So, You Want To Write Poetry, Part Two


I would as soon write free verse as play tennis with the net down.
– Robert Frost

Rhyme is, perhaps, the biggest elephant in the room when we talk poetry, so I think we should just jump in.

Rhyme is hard. Good rhyme more so.

At one time, rhyme was an essential part of poetry in English. Poetry was mostly rigid forms, like ballroom dance. You wrote poetry, but restricted; you wrote sonnets, ballads, you wrote odes and villanelles.

Even as we move forward in time, poetry still keeps a meter and rhyme scheme. The form is more fluid–poets are creating the form they desire in their poem, and adhering to their own rules. Metered couplets, patterned quintets, etc.

Now tastes have changed, and, in a general sense, we have expanded past these restrictions on rhyme and meter. Most (I would estimate) of the poetry published today is free verse, that is without rhyme or strict meter. And while it is not verboten, rhyme has fallen out of favor.

Rhyme is hard. It is hard because it is a restriction on the word choice for the end of your line. It is hard because it will dominate the sound of your poetry. The danger being that the poem will sound ‘sing-songy’ with the stresses of the poem falling harder on the rhyming word than anywhere else.

Rhyme and meter tend to go together, because the pattern of sound becomes important as well. Not just ‘do these words sound alike’ but the spacing between them becomes important.

One way to combat this is to not make the end of your sentence (or phrase) the end of the line. By adding in a pause elsewhere, it helps spread the flow of sounds, rather than hitting the end of each line as a punch.

Other tool is off rhyme, or slant rhyme. These are words that aren’t the traditional rhyme, such as tours and yours but rather focus on the stressed sound. Yours and years are slant rhyme. Also eyes and light. That long I sound is matched between the two.

My recommendation is to come back to rhyme. Build up your other tool set first, working on your own voice. It may be that your voice and rhyme aren’t compatible. It may be they are perfectly matched.

That said, I do think everyone should go through the various forms. Writing a sonnet or villanelle offers structure, which can actually help free you to work. We’ll get to that soon.

at a later time
we will come
back to rhyme.