I, too, was an amateur poet once.
Oh wait…I still am.
But I can still say with certainty that I know a heck of a lot more about writing poems than I did when I was 14. And with confidence I can say that nearly every young poet’s downfall exists in their desire to rhyme.
I know. I wrote nothing but rhyme poetry until I was about 21. I’m 23 now for Christ’s sake. It wasn’t until college when I took two upper level poetry writing classes that I learned that rhyming poetry is incredibly weak.
I can hear your gasps now. Weak?! Poems that rhyme aren’t weak!
And yes, you’re right to an extent. Look at Shakespeare and his sonnets. Emily Dickinson (whose poems I find much more palpable) is another good example. But there’s a reason why they’re famous and it’s because they know how to write good poems with forms.
Forms. That’s what it all comes down to. The modern, amateur poet doesn’t focus on the form of poetry. They think, “Poems rhyme so I must rhyme in my poems,” without a second thought to meter, style, theme, music, or any other pretentious literary device. Rhyme becomes their crutch, where they see the first end line word as Point A and the following end line word as Point B. The words that precede the end line words don’t matter to many amateur poets because they simply focus on getting from Point A to Point B.
And that is the amateur poet’s downfall. The rhyme is not the most important aspect of a poem; and yet, young poets put most of their time and energy into ensuring every line rhymes. I have seen so many poems with thrown in lines that contribute nothing to the purpose of the poem all because the poet needed a rhyme. What they should be doing is focusing on the meat of the poem and then work rhyme into it if it fits the style and structure of the poem.
So why do so many young poet’s fall into this pitfall of rhyme? It’s natural to want to rhyme. When we were children, most of us were sung to sleep with nursery rhymes. The music we listen to rhymes. And as we go through school, most poets we study wrote poetry that rhymes. They’re all around us and it’s natural to mimic what we hear and see.
But I assure you, Shakespeare’s sonnets aren’t renowned because they rhyme. They’re renowned for their style and careful precision of form. For their unique meter and their story. The rhyme is there to enhance the poem, not make the poem. And that’s what I encourage with young poets. Instead of playing with rhyme, I encourage delving into the more important techniques of poetry, i.e., music, imagery, metaphor, story, etc. (For a full list of literary devices in poetry check out this site with their names and definitions.) There is a plethora of devices that heighten the intensity and strength of a poem. Do not limit yourself to only one as that weakens the poem greatly.
My fix for this downfall: Practice writing poetry in free verse. Back in high school, I used to think free form was much harder than rhyme poetry, but having taken actual poetry workshop classes I laugh at my naivety. You have so much more freedom with free verse. Without the limitations of meter, line, or rhyme, you can take your poem nearly anywhere. When you write in free verse, you can find your voice and can get to the meat of the poem easier because you’re no longer able to use rhyme as a crutch. Your Point A and Point B are no longer the end rhymes, but the beginning of your poem, the end of your poem and what happens in between. In fact, you’ll probably realize your poems will often take you somewhere you didn’t expect.
A personal example: So now I’ll put myself on blast to prove how much a poet can improve if he/she relinquishes the desire to rhyme. Here is a poem I wrote when I was about 17:
There she goes crying again,
The poison in her heart starts to set in.
The passion is turning to the grave.
All the love she never saved.
She never thought that she’d become,
Good enough for her only one.
She says she’ll never love again
Her broken heart needs to mend.
It’s best to never love at all.
She doesn’t want the rain to fall.
But what she fails to realize,
Is rain can heal and purify,
The poison Loss has fed her heart
And save her from the scars.
She always thought that pain’s too much
And love was never good enough.
So she lets her fears go and guide her,
And she’ll never hurt for sure
If she never lets her heart decide
What it wants in life.
And sometimes she feels alone,
But it’s best to let love go.
And so her heart will never beat,
Because she never wants to grieve.
And so she was good enough all along,
But she fled her heart and now it’s gone.
Cringe. Okay, it’s not that bad, right? I mean, I have a point to the poem; there is a purpose to writing it. But do you feel how unstable the poem is? Unstable meaning that the reader is whisked along at some parts because the lines do not flow together.
Stanzas 3 and 4 are an example of this and stanza 6, in my opinion, is the worst perpetrator. The poem is rickety; the lines do not follow any kind of pattern or meter causing the reader to get seasick while reading. And this is all because I wanted to get from Point A to Point B–the end lines rhymed. The end, poem’s done, let’s pack up and call it a day. But I shouldn’t have called it a day because the poem doesn’t feel complete. There are no sensory details. Only a small use of metaphor. The poem is vague. And let’s not even begin to talk about the cliche rhymes. All of this enhances my point: amateur poets focus too heavily on rhyme.
Believe me; I know. I’ve critiqued a lot of poetry.
But once I delved into free verse, I found my voice and the quality of my poems skyrocketed. Here is an example of one titled, “I Came As An Echo.” (For more of my poems check out the poetry tab under the Literature link above.)
I feel like I improved and I hope you think so too.
So free your mind. If you think you use rhyme as a crutch, practice free verse for a while and see where it takes you. Who knows, you might surprise yourself.
Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear from you!
If you’d like me to critique something of yours (a poem, short story, an essay, etc.) use the Contact Form to inquire about it. I love reading and critiquing!
Thanks for reading!