To Rhyme or Not To Rhyme

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A war has been raging for decades. It’s a war we don’t hear about on the news. Like religion and politics, it isn’t discussed in civilized company. This war is not fought with guns and bombs, it’s fought with pens. It is the horrible, ghastly war between . . . rhymers and non-rhymers. The iambic pentameter crowd versus the free verse crowd. No prisoners are taken and no mercy is shown by either side.

All kidding aside, I like them both, but only if both are ultimately understandable. “Ultimately” meaning after two readings. If the poem is so abstract that only the writer gets it, the writer failed, not the reader.

The free verse army says rhyming poetry is childish and unsophisticated, largely as a result of syrupy poems in Hallmark greeting cards. And let’s face it, they usually are. It’s hard to rhyme well (without sounding like a nursery rhyme) and tell a good story that accesses emotion.

The rhyming crowd argues that it takes as much or more talent to write a meaningful, emotionally impactful poem that also rhymes and has meter, structure and rhythm than it does to write one that has none of that. To them, criticizing rhyming poetry is like saying Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Robert Frost and even Shakespeare (who wrote a heck of a lot of sonnets) were a bunch of nincompoops.

Here’s a good example of a rhyming, emotionally moving poem. The story behind it is almost as good as the poem itself.

A friend of mine found it at the bottom of an old box in his parents’ garage. He asked his dad about it. He said the author was a man named Vernon Watson, who performed in theaters around London in the 1930’s and 40’s. He would sing, dance, tell stories and recite poems. A little bit of everything. The audience would start out laughing and end up crying, or vice-versa. He performed under the name Nosmo King, and thought up that name one night while looking at a “No Smoking” sign in one of the theaters. Here it is. I dare you not to get choked up.

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Providence

Have you ever been broke? Just broke to the wide?
With what you stand up in and nothing beside?
Living on scraps the best part of the week
When you can get them, and with nowhere to sleep?

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I’ve been like that on a cold winter’s night
When the streets were deserted and nothing in sight
But a slow-moving bobby whose job is to see
That the public’s protected from fellows like me.
Who get put inside to answer in court
Why they’re wandering around without means of support.

It always strikes me as a queer sort of joke –
To pick on a man just because he is broke.
Do they think he enjoys wandering around in the rain,
Soaked to the skin with a dull, aching pain
Through his stomach, forgetting his last decent meal
And just praying for the time when he’s too numb to feel.
Life isn’t worth much when you get to that state –
Of just waiting to die and nowhere to wait.

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I remember the time, it’s a long while ago,
When I stood on a bridge with the river below.
The last food I’d had was two days before
And I never expected I’d need anymore.
That night was the worst that ever I’d known,
With a dirty, wet fog that chilled to the bone.
I set my teeth hard and I set down my heel
On the rail that my hands were too perished to feel
When a sniveling pup came out of the fog
And whimpered at me, just a scrap of a dog.
Bedraggled and dirty, like me, just a wreck,
With  a sad, little face on his poor, scraggy neck.

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A few seconds more and I would have died
But he licked my hand and I just sat down and cried.
I wrapped up the poor little chap in my coat
And carried him off with a lump in my throat.
I took him along to the one place I knew
Where they’d give him a bed and a biscuit or two.

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They didn’t seem keen on taking him in
But the sergeant-in-charge gave a bit of a grin
When I told him, “The dog could do with a meal.”
He said, “I’ll fix him up, but how do you feel?”
It may be perhaps that the sergeant had seen
the state I was in, I wasn’t too clean.
The hunger and cold that I’d suffered all day
Exhausted my limits and I fainted away.

Well, they fed me and slept me gave me two bob.
The following day, they found me a job.
I’ve worked ever since and I’ve put a bit by.
I’m comfortable now and I don’t want to die.
I’ve a nice, little house in a quiet, little street
With a decent-sized garden that’s always kept neat.
I’ve worked there a lot when I’ve had time to spare
And I’m so proud of one little corner that’s there,
With the pick of my flowers ‘round a little old stone,
That stands in a corner, all on its own.
It bears an inscription, not very grand.
The letters are crooked, but you’ll understand –
That I wasn’t too steady, I couldn’t quite see,
At the time that I carved it, quite recently.

