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A discussion on "Sing-Song" for Storytelling in Verse (sempiternal)

Rhythmic… monotonous.
Musical… tedious.
Lyrical… repetitious.
The concept colloquially referred to as “Sing-Song” is a very different thing to different people. Not poets only, for in other spheres of modern culture “Sing-Song” is both blessing and bane. Speak to a pre-school teacher and if there is an opinion at all, it is concerned with the absolute necessity of consistent rhythm while teaching young minds. However, ask the orator or speech coach and those opinions are likely to be notorious if not outright obscene.
Ask a dictionary and it will tell you that “Sing-Song” is “monotonous rhythmical cadence, tone or sound.”
William Shakespeare loved it. So also did Lord Byron and others. However, they seldom wrote strictly in sing song because both of them were struggling to sell their poetry and therefore treated it with the same careful respect that others of their genre felt appropriate.
Sing song is both blessing and bane.
In its simplest and most easily positive form it is the foundation of the nursery rhyme. The reason why is enlightening when applied to larger, more intellectual works. To fully understand a concept (any concept, not poetry only) the language must be accessible. For the child this means short lines of the same rhythm repeated multiple times. This does not change as we age and grow in wisdom. When language is raised above our individual capacity to understand, the concept is lost. How many people have begun (with noble intentions) Stephen Hawkins’ “A Brief History of Time” only to crash and burn by the third chapter? Though written for laymen, it is a layman of a very different nature to many of us.
Sing song’s greatest purpose in more sophisticated poetry is in epopee. Here also is it the most perilous. In an extraordinarily long work of poetry, the difficulties inherent in language are multiplied. Concepts and characterizations misunderstood mount upon one another until confusion is the prevalent emotion felt by the reader.
(And please note I said “the reader”. Contrary to popular belief, modern poetry is not an oral art. The vast, vast majority of poetry composed will never be spoken aloud to any number of people. Poetry is read and though the whimsical joy of writing as though the poem were to be read aloud is a delight, it is also fantasy. Unless the poet has a listening audience already prepared in advance that will remain through his/her days, the poet is wise to accept the reality that the poem will be heard only in the reader’s mind.)
Sing song is one of the strongest tools the writer of large poems has in guaranteeing the poem’s concepts will be understood with ease. For the same reason it works with the nursery rhyme, it allows the story to be told with little interruption by the very thing we use to convey it- language.
So also like the nursery rhyme, sing song in a large poem can create the monotony so many poets detest. Unlike the nursery rhyme, the intellectual poet has a number of tools at his/her disposal to mitigate the “feel” of sing song without actually eliminating the rhythmic patterns that makes the poem so very easy to read.
The first of these is length of line.
I have a cat
upon a mat
that is too fat
and that…is not salubrious.
The length of line in this snippet by an unknown poet of dubious skill lends itself to a strict sing song rhythm which enhances its humorous nature. The more serious subject cannot get away with this and needs to camouflage the use of sing song with a longer line… at the very least tetrameter. The Alexandrine (a twelve syllable verse) used sing song and was common in dramatic poetry before Shakespeare where it was often alternated with pentameter.
The second tool is an alternating meter. Three lines of tetrameter followed by a line of pentameter, even on a regular basis, does wonders with maintaining sing song and utilizing its positive aspects (clarity of concept, ease of reading) while not beating it over the reader’s head.
Lastly is the use of enjambment. Whereas an overuse of the tool can destroy the rhythm of a poem, judicial placement of continuing thoughts can keep the reader’s mind from getting bogged down in a very long “nursery rhyme”. The occasional elimination of the natural caesura at an end stop gently breaks up a sing song pattern. Too much though and the reader is plunged again into the realm of “having to work too hard to understand the poem.”
Keep in mind that the goal of sing song is not to spoon feed the reader. The facile poem is an artless poem. Complexity is not undesirable, but the ease with which a poem is consumed expands its readership.
The balancing act between the two is known as finesse and finesse sings the song of art.

Comments

...completely thorough look @ sing-songy poetry. You brought every insight up cleanly, and suscinctly. l did think of 2 other things however, they're probably one; & that's when a serious subject can seem like a "rant", or the rhymes used in "rap" or those "poetry slams", where the meter plays havocly with our heads !
Any thoughts?
doc.

