DON'T MENTION THE R-WORD! by Iggy McGovern
(PI News January/February 2003)
If there were such a thing as RA – Rhymers Anonymous – I’d be a regular attender, standing up to describe how I’d fallen once again, given in to the dark side, while my fellow ex-rhymers nod and sigh and think: ‘there but for fortune…’ It’s a fantasy, of course, because I doubt if there are enough of us to afford the hire of a room. However, three recent experiences might flush out a few more.
The first experience was the annual BAFFLE festival in Loughrea, Co Galway. The main event of the festival is the Poetry Slam. Following heats on Friday evening, the final fifteen ‘slammers’ competed on the Saturday night before an audience of (as reported in the Connacht Tribune) ‘almost four hundred people’! I don’t think I’ve ever been to a poetry event in Dublin with that size of audience. Compare that number with the regular audience for a Poetry Ireland Reading! Certainly, if you consider the relative populations of Dublin and Loughrea & Surroundings, the Director should be booking a Bertie Bowl (Minister O’Donoghe take note). Ask yourself why this is so. Better still, ask someone you know who doesn’t write poetry her/himself what it would take to get them to attend a reading. Record how long it takes to reach the topic of rhyme or, specifically, the lack of rhyme – a lot less than four hundred seconds?
By contrast, a very well known poet, reading in Dublin recently, treated us to a poem from her/his earliest published work. It was a good poem, but it rhymed. The poet felt she/he had to apologise to us for that. Is this the message: that it’s a crime to rhyme?
The second experience concerns the recent Big Poetry Competitions, namely, the Davoren Hanna and the Seacat/Poetry Ireland. Of course, I myself did not enter either competition – one only enters competitions for which one has been shortlisted! Eighteen excellent poems on the combined shortlists (well done, my mate John O’Donnell), but was there e’er a rhyme to be seen/heard? One of the judges of the Davoren Hanna congratulated the field of entrants on being in touch with modern poetry (or words to that effect). Did she/he mean rhyme-free? I did a bit of free-association, asking myself what was my favourite poem by this judge. Yes, the poem rhymed! When you have recovered from interrogating your non-writing friends about poetry, try this exercise for a few of your favourite poets. Could it be that rhyme makes poetry memorable…?
I am a late convert to Poetry. As a science student, I escaped the ‘isms’ of Eng. Lit. I’m a bit of a dinosaur, really: I love to rhyme. The long-suffering, gentle souls in our writers’ group (that I feel very privileged to belong to) occasionally take me to task; something about the rhyme running away with the poem…It’s a criticism that I must and do try to take on board. Yet, I find that in much of modern poetry, something worse has hijacked the poem, call it lack of discipline, of tact, even of good taste… Is it possible to think that rhyme might have saved these poems from such excesses? Yeats is reputed to have remarked of rhyme ‘that’s where I get the next idea’; and then there is Frost’s dictum that ‘poetry without rhyme is like playing tennis without a net’.
So, to summarise, there is an audience out there that likes poetry to rhyme (at least some of the time!) and there is an intrinsic value in rhyming for the poet, in discipline, in stimulation and in longevity. And, it’s great fun, as well. O yes, I promised you a Third Experience and it’s literally the last word! My Poetry Book of 2002 is Paul Muldoon’s new collection, Moy Sand & Gravel: It is inter alia packed to the gunwales with (you’ll like this) the R-word…
Iggy McGovern is a poet and a physicist.