A Poet’s Guide on Defining Rhyme

I’ve been writing poetry for most of my life in some form or another, but only in the past four years did I really get the hang of what makes a poem successful. One big thing I’ve learned about my own poetic aesthetic was that I am a free verse poet. Not to say that I don’t appreciate sonnets, haikus, sestinas, villanelles, and all other forms of formal and fixed verse, but in my own work, I find my writing is best when I create my own form as I go rather than falling into already established poetic patterns. 

I’m lucky in this in some ways, because the majority of literary journals are looking for free verse poetry, so my own preference is clearly also preferred by a good deal of poetry readers of today. However, I have also faced some criticism from those who prefer fixed verse poetry. The most common thing I hear against free verse is that poets who write it are “lazy” or have no skill. 

I can see how people who haven’t looked closely at many contemporary poems might not clearly see the effort put into them. Most of us have a poetry education that is limited to some Shakespeare we read in high school, and maybe that one poem by Gwendolyn Brooks. Our English classes have mostly taught us that perfect end rhyme is what makes a poem a poem, so when we read free verse, the first reaction might be “they didn’t even try!” Even in a college poetry class, I heard someone ask, “How is this a poem?” to a piece which was fairly “normal” as far as poems go—left-margin bound, lines moderate in length, descriptive, and somewhat narrative. 

So, for all those reading poetry who are not quite seeing the appeal of free verse, stay with me a minute. What if I told you that a lot of free verse has way more rhyme than fixed verse? It’s just better at hiding. Much of the contemporary poetry produced today has moved on to more subtle forms of rhyme, but it’s still there. Granted, not all poetry has rhyme, but most actually does, and I bet if you look a little closer at the next poem you read, you’ll find it.

To explain some of the different forms of rhyme, I decided to write you all a short, informational poem on rhyme. It doesn’t include all forms of rhyme, but it includes quite a few. (I’ll confess that I’m much better at assonance, consonance, and alliteration than I am at slant, near, and pararhyme, so if there’s something I could phrase better in those areas, leave a comment.)

I tried to keep to a loose AABBA rhyme scheme when appropriate, but the kinds of rhyme I use change from line to line, so be on your toes! 

A Poet’s Guide on Defining Rhyme

Most of you learned of poetry for the first time
with measured syllables and end rhyme.
From Dr. Seuss to William Shakespeare
there was nothing too complicated to fear. 
It was simple repetition of syllable at the end of a line. 

But there are a few other terms I can bestow
so there are far more rhymes you will know.
For instance, a feminine rhyme matches both syllables, but in contrast,
a masculine rhyme only matches the syllable in each line that’s last.
Pararhyme matches consonants, but you probably knew. 

It’s a difference that’s usually pretty slight,
but you shouldn’t mix up near rhyme and slant rhyme, alright?
Near rhyme matches one unstressed and one stressed syllable, you’ll find,
and slant rhyme matches not syllables, but last consonant sound.
Try not to confuse either with semi-rhyme when you’re writing.

Eye rhyme is challenging because our instinct is to rhyme “food”
with “rude,” “shrewd,” and “intrude,” not “good.”
But, in my opinion, forced rhymes are a little more fun
because if your words don’t quite rhyme, you can still make ‘em.
I hope you’re still with me. Am I still understood? 

There are internal rhymes separate from those at the end.
They appear as normal lines with matched sounds inside.
Alliteration always allows for very regular rhyme in verse
but to tickle at rhyme with subtlety, I find consonance worth the trouble,
though assonance allows a wonderful sort of flow, too. 

Some poets like end rhyme and meter
and others like free verse, 
but we all use rhyme in our lines
if you look close, listen,
and stay immersed.