Neopoet is "newtriffic" !
...from the heart, or a reasonable faxcimile;
david a. goodwin #{:>{)} @==

I reckon this rank amateur will put his 2 cents in. In my opinion sing-song was probably invented to make passing on oral history easier. Rhyme is easier to remember no matter what the dyed in the wool free form proponents say.
Now you can't have sing-song without rhyme but you can have easily remembered rhyme without sing-song.
The easiest way to do this is by using broken or changing meter in order to make the poem closer to natural speech patterns. This doesn't have to be in every line or even stanza but the changed meter does have to occur.And the meter change can be accomplished by changing line length but also by maintaining line length but changing stressed syllables.I expect Judy will read this and have a heart attack lol(just kidding MM).
There is another way to avoid sing-song which is to use unusual rhymesinstead of the expected ones. Not trees and breeze but trees and atrophes for example.
And of course using very close near rhymes can break the sing-song effect also. Now somebody else can tell me all the other ways which I can't quickly think of off the bald top of my head lol.............stan

Just one caveat.
I do read poetry aloud, either when I find the linguistics entrancing or when I am parsing a tricky piece. Having done it for so many years I can usually read it 'aloud in my head' but often the voice makes all the difference.

It is a practice I recommend to all poets, especially those working with regular meter.

Also meter pre-dates rhyme (yes, Wesley, I know there are very early examples of rhyming poetry) and is far more important to the flow of a poem than rhyme.

Judyanne and myself have found it immensely difficult helping people come to terms with meter but it can be learned, it is not an 'innate' ear. Just read it aloud and learn the terminology. It ain't rocket science.

cheers,
Jess
Everything changes bar one. Neopoet's 'Prime Directive'-
"Critique don't comment".
https://www.neopoet.com/community-guidelines

"READ THE POETRY OUT LOUD!" I have found this to be the most help in spotting meter slips and can't be said enough................................stan

I suspect from my research (I'm having an awful lot of fun looking into ancient poetry... not Greek ancient, but REALLY old stuff) that meter came before rhyme. Rhyme was likely an oddity at first (goofballs laughing at "heart" and "fart") and meter was the first "serious" component of poetry.
I too (being an ex actor) prefer my poetry read aloud and find it an irreplaceable tool for writing my big poem. I still use memorization (spoken to myself over and over during the work day) to create my final draft. It shows up flaws that get raked over when I merely read. My comment concerned the tragedy that 99% of all poetry will never be read aloud even to ourselves. It is a reality of the amount of poetry produced and the non personal way it is shared (books, computers). However, I will never stop memorizing my poetry.

Stan, all of your suggestions are valid, but they are mostly for the purpose of AVOIDING sing song when I was suggesting ways to MAINTAIN sing song while mitigating its sometimes overwhelming effect. Personally, I love the feel of a very rhythmic poem and would write nothing that veered from intense sing song if I thought it would not drive ME crazy. Sing song (particularly in a long piece) is to my ear a beautiful thing, but I understand the desire of many poets to avoid it at all costs. For now though, considering the subject matter of Judyann's most recent workshop, you might want to keep this conversation over here. Just sayin'

Beau, it thrills me to know you look in on my rants...
and speaking of rants... I agree Doc. Sing song MUST choose its subject carefully or it ceases being a tool and becomes a weapon. Anger and objection do not mix well with sing song. Generally I feel that sing song must add to the beauty of a poem. If that beauty is undesirable, then there is no way to use sing song to benefit. The protest poem must needs use different tools.

W. H. Snow

A poet is a nightingale, who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds. Percy Bysshe Shelley

Learn how, teach others.
The NeoPoet Mentor Program
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author comment

...however, then why the enormous popularity of both, "rap" & "slams"? Are they making fun of themselves, the audience, or true poetry?
This was a very interesting, and well-run workshop, sir epic snowman. I appreciated it, immensly.
Thanx,
you-know-verse-ally yours;
doc.

