All writing and poetry requires creativity; play is an important, often necessary aspect of creativity. And sometimes, it is all about play!! Which brings me to the topic of today’s post: Word Play and its Wonders.. (well, the wonders of word play in this context includes a whole variety of things to do with it). So read on to find out….
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Word Play and its Wonders
What is Word Play?
Within the realm of poetry, word play is the sum of all techniques in which the words used become the main subject of the poem, primarily for amusement or the intended effect of the words themselves.
So, word play is what happens when words engage in play!! Well, in a way, isn’t it just that? Word play happens when the words within a written work are placed by themselves or among their compatriots in a creative way. It happens when
We can word play in various ways; using the sounds, spellings, meanings, and/or placement of the words among others. And it can also be a play on more than the words individually, that is by manipulating entire lines or stanzas.
Why Word Play?
While wordplay very often brings fun and comedy and humor to our minds, it has so many more applications. It helps us understand the richness of language, as well as understand language itself (so is a very useful learning tool for young ones and new learners of any language). Wordplay makes language more interesting. It helps us understand how words connect with each other in various ways; and thus provides us a wider range of expression. It allows us to capture more of everything in our words. Word play is useful in rhetoric; and hence can easily be used in more serious writing as well (not just comedically).
And the best part of it all is: everyone can play with words!!
The Different Ways We Can Word Play
The list for this can be endless, infinitely so even; so I am just picking a few favorites here and leaving you with links for further reading at the end of this section for more!
Rhymes are one of the ways poets play with words. And it offers so many options, as I have explored in my rhyme scheme post earlier. We can even alliterate or assonate, use consonance or sibilance(ssssss)!
Homophones, or same-sounding words. Like the first line of this poem I found: “Sole owner am I of this sorry soul …” You can read the full poem here.
Then there are spoonerisms, or switched-sounds!! I love when I chance upon them; or unintentionally even use them myself!! Like these lines from Brian P. Cleary’s poem Translation: “He once proclaimed, “Hey, belly jeans” / When he found a stash of jelly beans.”
We also have onomatopoeia, where we use sound-words for effect. And there is mondegreen (mishearing of words resulting in a new meaning); I am sure all of us have misheard song lyrics at one time or the other in our lives!
Carroll and Shakespeare were both expert neologists, that is, they made up neologisms (or new words) for various reasons. It could have been purely for the fun and creativity aspect of it (like in Jabberwocky), or to fit into the verses they were writing (for rhyme or reason or other). And today, many of the words they made up are part of our everyday vocabulary.
I love using puns and a well-placed oxymoron (well, I don’t use them as much as I would love to). Again, there are more of these for writers and poets!! You can peruse punny poems here at the wonderful Ken Nesbitt’s website.
As for the oxymoron, here is the Bard with some cool examples:
From Romeo and Juliet:
Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love.
Why then, O brawling love, O loving hate . . .
Using Spellings and/or the Letters (Within or Without!)
One popular word play technique used in poetry involving letters/spellings is the acrostic poem; where the first letter, syllable or word of each line can be put together to spell out something else (a name, a word, or another phrase/sentence). Below is a poem I wrote a while ago (an abcderian acrostic — check the first letters of each line!):
Oh! The Places You’ll Go, My Dears!
love those adventures you have,
my little ones
never stop believing you can, step
out into the world with
purpose, with pride; un-
-questioningly, with me by your side.
We also have tautograms, where every word in the line, stanza, or poem itself begins with the same letter; and lipograms, where writers and poets avoid using a specific letter (or letters) in their writing, most often to challenge themselves. And of course, there are anagrams, where the letters are rearranged to produce a new word(s). See next section below for a great example of this.
And the Rest
Figures of speech, like similes, metaphors, kennings, and more. Poets can also use macaronic languages (mixing up words from different languages in various ways; for example this line from a poem I wrote a few years ago: “Dil* for books it tudichify**” [*Dil means Heart (Hindi); **tudichify– use of ‘fy’ at the end of Tamil words is a common pattern noticed in Tanglish (Tamil + English) – Tamil word here is tudichu (or tutippu) meaning beating]
Then there are poems that are to do with math, where you can use mathematical concepts, or write about them in your poems. As well as shape or concrete poems, found poetry, blackout poetry (or strikethrough poetry), and many more ways to create wonders with wordplay!!