These are the words I carved on the stone –
“Here lies my friend when I was alone.
Hopeless and friendless, just lost in a fog,
God saved my life with the help of a dog.”

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~ Vernon Watson AKA Nosmo King, 1930

 

11. Homeless

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The photo of the dog’s tombstone was actually made by a friend of mine as a prop for a filmed version of this poem we made. (I played the homeless man.) The words on the stone are a little different because I wrote it from memory and didn’t have this – – –

A YouTube video uploaded by someone who had one of Vernon’s old 78’s. (For you youngsters, 78’s were vinyl LP’s that pre-dated 33’s and 45’s.) His diction and delivery is very heightened and melodramatic, as was the style of the time. His voice reminds me of Boris Karloff’s quite a bit. Oddly, the version I have also has a few more lines than Nosmo’s recorded version. Enjoy!

Twitter Launch Party and Podcast for Chicken Soup for the Soul’s New Book!

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Friends and fellow dog lovers,
Amy Newmark, publisher of the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series, is having a Twitter launch party for this book on August 8th. Anyone can attend. It’s like a cocktail party conversation online.
My story “He Wouldn’t Hurt a Fly” is in this book, and will be 1 of 4 stories featured on the podcast. I may also be interviewed about that story in another 15-minute podcast later.
I hope you can make one or both of these events! See info below on how to listen if you’re new to podcasts.
Some useful information from Chicken Soup’s email to me –
 
We are excited to let you know your story He Wouldn’t Hurt a Fly which appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dog Really Did That? will be featured on the Chicken Soup for the Soul podcast.
 
A new podcast will be available each weekday and they can be downloaded for free the same way that you get other podcasts.
 
There is a theme for each day of the week. Your story will be shared on 8/23/17 and will continue to be available on the app once it airs.
 
If you are new to podcasts you may be surprised to learn you already have a podcast button on your smartphone. You can listen to podcasts on your phone, your computer, or your iPad or other tablet.
 
To find the Chicken Soup for the Soul podcast, search within iTunes or your particular podcast app, or click here for podcast – http://chickensoup.podbean.com
 
If you need a little technical assistance or detailed instructions on how to download and listen to the podcast, then please click here for easy instructions – http://chickensoup.podbean.com/p/first-time-here/
 
The podcasts are about six or seven minutes long Monday-Thursday and they provide entertaining stories as well as great advice and easy-to-implement tips to improve your life. On Fridays, Amy Newmark will ask one of our four authors to join her for a longer podcast—about fifteen minutes.
 
We hope you will listen and enjoy!
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New Publishing

Please look for my story He Wouldn’t Hurt a Fly in this book in all major booksellers on and offline in early August. This will be my 16th story in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. I’m always proud to contribute to their wholesome and inspirational books! Royalties from this book go to the American-Human Society!

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Twitter Launch Party for new Chicken Soup for the Soul book about dogs!

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Dear Fellow Dog Lovers,

Chicken Soup for the Soul is having a Twitter Book Launch Party for their new book, “My Very Good / Very Bad Dog.” (My story, The Rainbow Bridge, is in it.) These parties are a tradition Chicken Soup for the Soul started in the fall of 2015 for each new book. The parties have proven to be a lot of fun and very well attended.

Please join our publisher Amy Newmark and foreword writer Robin Ganzert, President of American Humane Association, on Wednesday, February 17th at 3:00 Eastern time to  discuss this fun, new book and meet the contributors. Contributors will share photos of the dogs that star in their stories as they discuss them.

Here are the details again –

Date: Wednesday, February 17, 2015

Time: 3 PM Eastern time (12 Pacific time) for one hour

Hashtag: #VeryGoodDog

 It’s easy even if you’ve never done this before. Just go on Twitter your normal way and then click on the search function using the magnifying glass. Type in hashtag #VeryGoodDog so that you can see all the tweets at the party. And be sure to include #VeryGoodDog in all the tweets that you post. That way we all see everyone else’s posts. It’s like a big cocktail party conversation.

Share: We would be thrilled if you would invite your family and friends to participate.

In the meantime, you can follow @chickensoupsoul @amynewmark @RobinGanzert and @AmericanHumane on Twitter to read the pre-party buzz!