Guest Blog Posts

In Defense of Rhyme —— guest blog post by Kathy Lundy Derengowski

At a time when rhyming poets and free verse poets are like armed camps, perhaps it is time for us to find a middle ground, a time for truces and treaties, mutual respect and support for colleagues who have common interests and face common challenges, because in spite of a thriving poetry community, print publications, an online presence and innumerable blogs, by and large poets and poetry are currently out of fashion. Someone has suggested that if you don't believe this, you should ask your (non-poet) friends to name five living poets. For the most part they will be stumped. They would have no problem naming politicians, sports stars, entertainers and all manner of celebrities--but poets?
kathyquoteThere was a time when this was not the case. According to Nancy Milford's biography of Edna St. Vincent Millay, in 1938 she was the 10th most famous person in the United States. Her colorful lifestyle was certainly a part of that, but so was her poetry, and for the most part it was rhyming poetry. There was a time when poets were well-known and respected, when people routinely read and memorized poetry, when it was taught in schools and strong and lovely lines were routinely quoted. In reality it was a golden age of poetry. Broaden your research and ask your friends to name 5 poets, living OR dead, and if they can, odds are that more than half of them will be rhyming poets, not exclusively rhyming, and yet'Take this a step farther and ask them to name five poems. The overwhelming answers will be poems that rhyme. They won't be jingles, or Hallmark grade, saccharine or silly. The reasons are simple. The human brain is hard-wired to respond to rhythm and repetition and is programmed to remember based on sound, similarities and predictability.
We don't routinely think of song lyrics when we speak of poets and poetry, but the Nobel committee put the lie to that by naming Dylan as the winner of this year's Nobel prize in literature. No sooner was that announced than Twitter and the internet lit up with anger and dismissive rant. He was "not a poet, but a song-writer." Worse still, he was a rhymer! (The ancient tradition of the Bard was ignored and disrespected.) But historically, as free verse came into vogue it became common to denigrate and trivialize rhyme. It was unnecessary. They are two sides of the same coin.
This isn't an essay to stoke the fires of war between the proponents of free verse and rhyme. I love both, I write both, but I think that by belittling rhyme and marginalizing it we are doing ourselves a disservice. Rhyme is another hoop to jump through. Done well, it will draw you in, lodge in your memory, sing in your heart. Done poorly? Well, it is painful to read and hard on the ears. It demands timing, cohesion, discernment and a sophisticated vocabulary--the exact same qualities that characterize excellent free verse. The antagonism between rhymers and non-rhymers is not only unnecessary, but is also divisive to the poetry community in general. I believe that rhyme is an important tool in a poet's skill set but it is also important to acknowledge that it is a hard and demanding task master--all the more reason that we should grant it the honor and respect that it deserves.
Because something is well-loved does not imply that it is inelegant, and popular is not a synonym for inferior. Rhyme schemes may be clever, complex or discrete. Rhyme encompasses sonnets and elegies, limericks and ditties, odes and anthems. But the form, or formality are not what determine the quality of the poem. I am merely asking for, begging for, a new, or perhaps renewed, respect for the traditions of rhyme, an acknowledgement of both the inspiration and skill that goes into the rhyming poem. As in so many other areas of our lives, in art, we do not elevate our own choices by demeaning someone else's. We are entitled to our preferences (indeed, where would we be without them?) What we love reflects our own passions. But it is the recognition of the tastes and aesthetics of others that serves the poetic community at its finest--in this case, the special and revered tradition of rhyme. Too often free verse poets are disparaging of rhyme, calling it simplistic, juvenile or sing-song. Rhyming poets are not entirely innocent either, as they are apt to dismiss free verse as obscure, fraudulent or elitist. But as our mothers told us, two wrongs do not make a right. The reality is, if you are a poet, then we are compatriots in the country of poetry, no more enemies than the oil painter and the water colorist or the concert violinist and the jazz pianist. The field of poetry is enhanced by every writer with a gift, a muse, an inspiration. To some, it will come in free verse, others, blank verse, or haiku. And sometimes if we are very fortunate, it will create a rhyming cadence all its own.

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Kathy Lundy Derengowski is a native of San Diego county. She is an active member and co-facilitator of the Lake San Marcos Writer's Workshop. Her work has appeared in Summation, the ekphraisis anthology of the Escondido Arts Partnership, California Quarterly, Silver Birch Press, Turtle Light Press and the Journal of Modern Poetry. She has won awards from the California State Poetry Society and been a finalist in the San Diego book Awards poetry chapbook category.

28 replies »

  1. ‘…ask your (non-poet) friends to name five living poets.’
    No surprise at all there. There is very little memorable (remember-able) poetry being produced and then supported by publication. The publications that include a poem and get delivered into households (broadsheet newspapers, for example) choose the esoteric over the accessible. Who would want to read it for pleasure on a Saturday morning? Who could remember it the next afternoon? Why would one bother.
    I contend that the rhymers that are remembered were story-tellers and communicators first and foremost. Rhyme was a means to remember. There are some good practitioners around, but mostly they are writing songs.
    Rant over.
    Cheers and thanks for the provocation,

