You all know what rhymes are—words that have the same ending sounds. We start teaching rhymes when our children are very young, and for most of us rhyming is a pretty basic concept. This is going to be a fairly short class, therefore. I’m not going to teach you about bat, fat, cat…you don’t need it. Lessons on rhyme scheme and slant rhyme will come shortly.
What I will do is to suggest a few ways of rhyming that might not have occurred to you, and to implore you to re-think some of your current rhyming practices.
Regrettably, many amateur poets rarely get beyond the bat, fat, cat mode of rhyming. I was doing some research for something later on in this lesson, and I came across an interesting bit of information: about 99% of rhymed poetry is rejected by publishers of poetry. This is because a) the current state of literary poetry calls for free verse, and b) most rhymed poetry just isn’t sophisticated enough.
I checked through some back weeks of the Weekly Challenge. It only took me a few minutes to find 8 poems that rhymed love and above, a particularly tempting rhyme for Christian poets, but way overdone. And a substantial majority of the other rhymes I encountered were exact, 1-syllable rhymes.
Think about these alternatives to “fat/cat” syndrome:
1. Rhyme a 2-syllable word with two 1-syllable words. In a recent “class”, someone posted a witty little quatrain that rhymed diet with try it. Clever. For this (and for my other tips) RhymeZone.com is a great resource. It will suggest words of 1, 2, 3, or more syllables for the word that you input. Play around with that, and don't always feel that rhymes must be one word-to-one word.
2. Rhyme words of more than one syllable with each other. I once wrote a little limerick for a college class in which the rhyme for lines 3 and 4 was the words gazebo and placebo, and another little poem that used Glasgow, fiasco, and Tabasco.
3. An extension of point #2: rhyme interesting words. In fact, your rhymes should be the most interesting words in each line, to counteract that “predictability” factor. If I’m reading a rhymed poem about a cute little kid, and I come across a line that ends with joy, I’m pretty sure that the next line is going to end with boy. Won’t I be delighted, then, when instead the line ends with destroy?
4. As much as it kills you, consider an inexact rhyme. I’ll be writing about that in more detail in a few weeks…so just let the concept of imperfect rhymes simmer on the back burner for a while.
A huge rhyming no-no is the forced rhyme. That’s a rhyme put into a poem solely for the purpose of rhyming a word already there, or a rhyme that only works after a bit of mangling of English syntax. Do any of you remember folk-rock band The Turtles? If you do, you’ll remember their song “Happy Together” from the mid-60s. Yeah, I know, I’m dating myself. Anyway…the refrain had this little bit of rhyme:
So happy together
How is the weather
Now that song was a huge hit, and I loved it, but even as a very pedantic young teen, I remember thinking that it was a ridiculous lyric. What did the weather have to do with anything? Nothing—it was only there to rhyme with together. (Hee-hee—now you have that song in your head, don’t you?)
Another common way of forcing a rhyme involves using the helping verbs did or does with another verb, just to make an exact rhyme (and sometimes also to make the meter work). Let me see if I can come up with an example on my own….I’ll use a variation of last week’s couplet.
My wand’rings took me far from home
Far from my Savior I did roam
No one talks like that—the “did” is just in there to give the 2nd line of the couplet that needed syllable, and to make the exact rhyme of home and roam. But that’s exactly the sort of thing that publishers of poetry hate. It’s true that the syntax of poetry is often different from that of prose, and that good poets from the past have often altered the syntax of sentences to make a line “work”. It’s certainly allowable—occasionally—but knowing how to do it right is absolutely an advanced poetic skill.
This is something I’ve touched on just about every time I’ve done a class that’s purely poetry-related: when I’m wearing my judge’s hat, and I come across a rhymed poem, I look for far more than just rhymes. I look for poetic sophistication, which includes:
~high-quality, unpredictable and unforced rhymes
~consistency of meter, especially in a fresh, original pattern
~poetic “goodies”: metaphor, imagery, alliteration, onomatopoeia, etc.
Homework: write a bit of poetry that contains some great rhyming. A rhymed couplet or a quatrain will be fine.
OR respond to something I’ve written about in this class.
OR give us your thoughts on the use of rhyme in your work or in that of a favorite poet of yours.
IF you do one of the above, you may link to a poem of yours that demonstrates something from this week’s lesson.
I’m working on assembling the back lessons of this class, to be made available either in print form or as a download for those who want them. I’ve now recovered all but two lessons—allegory and conflict (which was pretty well covered in all of those “Man vs. ______” classes, anyway). Not too bad! I’ll keep you posted on when those will be available—quite soon, I think.
Next week—Rhyme scheme