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To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme; A Perspective on Writing Poetry

Updated on March 15, 2017

So many people are intimated by poetry...I wanted to assure them that this noble art form is open to everyone. Aside from a few basic rules that may govern certain forms of poetry, there really are no rules that would otherwise fetter the creative spirit.


What does a perfect poem look and sound like? Can the rules of poetry intimidate and discourage us from appreciating this art form? Perhaps part of this intimidation rests with the fact that poetry is so poorly taught in many classrooms. Some teachers love literature, but have an aversion to poetry and dislike teaching it altogether.

I shall never forget my high school days and the poetry phase of our sophomore literature class. Our teacher, who I will refer to as Ms. Grim (pardon the poetic license), began teaching poetry by assigning John Keats’ Ode to A Nightingale. To our unhappy surprise, rather than discussing the poem or the poet, Ms. Grim decided instead to ambush us with those four dreaded words: “What does it mean?” When that question failed to inspire the required response, she followed up with, “No, class! What was Keats thinking when he wrote this poem?”

Predictably, our teacher's demands resulted in the ‘deer in the headlights’ look from a number of my classmates, while others tried to slither downward in their chairs to hide from her view. Clearly annoyed, Ms. Grim began to parse the poem out in sections on the chalkboard for us to analyze. It was an unpleasant experience, reminiscent of the time we were required to dissect pickled frogs during biology class. She never strayed far from her teaching guide, referring to it often. In retrospect, I don't doubt that the great John Keats would have been either mortified or highly amused.

The more interesting days occurred when Ms. Grim required us to write poetry. We could always count on her red flair to fill the landscape of our papers with brusque criticism. She chastised me, more than once, for writing rhyming poetry that held a duality of meaning she didn't understand. She criticized others in class as well, causing them to blush with embarrassment. It took a couple of months for me to completely recuperate from the resulting poetry-blindness of Ms. Grim’s instruction on the classics. I suspect that others never fully recovered. Her constant demand for analytical attention created a dislike of poetry from most of her students -- if not predisposing them to detest poetry, entirely.

To be fair, other teachers truly excel in teaching poetry by approaching it from both an analytical and creative aspect. They unlock the doors to its creative language of thought and emotion expressed through vivid imagery, theme and symbolism. These are gifted teachers. They enable their students to breathe life into the music of the words to better understand how poetry’s natural beauty and power are accessible to us all.

Everyone has their own tastes and preferences with poetry. Some prefer free or blank verse, while others enjoy the elements of flowing rhyme. Rhyme critics consider this form to be fraught with a sing-song quality that is mundane or too traditional, often characterized with the, “We skipped through the tulips…fa la la la la," type of verse. Others claim that writers begin with rhyme before progressing to other, “more serious forms" of poetry. Famous poets have been accused of trying to force a word that doesn’t fit into the rhyme scheme, thus making the poem sound too contrived.

The rhyming, evocative and melodic elements of poetry in music …


As someone who often writes in rhyme, I would like to dispel some of these myths. First of all, like falling in love, we do not choose rhyme; rather, it often chooses or finds us. That being said, rhyme can also be very challenging. We want to express something compelling, moving and thought-provoking while providing magic elements of imagery -- often, within a melodic flow. Reading it should be effortless.

Granted, there are times when attempting to rhyme takes over the writing process. One moment we’re in handcuffs; the next, we're whisked away as the words take on a life of their own. Of course, there are the occasional wild rides down a rabbit hole, whereupon we land with a thump and ask ourselves, “How on earth did I get here?" Actually, this is one of my favorite moments in the writing process. I look about this strange land to see what it has to offer; its unique phrasing and words will inevitably find me.

There are also those intermittent times we are faced with a word that doesn’t rhyme within the structure of our poem. This is the puzzle piece that doesn’t fit; the anomalous color that distorts the painting; the sour, out-of-tune key on the piano; the odd dinner plate that destroys an otherwise exquisite and unique table setting. Never one for tulip-skipping, Emily Dickinson would often change a word many times to suit her ear in a line of verse that rhymed. I should also mention that one rarely sees forced rhyme in any of Robert Frost's poetry. In other words, if we are challenged by the trappings of rhyme, we're in excellent company.

