My 9th grade English teacher taught me to listen to and love the sound of words. She loved the way these words rolled off her tongue: “garage” and “gasoline.” Her favorite words conjured up memories of Saturday mornings at the gas station with my grandfather. I loved the free Sugar Daddy caramel pops they gave to kids but wasn’t fond of the smells. So I found other words I liked: calliope, kaleidoscope, and calligraphy.
As I began exploring words and their sounds, I fell in love with onomatopoeia—words that imitate the sound or action they represent. Clap. Cuckoo. Crackle. On Saturday morning, to celebrate Dr. Seuss’s 109th birthday, I had the joy of teaching a writing workshop about onomatopoeia poetry to young people at the Milwaukee Public Library.
Midway through the morning, a teenaged girl brought her six-year-old sister to the class. When I invited her to write, she said, “No thanks, I’ll just sit here and watch.” After I’d read several poems from Bobbi Katz’s wonderful book A Rumpus of Rhymes, I noticed the teenager grabbing paper and a pencil. I tried to ignore her, but I had to ask: “Are you going to write a poem?”
“It sounds like fun,” she answered.
+Spend a day listening to sounds and writing down the words you would use to convey them. Does your bacon sizzle when you cook breakfast? What sound does your car make when you start it? Does your cat meow or growl or something entirely different?
+If you get stuck or need more inspiration, find a site that plays animal sounds and listen to them. (You can hear a northern cardinal call at the Old Farmer’s Almanac or tune into a whole host of owl sounds at The Owl Pages. Write down the words the sounds inspire.
+If you need MORE words, just search for “onomatopoeia words” online. You’ll find lists of words. Write down the ones you like.
+Write a poem about a normal but noisy daily practice using onomatopoeia words.
If you need more inspiration, take a look at the poems written by the young people at the library:
Pop pop pop.
Can you hear
that pop corn
pop the salty
taste on my
crazy silly tongue?
Buzz, buzz, buzz. The buzzing
bee flies through the sky I don’t know why
he went flying through the sky. It’s winter.
I wouldn’t dare to fly in this air.
As the Wind scurried and rustles out with a booming loud voice yelled, “Lion come out!” With a yawn and a scratch and an angry moan, the Lion said, “Come now, wind won’t leave me alone. I have a tight schedule of sleeping and snore. Then when I’m done, I’ll have feasting galore.” The Wind was so angry he blew up a storm which surprisingly to the Lion was really quite warm. Whoosh! Bing! Zap! Kapow! Oh the old Lion was really up now. With an open of eyes and a raise of the brow, the poor Lion was in for it now. The Wind’s body was lanky yet stiff then the wind blew Lion off a mountain. Now what happened to the lion? So poor oh so sad that Lion was no more.
Scratch, Swoosh, Thump
Froosh, Swizzle, Sputter, Plunk
Rattle Rattle Tic Toc the shoes tapped.
Sizz, sizz the snake went.
Whizz, whizz the wind went.
Thump squash the window said.
Lick, smack, yummy, yum, yum
Slurp, bite, bur, and gone.
Clank, clank, clank goes the bell on the cloud
Chew, chew, chew goes the cat eating chow
Ring, ring, ring goes the bell on the door
Snore, snore, snore goes me when I’m bored.
—Jose Renden III
Woof Arf Yip!
The sounds I hear
From stuffed animals
They can’t sit any longer
They walk around
While I sleep
Trying to wake me up
They try to be quiet
But they can’t hold any longer
I don’t think I can sleep
Boy what a noise.
If they could sleep
They wouldn’t make a sound
I’d be very happy
But now it’s time for them to sleep
So go to bed tonight.
During the night while crickets chirp
My sleeping sister lets out a burp
Casey my dog awakes and makes a loud howl.
I go in the bathroom and plop on a towel.
Sitting in the cold my teeth chatter
My dad comes home, falls, and I hear the loud clatter.
I wake up in the morning and my back makes a crackle.
During the night my nightmare included a jackal.
My own poem can make you itch
and ache and make you shake
like a wild tickle talker by the lake.
You can even scratch and scriggle
Splatter and splitter.