Monday 25 March 2013

#ReadItMD13 - Elli Woollard on poetry vs really bad rhyming

Best rhyme ever!

When Rhyme is a Crime

"Shut that book! I’ve not got time

To read your bloody awful rhyme"

There are too many picture books written in rhyme. There, I’ve said it. A strange thing to say, you might think, coming from someone who writes almost exclusively in verse. But

that doesn’t mean that every book

that’s set in verse is worth a...second glance.

‘What?’ you might cry. ‘But, but, but…’ And you think of Dr Seuss, of Julia Donaldson – authors who have become famous for their rhyming styles. The problem is that for every Seuss or Donaldson there are several authors who can’t write in verse at all.

Partly this is down to metre. Lots of children’s books are, inexplicably, written in tetrameter (don’t worry, I had to Google that too), and

There is nothing that will bore me more

Than words all set in groups of four.

Fine for a while, and fine if done well, but so often done badly. And so the book simply plods. And plods. And plods. And…Sorry, nodded off there. Where was I? Plodding.

What a book needs isn’t rhyme, but rhythm. This can be done within a metre, or by varying a metre. Someone like Julia Donaldson is brilliant at it. ‘A mouse took a stroll through the deep dark wood. A fox saw the mouse and the mouse looked good’. Sheer genius. Julia Donaldson’s books work (on the whole) because of their bounce. The rhythm lifts them to a whole new level.

And then...

Lots of books go down the pan

Because they really really don’t scan

To be fair, some of the worst examples of this are those books produced in-house, often exploiting a particular character (think Thomas the Tank Engine or Angelina Ballerina). Editors, who are often rather wary of verse for all the reasons I am mentioning, know a cash cow when it’s mooing loudly in their faces. But some writers who really should know better manage to publish books that don’t scan properly. And the problem with bad scansion is that it’s difficult to read – a bit like going down a path and constantly having to stumble over stones.

The most important question for an author to ask is why a book should be written in rhyme. There is absolutely no point in writing in verse just for the sake of it. Yes, children love rhyme, and verse done well is sure to become a favourite. But bad rhyme is worse than no rhyme at all.

Of course that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be poetry in children’s books. But conflating ‘verse’ with ‘poetry’ is a huge mistake. Take a book like Helen Cooper’s ‘Pumpkin Soup’ (and if you don’t know it, go out and borrow or buy it now – even steal it if you have to – and devour it). Although it’s written in prose, it’s pure poetry: ‘Made by the duck who scoops up a pipkin of salt and tips in just enough’. And of course books in verse by the likes of Donaldson, Caryl Hart and Peter Bentley are, generally, brilliant.

But there really isn’t much that’s worse

Than a book written in crap verse

Someone please take note.

Elli writes brilliant poetry over at "Taking Words For A Stroll". World domination is imminent. Be ready!