10/11/13

Should we write poems that rhyme? And if yes, why not?

To rhyme or not to rhyme—
that's the question, folks!
I don’t write poems that rhyme. Or let's rather say, I hardly ever do. The main reason is that I find it too hard, too much work. My native language is German, my second language French. I don’t even have the chance to live in an English-speaking country; on the contrary, I guess only Uranus is less anglophile than the country I’ve chosen to live in. You’ll have guessed, I’m talking about France – you know, that small part of the global village that, like its national heroes Asterix and Obelix, tries to resist. In our particular, it’s the use of English as the international means of communicating they try to fight off. Rather skilfully, too – each time I stumble upon yet another translation made by my French clients (they insist, go figure why), I imagine their American or British partners sharing a hearty giggle when they read it. 
So, from the start, writing a poem in English means a bigger effort for me than for those who speak, hear, write, think in English all the time. In order to find the right words that express what I intend to say, I have to rummage through online dictionaries, write down a list of synonyms, speak them out loud to see if they sound right, counter-check them to be sure they hit the exact aspect or concept or image I had in mind. 
Words are tricky for all of us; they can lead us down a wrong path. 
They’re even trickier for non-native speakers. Yet I’d never allow the fact that I'm a non-native speaker to be an excuse for failures or weak parts in my work. 
To keep things short, I don’t do rhymes because they would mean a supplementary effort. They’d be an unnecessary distraction from what I really want to express. More often than not, it’s not me who writes a poem, it’s the poem that demands to be written. I’m not the message, only the messenger, I guess. Spooky but true.
Logically, thus, rhyming is out of my league. I don’t want to compose a satisfying line only to discover that its last word is impossible to rhyme with. Another important point: rules for rhyming are not the same in German and English, so an extra-extra effort would have to be made. In German, you see, only perfect rhymes (“sight-flight”, “madness-sadness”, “reign-gain”, to name but a few) are considered proper rhymes.
If you attempted to rhyme “sea” with “see” or “bent “ with “ant”, or God forbid!, “bough” with “cough”, you’d be sentenced to read Coelho and Derrida and Heidegger until your brain cells turn to jelly!
Many poets, even contemporary ones, like rhymes. Others would out themselves as allergic to rhyme. Which makes me ask whether today, we should still write poems that rhyme or rather not. I’m not talking about me – I do like a good rhyme but are really much too lazy to write it myself, as pointed out.
Some further thoughts. Try as I might, I cannot fight off my linguistic heritage (for instance my reluctance to accept anything but perfect rhymes as rhymes; even alliterations, which I love and which I use quite frequently, do not sound like “rhymes” to my ears) and my cultural upbringing. I’m very Austrian, go beat me. Of course, as an Austrian with a little literacy, I’ve read turn-of-the-19th-century writer Karl Kraus, who has discussed rules for rhymes. He was a mighty strict guy. Now, Kraus stated that rhymes must convey a bigger meaning, something that transcends the pure melody of sound and the simple significance of words.
To rhyme “mother” and “brother” doesn’t add anything to the simple statement of family ties – Kraus would have torn you apart with a witty essay if you had tried to use that pair. “Mother” and “smother”, on the contrary, would be a perfect, almost Freudian match for a poem about a mother-son relationship. Kraus would've been be happy (I guess).
I have to confess that I didn’t grab all the facets and details and subtleties of Kraus’ theory, which he defended almost violently. Yet somehow, I’ve always kept in mind that rhyme, when used as l’art pour l’art, for the mere sake of rhyming, has no value whatsoever. Sometimes, it distracts from the real meaning of a poem, it distorts grammar, it overthrows readable structure.
Worse: more often than not, its goal is to conceal a perfect vacuity of content.
Rhyme has to add something to a poem, another level, another understanding, another je-ne-sais-quoi. My only attempt of writing a poem that rhymes has taken me more than a week (much longer than any of my other poems), has been fun but tedious fun, and its sole purpose was to entertain, to amuse, hence its little literary merits. The rhymes’ purpose was to make people giggle.
Now any comment, new insight, controversy, contradiction, anecdote will be welcome.
Tell us: what do YOU think re. poetry and rhyming? Have you written any poem that rhymes? If no, why not? If yes, would you mind telling us why and how? Would you mind sharing a link to that poem, eventually?

2 comments:

  1. write how you feel... let your soul guide your pen...don"t be held within fences...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Mother - Smother. That's a whole poem in its self! I used to write poetry in college and it never rhymed. As you said, if you're doing it just for the sake of doing it, you risk ending up with fluff. I wonder whatever happened to those poems...

    ReplyDelete