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Reasoning Rhyme: Tiel Aisha Ansari’s Objections 2

11/01/2008

I closed my first post on Tiel Aisha Ansari’s criticism of my new rhyme terminology by saying that the mention of structure brought me to her most fundamental objection. She is bothered that my nomenclature

risks broadening the definition of “rhyme” to the point where it loses all usefulness.

This comment grows out of her adherence to the terms assonance and consonance, discussed in the previous post in this series. She says she is “not entirely prepared to agree” with my “assertion” that “these relationships are in fact rhymes”.

To a certain extent, the assertion is not mine, at least not originally. It belongs primarily to those poets who have used and who use relative rhymes of any kind in their rhyme schemes. The examples I give are drawn from poems, a fact that Ansari overlooks at certain points. For example, when she calls sang:work “another Philips [sic] example”, she neglects to state that it comes from Wordsworth’s “The Solitary Reaper” and, instead of engaging with the relationship that I sketch in the relevant post, simply says:

If there’s a relationship there, I’m not hearing it.

That’s why it’s a remote rhyme. There’s no identity, but there is a relationship between the corresponding segments in the fellows, even if the /w/:/s/ relationship is fairly distant. But, perhaps most importantly, they’re clearly in a position in which, given the rest of the poem, one would expect a rhyme. They’re the a rhymes in the last stanza. Interestingly, the a fellows in the first stanza constitute a removed rhyme; in two middle stanzas, they are fraternal rhymes, as in all the other rhymes throughout the poem. Wordsworth’s use is therefore clearly structural: there’s a signal of opening and closing.

It strikes me that what Ansari misses in her insistence on maintaining a purity of twin rhyme is this structural nature. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory states:

Rhyme has two main functions: (a) it echoes sounds and is thus a source of aesthetic satisfaction. … (b) Rhyme assists in the actual structure of verse …, simultaneously opening up and concluding the sense.

The sang:work rhyme fulfils both these functions: it echoes sounds, though more weakly than most rhymes in the poem by echoing features rather than segments; through that weakened relationship, it performs a structural function.

But I can still see why Ansari might be reluctant to admit that as a rhyme. And she would probably respond by referring me to the following comment from her post:

these poems [Armitage’s “Kid” and “Poem”] present an overall impression of rhyme, though any particular perceived rhyme may silverfish away when you grab for it.

Well, to my mind, if it patterns like a rhyme and functions as a rhyme, it’s a rhyme. To an extent, I can appreciate her reticence about the Armitage pieces and my attempt to parse them (though less so for “Poem” because of obvious structural features that clearly invoke the sonnet), but I don’t accept it.

What would Ansari say about poets intermingling twin and relative rhymes? Are those not rhyme schemes? If they are rhyme schemes, how are the relative rhymes not rhymes? And what does she think about Wilfred Owen? I note that she avoids all reference to him, although I devote most of a post to his rhyme practice. I simply can’t see how she can say that his peripheral rhyme schemes aren’t rhyme schemes.

Moreover, traditional terms such as half rhyme, which The Penguin Dictionary defines as:

The repetition in accented syllables of the final consonant sound but without the correspondence of the vowel sound. … a form of consonance”,*

demonstrate that I’m not the first to recognise the way these patterns have been used and theorise about such relationships as rhymes. It might not please Ansari to hear that the dictionary’s entry for “head rhyme” is “See ALLITERATION.”

That brings us back to the aim of my terminology: a coherent, comprehensive nomenclature that is based on and points up the different degrees of featural relationship. Ansari is free to use as much or as little of it as she finds useful. In fact, she’s most welcome to do so and I’d be delighted if she adopted any of it! However, I hope I’ve made her reconsider her objections. I’ve certainly enjoyed the debate so far!

I’ll tie up this defenceI by clearing up a couple of smaller misunderstandings. In discussing a rhyme from “Kid”, Ansari says that her terminology and mine both

make no reference to the fact that the unstressed syllables correspond, which actually is to my ear the defining feature of the Armitage poem in question.

I agree with the defining-feature-of-the-poem bit, but she’s wrong about the terminology: longer:larder is a compound removed:identical rhyme. Compound rhymes are discussed here.

Also, Ansari says of strong:stink:

Note that it’s not a remote rhyme because there’s no relationship between the nuclei. I think.

For her benefit, I’ll repeat the definition of remote rhyme from the post on the basic terminology:

there is no identity, but all segments in the syllable exhibit some relationship to their partners in the other fellow.

Therefore, strong:stink can’t be a remote rhyme because there are two identitical segments in the onsets (st and st), even if there is an additional segment in one fellow. Hope that’s helpful.

