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The Challenge Of Rhyming Verse For The Inexperienced Poet


Poetry is an extremely flexible writing form. It is easily weaved into our writing programs across the year as opposed to just being pigeon holed into a specific unit of work. Poetry offers a unique response to literature -fiction or non fiction. Such is the flexible nature of poetry. 

From an early age children have much exposure to a significant amount of rhyming verse. That our classrooms are filled with poetry that is enjoyable to listen to, or fun to read is important, but it may not necessarily provide the best starting point for inexperienced poetry writers.

When used skilfully rhyme can add to the lyrical nature of poetry. When it is used out a sense of expectation, it frequently serves to detract from the poem's intention. It weakens the words overall. If you listen closely you can hear the words clunking into place. They just sound like they don't belong.

Don't get me wrong. I am not anti-rhyme. In fact, I have to guard against over using it. It is a natural inclination. But comfort and proficiency with rhyme often takes a long time to develop. It takes a lot of practice and support -a lot of reading and a lot of listening. I often let my rhymes percolate for a while before I am satisfied they are ready to be shared. Lots of trial and error occurs.  I have to remove the 'clunks' so I will feel confident the poem will flow smoothly over the reader's tongue.

When inexperienced poets attempt to create their own rhyming verse, it frequently sounds like the words have been forced to sit where they just don't feel comfortable. I refer to this as, ‘The moon in June with a spoon ‘ syndrome!

When this occurs the writer becomes more focused on finding words that rhyme rather than attending to meaning. The end result often has little, or nothing to say. It’s ho hum. We need to direct these probationary poets towards an understanding that word choice is critical to being an effective writer. You are not just filling the gaps with any old word that rhymes.

As an alternative, introduce a range of poetry forms into your classroom. Provide alternative models of poetry that allow the inexperienced poet see poetry beyond the realms of rhyme. This will increase the choice for students. When choosing mentor texts for poetry, tap into what kids enjoy. Make the connection by selecting poetry that provides a range of emotional triggers from giggles to grief.




Immersion in a range of poetry forms lays a foundation for writing options. By choices, I most certainly mean more than just haiku or acrostic poetry!

Try this!
A simple three line question structure that sets young poets up for some initial success.

 Where are you?
 What are you doing?
 What are you thinking or wondering about?

I am sitting in the backyard
Watching ants crawl up the oak tree
Where will they end up?

To assist your probationary poets to become aware of word choice try synonym substitution with a known poem:

When Relatives Come

When relatives come
They hold/pinch my cheek and make a fuss
They touch/tickle my chin and call me lamb
And say/remark how nice and big I am
They tap/pat my head and call me dear
And speak/talk as if I’m not here!

Mary Ann Hoberman

Such exposure requires explicit teaching to get students to look closely at word choice, use of repetition, voice, literary elements such as simile, alliteration, metaphor, economy of words, line breaks, rhythm etc.

There will be those students who still lean towards rhyming verse. If that is the case teach them how to begin with something manageable such as rhyming couplets. 

As I was traveling to New York
I met a man who loved to………

He talked to me of many things
Apples, apes and angel’s ………

His words were like a sweet refrain
And now they’re deep inside my …….

Rhyme and meter (the basic rhythmic structure of a verse or lines in verse) are complementary elements. As your students become more comfortable with the structure you can remove some of the scaffolding. E.g.

• Challenge them to provide the entire second line
• Challenge them to write both lines
• Challenge them to write an entire four line stanza


Always look for poetry that incorporates wonderful language, poetry that celebrates words and above all connects the reader to the wider world. Look for poetry that not only looks good on the page, but sounds good to the ear.

Poetic forms abound, and while rhyme is not a crime- your poet's voices, deserve some choices.


Some words present a real challenge for poets committed to rhyme.




Comments

  1. Excellent pointers, Alan. I love to write in rhyme, but also in free verse, particularly in verse novels. In the classroom, I find children often presume that poetry must rhyme, but, as you say, good rhyming poetry is very difficult to write. Your exercises are great.

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    1. Thanks Sally. Like you I enjoy both forms. I have to guard against an inclination when writing free verse not to slide across into rhyme. Glad your like the little exercises. Have tried to provide a little scaffolding to support kids as they grow as poets.

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  2. So often students arrived in my classroom knowing only rhyming poetry and sometimes it was a revelation that they didn't have to rhyme, could find what I called the "true" words to show their topics and feelings. It would be great for teachers to read your post, Alan.

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    Replies
    1. This scenario is all too common Linda. Our young poets continue to need a more balanced diet of poetry.

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  3. Good, good advice. I lean more toward free verse in my own poetry, but I have gotten brave enough to experiment with some rhyming poetry on occassion. I know for me it is crucial to read widely in a wide variety of poetic forms. The more I read, the more I learn and the more I can write.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Kay. You have struck upon the truth with your remarks about the need to read a broad range of poetic forms. This is essential. Knowledge is power.

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  4. Great exercise! I posted about the challenge of writing rhyme, especially with young poets, for Today's Little Ditty some time again. Rhyme has to be in service of the poem's theme and ideas, not vice versa. I do like giving kids a word bank if they want to rhyme, or encourage them to visit RhymeZone, so they have lots of options.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for your feedback Laura. You too, clearly understand how it must be with rhyme. I like your words, 'Rhyme has to be in the service of the poem's theme and ideas, not vice versa.' Thank you also for your suggestions to support the efforts of young poets.

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  5. Hi, Alan. I love to write in rhyme but haven't really been "taught" how to do it well other than through a lot of reading and trial and error over time. It's fun to see exercises that might be used in a classroom to help teach it, though. Very cool!

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    Replies
    1. Kerry, so many of us have learnt about rhyme in the way you describe and we certainly need to persist with this approach, it's invaluable. The idea of some strategy lessons and ideas is to further support and deepen our reasoning around rhyme. I'm glad you like these ideas.

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  6. I like rhyming books, when they seem quirky and effortless. When the rhymes are unexpected and perfect to the storytelling. That is hard to accomplish.

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    Replies
    1. As you say Brenda when rhyme appears effortless it appeals, but it often belies the effort that contributed to that seemingly easy rhyme. Poets must remain persistent!

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