Wednesday, September 25, 2013

It Doesn't Have to Rhyme, But....

I didn't set out in this life to become a writer, much less a poet. I began my adult life as a teacher. Not an English teacher, mind you, but a math teacher. I had always been drawn to math because it seemed to offer some semblance of order to the chaos in my mind. It tickled something in my left brain that gave me a framework to follow when approaching new problems. I have often found that I benefit from this same sort of framework in my writing, particularly with poetry.

In a recent post here at OctPoWriMo, Morgan mentioned Shadow Poetry, a resource that I return to frequently when I'm in the process of composing a new poem. The Shadow Poetry site provides simple, detailed descriptions of both traditional and invented poetry forms along with several examples of each. Sometimes I approach the site with an idea or an image that I want to write about and I begin sifting through the different forms until a single line emerges in my mind that happens to fit one of the forms. Other times, I'll choose a form that I've never tried before (look for a prompt on this idea soon!) and I'll challenge myself to try to write within that framework. Instead of straining my brain for words that rhyme, if the form happens to include a rhyming element, I jump to my other favorite tool - Rhyme Zone.

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I enter the last word of the first line in the Rhyme Zone engine and am given a list of multiple words that rhyme (or nearly rhyme) with it. From there, I can begin to play with rhyming lines. Sometimes I will come up with several lines that could work. I say each of them aloud with the initial line until I find the one that sounds best TO ME. (I capitalize here to remind myself that I am not writing for anyone other than myself. It takes the pressure off just a bit!) Once I have a couple of lines and the page (screen?) is no longer blank, the words begin to flow, gaining momentum as they go.

Many people are hung up on the idea that poems have to rhyme and have to follow some sort of formula. This is not the case. Poetry can be free verse. However, if you find yourself in need of a framework or if you just want to challenge yourself to try something you haven't tried before, Shadow Poetry and Rhyme Zone can quickly become two favorite tools in your poetry tool box!

~Amy McGrath


  1. I find it fascinating that you started out as a math teacher and wound up writing poetry. Then again, I am also struck, when watching documentaries featuring cosmologists by how poetic those scientists are. One would expect them to be a rather dry lot, but they - more than most people I bump into - seem to truly grok the magical mystery tour of life. ~Tui p.s. Thanks for pointing out those poetry resources!

    1. To be honest, Tui, I started college as a dance major! Then my left knee decided I needed I timeout. So I changed majors. Twice. After a year in Deaf Ed., I fell in love (I know!) with Calculus. All my teachers (both academic and music/dance) had believed I would become a teacher. I ended up following the "expected" path instead of waiting for my knee to heal and following my dream. Fast forward 20+ years and I was starving for a creative outlet. Poetry is such a good fit for me because it does tickle both sides of my brain. :)

      Hope you enjoy the resources and find new ways to use them!

  2. I always enjoyed Shadow Poetry. It is a great resource for finding new poetic forms to try out. Great Post. Happy Writing!

    1. Thank you, Leslye! I'm glad to know I'm not the only one that relies on Shadow Poetry to explain the forms. I learned a few of them in high school English classes, but that was a lifetime ago and there are far more than I could have ever imagined then! Happy writing to you, too!

  3. I first played with Shadow Poetry during last year's OctPoWriMo and really liked it. Looking forward to doing it again. And I love Rhyme Zone. I use it for poetry and song writing as well as blog posts when I do Seussisms. It's a terrific resource. Great post Amy!

  4. Rhymezone started me off with poetry. The way the suggestions are given as 1,2,3 etc syllables makes it simple to find a word to fit the metre. Nowadays I like the quirkiness of near-rhymes, and often use

    It's interesting that you came to poetry with a mathematical background: I'm hopeless at maths, and poetry came from my passion for language.


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