Every child in the land knows a poem or two. It might be a simple child’s skipping rhyme, a nursery rhyme, counting game or song, but the chances are that it will rhyme, and if it rhymes it will be remembered. But…horses for courses, as they say, and there are some beautiful, poignant and memorable words being penned today that have no truck with rhyme, metre or punctuation. It’s fine if you can pull it off, but I want to argue a bit for the other side of the coin. I suppose I have to really, since I do write metric and rhyming poetry if the subject seems to call for it.
Although many of today’s poets never touch rhyme and some never use metre, rap artists and performance poets know the value of the insistent beat, with or without rhyme, and the fabulous Elvis McGonagall or Attila the Stockbroker give performances that will still light up a room in years to come with combinations of metric and rhythmic firecrackers of verse. Memorable, energetic, clever, these word mongers certainly know how to put across a point. If I contrast that with some other ‘minimalist’ (my word) poets writing today, I find myself wanting more. I feel short changed. What is there to hold onto and remember? Haiku and tanka are all very well, and the finest examples by Basho are very beautiful indeed but they are like Persian miniature paintings, exquisite in their expression, but we also need variety – large landscapes, bigger perspectives, a new way of looking at things.
Poets who flout fashion and write in metric forms are not as common as they should be. Where are the Charles Causleys of today? But older people, or ordinary people who claim not to like poetry, like and remember the rhyming couplet, the rude limerick, the epitaph. They remember that ‘the highwayman came riding, riding,’ and that ‘In Xanadu did Kublai Khan a stately pleasure dome decree,’ long after their schooldays are forgotten. Poetry is a large boat and is taking on new passengers all the time, who arrive with experimental baggage and proceed to jettison tried and trusted lifeboats of metre, rhythm and verse. There’s room on board for us all. Move over.