Don’t Trip on Your Metrical Feet! Wednesday

Today is day 18 of RhyPiBoMo!

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We are midway between learning how to apply poetic devices to our picture book writing and how to write a rhyming picture book. There is one more week of poetry info and then we delve into picture book writing the last week and a half.

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I thank you all for hanging in here with me! It has been quite a journey so far but hang on…there is plenty more to learn!

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Today’s guest blogger has quite a repertoire of distinguished credits to go with her name…not to mention the twelve books she has written! She was honored with the E.B. White Read Aloud Award for A VISITOR FOR BEAR. I think I would just die and go to picture book heaven if I won that award! I can’t think of a better honor to bestow a picture book author than to honor the lyrical, flowing language that makes that particular book a joy to read aloud…that my friends, is what we should all aspire to write! Needless to say, I am thrilled to have her here!

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So, without further ado, I’m honored to present today’s

Golden Quill Guest Blogger

Bonny Becker!

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      Rhypibomo Guest Blogger Badge     Bonny Becker 1

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Tell It Slant

“Tell all the Truth but tell it slant–
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise

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As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind–”

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Emily Dickinson

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Our first experience with rhyme was probably with nursery rhymes—simple perfect word matches—cat and hat, hog and jog, Horner and corner. But you can work with rhyme in subtler ways. One of my favorite approaches is to “tell it slant,” as Emily Dickinson was so fond of doing.

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Slant rhymes, also called near rhymes are rhymes created using words with similar but not identical sounds. Words like ground/down, play/stayed and even more tenuous matches like Dickinson’s delight/surprise and eased/gradually. In some near rhymes the vowels are similar; in some the consonants match.

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Why do I like to tell it slant? I love it for its rhythmic surprises. It can help you break away from the singsong, drumbeat that’s easy to fall into with perfect rhyme. But best of all, from a writer’s standpoint, it makes this whole business of writing in rhyme easier.

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It’s hard to tell a nuanced story in perfect rhyme—with near rhyme your word choices open up dramatically. It makes it a bit easier to do as Dickinson advices—to tell the truth but tell it slant. It can “ease” the telling–and the receiving—both literally and figuratively.

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Like Dickinson, I like to mix both near and perfect rhyme. Here are the first few stanzas of my very first book, “The Quiet Way Home.”

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“Let’s go the quiet way home.
Not by the dog who growls at the gate
But the way where the kittens play

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Hush. Can you hear it.

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Skittle. Skattle. Bat and claw
Kitten paw.

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Let’s go the quiet way home
Not by the lawn and the roar as John mows
But the way where Mr. Kay’s garden grows

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Hush. Can you hear it?

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Chip, chop, dig-a-row.
Garden hoe.

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There are a couple bits of advice embedded in these lines. For one thing, if you’re going to use slant rhyme establish early that this is what you’re going to do. With my first stanza, I’ve signaled immediately that I’m not going with perfect rhyme (gate/play). But as you can see from my second verse, I am promising a similar rhythm and pattern to each stanza. And perfect rhyme at times (mows/grows).

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Notice also that I use internal rhyme—that is rhyme within the line itself not just at the end, such as “growls” and “gate,” “roar” and “mows,” “way” and “Kay.” Internal rhyme like that is often slant rhyme and poets use it all the time.
(By the way “hush” is a magic word. I’ve never had a class– from kindergarteners to 6th graders–not hush at that moment and listen. I suspect it’s half the magic of “Good Night Moon.”)

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Also, with the important moment—when I identify the object making the noise—I consistently use perfect rhyme (claw/paw, row/hoe). It creates a punchy contrast to the near rhyme. Just as Dickinson uses her one moment of perfect rhyme, kind/blind, to such powerful effect in her poem.

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One challenge of slant rhyme is it can get away from you. You don’t have the control of perfect rhythm and rhyme. In my book, “Just a Minute” I go so slant at times that I think I come perilously close to going completely off the track.
It’s a tall tale about a boy whose minute of waiting for his mother gradually seems to balloon into eternity.

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Here’s how it starts:

“Now, don’t you move,”
said Johnny MacGuffin’s mother.
“Stay right here while I shop.
Auntie Mabel will watch.
I’ll be just a minute.”

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And she sailed away,
Past the purses and plates,
Up the up escalator
In Bindle’s Department Store.
“But you’ll take forever!” Johnny cried.
“When you get back I’ll be fossilized!”
But it was too late.
He was stuck in the basement of Bindle’s again.

