Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Anybody want a peanut?

"Can contemporary poetry still rhyme?"

I am currently working on my Master's degree in Creative Writing, and this was the question asked in one of my classes.

I'll openly admit poetry is not my strong suit. Most of the time I don't get it. So, you can imagine how much fun it is for me to try to decipher other poems--especially "contemporary" poetry. How do I answer the original question posted above?
Here is my answer:

To rhyme or not to rhyme? That’s a question, but is it the question? If asked to make up a poem when I was a child, it would certainly rhyme. After all, Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham rhymed. So did Jack and Jill. But of course, as we grow up, we learn that such things are juvenile, and aren’t serious enough for serious poets. After all, isn’t a good poem one that seems to break all the rules—with the number one rule being: a poem shall rhyme!  

W. D. Snodgrass’s poem A Locked House rhymes. Or does it? Yes, the poem is set up in the ab ab format with each a rhyming with each b. Yet, the lines vary in length and often the rhyming word is not at the end of the sentence.


Barns, house, furniture    
We two are stronger than we were    
Apart; we’ve grown Together.
Everything we own    
Can burn… (242-243)

Clearly this is considered a contemporary poem. How do I know? Because it comes from a book called The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry. It rhymes, but almost in a mocking sort of way. It’s as if the poet is saying, “See! I can write a contemporary poem that rhymes.”

But, from my experience, rhyming seems to be the exception, and not the rule. When looking for a contemporary poem that rhymes, at first, I came across ten that didn’t. Going back now, it took me seven more tries to find one that rhymed.

Is it okay to rhyme? Why, yes, I believe it is. Rhyming can set the tone of a poem. It can be playful. It can be a driving force. It can be a device that helps the poet convey their message. Rhyming can be magical. Tell any fan of The Princess Bride, “No more rhymes now, I mean it!” and I’ll bet you the mortgage they will reply, “Anybody want a peanut?”

And now I have to wonder. If at one time poets seemed to universally agree that to make good poetry they needed to break the rules—and one of the rules now is not to rhyme—does that mean new, contemporary poets should rhyme?

Works Cited

Snodgrass, W. D. "A Locked House". A Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry. Ed. McClatchy, J. D. Vintage Books, 2003. 242-243. Print.

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