A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver

My way of celebrating National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month, so I’m reading A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver. Did you know that the sounds of letters have names, beyond vowels and consonants? After all, the soft s has has a different use in poetry than the clackity k.

Here are some terms that Mary Oliver borrowed from an 1860 text called Brown’s Grammar, Improved.

semivowel: “a consonant that can be imperfectly sounded without a vowel so that at the end of a syllable its sound may be protracted, as l, n, z, in al, an, az.” (p. 21) These are the semivowels: f, h, j, l, m, n, r, s, v, w, x, y, z, and the soft forms of c and g.

mute: “a consonant that cannot be sounded at all without a vowel, and which at the end of a syllable suddenly stops the breath, as k, p, t, in ak, ap, at.” (p. 22) There are eight mutes: b, d, k, p, q, t, and the hard forms of c and g.

Are you observing National Poetry Month?

button for Wondrous Words Wednesday memeWondrous Words Wednesday is hosted by Bermudaonion’s Weblog. Kathy says: “Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading.”

Signature of Joy Weese Moll


The Sounds of Poetry — Wondrous Words Wednesday — 11 Comments

  1. Very interesting Joy! I never knew there were “semi-vowels”. Thanks. For National Poetry Month, my kids and I are memorizing poems. We’re learning new vocab and the benefits of articulation. Very fun!

  2. That’s interesting about semivowels and mutes. I had no idea. I seldom read poetry and I don’t know why. You’ve inspired or goaded me into getting one of my poetry books down and reading a bit – at least to celebrate the month of poetry.

  3. Great choice for Poetry Month Joy. Mary O. is one of my favorite poets. Even this brief little book shows us our language is infinitely rich? She helps us see poetry is not simply taken in with the eye but with the ear and tongue.

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