Do rhyme and meter have a place in "good" poetry anymore?

(“good” being in quotes because it’s a matter of opinion…)

I’ve recently (within the past couple of years) started writing again, and I would like to find a way to get my work published. I’m not looking for anything big, just to get published. In a way I think I may just be looking for outside validation that my writing is palatable.

What I’ve noticed is that most poetry nowadays is free verse. I read this stuff and I envision sitting in a dark, smoky cafe, listening to a guy in the front recite his works. (Cliche, I know.) What I write just doesn’t fit into that style. When I read my poems, I can hear them in a singsong manner. Rhyme and meter. I’ve rarely strayed from that format.

Is there an outlet for this style? Why does it seem to be so uncommon now? Am I just not looking in the right places, or should I change my style to become more “modern?”

Beginning in the 19th century (Whitman is the great American example, followed by Wallace Stevens, Pound, Eliot, Williams, etc.) ambitious poets more or less abandoned rhyme and meter as formal constraints. Presumably that had something to do with the fact that the particularly modern thought and feeling they wished to express was inconsistent with the sort of formal order and neatness conferred by rhyme and strict meter. (There is lots of great modern poetry that uses meter, although not in traditional ways.) Modernity itself is made possible by the breakdown of institutional authority, which is perceived to impose order on society from the exterior, as it were, thereby destroying individual freedom, etc. (The church as an institution is a good example.)

I don’t think that this fact should constrain any individual poet. I think that good poetry will go on being made the way it’s always been made, namely, by the authentic and honest expression of thought and feeling. Any poetic convention whatsoever that helps in that expression is valid and useful. If it feels natural to you to use rhyme and meter, then any attempt to abandon those conventions for whatever reason will probably result in lower quality work.

There is lots of great modern poetry that uses meter, although not in traditional ways.

That may be a good direction for okielady to investigate. Actually a lot of the more subtle modern metrical forms are traditional - just little known. There are also many interesting rhyme forms - villanelle or pantoum, for instance - that are equally traditional, but again working in less obvious ways.

I don’t see any harm in rhyme and metre as long as they don’t over-ride sense and aesthetics. Amateur poetry often has lines like “As along the street I did go” where you can see how the writer contorted the line to get the rhyming word at the end, and put in the extra syllable “did” purely to pad out the metre. This kind of thing used to be very common even with major poets, but I get the impression it’s considered poor style nowadays.

My thoughts on this are similiar to lout’s and raygirvan’s.

There is still a place in poetry for rhyme and meter, although they do not occupy center stage. They are two tools among many which are at the disposal of poets.

The question for me in choosing any form while writing poetry comes down to: does this make the poem better, does it strengthen this particular poem?

Here are a couple of links to questions of a similiar nature: One . Two .

And to Triskadecamus’ recent theads The Poetry Thread and Talking about “The Poetry Thread”.

I’m glad you started this thread, okielady; poetry is a subject close to my heart.

I would suggest that poetry with rhyme and meter is alive and well in the form of song lyrics. Nowadays, the poets with the widest audience may very well be songwriters, even if the songs whose lyrics qualify as poetry aren’t usually the ones that get played much on the radio.

I think rhyme and meter is great for an illiterate society. For thousands of years very few people could read. Rhyme and meter allowed people to remember a story and pass it on the the next generation.
When many people were able to read the poet could tell a story that didn’t rhyme, he didn’t have to use the second or third best word because it had to rhyme, he could be much more free flowing.
I’m not a nose in the air blueblood type of person, I like my poetry to rhyme. Thats the type of poetry I grew up with and I guess I’m comfortable with it. Of course the only stuff that rhymes now are little dittys and limericks.

There are folks like Marilyn Hacker writing sonnets and getting them published. Maybe a trick is seeing where people who do use rhyme and meter are publishing.

I didn’t mean my last post to sound snooty. I don’t think people who like non-rhyming poetry think they are better then other people. I just meant that I like poems that rhyme.

When Ezra Pound was in the process of honing his craft and becoming one of the most insufferably arrogant writers of all time, he wrote a sonnet a day for a year to help him focus on making a point within a very specific framework. It taught him discipline and how to be economical with his words. After that year, he threw all that work out as unworthy of the legacy he was about to create.