Poems With Word Play
The examples below will show you how truly endless wordplay is. In addition to all those ways I mentioned above (and all the zillions I left out as well), below are poems that show you some of the myriad wonders of word play
Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll
Of course, this has to make an appearance. Lewis Carroll was a master of word play; and his works are rich with puns, nonce words, portmanteaus, and so much more.
Like these lines from Jabberwocky
’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”
This poem has inspired many to translate it into their own languages; and you can read those translations of this poem here.
I Often Wondered
And another one from Carroll. This is a square poem. Read it horizontally (normally); and read it vertically (first words in each line; then the second words, and so on), and you will be reading the same poem either way!!
I often wondered when I cursed,
Often feared where I would be—
Wondered where she’d yield her love,
When I yield, so will she.
I would her will be pitied!
Cursed be love! She pitied me…
But Outer Space by Robert Frost
Punny poem.. note Frost’s play on these boldened words below..
But outer Space,
At least this far,
For all the fuss
Of the populace
Stays more popular
Washington Crosses the Delaware by David Shulman
An anagrammatic poem, where every line in the sonnet is an anagram of the title!!
A hard, howling, tossing water scene.
Strong tide was washing hero clean.
“How cold!” Weather stings as in anger.
O Silent night shows war ace danger!
The cold waters swashing on in rage.
Redcoats warn slow his hint engage.
When star general’s action wish’d “Go!”
He saw his ragged continentals row.
Ah, he stands – sailor crew went going.
And so this general watches rowing.
He hastens – winter again grows cold.
A wet crew gain Hessian stronghold.
George can’t lose war with’s hands in;
He’s astern – so go alight, crew, and win!
h/t, References, and Further Reading
- Wikipedia’s pages on Wordplay and types
- I loved this article on JStor: Wordplay: The Poem’s Second Language
- This blog all about words and wordplay
- Word-play article on ThoughtCo.
- The Wordplay Website
- This comprehensive Taxonomy of Wordplay
- Paraprosdokian: 40 Funny Sentences You Won’t Expect
- Five Poems With Fantastic Wordplay
- Mathematics in Poetry
Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems
Title: Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems
Author: Bob Raczka
Length: 48 pages
Genre: Children’s Poetry (8 – 12 years. and up)
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (March 8th 2016)
Source: Library copy
Description: Who says words need to be concrete? This collection shapes poems in surprising and delightful ways.
For me, concrete poetry is a cool blending of loved creative forms – both literary and visual – and can easily delight both creator/poet and viewer/reader!! And I lllllovvvvve word play… So this book is a winner for me any which way I look at it.
Raczka effortlessly bends and morphs the words to create a sense of magic, wow, coolness, and whimsy to the poems. In the introduction, he explains that writing poems is like painting with words because a “poet uses words like colors to paint pictures inside your head.” And a concrete poem does that by forming the item(s) described in the poem using the words of the poem.
In this collection, Raczka takes the concept of concrete poems one step further by also using the poem’s title to depict that word. As we read the poems, Raczka’s clever use of concrete-ness forces us to look at poems differently, literally! We read them all the way around the page, from top to bottom, sideways, in the way of mazes, and etcs. And doing so enables us to think differently, look at things from a different perspective, to wonder at the many ways we can create, and of course, at the wonders of word play!
While we all know the phrase, a picture says a thousand words, here, the words speak for and picturize themselves!!
From the cover to the very end, this book cements the fact that word play is solidly fun! A great way to introduce young readers (and older ones) to poetry, to the wonders of word play, and to the writing of poems!!
Get It Here
- Pun and Games by Richard Lederer
- A Poke in the I: a Collection of Concrete Poems by Paul Janeczko
- Top Ten Punny Titles I Need to Read Now
And Now, the End of This Post
Dear reader, as always, and always, I welcome your thoughts and suggestions, as well as recommendations. Have you read the featured books or any similar reads? What is your favorite way to play with words? Any other word play devices I have missed that I should add here? Do let me know..
The AtoZ Challenges
You can find all my A2Z Challenge Posts here.