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Literary Terms

August 2013

We all were taught literary terms in school, especially during some poetry unit. Simile, metaphor, personification and many others were supposed to be the common vocabulary and grammar we used to dissect the poems.

This month's model poem for our prompt, "Alliteration" by Paul Hostovsky, is one that is titled with a literary term, but the poem is no ars poetica .

We know that alliteration is the repetition of the initial sounds (usually consonants) of stressed syllables in neighboring words. Usually it occurs at word beginnings, as in this line from Shelley's "The Cloud": I bear light shade for the leaves when laid.

Paul's poem has alliteration, but do you see a connection from the term to the poem's subject? Repetition? The "few choice consonants" of spluttered sound? Was it intentional (in this somewhat naughty-boy poem that includes several puns) that another name for alliteration is head rhyme?

For our August prompt, we asked readers to select a literary term as a title and starting point. Besides the common terms, there are plenty of lesser known ones (like half rhyme). And a term like "meter" has many sub-topics to offer. Pentameter and caesura suggest things outside of poetry to me. What would a poem titled "Masculine Verse" or "Feminine Verse" address?

To avoid preconceived notions, perhaps you should just browse a list of literary terms for poetry and find one that gets your interest.

Paul Hostovsky is the author of four books of poetry, Hurt Into Beauty (2012), A Little in Love a Lot (2011), Dear Truth (2009), and Bending the Notes (2008). His poems have won a Pushcart Prize, two Best of the Net awards, numerous chapbook contests, and have been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and The Writer's Almanac. He works in Boston as a sign language interpreter at the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf. "Alliteration" is from his forthcoming book Naming Names which can be pre-ordered now. Paul can be found online at

For more on this prompt and others, visit the Poets Online blog.


The metaphor works.
It is like riding a bike.
A bicycle built for two.
Balance, a sense so natural,
we forget it
until moments like this.
It’s almost like standing still
but we are moving.
We are flying.
Air at the ears,
a mist of sweat on our backs
but each breath feels cool,
smells sweet,
hurts and soothes.
I'm pedaling uphill now,
working hard
to get to that pure flame
so blue, it looks cool,
so bright, I forgot
you were riding too.

Pamela Milne


This is a letter to you Herbie
You who thought you smarter than anybody else
You who thought you understood a body's loss
Who knew not to give predictions
You who thought you could conserve all
You who thought nothing could overwhelm you
You who thought your courtesy was irreproachable
Have come to a time, when time controls.
You who thought,holding your piece till asked
Have come to nothing, close to the road's end,
Side tracked into the rain gutter of stagnation
You who learned of a twisted ankle
You have fractured a hip in your chaotic house
Through no fault of your own.
You who have had an audience of one for forty years
Listening to her complaints, her to yours,
Each who thought what more could there be
You who thought your life was full
Came to an age of retirement
Like a cherry tree,with forty years of fruitful work
But the old farmer Time, shakes his head
"There is nothing to be saved, it will be cut down."

I am sorry Herbie, I have malicious thoughts
But hearing that you, who thought,
Thought more intensely than I,
Only have silent gestures of amusement
About you, who thought more and continued
With ripping articles that told you unknown own items
Of great significance, only to be aged a open wine

I can weep over the notebooks of a dead child
In wonderment at his seriousness, perfect intent,
Memory seems appropriate now
While the work of you,your work
Is dust on paper waiting to be blown away.

Edward N. Halperin


He met her at the reception.
She was exceptionally beautiful
and spoke with a thick accent

as she talked about her native
tongue. Popping an appetizer
(some sort of crustacean)

into her mouth, she airily
waved the tiny spear
of a tasseled toothpick in the air

as he waited for her to chew
and to swallow. "In my native
tongue," she told him, giving

her upper lip a last fluid lick,
and gesturing with the toothpick
which came down on each word

like a conductor's baton
or a tool for poetic scansion,
"the first syllable always carries

the stress. No exceptions. Like love
at first sight, phonetically speaking.
The words are all trochees and dactyls."

He nodded his understanding
and she went on, "Nevertheless,
our Slavic liquids," and here she

aimed the lucky tip of the toothpick
at her mouth, nearly touching it,
"are difficult for you foreigners

to pronounce." And she rolled
a consonant cluster with an r inside
right off he tongue, to demonstrate--

a dark grape wrapped in its native
mist, which he expertly caught
in his own mouth, and without bursting it,

gave back to her, whole.

