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THEME AND DICTION: THE CONNECTION IN POETRY

This is more a chat than a lecture. We will talk about my observation, that many people do not understand the fact that every theme has a diction it should follow. So they write poems that seem to be talking about every thing and nothing, without identifiable key words.

There must be a connect between theme and diction.

When you want to write a poem, the number one thing to look out for is: “What do I want to write about?” This is also what we call THEME which is extended to MESSAGE. Your poem must be about something, that original IDEA that made you want to write the poem.

So the THEME is the idea about which you write a poem. (There is usually more than one theme in a poem. There would be a MAIN-theme and SUB-themes.) On the other hand, the MESSAGE is an extension of that IDEA. The MESSAGE is the IDEA, what you want to tell the reader of the poem.

You have only written well when the the connect theme and diction is evident.

See the poem below:

SHE HAS LOST BEAUTY by Olajuwon Joseph Olumide
She has lost beauty for her ignorance
The penchant for lust has crumbled her past;
While in her season of pride and radiance
Her skin, she westernized like an outcast
Men of destiny, have all come her way;
Greed for all that glitters, wears her a veil
Fast money, fast cars, her indulgence pays
Drunk in deceit; her fortune ‘ getting frail
Nonchalantly, she strangled valued love
Till she became men’s public lavatory;
As silent as thought, watches God ‘above
Posterity will tell of her mystery
Her life is devoid of love, she bleeds for
Now, her matrimonial home speaks horror…

If you read the lines well, you’ll be able to know that the THEME is IMMORALITY/PROSTITUTION/WRONG CHOICES and other related sub-themes. The poem is DIDACTIC (a didactic poem teaches moral lessons).

The MESSAGE of the poem is simply that we (especially women) must make the right choices. It preaches against prostitution/promiscuity. The entire stanza 3 tells of what she became after misplacing her priorities.

Now, where does DICTION come in?

DICTION by way of definition refers to the choice and use of words and phrases in speech or writing. The words you choose to make up your poem is what we refer to as DICTION.

Now, I have seen many people just choose words without thinking. That is wrong, every poem and every theme must employ deliberate diction. You must chose the words that best talks about your theme.

In the poem above the use of words like ‘beauty’, ‘greed’, ‘veil’ showed how she was fooled or fooled herself. In stanza 3, we see ‘lavatory’ telling us she has become a dump site for men’s sexual urges.

Consider this doggerel:

CURLY BEARD by Kukogho Iruesiri Samson
there was a curly beard
that lived on friendly chin
the clipper trip he feared
sent him to barber-bin

from bin to fiery flames
our curly Hairy went
bald Chin and head trade blames
I laugh at their lament!

This poem is obviously about a trip to the barbing salon and the shaving of a beard? How did the poem achieve this? Notice key words: beard, chin, clipper, barber, bin…. flames, bald?
Those words are the ones that paint the picture…it is with them you achieve IMAGERY, appeal to the 5 senses of the reader.

Also this triolet:

YOUR FATHERS LED ME TO THE CROSS  by Oku-ola Paul Abiola 
Your fathers once led me to the cross,
Though innocent. I had to pay the bill.
That you might be saved from every curse,
Your fathers led me to the cross!
My dear beloved, why tread their course?
Must I again climb to Golgotha hill?
Your fathers once led me, to the cross,
Though innocent. I had to pay the bill!

This is definitely a poem about Jesus Christ, salvation and sin. How do we know this?
Its simple. With words like: cross, pay, Golgotha, bill, saved etc, we know the poet is speaking as Christ even without mentioning him. We also know he is speaking about sin without him mentioning the word (see line 6).

You have to be very careful of the words you select. Your diction can make or mar your poem.

For example, when writing a poem about Nigerian weather, we do not need to see words like snow, sleet there. If writing about Politics, we should see words like vote, ballot, campaign,  not words like dribble, hattrick, midfielder, which suggest football, unless you are using football to symbolize politics.

If you see a word like Oba, you know this poem is Yoruba Origin. If you see a word like ‘steering’ you think of a car not a camel or horse.

Sometimes I see someone writing a poem about the precolonial Nigeria and I see words like ‘Blackberry’ or Gala or Viju and you wonder if these things existed in that period.

What I want you to take away from this chat is this: chose your words well. Your words will tell us the time, place and message of your poem. If you use the wrong DICTION, you will lose the THEME and your message will be adulterated.

Ultimately, your  theme and diction must be partners.

Thank you.

by Kukogho Iruesiri Samson

Author: Kukogho Iruesiri Samson

KIS, author of two poetry collections, ‘WHAT CAN WORDS DO?’ and ‘I SAID THESE WORDS’, is an award-winning Nigerian writer, photographer, and media professional with experience in journalism, PR, publishing and media management. In 2016, he was listed in Nigerian Writers Awards’ list of 100 MOST INFLUENTIAL NIGERIAN WRITERS UNDER 40. The same year 2016, he won the Nigerian Writer’s Award for ‘Best Poet In Nigeria 2015.’ he had also won the Orange Crush 1st Prize for Poetry in 2012.
He is the CEO of Words Rhymes & Rhythm LTD.

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