Are there limits to metre and rhyme?

Recurring debates on important poetry topics.
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David Campbell
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Are there limits to metre and rhyme?

Post by David Campbell » Sun Jun 01, 2014 11:29 am

There's been some discussion, particularly in the 'Rhyming' thread, about flexibility and creativity, so I've written a short piece below to stimulate some thinking on that issue. What is acceptable? It has metre, but nothing standard, and it has plenty of rhyme, although not always perfect, and not something you could easily pin down in ABAB style. So where does it fit on the bush verse-free verse continuum? What would happen if I called it Drought and entered it in a bush verse competition?

He sits each day
on the veranda,
matchstick thin,
weathered skin
stretched taut
on brittle bones; hands that wander,
flutter
like broken-winged birds,
sometimes caught
as if to pray. Vacant eyes
mirror a wasteland; he cries
for what is lost, the sounds he utters
no longer words.
She hovers, and sighs,
recalling the lovers
of forty years in bitter tears,
now come to naught.

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Peely
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Re: Are there limits to metre and rhyme?

Post by Peely » Sun Jun 01, 2014 3:00 pm

Sometimes it doesn't hurt to look at the past to see what was acceptable at the time and wonder why what was done then is mostly seen as being unacceptable now. I have always found Banjo Paterson's "The Mylora Elopement" a very interesting poem in that it has several very noticeable changes in the rhyming structure throughout is length.

"The Mylora Elopement" starts off in the first five stanzas as being stock, standard internally rhymed ballad meter (internal rhymes kick in on the third strong stress).

The next, very long stanza that follows has no set rhyming scheme to it - it is mostly rhyming couplets, but there are a few triplets (it starts with a triplet) and even a quadruplet (finishes with one of these) and an unrhymed line (though that same end word reappears much further down in the stanza where it is rhymed, so it could also be argued otherwise) make an appearance there. The line lengths are also shorter here - four strong stresses per line as opposed to the seven it began with in the opening stanzas.

The next stanza is mostly to a set structure - only one noticeable departure from it - mostly rhymed aabccb, with the exception being rhymed aaabccb. It is mostly written with four strong stresses per line apart from in the b rhymed lines that only have three strong strong stresses.

The next stanza is all couplet rhymed with four strong stresses per line. And the final stanza is basically patterned on the first five - the internal rhyme is dropped in the final couplet though and even then it is close to being a proper internal rhyme.

The story in the poem still flows well and there are also some minor variations in the metre that don't really detract from the poem.

Some other Paterson poems that show variations in structure include: "Anthony Considine", "The Road to Gundagai" (only one fairly minor variation in this one though) and "Song of the Future".

Stephen has pointed out a CJ Dennis poem that has a varied rhyming scheme through the stanzas (on the writing and structuring of poems too, interestingly enough), so Paterson wasn't the only poet that did this from time to time.

I guess this leads to a further question - if the poem flows, should we be worried about variations in metric structure and rhyming scheme?
John Peel - The Man from Gilmore Creek

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Re: Are there limits to metre and rhyme?

Post by Neville Briggs » Sun Jun 01, 2014 3:17 pm

Scansion is a very inexact thing for me in this case, I am not sure. If it strays from regular metre then it doesn't stray very far , it sounds to me like mostly iambic with a few trochaic variations thrown in here and there. I could be wrong. It seems to work OK as long as you are satisfied that the line ending are right for the clarity of expression and mood. I wouldn't call it free verse, more just stretching the boundaries of metered verse.

From what I have seen of published bush poetry comp winning entries I doubt that this could succeed. What a pity.

Ill turn the question around David, would you rate something like this if you were the bush verse judge. ;) I hope you can say Yes.
Neville
" Prose is description, poetry is presence " Les Murray.

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David Campbell
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Re: Are there limits to metre and rhyme?

Post by David Campbell » Mon Jun 02, 2014 11:11 am

Good points, Marty. I do presentations at Rotary and Probus meetings using the title: “Australian Rhyming Verse Is Alive And Well!”. The word “bush” just confuses the issue for city-dwellers.

No Neville, I wouldn’t reward the poem in a bush poetry competition. Why? Because the organisers would immediately be after me asking what the hell I was doing! Most competitions include a rule on their entry form insisting on a traditional approach to metre and rhyme. Here are some examples:

Bronze Swagman: “Poem(s) to be in traditional Australian Bush Verse form (Rhyme and Rhythm) with an Australian theme.”
Henry Lawson (Gulgong): “All entries must be in bush ballad format and have good rhyme, rhythm and metre.”
Bush Lantern: “Bush verse must have the rhyme and metre of traditional bush poetry.”

