boost your poetry skills with this anagram hack

A poem on the page speaks to the listening mind. —Mary Oliver
Photo by Stas Knop

sound in poetry

Meter, symbolism, diction, structure, sound: the greatest poets have an innate understanding of these elements and use them fluently in their writing. That said, if you’re not thinking about these things at all, your poetry is likely not as good as it could be. Luckily, there are easy ways to boost your poetry skills.

Today I want to focus on sound. Poetry mom Mary Oliver reminds us, “To make a poem, we must make sounds. Not random sounds, but chosen ones.” But which should we choose? In A Poetry Handbook Mary provides detail about semi-vowels, mutes, hard and soft consonants, etc—but my brain turned into porridge after reading it. It’s not that Ms. Oliver failed to provide important, accurate detail on sound in poetry, or that she failed to do it eloquently—I simply felt incapable of writing poetry for the next 48 hours. Complexity was to blame.

(Learn more about Mary Oliver here.)

training your ear

Thinking too hard about any element of poetry can make it difficult to write a poem that has a sense of immediacy or captures a powerful emotion. Luckily, anagrams provide a hack to make your poetry sound better, without the brain-mush. This game might not be best for getting across your deepest sentiments, but it’s the perfect way to train your poetic ear.

anagrams to boost your poetry skills

Using anagrams in your poems adds automatic tonal harmony. Because anagrams have mostly the same sounds in each of their iterations the resulting poem has an effortless unity. If you match the feeling you get from the words as a group to the theme of your poem, you get a superior piece.

I will be providing examples in modernist haiku, but this hack works with any poetic form. You may notice two anagrams go by mostly unnoticed. With four, it is difficult to maintain a theme (or make any sense). Syllable limits and poem length will influence the number of anagrams which can be included in any one piece without making cohesiveness impossible.

I’ve created three sets of poems using three sets of anagrams (one, two, and three syllable words). The first poem of each set uses two of the four anagrams, the next uses three, and the last uses all four. In a couple cases I’ve added a prefix or suffix. I call this fair play, as it doesn’t change the function of the anagram.

examples

one syllable anagrams
tame | mate | meat | team

I tame the fierce heart

long hours lashing callused flesh

tender meat of love

lithe meat made lethal

thrilling each nerve ending twice

most vicious teammate

fire teamed with might

fresh meat and brutal tidings

a mate to tame me

two syllable anagrams
construe | counters | recounts | trounces

in curt encounters

trounces on gentler beings

praising violence

misconstrues fortunes

recounts the happier days

counters reality

he demands recounts

trounces any who counter

lies not misconstrued

two syllable anagrams
parroted | prorated | predator | teardrop

predatory cry

pausing blood in bated veins

parroted by prey

refund prorated

no longer the predator

one dried out teardrop

fraudulent teardrop

by predator parroted

our prorated fear

You can see by the end, with four three-syllable anagrams, I’m at the limit of what a haiku can handle. It definitely demonstrates the effect of anagrams on poetic sound, though!

I hope you feel inspired to try this game and boost your poetry skills. I think you’ll notice you become more attuned to finding the best sounds for the remaining words in your poems. Thanks so much for reading!

tangentially yours,

anne

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