Be a Better Writer--SLANT RHYME

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Be a Better Writer--SLANT RHYME

Post by glorybee » Sat May 16, 2015 7:41 am

A slant rhyme is a pair of words that almost (but not quite) rhyme. Unlike a perfect rhyme (girl/curl—turkey/jerky—creation/relation), a slant rhyme may have 1) a slightly different vowel sound (feature/nature), or 2) more common in modern American poetry, a slightly different ending sound (junk/defunct—year/piers).

The American poet Emily Dickinson used the first type of slant rhyme in many of her poems. Here’s a short example:

The bustle in a house
The morning after death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted upon earth,--

The sweeping up the heart,
And putting love away
We shall not want to use again
Until eternity.


Notice the paired words death/earth and away/eternity? They don’t quite rhyme, but in the hands of a gifted poet, they absolutely work.

The other day when I was driving to work, I heard the song “Hold Fast” by Mercy Me on the radio, and I noticed slant rhyme of the second type in the opening lyrics:

To everyone who's hurting
To those who've had enough
To all the undeserving
That should cover all of us
Please do not let go
I promise there is hope


Notice the “a” rhymes: hurting/deserving. A perfect rhyme for hurting would be something like blurting, flirting, skirting, squirting, converting…but none of those fit with the meaning the lyricist wanted in line 3. He didn’t make the mistake that many beginning poets make—the idea that every rhyme in end-rhymed poetry must be a perfect rhyme. Instead, he opted for undeserving—and the result is a beautifully unforced lyric that says exactly what he wants it to say. The search for the perfect rhyme should never drive your poetry; the meaning of the poem should be foremost.

The ear hears close rhymes like this as true rhymes, anyway—especially I think, in music, but also in any traditional, rhymed form. When the vowels match, and the consonants are close, it’s slant rhyme, and it’s good enough. It’s far better, in fact, than a forced or unnatural rhyme:

To everyone who's hurting
To those who've had enough
To girls who’ve been caught flirting…


In the same Mercy Me lyric, the “b” rhymes and the “c” rhymes are also slant rhymes: enough/us share the “schwa” vowel sound (look it up) and go/hope share a long “o” sound. In both of those instances, the ear hears the rhyme.

I’ve mentioned this before, but one particularly common way of forcing a rhyme in order to make it perfect, when a slant rhyme would be just fine, is by using a form of the helping verb “do”. Like this:

Avoiding my savior, I’d dithered all day
So down on my knees at my bed I did pray.


That’s just horrible poetry on so many levels (I can say that because I wrote it…). The first line’s not entirely horrid. But that second line--It’s got an odd, inverted grammar, almost painfully contrived, just so that I can get to the exact rhyme of pray at the end of the line.

But…what if that last word could be prayed? Or some other word? Hmmmmm…..

Finally, there are times when slant rhyme just doesn't work, and it's difficult for me to explain because it's one of those illusive, subjective things. When there's a poem that's a bit mushy in meter, or when the rhymes aren't close enough, or when the poem sometimes rhymes and sometimes doesn't (so that the reader is unclear of whether they're reading rhymed poetry or free verse), or when there's an irregular or missing rhyme scheme (see last week's lesson)...in short, if the poetry is generally faulty in other areas, a slant rhyme will seem like another fault.

Homework:

Fix the bad couplet above. I know I haven’t given you much to work with, but use the first line of my couplet, and end with a slant rhyme—either prayed or some other word that almost, but not quite, rhymes with day. If you wish, you can use that first line as part of a longer poem—a quatrain, maybe.

OR link to a poem of yours in which you used slant rhyme.

OR discuss slant rhyme—do you try to use perfect rhymes always? If so, how do you avoid forcing your rhymes? Can you think of other reasons (besides the forcing issue) why a poet might use a slant rhyme?
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Re: Be a Better Writer--SLANT RHYME

Post by Cinnamon Bear » Sun May 17, 2015 2:45 pm

Jan, I have been following your three recent poetry lessons and giving the matter a good deal of thought. See my post about rhyming words on the thread “Improve Your Rhyming Skills”.

As you mention in that thread, publishers reject approximately 99% of rhymed poetry submissions. This statement is supported by my recent experience with Mused Literary Review. Although they publish a significant number of free verse poems, they publish no more than one or two rhymed poems per quarter. In the opinion of the editors, rhymed poems are much more difficult to write, and very few submissions conform to their high standards.

Based on the information on the Mused site and on several other websites, there seems to be significant differences of opinion regarding what is and is not acceptable in rhymed poetry, and not just in regards to children’s poetry. The two issues I’m noticing are perfect rhyme vs. slant/near rhymes and tolerance vs. lack of tolerance for variations in meter.

