Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Advice to rhyming poets

We all know that unrhymed free verse is the most common form poetry comes in these days. But perhaps you're not like everyone else. Maybe words come to you in rhyme and rhythm.

I gave the dilemma of a rhyming poet in a mostly free-verse universe some thought the other day when a writer friend emailed me about a poet we both know who writes beautiful rhyming poems. She was discouraged because that's what she writes, loves to write, yet people say keep saying things to her like, "I don't read it if it's not free verse." What's a rhyming poet to do?

Here are some suggestions I (a writer who likes writing in both rhyme and free verse) passed on to her. Maybe, if you prefer writing rhythmic, rhymes, they will encourage you too.

You / we are not alone. Have you heard of the New Formalism? It's a modern movement of poets who prefer to write in rhythm and rhyme. I found a pretty good definition (including the names of some people who are involved) here.

A wonderful website called The Poem Tree features lots of poetry from New Formalism poets. One of my favourites is A. E. Stallings. Who can resist:

Cardinal Numbers

Mrs. Cardinal is dead:
All that remains—a beak of red,
And, fanned across the pavement slab,
Feathers, drab.

Remember how we saw her mate
In the magnolia tree of late,
Glowing, in the faded hour,
A scarlet flower, 
Read the rest...
The Machines Mourn the Passing of People

We miss the warmth of their clumsy hands,
The oil of their fingers, the cleansing of use
That warded off dust, and the warm abuse
Lavished upon us as reprimands.

We were kicked like dogs when we were broken,
But we did not whimper.  We gritted our cogs—
An honor it was to be treated as dogs,
To incur such warm words roughly spoken, 
Read the rest...

The Tantrum

Struck with grief you were, though only four,
The day your mother cut her mermaid hair
And stood, a stranger, smiling at the door.

They frowned, tsk-tsked your willful, cruel despair,
When you slunk beneath the long piano strings
And sobbed until your lungs hiccupped for air, 
Read the rest...

For further education along these lines I have just the book. Writing Metrical Poetry: Contemporary Lessons for Mastering Traditional Forms by William Baer came out in 2006. It teaches about rhythmic styles and forms (Sonnets,  the quatrain, couplet, tercet, and French forms such as the Villanelle, Rondeau, Triolet). Your local library might have it.

Also, you might enjoy Your Daily Poem. It's a website with  a new poem every day. The poems are wide-ranging in style from modern free verse to traditional poetry that's in the public domain. The standard is that the poems must be interesting and accessible to ordinary readers (not just literary types). (After you have read it for a while and if you feel your poems would fit with it, here is information on how to submit poems to the site.)

Finally read "A World Short on Masters," a wonderful article that encourages you as a writer to be your own artist and, more, to become a master artist in your chosen genre. I think that means if you're a rhyming poet, be the best rhyming poet you can possibly be. It will make both you and your readers happy. 


Maureen said...

Good post, Violet.

I can't imagine ignoring a poem simply because it's not free verse. That reader is missing some great poetry.

There are ways, of course, to rhyme without being sing-songy. Enjambment helps, for example. Learning traditional forms that require rhyming also is useful, as is using homophones.

violet said...

Thanks, Maureen. And you're so right about ways to make rhyming poems interesting and not obvious or predictable. I think they are a wonderful challenge. There is something in us that responds to rhyme, so it seems a shame to forsake it altogether just because it doesn't happen to be in style!