23. Poetry Essentials Part 1: Fresh Ways With Rhyme

Author: Nola Published: almost 3 years ago.
Tags: rhyme, poetry Category: Writing tips

Roses are red Violets are blue This poem is soppy And I love you true

When you think of rhyming poetry, do you recall greeting card verse like the one above? We’ve all seen schmaltzy poems that give rhyme a bad name, yet some of the greatest poets have used it – William Wordsworth, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Lord Tennyson, Henry Lawson, Pam Ayres. Well maybe you don’t think of Pam Ayers in the same breath as the others, but she certainly knows how to use rhyme to raise a chuckle (e.g. Oh I Wish I’d Looked After Me Teeth).

Here are a few tips for creating fresh rhymes that will give your poems that extra zing.

Unique rhymes – If we just rely on the first thing that comes to mind, we’ll end up with overused rhymes that have lost their impact. For example, how many songs and poems have ‘praise’ rhyming with ‘days’ or ‘ways’? Something less common will be more likely to grab the reader’s attention. I once had a poem published that included the immortal lines: ‘His sweet vibrato voice would sing my praise / much saucier than creamy Hollandaise”. While it might make Shakespeare turn in his grave, it catches your eye. A rhyming dictionary can help you locate the right word and open up new possibilities for your poem that you hadn’t considered. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, make up your own words. This works especially well in humorous verse. For example, see my poem The Librarian which includes words such as ‘hairy man-ium’ and ‘on the contrarian’.

Near rhymes – While there’s nothing wrong with using exact rhymes (e.g., light and night), a near rhyme can help make your poem a little less sing-songy and provide a softer edge to your lines. Two ways of doing this are to use assonance or consonance. Assonance involves pairing words with the same vowel sound (e.g., light and fine); while consonance involves the repetition of consonant sounds, especially at the ends of words (e.g., wood and wed; dunk and wink).

Running over linesEnjambment occurs when you run the meaning of a thought over a line so that the emphasis isn’t on the rhyme. This creates a more subtle effect so that the rhyme doesn’t call attention to itself. For an excellent illustration of this, see James McAuley’s beautiful poem Pietà and note the flow on between Verse 2 and 3 and again from Verse 3 to 4.

Different patterns – Rather than always using quatrains (four-line verses) with a standard rhyming pattern (e.g. abab, abcb or aabb), try varying your verse lengths and rhyming schemes. Look back at McAuley’s Pietà, and you’ll see that it’s a sonnet with the pattern abba cddc efg egf. I’ll talk more about different poetic forms in future posts.

So what are you waiting for? Find an online rhyming dictionary and give your enjambment and assonance a shake. You might just create a poetic masterpiece.

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