Understanding Slant Rhyme
Slant Rhyme (n): When the end words of two lines of poetry share a similar sound but do not “rhyme” in the traditional sense (known as “full” rhyme).
Table of Contents
The Poetry Exercises
- 1.1:Full Rhyme Word Pairs
- 1.2: Full Rhyme Couplets
- 2.1: Slant Rhyme Word Pairs
- 2.2: Slant Rhyme Couplets
- 3.1: Descriptive Paragraph
- 3.2: Free Verse Slant Rhyme Poem
Original Slant Rhyme Poetry Samples by wayseeker:
From our very earliest days we learn to hear rhythm in words and language through rhyme. From Little Bo Peep who lost her sheep to those green eggs and ham served by Sam I Am to where the village smithy stands with his large and sinewy hands, we learn to feel the weight, power and presence of full rhyme.
Many contemporary poets, however, prefer to work with something less pronounced, seeking after a subtler aesthetic with greater flexibility. The result is poetry that flows more in line with the natural rhythms of speech while still maintaining precise control over sound and movement and imagery. (Click here to move below and see a few examples I wrote or here to see an example by a master of the art form, Billy Collins).
Forced Rhyme (n):
...lines of poetry that are placed in poems to maintain the shape of the rhyme scheme but are only vaguely or sometimes even completely unrelated to the meaning of the poem itself.
Honestly, I had never heard of such a thing until taking a poetry writing class for my master’s degree. While it was a bit tricky to learn at first simply because it was so different from what I had learned before, I quickly found that slant rhyme was far easier to work with than trying to successfully write poems with full rhyme. The multitude of options it makes available allow a poet to much more easily craft words around the developing sounds, rhythms and ideas of a given poem, alleviating many of the forced rhyme problems that are so difficult to manage.
Below I have listed three exercises that I have used personally, and that I use to introduce the concept of slant rhyme to my students. At the end of the article, you will find two sample poems from my own writing: Elm Tree and I Am Here.
cat / bat
maze / haze
see / tree
circumstance / dance
Exercise 1, Part 1: Full Rhyme Word Pairs
The easiest way to begin is by working with the familiarity of full rhyme by developing a list of full rhyme word pairs. Depending on the age of the poet, this can range from three or four word pairs all the way up to twenty-five or thirty (see the chart to the right for an example).
NOTE: I encourage early poetry writers to simply look for words that rhyme. For more mature writers, it’s valuable to try to work for more interesting rhyming word pairs.
There was a very silly cat
that looked like a giant bat.
I thought I understood sunrise…
then I saw my daughter’s eyes.
Stretching thoughts out to the fringes.
Yes. Much of life upon this hinges.
Exercise 1, Part 2: Full Rhyme Couplets
Once you have a set of full rhyme word pairs, try crafting them into full rhyme couplets—two line poems that have full rhyme words at the end (see the examples to the right).
While most of the lines generated this way are unlikely to make for particularly inspired poetry, they do afford a simple and clean opportunity for experimenting with a technique that will lead to stronger poetry overall.
NOTE: Early poetry writers can simply take the words and create logical sentences. More mature writers can immediately begin working on rhythmic continuity, depth of imagery, metaphors, figurative language and complexity of idea along with implementing full rhyme.
Want More Information?
Poets have named the various approaches to slant rhyme, but these specifics are more than is necessary here. If you’re interested in learning more about the subtleties of slant rhyme, see Elizabeth Bishop’s Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Poem.
Exercise 2, Part 1: Slant Rhyme Word Pairs
Having worked with the more familiar material in Exercise 1, the poet can now step off into slant rhyme. There are a number of ways to achieve slant rhyme, and they all have varying effects on sound and rhythm. It is this wide variety of approaches that allows for the finely nuanced control of word relationships poets find so inviting in the slant rhyme technique.
NOTE: For young children and beginning poets, it’s helpful to focus on one approach and develop word lists based on that one option while adults and older children may enjoy the freedom of playing around with all of the options at once.
Slant Rhyme via Alliteration
The easiest technique is to create alliterative word pairs.That is, create word pairs that don’t rhyme but start with the same sound: apple and ape, book and bratwurst, or crinkle and kite.
Try for at least three pairs and feel free to go for as many as twenty-five to thirty.
Slant Rhyme via End-Sound Consonance
Try to find words that have a similar consonant sound at the end of the words, but have different vowel sounds leading up to the final consonant, causing them to sound very similar, but not strictly fall under full rhyme: birds and houses or liar and door.
Once again, try for at least three pairs and feel free to go for as many as twenty-five to thirty.
