The Rhyming Masters of the Early 21st Century
by Eddie Morales  07/04/2007
Where are America’s masters of rhyming poetry?  For over twenty years I’ve asked myself this
question, only to find there are none.  There may be many poets who rhyme, but their work will
never see the printed page.  In all likelihood editors, publishers, teachers, and established
poets would consider their work “nursery rhyme” poetry or “greeting card” verse, and they may
be right.  However, this leads me to another question, “Where are the
professors of rhyming
poetry?”  In order for rhyming poets to get rid of nursery rhyme and greeting card verse,
someone has to show them how to do it.

School curricula may include learning about the sonnet, which is the most frequently presented
rhyming form when studying poetry, whether Shakespearean or Petrarchen, and may even
include the couplet and the quatrain, which are the two most widely used poetic forms,
especially among novice poets, but that’s as far as the rhyming forms are taken.  No one
teaches the rondeau, the villanelle, the terza rima, the pantoum, the rondelet, the cinquain, the
triolet, or the many other rhyming forms once used by the great poets of the past, at least not
seriously, and only then to make the student aware of their existence, not to encourage them
to write in those rhyming forms.

Today, most of the students’ contact with poetry is with the non-rhyming form, or free verse
poetry.  In fact, I’ve heard teachers tell students to forget about the rhyme altogether.  If there
are many forms in which to rhyme, and only one way to free verse, why doesn’t anyone
rhyme?  I’m referring here to the masters of free verse poetry since America is proficient in free
verse and deficient in rhyme.  Many of these established free verse poets must have some
idea of how to rhyme.  So why are they reluctant to do so?  Are they afraid their works will also
be classified as “nursery rhyme” poetry?

Free verse poets may say it’s better to concentrate on the subject using metaphor, simile,
imagery, and other elements of poetry to get their message across without having to worry
about finding the rhymes to a particular restrictive form, like a sonnet, but writers of prose do
this already without calling their work poetry.  I feel this “better to concentrate on the subject”
attitude a cop out.  Why not admit they don’t rhyme because they don’t know how?  I say it
takes more talent, and in many cases a gift, to create great rhyming poetry than it does to
create great free verse poetry.  Even if you disagree with my last comment, you have to admit
it is easier to go from rhyme to free verse than vice versa.  I usually start my poems in free
verse and then work out the rhymes, but I’ve never written a rhyming poem to work out the free
verse, and if I did, I could easily switch to free verse if I wanted to.

The removal of rhyme is how free verse poetry came into existence in the first place, but I feel
this avoidance of rhyme, along with the poetry of the last thirty years, has been a step
backward in the art of poetry.  Of course, established free verse poets will disagree, but I feel
to write only in free verse or only in rhyme is to be half a poet.  At the very least, rhyming
poetry should be written hand in hand with free verse poetry.  Nowadays, I feel a well-rounded
poet is one who writes in various forms, not just free verse.  How else are we going to keep the
beautiful rhyming forms of the past alive?

Since free verse poets are quick to point out the “greeting card” aspect of rhyming poetry,
rhyming poets have the same right to point out the “short story” aspect of free verse poetry.  
After twenty years of reading free verse poetry, I am sick of it.  Why?  Because it all sounds like
short stories being palmed off as poetry.  There is nothing to separate good free verse poetry
from bad free verse poetry.  Again, why?  Because the line between the two is very thin and
most people, particularly the general public, can’t tell the difference.  Sure, poetry experts can
tell which is which, but the population of experts is very small compared to the public majority.  
However, that’s beside the point.  The point is, the art of rhyme is lost, and the public is asking
for it to be found.  I’m also looking for this art form to be resurrected, and it’s nice to know I’m
not alone.

Over the past ten years, I’ve entered many poetry contests (winning a prize on numerous
occasions) and have attended many poetry conventions (International Society of Poets Poetry
Convention and Famous Poets Society Poetry Convention), festivals (Geraldine R. Dodge
Poetry Festival), Barnes and Nobel poetry readings, public library poetry readings, open-air
poetry readings, and private poetry readings.  In the beginning, over the first five years, I
heard nothing but free verse poetry presented.  Then I noticed a change over the last five
years.  More people were asking for rhyming poetry, and suddenly rhyming poetry took a
foothold at these events.  It is a good sign that many people are still interested in rhyming
poetry.  The majority of these people are the general public, your everyday poet, your next-
door neighbor, not the teachers, not the professors, not the publishers, not the editors, and
certainly not your established, contemporary poets.  Now, the question is, where do we go from
here?  How do we get rhyme back into mainstream America?  The answer: one rhyming poet at
a time.  Now, what do rhyming poets have to do to get, what I call, The Rhymist Movement, in
gear?

One of the first things rhyming poets need to do is up the ante.  Let’s get the “nursery rhyme”
and “greeting card” verses out of our poems.  Doing this gives us credibility.  In order to do
this, we need to study the art of rhyme in depth.  We need to refer to the rhyming masters of
old, since there are no contemporary rhyming poets to speak of, and learn what it is that
makes a rhyming poem great.  Sooner or later, as more and more poets continue to master the
art of rhyme, there will be knowledgeable poets in the art of rhyme to teach others, and they
will teach others.  Eventually, if this trend continues, we will have masters of rhyming poetry,
and poetry lovers of the future will be able to quote the rhyming poets of the early twenty-first
century, and to do this, in order for this to happen, we need to start now.
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