Sunday, January 20, 2008

Q&A a la Ann Landers: Misinformation, Poetry, Rhymes and Being Ticked Off

Questions from author and poet Dawn Colclasure :

I am writing to you because I am hoping you can help me out with something. I'd posted a poem online and someone pointed out that there might not be a perfect rhyme using the words "abuse/truce."

You can read the poem . Now that I think on it, I realize maybe I did get that pairing wrong, because first I used "abuse" paired with "use" so I think the pronunciation would've differed here, to where it wouldn't be the same as "truce."

Being deaf, I guess I tend to forget the little nuances in how most words are pronounced and how they can be pronounced in different ways. But what do you think? I know you write poetry so I'm hoping you can pick up on that for me. Just please let me know your thoughts on that. I'd so appreciate it.

And I guess this kind of thing would make for an interesting discussion on deaf poets employing rhyme in their verse! :)


Answer:
First of all, these two rhymes ("abuse/truce") are perfect rhymes when you use "abuse" as a noun and not a verb. They're not from the same spelling family, but they sound the same. The word "use" also sounds different depending on how it is used, as a noun or a verb. But either way they're rhyming words, though they may be slant rhymes rather than "perfect rhymes" that your critic seemed to prefer.

The issue for me, though, is not whether these words rhyme or not but that your critic feels that rhymes must be perfect. Off-rhymes are perfectly legitimate. In fact, many poems don't rhyme at all. Then there are internal rhymes, also perfectly legitimate and sometimes preferred by poets because they aren't so well, er, blatant.

This kind of criticism bothers me because when we, as writers, are critiquing others, we need to encourage them to experiment, to find their own voices. It seems that deaf poets or blind poets or young poets or ancient poets might have some amazing things to contribute if we don't stifle their creativity.

The other reason it bothers me is that we, when we play the part of critiquers, need to be very careful about the way we critique another's work. I rant about misinformation that gets passed around the web all the time. This bit about perfect rhymes is a new, rather distressing one. By the way, there is a book out there—Merriam Webster's Rhyming Dictionary—that helps with perfect rhymes and refers writers to those that aren't quite so cheerfully in tune. Every poet (and writer of literary prose) would benefit by having it handy.

Also, I have some critique guidelines based on those used by writers' program teachers at UCLA. I added some twists to it based on my own experience facilitating critique groups. Anyone who would like one may e-mail me for a copy. HoJoNews@aol.com. Put CRITIQUE GROUP GUIDELINE REQUEST in the subject line. It will come to you by attachment.

Now, back to the sound of your rhymes. I don't know anywhere in the world where "use," "truce" and "abuse" aren't rhyming words in English. Even among people who speak English with different accents. Even among those who prefer poems without rhymes. Even among those who don't perceive that some words change their sound depending on the part of speech they function in.

As an aside, consider two of my favorite words, obtuse and abstruse. They are favorites for no other reason than that they confuse so many people.

PS. Dawn is the author of Burning the Midnight Oil: How We Survive as Writing Parents.
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Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author THIS IS THE PLACE; HARKENING: A COLLECTION OF STORIES REMEMBERED; TRACINGS, a chapbook of poetry; and two how to books, THE FRUGAL BOOK PROMOTER: HOW TO DO WHAT YOUR PUBLISHER WON'T; and THE FRUGAL EDITOR: PUT YOUR BEST BOOK FORWARD TO AVOID HUMILIATION AND ENSURE SUCCESS.
Her other blogs include TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com and AuthorsCoalition.blogspot.com, a blog that helps writers and publishers turn a ho-hum book fair booth into a sizzler.

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