Thursday, April 21, 2016

You Write, I Write, We All Write Poetry Part 4

Rhyme And Rhythm

I must admit that I am not a big fan of using rhyme in a poem. Too often, a writer's attempt to make words rhyme interferes with what he or she is trying to say. Instead of concentrating on the subject matter of the poem, some writers focus too much on the form, especially when trying to rhyme end words in the lines of the poem.

Still, I know some people simply love to create rhymes, and God bless each and every one of you. My only suggestion for rhyming is that, if you start a poem with rhyming end words, you have to continue that pattern through to the end of the poem. You can't change your mind halfway through the work.

Moreover, it's important that words do actually rhyme. Check out the following little ditty:

I fell in love with a fair-haired girl,
Her skin was as white as an ocean pearl.
She stole my soul and captured my heart,
The love I felt was hard to thwart.

The first two lines of this little quatrain work. The word "girl" does in fact rhyme with "pearl." However, in the next two lines, "heart" does not really rhyme with "thwart." It's simply a near-rhyme that short circuits the reader's expectations and destroys the poem.

By the same token, you should never rhyme a word with itself. This often happens when the young poet uses a compound word that includes the original word:

We'll brighten up the darkest night,
If only you'd meet me here tonight.

While "night" and "tonight" are different words, the rhyme relies solely on the sound of the first word, "night," which is really just repeated as a syllable of the word, "tonight." The sound should repeat, but any form of the initial word should not repeat.

Rhyme schemes vary from simple to complex. The simplest form of rhyme scheme is to rhyme consecutive lines. Another popular form is to rhyme alternate lines.


If this kiss is a kiss goodbye,
Then do not weep and do not sigh,
Even angels with the brightest wings,
Have no idea what the future brings.

I'll miss you every night and day,
As you travel so very far and wide,
Just know my heart will never stray,
And let love be your journey's guide.

So, the first poem uses the rhyme scheme of A-A-B-B in consecutive lines. The second uses the rhyme scheme A-B-A-B in alternate lines. Neither is better than the other.

Other poems, such as the sonnet, use even more intricate rhyme schemes, but I don't dare get into that here.

I must mention that rhyming has always been popularised by contemporary music. Songwriters rely on rhyme to give their works some kind of fluid order. When we listen to a song, we expect rhymes. However, songs are not poems set to music. Song lyrics are a cousin of poetry, I suppose, but songwriters are not exclusively concerned with words and language structures. In a song, the melody trumps everything else, and that is what distinguishes a song from a poem.

People often ask me if I think "rap" is poetry. Rap is more a form of wordplay, despite the fact that it often purports to express an emotional content. Once again, it is the ingenuity of the wordplay that trumps everything else in a manner that generates clever rhyme patterns, but these quick thinking verses often make it seem that the preoccupation of the songwriter is just that — being clever — at times almost too clever. Rap music is music. The rhythmic backdrop of rap remains a kind of melody that the listener must synthesize with the song's content. The lines of a poem have no backdrop, other than the experiences and emotions of its readers.

Music wants an audience. Poetry wants a reader.

While I am not so keen on rhyming lines of poetry, I am a strong proponent of rhythm. The rhythm of a poem is its cadence, the way the words carry the reader's thought process forward. The rhythm might be just about anything — from something symphonic, long and flowing, to something more akin to a hip-hop song, with a short and jagged tempo. The point is that the rhythm of a poem is what maintains the flow of thought and sustains the reader's interest.

Switching tempos is permissible, sometimes even admirable, but remember that form never overrides content. Becoming obsessed with style and structure will make your poetry pretentious and trite.


I have forsaken dark days and given you all my love,
I have stood by you against every harm and foe,
I have prayed and wished on a thousand of the brightest stars,
And still you say that it is time for you to go.

Just beat it,
Repeat it,
When you cheat it,
You defeat it.

In the first example, the rhythm is based on the number of syllables or beats in each line. The first and third lines have 14 syllables, and the second and fourth lines have 12 syllables. The verse has a lengthy tempo to it.

The second example uses a short, almost staccato cadence. The rhythm is still based on the number of syllables per line. The first and second line have 3 syllables, and the third and fourth lines have 4 syllables.

Both examples have a structured rhythm, as do many specific types of poems. The sonnet, for example, wants 10 beats per line, usually nothing more and nothing less. A haiku has a rhythmic pattern of 5 beats in the first line, 7 beats in the second line, and 5 beats in the third line, again nothing more and nothing less. A limerick should have 8 beats in lines one, two, and five, with 5 beats in lines three and four. A number of other types of poetry have similar rhythmic rules.

Punctuation can also affect the rhythm of your poem. A comma ( , ) tells the reader to pause briefly, to take a quarter-breath, and is like a quater rest in music (). A semi-colon ( ; ) tells the reader to pause a little longer, to take a half-breath, and is like a half rest () in music. A period ( . ) tells the reader to make a complete stop, to take a full breath, and is like a full rest in music ().

Fortunately, not all poetry is so demanding of its writers. Many poems, especially those written in free verse, do not follow a strict format. I rarely follow a structured cadence pattern when I am writing a poem. I do, however, make sure of two things:

  1. No line should exceed the length of a single breath. If I have to take a breath before I read to the end of the line, then the line is probably too long.
  2. Each line must advance the subject of the poem, and so force the reader to move forward and continue to the end of the poem.





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