Poet's Tool Box: Rhyme
Rhyme is a tool that has defined poetry in the minds of many people, yet poetry is not necessarily defined by rhyme. Poetry does not have to rhyme. Indeed, I know of several poetry editors who will not publish poems that rhyme.
When the poet writes rhyme, s/he competes with the likes of Shakespeare, Keats, Byron and Shelley. Rhyme has been done so long so well that it is difficult to be original with it. Yet rhyme is powerful because it is memorable. “A stitch in time saves nine.” Catchy. “If you sew your jeans soon enough, they won’t rip more.” Not so much.
The best simple advice I can give about rhyme is to use it very carefully. Most editors will not look for your rhyme scheme unless you use one. Then it had better be iron clad. Avoid obvious cliché rhymes like, “love / dove” or “love / above”, “heart / apart” and “smile / mile”.
A great way to destroy a poem is to force it to rhyme. One of my teachers used to call it, “rhyme lunge” - forcing the end of a line to rhyme with another line in a less than graceful manner, thus…
The summer heat is
soothed by balmy breezes
While I am soothed by ice cubes when they freezes
You see it really points to a lack of planning.
As an editor, I like to see rhyme that seems to occur naturally in a poem, as in these lines from Louise Bogan’s “Tears in Sleep”:
“ … In the false
light, false grief in my happy bed,
A labor of tears, set against joy’s undoing.
I would not wake at your word, I had tears to say.
I clung to the bars of the dream and they were said,
The above holds two examples of how to use rhyme in a subtle way to the great advantage of your poetry. The first example is the last word in the first and fourth lines of the excerpt, “bed” and “said”. The second example is in the subtle internal structure of rhyme that further ties the first and last lines together, “In the false light, false grief” and “I clung to the bars of the dream…”
Writing poetry is a craft that demands close attention to detail. Read your work aloud, to yourself and to others. If it rhymes, do the rhymes sound natural or forced? If they sound forced, now might be a good time to remember that poetry does not have to rhyme to be poetry.
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