A Lesson in ONOMATOPOEIA
Whether you’ve stumbled upon this section of my website by accident, or if you zapped one of the QR codes in my latest publication, WELCOME!
Onomatopoeias fall under the poetic device of Imagery, which taps into all five senses. The star of the show for this term is sound. This device uses words that actually imitate the sound they’re describing. Using words as sound effects makes for an imaginative playground in your head. Wrap some SLAM poetry around a handful of onomatopoeias, and your competition doesn’t stand a chance the minute you step up to the mic. This poetic device beckons to be spoken aloud. But, if you’re the silent type, that’s okay. You do you. Just feel free to load up your poems with words that trickle off the tongue with every intention of evoking emotion, or at least let others whisper them while they read your work.
Lots of people think of words like, “pow,” “zoom,” “boink,”–or any other 1960s-Batman-television-show variety–when they think of onomatopoeias. Those are fine. Maybe even a little, meh. I challenge you to level up with some better choices that serve a stronger purpose in the poems you write. Choose onomatopoeias that actually have meaning and provoke sound imagery within a setting you’ve created in your poem that includes other senses, too. My workbook and journal has an extensive list of words to use for every sense. You should take a peek, and use as many as you want.
If the example provided by Poe doesn’t do it for you, check out the complete version of his poem, “The Bells.” I wanted to use the full poem, but since it’s super long—I took a pass worried that my readers would lose interest and want to get right down to writing instead of reading the whole thing. “The Bells,” though, is the quintessential example of all things onomatopoeia, so when you have the time of day (or night—this is Poe we’re talking about, night is a good time to set the mood), then do an Internet search for it and enjoy hearing all the different sounds of the types of bells he celebrates in his poem.
For this exercise, here’s a list of onomatopoeias that would love to hang out in a verse that comes to life with other sensory details:
Trickle Sputter Squeak Crackle Clap Squeal
Hush Howl Sizzle Rev Woof Mumble
Gurgle Warble Smash Ring Splash Click
Stutter Whisper Whine Fizz Tick-Tock Thud
Gulp Chug Slurp Rattle Slosh Clip
Here are some scenarios to bring to life with a few sound descriptors:
A lifeboat with two survivors drifting on the turbulent sea, pitch black, nothing but stars …
A hungry wolf stalking its prey, ribbons of neon green flowing above them, the full moon dances with the Northern Lights …
A field of tulips in every color imaginable, a swarm of bees feast on all the nectar …
A man stands in the rain outside her window, drench, shaking, wondering if she knows …
A shark cruises the shoreline, his fin slicing the undulating waves, a surfer mounts his board …
Now, go forth, my word-whisperer, and make some noise all up in those sweeeet poems of yours. I can’t wait for you to share your work with me!
~Brooke E. Wayne