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Can you get away with near rhymes?

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Many poets will tell you that the near rhymes, if any, should come earlier rather than later in the poem, so it doesn't seem that you have resorted to near rhymes only because you have run out of perfect rhymes.  By using perfect rhymes after your near ones, it reassures the reader that the near rhymes were a purposeful choice and not just a compromise because you ran out of steam. 

Personally, the question of near rhymes strikes me as twofold, (1) is it acceptable as poetry, and (2) is it acceptable to editors, many of whom may not be that educated about poetry or confident about their own ears, and so they resort to rigid rules that don't necessarily make sense.

There are too many examples of famous poems, in children's and adult literature both, that employ near rhymes for anyone who knows anything about poetry to stand by a blanket rule against near rhymes.  It merely betrays ignorance. 

But near rhymes are something it's easy to complain about in a poem that may otherwise be bad for reasons that are more difficult to articulate, and so they are often singled out for unfair criticism.

That said, I rarely use near rhymes and prefer perfect rhymes in my own work.
#31 - December 29, 2008, 04:30 PM


Personally, I love near rhymes.  (Great examples, Auntybooks!)  I find them, when used judiciously, to be a breath of fresh air.  They often seem more natural and free-flowing than perfect rhymes, which can become tedious and sing-songish after a while.  Yes, yes, I'm sure that in a master's hands even a thousand perfect rhymes would be neither tedious nor sing-songish...but what can I say.  I just find a measure of delight in words that are similar sounding but not quite perfect matches.  I love this phenomenon in song lyrics, too, where near rhymes seem to be much more accepted.
#32 - December 29, 2008, 05:06 PM

Yes, songs have a completely different standard, for a variety of pretty good reasons.

But I'm with you.  Near rhymes have their place and it's foolish to have rules against them.

Yet we are consantly informed that editors will reject work almost automatically for having near rhymes.  If this is true, the question for those of us who feel they contribute to poetry is whether we will be true to our art or write to please editors who don't know any better.

I suppose the question applies more generally than to poetry or rhyming.  I find in this forum and others, like SCBWI, that people seem more interested in getting inside the heads of a hypothetical editor, and delivering what they are told is needed to get published, rather than writing what they want to write and believe is of the highest quality and merit.  I think this is a shame.  Editors should not set the trends, but react to them.  The writers and artists should lead the way, not follow.  The editor's power is a practical matter, not a judgment of superior aesthetic judgment.  And I think the overall quality of work suffers when writers are hung up on pleasing the editor rather than realizing their own standards of what good writing is.
#33 - December 30, 2008, 02:33 PM

But if the teacher is trying to develop a child's appreciation for poetry itself, and not simply having the child read poetry as a tool for learning other skills, the criterion should be the quality of the poetry itself, and there is plenty of wonderful poetry that employs near rhymes.   

Again, the commercial reality may be that you have to cater to editors or other industry people who have somehow devised their own "rules" for how art should be practiced by the artists, but the question for us as writers when we sit down to fill another blank screen or pad with our words is whether we will derive our inspiration from attempting to imagine what this or that editor wants, and working backwards to fulfill those preconceived notions, or whether we will derive our inspiration from our own sense of the craft and tradition and art of writing well.  I hope the latter, since that's how the best work is created.  Of course it carries the risk that no one will publish what we write, but I'd rather not be published while writing my best than be published by humoring the demands of an editor whose only qualification to tell me what to write comes from holding a job that doesn't require her to write at all.  I'm not getting rich at it either way, so I might as well try to have some integrity. 

Again, though, I don't use near rhyme.  But not because editors tell me not to.  And if I were an editor, there's plenty of near rhyme I would publish.
#34 - December 30, 2008, 04:11 PM

OK, I wrote this in the morning and didn't get a chance to post. I see I am behind now, but I'm going to post it as is...

psychwriter - well, especially knowing that you took a diction class, I feel confident that it is natural to pronounce "eating" with a slight "d" sound (except maybe in Britain). At least I know it wasn't so strange that those end rhymes came to me. Perhaps the problem is that they have different roots. Anyway, in this particular case, I probably won't use them. But it can be tough to let go when you really fall in love with a line.

Natalie - you bring up an interesting point. I have always thought that most picture books (perhaps rhyming books in particular) are intended to be read-alouds. ?

Bob - Well said!

Paperdoll - I think near rhymes are more common in songs because the singer has control over pronunciation. I know what you mean though. Sometimes I come across a near rhyme and think, thank goodness the author was brave enough to know that he/she had something good here. It's great when somebody can skillfully break "the rules" and let themselves be creative.

In the end, I guess good writing is good writing. That's what it comes down to.
#35 - December 30, 2008, 08:38 PM

As far as writing to please editors/librarians/parents vs. "art for art's sake", I don't know, I have mixed feelings. This is after all a business. And I'm not just talking about money. Personally, my greatest goal is to have my work read and enjoyed and appreciated by others. And unless you get published, that's not really going to happen. It's like putting on a brilliant play with no audience. What's the point? But I know what you mean, Bob. For example, early impressionists broke the rules of painting and the critics (and I think the public in general) hated their work. But in hindsight, of course we can see how important it is that they took that risk.

But by the way, I do think editors can be qualified to judge even if they aren't actually writers. I mean, I don't have to be a fashion designer to tell the difference between a Prada and a knock-off. And what about the editor of Vogue for that matter. She's not a designer or an artist but she knows fashion. I certainly understand the frustration though. I guess it happens in every field. I know I've pissed off quite a few chefs by ordering my filet mignon well done. But I know what I like.

OK, I'm really rambling now.
#36 - December 30, 2008, 09:02 PM

I guess my hope is that they are qualified (as many are, while some probably aren't) enough to recognize when they are reading something they like that just so happens not to be something they anticipated liking because it's original enough, perhaps, not to have been anticipated but standard enough not to be considered unmarketable.  I just dislike the whole idea of having to satisfy preconceived notions.  My writing is fairly traditional.  I'm not launching any new aesthetics or movements.  But I do have an idea of what works that may not be the same idea that some editor, who doesn't specialize in poetry however smart he or she is, may have considered.  I would hope mostly for an open mind and an editor capable of being pleasantly surprised by those who do not do everything demanded in some glib children's newsletter interview they might have given.
#37 - December 31, 2008, 06:09 AM

Yes, I hear ya. Well, maybe it's just about finding the right editor then. The editor you end up working with should be someone you trust and generally agree with and someone who recognizes your talent. Maybe any editor who doesn't keep an open mind about the type of work you do isn't the right editor for you.  I'm just speaking hypothetically here. I think Dr. Seuss is a good example of what we're talking about. He was doing something very different from what had been seen before  and it took him a long time to find the right editor. And then, of course, everyone else was on board soon enough.

But I admit, I am guilty of sometimes focusing on the marketing aspect or trying to fit an editor's tastes first. I guess I figure I can be inspired by just about anything so why not force myself to write something I think will be easier to sell, you know? But at the same time, I wouldn't want to overdo it and lose sight of my artistic vision.

Anyway, here's hoping this New Year brings us all some open-minded editors!   :jan1st  :D

#38 - December 31, 2008, 08:35 AM


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