To rhyme or not to rhyme? That is the question. At least, that is the question for me. Many literary critics feel that question has already been answered…rhyme is out, blank verse and free verse is in. When it comes to rhyme, they admonish poets, “Just don’t do it!”
So once again, we have the guardians at the gate defining for the rabble below what is “good” and “worthy.” We have turned our backs on the old guard. Farewell Shelly, Keats and Byron. Oh, we allow students to study them in school, but be sure to tell them that, if they have poetic aspirations, they better not submit rhyming poems to any of today’s prestigious journals.
I happen to love GOOD rhyme. I capitalized “good” for a reason. It’s important. There is a lot of bad rhyme our there. Good rhyme is hard to do. Maybe that’s why so few poets try it. They just aren’t very good at it.
There are rumblings out there that rhyme is gathering a few friends in the literary world. There are still some journals that accept it. Don’t send any to the New Yorker, though. In fact, if your poem is understandable to the average guy in the street, you might think twice about sending it to the New Yorker. (OK, it’s a great magazine. My bias against literary snobbishness is showing.)
Do I write poetry that rhymes? I do. Do I also write free and blank verse? I do. I enjoy reading both. I enjoy writing both. Why can’t critics be as open-minded? Is it possible to critique the best of all forms of poetry without bias?
When it comes to rhyming, I think I’m pretty good at it…no moon/June or forced rhyme. To come up with a beautiful, lyrical poem that says exactly what you want to say, that’s pretty special.
I fell in love with Lord Byron in freshman English. He was hot, a bad boy and a talented writer. At the time, that was a delicious combination. I still find the opening lines to his poem, She Walks In Beauty, to be incredibly beautiful.
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Take out the rhyme—She’s as beautiful as a clear starry night just doesn’t hold the same magic.
A few years ago I had the privilege of attending a poetry reading featuring Billy Collins and Kay Ryan. I admire them both. I bought a book of poetry from both. Billy doesn’t rhyme, Kay does, but not in the traditional way. She employs what she calls “recombinant rhyme”—hidden rhymes that appear in the middle, rather than at the end of her short lines. I had the opportunity to talk to her about the place of rhyme in poetry. She talked a bit about her struggle to gain critical acceptance because of her love of rhyme. “When I started writing nobody rhymed—it was in utter disrepute. Yet rhyme was a siren to me.” Kay has published seven volumes of poetry and an anthology of selected and new poems. From 2008 to 2010 she was the sixteenth United States Poet Laureate. In 2011 she was named a MacArthur Fellow and won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. And, oh, yes, she has appeared in the New Yorker. There are exceptions. Rhyming doesn’t seem to have held her back after all.
After meeting Kay Ryan, I was inspired to write the following poem. It is dedicated to her…
Rhyme No More!
Rhyming is passé,
or so they say.
to be recognized
rather than spurious,
I try to refrain.
No matter that I find rhyme
juicy and delicious;
I bow to the officious guardians
of modern verse.
Rhyme no more!
Blank verse is “in.”
I go blank on “blank”
and must rehearse
being more modern.
What is Wordsworth worth
if he won’t stop rhyming?
I advise him to forget the rhyme
and concentrate on timing.
“Stopping by Woods
On a Snowy Evening.”
Children will grow up
thinking rhyming is OK,
and then, rhyming
will NEVER go away.
More about poetry and rhyme in my next blog—in the meantime, I’d like to hear your thoughts on the matter.