Writing Poetry: Kenning


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Thread: Writing Poetry: Kenning

  1. #1

    Writing Poetry: Kenning

    This month I'll be posting a discussion a week. These ones will be shorter and about some of my personal favorite poetic techniques. Hopefully these will inspire you to use these techniques too.

    Writing Poetry: Kenning


    As a poetic technique kenning dates back to Old Norse and is prevalent in the oldest surviving piece of English literature, Beowulf. "The word kenning derives from the Old Norse phrase kenna eitt vio, meaning 'to express or describe one thing in terms of another.' The term came into English through the medieval Icelandic treatises on poetics. The word ken meaning 'to know' is still used in Scottish dialectics. The kenning, a metaphoric transfer, is a way of knowing (Hirsch 331)."


    Kenning is the combining together of two or more common nouns or ideas as a way of describing a third noun or idea. It is a way to rename and re-envision an object. Kenning can produce some surprising and uncommon imagery, and "operates as a sort of ''miniature riddle (Hirsch 331)."


    Kenning remains common in modern English and is, in fact, a source of many common item or idea names. The tradition of kenning has led to the advent of many compound words that, when examined with that knowledge, are easily seen to have begun as a kenning. Some examples include "holiday" (holy day), "peppermint," "backpack," and "download." Kenning that are not part of every day vernacular and are purely metaphorical are usually represented by hyphenating the words that comprise the new metaphorical word. As the kenning becomes more regular and common the hyphen disappears and a new word is born (aw, isn't it cute?).


    Kenning is a type of metaphorical speech which can replace more common words to illustrate new ways of looking at an object or idea. It can be a powerful tool to inform meaning and imagery for a poet.


    Works Cited


    Hirsch, Edward. Poet's Glossary. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.

  2. #2
    The interesting thing about Kenning is that the poems are almost always riddles.

  3. #3
    Can you supply examples? In my experience poems that contain kenning are rarely a riddle themselves.

  4. #4
    I didn't find any examples of it but it was mentioned on a few sites when I looked up more info about Kenning...

    A kenning is a much-compressed form of metaphor, originally used in Anglo-Saxon and Norse poetry. In a kenning, an object is described in a two-word phrase, such as 'whale-road' for 'sea'. Some kennings can be more obscure than others, and then grow close to being a riddle. Judith Nicholls' 'Bluebottle' uses kennings as part of a larger poem, that is itself a riddle; Andrew Fusek Peters and Polly Peters go further, building a pair of poems both consisting entirely of kennings.
    Kennings were originally written in Old English or Old Norse. A kenning describes something familiar in an uncommon way, without using its name. The poem usually takes the form of a list – and each depiction of the object is two words. Sometimes a kenning can take the form of a puzzle poem. I’ve included a couple of my own to give you an idea.
    From a kids poetry site (they have a way of explaining thing simply for the beginner)

    http://poetryzone.co.uk/childrens-archive/kennings/

    Definition of Kenning

    A Kenning is derived from Norse and Anglo-Saxon poetry. It is a stylistic device and can be defined as a two-word phrase that describes an object through metaphors. A Kenning poem is also called a riddle that consists of a few lines of kennings which describe someone or something in confusing detail. It is also described as a compressed metaphor that means meanings illustrated in a few words. For example, a two-word phrase “whale-road” represents the sea.
    http://literarydevices.net/kenning/

  5. #5
    I liked this source, especially the comments that followed the article: http://literary-devices.com/content/kennings
    Modern Punctuation and Grammar: Tools not Rules is finally published and available for $3 Hidden Content . Should be mandatory for serious writers, IMO. Italics, Fragments, Disfluency, lists, etc. But also commas and paragraph length. Discussed use of adverbs, and ends with a chapters on the awesome moment and the grammar of action scenes. Description at my Hidden Content

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by EmmaSohan View Post
    I liked this source, especially the comments that followed the article: http://literary-devices.com/content/kennings
    The comments are hysterical!

  7. #7
    Now, in the heat of verbal battle, I won't know whether to call someone a "Wind bag" or a "bag of water"? Geez, too many choices.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by amsawtell View Post

    Kenning that are not part of every day vernacular and are purely metaphorical are usually represented by hyphenating the words that comprise the new metaphorical word.

    Kenning is a type of metaphorical speech which can replace more common words to illustrate new ways of looking at an object or idea. It can be a powerful tool to inform meaning and imagery for a poet.

    Okay, I think I have found something that is on par with my terror of iambic. I do not ken the kenning, although I understand what ken and keen mean. Kenning is indeed so far beyond my keen; I know it is a skill I will never glean. Through a linear construct, metaphors are illogical. Literally. I don't understand them. Why does a word have to mean something else entirely, and then to say 2 + 2 = Blue Giraffe! (Which embodies sadness...).

    Very interesting historical aspects, but like algebra, I don't understand what logical function metaphors serve...To say that the sky is green when you know its, blue. In Lauren Willig's A Garden Intrigue, coded messages were passed from British agents to the Home Office disguised as horrendous, flowery poetry. However, the recipients of these poems had the language key to decode the message. I don't have a key to decode metaphors, as a reader, I will take the word at face value.

    Kudos to all who have the ability to figure them out.

    Tangential observation: Now knowing what kennings are, if one takes a look at Native American legends that have been translated into English, they are populated with phrases that look like kennings but aren't . e.g. the Star People referenced in the Anasazi culture, the Thunderbird who brings the rain...Stories that explain origins, why things happen, and like the Big Foot what things are...English doesn't have an easy way to perfectly describe somethings so we approximate. So much is lost in translation, we tend to overcompensate.

    Building on the Land Before Time example of the tree star, which describes a specific type of leaf, it describes the object exactly, a literal translation. But for the most part how does the writer know that the reader is going to ken their implied meaning? Why the roundaboutation?

    - D. the T.
    Last edited by Darkkin; December 3rd, 2016 at 06:23 PM.


  9. #9
    I could have written "He gives me a quick hug to signal we're done." (with their long kiss). But, because of this discussion, I could write quick-hug. I don't know if that's actual kenning, but at that point I don't care, I think it's a better description -- I didn't mean a hug that was quick, I meant the quick hug you would use to signal someone that the hug was done. That becomes: "He quick-hugs me to signal we're done."

    I know, it's prose, but poetry is just a way of communicating and I was trying to make that passage poetical. So . . . thanks for the lesson.
    Modern Punctuation and Grammar: Tools not Rules is finally published and available for $3 Hidden Content . Should be mandatory for serious writers, IMO. Italics, Fragments, Disfluency, lists, etc. But also commas and paragraph length. Discussed use of adverbs, and ends with a chapters on the awesome moment and the grammar of action scenes. Description at my Hidden Content

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by EmmaSohan View Post
    I could have written "He gives me a quick hug to signal we're done." (with their long kiss). But, because of this discussion, I could write quick-hug. I don't know if that's actual kenning, but at that point I don't care, I think it's a better description -- I didn't mean a hug that was quick, I meant the quick hug you would use to signal someone that the hug was done. That becomes: "He quick-hugs me to signal we're done."

    I know, it's prose, but poetry is just a way of communicating and I was trying to make that passage poetical. So . . . thanks for the lesson.
    In essence, a squeeze...


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