hell to write like this.) Here it is.
A lonely amber light lies on the rolling land.
Outside the airplane window, wind blows the clouds away.
Silent, sitting thinking, Sam sees sunlight on a lake.
Far above, he feels the weight of his forsaken heart.
With a drink on her deck as the dusk falls,
Susannah sees the swallows swoop above the lake.
Glancing up, she gazes at the glimmer from the plane.
Somber-eyed, she sighs, and slowly takes a drink.
A cup of coffee in the air, the cart comes down the aisle.
Two more hours to Tucson, to an empty hotel room.
Back behind in Boston, no beloved waits, none calls.
Whether home or hotel room, he hates the hollow hours.
For Susannah, love felt safe, so satisfied, so sure,
until Ray taught her otherwise and told her he was tired.
Now she knows, and knows too well, that nothing’s guaranteed.
Belief betrayed her, broke her heart, brought empty, sleepless nights.
Sam throws his thoughts ahead, thinks about the evening.
He wants to walk into his room, abandon work and worry,
find a Mexican restaurant, maybe make it to a movie.
While streetlights glow, like stars below, across the sweep of land.
Susannah rises to the rail, where watery rays of light reflect.
She doesn’t like the demons here, she thinks she’ll drive downtown.
She’s in the mood for Mexican food, she might take in a movie.
While streetlights glow, like stars in a row, across the sweep of land.