What are some elements of performative qualities in poetry?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Although "performative qualities" is a term unfamiliar to me, I would assume since we are speaking of poetry or drama, it deals with elements inherent in both literary types.

Drama and poetry are both meant to be experienced aloud. Drama deals with the visual and the verbal; however, poetry is most effective when read aloud, as it has always been since before poetry was written down—when it was passed down in the oral tradition. The performative qualities of poetry that make it most effective are the devices used to create sounds that the ear picks up on—musical qualities—as well as images that create pictures in one's mind and/or feelings from the poetry.

The most effective devices that create a musical quality in poetry are alliteration, assonance, consonance, repetition, rhyme, and onomatopoeia—they create a pattern of sounds, or a sound (e.g., "snap") that brings a mental image more closely into focus.

For example, in the epic poem Beowulf, I always remember the phrase "dive down deep." This is alliteration, and the repetition of the consonant "d" at the beginning of each word draws attention to the phrase. Everyone can more easily remember, "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers" for the same reason. All of the devices listed create a pattern of sound. Note that in the following portion of Poe's "Annabel Lee," there is rhyme and repetition that appeals to the ear. "Beams" and "dreams" are examples of internal rhyme (as are "rise" and "eyes"); and "Of the beautiful Annabel Lee" is repetition. These appeal to the auditory sense, making this a poem that begs to be read out loud.

For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee

Another of the performative qualities of poetry can be found in the imagery that creates a picture in the mind of the person hears the poem (under optimum conditions) or reads it. Similes, metaphors, hyperbole, and personification, to name a few, generate more vivid mental pictures. Note the beautiful imagery in Lord Byron's, "She Walks in Beauty," using a simile to compare a woman's beauty to the night sky:

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies...

During Elizabethan times, as an example, it was extremely popular to create things that were more sophisticated than would appear naturally—geographical patterns, for instance, appeared in the designs of cloth and even architecture—patterns not found in nature. Patterns in poetry and sonnets were also very popular, and groups of poets would endeavor to create such patterns and often meet to share their poetry aloud. Or friends would exchange poems—or even write a poem in response to another man's poem. (Writing was largely dominated by men until more modern times.)

...Elizabethans enjoyed following verbal patterns with their eyes and their ears much as we might enjoy a design woven in cloth or a repeated tune or rhythmic beat in a piece of music.**

The most important aspect of the performative qualities of poetry (and drama) are the many ways in which the verse is shared with its audience, and the reaction of the audience to the sounds, images and ideas shared in that poetic piece.


Additional Sources:


**Adventures in English Literature. Orlando: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich Publishers; 1985. (pg. 111)

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