As Frank Zappa's once said, regarding The Frame: "The most important thing in art is The Frame. For painting: literally; for other arts: figuratively--" In the case of rhyming verse, both literally and figuratively apply.
5. What is the shape of your poem?
One of the distinguishing features of rhyming, metered poetry is the diligent adherence to rhythm, which is it's meter. This is the framework within which this style of writing functions. This is its skeleton, if you will.
By contrast, an alternative to rhyming, metered verse would be Free Verse, which "does not use consistent meter patterns, rhyme, or any other musical pattern. It thus tends to follow the rhythm of natural speech." Wikipedia.
"Natural speech" is quite distinct from metered lines that rhyme. This is primarily an aesthetic distinction. I have heard Free Verse and Prose Poetry read poetically, though the distinctive meter that we are after here is missing.
In order to better recognize what we're after here, a comparison of "non-metered verse" to "metered verse" is in order. Let's take a look at an example of each:
After the Sea-Ship by Walt Whitman
After the Sea-Ship—after the whistling winds;
After the white-gray sails, taut to their spars and ropes,
Below, a myriad, myriad waves, hastening, lifting up their necks,
Tending in ceaseless flow toward the track of the ship.
The Man in the Wilderness by Chris Stephens
The man in the wilderness said to me
How many strawberries grow in the sea?
I answered him as I thought good
As many as herrings grow in a wood.
There is a perpetuated rhythm in Chris Stephen's poem that does not occur in the poem by Walt Whitman. Both are beautiful poems in their own right, but the first poem meanders without an apparent skeletal frame.
Another difference between them is a lack of repeated rhyme at the end of the lines. Walt Whitman's poem employs a subtle, inverted rhyme with his use of ropes, below, and flow. This is often found in Free Verse and in Prose.
Another aspect to writing rhyming verse involves presentation. Some poets place their words on the page to resemble pictures. For example, Patience Agbabi's piece, Accidentally Falling, is written in the shape of a bottle.
How your poem appears on the page can affect how it is read and perceived. I tend to capitalize the first letter of every line, which emphasizes my meter, though I drop that aspect when a poem requires a more fluid visual quality.
I am giving you a simplified account of meter, citing heartbeats and such, but if you wish for a deeper and more thorough understanding of meter, I suggest you visit Cummings Study Guide, Meter in Poetry and Verse by clicking here.
What is crucial in rhyming, metered verse is that you NEVER force you words or lines to fit your meter. If you find yourself stuck for a rhyme that will work best for your poem, you can consult a Thesaurus, or a rhyming website.
However, many writers askew such websites as a cheat. As a young poet, you bet I'd use them. They can help you to develop a broader vocabulary, and can give you exactly the help you need early on. They are awesome "tools."
As to meter, our subject for this post, it can be as simple as a heartbeat, or as complex as a Bach fugue. Explore the possibilities by continuing to read the works of other rhyming poets, and see how they inspire you as you consider the line I gave to work with:
"Come and let us sit awhile..."
As always, feel free to leave a comment or a question by clicking on "Add Comment," below.