  2. Great article. As a rhythm and rhyme poet myself it is great to hear an encouraging word about my side of the poetry coin. I find it hard to find publishers, magazines or otherwise, that are willing to utilize rhyming poetry. I can only hope that the worm is turning.
    Mike Dailey
    On Sun, Jan 8, 2017 at 3:22 PM, Trish Hopkinson wrote:
    > tlhopkinson posted: ” At a time when rhyming poets and free verse poets > are like armed camps, perhaps it is time for us to find a middle ground, a > time for truces and treaties, mutual respect and support for colleagues who > have common interests and face common challe” >

  3. I am a rhymer… I personally enjoy various types of poetry, but have to admit to suffering from some elitist snobbishness because I dare to rhyme. I think part of the problem is that there is so much badly done rhyming verse out there, and for many “non-poets” their idea of poetry equates to “something (anything) that rhymes”. I live in the UK, and if you stopped the average person in the street and asked them to write a poem, the chances are that it would start “roses are red…”
    I am a passionate advocate for the power of simple communication. There is an art to this that belies its simplicity. It does not rely on rhyme, but often uses rhythm. If your poetry is rhythm-less, and uses language to distance itself from my own vocabulary or view of the world, then I am unlikely to connect.
    Here’s to finding the right words, whatever form they take 🙂

  4. As a convicted ‘rhymester’ often guilty of the opposite prejudice – it took me many years (and the work of Robert Browning) to accept that a poem that did NOT rhyme could be worthy of the name – I thank you for this reminder that ‘the country of poetry’ is motherland to us all, whatever our creative tastes and choices.

  5. Rhyme enables a true aesthetic experience equivalent to the Opera devotee’s chill up the spine. Creating beauty with words (poetry an art) comes through rhyme and metrical or other unmistakable rhythms.

  6. Why not simplify it? If you like it (the poem) you like it; if not, you don’t. Regardless of how it’s written.
    While I prefer things that never start each and every first line with a capital letter, and skim something, if it’s a rhymed deal, I tend to pass… both have their merits and often for different reasons. A syrupy religious poem, or a limerick, have their place… so do raw love poems, or descriptions of death. But the major agony, speaking of who remembers whom — with the absolute tons of people who write poetry today, and jam the literary journals full of what most will “never” be remembered in two weeks time, much less two months, nor two years, or two decades… we have a problem. Neither the poem nor the poet comes to mind!! What makes them unique, special, long lasting? Figure that out, and you have a winner.
    BUT, it really gets under my skin, and a great reason why most people avoid it ALL: poets these days seem to write more for the library than they do for people. So why should anyone be “touched,” or care? Not that personal emoting from the ghetto should be a standard — it’s the personal, human emoting, with a universal element to it, that makes it mean something, other than describing daffodils in a vase, or
    going on and on, with one needing two degrees in alien biology to understand what the hell the “—” was trying to say.

    • Thank you for adding your perspective! I love the variety and accessibility of today’s poetry community and I do believe some of it will be remembered and some day added to the “cannon,” just as it has been in the past.

  7. The row between rhymed poetry and the one not rhymed makes no sense. Poetry is poetry and poets are compatriots in the world of poetry. However, the difference is due to art form. If emotion is the basic content, poetry has to flow in language making sound or without it, but keeping pace and rhythm. The element of thought mostly illumines and determines the form.

  8. I don’t write in rhyme, but just a plug for anyone who doesn’t appreciate it- Rilke’s sonnets to Orpheus rhymed, and they are flabbergasting translated into English! 🌄

  9. I believe that the choice to rhyme or not depends upon what the poet is trying to convey to the reader. It’s a vehicle. Some things are best said in rhyme. But for me poetry is akin to music and just as we develop our musical tastes from the simple, repetitive forms of childhood we develop our language skills and preferences in prose and poetry styles. The more sophisticate we become the more complex our need for improvisation and complexity. There is no right or wrong, no inferior/elite divide. Personally, I prefer free verse and there is a huge difference between prose and poetry so writing a good free verse poem is quite a challenge. Just as pop music is miles away from classical there is no comparison. Bach & Mozart bear no similarity to teenage love songs.
    Free verse evolved from simple rhyme schemes. Language evolves.

  10. My poetry takes both form and free, rhyme and not. I use the verb takes deliberately because when I get an idea for a poem, it often tells me which way to go. For a while I was on a ghazal jag; often my poems turn out to be sonnets. My latest poem (written for MLK Day) is a loosely structured villanelle. But no form ever dominates to the exclusion of others, including free verse. I want to remain open to all possibilities. The community of poets near me feels similarly. There is a monthly open mic and the variety of poetry you hear there is astounding.

  11. Apologies for might be interpreted as a sales pitch, but I recently published a book of rhyming poetry on kindle (print book to be out later). My problem is that without reviews (blogs or amazon) books don’t sell, and without sales, books don’t get reviews. I’d like to ask for community support. The first 14 of the 148 poems in the book are available in the amazon preview. If you could look at the preview and, if you like it, consider buying and reviewing. I would really appreciate it.
    The book is called Wit and Wonder: Poetry with Rhythm and Rhyme, by James D. Herren
    Thank You.

  12. For what its worth, I find rhyme allows you to turn and hold up your thoughts to the light, within a framework. Free verse, at least for me has a more natural flow, yet I personally feel happier with rhyme. It has its constraints, but they bring on a discipline that allows a second or third approach. Sometimes this improves your poem, sometimes you gently remove it, crumple it and aim for the trash. Rhyme or free verse is like coffee or tea, One is better than none at all..

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