One of my all-time favorite poets, a fellow named Dr. Suess, used rhyme and meter, although often in unconventional ways.

Gerard Manley Hopkins liked to mess with conventions, creating meters that were new and unique–a form to fit his subject matter.

Wilfrid Owen frequently used “half rhyme” to create the effect of feeling disjointed or disoriented in his poems.

I don’t particularly like most modern poetry. The emphasis seems to be on how clever the poet can be, how obscure his/her references, how perfect the construction, and not nearly enough emphasis on actually having something to say or making the message and the medium connect. If rhythm and rhyme suit your style of expression and make your message more easily conveyed, I say more power to you.

Can anyone who likes modern poetry recommend some current authors? I always point people at William Gibson’s Agrippa ( for an example of highly accessible recent poetry, but I admit I can’t think of anything else that isn’t 20-30 years old.

My favorites:

A R Ammons (my fav), Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, John Berryman, Rita Dove, Seamus Heaney, Jorie Graham, W.S. Merwin, Louise Gluck. (I’m leaving out lots of stuff, like John Ashberry, James Merrill, Robert Lowell, etc.)

Thanks: I’ve found plenty of links for those off

Oops. Correction: I mean (i.e. the Academy of American Poets at

My answer to your question is, in short, yes. Of course.

Look at work by Seamus Heaney, Robert Pinsky, etc. Look at the pages of the New Yorker, or poetry quarterlies and you’ll see rhyme and rhythm are certainly alive and well.

In fact, with few exceptions (concrete poetry being one) rhythm and sound are the most important technical considerations in all poetry, free or structured. After all (again with very few exceptions), poetry is meant to be read aloud. It is an art that is based partly on the sound of words.

But be very careful in how you handle rhyme and rhythm. If your poems are very sing-songy and very heavy on the rhymes, you might be introducing an unwanted element of levity into the poem. Or if you never vary your meter the slightest bit, you may be lulling your reader into sleep. For a good example of effective use of unwavering iambic tetrameter, read “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost. IIRC, Frost never changes the beat, but there is a reason to it. The sound of the poem reflects the serenity of the scene he is describing. Otherwise, pretty much every single poem you read in classical verse varies its feet from time to time. An poem in iambic pentameter is never iambic all the way through. Spondees or trochees are thrown in to stress words or create pauses. Anapests are thrown in to speed up a line; an extra 11th unstressed syllable is added, etc…

If you know this already, and feel comfortable with this, you’re well on your way.

If there is a trend in rhyme and structure in classical poetry forms today, it’s that of using near-rhymes and judiciously enjambing lines. Seamus Heaney is a prime example of this. Among his works, you’ll find sonnet sequences, terza rima, epic verse and the such with a slightly more modern interpretation of rhyme, in which words like “black/block” or “lake/bleak” are interspersed with more conventional pairs like “clear/year.”

I think the idea that modern poetry is all about esoterism and cleverness removed from emotion is a pile of bullshit. Read some Seamus Heaney, some Elizabeth Bishop or some translated works of Wislawa Szymborska, and then tell me this is the case. I think many people have misconceptions of modern art of all mediums, beit visual, musical or literary, which is based on popular perception rather than by understanding or familiarity with the works themselves. And it’s disheartening for me to see.
At the same time, there are those who eschew convention without understand how the conventions worked and why they’re dismissing them. This is perhaps an even greated mistake.

Otherwise, I think you’ve gotten some great advice here. Good poetry is still good poetry. You just have all the more tools at your disposal, which makes it even more confusing, yet liberating.

Ah… yes!

The first stanza of Nothing Twice:

Nothing can ever happen twice.
In consequence, the sorry fact is
that we arrive here improvised
and leave without the chance to practice …

Excerpted from view with a grain of sand, ISBN 0-15-600216-7, published by Harcourt Brace and Company.

This is a very good point. Conventions are conventions because they work. Dismissing them without knowing anything about may cause a poet to waste much time rediscovering them. When conventions are understood, it becomes possible to tweak, twist and, if necessary, shatter or dismantle then for your own ends. Or even use them as they stand if that is how they are most effective in a particular poem.

Theodor Geisel