When you think of poetry, several things come to mind. Most notably, you’ll recognize that poetry is the only form of writing in which rhyme has been used as a structural norm. Imagine reading a novel that rhymed?

Rhyming in poetry isn’t a bad thing and is still common practice. The purpose of poetry and the ways we consume it have changed so drastically that today the structure of poetry is being reassessed to fit these purposes and mediums. 

Read on to learn more about the history of rhyme as a poetic norm and how writers and poets of the modern era are subverting the dominant paradigm. 

Is Rhyming Being Phased Out?

Rhyming is being phased out because it is often thought of as childish and not taken seriously. Rhyming poetry is just one of the ways poets and writers convey information, messages, and emotion in their writing. 

What are we using instead? Over time, writing has evolved beyond the need for rhyme and possibly even beyond the need for structure. 

Moving Away From Structure in Poetry

Modern poetry centers around the message in words and the way the writing flows in a natural progression.

The strict structural norms from the past, including rhyming, are now feeling forced and unnatural to the modern writer. Rhyme can still be used, of course, but the difference is that rhyme is now used as another way to enhance the message where applicable. 

However, it’s not seen as an essential feature of poetry or a vital way to convey a message. People will know if your poem centers around the rhyme scheme instead of the message.

Narrative poetry is a form of poetry that has less structure and more closely resembles prose in that a story flows naturally. Breaking structure and tradition is, in and of itself, a message. 

The tone of poetry has shifted to be relatable, realistic, and natural. 

Rhyme and Reason: The Modern Era of Poetry

Every art form has different movements, and those movements may represent shifts in areas including focus, message, and structure. Poetry is no different. The movements of the past had a strong focus on rhyme, rhythm, visualization, and storytelling, which include:

  • The Provencal movement of the 11th to the 13th century
  • The Shakespearean or Elizabethan era 

However, modern movements, such as the Beat movement of the late 40s to the early 60s, have shifted the focus towards experimentation and freeform artistic expression. Slowly but surely, we’ve phased out poetic purity and the strict adherence to structure, rhyme, meter, rhythm, and other traditional rules of poetry.

New Formalism and Other Poetic Movements

This isn’t to say that rhyme is out of the picture. The movement known as New Formalism was developed in the late 20th century to advocate for the resurrection of traditional, structured poetry that focused on metrical patterns of past poetic verses

Some openly criticize this resurgence of formal poetry and refer to it as patriarchal. 

The resurrection of these traditional rules came about because New Formalists believed that the rules of the poetry of our ancestors are essential to poetry and disagreed with the freeform approach of their contemporaries. 

The nature of art is that no one method or medium is more artistic or more correct than another, so these criticisms ultimately hold no sway over the New Formalist movement nor contemporary artists who believe in freeform poetry. 

There was another movement that developed alongside New Formalism in Russia, called New Criticism, which is the happy medium between contemporary and traditional poetry. This states that a piece’s structure, meaning, and the message conveyed in a piece are of equal value.

New Criticism also states that the meaning of a poem can only be understood within the context in which it exists. 

In other words, no meaning can be gathered from a piece of writing outside the structural choices made by the poet. All intentions of the text instilled by the poet can be found within the text, aided heavily by the structural choices. 

You’ve probably guessed by now that this includes rhyme and rhythm.

Rhyming Is Used As a Teaching Mechanism

Rhyming has been used for generations by parents, educators, and even children themselves, to teach children about letters and sounds. 

It allows children to categorize words according to their internal structure and vital language skills like articulation, memory, and the ability to visualize concepts as a precursor to written language. 

Though rhyme has been used beyond primary education, it’s been hugely beneficial in foundation phase teaching because rhyme helps children recognize similarities between words. 

It encourages them to speak words aloud to drive their phonetic value and spelling home. 

One reason that rhyme is being phased out might be due to the fact that it more often than not has a singsong, childlike quality about it that won’t be taken as seriously as a non-rhyming poem. 

The Role of Rhyme in Recitation

Today, we have impressive literacy rates compared to people 100 years ago, which is one area where rhyme in poetry comes in.

As well as a mechanism to teach language, rhyme has been utilized to make recitation easier when the publication of literary works, and even literacy amongst ordinary people, were rare. 

Rhyming gave poetry a rhythm and predictable structure, which helped the reciter memorize the entire poem and convey it to others.

With publishing and reading so accessible in the current age, there’s no practical need for this predictable structure or rhythm that our ancestors used. We can get the message across without the aid of rhyme.

Conclusion

Rhyme is a structural norm that has been phased out with the popularization of contemporary poetry. However, the historical value of rhyme in poetry continues to be a factor that poets consider when writing their poems.

Like other art forms, poetry has no good or bad way to be, or be done. Though a poet may not use rhyme in their poems, there are several reasons why they might want to keep the traditional values of poetry alive. 

Categories: Poetry

Ol Adams

Letter Review is currently edited by Ol Adams, who is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing, casual academic, and guest lecturer at the University of New South Wales. Ol Adams has had short stories published in leading literary journals such as Overland, Southerly, Seizure, and TEXT. Ol has had novels long listed for major awards such as the KYDUMA, has received government funding to produce plays from Create NSW and screenplays from Screen NSW, and has performed / produced professional work at major theatrical venues such as the Sydney Opera House.