By Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt
I can’t recall the first poem I ever wrote, but I’m sure it rhymed. Packed in a cumbersome, gray plastic suitcase circa 1950, faded ink and pencil on yellowing notebook paper evidence my adolescent love affair with rhyming. I can only assume that as an even younger child, I aspired to be the next Dr. Seuss. But now, while I have a children’s rhyming epic poem available on Amazon, I don’t try to use rhyme as much more than a soothing sounding reminder that happiness thrives on equilibrium.
Allow me to explain.
In the U.S. school system, learning to write poetry often means practicing rhyming poetry or Haiku. Haiku is exotic and fun. But rhyme fits nicely with the way we’re taught to read and mimics many a song we sing, from Twinkle, Twinkle to Row, Row to ABCDEFG. The bards of old were largely rhymers. We learn that, too. And then, God help us, there’s Hallmark.
It was in college that I learned to become cynical of rhyme. Contemporary poets and peers who sought security in even the less obvious internal rhyme of words like “though” and “towing” or visual rhyme like “gain” and “again” were not to be trusted. They might be writing greeting card verse under pen names, whispered the literary conspiracy theorists among the student body. Better play it safe and not invite them to read at the coffeehouse.
All those poor, would-be writers who submitted poems to the college anthology – rhyme landed their work into the overflowing circular file. We were ruthless snobs still trying to uncover latent greatness in ourselves and could only think to do so by denigrating others, based on rhyme.
So now when young writers ask me, “Is it okay to write rhyming poetry?” my answer is inevitably,
“Anything is okay. But what do you want to do with your poetry?”
If you aren’t writing for anyone but yourself, go ahead and rhyme as much as you like.
If you are writing for Hallmark, rhyme as much as they like and as much as they assume the audience likes.
If you are writing for editors who don’t know rhyme from rhythm and parrot whatever trend they are encouraged to latch on to, avoid rhyme.
But if you want to use the inherent music of same-sounding words in tasteful combinations that enhance readers’ and listeners’ experience, then have at it. Just work at it.
I won’t tell you I always use rhyme in pleasing ways, and I probably don’t use it in academically acceptable ways, either. I’ve never been a trendy poet (if poets can be trendy). I probably fall somewhere between those who write for themselves and those who seek tasteful combinations of same-sounding words. And for me, that’s okay. My poetry is published. Some like it. Some don’t. But when I hear my work in my head, the cadence of common sense and balance makes me exceedingly happy. And that’s where I want to be.
Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt, M.Ed. writes poetry and prose from her basement office, dubbed the #PurplePalace, where her large-ish dogs lounge on purple mandala pillows and violet froufrou abounds. Besides being featured in dozens of journals and magazines, she has published three collections of poetry and a children’s illustrated epic poem. Katherine is a founding member and current VP of Write by the Rails, the Prince William chapter of the Virginia Writers Club, and VP of Content Marketing for Prince William Living magazine. Learn more about her at www.KatherineGotthardt.com.