When I was young, my father introduced me to the poetry of Banjo Paterson. Later, I discovered the poetry of C. J. Dennis. Both of these poets write rhyming verse or, as it is sometimes called, ‘bush verse’.
This comes from the idea that these poems were often recited from memory ‘around the campfire’ in the days when there were no computers, radios or TVs, and newspapers were few and far between. Bush dwellers, like shearers and drovers, had to make their own fun. Even a guitar was too bulky to take on a long trek ‘outback’.
Bush verse often tells stories. The wordplay of the rhyme is great fun, but the poetry is about much more than the rhyme – it also about the ‘metre’, or rhythm. In fact, this is even more important than the rhyme.
Here are some tips to writing rhyming verse. 1. Read some examples of classical ‘bush verse’ to familiarise yourself with the genre. Some classic ‘Banjo’ Paterson poems can be found here and here. A very famous poem by C. J. Dennis can be found here:
- Give some thought to the rhyming pattern that you want. The rhyme that stands at the end of the first line is traditionally called ‘A’, because that is the first letter in the alphabet. If the end of the second line rhymes with the end of the first line, it is also designated ‘A’. If not, it is designated ‘B’. AABB is probably the most common rhyming scheme employed. It is also one of the easiest to write. These lines with matching rhymes are called ‘rhyming couplets’, for obvious reasons. Another popular rhyming pattern, though it is much harder to write, is ABAB.
- Remember that rhyming verse is not just about rhyme. It is also about rhythm, or ‘metre’. When you have written two rhyming lines, read them both out aloud. Does their rhythm match? If not, you might have a problem. I find that a good way to check this is to tap my foot, or slap my thigh, while I read out the words.
- You don’t have to tell a story when you are writing rhyming verse, but it is a good way to begin. Also, don’t feel that you need to know how the story ends before you put pen to paper – or start to type. Often the only way to find out how a story ends is to start writing, and see where it takes you. Don’t worry, too, if your first poems end up a bit of a mess, or you don’t know how to finish them. The more you practise, the better you will get.
- Your patterns of rhyme and rhythm can be as simple or as complicated as you wish. It is entirely up to you. You might start out with simple patterns, but become more ambitious as you gain in experience and confidence. It is important, though, that there is some sort of pattern to the verse, and that you find a way to communicate this effectively to the reader
© Stephen Whiteside