Saturday, June 23, 2018

Prompt #316 - Aposiopesis - By Guest Blogger Joe Weil

Aposiopesis means becoming silent, but as a rhetorical device it implies tripping over your own words, cutting yourself off, halting the flow—the speaker being cut off either by the self, or by someone else. It happens far more in normal human speech than we'd think, and to master it can make you a better writer of scripts, but here, we are going to use it to make a poem: This is called “I Tried To.”


I Tried to

I tried to—oh damn
this is—
I tried to—you know
And then I thought
forget about it. I mean
it shouldn't be this—
Jesus do you always
have to chew
while I—
I'm sorry but it's like
you got
some small
in your cheek!
Anyway, I tried. I—
Jesus! Listen! I'm doing
the best I can.
You're impossible.
This is impossible.
Yes, everything's ok Mam, and
no ... no desert. Do you?
You can just bring the check.

Here, Aposiopesis creates the rhythm of halting speech, and it even implies the setting: two people seem to be sitting down to a meal. One never speaks. A third enters at the end, probably the waitress, and we never hear her question, but we can guess. We know the speaker is troubled, and annoyed by the other's “chewing.” The Aposiopesis creates a nice little shape to the poem as well. This is one of the possibilities for using an ancient rhetorical device in a free verse structure. Give it a shot.

Similar verbal phenomena to look up: non-sequitur, sentence fragments.

Poets who have used methods of Aposiopesis: Shakespeare in King Lear (and in other plays), Robert Creeley (in some respects, Creeley made an aesthetic out of it), Paul Celan in many of his poems that fragmented the German language. Many post modern poets, and poets in the modified New York school of poetry in Brooklyn use radical non-sequitur to create either surreal disconnects or a voice that is seemingly “ditzy.” You can hear this sort of feigned “ditzy” in many poets, but also in Indy scripts with “pixie” types—that so called “dream” girl who, in an earlier manifestation, was played to perfection by Carole Lombard and Jean Arthur in screwball comedies. Going from one thing to another can be construed as a kind of Aposiopesis.


1. In your poem, use aposiopesis by breaking off abruptly and leaving statements incomplete; that is, leave a sentence unfinished, so that the reader can determine his or her own meanings.

2. Use the example above to create a form/format for your own poem.

3. Sometimes a word is used to indicate something completely different from its literal meaning. Such as in this example, “Tis deepest winter in Lord Timon’s purse; that is, one may reach deep enough, and find little” (Timon of Athens, by William Shakespeare).
4. Sometimes a word is used to indicate something whose actual name is not used like, “A chair’s arm.”
5. Sometimes a paradoxical statement is used to create illogical strained metaphors. Such as, “Take arms against a sea of troubles.”

6. To create surprise, aposiopesis does not give information that the audience wants or expects to receive. This generates audience interest in the information.

7. Emotive aposiopesis does not finish a sentence due to an emotional outburst. This type of aposiopesis does not finish an idea to give a sense of something that’s beyond description, as in the case of an angry man who is so furious that he can’t even think of what he wants to do to express that anger. Example: If I catch up with you, I’ll, I’ll  – (the thought is left incomplete).

8. Abusio is a subtype of Aposiopesis, which results from the combination of two metaphors.


1. Try to stay away from long lines, remember that abrupt cut-offs are typical of Aposiopesis.

2. Remember, too, that the most effective Aposiopesis happens when the reader is able to figure out the thoughts that the poet has left unfinished.

3. Stay “conversational” without telling too much.


Many thanks to Joe Weil for this prompt!

Joe Weil is a professor teaching undergraduate and graduate creative writing at Binghamton University (SUNY). He has published numerous chapbooks and four full-length collections of poems, including A Night in Duluth, The Great Grandmother Light, and The Plumber’s Apprentice, all from NYQ Books. He also co-authored West of Home, with his wife, the poet Emily Vogel. Joe and Emily have two children, Clare and Gabriel.

A long-time poet with the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Program, Joe Weil’s poems, reviews, essays and short stories have appeared in numerous magazines and journals. He appeared on Bill Moyers’ PBS documentary, “Fooling with Words,” and, in addition to teaching for the Dodge Foundation, he has been a featured reader at the Dodge Poetry Festival. With a long list of reading series and poetry events to his credit (including the Can Of Corn Poetry Series designed to generate food donations for the hungry and homeless), Joe has worked tirelessly to create non-competitive community among poets. The New York Times described him as “working-class, irreverent, modest, but open to the world and filled with a wealth of possibilities.”


  1. In my current gig I’m digitizing, cataloging, and archiving hundreds of hours of the original On the Media radio program. It was live talk/call-in radio 25 years ago and the guests were mostly journalists and other media types you’d know and you really notice how much aposiopesis there is when you have to close listen to conversations like I’m doing now.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Tony! As a result of Joe's post, I've been noticing aposiopesis in the media and even in conversations. Great stuff!

  2. I love the way even the most concise literary technique is given a huge name! This is a great prompt, and I'm grateful for the information. Thank you, Joe Weil!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Jamie! Yes, those big names for things ...

  3. I LOVE Joe Weil's work! He's an amazing poet and so is his wife Emily. Intellect and heart in both of their work!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Sandy! I couldn't agree more.

      Do you have Joe and Emily's book WEST OF HOME? It's a great read. You can use this link to order a copy:

  4. Great prompt! Thank you Joe Weil. How interesting that such a simple rhetoroical device should have such a big and interesting name.

    I have two of Joe's books (ordered after his previous guest blogs), and I go back to them again and again. Thanks, Adele, for these wonderful prompts.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Carole! So good to know that you're enjoying Joe Weil's books!

  5. I heard Joe Weil read some time ago, and he was superb! I sure wish I could take a course with him — how filled with enthusiasm, intelligence, and fun it would be. Please thank Joe Weil for this prompt and for sharing a great technique to try in my own poems.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Stuart! Joe Weil is an amazing poet and teacher.

  6. Joe Weil is the best narrative poet writing today! I have four of his books and love the way he so perfectly captures emotion without sentimentality. We all have stories to tell, and Mr. Weil "tells" them perfectly. Thanks for this prompt and the information.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Carolyn! I'm sure your kind words will mean a lot to Joe Weil. Thanks for sharing them.

  7. Amita Jayaraman (Mumbai)June 26, 2018 at 4:52 PM

    The blog title intrigued me, the "lesson" and example inspired me, and I'm a fan of Mr. Weil!

    1. It's always nice to hear from you, Amita! Thank you for your comment.

  8. Adele, I heard you, Joe Weil, and Deborah LaVeglia read at a Barnes & Noble once many years ago. You were collecting food for the homeless through a coalition in Elizabeth. I was with my mom and was a young teenager, so impressed that you were using poetry to help people. I remember all the people in the room and all those bags of food. I no longer live in NJ but I volunteer at a church food pantry here in Tennessee. You never know how your poems and examples will touch people -- they sure touched me!

    1. I remember that reading well, Judy! That was a wonderful night, and I'm so happy to know that you were there. If I remember correctly, Deborah had to make two trips in her van because so much food was collected. Bless you in your work at the food pantry.

  9. I found A NIGHT IN DULUTH on eBay and ordered it immediately! Can't wait to read the poems. Please thank Joe Weil for this prompt.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Kevin! I've found eBay to be a great place to book shop and have found many recent poetry titles there myself. Enjoy the book!