20 Vocabulary Words to Use when You Want to Sound Well Spoken

July 3, 2024

The hardest part of enjoying poetry is being able to talk about it. You know why the curtains are blue, why the caged bird sings, but you’re not sure how to put it into words. Take this list and pick out however many terms you need.



1. Strophic/Stichic

    • English jargon for a poem written in many stanzas or one. A strophic poem would look like “Dandelions” by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper while a stichic poem looks like Trey Moody’s “Against Distance.

2. Enjambment

    • This is when sentences or thoughts span across lines. Instead of having each line be a complete statement, it runs into the next line. It’s important to note that these incomplete statements can be complete sentences but are classified as enjambed if the meaning extends into the next line. A great example of this is “Cezanne’s Ports” by Allen Ginsberg. The first line can be read alone, but it comes to life through the second. 

3. Monostich, couplet, tercet, quatrain

    • A count of lines in a stanza: one, two, three, four, respectively. “Summer,” by Robin Coste Lewis is written exclusively in couplets while “Those Georgia Sundays,” by Patrick Philips is two quatrains followed by two tercets.

4. Aspect

    • The look of a poem. Is it blocky, almost square? Is it thin? Winding? Sloping? Narrowing? Many stichic poems will be short and have a blocky aspect, but they may also be long and narrow like strophic ones. A great comparison for this is “Essay on Craft,” by Ocean Vuong (long and narrow) and “The Problem with Describing Trees,” by Robert Hass (shorter, more compact).

5. End-stoppped/open

    • Two ways a line can end. Note that most enjambment is open. Many poems like Lisa Olstein’s “Horse” will do an amazing thing of being open all the way until the last line. It’s your duty to figure out why.

6. Cacophonic

    • If the poem feels horrible to read out loud, it’s probably cacophonic. Maybe there’s too many consonants or an L is too close to a J. Whatever the case, if it feels gross to read, this is your word to use. Cacophonic poems can seem like tongue twisters, “Susie Asado,” by Gertrude Stein is a great example of this.

7. Euphonic

    • The opposite of cacophonic. Poems that are euphonic are usually lyrical and have a good sense of meter and rhyme. Having said that, they might not. It’s up to your discretion to decide if a poem sounds nice enough to be called euphonic. I’d argue “Autobiography of Eve,” by Ansel Alkins is euphonic. There’s a good mix of alliteration as well as softer sounds with harsher ones. BONUS: These soft versus harsh words may be due to their origin. If you know the etymology of at least a few words in a poem, you could use Germanic and Latinate to describe them.

8. Concatenate

    • A close, fancy, relative of repetition. Concatenation is a repetition of patterns through a poem. These can be rhymes, phrases, names, nouns, or even ideas. A favorite poem of mine that does this well is Robert Pinsky’s “Soul Making.” The poem keeps coming back to the mechanics and details of eating and creation.

9. Internal rhyme

    • Take good ol’ traditional rhyme and stick it within a line. To channel your high school English teacher, take a look at “The Raven.”

10. Hypotaxis

    • Hypotaxis is a way relationships and phrases are developed in a poem. This can be done swiftly through details like in “The Red Wheelbarrow,” where we learn the significance of the object through the things around it. Or it can be more complex, and give you a paragraph’s worth of analysis, like in “Incandescent War Poem Sonnet” by Bernadette Mayer. Here, the letter, the “you” and the relationship in the poem are described through seemingly unconnected details.

11. Negative capability

    • Something every poet has created at least once. You can use this term when the poem is trying SO hard to explain something it makes it even more confusing. The poet may be explaining a detail or a concept through other details and concepts, making everything muddled. Mention that Keats first introduced the idea, and you’re golden. His poem “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” is a perfect example.

12. Lyric ambiguity

    • A fan favorite. The fan being me. Lyric ambiguity is the ability of an image to mean two (or more) things at the same time, without taking away the possibility of other meanings. The be-all end-all example of this is the red dress in “What do Women Want?” by Kim Addonizio.

13. Inversion

    • When a poem changes typical word order for the sake of the poem, it’s called inversion. This can be done to maintain rhyme and meter or to play into the tone. One of my favorite poems that happens to use inversion is “Keeping Things Whole,” by Mark Strand.

14. Didactic

    • If a poem seems to be hinting at a lesson or instructions, you can call it didactic. Many ars poetica poems are didactic as they typically talk about form and creating a poem. “Invisible Architecture,” by Barbra Guest and “Thursday,” by James Longenbach are wonderful didactic poems.

15. Volta

    • A turn, any turn, in a poem. If you’re analyzing a sonnet, the volta is typically the eight or ninth line. If it’s not a sonnet, it’s any line at which the poem’s tone changes. This can be a realization, perspective change, or even a disruption of rhyme. “The Head of the Cottonmouth,” by Roger Reeves is a great poem with a volta.

16. Anaphora

    • Another close relative to repetition and concatenation, anaphora is the repeating of phrases at the beginning of lines. Joanna Klink’s “Some Feel Rain,” does this beautifully.

17. Caesura

    • Can be used in tandem with aspect. Caesura is the use of white space and pauses in a poem. This can be the gap by a line break that is much shorter than surrounding ones or a dash within a line. “Winter Trees,” by Sylvia Plath, “I cannot live with You (640),” by Emily Dickinson and “First Memory,” by Louise Gluck are great examples.

18. Chiasmus

    • Anaphora’s crazy twin. This is the repetition of words or elements in reverse order. If your poem has an ABBA rhyme scheme, you can use this term. “Those Winter Sundays,” has chiasmus between the second and third stanzas.

19. Mimetic

    • Most poems that take on a character’s voice are mimetic. If a poem about breaking up is told through images of a break up, it’s mimetic. A poem about loving to cook told through images of a kitchen is mimetic. Mathew Weitman’s “From Sleep to Sleep,” is mimetic as the images are used to describe the title.

20. Zeugma

    • A play on words where a verb connects two separate objects. For example, “the partner in the bed, and not the truth,” from “Sex Without Love,” by Sharon Olds suggests that the truth is a tangible thing that could be in bed, but is not. If your poem says a person and their heart were racing, use this word.

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