Prose from Poetry Magazine

Presto Manifesto!

Seventh in a series of eight manifestos.
“Rhymes are not good Victorian children, to be seen and not heard.”

The freedom to not-rhyme must include the freedom to rhyme. Then verse will be “free.”

All rhymed poetry must be rhyme-driven. This is no longer to be considered pejorative.

Rhyme is at the wheel. No, rhyme is the engine.

Rhyme is an engine of syntax: like meter, it understands the importance of prepositions.

English is not rhyme poor. It is only uninflected. On the contrary, English has a richness in rhymes across different parts of speech; whereas in many other languages, rhyme is often merely a coincident jingle of accidence.

There are no tired rhymes. There are no forbidden rhymes. Rhymes are not predictable unless lines are. Death and breath, womb and tomb, love and of, moon, June, spoon, all still have great poems ahead of them.

Rhymes may be so far apart, you cannot hear them, but they can hear each other, as if whispering on a toy telephone made of two paper cups and a length of string.

Rhymes do not need to be hidden or disguised: they are nothing to be ashamed of.

Rhymes are not good Victorian children, to be seen but not heard. Rhyme may be feminine or masculine, but not neuter.

Some rhymes are diatonic; some are modal.

Off rhymes founded on consonants are more literary than off rhymes founded on vowels (assonance). Vowels are shifty. Assonance is in the mouth, not the ear. It is performative.

Consonance brings forth what is different, so we listen for what is the same (harmonic). Assonance brings forth likeness; we listen for dissonance. The vowel is the third of the chord.

Translators who translate poems that rhyme into poems that don’t rhyme solely because they claim keeping the rhyme is impossible without doing violence to the poem have done violence to the poem. They are also lazy.

Rhyme is an irrational, sensual link between two words. It is chemical. It is alchemical.

April, silver, orange, month.

Rhyme frees the poet from what he wants to say.

Rhyme can also free a poem from fixed line length. A rhyme lets us hear the end of the line, so lines may be of any metrical length, or even syllabic, and still be heard.

Rhyme schemes.

Rhyme annoys people, but only people who write poetry that doesn’t rhyme, and critics.

See also: chime, climb, clime, crime, dime, grime, I’m, lime, mime, paradigm, pantomime, prime, rime, slime, sublime, thyme, Time.

Originally Published: January 30th, 2009

A.E. (Alicia) Stallings studied classics at the University of Georgia and Oxford University. She has published three books of poetry: Archaic Smile (1999), winner of the Richard Wilbur Award; Hapax (2000); and Olives (2012), which was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award. Stallings’s poetry is known for its ingenuity...

Appeared in Poetry Magazine This Appears In
  1. February 2, 2009
     Mary Meriam

    “Company is inherent in rhyming,

    where one word keeps company

    with another. And rhyme, like any

    metaphor, is itself a threesome,

    though not a crowd: tenor, vehicle,

    and the union of the two that

    constitutes the third thing,

    metaphor.” Christopher Ricks,

    Dylan’s Vision of Sin

  2. February 2, 2009
     J. Christopher Blanchard

    "Rhyme annoys people, but only people who write poetry that doesn’t rhyme, and critics."

    I have found this to be completly true. I love the fact that you had the courage to say it and that this magizine printed it. Thank you both.

  3. February 3, 2009

    I think that 100 years from now, when L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets and Futurists and Beats and New York Schoolers are forgotten, poets like Cummings, Dickinson, Auden, Wilbur, Dylan Thomas, Theodore Roethke, and even Clement Clarke Moore will be remembered. (Schoolchildren of 2109 will know "A Visit from St Nicholas"!) Rhyme remembers itself. As does meter.

    Ms Stallings reprehends unrhymed translations of rhymed poems, and I'm with her if she means the trite slop proposed by, say, Robert Bly as feasible "translations." (See especially Bly's rendering of Goethe's "Selige Sehnsucht.") But I think if one retains the meter, then dropping the rhyme is more excusable. (A sonnet can, I think, be translated into 14 lines of unrhymed pentameter, and still be pleasurable to the reader.)