Judges are between a rock and a hard place. There is often the assumption that relaxing the rules for a competition is simply a matter of judges being more flexible, but individual opinions in this regard are constrained by the expectations of organisers. So whether or not I thought something like the above was worthwhile is largely irrelevant. If Neil printed it in the magazine there would be an immediate backlash. There will be people reading this thread who are not at all happy to see something like this reproduced here. Not because it’s incomprehensible…the accusation usually directed at free verse…but because it doesn’t read like bush poetry.

I partly deal with the dilemma by judging open competitions. I’ve just given a first prize to a 40-line poem with 7 stanzas of varying length, 4 of which included some rhyme, the other three with none at all. It would have been completely unacceptable in the competitions listed above.

So with Manfred’s appeal to be more creative and break away from the “boring” and your regular calls for more flexibility, Neville, what exactly are we talking about? That’s why I’m asking the question that is the subject of this thread. Is it just tinkering at the edges, for example accepting “utters” as a rhyme for “flutter”, or is it more radical, for example accepting “wander” as a rhyme for “veranda”? (In the latter case a judge has to decide whether the poet knows what he or she is doing or simply thinks that words rhyme if they look vaguely alike.)

In terms of rhythm, can we mix up the metre randomly, using a variety of line lengths, as the above poem does, or are we merely talking about something like alternating a couple of the standard metres either within a stanza or between stanzas (somewhat like the examples John is referring to)?

If there are to be changes then the bush poetry community has to tackle issues like these…as well as all those surrounding appropriate subject-matter…and be prepared to follow through at all levels. As it stands, most people would probably be far more comfortable with something that started like the version below. But does it fall into the “boring” trap? deDUMdeDUMdeDUMdeDUM...

He sits each day as if to pray,
his body taut and still,
for he is lost and counts the cost
of failure’s bitter chill.
He’s frail and thin, his weathered skin
stretched taut on brittle bones;
in ruthless hands time’s cruel sands
destroy the world he owns.

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Mal McLean
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Re: Are there limits to metre and rhyme?

Post by Mal McLean » Mon Jun 02, 2014 12:27 pm

First of all - subject matter.

You must pick the competition to enter if you are going to write poetry that is not strictly "bush".

I write mostly 'urban' poetry anyway because that is what I know about.

Secondly - rhyme and metre and the form of the poem.

I've always felt that the metre must suit the subject. Rhyme must be true. Form on the other hand can be played with.

I have found examples of classic poets experimenting with both rhyme and metre within poems. However, establishing a good metre and sticking to it is essential to a good read. This also means having the ability and willingness to change the meter or rhyme scheme if the flow of the poem and the subject allows or demands it.

Here is a poor example of mine in which I altered the form to get a different feel visually which I hoped matched the speed of the poem.

Upon the Resolution of the Anxiety Caused by Driving in Peak Hour Traffic and the Obscurity of Rhythm.


The angry and oppressive make their way aggressive
through the ranks of lesser drivers
whom they scatter on the road.
The evidence revealing of their maniacal wheeling
is the growing list of victims
and the tow trucks twisted load.

The flotsam of the wreckage sends a bitter message
of the stresses of commuting
in this kill or be killed mode.
I weary of this censure and the tension and the pressure
in the flood of city drivers
as they give their engines goad!

And so:

When I can, I’ll be a rambling man,
(I’ll need to take some time, you’ll trust),
going places where I can
and not because I must.

This poem was included in the Henry Kendall Anthology 2012. It was written as a bit of a joke about rhythm with the reducing beats in the last four lines. Interestingly enough the editors had the last laugh as it was immediately preceeded in the anthology by a poem by Mark d'Arbon called "Oh the Pallidity" which is entirely critical of bush poetry.

I am rambling.

What I want to say is this. Writing for competitions and writing for pleasure are not necessarily connected. Not everything you write will be of competition standard or style. When I eventually publish my book it will contain quite a few poems I hope make good reading because of their differences from the mainstream competition variety.

So, no. In my view there are no limits to metre and rhyme save what the reader is prepared to accept.

As usual, I am probably wrong about most of this....


Mal
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Maureen K Clifford
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Re: Are there limits to metre and rhyme?

Post by Maureen K Clifford » Mon Jun 02, 2014 12:55 pm

Makes perfect sense to me Mal
What I want to say is this. Writing for competitions and writing for pleasure are not necessarily connected. Not everything you write will be of competition standard or style.
That is similar to my feel re the TAT Poetry Magazine - I don't care about submissions to it being technically perfect or of competition standard but I do care about the content being 'reader friendly' so that those folks who don't DO poetry will hopefully be at least encouraged to have a read because what has caught their eye sounds interesting or funny or the subject matter is something they can relate to. No sense preaching to the already converted it is the new blood we need to attract.

I don't think your example is a poor example either - I like it, it is user friendly.
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Re: Are there limits to metre and rhyme?