Neopoet is "newtriffic" !
...from the heart, or a reasonable faxcimile;
david a. goodwin #{:>{)} @==

Hi Wesley,

Erudite comments. I have to say that far from a dirth of poets who 'read their words out loud', I've come across loads of talented 'slam' poets all over the UK standing up, reading and rapping their words. I would suggest it could be just 'new wine in old bottles'. Could it be that the long-standing traditions of telling stories through song (as you correctly pointed put so that it aides the brain to memorise key facts) that our Anglo-saxon & Celtic ancestors passed down to us, is just in a newer format?

Long ballads like 'Beowulf' need the rhyme to keep the narrative flowing. 'Sing-Song' is alive and well and has evolved from the ballard to the slam format. If you have never really listened to a fast slam poetry recital....then please do. I've been in awe at the complexity and rhyming of the slam, it takes great skill to be able to hold the rhyme.

'Betty' aka Ellie

... and either the examples given me were junk or the whole thing is not my cuppa. However, I stand (woefully) by my original thought despite the new fad (which I encourage by the way... anything that furthers poetry in any way furthers mine). The problem is the relative dearth of TIME. Humans can only read so many poems out loud at one time (I've never been able to speak more than one... try as I might). The amount of poetry left unspoken then is Legion making poetry a papered art whether we like it or not.

W. H. Snow

A poet is a nightingale, who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds. Percy Bysshe Shelley

Learn how, teach others.
The NeoPoet Mentor Program
http://www.neopoet.com/mentor/about

author comment

As too often happens I have apparently misstated what I meant to say. My suggestions were not intended to berate sing-song but rather to give examples of ways in which the burden can be occasionally broken up. Much easier to carry 10 loads of twenty bricks than 1 load of 200 lol. So when writing a long poem which is predominately sing-song using any one of the afore mentioned techniques can provide a resting spot or perhaps a spot where meter can change to designate the beginning of another thought line without having to put a Roman numeral to designate such................I guess you could think of these techniques as being similar to taking a pause to breath in midst of a long speech. These breaks can also be used to "wake up" a reader who is being lulled to sleep by long strings of sing song or the emphasize a particular line or stanza.............stan

contrary to what you may think, I usually understand you well. We said the same thing in several different ways. You seldom confuse me and never distress me.

W. H. Snow

A poet is a nightingale, who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds. Percy Bysshe Shelley

Learn how, teach others.
The NeoPoet Mentor Program
http://www.neopoet.com/mentor/about

author comment

like everything you share .

The last line sums everything up for me.
"The balancing act between the two is known as finesse and finesse sings the song of art."
Now to achieve this finesse I believe is the aim of each and every poet and you've here clarified that the right utilization of not only one tool, helps the poet to do so , if only...

Thanks a lot for sharing.  

❤❤❤❤❤❤

Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words
........Robert Frost☺

You've been singing the song well for some time now.

W. H. Snow

A poet is a nightingale, who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds. Percy Bysshe Shelley

Learn how, teach others.
The NeoPoet Mentor Program
http://www.neopoet.com/mentor/about

author comment

...Rula AND Judy have, as have many ! I'd just like to add here, how impressed and grateful I am for absolutely ALL of you, along with your collective efforts. I may in fact, be a rather poor, or "spotty" commentator concerning all of the works posted on the "Stream"; but I DO read 'em all; and it matters NOT.......how dreadfull, or beautiffully "dazzling" they may be !
Maybe, that's my problem. Ever since coming to this planet....I've repeatedly had a problem with the concept of..."time".
I apologize for that; however you, must realize as well....rarely, have I EVER...recieved "the memo".
God's speed,
doc.

Neopoet is "newtriffic" !
...from the heart, or a reasonable faxcimile;
david a. goodwin #{:>{)} @==

One of the universal constants, No time, No hurry, just the journey here to learn.
Pet's or Poets it matters not, we can learn from all things and at a constant speed, as going too fast makes me cringe, though I am advised that you live longer the faster you travel.
Now all these things you must unravel, Yours Ian.T

.
There are a million reasons to believe in yourself,
So find more reasons to believe in others..

...I say, "ditto", and of course;
Bully !
your friend,
doc.