Every poem is a momentary stay against the confusion of the world.”

-Robert Frost

Robert Frost
Robert Frost

I'm an omnivorous reader and a struggling, eclectic writer of articles, short stories and poetry. Although I frequently write in rhyme (I still have much to learn), I also love free verse poetry that is "unfettered" with the normal rules of poetry. Reading Walt Whitman for the first time was, for me, a revelation. Free verse and blank verse poets are more comfortable with this style of poetry because they find it less cumbersome and more open to creative expression. "To each his own," is extremely important and should always be respected.

If writing poetry calls to you, by all means answer. This is one of the noblest of all art forms. Whether you write rhyme, blank verse, free verse, haiku or other forms of poetry, don’t be afraid of or dominated by rules and convention. An extraordinary writer once provided me with these helpful guidelines: Don't be discouraged if you write a bad poem (we all do); you’ll soon write a better one. Read other poetry, including the classics, various forms, and the works of the masters. Never overlook lesser known or unknown writers; we all have a voice. Write often. Try not to explain too much in your poetry but avoid being too obscure. Never cling to your words out of stubbornness and refuse to consider revisions.

From my own experience, above all, don’t be afraid to write about something that makes you feel a little uncomfortable. Dispel any haunting red flairs and chalkboards from your past, and open yourself up to new dimensions. Inspirations will visit you from unexpected places. Welcome them and look for those magic elements. You can begin by writing down a few thoughts or emotions and let the seeds of the poem grow from there. Just be careful of the tulips. :-)

Find ecstasy in life; the mere sense of living is joy enough."

-Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson

© 2017 Genna East

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    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 2 months ago from England

      I don't have a style of poetry, I just write from the heart, mainly stuff about legends etc. I wish I could write Haiku's they are the ones that totally throw me! lol!

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 2 months ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Genna: What a lovely, sensible and inspiring article. I played with poetry/verse for many years, finally publishing "Charged Particles," a small collection, now out of print due to a fraudulent publisher/agent.

      As age slowed me: physically, mentally and creatively, I read and composed little recently except for doing a few hub-articles.

      But poetry has been such a great friend to me, both entertaining and inspiring all of my adult life; it is such a huge shame it is not taught enough in school and university, nor even published by many serious poets any more.

      Please give us another article suggesting how people can begin to love, understand and read the better minor poets as well as the bards.

      Bob x

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 months ago from SW England

      Excellent and well-written hub, Genna! I always enjoy your writing. There is such good advice here. I never took to poetry as a student, though my teacher was great; I think it takes a certain maturity to appreciate this form of writing and I know the fault was in me.

      I now enjoy writing in all styles, like you, because even though it's sometimes a challenge I find that certain subjects require a certain style. Words flow more easily if you recognise that harmony, I find. As Nell says, often writing from the heart brings its own words and its own style - inspiration is the key! Haiku is fairly rigid but even that has its suitable themes - short, sharp detail and a surprise included!

      Good to read your work again.

      Ann

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Genna, this man knows his limitations. I'm not one of those dogs who chases his tail for his entire lifetime. I'd rather chase something I can actually catch. Having said all that, I'm more than satisfied sitting back and reading poetry written by people like you. It's one of my secret pleasures, but I have no motivation to try it....it's just not in me. :) Blessings to you always.

    • Sam Tumblin profile image

      Sam Tumblin 2 months ago from Eunice, La.

      Enjoyed reading your article "To rhyme or not to rhyme" from your perspective. It could be a very daunting task to string a poem together.

    • sheilamarie78 profile image

      sheilamarie78 2 months ago

      Thanks, Genna, for a thoughtful article on poetry. Rhyme is only one of the many tools, and often surprises, in the poet's toolbox. And, as you have pointed out, great poets who use rhymes, such as Robert Frost, do so in such a natural way that the rhyme doesn't get in the way of the meaning or the flow of the poem.

    • mckbirdbks profile image

      mckbirdbks 2 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Genna - I enjoyed your article and the direct and sensible way it is presented. I tried to recall a poetry lesson of any kind during my school days and cannot. It is likely something to do with my teenage years attention span. I have written a few poems in my time. Then when Emerald Wells Cafe came along I found myself writing upwards of fourteen poems every two weeks.

