What is poetry?
What is poetry?

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What is poetry?

6 Rhyme

Activity 17

Now listen to Track 4, on which Jackie Kay and Paul Muldoon talk about rhyme.

Click below to listen to track 4.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: Rhyme
Skip transcript: Rhyme

Transcript: Rhyme

Jackie Kay and Paul Muldoon.
Jackie Kay
I don’t necessarily use rhyme in a completely formal way, so I like using rhymes out of the way that ordinary people speak. I like using repetitions and rhymes from their speech patterns. I’m very influenced by the way that people talk. I’ve always loved listening to how people talk and listening to them say things like, my mum will say to me, ‘I’m not hungry, hungry but I’m hungry,’ and I’m supposed to know exactly what she means [laughs]! So I love that, those kind of almost, kind of nonsense that people speak and we all know exactly what it means, and I like to try and capture that so ... But I think that if you rhyme in such a way that you’re struggling to make something rhyme just for the rhyme’s sake, then it’s a bit like you wagging the tail of the dog rather than the dog wagging its own tail. So I only have poems rhyming when I feel that the voice of that poem needs to, when there’s a natural facility within the poem for the rhyme.
Paul Muldoon
One of the things I would say about it of course is that imposition is not part of the deal either in terms of the formal stanzaic patterns or in terms of what’s happening within the line. There is a tendency for the language first of all to fall into that iambic pattern – that’s the way the English language is built, there is that tendency – and also for words to find chimes and rhymes; that’s intrinsic to the language rather than something that’s imposed upon it. So one’s simply availing oneself of what’s there.
End transcript: Rhyme
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So-called purists sometimes claim that unrhyming poems aren't poems at all. But Anglo-Saxon poetry didn't rhyme in the way that we usually think of rhyme. Even English epic or dramatic poetry from the last few hundred years needn't rhyme. Nevertheless, many teachers like to hammer into impressionable young heads the notion that proper poems rhyme. The assumed alternative is anarchy: a disregard for form and history.

Because rhyme is very seductive, we need to be careful not to use it for its own sake, if this practice doesn't suit the poem. A light-hearted poem might rely on strong rhyme (and a dum-de-dum rhythm). However, a more facile rhyme won't suit a more contemplative poem, for example.

If we impose rhyme too early in the process, we risk sacrificing the content to the form, before we've even discovered the theme of our poem. When we write, we're panning for gold. We often find we're not actually writing the poem we think we're writing! The ability to recognise our true theme, and to go beyond our first impulses or ideas, is partly what distinguishes a competent poet from a good one.

Rhyme creates echoes which refer you to other portions of the poem. Rhyme can reiterate an image or idea, making it memorable, even when used in a subtle way. What else? Of course rhyme is pleasurable and satisfying:

The basic rhymes in English are masculine, which is to say that the last syllable of the line is stressed: ‘lane’ rhymes with ‘pain’, but it also rhymes with ‘urbane’ since the last syllable of ‘urbane’ is stressed … With feminine rhymes it is normally the penultimate syllable that is stressed and therefore contains the rhyme-sound: ‘dearly’ rhymes with ‘nearly’, but also with ‘sincerely’ and ‘cavalierly’.

(Fenton, 2002, pp. 97–8)


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