I’m a rhyming poet. Occasionally I do write open verse or prose, but not often. Too many poets, in my opinion, denounce rhyming as stifling their creativity or making their poems sound like Dr. Seuss. Many of these poets, though not all, are simply lazy. Rhyming tends not to work well without a suitable meter, and that really complicates matters for contemporary free-range writers.
Dr. Seuss, by the way, was a genius. Yes, he over-rhymed for most adult taste, but mostly this was for his pre-teen target audience. His full name was Theodor Seuss Geisel and he died in 1991. To me, being compared to Dr. Seuss is quite a compliment. But I digress.
As I mentioned, a rhymed poem typically requires a meter, and that meter helps the poet decide on the type of rhyme (the masculine single syllable or the feminine double syllable rhyme at the end of the line), whether the rhyming syllable will be stressed, and whether the poem will be friendly, cute, farcical, dramatic, or poignant.
Meter is a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line. For example an iamb is a “foot” of Unstressed-stressed (“dah-DUM”). Iambic pentameter, then is five feet of iambs “dah-DUM dah-DUM dah-DUM dah-DUM dah-DUM”). This meter is just one of many classic meters used by poets from Shakespeare to Frost. Dr. Seuss primarily used “trisyllabic” meters in his children’s books, meaning the patterns were based on three syllables in each foot instead of two. Anapestic is a classic trisyllabic meter (“duh-duh-DUM”).
To rhyme yet not stick to a meter makes no sense. If one does not wish to be metrical in their poetry, then one should not rhyme either. I have advised many a poet to remove rhymes from their work.
Another aspect of rhyming has to do with use of perfect, imperfect, assonance or half-rhymes. There are many other types of rhyming, but these are the primary culprits of misuse. Perfect rhymes are, as you would expect, simple matching of ending vowel and consonant sounds, such as “bite” and “might” or “ball” and “tall”. Imperfect rhymes are perfect in rhyme but have different stress of the rhyming syllables, like “king” and “purring”. Half rhymes just rhyme consonant sounds, not vowels, such as “ball” and “ill”.
The style that truly irritates me is the use of assonance as rhymes, which means rhyming only vowel sounds (“make” and “bait”, or “kite” and “bike”). The reason this has become popular, besides the aforementioned laziness, is lyrics. In music, both meter and rhyme can be loose because the singer can adjust syllables to be as short or long as the melody allows, and the music itself lessens the audience ‘s attention to the details of rhyming. Use of assonance in rap doesn’t count since most rap uses assonance throughout. That is alo true of some “slam poetry”. They both get free passes.
Much of my time writing poetry is spent on trying to make rhymes feel natural in their context. In other words, words or phrases are not used purely for their rhymes. People don’t speak in rhymes, so reading forced rhymes can be a big distraction. You want the rhyme to be matter-of-fact, letting people read the feeling or purpose of the word rather than focus on the rhyme. This can be difficult, and I don’t always accomplish that, but I strive for that type of perfection in my poetry nonetheless.
In order to improve one’s rhyming poetry, I would suggest learning and practicing classic meters, using a rhyming dictionary (many are online), and experimenting with phrasing until rhymes don’t sound forced, or even whimsical (the Dr. Seuss syndrome) unless that is their purpose.
If you don’t really want to become accomplished in meter or stray from assonance, keep rhymes out of your work… (please?)