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De-Seussifying your Poetry

One of the biggest problems poets encounter when trying to write rhyming poetry is that it comes out with a sing-song feel, sort of like Doctor Seuss’ works. There are several techniques the poet can use to minimize the effect:

  • Lengthen your lines. It is not unusual for poets who write using short line lengths to suffer the most from sing-song. Average closed forms usually use between eight and twelve-syllable lines. If your lines are short, try lengthening them. About the longest practical line in English poetry is fourteen syllables, although even that is usually broken by a cęsura, or pause, and may be represented as two lines.
  • Use a rhyme scheme where rhyme is not adjacent. Most English-language derived closed forms use rhyming patterns that separate the rhymes by one or more lines rather than having them adjacent. So, a rhyme scheme such as abab is better to eliminate sing-song than aabb.
  • Instead of using perfect rhyme, consider using consonance, assonance, alliteration, slant rhyme, or some other, looser forms of line-binding. (If anyone needs definitions, Line Binding.)
  • The use of strict meter, such as iambic pentameter, can become sing-song and seem amateurish, monotonous, for children, and other things you might not want your poetry considered. The occasional metrical inversion or substitution can keep things interesting. The caveat with this is too much pepper makes the reader sneeze. A little variation spices the poem, but too much makes it indigestible. You will lose the feel of the rhythm and meter if changing up is overdone. As such, it’s best to follow two rules:
    1. Do not invert the first or last foot of the line, and
    2. Do not invert two or more metrical feet in a row.
    These are general guidelines, and can be broken successfully by experienced poets.
  • Use less of the same rhyme. Italian is a better language for rhyme than English is, and so the Italian sonnet’s rhyme scheme works for Italian: abbaabba cdcdcd. You only have four different end rhymes for fourteen lines. Because English is more difficult to rhyme, Henry Howard created a new type of sonnet, the English sonnet, that has seven different rhymes: abab cdcd efef gg. No rhyme is used more than twice; whereas, in the Italian form, all rhymes are used either three or four times.
  • Avoid the overused rhymes: life/strife/wife or love/dove/above, etc. You know them when you hear them, because you’ve heard them so many times before. They also tend to be rhymes of common words where there are very few rhymes available. It’s much better to find rhymes with more diversity or that aren’t used often, such as Dave Carter did by rhyming “oranges” with “door an’ jus’”
  • If you find yourself inverting syntax, you are forcing the rhyme. In other words, if place you words in order odd to rhyme achieve, ’tis best I think, to write again or laughter leave. Inverted syntax is going to stick out like a sore thumb, and tends to give a different feel than how we would naturally say something. If you find syntactical inversions, see if you can rephrase the original line to give a better rhyme. Yoda-speak another term for this is.
  • If you’re using a word just to rhyme with a previous line, are you padding your poem with fluff? Another form of forcing a rhyme many amateur poets make is to wind up adding lines that don’t really add to the poem or move the poem where it needs to go, just so they can get a rhyme for a previous end word. You want your poetry to be compact, with no fluff. So, if you find fluff, weed it out. Try rephrasing the original line to rhyme with another important line coming after it.

Happy writing!


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