Paul Hostovsky


When anyone would oxy me,
I'd say your were a moron.
You never even irony your

You meta phor attempts at
suicide, but a paradox saved
you. You are some kind of

I rony to say goodbye, but
you litote in your casket.
Onomatopoeia on your grave, so
goodbye, Al

Marie A. Mennuto-Rovello

Paradelle on Love

Once, our hearts were open. We made love.
We made love once our hearts were open.
We turned and embraced in huge, unmade spaces ruined by war.
Unmade, we turned and embraced in huge spaces ruined by war.
Once we turned and embraced open war
in huge spaces we made, our hearts were ruined by unmade love.

Have you vanished from the face of this life?
You have vanished from the face of this life.
Still, I miss longing.and belonging to you to have love
I still miss longing to have love and belonging to you.
I have vanished from life to miss this longing,
and still you have the face of love belonging to you.

Our old blind pain did not help us find a way to God.
Our old pain did not help us find a way to blind God.
God could not let us be true to one another.
One God could not let us be true to another.
Let us find another blind God to be true to.
Our old one way pain God did not, could not help us.

Our blind way of belonging to old war
turned our hearts’ spaces to pain. We once embraced love,
and could have vanished from another God,
to find the one true face to help us. You were not open,
God. You did not let be, and have ruined us. And,
still, in this unmade life made huge by longing, I miss love.

Lyn Coffin


Oh please don't make me rhyme!
I'll do anything else you wish.
I'll goose step in double time.
I'll pretend to be a goldfish

Swimming in my little bowl,
Round and round and round.
But please no rhyming as the goal!
It runs my brain to ground.

I'm trampled and stamped into the dirt,
All "find me a word that rhymes with cloud."
My poem resembles a crafted yurt,
Puzzle-pieced words that are "allowed."

So please don't make me do it.
A poem's a poem sans rhyme.
I find that I simply move through it
Often in, oh, half the time

That it takes to read poems that sing and that song
Poems that move you first forth and then back
At exactly the meter to pace you along,
A metronome reader seated next to a stack

Of Chopin and Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff,
Who will not abide to be played without feeling.
Their pace is their own, out of time and aloft,
You must listen or play 'til your senses are reeling.

These poems, like Bach, that feel so confining
Make me struggle to find how to be.
To free-form my thoughts somehow seems more defining.
I find I can find the real me.

So please let's not rhyme, just this once.
Take the oath and the pledge and don't do it.
Let us all be as wise as the dunce
In the corner who has to intuit.

Take the pledge and say no; join us all who "heave ho"
To the rules and the custom of rhyme.
We will write as we please, poets true to our knees,
And create the discordant sublime.

Anita Sanz


This crazy puppy - electrified
energy, wild; even after all the systematic
metered training, rhyming couplets
coupled by a leash, official by the book.
Boring: sit-stay-down-stand-heel.
After ten minutes she loses
the nova in her eye, the sunup spark.
So we packed her in the truck,
headed up-country. Wild-
flowers past their prime, faded like
ruined puppies; meadow creek
dried-up hard as brick.
What does a puppy care? Wild
carrot ranger-buttons,
a few tattered mules-ears, lupine gone
to pod. We headed up the trail,
unclipped her leash. She leaped free,
feet flying, rapturous.
I called my “come!” refrain,
she circled back; then dashed off
to scan the marvels of this wind-sprung
world. We lost a puppy
to the mountains. We found
a magically grown dog.

Taylor Graham


While white wine with whiskey whirls wildly
within whitewashed walls,
wisdom watches.

Wasted weavers weave woeful worlds -
weird with whiskey, wet with wine.

Wisdom waits.
Wisdom watches well.

Wherefore wisdom weaves witty, wise wonderful worlds.

Bobbie Townsend


Nana tried to help with my English assignment,
but in my continued ignorance, I could not help feeling
she is more akin to Lady Bracknell than Professor McGonagall.

She continued, muttering something about ‘the
twelve labours of Hercules’.

She lectured for a while, but I was confused as to
why she kept saying things like ‘Catch-22’ and
‘Pandora’s Box’. I wondered if she has seen Avatar.

My phone rand. ‘Kids these days’, she muttered.
I was surprised at her knowledge. ‘Do you like them
as well, Nana? It’s a shame they split up,' I commiserated.

With a secretive and somewhat ironic smile, she
threw up her hands and declared that my
‘fool’s paradise will only last for so long.’

Now as I reflect back on it, I realise that there was
method in her madness.

Stacey McPhail


Undulating waves, shimmering crests,
Regularity of their returns at shore line
And then the alternating tides.
A common theme they hem in.
Natural anaphora.

Shifting zodiac, the hurrying moon,
Sun peeping out everyday,
Gliding past zenith
And dipping below horizon to rise again.
A common theme they hem in.
Celestial anaphora.

