Time for rhymes of all kinds

23rd July 2004 at 01:00
Bill Herbert continues our summer series of creative writing challenges

Last week I asked you to produce a set of words you liked, and combine them to generate sentences that were, probably, pretty unpredictable. Creativity is about generating the unpredictable, then finding a pattern to contain it. This week we'll look at rhyme, and see what it generates. If you've just joined us, make a list of three words you like, and see which one works best with the following exercise using "iguana" (not a word you'll hear often).

Imagine my word is a stone, and we've thrown it into a well. It generates ripples, which get weaker as they approach the sides. The central ripples contain full rhymes, and the farther out ripples, less full ones. In the first ripple I'd put "Tijuana", but the next word that occurs to me, "nirvana", drops from rhyming on "uana" to "ana", so that's in the second ripple. Can you think of other rhymes for the first ripple?

Exactly, there's not a lot. But children tend to look only for full rhyme, and get stuck. And yet most pop songs they listen to rhyme on the vowel sounds, or assonantally. This exercise helps the ear become more flexible.

Consider "liana", which misses out the "gu" noise. What about "Joanna" or "gymkhana"? How about varying the end slightly for "spanner"? What if we vary it some more but restore that "gu": "guano"? We're further out, but there's still an audible link.

Look at the beginning of the word: "ig", there's lots of rhymes for that - "big", "pig", "rig". We can add different endings to this sound for "figure" and "cigarette". At which point we're at the rim of the well, and we've touched on something significant.

Rhyme doesn't just occur at the end of a line: the music of a poem is built up through the line, and comes from these combinations of nearer and farther sounds. Concentration on full rhyme drowns this music out. It also means we're less likely to try the following: The big iguana smoked a cigarette and considered the figure of Joanna as she swaggered through the gymkhana.

What I've done is follow the simple formula A + B = ? I've put some of the words together and let them suggest a sentence. Now throw one of your words in. Don't stop at to the first two ripples, explore the variations, then try to combine the most interesting rhymes in a sentence. (You needn't divide it into lines: I only did that to show how rhyme goes through a poem.) Remember, the most predictable rhyme traps energy; the least predictable one releases it.

Next week: Look at the image Bill Herbert is a lecturer at the University of Newcastle. See www.ncl.ac.ukelllstaffprofile xen19. He publishes poetry in English and Scots as WN Herbert. His latest collection is The Big Bumper Book of Troy (Bloodaxe)

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