[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The Echo myth might be one of my least favorite stories of Greek mythology, but it lends its name to one of my new favorite poetry forms.

In the myth, the nymph Echo falls in love with the worthless manbaby Narcissus who basically is incapable of loving anyone but himself and ignores her until she wastes away to nothing but a voice. I mean, Narcissus also dies but he turns into a sorta kickass flower whereas Echo, by loving this waste of oxygen, eliminates her entire personality and self until she doesn’t even get to make her own words.

I mean, seriously, y’all.

Unlike Echo, you still get to control your words in this month’s poetry slam. Well, most of them anyway. An echo poem is a poem that doesn’t have terminal rhymes or scansion (thank me later) but it has a strict internal rhyme scheme. The first syllable or two of each line must be an exact rhyme with the last syllable of the preceding line.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

rhyme

OK, folks, you all know how rhyme works: some words make the same sounds as other words. Now, the rhyme scheme for an echo poem is internal, not terminal. That means that instead of the last few sounds of each line being the same sounds as some other line, those sounds reappear immediately at the beginning of the next line.

That would be easier to explain with examples, right? Let’s check it out.

Terminal rhyme:

The light is getting dimmer
I think I see a glimmer

Echo rhyme:

The light is getting dim:
impossible to see

See how in the first couplet the immer-immer rhyme is at the end of the lines, but in the second the rhyme is im-im and immediately follows itself? That’s how you want to build an echo poem.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

things that are not a rhyme

I mean, ok, technically and actually these things are rhymes, but not for purposes of our echo poetry, so pay attention. I’m going to give you a few couplets, and then we’ll look at which ones are actually echo poem internal rhymes.

1.

I threw a brick into the wood
it stood alone upon a stone

2.

To forge the path you need a plan
can you help me find the way

3.

I often try to be very good
misunderstood, I come across all wrong

4.

An aging man once sat apart
Heartily wishing he were anyone else

5.

I can hear you but your voice confuses
uses so many words that cannot be unsaid

Which of these couplets have the correct rhyme scheme for an echo poem?

If you answered 4 and 5, you’re correct. So why are 1, 2 and 3 wrong? Let’s walk through again.

The last word of 1 is “wood.” That means the first syllable of the next line should be “wood” or “ood” but instead the line starts with “it.” It’s irrelevant that the next word rhymes; only that first syllable counts.

The last word of 2’s first line is “plan.” The first word of the next line is “can.” They’re both one-syllable words that rhyme, but the first SOUND of line two is “c” not “an” so even though the words rhyme it’s not a perfect echo. “lan” would have been acceptable.

3 has the same fault as 2, but it’s more obvious: “good” and “misunderstood” are rhyming words, but the first SOUND of the second line isn’t the same sound as the last sound of the line before.

In 4, the last word of the first line is “apart.” That means that the next line has to start with “apart” “part” or “art.” Even though “heart” isn’t exactly perfectly the same as “art” the aspirated (or even unpronounced, depending on your accent) H is a much more minimal difference than a stop consonant like a k or p. If you’ve got a very near echo, think about whether an ACTUAL echo, shouted off a canyon wall, could make that sound. If you’re really not adding any additional sounds, you’re ok. “Heart” continues as “heartily” but since we’re concerned with the FIRST and not the LAST syllables, that’s ok too!

Finally, in 5, the last word of the first line is pretty long. “Confuses” could shorten to a number of rhymes like “infuses,” “fuses” “uses” or even “says” – the poem continues with the echo rhyme “uses” so it’s ok.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

ok, i get it. what else?

Nothing else.

You heard me. There’s no requirement for terminal rhyme (and in fact your poem is probably going to start feeling really cluttered with the same sounds if you try to include one). There’s no requirement for scansion (and in fact there are very few scansion patterns that you could make work, since even an unstressed first syllable buried in a word is going to feel stressed just by virtue of repeating the sound immediately before it). There’s no length requirement, stanza requirement, nothing.

That said…

Consider making your lines roughly the same length to space out the paired sounds and make them feel more natural and predictable. If you’re writing a poem of more than six or seven lines, consider breaking it into stanzas just to make it easier on the reader – the same reason we use sentences and paragraphs in prose.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

how about an example, though?

Now that you’ve got the rules down, let’s see how they apply to a real poem rather than a bunch of crappy couplets I wrote while jet-lagged on a cross-country flight. As you read, look for the sound pairs. Then think about the deliberate decisions the poet made in choosing line length, stanza breaks, and phrasing.

Echo

Echo that loved hid within a wood
Would to herself rehearse her weary woe:
O, she cried, and all the rest unsaid
Identical came back in sorry echo.
Echo for the fix that she was in
Invisible, distraught by mocking passion,
Passionate, ignored, as good as dumb,
Employed that O unchanged in repetition.
Shun love if you suspect that he shuns you,
Use with him no reproaches whatsoever.
Ever you knew, supposing him to know
No melody from which you might recover-
Cover your ears, dear Echo, do not hear.
Here is no supplication but your own,
Only your sighs return upon the air
Ere their music from the mouth be gone.

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variations on a theme

Once you’ve got the hang of the sound pairs, you can play around with internal rhyme in other ways. In a sonnet, try making the central iamb of each line the same sounds. Can you?

Another variant of the echo theme is a riddle-style poem. Each line is a question, and the answer is made of the last sounds from the line before, like so:

What is this that falls from the sky?
I
Do you live above the thunder?
Under

The answer, of course, is rain. And with that, I’ll leave you to November‘s poetry slam. Good luck and good writing![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]