Category Archives: Sound

Lisa Furmanski: A Talent We Need More From

This is a poem I have come back to again and again since first hearing it on the Poetry Magazine podcast.  I don’t think the writer, a physician, has a book out yet, which is extraordinary to me because she’s obviously brilliant and tremendously talented.  Her name is Lisa Furmanski, and the poem is in the January 2008 Poetry Magazine:

The History of Mothers of Sons

All sons sleep next to mothers, then alone, then with others
Eventually, all our sons bare molars, incisors
Meanwhile, mothers are wingless things in a room of stairs
A gymnasium of bars and ropes, small arms hauling self over self

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Henri Cole and Hens

How do you dive deep when talking about chickens?  This is a particular genius Henri Cole has: brief brush strokes of common events laid side by side with the philosophical.  The poem describes, first person–just a guy relating an experience–him calling the chickens to eat, picking one up, and telling her, “Everything will be okay.”  Then three lines later Cole pulls out his laser and delivers a line worthy of poet and priest, Gerard Manley Hopkins: “God dooms the snake to taste nothing but the dust . . .”  It’s quite a feat, and in fourteen lines, too.  Here’s the poem, originally published in The Atlantic.  Below it, Henri Cole explains where it came from and reads it.


It’s good for the ego, when I call and they come
running, squawking and clucking, because it’s feedtime,
and once again I can’t resist picking up little Lazarus,
an orange-and-white pullet I adore. “Yes, yes, everything will be
okay,” I say to her glaring mongrel face. Come September,
she’ll begin to lay the blue-green eggs I love poached.
God dooms the snake to taste nothing but the dust
and the hen to 4,000 or so ovulations. Poor Lazarus—
last spring an intruder murdered her sisters and left her
garroted in the coop. There’s a way the wounded
light up a dark rectangular space. Suffering becomes
the universal theme. Too soft, and you’ll be squeezed;
too hard, and you’ll be broken. Even a hen knows this,
posing on a manure pile, her body a stab of gold.

Sound: Sylvia Plath Reads “Daddy”

I came across Sylvia_Plath reading “Daddy” and was impressed by the sound and rhythm, the repetitions, the reliance on the long vowel diphthong “oo,” the echoing transitions that slide words and ideas together.  If you’ve never heard her read it, it’s worth the listen.

by Sylvia Plath
You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time--
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
Ach, du.

In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.
My Polack friend

Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.
And the language obscene

An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.

I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You-- 

Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.

You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who

Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.

But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look

And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I'm finally through.
The black telephone's off at the root,
The voices just can't worm through.

If I've killed one man, I've killed two--
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.

There's a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through.

12 October 1962

A Voice Coach Demonstrates Accents and Dialects

I wanted to write a line of a German speaking in English. I had an idea how the accent would work, but I wanted to be sure. No problem. Google to the rescue. Gareth Jameson is a voice coach and actor who gives us a brief introduction on how to speak with a German accent. He shows us how to replace sounds that are spoken in the English language with sounds that would be pronounced by a German speaker. He also does this for about 10 other languages, too….and it’s free. Check him out on

Billy Collins’ Animated Poem “Forgetfulness”

Poet Billy Collins’ animated poems shed new lights into poetry.  Click play and listen to the poet read “Forgetfulness.”

Sound in Poetry: Hopkins’ “God’s Grandeur”

Everyone knows about rhyme.  But what about other sound devices—like the sounds of words. The poet Mary Oliver points out the differences in the phrases “Hush,” “Please be quiet!” and “Shut up!”  The first word is gentle.  It fizzles out and disappears into the quiet.  The second phrase is more abrupt.  It employs the use of mutes (consonants that cannot be sounded without a vowel and that end a syllable with a sudden stop of breath).  The third phrase stops the sound immediately with the two mutes: t and p.  The sound fits the meaning: it’s definitive, sudden, commanding.  A slammed door.  Shut up!

One of my favorite sound-sensitive poems is Gerard Manly Hopkins’ “God’s Grandeur,” which follows below.   It’s also interesting to hear the poet Karen Volkman read the poem.  Volkman’s voice is expressionless and her pace quick, almost making the poem a kind tongue-twister.   Yet the beauty of Hopkins’ musical lines still shines through.

God’s Grandeur

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; 5
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; 10
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.