Wednesday, 12 September 2012


As many of you know, three months ago I decided to take a break from the blog in order to focus on my MA poetry portfolio. I am pleased to say that said portfolio is now finished, prettily bound and sitting on a desk waiting to be marked. Therefore, with little more than nail biting and worrying to endure over the coming weeks, I’m now in a position to return and start blogging again.

When I discovered the theme for my first week back there was definitely a small sigh of despair. I’ve always been a keen and varied reader but, somehow, comic books have never really made it onto that reading list.
I’m sure if I was to ask my dad (with his childhood collection of plastic-bag-protected superheroes and villains) how this happened, he’d probably see it as a slight failing on his part. Similar to if I had grown up without an understanding of the offside rule in football or, worse still, if I had decided to support a team that wasn’t within the city of Coventry.

However, the despair of the comic strip theme subsided when I reminded myself that comic strips use words – just as a poem would use words to create a given effect, the same is true for a comic strip. In a tiny, two-dimensional picture-telling square words give the reader that ‘little bit extra’: they fill in the gaps, weave a narrative and bring everything to life via a bubble of well selected words. Comic strips, like poetry, use a variety of techniques but here I’ll just be focusing on the one, onomatopoeia.

For some reason, I’m able to remember exactly how I first learned the word ‘onomatopoeia’. It was in a Year 4 English class, there was Ted Hughes’ ‘Tractor’, and we were asked to underline all the onomatopoeic words within the poem. Even now, a considerably amount of years later, I can still recall how “The starting lever / Cracks its action, like a snapping knuckle.”

The cartoonist and comic strip writer Roy Crane is seen as being the person who pioneered the use of onomatopoeic sound effects in comics, adding ‘bam’, ‘pow’ and ‘wham’ to what had previously been an almost entirely visual vocabulary. Today, it is difficult to think of the term comic and not visualise explosive noise bubbles and a ‘Kapow!’ hovering above a punch; although the use of onomatopoeic words isn’t always – and doesn’t have to be – this electric, dramatic or obvious. There are the subtle, everyday words, which, if placed in the right position and used just at the right time, can give a line of poetry that extra power and impart a specific tone on the overall poem. For example when we read: “If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood / Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs” (from Wilfred Owen’s ‘Dulce et Decorum est’) it is impossible not to hear that ‘gargling’ noise – and in hearing it, in being terrified and shocked by the imagined sound, the horrific consequences of war are undeniable.

I could list many of these onomatopoeic words that I like – mostly because of their sound rather than their overall meaning – but there is one that I’m particular fond of, and that word is the ‘yawp’ from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself

I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

It is this very YAWP that made its way into the film Dead Poets Society, which saw a quiet, shy boy yawping in front of his classmates and realising that what is within him is far my valuable than his self-doubting ever let him believe.

Thank you for reading,


Ashley R Lister said...

Glad to hear the portfolio has been submitted.

And you know we're delighted to have you back.

I hadn't even thought about the rich vein of onomatopoeia that connected comic books and poetry. Excellent post.


Standard said...

Yay, Lara's back! We've missed you. And, yea, it was decreed at precisely 7.51am, that, 'Yawp' shall be the word of the day. Yawp loudly and yawp long, oh my brothers (and sisters)

Great to have you back Lara :)

MoonJumpingCow said...

Great angle!

Christo Heyworth said...

Congrats on completing your MA tome, and here's hoping that it receives top appreciation - we all love our Ma, don't we.

Love this post and the Dead Poets' clip - like you I remember exactly beginning to learn about poetic effects (alliteration and assonance in my case at around age 13) through the poem Stormy Day by W R Rogers:
"Oh, look how the loops and balloons of bloom..."
as an Autumn wind thrashes a park into vivid action.

The piece deserves wider circulation, Lara - why not submit it to Grant Tarbard, owner/editor of The Screech Owl literary mag, who handles submissions reverently?