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While Johnny’s mom is away he imagines that Christmas comes and goes, a year passes, then more. He grows up and grows old and Bindle’s crumbles to dust. Finally:
The sun shifted its course
And the seas rose and fell
And rose again…

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…[then] the tides came in
and the sun burned to a cinder of vermilion…

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All this by the time his mother returns. But this rather careening path of rhythm and rhyme works for a tall tale of time spinning out of control.

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Slant rhyme isn’t “cheating” and it can be a powerful tool for you for telling stories in rhyme. But when to use it depends, as it always does, on what’s right for your story. Don’t use it just to be lazy.

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As in the Dickinson poem, with or without perfect rhyme, your goal as an author is to “tell all the truth.” To tell a story as honestly as you can. One that is honest about its message and honest about its techniques, and sometimes the perfect choice will be to “tell it slant.”

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Bio:
Bonny Becker is author of the best-selling Mouse and Bear books, including A Visitor for Bear, New York Times bestseller, winner of the E.B. White Read Aloud Award and Amazon’s Picture Book of the Year. Her latest in the series is A Library Book for Bear coming in September 2014. Her middle-grade novel, The Magical Ms. Plum won the 2010 Washington State Children’s Book Award. In all, she’s published 12 books for children. She is also an instructor for the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, an accredited program for a Masters of Fine Arts in Writing.

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bonnybecker.com

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bjb@site7000.com

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Bonny Becker 2

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Bonny Becker 3

Thank you Bonny Becker!

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RhyPiBoMo Daily Lesson: Wednesday, April 16th
By Angie Karcher © 2014
Lesson 18

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Metrical Feet…Don’t Trip!

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feet

Okay…so what the H-E Double Hockey Stick are we talking about all this meter, foot, feet nonsense for again anyway? Haven’t we talked about this already? Right?

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Fair questions!

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This is all review.

Now that more of this poetry stuff is making sense, I hope that you can take it a step at a time and grasp the understanding of it all. You should feel more confident with the language so the concepts should be easier to grasp.

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Here’s the deal…
We should have a basic understanding of this meter stuff but honestly, we don’t have to remember everything. You should know enough that you could carry on a conversation with someone who asks you, the writer, “So, what is meter anyway?”
Now that you have all these resources at your fingertips, you can refer back to anything that you are foggy about.

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What we are really studying is called Prosody!

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Prosody – is the study of meters and forms of versification. (write this down)
Prosody includes not only poetic meter but also the rhythmic aspects of prose.

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I don’t plan on ever walking around telling anyone what type of feet my picture book has and you shouldn’t either. I think that’s where we’ve gotten some flack from some who say that rhyming picture book writers aren’t poets and that we don’t need to know this stuff. I firmly disagree. We must understand enough about poetry to write it purposefully in our work. We must be able to edit and revise it when an editor says to “fix the meter in the third stanza.” I want to be able to have that conversation and be respected as a professional…and then actually know how to do it!

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That is why we are studying poetry.

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Meter – is what brings the poem to life and is the internal beat or rhythm with which it is read. Meter in poetry is a rhythm of accented and unaccented syllables arranged into feet. The meter of a verse can be described as a sequence of feet. (write this down)

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Should you know what a poetic foot is?

Yes.

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Feet – a specific sequence of syllable types – such as relatively unstressed/stressed or long/short sounds. (write this down)

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Poetry is meant to be recited! That’s why we talk so much about the rhythm of the poem because it should sound like music with words when being said out loud.

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The number of beats per line of spoken poetry determines the name of the rhythm.
Here is a little chart you can print and leave close to your desk for quick reference.

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Feet Chart

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These are the different types of feet:

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Foot Type                          Style Stress pattern                 Syllable Count

Iamb/Iambic                                             Unstressed + Stressed                                                         Two
Trochee/Trochaic                                   Stressed + Unstressed                                                         Two
Spondee/Spondaic                                  Stressed + Stressed                                                               Two
Anapest/Anapestic                                Unstressed + Unstressed + Stressed                            Three
Dactyl/Dactylic                                       Stressed + Unstressed + Unstressed                             Three
Amphibrach/Amphibrachic            Unstressed + Stressed + Unstressed                             Three
Pyrrhic/Pyrrhic                                      Unstressed + Unstressed                                                    Two

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For example:
Suppose a line contains ten syllables (set length) in which the first syllable is unstressed, the second is stressed, the third is unstressed, the fourth is stressed, and so on until the line reaches the tenth syllable. The line would look like the following one

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The opening line of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 contains a pattern of unstressed and stressed syllables.

