Rhyme: What Good Is It?

Love/dove? Breath/death? Screw you … Everyone knows that, by and large, rhyme in contemporary poetry is horrible. It may have been just great for Robert Herrick and Lady Mary Wroth, but so were privies and bloodletting for melancholia. What the hell good is it now? It’s corny and quaint, and saccharine, and embarrassingly trite. It puts you in danger of sounding the same in an elegy as in a limerick, and ninety-nine percent of the time comes off as either elitist or “naive.” It’s intellectually facile and at the same time so artificial and stiff that it is impossible to understand how anyone could ever use it in any way that doesn’t turn their writing into deeply unserious, chiming dreck. Unless you’re Shel Silverstein or Earl Sweatshirt or, on the other hand, the kind of absolute drip who swoons over supermarket greeting cards, then you would be wise, the moment someone says “rhyme,” to run the other direction. It’s right up there with quill pens and billowy shirts, and there is nothing at all in this world that is worse than a bad rhyme. That is why you could probably use a class on it, and lots of practice.

In this five-week online workshop, students will gain immersive experience with rhyme through a variety of prompts and exercises, discussion of its history and effects in context, and spoken and written critiques. Readings will include poems by John Keats, Emily Dickinson, E.B. Browning, Langston Hughes, W.H. Auden, Elizabeth Bishop, May Swenson, Robert Hayden, Gwendolyn Brooks, Thom Gunn, Rhina Espaillat, Gil Scot-Heron, James Fenton, Stephen Edgar, Shane McCrae, A.E. Stallings, Morri Creech, Erica Dawson, among others. Class sessions will meet synchronously via Zoom every Sunday, and assignments, poems and critiques will be shared via Wet Ink.

Workshop Details


Joshua Mehigan’s first book, The Optimist, was a finalist for the 2004 Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His second book, Accepting the Disaster, was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2014 and cited as a best book of the year in the New York Times Book Review, the Times Literary Supplement and other publications. His poems have appeared in the New Yorker, New York Times, Paris Review and Poetry, which awarded him its 2013 Levinson Prize. The recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, Mehigan has taught English and creative writing at Brooklyn College, College of Staten Island and other CUNY schools and is a faculty member of Poetry by the Sea: A Global Conference. He was an artist-in-residence at Northwestern University from 2017 to 2020. He lives in Windsor Terrace.