The Middle Passage

(In honor of Poetry Month)

By: Maxine E. Thompson

Writing takes off exponentially when the author introduces poetry to his prose. Don't use rhyme, but use the cadence and rhythm in your prose, then see how the critics will say your work is lyrical!
Here are the basic definitions for poetry. Fiction is improved when you use onomatopoeia, alliteration (particularly in Titles. Eg. Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon), imagery, assonance, consonance, metaphor, anaphora, rhythm.

  1.   Form- The way a poem is presented on a page, including the number of stanzas, the meter, and lines per stanza ie. iambic pentameter is the most commonly used form. Rappers often use this meter.

  2.   Onomatopoeia- the use of words such as buzz, creak, crunch, thud, and thump, whose pronunciations suggest their meanings.

  3.   Rhyme scheme -The pattern of end rhyme in a poem.

  4.   Personification- When an object, animal, or idea is given human qualities.

  5.   Alliteration- the repetition of consonant sounds within and at the ends of words.

  6.   Rhyme - the occurrence of a similar and identical sound at the end of two or more words, such as suite, heat, and complete.

  7.   Rhythm- The pattern of sound created by the arrangement of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of poetry.

  8.   Assonance - the repetition of a vowel sound within non-rhyming words such as best, gesture, and less.

  9.   Simile - a comparison that uses "like" or "as."

  10.   Internal rhyme - rhyme that occurs within a line

  11.   Speaker - This is the voice that talks to the reader, similar to the narration in fiction.

  12.   Metaphor - A direct comparison of two things without using "like" or "as".

  13.   Consonance - the repetition of consonant sounds within and at the ends of words.

  14.   End Rhyme- rhyme that occurs at the end of lines.

  15.   Imagery - sensory description in poems used to help the reader see, hear, feel, taste, and smell what's being described.

  16.   Hyperbole - exaggeration for effect and not be taken literally.

Learn to use symbolism and imagery in your novel. A symbol is anything that stands for something else. We use symbols in literature to demonstrate a concept, to add further dimensions to a work by showing the link between the microcosm and the macrocosm, and to sneak behind the rational mind. Sometimes, they can be extended to allegories.

Imagery are word pictures which contribute to the larger whole of the work. Many novels by African American men, such as Ellison's Invisible Man, Gordon Park's The Learning Tree, John A. Williams's The Man Who Cried I am, and Dr. Roland Jefferson's School on 103rd Street, use imagery, which suggests how America attempts to emasculate Black men.


Ever wondered how the ancestors survived
the boat ride from Africa to America?
Smells of everybody's lives jumbled together
as they lay flanked side by side, in a cess pool
of blood, tears, and stool, dreaming the undreamable.

Deep in the bowels of a slave ship,
where many made their tomb,
a mother's tears flowed from dried-eyed ducts,
for the suckling babe snatched from her breast,
while hating the enemy whose seed now grew in her womb.

Rattlings of shackles never quite able
to drown out the re-memory of sun-drenched savannahs
where they once roamed as kings and queens
pulverized the spirit. . .
Were they bludgeoned into mindless stupor?
Or did they tell themselves,
"We must be strong; we must survive
for our future sons and daughters"?
For survive they did...only to endure the unwriteable...
bondage...false drugs...

Ever wondered what the ancestors would believe
if they knew of the perilous journey their future seed
must fork through the middle passage
from their mother's crack-filled womb?
Deep in the caverns of an incubator,
where many make their tomb,
a drug baby's life shackled to tubes, ventilators,
not guaranteed to save,
like mother's milk,
an umbilical cord,
but an alien world...Now, who's the slave?

Maxine E. Thompson, 1992