Slant Rhyme via Internal Consonance & Assonance
Then look for words that have internal slant rhyme—a consonant or vowel sound in the middle of a word that echoes a consonant or vowel sound in another word. Remember to be sure that the word pairs don’t have full rhyme; it tends to sneak up on you. A few examples are: queen and parakeet, boat and moan, or banter and intense.
Free Form Slant Rhyme
Lastly, one can simply find words that share similar sounds somehow that do not share full rhyme. All forms of this are considered slant rhyme to one degree or another, and all of them have varying degrees of effectiveness depending on the context of the poem. A few examples of this are: nomad and mandrake, colossal and rook, or pool and lion.
I want to sing
a silly song.
I really hope that all the flowers
still have not fallen.
He who steps boldly to warfare
will soon learn the truth of fear.
The glorious thrill of cold ice cream
is something like the taste of freedom.
Exercise 2, Part 2: Slant Rhyme Couplets
Now that you have a list of three to thirty slant rhyme word pairs, try crafting these into couplets as well, following the same directions given full rhyme couplets above (see Exercise 1, Part 2).
Exercise 3, Part 1: Descriptive Paragraph
I have used this exercise in my middle school classes with great success. To get started, write a five to eight sentence, prose-based descriptive paragraph about one of your favorite places, persons or things. As you write, try to emphasize rich imagery in the five senses as this will lead to stronger poetry overall later on.
The first thing that I see is the bark of a tree. It rests roughly beneath my hands and I can feel its texture—like long jagged rocks lined up one against the other. I am surprised by how real it feels, here in my imagination. I turn to look more closely and I can see the colors—a kind of grey-brown mottled with deep brown flecks. My fingers caress the bark of the tree as I drag my fingers across the deeply creviced bark.
Exercise 2, Part 2: Free Verse Slant Rhyme Poem
Exercise 3, Part 2: Free Verse Slant Rhyme Poem
Now, take the paragraph and break it into lines that create slant rhymes. On paper, simply look for words that share similar sounds and place slash marks to indicate where line breaks should be. In a word processor, it can be done immediately, creating something that looks like the following:
The first thing that I see is
the bark of a tree. It rests
roughly beneath my hands
and I can feel its
texture—like long jagged
rocks lined up one against
the other. I am surprised by how
real it feels, here
in my imagination. I turn to look
more closely and I can see the colors—
a kind of grey-brown mottled
with deep brown flecks. My
fingers caress the bark
of the tree as I drag
my fingers across
the deeply creviced
The draft you develop, like the one above, will likely be very, very rough, but it will hold the basic form of a slant rhyme poem. With this framework in place, you can now begin making aesthetic decisions about all kinds of poetical devices, including slant rhyme, with what will hopefully be a deeper understanding of how they influence the reader’s experience.
Completion of these exercises will help to move the writer one more solid step forward into the fascinating world of poetry.
Long graceful arms
fly up toward heaven,
circling round and round
one another, entwined
like lovers, unable to tell
where one begins
and the other ends. Hands
of a thousand delicate
fingers filled with leaves
that play on a gossamer
wind, stretching for the infinite
blue of the sky in the shimmer
of a glistening emerald light,
Honestly, I’ve searched:
I patted it down from
its deepest roots
to the very tip of its highest leaf
and, for the life of me,
I cannot find a cell phone.
Who is it talking to?
Once I saw one that was fallen,
the heavy weight of its trunk
cracked and broken across the ground.
Roots torn up, exposed,
and twisted like the knotted
hair of a half-crazed man.
But in the roots of the fallen tree
there were shoots of green
rising, stubbornly ignorant
of the loss they had suffered.
They did not ask me,
“What are we supposed
to do now?” They just grew
there like it was the most
natural thing in the world.
Which, of course, it was.
do you think that I
could reach for the sky
that I could see
the secret wisdom
of a tree?
Hear me read "Elm Tree" via youtube...
I Am Here
I reach for him
with raised arm, sneaking
my tiny fist into the huge
cup of his soft, open palm
where the warmth I find
I am safe here beside
this vast tower of a man.
I raise my eyes
and look at my father
who looks at his father
who looks at nothing anymore,
sealed, there, in a box of wood,
enwreathed by wisps of incense
smoke, and a priest who babbles
beneath the sunken face of Jesus impaled.
Father’s eyes are staring hard
at visions only he can see
while the candlelight glistens
off the wetness of his cheeks
which are set like stone
shaped with a heavy chisel,
carved to withstand the brutal
whims of time.
My eyes shut tight,
I breath slowly,
commanding the swell
in my own swollen eyes
to stop. Swallowing a knot
of innocence caught in my throat,
I grasp at his finger with a grip that says
I am here.