Rishidev Chaudhuri takes a revealing “Ramble Through Vowels and Consonants,” and his discoveries are worth every poet’s time to read. I’m especially taken with the observation that vowels are formed by shaping airflow, while consonants are formed by restricting or interrupting airflow. These physical actions have emotional dimensions; I don’t mean rigid correspondences, but somewhat fluid relationships. We don’t grieve in consonants (Lear: “No, no, no, no! Come on, let’s go to prison”), and we don’t express anger in vowels (Malcolm to Macduff: “Let grief / Convert to anger; blunt not the heart, enrage it”). Language, after all, is breath; and breath is the foundation of all the intimate arts* (poetry, chanting, and song; the woodwinds and the brass) and their effects.
There is more, of course. Ginsberg famously said that he intended each line of “Howl” to be a “breath unit”; hearing Creeley read, one can’t escape the sense that he conceived of his lines the same way, though his breath units are almost always strictly controlled, even constricted. So on top of the different ways that vowels and consonants play with breath, lineation further complicates the issue.
No wonder Shakespeare puts “the lunatic, the lover, and the poet” together in one group! They are all caught up in the breath: jabbering, panting, whispering, holding the breath back only to release it in sighs or shouts—or howls! Don’t good poems reawaken the reader to his or her own breath and everything that’s riding on it?
* Intimate arts as distinct, perhaps, from public arts like painting, sculpture, instrumental music played primarily by hands (percussion and strings, chimes, tambourines, etc.).