The rhyming thing

I was reading some new writing the other day, and I came across a poem by a former member of a writing group I knew many years ago. It was original, edgy, taut; it made me think; it made me feel the emotions the writer wanted me to feel. And the half-rhymes and internal rhymes were subtle and clever. I liked it very much.

I remember when this person joined the group she said she could only write rhyming poetry. It had all the Hallmarks of forced end-rhymes; the distorted sentence construction to make the final word rhyme, the sometimes inappropriate choice of words obviously chosen just the make the rhyme. Try as she might, she kept falling into the pattern: a b a b. I blame it on the schools, because in nearly all the primary schools I visit, I find evidence that that is the way poetry writing is taught: it must rhyme. It doesn’t have to be that way. One way I try to get round it is to introduce haiku and tanka, and to tell the children that these forms don’t rhyme.  Another way is to tell them that the most important thing is to get their thoughts down on paper first, and leave editing for polish to later, including putting in rhymes if they want to. I really don’t have anything against rhyming poetry, but I don’t like automatic rhyming. I love subtle rhyming, but I don’t like mangled syntax.


About sunnydunny

Poet, publisher, gardener
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3 Responses to The rhyming thing

  1. I did a session with fourth-graders in Basel two years ago, and I used a very short prose text by Kafka to get them going, and I told them that the poems they wrote did not have to rhyme … and every single one of them wrote a rhymed, metrical poem. The teachers told me that they had talked to the kids about how poems don’t have to be rhymed and metered, but the kids always wanted them to be!

  2. Jim Murdoch says:

    It’s been a long time since I was at school but I wasn’t that fond of poetry at Primary School. I couldn’t relate to what we were made to read. I didn’t care about fields full of daffodils, or babbling brooks or vagabonds and it wasn’t that I wasn’t into nature because I spent all my free time wandering around the countryside and it wasn’t like in the poems. The tinkers that came to our door weren’t gentlemen of the road, they were scary and we were warned to be wary of them. Poetry back then, which, of course, all rhymed, seemed contrived and belonged in the same realm as fairy stories as far as I was concerned. Some of the poems of Burns were a little grittier but despite being a Scot I’ve always struggled with poetry in dialect. I’m not saying were weren’t taught good poetry because we were, all the classics, but it was outdated and it romanticised things and I didn’t like that.

    It wasn’t until I went to the Academy and got hit with the poetry of the First World War, especially Owen, that I started to see poetry as having a function beyond mere entertainment. And that was really the start of things for me: I could see a point to poetry and I wish that point had been got across years earlier.

  3. I think what I would wish for in general culture is a greater appreciation of the full range of sound effects that a poem might have. If you completely jettison aural pleasure you’re going to have to work very hard to compensate for it, so general culture’s wish for aural pleasure is legitimate, but its default setting is what gets termed (fairly cheekily) “full” rhyme.

    If kids could get some sense of assonance, alliteration (and not just alliteration at the start of a word), their possible interplay with meaning but also structuring qualities, a sense of the spectrum that runs from what gets (again, cheekily) termed “strict” metre through to what gets termed free verse, then we might just have the basis for an appreciation of both “rhyming” and “non-rhyming” poetry – a dichotomy a lot more fuzzy than some think it to be.

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