Let me propose an additional instrument to the array we poets already enjoy at our disposal when we put our poems together. I call it “elastic rhyme,” and I’ve been using it here and there for years. Simply put, elastic rhyme, which is especially suited for prose-leaning styles that characterize much current poetry, supplies a flexible order for the writing of verse; while rhyme occurs systematically, the point at which it actually occurs varies – thus, the term, elastic rhyme.
Rhyme can be magic – frequently, subtle magic – that beguiles readers and listeners even today and seduced their forebears from the time poetry enticed early devotees and an audience around a fire to be word-comforted. So, I’d certainly not suggest a terminal scuttling of rhyme, but I would espouse an emendation to soften overtness of hard rhyme – mitigating, if not removing, monotonous,singsongy instances that can repel poets and readers or listeners alike.
Rhyme in elastic rhyme will normally strike, but not always, between alternate lines. One can choose from a vast assemblage of applications – use of measured feet (i.e., pentameter, trimeter, etc.), blank verse, free verse – in combination with elastic rhyme. For example, a poet may assign a certain number of words per line – with variation, if preferred, per line throughout the poem even to that number – depending on the tautness desired, and then select any one of the first few words in every other line to rhyme with any one of the last few words in each succeeding line. The approach could be modified to substitute a syllabic scheme for the word system, just described.
At present, some verse continues to rely on rhyming techniques at the end of lines, utilizing sonnet, sestina, terza rima, or other style arrangements. Elastic rhyme can break the line ending adherence and foster more diversity in rhyme composition. In much earlier verse, poets often found the use of shorter lines more effective, but, over time, extended lines were enlisted; elastic rhyme builds on this liberalization without rejecting order or rhyme altogether. Steadfast fidelity to tight and repetitive elements in poetic form is a scary regimen for most of us – we’ve learned to be dutifully chary of devotion to such methods, for they become more than a bit boring to the poet, and, even more to the point, they contribute to disinterest, if not to downright agitation, by the audience in the midst of oppressive monotony.
For generations, poets supported, by their practice, the thesis that lines of verse are joined, solidified or emphasized at the moment rhyme is finalized. In responding to one of my longer poems, which employs elastic rhyme, the poet, Molly Peacock, made a separate and quite discriminating observation when she concluded that elastic rhyme can actually serve the purpose of “stretching and contracting language.” She thus underscores the benefit that by adjusting rhyme completion away from traditional placement, the poet can, through elastic rhyme, actually stretch and contract signal moments of verse.