Poetry · Writing

Why Rhyme?

Personally I write in rhyme because I find it very difficult not to and one thing I have learned, over the last five or so years, is that with any piece you write, if it rhymes, then that should be a bonus – the icing on the cake.

I have been editing other people’s rhyming poems & stories in verse for over three years now and one thing that pops up over and over is that the pursuit of rhyme can, and often will, smother the story. Story is key. As Dori Chaconas says in her Icing the Cake article – The Story is the cake, the rhyme and rhythm are the icing. I would like to go so far as to say that the story is the cake, the rhythm is the flavour and the rhyme alone is the icing. For me, the rhyme should be incidental, a subtle surprise, never, ever the main ingredient.

This observation, of course, is more true for stories written in verse than for poems. A poem needn’t necessarily tell a story but I still feel that it is important to only rhyme when the words that you are using are the best ones and are not there just because they rhyme. In the business we call this forced rhyme and it sticks out like a bee sting. Here is an example of a forced rhyme…

My sniffily dog

Has a snuffily nose

That goes with him

Where ever he goes

It’s slippery and slimy

A bit like a snail

And he sniffles and snuffles

And waggles his tail


The whole poem is about the dog’s nose and even though the word ‘tail’ rhymes perfectly with snail, it really doesn’t help to complete the essence of what the rest of the poem is about. The last line jars you out the poem – I can imagine the sound a record player needle makes when its knocked and scratches across the record. Or nails down a chalk board. It’s just not pleasant.

So for a bit of fun – can anyone think of a better line for this poem?

And in case you’re interested…yes, I wrote it. And no, it’s never been published.

If you have any comments or questions about rhyme, please do post them in the comments section below. I will be pleased to share what I have learned.

9 thoughts on “Why Rhyme?

  1. These two are both great! ‘Trail’ rhymes perfectly with ‘snail’ and paints a vivid slobbery picture. ‘Inhales’, while not a perfect rhyme has given me an idea. If I change ‘snail’ to ‘snail’s’ (the possessive) then ‘inhales’ rhymes perfectly too. Well done ladies – I love both suggestions.

  2. … this example is not as bad as the kind of rhymes where the writer (I won’t say “poet”) has changed word order just to get a rhyme… you know, perhaps like: “The arctic explorer slid over the snow, the wind bit at him wherever he did go”… (not a quote, I just whipped that one up – but it’s very common) (the bad scan is also common).
    Lovely blog, Jackie!

  3. Yes you’re right Rowena – word reversal is very common as of course is bad scanning. When you write something yourself you can race over words to make them fit the scan. When others read it though, they will read it at a natural speed and so trip over the lines that don’t fit the meter, where meter can be described as the pattern or placement of stressed syllables in each line. I will go into meter in more detail in a separate post.

  4. Thank you, Jackie, for all the work you keep on putting in, with this and Pass it On. Putting Rhyme & Rhuthm up as a blog is a great idea, as it allows more interaction. I’ve put a link to this and PIO on my blog.
    On the question of R & R, I find that the best way to catch my failure to scan and to find alternatives to forced rhyming, is to read my work our loud to my wife and my daughter — they are insightful and dispassionate critics and I can hear the problems myself.
    I find that sometimes a poem works better without any rhyming if it can be carried by an irresistable, natural rhythm. For natural rhythm, by the way, I don’t think you can go past Robert Frost (for instance ‘Mending Wall’).

  5. I agree Daan.

    Reading your work aloud or having another read it to you can definitely pick up weak spots especially where the rhythm (meter) is concerned.

    Words of two or more syllables are naturally read in a certain way. We stress one part of the word more than the other part. For example, the word ‘avoid’ is pronounced aVOID with the stress on the second syllable. Good rhythm or meter requires that you follow predictable patterns of stressed to unstressed syllables.

    My next post will go into these patterns in more detail but if you can’t wait till then you can read about them on my other blog http://versatilityrhymeandrhythm.blogspot.com/2009/03/poetic-terminology.html

  6. I agree with Daan and Jackie. Nothing, just NOTHING beats reading the poem aloud and clapping your hands or tapping the desk – anything to accentuate the beat/rhythm ad nauseam, and with emphasis, to make sure you are creating a rhythmic poem that others can read without tripping. Tripping needs recovery and that spoils the enjoyment of the piece.

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