Rhyming and the Dodo

Would this generation understand these signs if they rhymed?

Miles run today: 4.5

Words written in my novel so far: 35,220

Days until school starts: 5

My kids had a really, really hard time learning to rhyme.

I’m embarrassed to admit this, because it’s like a basketball coach with a kid who can’t bounce a ball or a dance instructor who has a kid who runs into doors.

I did all most of the right things: they watched The Wiggles and sang, “Rock-a-Bye Your Bear” and “Fruit Salad,” and we really did read books that had rhymes in them. We sang songs. Really, we did.


I staged a sort of intervention a few years ago during dinner and started “poems” like this: I drove to work in my little car… and then asked my son to finish the rest of the sentence. He would say something like, It was far.

I tried very hard not to cry.

My mom used to read children’s poetry to me. She doesn’t like poetry; who knows why she did it. But I grew up knowing poems like this stanza by Robert Louis Stevenson:

In winter I get up at night

And dress by yellow candlelight

In summer quite the other way

I have to go to bed by day.

Do you hear the rhyming? Do you like it? Do you hear the rhythm and flow and how the words play so well together?

So many poems these days don’t rhyme, and that’s okay. By the time most poets begin creating amazing poetry, they have heard plenty of rhyming, they know how words work together, how they flow.

Growing up, rhyming was everywhere, it seemed. Commercial jingles rhymed: even Shower to Shower told us that “just a sprinkle a day keeps the odor away.”

In high school, the big movie was “The Princess Bride.” One of the memorable interchanges between two of the characters was, “No more rhyming now, I mean it/Anybody want a peanut?”

Everyone knew that phrase. Everyone.

We watched The Scarlet Pimpernel in high school English class, one of the few movies we were allowed to watch in lieu of reading. The main character was “a poet/and I didn’t know it.”

Rhyming is a little like a gateway drug; when you have picked up the rhythm, it leads you into more complex ways of using words. If you haven’t mastered rhythm and flow, your words can have a clunky quality like I see in some books these days.

The kids and I are just finishing up the second book in the Divergent series (Insurgent). Don’t get me wrong: I’ve enjoyed the two books immensely. Veronica Roth has a knack for suspense and careful plotting.

But the focus is on plot. The words are merely there to get us from point A to point B. Here’s an example:

Tobias doesn’t look back at me. He just touches his fingertips to the back of his head. After a moment, I do the same. Dauntless soldiers crowd around us.

There are some books I’ve read where I want to bathe in the words, let them wash over me. Some make me cry with how unworthy I am as a writer, as I listen to the rhythm, like a stream rippling over stones.

I read those books and can’t even study the words because they’re so beautiful. They’re the same words everyone else uses, but the writer has put them together in a better way than they’ve ever been put together before.

My son finally wrote a poem this past year about a dying star that gave me hope for his literary future. Maybe when he is writing code one day, it will have good rhythm and flow.

But until he is safely ensconced in a non-poetic career, I will continue to sing rhyming songs (like Nicki Minaj’s) loudly:

Starships are meant to flyyyyyy

Hands up and touch the skyyyyy

Can’t stop cause we’re so hiiiiigh

Let’s do this one more time.

24 thoughts on “Rhyming and the Dodo

  1. Running in Mommyland says:

    Absolutely love your sons poem! It’s wonderful!
    I’ve been working on a poem of my own about divorce. It’s kind of interesting to take a lousy situation and change its mood with rhyme. Great post!
    p.s. The part you wrote about bathing in beautiful words and not feeling worthy. I feel that way, too.

  2. Ha! Fun post. 🙂

    Your kids must be lucky to have a parent who cares so much about their literary future. I’m pretty sure my mom did the same with me, although I never did learn to rhyme when I was that young.

    I think it was when I started picking up things to read on my own that I got into poetry and literature in general. I think it was something Robert Frost. I can’t remember.

    I was in sixth grade when I wrote my first poem. It was a lovesick Shakespearean sonnet I wrote for a girl I liked. It didn’t end up well. But, hey, since then I’ve been dabbling in poetic forms and rhyme schemes.

  3. I have never done the rhyming thing well. I always seemed so force it and it sounded that way. That’s why I was never interested in many poems throughout my life. Some of the non-rhyming forms have piqued my interest of late so, Maybe it’s time to revisit the whole genre.

    • annewoodman says:

      There are so many wonderful poems that don’t rhyme. I guess the thing is, though… those poets still use the same tenets. And the flow of the words is so gorgeous. I have to believe that rhyming played a part somewhere along the way!

      And yes, I saw that you were starting to get interested in poetry; I think it helps all of us to write in different genres from time to time. Good luck!

  4. Carrie Rubin says:

    “There are some books I’ve read where I want to bathe in the words”–I know exactly what you mean. I am admirably envious of those writers. There are writers who simply write a good story and others who write a good story but with sentences that make you whimper. Although I enjoy reading both types, I am grateful for the latter, even though I know I will never be one of their members.

    Your post was the most! (And now you can see how good I am at rhyming. 😉 )

  5. Daryl says:

    I like physical challenges–extreme running or biking, I love brain teasers and 3D problem solving, and for the most part I succeed. But succeeding in poetry–I’ve got a better chance at shaming Usain Bolt.

  6. My sister is a children’s (young adult) author, and editor. Oh, and she teaches at Ryerson. Try dealing with that. Freakin’ impossible to compete with. She’s like a rhyming machine.

  7. Melissa says:

    I make a rhyme every time…not. Youngest is better at than the oldest, who is more analytical. Oddly enough, rhyming wasn’t something I worried about…I guess because they are boys and I’m not sure I want to hear some of the rhymes they come up with. I’m sure they compose great limericks in their heads.

  8. Finally I realize why, while I liked the Divergent and Insurgent story lines and characters, it just didn’t catch me up into it. Thanks!

  9. 4amWriter says:

    I never used to enjoy writing poetry because I tried too hard with it. I was convinced, like I was with math, that I was no good at it and no matter what I did it would be terrible. I am a little bit better at it now, but that prose-like writing doesn’t come effortlessly or without migraines. Sometimes, it’s a wonder I wanted to be a writer.

    Glad to know this about the Divergent series, as I haven’t read them yet but want to. Choppy writing really gets on my nerves, no matter how great the plot is.

    • annewoodman says:

      Well, I still feel that way about math, so old habits must die hard. I think some poets are naturally talented, but I would imagine all of us writers could benefit by practicing some poetry. I don’t do it nearly as much as I should.

  10. Chris Edgar says:

    Yes, I’ve had a similar feeling about song lyrics — in modern music, I think it is not considered sufficiently nihilistic and standoffish to rhyme, except, maybe, unless you’re rapping. But I continue to rhyme in my own lyrics.

  11. thepoelog says:

    Nice Minaj reference!

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