This workshop will teach your class about a form of poetry from another culture, and provide an interesting alternative to the poetic methods with which they have grown up.
Climbing Rhyme was originally a Burmese style of poetry. The premise itself is simple enough - a repeated sequence of three lines, which in the original language were of four syllables each. In English however, not much can be said in four syllables, and so it is usually adapted to be four words per line. While most poetry in English rhymes at the end of the line, the rhyming pattern here is internal. The fourth word of the first line rhymes with the third word of the second line, and the second of the third line. It moves down like a series of steps: 4-3-2, which is how it came to be known as ‘climbing rhyme’. Usually, the pattern begins again on the third line; the fourth syllable is the rhyme for the next series of lines. In this example, the bold type shows the first rhyme sequence, and the underlined the second.
Dreams of higher things
Spread their wings when
She sings; records sold
Have won gold discs,
She’s told she’ll be a star.
As seen here, each verse often ends with a slightly longer line, both to break up the monotony and present an obvious conclusion. With longer poems, the pattern is often altered to make it more interesting; it can jump, i.e. 4-3-1, or miss out a step, i.e. 4-2. Sometimes poets employ more than one rhyme at a time; if I was trying to vary the style, I could have written ‘cold gold discs’, for example.
This poetic form is good for Key Stage 3, as it is different from traditional English verse. It contains a pleasant pattern of sounds and rhymes, but does not look as forced as some end-rhymed styles can; the structure is subtle and variable, but provides a good guideline for expressing oneself. The form can be adapted to produce poems of any length, and its fluid, quick meter lends itself to being read aloud. Having the rhyme in the middle of the line should be an interesting shift for many of your pupils, and encourage them to think about different possibilities and ways of constructing poetry.
After explaining this to the class, start them on their own climbing rhymes. If you have rhyming dictionaries in the room, placing one on each table would certainly be helpful. Like all poetic forms, climbing rhyme poems can be written about more or less anything, but the informal structure tends to lend itself to a freer imagination, and greater scope. Eastern poetry often works well when describing natural beauty; if you wish to suggest an idea to your class, or write up another example, you could focus on recreating natural sounds through alliteration, assonance and onomatopoeia as well as the rhymes. This example is intended to mimic the tinkling motion of a waterfall:
Sheets of blue cascading,
Dappling and shading; tinkling,
Tinkling, braiding forest noises
A thousand voices as
One rejoices in water;
The forest’s daughter pouring
Over quarters still uncharted;
Cycles nature started when
Mankind darted through trees;
Before his greed and
Lost belief in the sanctity of life’s greatest provider.
If you are using an example, get the class to annotate particular sounds and phrasings that remind them of the aforementioned natural sounds, with reference to the actual linguistic devices used. Then suggest a topic, natural or otherwise, for the class to work on if they have not already chosen their own. If you wish, you can go into greater detail about Burma, asking the class to research it on the computer for inspiration. Start with one or two simple sequences, and have a few read out; this can work well if the others on the table join in on the rhymes, producing a chant effect.
Next, think of a famous story or important historical event, and ask the class to tell it in climbing rhyme. This challenge will test the versatility of the form, and encourage them to appropriate it into their style. As previously said, the sounds and rhymes can be used to indicate the noises of the event itself; for example, a battle poem could incorporate harsh, rattling, grinding sounds, or sudden sharp shocks. Whatever your topic, a lot of fun can be had experimenting with this novel and interesting form.