  4. February 3, 2009
     Jan Iwaszkiewicz


  5. February 3, 2009
     Vivek Narayanan

    Thanks-- this is about as fascinating, insightful and precise a manifesto as I've ever seen about rhyme.

  6. February 3, 2009
     Jim Finnegan

    Is there an echo in here?

  7. February 4, 2009
     David LaRue Alexander

    This article and it's comments are the most insightful that I've ever read in Poetry Magazine. Poetry is art expressed through language. Rhyme is a part of language. Why has it been relegated to the the status of the "red headed step child?" It would be akin to limiting the artist to only certain type of brush strokes. Poetry that creates visual imagery is great! However, so is poetry which utilizes rhyme and rythym.

    As a poet I truly only know one way to state it:

    When did the rhyme go? I don’t know!

    I’m only aware that I miss it so!

    When poems I read from olden times,

    more often verse is filled with rhymes.

    When poems I read that are today,

    more often rhyme has gone away.

    When I was young and not so smart,

    was rhyme that tickled my small heart.

    When older yet I had become,

    both rhyme and rhythm taught me some.

    When finally a man, all fully grown,

    many books of poetry I did own.

    When did it become so complicated,

    on precisely just how the words are stated?

    When I understand it, and I hope I do,

    you’ll be the first that I am telling it too.

    When I have to recollect being a child,

    just to recall what first gave me that smile.

    When I have to go back to my very first book,

    just to remember the reason, I took a look.

    Twas rhyme I discovered,

    that got me hooked!

  8. February 5, 2009
     levar burton

    Way to rhyme "look" and "book" there reading rainbow.

  9. February 5, 2009
     Janet Kenny

    I pity people who don't love rhyme. They

    are like people who don't love colours or


    There is a recognised neurological

    condition which causes people to be

    unable to appreciate music. Nobody

    considers that to be a fortunate or better

    state of being.

    Thank you A. E. Stallings for saying what

    we all have known since childhood but

    have not been permitted to say out loud.

  10. February 5, 2009

    Bravura parody there, Mr. Alexander. When, oh when indeed, did it become so complicated. Score one for the other side.

  11. February 5, 2009

    The poems'a tale -a story line- of varied proportion it's yours or it's mine we've chosen to reveal our id's little find all stodgy or smiley racy whiney or kind and if it comes with a rhyme that is fine and it's fun no one's making you read it yer not under a gun but if it's just like a letter you wrote to your sis and doesn't say where it's going or why the breeze is defiant at the lower end of the canyon where a temper swells

    and whacks a turgid rasp of a possum tail across the cheek of a ten year old sailor from old cape cawd as the homeless in line at the mission have all shuffled inside to hear all the poems about sleeping in beds knowing...they're better off now than in a snow drift dead and they won't complain or cry or wail cuz they're hearin' poems that rhyme and not in jail and doin' hard time then pray for thesaurus dictionary pen inspiration or hope for tomorrow knowing today's the thing the only thing and faith and love and if they only had a computer they'd link up youtube or Hooters and be damn sure to write poems that rhyme and don't stink and not give a shit what other folks think

  12. February 6, 2009

    The question of when rhyme became a cardinal sin has been gnawing at me for quite some time, and I'm relieved to hear so many voices crying in support of this poor, nearly lost soul. I do, however, think that it is a delicate art, gilding a poem with rhyme, and in the wrong hands it can be almost blasphemous. I suggest that those critics who so shun rhyme do so because of a rooted fear of it - a fear in many of us, that our skill is not the right skill, and it is simply better to avoid the trick altogether. Here's to those who do hear the music - especially those who can both hear and sing.

  13. February 6, 2009

    This reminds me of people who think

    there's a "war on Christmas".

  14. February 7, 2009
     B. W. Benson

    Read Plath.

  15. February 9, 2009
     Sean Smith

    I own this book.