Neopoet is "newtriffic" !
...from the heart, or a reasonable faxcimile;
david a. goodwin #{:>{)} @==

Correct me if I am wrong,
Bible:- book one to five, is learned from sing songing the words.
Psalms:- Sing song words to learn praises
Koran:- Sing song to remember the words
Nursery Rhymes:- sing song to usually warn others
Times tables:- Sing song to remember.
Poetry:- sing song only if needed..
Lyrics:- sang not sing song, here we have modern poetic rhymes,
telling stories, and making points.
I remember "Home Thoughts From Abroad" from 62 years ago because it was read many times and recited aloud, I have never checked the meter of the works. and can't remember another poem..
In composing poetry though the meter holds the poem in a symmetree where a consistent way is found to say it aloud, or remember the words.
What poem these days is remembered.
Are they the classics because they are well written and can teach us the correct form.
Why did the old masters write in such a way, or have we selected a few of the old poets from the millions that there were to demonstrate a form of writing.
Take anything you like there has to be a base to work from, why write poetry at all, who will be remembered in the future..
The old Masters and Bards as we call them, will be remembered for the forms of poetry, the plays of the bard are eternal as they teach a beautiful base.
Please tell me of one new poet that is going to be remembered so..
We try the art, others as me scribble away, just wonder why????
Yours Ian.T

.
There are a million reasons to believe in yourself,
So find more reasons to believe in others..

I think there will be numerous poets from our time remembered through the ages, but (as most of the poets of earlier ages) they are not respected now. Poet, country and all that. Just because we produce fine art doesn't mean it won't take a century for it to be noticed. It irks me, but I will trust that one hundred years from now people will sit in their rockers before a roaring fire with a glass of spirits and read Caco, Man of The Morning Star wondering what sort of lunatic this guy was who would write something like that.

W. H. Snow

A poet is a nightingale, who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds. Percy Bysshe Shelley

Learn how, teach others.
The NeoPoet Mentor Program
http://www.neopoet.com/mentor/about

author comment

SEMPITERNAL
Dictionary entry overview: What does sempiternal mean?
• SEMPITERNAL (adjective)
The adjective SEMPITERNAL has 1 sense:
1. having no known beginning and presumably no end
Familiarity information: SEMPITERNAL used as an adjective is very rare.
Dictionary entry details

• SEMPITERNAL (adjective)

Synonyms:
dateless; sempiternal; endless
Context examples:
the dateless rise and fall of the tides / time is endless / sempiternal truth
Similar:
infinite (having no limits or boundaries in time or space or extent or magnitude)

.
There are a million reasons to believe in yourself,
So find more reasons to believe in others..

Another way in which rhyme can be maintained without it sounding like a nursery rhyme is to use a rhyme pattern other that aabb. Also having stanzas of more than 4 lines can help (but not Too many more lest the "memorable " component of repeated rhyme is lost..........................stan

... these factors can also be "used" to deliberately make misguided attempts to "write" a sort of fairy tale like my workshop entry here soon.

W. H. Snow

A poet is a nightingale, who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds. Percy Bysshe Shelley

Learn how, teach others.
The NeoPoet Mentor Program
http://www.neopoet.com/mentor/about

author comment

way to keep sing song from becoming over bearing. I have fairly recently found myself writing quatrains in various rhyme patterns then adding a line to the end of each stanza which rhymes only with the other added lines in following stanzas.I guess the pattern could be described as :
A
B
A
B
C

E
F
E
F
C

By having the final lines always rhyme with one another it gives a pause for thought at the end of each quatrain and also gives the writer the chance to carry an additional line of throughout in the"poem within a poem". I don't claim to have invented this because I seem to recall seeing it done elsewhere before I started using it. In the event I'm unclear what I'm talking about, let me go hunt one up for a sample and post it.............stan.........I found one :
"Dawn Of The New Year"

All you need is an envoy. Three stanzas where the last line of the first stanza repeats at the end of each following stanza and the end of the envoy. Your rhyme scheme works for the ballade.
I will hold a workshop on it after some others have had a chance. I need a workshop.

W. H. Snow

A poet is a nightingale, who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds. Percy Bysshe Shelley

Learn how, teach others.
The NeoPoet Mentor Program
http://www.neopoet.com/mentor/about

author comment

I'd seen this form somewhere before. Had no idea is was so close to being a ballade which you plan on covering before long

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