Wednesday, January 5, 2011

And the beat goes on

I believe that poetry is communication and we shouldn't have to say "huh"?--at least not too many times when reading a poem. We need to say "Ah yes" and feel our heart beat a little more quickly.

Shakespeare's heart beat largely in iambic pentameter (an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable called a foot, with five feet to a line) in his plays and sonnets.

You (mostly) get what Shakespeare is trying to communicate once you get into his rhythm. Shakespeare also wrote a lot in rhyme. Some experts say rhyming poems are easier to memorize. Some of Shakespeare's rhyming lines do stick in our collective mind eg."--- the Play's the thing--Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King."

Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales" are written in rhyming couplets. Couplets with a meter of rhyming iambic pentameter are called heroic couplets. It is indeed a heroic job to write a poem in rhyming iambic couplets and have it be a good poem. Just because a poem rhymes doesn't make it a good poem. It can be terrible. What's worse is you may not be able to forget it.

Likewise, you can refrain from meter, rhyme or any set pattern and find you have written a lousy poem or a very good one. This is called free verse.

A poem has the best chance of being a good poem, if we worry less about rhyme and meter and more about trying to communicate what we are trying to say and let it come straight from our hearts. That's where all good poetry starts.

Let the beat go on.


  1. Touche, Claire, beautifully said. I've been doing some of both, rhythm and rhym in form of villanelles, and a few in free verse of late. Not done much rhyming before and actually found it exhilarating to feel I'd accomplished a decent poem within the contruct...

    Grace B.

  2. Villanelles are a challenge. Bravo!

  3. Nicholson Baker in his book "The Anthologist" has the main character and narrator, Paul Chowder posit that iambic pentameter has six feet---five feet and one rest at the end of each line.
    He has a point---if you don't allow for the rest then you have an "enjambment" line running into another. That sounds dry---but
    this book offers an enjoyable look into the process of writing poetry.

  4. Each form has it's place and it's really a matter of personal taste. I have a lot of admiration for the writers who can get a clever interplay of words and meter because I can appreciate the skill involved. Does that make me a fan of advertsing jingles?

    You'll wonder where the yellow went,
    When you brush with Pepsodent!

  5. Some jingles are clever and stay in your head,
    But lack profound ideas it may be said,
    Your teeth may stay white and cavity free,
    But your soul will not be moved to ecstasy.