    Am I a sinner?

    Also, when it comes to translating

    "rhyming" poetry from one language to

    another. You really have to dissect the

    origin of the rhyme in that language.

    Russian for example rhymed by "case."

    I've used this with less than pure

    intentions but it is a wonderful example.

    In Russian to say, "I see a very pretty

    girl." Which has zero rhyme in English

    comes out phonetcially:

    "Ya vee-zhoo un ohchin kraw-see-voo-

    yoo day-voosh-coo."

    Say it with the deeper part of your voice

    and make direct eye contact. :) For

    added effect keep the vowels sounds

    long in the dashes.

    Now if Chekov were a poet and I wanted

    to translate a poem of his to keep my

    job because I was lazy for a semester

    and hadn't published anything yet and

    someone wanted to harangue me for not

    being able to rhyme the poem in English

    we'd have words.

    It is also to my understanding that Latin

    and Italian have similar properties.

    English does not have cases, which not

    only frees us to rhyme with something

    more than the sounds of the lexical

    symbols using grammatical structure to

    complete a sentence but also with

    humor and wit and valor and spit. A

    curse to sky and our fists held up high,

    screaming manifest or die. Ya know.

  16. February 9, 2009
     George Szirtes

    Nice and neat. With you of course. And I like rhymes hearing each other across a distance, so they do.

    Personally, I also like rhyme as counterpoint to sentence.

    Apropos your 'Rhyme is an irrational, sensual link between two words', which is lovely, rhyme (as I tell my students on accasion) is an accident waiting to happen. So let it happen.

  17. February 11, 2009

    Contemplating his mortality,

    Richard Rorty turned to poetry,

    His pragmatism undefiled,

    And somewhere Matthew Arnold smiled.

  18. February 12, 2009
     Michael T. Young

    The freedom to not-rhyme must include the freedom to rhyme. Then verse will be “free.”

    To me, this first line is the core point. Really, by now, we should be beyond saying a poem has to rhyme or not rhyme, have meter or not have meter. Such sweeping judgments are evidence of a lazy or small mind.

  19. February 17, 2009
     Mary Meriam

    From a critical essay on Max

    Beerbohm by John Updike:

    When all the minority reports are

    in, the trend of our times is

    overwhelmingly against formal

    regularity of even the most

    modest sort; in the “Cantos,”

    Pound has passed beyond free

    verse into a poetry totally

    arrhythmic. Our mode is realism,

    “realistic” is synonymous with

    “prosaic,” and the prose writer’s

    duty is to suppress not only

    rhyme but any verbal accident

    that would mar the textural

    correspondence to the massive,

    onflowing impersonality that has

    supplanted the chiming heavens

    of the saints. In this situation,

    light verse, an isolated acolyte,

    tends the thin flame of formal

    magic and tempers the inhuman

    darkness of reality with the

    comedy of human artifice. Light

    verse precisely lightens; it

    lessens the gravity of its subject.


  20. February 23, 2009
     Stephen Rodriguez

    I'm glad this was published. I feel like it will help to open the doors that many poets have found so tightly closed for years.

    It looks like rhyme will find its way back onto paper sometime in my lifetime, which is a big relief. I also feel like my generation has childrens poets like Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein to thank for an early introduction to rhyme and rhythm.

    It's really a shame that it dwindled for so many years, but I can't blame anyone. Change is good, and the entire future of writing was changed by Modernism.

    It's important to keep the blood circulating.

  21. February 24, 2009
     Steve Kronen

    Books on the sill: verse,

    and prose, spines of silvers,

    and golds - a thick one of oranges

    placed where the door-hinges

    swung too freely - when, one month

    the wind, as they say, runneth

    over - the leaves in that book ablur:

    the very weathers of April.

  22. February 24, 2009
     Sean Smith

    Yes. I understand too that non rhyme

    can be illustrative, however the basis of

    poetry as we know is something like


    Idea 1:

    A group of children in grade school are

    playing together in the playground.

