June 13, 2022

To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme, Is That a Question?

Sara M. Robinson


I’ve not talked about rhyme on its own in my earlier columns. As a free-verse poet, I don’t necessarily focus on rhymes. However, someone asked me recently if poetry had to rhyme.

This person wanted to write poetry but didn’t feel adequate enough to create rhyming lines.

And this got me to thinking about the idea of rhyme schemes. So, here we go. Let’s explore what it is about rhyming lines.

I’ve looked at two recent resources to help explain why or why not rhyming. One of the sources is Adam Gopnik’s “The Rules of Rhyme,” that appeared in the May 30 issue of The New Yorker magazine. I’ll refer to my second resource in a follow-up column. Gopnik states that rhyme is language turned into a ritual. He further explains that rituals are the cohesion (my word) among cultures, religions, and various sects. When we think of hymns, for instance, we know that literally every one of them in our language have rhyme schemes. Probably these hymns started out as poems then were set to music. Works of literature, such as those by Shakespeare used a great deal of rhyme. This was a great technique to appeal to the masses where formal education was not always present.

In our country today, we hear the poetry of hip-hop and rap as a major force in poetry of the YA group. Spoken-word poetry is also a forum for rhyming. So, does the popularity of modern spoken-word music (combines the two just mentioned) mean that rhyming is the only way to write? No, and maybe. All depends on what audience you write for or intend to write for.

To further add to your consideration of using rhymes, consider there are several types: half-rhymes, slant-rhymes, off-rhymes, odd-rhymes, near-rhymes, and assonance. I leave it to you to google these types as a homework assignment. If you decide that incorporating rhymes is an essential component of your style, then I implore you to expand your vocabulary. Read Milton, read Richard Wilbur, Robert Frost, and others who are formalists. Because once you begin to write in rhyme, you will need to consider how to make your lines work: iambic pentameter? trochee (stressed and unstressed syllables in a particular pattern)? These are only two examples.

Then lastly you will consider the end-rhyme word scheme itself: AABB, ABAB, ABBA, ABBCCA, ABA BCB, and so on.

What will you give your readers? Keep writing…

Sara M. Robinson, founder of the Lonesome Mountain Pro(s)e Writers’ Workshop, and former Instructor of a course on Contemporary American Poets at UVA-OLLI, was poetry columnist for Southern Writers Magazine and inagural poetry editor for Virginia Literary Journal. She has served as guest lecturer at UVA’s College at Wise, Wise, VA. Her poetry has appeared in various anthologies, including We Grew Wings and Flew (2014), Scratching Against the Fabric (2015), Virginia Writer’s Club Centennial Anthology (2017), Blue Ridge Anthologies and Mizmor Anthology (2018). Journals include: Loch Raven Review, The Virginia Literary Journal, vox poetica, Jimson Weed, Whisky Advocate, and Poetica. She is poet and author of Love Always, Hobby and Jessie (2009), Two Little Girls in a Wading Pool (2012), A Cruise in Rare Waters (2013 Stones for Words (2014), Sometimes the Little Town (2016), a finalist for the Poetry Society of Virginia’s 2017 Book Award. In 2019, Needville, her poetry about effects of coal mining on SW Virginia was released and in 2020 debuted as play in Charlottesville. Her most recent publication is Simple River (2020, Cyberwit).

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