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/Shall I /com PARE/ thee TO/ a SUM/mers DAY/
1                   2                      3               4              5                        = 5 feet

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Each pair of unstressed and stressed syllables makes up a unit called a foot. This line contains five feet in all.

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A foot containing an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable (as above) is called an iamb. Because there are five feet in the line, all iambic, the meter of the line is iambic pentameter. The prefix pent in pentameter means five
Thus, poetry lines with five feet are in pentameter. Iambic Pentameter

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So, that’s it for today as we will break down the foot types even further tomorrow and Friday. Let this digest…read it over a few times, look at this example below that I found and then read this all again.

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Another Good Link:
This goes into much more detail than I have but it is explained very well.
http://www.winthrop.edu/uploadedFiles/cas/english/SnappyScansion.pdf

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A few good poetry resource books…

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The Ode less Traveled
http://www.amazon.com/The-Ode-Less-Travelled-Unlocking/dp/1592403115/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1397542977&sr=8-1&keywords=ode+less+traveled

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Rhyme’s Reason
http://www.amazon.com/Rhymes-Reason-Guide-English-Verse/dp/0300088329

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I don’t have these books but I keep seeing them recommended as poetry resources!

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Writing Prompt: Write a poem in Iambic Pentameter

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Okay, now do everything else on the pledge for today and don’t forget to comment on today’s blog post!

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75 thoughts on “Don’t Trip on Your Metrical Feet! Wednesday

  1. I like all of the helpful tips. I can see these might be questions for the next get together. ;O
    Like Bonnie, I think it is more intense of an emotion to tell it slant.

  2. Okay, now I’ve got to figure out why they tell me not to have near rhymes, and this post says slant rhymes are do-able. I guess I will tell my critiques that my near rhymes are slant. 🙂

  3. Bonny, great post and such lovely examples from your writing. When the rhythm is so wonderfully flowing, the slant rhyme and internal rhyme is just like oars moving the boat along gracefully- rather than the hard end rhyme which is more abrupt.

  4. Thanks for the post, Angie and Bonny. Interesting–it was my understanding that slant rhyme was frowned upon. I do like to use internal rhyme. I’m confused, though, how “growl” and “gate” rhyme. It looks like alliteration if anything to me. Can someone explain this to me?

  5. In response to ammwrite3, if alliteration is the repetition of the same first consonant sound and slant rhymes include either similar vowels sounds or similar consonant sounds, then it seems that alliteration is a type of slant rhyme and becomes an internal rhyme when the words are in the line (internal) rather than at the end of two separate lines.

    In other words, alliteration must be a specific type of slant rhyme.

  6. Thanks for the chart Angie. So really, it isn’t about counting syllables (which we know.) But it’s about making sure the meter matches, but also having the feet match right? I wouldn’t want to have the first line in a stanza have 5 feet of iamb, but then have the second one have 4? Is that true? Should we try to make our feet match within the stanza? Or is it that as long as we establish a structure we can change it?

    So if I had 5 feet, 4 feet, 5 feet, 4 feet? That could work?

    • Great question Mandy…I think the first stanza sets the pacing, feet, meter, syllables, everything in a nut shell. The more consistent you can be the better. So yes, you want matching feet in all lines…unless you have a line that differs on purpose…then each following stanza repeats that same pattern. Anything inconsistent should be there purposefully..for a dramatic or humorous reason, for a change in plot, for a twist in the story that can be highlighted with an obvious change from the usual pattern of meter, feet and/or rhyme scheme. Otherwise, be extremely consistent!

      This is concerning another question about slant rhyme…
      As for slant rhyme, only do it if you know what you are doing! What I mean is you should be comfortable enough with it to make it look flawless and intentional. Until then, stick with what you do best!

  7. “We must understand enough about poetry to write it purposefully in our work. We must be able to edit and revise it when an editor says to “fix the meter in the third stanza.” I want to be able to have that conversation and be respected as a professional…and then actually know how to do it!” I completely agree, Angie, and I think that’s why most of us are here. I will refer to this series of posts over and over in the future.

  8. There is a lot to think about here. I hadn’t thought this much about slant rhyme and how it can be used so effectively.
    And I just have to say that A Visitor For Bear is one of those books I hugged immediately after reading it! Love, love, love that book! Love!
    Thanks for another great post 🙂

  9. I love slant rhyme. Love that part of the post.
    I can’t get the stressed-unstressed in the Shakespeare sonet… :S I can’t read it with those same feet 😦 Obviously it must be me. I will keep trying!
    THANK YOU!!

