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Is it a Crime to Rhyme?

Where do you stand on poetry? Love it, loathe it, or not really fussed? As someone who has been drawn to poetry all my life, it is hard for me to have an unbiased opinion and I would obviously respond positively to such questions. I do appreciate though, that it isn't for everyone. In fact, a conversation with my husband this week got me thinking quite a lot about poetry. I wonder what your thoughts are on whether a poem has to rhyme?

I think this in itself might be quite a divisive question. As a primary teacher, trying to teach poetry to many children, I explored different poetic forms, tried to get beyond the need they felt for it to rhyme so that they might just focus on expressing themselves. For every child that embraced the challenge of getting words on paper to convey emotion and imagery, there were always those who got hung up on trying to find rhyming words, or fit what they wanted to say into the allowable syllable count to the point where they were no longer making any sense on the page. Some children loved the system and rules of certain poetic forms that we taught and I guess many would argue that we need to embed a structure before we can begin to play with it or break the rules creatively.

The discussion I mentioned earlier, stemmed from my husband's question about what exactly makes a poem then. As somebody who likes to have the rules stated, he wanted to know if we accept that poetry doesn't have to rhyme, can anything then be called a poem? It caused quite a debate. Could a recipe for example, be deemed a poem if somebody chose to perform it as such? I think not, not without doing something with the content first to re-imagine it in the form of a poem. But perhaps I am too close to the process of creating poetry to answer objectively. After all, I can take a week to write a few verses, to find just the right words and phrases that I want. After all, I want them to sound harmonious when read aloud and to paint the imagery I wish to describe. Sometimes the result may rhyme, sometimes it may not but it has to sing on the page, doesn't it?

My feeling is that beyond rhyme, there has to be some rhythm to a piece, something about the collection of words the poet has chosen that connects them to the thoughts and feelings he/she wants to convey. There's a single line from one of my daughter's favourite picture books that comes to mind, one that feels like beautiful poetry to me:

"Soft and silent she swooped through the trees to Sarah and Percy and Bill."

I'll refrain from going into full teacher mode here to explain exactly why these carefully chosen words work so well to convey the silent flight of the mother owl through the dark forest, back to her babies waiting on the branch of a tree. But I hope you agree that they do work for that purpose and that they do it poetically.

Over the years, in the many scripts I have written, I have frequently crafted magical characters who's speech is in rhyme - magical fairies or witches where convention dictates this to be so and audiences expect it, often joining in the predictable end rhymes where a plot encourages them to do so. Such conventions are probably routed in childhood fairy tales, nursery rhymes and songs. Rhyme is easier to remember. It helps advertisers to get a message across. It somehow feels an innate part of us. Couple it together with the well established rhythms of poetry and it simply works. I certainly find that I am drawn to writing in such a way. Even when I have set out to write a non-rhyming poem, I find it creeps into my notebook.

Perhaps my age plays a part in this? When I was growing up, I heard poems from the likes of Pam Ayres and Spike Milligan. Modern poetry looks far removed from such twee or 'de-dum-di-dum' verses but is there still a space for such works? They pop up in greetings cards, on Pinterest boards and Facebook posts - so yes, people still respond to them. I suppose it is all about the purpose of the poem. That's the sort of question I ask myself when writing. Does it need to rhyme? Is it more powerful with or without such rhyme? I mean, even Baldrick can bring poetic meaning to a repeated single word, when performed within the right context - Boom! The juxtaposition of the humour in the rhythm of his poem against the stark reality of war clashes and therefore works successfully to strike a chord and convey a message about futility.

I think there is something similar going on in my latest poem. I have worked on this for a while and deliberately chose to use a format that feels familiar and humorous to highlight how we are all currently continuing on, with that stoic attitude - "We're all fine, let's keep going." I hope the form of the poem works as I planned, that somehow combining humorous rhyme and seemingly trivial moments together with wider, more serious issues, the reader feels the poignancy of the situation described. With all that considered, I hope you'll forgive me the crime of writing this rhyme and hope it makes a connection with you. For I believe, poetry or not, we write to connect.

And in Other News…

“Any news?” she said, centering her head

In their weekly Zoom screen call,

“Oh, not really dear, I’m just sitting here –

A bit fed up with it all.”

With a nod and smile, she sat back a while

To sip coffee from her cup,

Raindrops fell again on her windowpane,

“Oh dear, Mum,” she said. “What’s up?”

“Spoke to Blue-rinse-Lou, her from number two,

Had a parcel in the post,

She’s been feeling low, but she thought, you know,

She would make herself a roast.”

Sandra gave a sigh, she could almost cry –

Roast potatoes, Yorkshire pud,

All the family there, not an empty chair,

Back when Sundays still felt good.

“Do you remember Clive? Well, he’s eighty-five

And he’s just had his first jab,

Got a lift from Stan, in his delivery van,

Saved him calling out a cab.”

The screen froze just then, playing up again,

With Mum’s last words getting lost,

Has she fixed it yet? Bloody internet,

Oh, she’s back, but looking cross.

“Have you seen the count? Such a large amount,

I can’t watch the news no more.

Oh, Nadine dropped by with an apple pie,

Left it for me, by the door.”

Sandra’s take-away left from yesterday,

Was an okay breakfast, right?

And it’s safe to say, her ‘Couch to 5K’

Is frankly out of sight.

“Saw Jane-with-the-twins, think she’s looking thin

And she didn’t say a lot,

I’ve not seen her Pete, up and down the street,

Not sure how much work he’s got.”

Sandra nods and sighs as they sympathise,

Sees her Mum’s on mute once more,

For a technophobe, she has learned a load,

All alone, behind closed doors.

“Sandra, how about you -had much work to do?

Are you fed up with this rain?

What do you think, dear, will it be this year?

Will they let us live again?”

“Hope so, Mum, guess so, it is hard to know”

Sandra wipes a tear-stained cheek,

Her cat gives a purr, ruffling his fur,

“Call you back again next week.”

Karen Honnor – February 2021

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