*In other words, removed rhyme, if we’re not talking about identical onsets, which the definition simply ignores, even though there is onset identity in peer:pare, one of the rhymes in the Emily Dickinson stanzas given as an example (the first two of this poem), which, of course, makes it a peripheral rhyme.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Andrew Philip permalink
    12/01/2008 11:56

    One other point I meant to make about Ansari’s reluctance to admit relative rhyme as rhyme per se is that it’s very much based on traditional English-language literary poetics. That’s quite important I think, given that I’m aiming for a terminology that can cover rhyme practice and phenomena in popular poetry/song and other languages. For instance, traditional rhyme in Scottish Gaelic poetry uses a lot of relative rhyme and doesn’t distinguish. I’ll probably do a post on that once I’ve got a better grasp of the rules of Gaelic rhyme.

    Another thing I want to point out is that the use of “relative” in the umbrella term relative rhyme is not accidental not only because it fits in the kinship schema but because it describes the degree of correspondence involved: not identical but related.

  2. Jim Murdoch permalink
    12/01/2008 17:11

    I’ve been reading these blogs for a while and avoided getting involved because this is not a subject I am passionate about merely interested in. To my mind, if I can cut through all the rhetoric, the basis of your whole argument stems from the idea that there is a relationship between all phonemes and that relationship can be defined very much like the relationship between musical notes (perfect and imperfect consonances, dissonances etc). How you define those relationships (rhymes, half-rhymes, nuclear rhymes, whatever) is interesting from an academic point of view – it might explain why some poems work better than others – but most poets will use these as instinctively an old blues guitarist who can’t read music but knows when a chord sequence works. This is not to denigrate your work by any manner of means but it’s no doubt a bit frustrating trying to redefine something as seeming straightforward as rhyme, probably the least appreciated poetic technique.

  3. Andrew Philip permalink
    16/01/2008 15:33

    Jim, I certainly agree that most rhyming is largely intuitive. I’m sure you’ll agree that’s no reason not to try to understand it better. The musical analogy is a reasonable one, perhaps especially if we think of correspondences as analogous to different intervals, with twin rhyme being a 1st or, perhaps, an octave.

  4. Jim Murdoch permalink
    16/01/2008 17:13

    I think your project is very worthwhile. I’m not sure a blog is the best place to present it but I think it’s an excellent place to refine it. Your problem is getting people to engage with you, preferably knowledgeable people. I wish I was one of them but I’m not. I’m your end market, the guy who’s interested in how poetry works and believes in poetry as an amalgam of form, technique and meaning. I look at a lot of experimental poetry and I want to know why I’m not connecting to it. I want to know when the experiment has failed and I want to know where the fault lies with me. I’m strongly opposed to the it’s-a-poem-because-I-say-it-is school of thought and I’m very keen that up-and-coming poets learn, what can I call them, the old ways; whether they embrace them or abandon them, I think it matters that they understand them.

    There have been a number of writers preoccupied with the musicality of language (Beckett and Pinget jump to mind but there are others) and I think using the analogies of chord progression and possibly harmonics might be a good way to help people understand a little better what you’re on about. I’ve read a fair bit about poetic structure but the examples provided are inevitably from the likes of Milton of Tennyson, writers I really can’t relate to, rather than modern poets, or at least recent ones like Larkin.

    Ansari’s criticism that your work “risks broadening the definition of “rhyme” to the point where it loses all usefulness” is a point worth empathising with. Most people don’t have a lot of time for serial, atonal or microtonal music – it’s certainly an acquired taste – but once you have trained your ear there’s a lot out there to appreciate, things that, in the age of Mozart or Handel, would be regarded as noise. To see sang:work as any kind of rhyme is a real stretch and a lot of people are not going to get it, not ever (I’m not that sure I do), just as, for some people, the work of Webern will never be anything more than noise.

    That I don’t get it doesn’t matter. I don’t get gravity but I don’t go flying off into the upper atmosphere just to be difficult.

  5. Tiel Aisha Ansari permalink
    26/01/2008 01:26

    Andrew– I’m not meaning to blow you off, but life’s just been, well, lively. I’ll try to compose something this weekend if more stuff doesn’t blow up.

  6. Andrew Philip permalink
    01/02/2008 14:32

    Nae worries, Tiel. As you’ll have noticed, I’m not the most persistent poster myself.

    It’s been a useful discussion so far: I think some refinement of the concept of remoteness is needed and maybe I also need to clarify what constitutes a relationship between speech sounds a bit more. All food for thought and grist to the blogging mill (eventually).

  7. Andrew Philip permalink
    02/02/2008 15:07

    Jim, your Webern analogy is good. I loved the week of his music on “Composer of the Week” just before Christmas–so much beauty, stark as most of it was–but I can appreciate why others might not. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as I did this time.

    To return to my first comment, there’s a post on Scottish Gaelic rhyme practice brewing in my head. I hope to get it out in the next few weeks.

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