Post by Gary Harding » Mon Jun 02, 2014 4:47 pm

After a few years doesn't one get the feel for what works and what doesn't in writing??

Certainly if you establish a meter/rhyme pattern, it is important to ensure that pattern is maintained without any variation. No faltering. No halting. No errors. Perfection.

One bad line. One slip. Then the poem is ruined. No prisoners taken.

A poem is surely about entertainment? Laughter, tears.. and even philosophy.

You take the reader on a journey.... but if you fumble, err, slip in your rhythm.. then you are consigned to the literary dustbin. No reader will follow you again.

As Maureen says.. "reader friendly". Absolutely. They might say "Gee.. I reckon that was great.. I could have a go at that." It strikes a poetic chord somewhere with the reader.

As an example the Lawson line:

"I've been there!" he says, and fills up — or he only says "Same here".

You and the reader are mates.

I really do not think the rules of balladry present a great barrier. Even rhyme can be accommodated with effort, but it is speaking from the heart.. relating to readers... that is the key.

The rules form just the background. It is the foreground of captivating readers, converting them into friends through writing, that makes a real poet.

You reach out for their hearts and souls... and through poetry.. bond.

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Re: Are there limits to metre and rhyme?

Post by Neville Briggs » Mon Jun 02, 2014 8:24 pm

[quote="David Campbell"]So with Manfred’s appeal to be more creative and break away from the “boring” and your regular calls for more flexibility, Neville, what exactly are we talking about? ...

I guess Manfred knows what he means.

When I read modern verse that is based on traditional forms of, as we say, rhyme and metre ( there is plenty of it out there, I can give examples ). They look different from bush poetry.
Their rhyming is not predictable ( every second line) their rhyming uses a lot of near rhymes and assonance in place of supposed correct rhyme.
Their metre changes with the use of trochaic substitutions. They use a lot of caesuras and enjambments.
They use stress metre instead of rigid syllable counts, sometimes a mixture of each. And they speak on both contemporary life and historical narratives with a contemporary voice.

They appear to be not bound up by iron clad rules. They stretch and bend the "rules" when it suits for expression, but still manage to stay in the recognisable tradition of formal structure.
It appears to me that the vast majority of their efforts go into expression, form is subject to the need for expression, not the other way round.


I suppose that what I might be trying to understand as flexible.
Neville
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David Campbell
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Re: Are there limits to metre and rhyme?

Post by David Campbell » Mon Jun 02, 2014 9:25 pm

Put a couple of those examples up, Neville, so we can see what you mean. The more different forms there are in front of us, the better the understanding of what is possible and the clearer the basis for discussion. I assume you're referring to something that lies somewhere between the two versions I've given. One point of clarification..."rigid syllable counts" do not act in isolation in judging bush verse, but operate in tandem with the appropriate use of strong and weak stresses. It's not a case of one or the other.

Cheers
David

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Re: Are there limits to metre and rhyme?

Post by Peely » Mon Jun 02, 2014 10:06 pm

As Paterson's "Anthony Considine" is only fairly short, I thought I would post it here to demonstrate that a poem that does not have the same structure of rhyming all the way through can still be very effective. It would be interesting to have a go at writing something with a varied structure like this - even though it might not meet with what many judges expect to see.

Anthony Considine
AB Paterson

Out in the wastes of the West countrie,
Out where the white stars shine,
Grim and silent as such men be,
Rideth a man with a history -
Anthony Considine.

For the ways of men they are manifold
As their differing views in life;
For some are sold for the lust of gold
And some for the lust of strife:
But this man counted the world well lost
For the love of his neighbour's wife.

They fled together, as those must flee
Whom all men hold in blame;
Each to the other must all things be
Who cross the gulf of iniquity
And live in the land of shame.

But a light-o'-love, if she sins with one,
She sinneth with ninety-nine:
The rule holds good since the world begun -
Since ever the streams began to run
And the stars began to shine.
The rule holds true, and he found it true -
Anthony Considine.

A nobler spirit had turned in scorn
From a love that was stained with mire;
A weaker being might mourn and mourn
For the loss of his Heart's Desire:
But the anger of Anthony Considine
Blazed up like a flaming fire.

And she, with her new love, presently
Came past with her eyes ashine;
And God so willed it, and God knows why,
She turned and laughed as they passed him by -
Anthony Considine.

Her laughter stung as a whip might sting;
And mad with his wounded pride
He turned and sprang with a panther's spring
And struck at his rival's side:
And only the woman, shuddering,
Could tell how the dead man died!

She dared not speak -- and the mystery
Is buried in auld lang syne,
But out on the wastes of the West countrie,
Grim and silent as such men be,
Rideth a man with a history -
Anthony Considine.
John Peel - The Man from Gilmore Creek

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