Alliteration is used throughout “Living Space.” As with assonance and consonance, its main purpose here is to suggest a haphazard kind of design and construction that is nonetheless effective. Using sonic devices like alliteration is the poem’s way of mirroring both the improvised nature of the “living space” in question and its precariousness—the way it seems to be at risk of collapse, yet somehow stays standing. So alliteration is achieving two seemingly contradictory aims, suggesting both strength and weakness in terms of the poem’s—and the living space’s—construction.
An early significant example of alliteration occurs across the enjambment between lines 5 and 6:
or parallel. Beams
balance crookedly on supports
The sound of this alliteration is strong, but it’s isolated, suggesting its own strange mix of strength and precariousness. Broken across two lines, it also mirrors the “crooked[ness]” with which the ceiling beams are balanced in the living space. That is, the beams should be at the same height, but they’re not. Likewise, the two /b/s, which belong together, are placed on two different levels, with the second lower on the page. “Crookedly” and “clutch” also alliterate, but are further apart—the sounds ring out together, but they are placed differently from the two /b/s. This suggests inconsistency: the dwelling’s lack of “straight lines” or “parallel” angles.
Lines 12 and 13 use alliteration a little differently:
someone has squeezed
a living space
Here, /s/ consonants begin three out of the lines’ six words. This literally squeezes a single sound repeatedly into a small space, neatly portraying the way that “someone” lives in this tiny, improvised structure.
The other key example of alliteration occurs throughout the last six lines. Often, sounds distributed among this many lines wouldn’t necessarily ring out together, but these lines are so short that they do. A gentle, wispy /th/ sound features throughout:
hung out over the dark edge
gathering the light
as if they were
the bright, thin walls ...
This sound effectively communicates the thinness of the eggs’ shells, the precariousness of the “living space,” and the “miraculous” existence of life itself—in other words, the sound works hard to support the poem’s meaning!