    There are no fences, only some

    concrete with a few basketball goals.

    There are two or three different jungle

    gyms. The hated hand walk bars. These

    things are all usual, however since the

    children have no fence (form) they

    cluster together in small groups, feeling


    Across town another grade school has

    similar children, but this playground is

    surrounded by the fence. The children

    will seek out each and every corner that

    is laid around them, having no need to

    fear the outside world thanks to the

    protection of the fence.

    Idea 2: Poetry as Music

    As most of us agree, music has rhythm.

    Music has bars. Music has notes. Notes

    repeat. Thinking of poetry as the lexical

    music of the word, we must take non

    rhyming free verse and weigh it versus

    full rhyming metered verse.

    Full rhyming metered verse (say a

    sonnet) allows the musician (poet) to tell

    their story with a predictable boundary

    guiding them through the song.

    On the other hand, non rhyming, no

    metered (free verse) is more like Tom

    Waits halfway through his third cigarette

    without a single word or note repeated.

    Jazz = Free Verse

    Pop Music = Rhyming Metered Verse

    Each have their time and place, but one

    trumping the other, I believe, will not

    happen in the course of posey for many

    lifetimes to come.

  23. February 26, 2009
     Stephen Rodriguez

    Sean Smith: I agree with some of what you said, but the last statement just left me in disbelief.

    "Each have their time and place, but one

    trumping the other, I believe, will not

    happen in the course of posey for many

    lifetimes to come. "

    I'm pretty sure free verse has trumped rhyming metered verse for the past say 80 years.

  24. February 27, 2009
     Gilberto Garza

    Write what you are inspired to write. Be it rhymed or un-rhymed. Meter and scheme are not indicative of limitations on content, only challenges to create within set parameters. Free verse is not indicative of complete freedom, for you still must manage to convey your thoughts in a manner that can be understood. So, right is write. Let your muse guide you and contentment is yours for the critics to attempt to steal.

  25. March 5, 2009
     Dan Breene

    A.E. Stallings dwells on a rock off the coast of Greece combing her long blond hair in the sun and luring Carnival cruise ships to their doom. That's what I hear.

  26. April 7, 2009
     Jamie Quirk

    Yes, *yes*. B. W. Benson, YES.

  27. June 1, 2009
     Marta Finch

    "Translators who translate poems that rhyme into poems that don’t rhyme solely because they claim keeping the rhyme is impossible without doing violence to the poem have done violence to the poem."

    Dear A.E. Stallings,

    No child sneaking downstairs on Christmas morning to find a bulging stocking on the mantle could feel as excited and happy as I did recently reading your words about translation and rhyme in the February issue of Poetry. Thank you. For the past three years I have been laboring over the French Renaissance poems of Pernette du Guillet---a contemporary of the better known Louise Labe---rendering them into English and following the same meter and rhyme scheme as the originals. (Translation and explication of these poems has been a long term project of French scholar Karen James at the U of Virginia. She and I are doing them together for U Toronto Press in what is to be the first publication of her complete poems into English.) And perhaps your other comments will help to free those wishing to write in form from the fear of continued ridicule from those who don't.
    Marta Finch

  28. April 4, 2012
     Gwyn Nichols

    Thanks for the smile.

    Even in children's poetry, there's a prejudice against rhyme. At an SCBWI conference, a picture book editor admitted that once she had children, and read to them, she quit ruling out rhyme in her submission guidelines.

    I suspect we're born to rhyme. Babies respond to it. Rhyme contributes to reading readiness and family fun. In fact, the trouble with rhyme is that anyone can do it-- kindergartners with more finesse than writers of sermons-in-verse and other doggerel.

    Great formal poetry is one of the most impressive of linguistic achievements; even attempting it enriches any writer's skills, like painters who master the styles that precede them, and allow those echoes to resonate in their own work.

  29. June 10, 2015

    "Some rhymes are diatonic; some are modal."

    Like hell they are.