Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Monday, August 29, 2005

Rhyme and reason

I am a firm believer that, in order to write poetry, you must READ poetry. I never liked to admit that I’d grab a copy of The New Yorker and page through it for the poetry, but if you asked me why I thought the poetry in every issue of that magazine was some pretty good stuff, I’d answer without hesitation that I KNEW it was good because I’d read and written enough of what was bad. There were so many times I’d read a poem in that magazine and wish I could write such verse but I knew that, in order to achieve this, I would have to keep reading and writing more of my own poetry first.

Reading other poetry is essential to the development of a poet. It is downright crucial; through studying verse both ancient and recent, the budding poet learns the various styles and genres of poetry, understands the importance of proper word choice and recognizes the method of putting emotions, incidents and ideas into verse.

And, hopefully, through reading poetry, the budding poet will learn two rules: That poetry does NOT have to rhyme, but it DOES have to be about something. It must tell a story, evoke a feeling, record a moment of history, bring the past to life, commemorate an achievement, honor a recently departed person, celebrate something or entertain. A poem cannot truly be called a poem unless it actually serves some kind of purpose. Otherwise, it is just a bunch of words.

Some budding poets read so much traditional (rhyming) poetry that they feel their poetry must rhyme, too. And for some of these aspiring poets, the task of composing verse with excellent rhyme comes as easily as breathing. There are others, however, who are not so gifted, yet their belief that a poem must rhyme compels them to scribble a bunch of same-sounding lines all for the sake of staying true to this belief. And they may think that, because they’ve accomplished such a task, their poem will stand its own ground. Yet there IS such a thing as “forced rhyme,” and even if these budding poets cannot see it, the experienced poet always will. We can tell when a rhyme has been forced because the sentence is grammatically incorrect; the rhyming word is either fictional, archaic without likewise archaic verses or impractical; or the entire line throws off the whole poem.

I have written all about rhyme in poetry in an article called “What Rhyme Is It, Anyway?” (which I sold to Writing-World.com), but my point on rhyme here is that IT IS NOT IMPORTANT TO A POEM. If you are writing a poem for a poetry contest calling for poems such as limericks, odes, lullabies, etc., THEN rhyme is important. But if it is not required of the poem, then don’t try to force it. Believe me, the experienced poet can always catch forced rhyme. And when the poet elects to use forced rhyme in their poetry, what does that say of the poet? That they don’t take their poetry-writing very seriously? That they don’t care if their poem is out there in the world unedited? That they don’t take poetry itself very seriously? Like it or not, how well or poorly you write can reflect on how others will see you. They will look at this unedited, unrevised poem you threw out into the world as a final draft and have second thoughts about reading more of your work.

The good thing about poetry is that, while it must ultimately be about something, it doesn’t have to be written a certain way. There are so many different styles and variations of poetry today that the budding poet would be loathe to think that every single poem they write must rhyme. Of course rhymed poetry is the most common type of poetry written by the uninitiated, but given the various choices of styles and technique available, more can be learned about writing poetry if the budding poet were to venture outside of this belief to something a little more versatile.


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