bruce hodder | the crime of rhyme in modern times and other useless paradigms

20 10 2007


Poetry Dispatch No. 80 | June 10, 2006

The Crime of Rhyme in Modern Times and Other Useless Paradigms by Bruce Hodder

I’ve seen another poetry magazine’s submission criteria this morning that fulminates against the supposed legions of delicate tea-sipping readers who demand rhyme and break out in a nervous rash every time they see a printed f*** or c***. The “Establishment” against whom we are labouring. So writers must be RELEVANT! Strike a blow against the legions of the effete!

Oh b****. The Establishment in poetry–that is, people who drive opinion, not those with the biggest wallets–are the post-Beat free-versifiers…that is, US, and we are bloody everywhere. If you threw a stone at a poetry convention–and what fun that would be!–eight times out of ten you’d hit a middle-aged guy who liked Kerouac (but pretended to prefer Bob Kaufman), wrote occasional haiku, and had read nothing prior to the shorter poems of Ezra Pound. I can’t count the number of decent editors and poetry friends who have told me they wouldn’t publish my rhymers: stuff I’d written in a folk song mode, or simple quatrains. Why? No reason given except “No one wants to read rhyme.” So I can’t speak in a style that’s basic to me, a style that’s natural?


Relevance is in the eye of the beholder, I say. If rhyme ain’t up-to-date and a way of addressing the concerns of the modern age (though I seriously doubt that’s a poet’s responsibility), how do we explain the rapping element of hip hop? Set some dynamic youth rapping about his experience of “the streets” against some middle-aged post-Beat who’s still arguing in his head with the New Criticism of the 1940s and see which one the majority of 20-year-olds will listen to.

The only way poetry can connect with people is by telling the truth. But not some imagined objective truth (this submission manifesto quotes some line of Zukofsky’s about objectivity, which doesn’t exist), but the poet’s own truth; and part of that truth lies in the choice of the mode of expression. Of course the truth is sharpened–or our appreciation of the truth is sharpened–by good technique; but that’s true with free verse as well–and most published free verse is done pretty badly. You want to talk to the modern age, post-Beat heroes? Readers/ Editors? Get your Angel Heads out of Kerouac or Bukowski and tell everybody what you think, like Ronald Baatz with his delicious snow falling on Einstein’s shoulders, or splake’s clifftop death ruminations, or Matthew Hollis’ sunken orchards or TONY HARRISON (great poet, GREAT GREAT poet) firing rhyming couplets at Bush and Blair. His rhymed jabs and slashes cut a hell of a lot deeper than some small press tough guy who thinks Bukowski is the last word in radical.

Oh, and in case there’s any doubt It’s useless to tell you I’m not anit-Buk, to paraphrase Bukowski’s own marvelous words, because that’s when the whole subject becomes sickening.




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