      When you present a piece of your poetry to us, I become fully aware of the realms that can be opened with words. Your talent with words is unique and delicate.

      (Now, I am tempted to write a little rhyming poem, but I won't.)

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 2 months ago from Southern Illinois

      My first love is poetry. I love to rhyme, and it can be difficult. Some words refuse to rhyme. I used to love doing Haiku and Senryu poetry. I've tried doing free verse, but I want to rhyme so badly it never works. I enjoyed reading your perspective on poetry. I am aware that some people dislike poetry in any form. I say, " Different strokes for different folks. " I might add, don't knock it until you've tried it...

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 2 months ago from South Africa

      Very insightful and encouraging take on poetry, Genna. I feel like writing a poem right now :)

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 months ago from Queensland Australia

      I love this Genna, thanks for resurrecting and redoing it. Funny though, I just wrote a poem called "Just a Random Poem" and it has kinda' the same theme. I love any hubs about poetry, and rhyming verse will always be my favourite.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 2 months ago from Hyderabad, India

      Very interesting and informative article. You have provided many useful tips and much encouragement through your words and with your own experiences in writing poetry. I tried it once or twice at wordpress.com and it is still there at my blog there.

      Thanks for this wonderful article, Genna.

    • Genna East profile image
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      Genna East 2 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

      NellRose: Nell, your style is free verse. And to write from the heart is writing with spirit, compassion and knowing. You are what poetry is all about. Haiku is challenging, with a set of rules that can be pretty limiting. Thanks so much for your comment. :-)

    • Genna East profile image
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      Genna East 2 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Diogenes: Hi Bob. Thank you. "Poetry has been such a great friend to me, both entertaining and inspiring all of my adult life." I think you have stated so eloquently what poetry means. How sad that it seems to be a dying art in modern times -- when we need it the most. There aren't many Maya Angelou's (RIP) left although we still have poets like Juan Herrera. The bard poets used to be rock stars in society. We now have digital entertainment, and it seems that a growing number of people prefer not to read anything that requires time and concentration. More's the pity, my friend. This is one of the reasons why I mention in the article to never ignore lesser-known or unknown poets. We all have a voice. :-)

    • Genna East profile image
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      Genna East 2 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

      AnnArt: Good morning, Ann. Thank you for those nice words and encouragement. I love what you wrote about "recognizing the harmony." Beautifully stated. Haiku can be very rigid...I envy those who can write in this style so easily. And writing from the heart is the very definition of inspiration. Good to see you. :-)

    • Genna East profile image
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      Genna East 2 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Billybuc: We should all have such limitations, my friend; you're one of the best writers it's been my privilege to read. I often see a sense of poetry in your wonderful stories. It's one of the reasons I'm such a fan. Thank you for your comment. Blessings to you as well. :-)

    • Genna East profile image
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      Genna East 2 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

      SamTumblin: Thank you, Sam. You brought up a good point. Yes, it can be daunting. Poetry isn't written from a perspective of, "Well, I have to write poem today." It flows forth when we have something to say.

    • Genna East profile image
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      Genna East 2 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

      SheilaMarie: HI Sheila. Good to see you. Rhyme is a unique call. We don't see much of it these days. But those who can write in rhyme, well, have a melody of words inside, like a song. All poetic forms are special...As Frost once said, “Every poem is a momentary stay against the confusion of the world.”

    • Genna East profile image
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      Genna East 2 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Mckbirdbks: Hi Mike. I fell in love with words when I was a little girl and began to read. What treasures they unlock -- what dreams of worlds, experiences and possibilities that are unending. You have that same love, my friend, and a unique understanding of human nature and the reality of the world that shows with everything you write. I love your stories, and your poetry. Thank you for your encouragement and support.

    • Genna East profile image
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      Genna East 2 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

      AlwaysExploring: We each have our own muse -- that pied piper of the heart and mind. I think that rhyme is a rare calling. Flash fiction and poetry are where you live, Ruby. I'm often in awe of how you write in the style like Senru and make it look so easy. I keep thinking, "How does she do it?" I don't have that talent. But you do, my friend. :-) Hugs.

