Assonance and alliteration mean repeating sounds. Assonance is the repetition of a vowel sound, and alliteration is the repetition of a consonant.
Poet Kurt Cyrus uses these tools brilliantly. Check out this poem from his wonderful picture book, Hotel Deep.
The belch of a blowfish. The bark of a seal.
The murmuring turn of the tide.
The walloping, wallowing yawn of an eel.
The silence of ships that have died.
Ripples come racing on crystal-blue rollers
With tidings from far and wide.
Can you hear the repetition? Belch, blowfish, bark. B, B, B. Murmuring turn. Hear the Rs?
Repetition of sounds like this makes a poem so much fun to read aloud, and I think it’s one of the easiest tools to play with. Sometimes the repeated sounds just flow out as you’re writing a poem, and that’s great. But if they don’t, that’s ok. Revising a poem to include more assonance and alliteration is not hard to do.
Here are two lines from the first draft of a poem I was working on for Stampede! Poems to Celebrate the Wild Side of School.
My fingers clumsy as a claw
Lines tossed out like scattered straw
The lines are ok. There’s nothing wrong with them. But I wanted them to be a little punchier, have a little more zip.
I looked at the first line, and I kind of liked the way the “a” in “as” reminds me of a scratchy sound, like a sore throat, kind of. And scratchy is definitely the theme of this whole poem. So I played with words to find ones that meant the same thing as the words I had already used. I came up with “hand” instead of fingers. Close enough in meaning, and the same “a” sound. And for a bonus, since “hand” has only one syllable, I could add another “as,” so my line became:
My hand’s as clumsy as a claw
Now I had three “a” sounds in my line, and my language just sounded more purposeful.
The second line, “Lines tossed out like scattered straw,” is talking about the kid’s handwriting. I liked the two Ls and the two Ss, but I wanted more. I tried to think of another verb like tossed that started with L. No go. I checked my thesaurus. Nothing. But then I thought that when you toss something, it lands. And that starts with L. So instead of “Lines tossed out like scattered straw,” I tried, “My letters land like scattered straw.” Three Ls. It seemed to smack, smack, smack, just like the letters landing on the page. It worked.
So those two lines ended up as
My hand’s as clumsy as a claw
My letters land like scattered straw
And that’s all there was to it. Here are a few lines from one of my first drafts for you to work on. Can you add some repeating sounds to make the sound of these lines stronger?
Oreo was the best guinea pig ever.
Black edges and white stripe
and chocolate-cherry eyes that shined
when we hugged.
After you work on that, take out one of your own poems. Maybe it’s a first draft, or maybe it’s a poem you thought was finished. Take another look. Can you swap out some words to repeat sounds? Give it a try!