On these matters, I am strictly in the perfect rhyme, perfect meter camp. My Challenge buddies politely refrain from calling me “The Rhythm and Rhyme Nazi”. (Aye, but weren’t ye’ thinkin’ it, though.) :lol:

Caleb Murdock, editor of Poemtree, explains what he believes is the essential difference between poetry and prose:

“…the essential purpose of prose is to communicate ideas, and the essential purpose of poetry is to move us with the beauty of its crafted language, and in this distinction the two diverge. Prose is communication; poetry is art...the greatest poetry is that which advances our understanding of the world or ourselves, but which does so in a way that appeals to our artistic sense. The art of a poem should further its meaning…Cogent meaning combined with musical language, which advances the meaning with its sounds…”

http://www.poemtree.com/articles/PoetryOrProse.htm

It’s hard for me to hear/see a poem with slant rhyme and/or meter variations as music. And how can one tell the difference between a poem in which the poet intentionally varied rhyme and meter for artistic effect, and a poem written by someone who does not know how or who didn't take the time to perfect rhyme and meter?

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Re: Be a Better Writer--SLANT RHYME

Post by glorybee » Sun May 17, 2015 3:51 pm

Cinnamon Bear wrote:
It’s hard for me to hear/see a poem with slant rhyme and/or meter variations as music. And how can one tell the difference between a poem in which the poet intentionally varied rhyme and meter for artistic effect, and a poem written by someone who does not know how or who didn't take the time to perfect rhyme and meter?

Cinnamon Bear
Your entire post (of which I've only attached a portion) raises some excellent thoughts. I'd love to hear from more poets from both points of view--those who, like you, prefer strict rhyme and meter, and those who accept slight variations in both.

Just as you quoted a small portion of "In Flanders Fields" in one of the other poetry threads, and I quoted from Emily Dickenson in this one, there are excellent poems from renowned poets that will appeal to both the purists and those who have a bit more 'give' in what they'll allow in poetry. And that brings us to your question: how does one know if slant rhyme or meter glitches are signs of poor poets or bits of genius?

I'd be interested in your thoughts on that. Off the top of my head, here's what I think: there are lots of goodies that go into a poem to make it a masterpiece in addition to rhyme and meter. If the poem has excellent word choice...imagery...figurative language...symbolism...if it evokes emotion in the reader...if it seems fresh and creative...those are just a few of the hallmarks of excellent poetry. If a poem has bumpy meter and odd rhymes (too simple, too exact, too forced) and it's lacking some of those other aspects of fine poetry, then I'm pretty sure it's been written by a novice poet. But if those other goodies are in there, then I'm pretty sure that the rhyme and meter are intentional.

What do you think?
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Re: Be a Better Writer--SLANT RHYME

Post by swfdoc1 » Sun May 17, 2015 4:08 pm

I am of the school that all good metered poetry OUGHT to vary its meter to be excellent. In defense of this view, you can go to Amazon, search for “Poetic Meter and Poetic Form,” click on the “search Inside” book cover, and type “meter probably began” in the search box. This will take you to the first page of the chapter on “Metrical Variations.” You can read the first four pages of the chapter, which describe the “three degrees of metrical competence,” and you can read much of the rest of the chapter, but with some gaps in pages. BTW, all these years after its publication, Poetic Meter and Poetic Form is still considered one of the “bibles” of poetry.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--SLANT RHYME

Post by glorybee » Sun May 17, 2015 4:13 pm

swfdoc1 wrote:I am of the school that all good metered poetry OUGHT to vary its meter to be excellent. In defense of this view, you can go to Amazon, search for “Poetic Meter and Poetic Form,” click on the “search Inside” book cover, and type “meter probably began” in the search box. This will take you to the first page of the chapter on “Metrical Variations.” You can read the first four pages of the chapter, which describe the “three degrees of metrical competence,” and you can read much of the rest of the chapter, but with some gaps in pages. BTW, all these years after its publication, Poetic Meter and Poetic Form is still considered one of the “bibles” of poetry.
Thanks for this recommendation, Steve! When I'm old, I hope to become a better poet.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--SLANT RHYME

Post by swfdoc1 » Sun May 17, 2015 4:18 pm

glorybee wrote:
swfdoc1 wrote:When I'm old, I hope to become a better poet.
Me too!
Steve
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"When the Round Table is broken every man must follow Galahad or Mordred; middle
things are gone." C.S. Lewis
“The chief purpose of life … is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. To do as we say in the Gloria in Excelsis ... We praise you, we call you holy, we worship you, we proclaim your glory, we thank you for the greatness of your splendor.” J.R.R. Tolkien

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Re: Be a Better Writer--SLANT RHYME

Post by Anja » Mon May 18, 2015 12:12 pm

I am hesitant to comment, because I don't know much except that I like to play around with poetry, and I have several favourite poets, specifically, Robert Service, Alfred Noyes, and Robert Frost.

