What Is A Clunky Rhyme?

Some advice for amateur poets on writing better poems, and avoiding the trap of rhymes that overpower the poem
Posted by Douglas, Mar 31, 2008

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What Is A Clunky Rhyme?

Posted by Douglas, Mar 31, 2008
This post was written in 11 minutes.

What is a "Clunky Rhyme"? Clunky rhymes are rhymes that jump out and slap you in the face. They are most noticeable in poems which are intended to be serious in nature. More light-hearted poems can get away with more obvious rhymes. Can you imagine if Robert Frost wrote poems with rhyme schemes like Dr. Seuss poems or Ogden Nash poems?

One of the best ways of recognizing a clunky rhyme is this: Did I make a change in subject (even ever so slight) in order to make a rhyme fit? If you did, you created a clunky rhyme. If you changed the subject to make a rhyme fit, you made your rhyme stand out like a sore thumb.

Here's a slightly different way of asking the same question: Do I have two lines that rhyme, but are not a continuation of the same thought? The common (amateur) approach to writing a poem is to write a line and then say to yourself "Now I need to say something that rhymes with ____." A more elegant approach to poetry has the end in sight from the beginning, and uses a rhyme along the path toward the end.

Here's another question to consider: Did I use an obscure word or odd turn of phrase in order to make a rhyme fit? That doesn't necessarily qualify something as clunky - it may be elegant rather than clunky, but odds are good it's clunky.

Finally, if you're writing a poem that is serious in its subject matter, it's a good idea to avoid having "too many" rhymes, as you don't want your rhyme to overpower your meaning. If you study the various forms of the sonnet, you will notice that few of the forms have back-to-back lines that rhyme. In many cases they have an alternating-line rhyme scheme. This allows the rhyming to take a back seat to what is really important: the thing you're trying to say.

Please remember that it only takes one clunky rhyme to tear the reader out of their enjoyment of a poem, and if that happens, you've lost your audience! So if you're going to rhyme, work very hard on your rhymes!

Posted by Douglas, Mar 31, 2008

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