What would they connote, corroborate?
These instances innumerable
Of anaphora, most ancient!

Answer analogous I seek
In amour, in eros
Teeming with acts and events, commensurable
Of reciprocation, of regularity.

Nay, anachronism it is not;
This survey of corporeal anaphora.
Universal anaphora,
We seek to burrow into after all.

Burrowing bird with regularity pecks;
Helped innately by biological clock own;
And it pecks out every time a quantum of depth
To home in unto trunk's core,
The center of personal universe.

Fueled by homing instinct,
As sequence of depth-seeking burrowing acts,
Anaphora reaps possibly the hypostasis
The shared seed,
The common center of self and cosmos,

Mutual love isn't really the matter
When lovers repeat *I love you*
In amour, in eros.
It is ever the beginning;
This spiritual anaphora
Of a potential pore
To be pecked out,
To arrive at the cosmic core,
Common source of souls,
Existing and operating.

Burrowing birds they are after all.

Bhanu Padmo


My wife and I were leaving the restaurant,
As the old piano player was finishing his set.
As I slipped a bill in his tip glass,
He smiled, “Thank you.”

And waved to us with his left hand.
At first I thought it was to say goodbye, but it was to justify his style.
“Did you know that I had a stroke?
“Look at these frozen fingers.

“All they’re good for is banging out a few basic chords,
“Like a rake against an ant hill.”
Then, because he thought we were interested,
He said, “I want to let you in on another little secret.”

He opened the top of his baby grand
To reveal that his piano was really an electric keyboard,
Which he had concealed in an empty frame
That could be disassembled and packed into his car.

“Because,” he said, “people hear music with their eyes,
“And won’t tip a man who uses an electric keyboard,
“No matter how well he plays.
“They don’t find the sound organic enough.

“There’s something about acoustic music
“That reminds people of sitting before a fireplace,
“And holding hands, even this deformed thing,
“Or brushing aside loose strands of hair

“To kiss a pretty cheek, like your wife’s.
“On the other hand, they find electronic music
“Is like kissing a computer screen on the lips,
“And most men get enough of that at home.”

Ron Yazinski


You--of all the arrogant--
Of all the stuck-up--

If you had been like any other one,
If you had spoken of flowers, of trees,
Of smiles and kisses fluttering at night
Amongst half-eaten meals, half-thought-out dreams,
Like torn leaves gently drifting down to rest,
Indecisive, then making short, sharp bursts,
Flashing red and falling into twilight,
(And that's a real love poem, for future reference!)

I might have surrendered. Knowing it was
Obvious, but sincere. If not in love,
At least in life. At least conventional.
Good practice for both of us. But you, but
You! Come in waltzing with your talk about
Marriage--and bugs!--and blood--and bugs!--and love,
Irrelevancies raised to a high art,
Pretentious and conceited metaphors,
Or metaphysical conceit--so what,

Am I supposed to swoon at your logic,
Your outward syllogisms stretched so far,
That they bend back upon themselves again,
And become loops, choking themselves away,
Knots which would tie me to you forevermore,
One night, one hasty night, and nooses there,
Scattered on every tile our light feet touch.

You are the flea, sucking all my blood out,
You are the compass, drawing boundaries,
Constraining my limits, pandering to
My supposed low intellect in an
Effort to make it so--well, you failed there.
Death may not be proud; you certainly are.

Riposte: your words are a telescope lens,
Wrought with care and fraught with cracks. Poetry should
Make love clearer, bring into focus that
Which is already there, not conjure up
Fantastic images which can't exist.

You bring only gyroscopes pointing wrong
Way up. You bring me only wooden hoops
Cracked in the middle. Twisting brokenly,
No beginning or end. Unnatural.
You bring me only shallow-snow regret.

Easy reductio ad absurdum:
Although that's not the way I hoped this night
Would go. I shall present it now in rhyme,
Since clearly you love that format so:

A man who loves his own wit more than me,
Must live with it for all eternity.
Go share passionate caress with your flea,
If to you that's the same as life with me.

(And some parting advice, in less
delicate form:

since I'm sure
you'll move on,

when you write
love poems,
leave the insects out!)

Jaimie Carlson


Words bruised, broken, choked,
      Hacked into gobbets of conception.
Clauses squashed, ripped, strewn
      Like body parts on blasted ground.
Punctuation like ash from crematory fires
      On pages bleached of all perception.
Sentences maimed, seared, splayed apart,
      Gutted of sense and sound.
The slaughter of the sentences continues unabated,
And all the red in all the pens on earth
      Can never make them whole.

Robert Miller