Monday, 30 July 2018

Why Me, Rhyme?

I hope I'm cautious enough not to fetishize--an incautious word--the ideas of Stephen Sondheim, the legendary Broadway lyricist and composer. (But for one thing, his two volumes of annotated lyrics--Finishing the Hat and Look, I Made a Hat--contain some of the best writing I've seen anywhere lately. I refer to the commentaries.)
For Sondheim, rhyme matters. "True" (bone/phone) not "near"(bone/home). "A perfect rhyme can make a mediocre line bright and a good one brilliant," he writes. "A near rhyme only dampens the impact" (Finishing xxvi). (I should point out that he's talking about song lyrics, not poems.) He says it another way: "A perfect rhyme snaps the word, and with it the thought, vigorously into place, rendering it easily intelligible; a near rhyme blurs it" (xxvii).

In this, as in other ways, Sondheim inspires my work through Oak Floors! and my habit of packing my Merriam-Webster's Pocket Rhyming Dictionary wherever I go. "The sounds we rhyme with come at the end of the word, beginning with the vowel sound in the word's last syllable," notes the PRD, a tad clumsily.

Here's my latest--an observation to a cat-owner at the end of his/her rope:
Whiskers was fun, then a nightmare
of fits and spits and kitty-snits galore.
Matters had sunk to the point where
to get some sleep you'd seal your bedroom door.

Out of context, maybe also in context, such versifying seems silly, unless the piece works out. People come to Evelyn (the observer) with their cat problems. Which she can solve. What Evelyn discovers, however, is that dear Whiskers, in the end, doesn't matter. What matters is the human connection between cat-owner and what Evelyn becomes: cat-whisperer. "It's you feelin' the feline blues," as she says.

Anyway, I've spent more time on that verse while writing this blog entry than I'd spent on it before. My point is that rhyme is hard as hell to pull off if development of story and character is the objective, not chuckles or wit. Evelyn in this scene, if it's to remain a scene, must get us from cat to cat-whisperer to whisper. That intimate.

This kind of thing is fun, if you like puzzles.

Oh yes, then the music comes in.

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