Feature

Baffled Songwriters in Cyberspace

The word was “rhapsody”.

I was looking for a rhyme for it.  Ever since I was twelve years old, I’ve puzzled over lyric lines, looking for the right word to fit into the right space.

Lynn Harrison, songwriter

When I get stuck, or I’m feeling lazy, sometimes I pick up a rhyming dictionary.  I have a pocket-sized hardback Webster’s that I like.  But on this particular day, it wasn’t on my desk.

So, in a move that reflects the Internet’s increasing influence, I idly typed “What rhymes with ‘rhapsody’?” into Google.  To my horror, I discovered a website with hundreds of rhyming questions, posted by modern-day poets and songwriters hoping to be rescued by social networking.

We are entering a new age.  Writers used to take long walks, fill blank notebooks, and mentally scroll through the alphabet letter by letter, searching for the best word to complete a verse. Today, aspiring poets and songwriters type in questions such as “What rhymes with trampled?

Before I go on, I should tell you that according to the website I consulted, a good rhyme for “rhapsody”  is “crap city”.  Unfortunately that didn’t work very well in my song.  But it didn’t matter, because, thus distracted, I suddenly found myself much more interested in the would-be verses of the online community than in my own ballad.

As I scanned the list of questions, I found myself feeling a deepening kinship with my fellow poets worldwide.  “What rhymes with frankincense?” wrote one.  (I typed in “common sense”, trying to be helpful.)  “What rhymes with urbanization?” wrote another.  (Hmm…”colonization”, “state of the nation”, “rate of inflation”?)

Some writers seemed genuinely confused, such as the one who asked, “What is a word that rhymes with both big and wall?”.  Others were simply asking too much, such as the one who inquired, “What rhymes with the element ytterbium?”

Now, I admit, some words are very difficult to rhyme, and as a serious songwriter, I know how hard it can be to make them work. I honestly wish the best for the guy writing a song about rodeos, and I sympathize with the poet who’s committed to ‘audiovisual’.   But sometimes you have to change course, let a beloved word go, try another idea.  For the sake of the song, move on!

I think of the great lyricists of days gone by, people like Ira Gershwin and Cole Porter.  Of course they got stuck on words, of course they struggled to find rhymes! They didn’t type them into the Internet, hoping to be bailed out.  I doubt that Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan do today, either.

To be fair, it’s clear that many of these anonymous, online rhyme-seekers are children.  In fact, they’re probably the same age I was when I started writing poetry and songs.  As I look over their questions, I can’t help but think that our wired society is failing them.  Wouldn’t it be best if the boy who typed “What is a magical person that rhymes with lizard?” came up with the answer on his own?  Is there a sadder commentary on the current state of storytelling than the question “What rhymes with tuffet?”

One of my favourite baffled cyber-poets was the person writing about bonfire night.  Over the course of an evening, he or she posted two specific questions: “What is a word that rhymes with rocket and is related to bonfire night?” followed, several hours later, by the equally vexing “What rhymes with colours that has to do with bonfire night”?  (Mmm…crullers, anyone?)

O bonfire night writer, ye of little faith!  If you are moved to write about that bonfire, you can stoke the sputtering embers of your imagination to come up with crackling words on your own!  Instead of consulting Answers.com, invoke the spirits of every poet who’s ever moved you, whether it’s Joni Mitchell or Bob Marley, William Shakespeare or Fiona Apple. They would tell you: there are as many ways to write about bonfires as there are people in the world, but only you can write your poem.  It is your own answers you are looking for, and they cannot be found on the Internet.

Finally, to the girl or boy who wrote “What golf words rhyme with Grandpa?”  I would say:  run away from the computer, pick up paper and pen and write down every “golf word” you know (ball, swing, hole, club, tee…) and every “Grandpa word” you know (tall, strong, old, loves…me!).  Connect them up in a way that you like, and see what a wonderful poem you will have made.

Take your time, when you need a rhyme.  Your brain is still the greatest search engine of all.  It can help you find a rhyme for “rhapsody”…or maybe something even better (“rhapsody” reminding me too much of a Burton Cummings song anyway) as it finally did for me.

Lynn Harrison is a blogger, songwriter and performer based in Toronto.

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5 comments

  1. avatar
    Mayzee 3 January, 2010 at 14:45

    Most of the people using these types of websites are not writers or poets. Writers and poets write because they are compelled to and they love the thrill of the chase of the perfect rhyme, phrase or combination of words. Certainly, those using these websites are cheating themselves out of the fun of the whole experience and it’s like they are skimming the top of the water for flotsam rather than going to the depths of the well.

  2. avatar
    Kirsten Jones 3 January, 2010 at 14:49

    Great article, Lynn! Hope you have an ongoing column here. Which could rhyme with “solemn beer” or “slalom fear”, depending on what the song is about. : )

  3. avatar
    Tim Readman 3 January, 2010 at 15:52

    Talent borrows, genius steals.
    Oscar Wilde

    In other words, it really doesn’t matter where it comes from; your ‘Muse’ or the back of a cereal box, it’s what you do with it that counts.

  4. avatar
    Jane Eamon 3 January, 2010 at 16:34

    I love this – what rhymes with Rhapsody? Prosody (?), harmony, hap-hazardly, taps in me, sets me free, sings to me, dies with me, happily….a few suggestions….love the thrill of the chase…

  5. avatar
    John Jackson 3 January, 2010 at 16:56

    I once sat down to work and wrote the word orange then went looking for a rhyme. I ended up using revenge and went looking for a rhyme for that eventually settling on edge. I put my orange back in the fruit basket.

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