    • Genna East profile image
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      Genna East 2 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

      MartieCoetser: Thank you, Martie. I look forward to reading your poem. :-)

    • Genna East profile image
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      Genna East 2 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Jodah: Hi John. I read your rhyme poem and loved its cleverness! I think rhyme has its own charm, challenges and beauty; it can illuminate reality in such a powerful, unique way. Aren't we lucky to be able to experience it? :-) Thanks of much for the visit and kind comments.

    • Genna East profile image
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      Genna East 2 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Venkatachari M: Hi there. I look forward to reading your poems on the blog you mentioned. Blessings, and thank you.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 months ago from USA

      I thought I had left a comment but must have not finished it. Anyway, can you imagine Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven" with no rhyme scheme? I guess it depends on the work. I often prefer non-rhyming but it depends.

    • Genna East profile image
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      Genna East 2 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Hi. I didn't see a previous comment, but I'm happy to read this one. Thank you :-) It does depend on the work in that I can't imagine Poe's classic without rhyme.

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 2 months ago from Jeffersonville PA

      I wish I could have a word with Ms. Grim...telling her how wonderful and talented you turned out despite her brusque and critical manner, dear Genna.

      A former nursing student shared a similar story with me. In this case her teacher told her she had 'zero' writing ability and should essentially retire her pen. After I gave her a well-deserved 'A' on a paper (telling her she was a fabulous writer), she broke down and cried about this traumatizing feedback.

      How thrilled I was to learn she is in the process of publishing a children's story.

      Poetry is as individual as the scribe. And yours, whether rhyming or not is some of finest I've ever read. Love, Maria

    • Genna East profile image
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      Genna East 2 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Hi Maria...

      I'm so sorry it took me this long to respond, but ever since they moved my article to LetterPile, I've had trouble editing and leaving comments. Sheesh. Thank you, my dear, for such a beautiful comment. It more than made my day. Your students are blessed to have you. We need more inspirational and gifted souls like yours.

    • bodylevive profile image

      BODYLEVIVE 2 months ago from Alabama, USA

      Creative spirits are gifts, whether the verses rhyme or not.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 8 weeks ago from Dubai

      A great perspective about writing poetry. I love to write poetry, especially haiku. I do try to write in rhyming fashion, but sometimes I feel restricted because I cannot find the right words to rhyme and express my feelings.

    • Genna East profile image
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      Genna East 8 weeks ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Nithya: Thanks so much for your visit and comment. Haiku is not easy to write; I find it very challenging. But it sounds as though you have mastered one of the beautiful and magical art forms of poetry.

    • Genna East profile image
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      Genna East 8 weeks ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Body: I so agree! I appreciate the visit and comment.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 8 weeks ago from Central Florida

      Genna, this article is beautifully penned and is as poetic as they come.

      When I was in junior high, our teacher often had us analyze songs such as Simon and Garfunkel's "Sounds of Silence" and The Beatles "Eleanor Rigby". Of course, she'd play the songs for us first, then stop and start as we dug deep into our souls to delve deeply into the words. I loved her teaching style!

    • Genna East profile image
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      Genna East 8 weeks ago from Massachusetts, USA

      What a wonderful teacher, Shauna! You were blessed to have one of the good ones. Thanks so much for the visit and comment.

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 7 weeks ago from Great Yarmouth

      I love poetry. Not very good at writing it though, but I do enjoy reading it. I should give it a try, see what I can do. I love words.

    • Genna East profile image
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      Genna East 6 weeks ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Thank you! And welcome to Hubpages, Louise.

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 6 weeks ago from Great Yarmouth

      Thank you Genna. =)

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 2 weeks ago

      Genna, I love your article and poetry as I am a logophile and if the words rhyme all the better.

      Like Mike I don't remember poetry lessons, but wrote it from fourth grade.

      Songs especially country and religious are poems set to music.

      This is a fantastic article and I will be back many times I am sure.

      Blessings

    • Genna East profile image
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      Genna East 2 weeks ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Thank you Shyron! And blessings to you as well. :-)

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