When he was a young lecturer at the University of Birmingham in England, Larry Kricka and his wife would pack their bags during the winter break and make their way to the seaside town of Sidmouth. Once a tiny and forgotten fishing village, Sidmouth was transformed during the 18th and 19th centuries into a fashionable resort, and its sprawling esplanade still teems with summer tourists. But for Kricka, Sidmouth's charm was best revealed in the off-season.
Years later, he would express his affection for the town in an ode. Measuring 25 lines and 116 words, each beginning with an s, the ode begins by describing the natural beauty of the place—its “storm swept sandstone,” “seagull shrieked sky,” and “sea splashed stanchions.” As the poem goes on, Sidmouth becomes an almost human presence: “Somber sun scarred streets seek solace/Silt soiled steps stand steadfast.”
Larry Kricka loves Sidmouth. He loves alliteration, too. He tends to focus his alliterative attention on subjects he feels deeply about, drawn from his professional life as a clinical chemist as well as from his personal experience. Over the past few years he has published verses about DNA and microchips. But there is something especially revealing about the ode to Sidmouth. Taken singly, its lines and phrases are evocative pearls that cast a mood. Strung together, they have a cumulative effect that is dazzling, almost dizzying—an exhaustive compendium of almost every word that could be applied to Sidmouth, arranged in the best possible order. As one reads it from beginning to end, the ode appears to be a puzzle as much as a poem.
Kricka, who is currently a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, says as much when asked what so attracts him to alliteration. “I think it's the …