I like poetry, either what I write or read, to "say what it says," none of the hashing out the intent of the poet other than to tell a story, rich with imagery, with maybe a steady meter and "punch line" or a "truth" that isn't preachy-in-your-face.

I read a lot of cowboy poetry, and have a specific purpose for my current "run" on cowboy/western/country poetry. Cowboy poetry is a special genre with endless opportunities for imagery, humour, metrical maneuvering, colourful terminology, and grassroots truths / earthy common sense. Not five minutes ago, a comment from my "cowboy poetry mentor" (a local fellow of some renown) reminded me the key to good cowboy poetry is to be "crisp." Crisp in meter, crisp in meaning. That said, I've read some "classic" cowboy poetry by so-called legends that make me wince.

Slant rhymes.... I try to avoid perfect rhymes, and use near rhymes/slant rhymes to avoid the boy/joy, love/above pitfall, yet I plead guilty. Also to avoid being glib, trite, or clichéd. Yet, if every rhyme is a slant or near rhyme, it would be "forced" the other way, like trying too hard. I don't think poetry should seem "too hard," either to understand or read, yet it takes hard work to make it flow effortlessly.

I use Rhymezone.com for finding "near rhymes," but usually the suggestions are lame. ("House" is a near rhyme for "happy"? Really? It's not quite working for me, thank you.) I'll often enter a word I already know is a near rhyme for the word I want. Also, if I'm not finding a satisfactory rhyme/slant rhyme, I switch my target word. I have a resident cowboy to help me with authentic vocabulary, and I have two sites for "western lingo." Even that can be a trap, if it's so full of specifically cowboy jargon no one knows what you're talking about.

FWIW
Ann Grover Stocking

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Re: Be a Better Writer--SLANT RHYME

Post by glorybee » Mon May 18, 2015 12:38 pm

Thanks for stopping by, Ann!

Could you give us a snippet of cowboy poetry, please?
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Re: Be a Better Writer--SLANT RHYME

Post by Cinnamon Bear » Mon May 18, 2015 12:46 pm

Anja wrote:I read a lot of cowboy poetry, and have a specific purpose for my current "run" on cowboy/western/country poetry. Cowboy poetry is a special genre with endless opportunities for imagery, humour, metrical maneuvering, colourful terminology, and grassroots truths / earthy common sense.
Ann, thank you for bringing up cowboy poetry. Although I am largely unfamiliar with the genre, one of my Challenge buddies is from the west, so I wanted to learn more about it. I found an article that may be helpful to those who, like myself, don't realize the role that slant rhyme plays in cowboy poetry:

http://www.cowboypoetry.com/slant.htm
"Does Slant Rhyme With Can't?"

That said, I love the work of cowboy poet, Baxter Black, and his "Shoein' Pigeye" and "The Vegetarian's Nightmare". Both of the poems, as far as I can tell, have perfect rhyme and meter.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--SLANT RHYME

Post by Cinnamon Bear » Mon May 18, 2015 1:03 pm

Anja wrote:Slant rhymes.... I try to avoid perfect rhymes, and use near rhymes/slant rhymes to avoid the boy/joy, love/above pitfall, yet I plead guilty. Also to avoid being glib, trite, or clichéd. Yet, if every rhyme is a slant or near rhyme, it would be "forced" the other way, like trying too hard. I don't think poetry should seem "too hard," either to understand or read, yet it takes hard work to make it flow effortlessly.
Ann, I still think perfect rhymes can be perfect in all ways--that is, they don't need to be of the trite boy/toy, girl/curl variety.

I guess it all comes down to publishability. I don't argue with success.

But the standards for publishable rhymed poetry seem so high. The editors of Mused Literary Review, describe the perfect rhymed poem as a "finished, polished granite sculpture". They describe any flaw or bump as a "lovely sculpture that has a giant pink band-aid stuck on its nose". No tolerance for near rhymes or imperfect meter.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--SLANT RHYME

Post by Anja » Mon May 18, 2015 1:16 pm

YES, this. From the article posted above.
http://www.cowboypoetry.com/slant.htm
"Does Slant Rhyme With Can't?"

By the same token, slant rhyme that fails to lift a poem to loftier heights of language is every bit as useless as a poorly made strict rhyme. Slant rhyme is not a license to be sloppy, nor is it an excuse to be lazy. Nor does it relieve the poet of the responsibility to edit, rewrite, revise, buff, and polish a poem to its brightest luster; to make it sparkle and shine until it lights up the eyes—and hearts and minds—of readers or hearers. Only then, I think, does a piece of writing rise to a level where it is worthy to be called poetry.

