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In Denial?!


On last week’s edition of The Verb, Paul Farley opined that “we” are “in denial about rhyme” because, when “we” rhyme, “we” use relative rhyme*.

If you’ve read my Reasoning Rhyme posts, it won’t surprise you to learn that this is, in my opinion, utter tosh. Far from being a denial of rhyme, relative rhyme is a more linguistically subtle and complex form of rhyme, a realisation of the potentials inherent in the rhyme system but repressed by half-baked aesthetically conservative statements like Farely’s.

Note too the insidious nature of the statement: Farley doesn’t actually say we shouldn’t use relative rhyme, just implies that twin rhyme* is real rhyme, boys and girls. And who is this “we” anyway? I presume it is the mainstream poetry-writing fraternity, Farley being a self-confessed guardian of the mainstream.

I have nothing against rhyming, whether twin or relative. Yes, I will confess to doing it myself sometimes, but only in the privacy of a poem. Moreover, I like some of Farley’s work, even if I dislike anyone positioning themselves as mainstream or bust. However, ill-thought-out statements that creep towards closing down possibilities in poetry rather than opening them up really rile me. Okay, so it was radio and maybe it was off the cuff, but it sounded like something that had been bothering him for a while. Thankfully, he was paired in this discussion with Eleanor Rees, who spoke more sense.

There is always a danger that I might make daft statements like that myself, though obviously not such reactionary ones on rhyme. If I do, betake yourself to your local arms dealer and purchase a small surface-to-air missile with which to shoot me down.

*My terms, not his. See here for an explanation.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Jim Murdoch permalink
    23/11/2007 09:36

    Having only had four hours sleep I have to confess to only scanning your previous posts but I get the gist. You’ve got the start of a decent book there you know.

    If I can add my tuppenceworth to the fray it would be this: what I think you are on about, at its basic level, is the essential musicality of language. Rhyme = harmony and not all chords are made up of three notes in the root position. Moving from one word to another is a chord progression and I wonder, quite seriously, when composers are adding tunes to poems they are not picking up on these internal “harmonies”.

    I remember a phrase I read once: “debunked the defunct dictator”. I hear that in my head as three block chords, C (2nd inversion), F (1st inversion) and C (2nd inversion) with “the” and “dic” as melodic-cum-grace notes. I have no doubt you could have come fun breaking it down and sticking labels on all the components.

    Please don’t think I’m putting down your work, actually far from it. Maybe when I’m not so tired I’ll actually read it all. I love finding order in things. The thing is, I’m not going to sit down and consciously say, “Let’s have a bit of assonance here,” (or as the Julie Walters character describes it in Educating Rita, “getting the rhyme wrong”), I’ll write what feels right (hey, a full rhyme) and worry about the labels afterwards.

    Of course the musicality of language is another beast entirely which has preoccupied the likes of Wittgenstein and Beckett and I’m way out of my league even raising the topic but you sound like a bright lad, it might be an area you want to expand into and you never know you might wind up with that book after all.

  2. Andrew Philip permalink
    24/11/2007 11:06

    Thanks for your comments, Jim. Perhaps I don’t make this clear, but I’m not saying all the patterns I’ve identified in the posts are intentional. With Wilfred Owen, it clearly is a deliberate aesthetic choice, but not all the correspondences are consciously thought out. With Armitage’s “Poem”, I suspect it’s just that the sonnet rhyme scheme exerted a subconscious influence on the correspondences I analysed, given that he was obviously playing with that form.

  3. Tiel Aisha Ansari permalink
    30/11/2007 17:10

    I really like the idea of a systematic terminology for rhyme that’s based on linguistic/phonetic concepts. I wonder, though, if your nomenclature doesn’t risk broadening the meaning of “rhyme” to the point where it’s no longer useful. It seems to me we should be able to recognize and discuss sound-relationships such as assonance and alliteration without redefining them as rhymes– as Jim might say, other kinds of chord progressions. Alliteration especially has its own extremely rich history of use in older forms of English and its ancestors, and it’s kind of sad that it’s gone so much out of use. Sometimes it seems to me that rhyme in all its forms is headed the same way.

  4. Andrew Philip permalink
    01/12/2007 19:28

    Thanks for your comment, Teil. I appreciate your concern, but I don’t think the terminology runs that risk as I use it to describe correspondences between words in canonical rhyme positions. That’s somewhat different from alliteration or assonance used throughout or across a line, although that too could be analysed in a similar fashion. (That’s not to ignore internal rhyme, which I might write about in future.)

    Is it really fair to say that alliteration has “gone so much out of use”? Okay, it’s rare to see anyone using Anglo-Saxon type alliterative meter these days (though not unheard of) but alliteration is surely still an important feature of much poetry.

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