Monday, 1 August 2011

John Hollander's Rhyme's Reason

As a student in the Lower Sixth, I finally plucked up the courage to show Richard Hoyes, my English teacher at Farnham College, my first fevered and feeble attempts at writing verse. His advice set me on my way, handing me a scrap of paper with "Rhyme's Reason by John Hollander" on it and telling me to get hold of a copy. It's been with me ever since.

Instead of encouraging me to attend local creative writing classes or giving me overblown praise for the rubbish I was churning out, Richard immediately realised that I needed to sit down and work out that writing poetry was a solitary and hugely self-taught occupation, to understand for myself how poetic form gives figurative sense to speech sound. "Rhyme's Reason" set me on my way. Even now, I vividly recall the light-bulb moment when I first read Hollander's examples, written in verse themselves...

"Trochées simply tumble on..."
"Iambic meter runs along like this..."
"Dactyl means finger in Greek..."

The book goes on to explain the mechanics of a poet's musical tools in great detail. Metre and form are both dealt with via practic examples. However, the key point is its target audience. Not aimed at students or critics, "Rhyme's Reason" is written by a poet for poets. I still thoroughly recommend it.

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