In the end, we’re all entitled to our opinions, assuming they are informed opinions. But none of us is entitled to issue our opinions as edicts, and we’re certainly not entitled to expect anyone else to live up to our expectations of what is and is not acceptable in an artistic endeavor as subjective as poetry. To my way of thinking, there are only two kinds of poems: good ones, and those that could be better.

I confess a belief, though, that much of what is presented as cowboy poetry isn’t poetry at all—it’s just jokes and sentimental stories set to rhyme and meter (or not) with little thought, it seems, to careful word selection, inspired phrasing, relationships among sounds and rhythms, subtext and secondary meanings, imagery, allusion, and such like.
Ann, I still think perfect rhymes can be perfect in all ways--that is, they don't need to be of the trite boy/toy, girl/curl variety.
I agree with this. Perfect / strict rhymes can be just ... perfect, if those are the exact words needed. Otherwise, they're not. I should clarify my statement. I don't strictly avoid them at all costs. I try to avoid the trite ones. The expected ones. If I can say it a better way, I will.
But the standards for publishable rhymed poetry seem so high. The editors of Mused Literary Review, describe the perfect rhymed poem as a "finished, polished granite sculpture". They describe any flaw or bump as a "lovely sculpture that has a giant pink band-aid stuck on its nose". No tolerance for near rhymes or imperfect meter.
I guess I (nor any of my cowboy poet comrades) won't be writing for Mused Literary Review. As my cowboy poet mentor said to me an hour ago, "I don't travel in them circles."

Baxter Black is one of my favourites. :D
Last edited by Anja on Mon May 18, 2015 1:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--SLANT RHYME

Post by Anja » Mon May 18, 2015 1:31 pm

glorybee wrote:
Could you give us a snippet of cowboy poetry, please?
Mine? If not, here's part of an old classic by S. Omar Barker
"Purt Near!"

They called him "Purt Near Perkins,"
for unless the booger lied,
He'd purt near done most everything
that he had ever tried.
He'd purt near been a preacher
and he'd purt near roped a bear;
He'd met up with Comanches once
and purt near lost his hair.
He'd purt near wed an heiress
who had money by the keg,
He'd purt near had the measles,
and he'd purt near broke his leg.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--SLANT RHYME

Post by swfdoc1 » Mon May 18, 2015 6:36 pm

Cinnamon Bear wrote:But the standards for publishable rhymed poetry seem so high. The editors of Mused Literary Review, describe the perfect rhymed poem as a "finished, polished granite sculpture". They describe any flaw or bump as a "lovely sculpture that has a giant pink band-aid stuck on its nose". No tolerance for near rhymes or imperfect meter.
I think you are misreading the Mused Literary Review. The words you quote ARE on its website, but not in the context you mentioned. The sculpture metaphor/simile deals with adding in fluff words to get a meter perfect, not with either rhyme or with any other aspect of rhythm.

Although the article deals with rhythm very generally, it does not address whether or when one should use metrical substitutions. However, it shows examples in which metrical substitutions are used, including the first two, Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, Poe’s The Raven. (I stopped looking after that.)

It does address rhyme, and all that it says deals with exact rhyme. However, this appears to be to make the point that people might INADVERTENTLY mis-rhyme. I say this for two reasons. First, it seems to be teaching the rule, rather than mentioning any exceptions to the rule. Second, one of the examples within the article and several of the poems linked to as “examples of wonderfully done rhyming poems” contain slant rhymes: Sonnet 18, Arousa, Open Lies.

I only looked at this because I am familiar with Mused Literary Review and would have been shocked had it really advocated “perfect” rhyme and meter. Your poetry is yours; I just didn't want you to think you "couldn't" do things that you otherwise want to do (or allow yourself to do).
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Re: Be a Better Writer--SLANT RHYME

Post by Cinnamon Bear » Mon May 18, 2015 6:59 pm

Steve, thank you for your post.

I have read everything on the Mused site that pertains to rhymed poetry, and I have read the very few rhymed poems that they chose to publish during the past year.

They selected my poem for publication. I don't think they would have published it had I settled for anything less than perfection. I don't argue with success. :)

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Re: Be a Better Writer--SLANT RHYME

Post by swfdoc1 » Mon May 18, 2015 7:06 pm

Congrats on getting published! Is it available on line?
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"When the Round Table is broken every man must follow Galahad or Mordred; middle
things are gone." C.S. Lewis
“The chief purpose of life … is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. To do as we say in the Gloria in Excelsis ... We praise you, we call you holy, we worship you, we proclaim your glory, we thank you for the greatness of your splendor.” J.R.R. Tolkien

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