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Returning to Rhyme

Over the years I have written a handful of rhymed poems—more than a handful, it turns out—sonnets, villanelles, quatrains, plus a whole cadre of poems with their own idiosyncratic stanzaic structures that nonetheless rely fundamentally on rhyme at the end of the line. For some reason I have returned to a form of lyric that at one time seemed suspect, certainly retrograde—hopelessly connected to an earlier era with less than modernist assumptions.

But lately I have been returning to rhyme. Why? For years I have written free verse, carefully crafted, relying frequently on alliteration and assonance in the old Anglo-Saxon tradition. This tradition has its own music, not as familiar to most contemporary readers of English. But rhyme?

By rhyme we mean, of course, not internal or even slant rhyme à la Emily Dickinson but end  rhyme—which connotes a kind of chiming finality. This is the stuff of much-derided "Hallmark verse." One of my recent poems, called "Wind Chimes," makes a flamboyant showcase of chiming echoes.

But to the question of why. Students always love rhyme, even when they shouldn’t. Even when it is forced and artificial and blatantly sentimental. Somehow it is reassuring. It speaks to them at some primeval, almost genetic level of human consciousness. We recognize this genetic predisposition in toddlers, who respond instinctively with their bodies to the clanging, repetitive sounds of language.

So finally, after years in the free-verse "wilderness," I have wandered back to the grand-motherly realm of rhyme. Only it’s not your grandmother’s world. I have even assembled a chapbook of rhymed pieces I have written over the years—a motley yet insistent crew—into a collection I tentatively call Twinnings. ("Twinnings," I learned recently, also refers to rock crystals that cluster in patterns of dualities.) Some of them are surprisingly political, even leftist—a pointed contradiction to the supposed conservative bias of rhyme.

But my rhyme is not the conventional kind. Even the sonnets dare to defy certain rules—with their irregular rhyme schemes, jaunty syntax, and conversational word choice. One could say that I have opted for music but not for stricture. Many of my recent poems rhyme across lines of varying lengths and patterns so the chiming carries the readers on a sleigh-ride of surprise and adventure.

Not where I planned to go but where the words have carried me in their relentless dance into the future. Maybe that’s the inevitable result of having twin granddaughters, who push us into the music of the future.


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It's refreshing to hear of

It's refreshing to hear of someone who writes and appreciates a rhyming structure when it is genuine, not forced. There are both genuine and forced rhyme styles and free verse today. I once dwelled on free verse solely and explored the play of chorus style structure for 2 years. I have written free verse and only a few have been retained as part of my body of work.

I still very much prefer a good rhyme with substance. It's elegant and euphonious. Too much of the free verse, even among the best can easily  be strung along and made into prose. Poetry with substance and a good rhyme pattern is the epitome of skill and intelligence. 

A poem in the classical sense is another breed of fish. Left at the back burner but whose beauty is rarely surpassed. You can read an earlier article of mine complete with a poem calling for a return to rhyme. 


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Returning to rhyme

Thanks for sharing your article on rhyme and your thoughts.  I appreciate it.