Do poets need rhymes?

Claudia Hammond’s ‘Mind Changers’ on Friday on BBC Radio 4 was about ‘Abraham Maslow and the Hierarchy of Needs’. This was an unexpected and welcome treat for me while trapped on the M1 for two and a half hours of what is usually a 50 minute journey. After reviewing Maslow’s original ground-breaking hierarchy, the speakers began to explore needs beyond the fundamentals of food, shelter and love.  One suggested that poets need rhymes. Do we though? Is it a common public perception of poets that our lives are incomplete unless we can round off a couplet, firm up a stanza, polish off a limerick or weave together a performance piece with a neat concordance of sound? Are we on the look out for internal rhymes too? When I’m drafting, I find that rhymes happen when I’m least expecting them. The sudden surprise of sound can be delicious and take me off in new directions. At other times it can be a distraction.


  1. Hi Sue,
    I went to a great writing workshop at the weekend, run by George Szirtes, and we discussed rhyme. Favourite quotes from him that I recorded in my notebook were “rhyme is an accident waiting to happen” and “the rhyme isn’t there to trap you but to free you.” I enjoy experimenting with rhyme but I always start with what I’m trying to say, rather than with form of any kind – rhyming is a kind of form, isn’t it? I really object to forced rhyme! You’re right, there IS a perception in many people, usually non-poetry readers, I think, about poetry needing to rhyme. I have taken to carrying The Waste Land in my holdall when I run a writing workshop to point out (to any doubters) that the book is over 100 years old and that there has been a lot of non-rhyming poetry since the days of Wordsworth – who didn’t use rhyme exclusively in any case. Spoken word poetry uses rhyme a lot, that’s something else to consider. Thanks, Sue for a thought-provoking post!


    1. Thanks Josephine. For me experiment and responding to new and accidental juxtapositions in language are key factors in writing so George’s words of wisdom certainly strike a chord. On another note, those who think poets should rhyme sometimes also think a female poet should be a ‘poetess’ – I wonder if there is a link there!


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