After all, the case against using rhyme in contemporary literary poems is strong. I've read a good number of serious poems whose rhymes created accidental humor. Doh! I've also endured rhyme-machines, masquerading as poems, that wallop me at the end of every line. Duh-da-duh-da-duh-BAM. Duh-da-duh-da-duh-WHAM. In these poems, rhyme bullies every other element, pushing the content around and locking even figures of speech in the bathroom.
But Rhyme can use his power for good. A well-turned rhyme can take the reader's breath away. Plus, rhyme is fun to work with. And for spoken word and slam poetry, you gotta make this bully into a buddy.
Step 1: Don't WHAM-BAM. Enjamb!
Enjambment simply means breaking your line in the middle of a phrase rather than at the end. Shakespeare did it. You can too. Here's an example from Sonnet 130. It's a love poem that makes fun of love poems. Shakespeare's always goofing around! Here he talks about his beloved (italics mine):
Here's another example from hip-hop artist, Big Daddy Kane. This is his response to the fierce competition between rappers (italics mine):I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight (not done yet!)
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I relieve rappers, just like Tylenol
And they know it, so I don't see why you all (not done yet!)
Try to front, perpetraitin' a stunt
When you know that I'll smoke you up . . .
Notice how enjambment makes the reader wonder how the phrase will end. That makes the poem less predictable and more fun. Beginning poets tend to write toward that end rhyme, land on it hard, and stop. This is "end-stopping." Instead of all end-stopped lines, lend variety to your poems with enjambment.
Step 2: Use long words for end rhymes.
A sophisticated rhymer goes beyond those one-syllable thud words. Instead of great--wait, try ingratiate, calibrate, celebrate. Happily, the Internet can help. Click on http://www.rhymezone.com/ for an easy search of 1-, 2-, 3-, 4-, 5-, even 6- and 7- syllable words and phrases. When I typed in "great," they listed "circumnavigate" and the phrase "physiological state." They also provide a search for near rhymes, such as laughter--bachelor. Throw some longer words into the mix; you will sound and be more accomplished.
Step 3: Mesmerize When You Internalize
Poor rhyming words. :-( They get stuck out there at the end of the line every time! Bring them into the middle once in a while. Called, internal rhyme, this can give a free verse poem some juice. It gives rhyming poems texture as well. Here's a line from a poem I'm working on:
"Mom and I surf an escalator wave to the store's second floor where"It's not an exact rhyme, but it's in there. Store--floor. Here's another example from the Academy Award-winning "Lose Yourself" by Eminem:
"All the pain inside amplified by the factHe puts the rhymed words back to back. Inside--amplified. And he's using our Step 2 technique by using a long word like "amplified." The point is that you can sprinkle rhymes in for flavor anywhere.
That I can't get by with my 9 to 5"
Step 4: Don't Just Rhyme
Using enjambment, longer words, and internal rhyme will go a long way towards making a strong poem. But don't let rhyming be the only trick your poem has up its sleeve. Give it figurative language, interesting word combinations, and a point. Give it concrete objects and people, sensory details, and voice. Rhyme can't do it alone.
If you have a favorite poem that uses rhyme well, I hope you'll share it in a Comment. Meanwhile, happy rhyming!
P.S. Thinking of checking out some Shakespeare? This is my favorite edition of the sonnets, loaded with scholarly discussion and dissent. Original spellings and fonts, with modern font on the facing page.