  10. Okay, I’m understanding stressed and unstressed, feet and the accompanying terms a smidge more. Which isn’t saying much. Still, there is nearer understanding of what I’m reading, listening to. Now when I choose a rhyming book, I’ll be more conscious of where the energy is in my reading. I’m happy about today’s post with author Bonnie Becker. Knowing how to better critique my work and the works of others will strengthen my quality of writing. I know I’ll have to come back to this lesson again and again.

  11. What a great insight into writing in slant rhymes…thanks so much, Bonnie….although we might think it is ‘easier’ because not everything has to rhyme perfectly, I believe it is actually harder…there is a pattern that MUST be followed (and you do it to perfection), otherwise, it will sound like a mish-mosh. 🙂
    Great lesson, Angie!

  12. Chip, chop, dig-a-row.
    Garden hoe.

    How marvelous is that? Thank you for sharing your insights on slant Rhyme Bonnie. Very helpful!

  13. Gotta know the rules to effectively break the rules…thanks for the post, links and the challenge to draft an iambic poem!

  14. Slant rhyme still makes me nervous – but as a fan of Emily Dickinson (AND this post!!), i’ll need to learn to embrace it for the right reasons. And another fabulous lesson, Angie – wrote my iambic pentameter, and played with the rhyme scheme a bit. Was fun! Thanks!

  15. This is one of my very favorite posts! And I am so grateful for Bonnie’s insightful thoughts on slanted rhyme. She really makes so clear the subtle art of knowing how and when to use it to great effect. Thanks, Bonnie!

  16. Bonny, your examples of successful slant rhyme use was just what I needed today! It’s so easy to feel like you’re rhyme-cheating when “slanting”, there are times when slant rhyme seems to carry the best meaning in a particular context. THANKS for the encouragement to use it!

    Angie, I’m enjoying revisiting iambic pentameter. Thank you for your help.

  17. Yikes!!! I’m feeling slanted! There are so many elements of poetry. I’m not a fast learner, so I will have to complete today’s lesson to plant more in my brain! Thanks Bonny and Angie. I’m loving this month, here.

  18. Interesting post. I’ll have to really brush up so I can tell the difference between slant rhyme, and just bad rhyme.

  19. Shall I attempt to write a verse today?
    For who will know I did or did not take
    The pledge to heart to study hard and play
    By Angie’s rules, improving day by day.

  20. I want/to do/ this right/ I real/ly do.
    I’ve got/ five feet/ I count/ed so/ I knew.
    Still Bon/ny’s blog/ has made/ me tell/ the truth.
    I’m miss/ing all/ my care/free days/ of youth.

  21. Thanks for a quick recap, Angie, and for reminding me that I’m still only part way through Stephen Fry’s “The Ode Less Travelled”. (A bit surprised to see you recommend it though, as what I’d read so far seemed to talk more about how “we Brits” stress syllables in sentences, and to be suggesting that US and French stresses for poetry are quite different.)

    I’m not sure I’m brave enough to ever deliberately dare to try “slant rhyme”. (Though regional accents sometimes have me finding that what sounds like “perfect rhyme” here in Northern England doesn’t get a mention as even “near rhyme” in my rhyming dictionary!)

  22. Thanks for another great post, Angie & Bonnie. I really find the slant rhyme interesting. I never read much about it before.

  23. Thanks Bonnie and Angie for going back and reviewing different techniques. I’m sure I’ll be reading many of these posts over and over again.

  24. I’m not a huge fan of slant rhyme, but I know sometimes it’s necessary. Too bad other people that read slant rhymes tend to assume that there is always a better way to say what you want using perfect rhyme. But I guess we just have to keep putting “one foot in front of the other.”

  25. Bonny, I’m relieved there’s room out there in the world for slant rhyme, as long as we use it purposefully. Thanks for today’s review lesson, Angie. I feel more comfortable with iambic pentameter than with many other forms, so I’m looking forward to writing my poem today! Here we go…

  26. I really have problems with near or slant rhymes, but I certainly do see them in published books for children. I think it’s interesting since we are told over and over that only manuscripts with perfect rhyme and meter have a chance. Another interesting post.

    • Enjoyed the post, and I’m glad you mentioned and showed near rhymes and a book that got away from itself on rhyme too.

  27. Hmmmm, I don’t know what to think about using slant rhyme. It’s definitely a beautiful poetic device. But is a picture book written in mostly slant rhyme considered a rhyming picture book? Thanks for the food for thought.

  28. I have to admit that now I’m a bit confused. I was under the impression that we needed to avoid slant rhyme, especially as new authors, or publishers would most likely not take a second look at our manuscript.

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