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Monday, April 16, 2012

Enjambment and rhyme placement tone down jangling rhymes

Rhyming poetry often gets criticized for bringing readers to a full stop at the end of a line where words loudly jingle-jangle. The effect works well in nursery rhymes and humorous verse as reverberations add to the sense of play, levity, and humor, but in serious poetry, jingles seem to annoy free verse lovers and poetry critics!

To retain your rhymes but tone them down, a couple of workable options depend on how you break the lines.

1. Change the placement of rhyming pairs from end-line rhymes to internal rhymes. Making this happen is just like it sounds. i.e., Move lines around until the rhyming words appear inside a line, rather than at the end. Here’s an example from my Speaking Peach chapbook:

by Mary Harwell Sayler

Maybe it's my low voice, slow drawl, or way
of saying, "Y'all," (meaning, of course, a choice
of two or more individuals), but for some reason,

most people – male or female – think I need
some help. "Here let me do that for you," they
say, just trying to be kind. Most of the time,

I do not mind the opportunity to be cradled,
even coddled, by bolder folk than I –
those who feel best when they assist, but
perhaps I should resist the temptation

to be babied, even though I must persist
in a voice too hushed to sound insistent.

If you read the poem aloud, you’ll hear the rhymes – hopefully echoing without jangling – within the lines and also within some of the words – for example, voice/choice, way/say, drawl/y’all, assist/resist/persist/insistent.

2. Use enjambment to soften the ring of rhymes. This technique lets you place rhymes at the end of the lines for couplets or other traditional forms such as sonnets or villanelles that have a distinctive rhyme scheme pattern. Instead of coming to a full stop on each end-line rhyme, however, you keep the sentence going onto the next line or beyond. As an example of enjambment, here’s a poem from my Winning the Wars chapbook.

Postcard after the Scene
by Mary Harwell Sayler

In straight lines strung with golden light, the sun-
washed houses make a pleasing sight – the ones

still left, that is. Some stores stay open if they can:
sidewalk café, hair dresser, and vegetable stand,

but what I’ve seen seems pitiful and bleak.
Someone said five officers were killed last week

by a rifle. I didn’t hear the gun explode,
but I saw stone-silent shadows as we rode

through town in trucks. Our camp sits on a hill,
overlooking a village: so beautiful before blood spilled.

In that poem, “can” and “bleak” come to a full stop, but for the other lines, enjambment wraps the sentence around a rhyme before slowing down to a softened sound.


© 2012, Mary Harwell Sayler, all rights reserved.

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