On Poetry… Pulse and Chime

If poetry ought to have presence, then it also has a body, or in Glyn Maxwell’s words, is “creaturely” (page 88). So it has a heartbeat, a pulse, a footstep, it breathes.

Pulse is the time taken by form. And as forms change over the years so does pulse. You can formalise pulse into iambs, dactyls, spondees, trochees, or you can just make yourself aware of the rhythm of words — a little like the black on white, the thump against the air is a shape against the silence; there is nothing and there is sound and together they in-spire the poem and make meaning in the ear of the listener.

Chime is an aural connection — it might be rhyme, it might be alliteration, it might be something altogether more subtle. “You may turn your back on this wealth if you choose, but it won’t stop shining. And because this is language and not capital you could have taken all you could carry,” Maxwell says (page 110).

There are good reasons not to rhyme, or to half-rhyme and there are very good reasons to rhyme. But none of those choices stop the language itself from having all sorts of internal associations in sound. Again some history, at points in the past alliteration was considered the high-point of craft, then it was rhyme’s turn, then, and now, it’s non-rhyme or half-rhyme. But the fact that the language carries its past with it (“Celts, Angles, Saxons, Vikings, Normans and everyone else” page 111), means we can’t undo its history.

“Words were drawn together at a time of which you know nothing. You didn’t draw them together and you can’t pull them apart.” And to which could be added, “Yes, and as we sit and quibble, in this present, there are drawings together and rhyme repetitions by newcomers to the language making new associations which we can’t control and predict.”

If you’re tempted to shun rhyme as hopelessly old-fashioned, Maxwell has this comment for you: “God forbid you’re dumping someone who wouldn’t dance with you” (page 113). And you might be working against human nature, brain nature: “rhyme is memorable, a mnemonic, a fact our brains filed away before we could walk” (page 115).

Half-rhyme is interesting. According to Maxwell, developed in the early years of the 20th century it draws together words in meaning but lessens the presence of rhyme as in “stone”/”rain”.

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