A Review of A.E. Stallings, Like

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book review

Travis Biddick

A Review of A.E. Stallings, Like

New York, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018
ISBN 978-0-374-18732-3, 160 pp., USA $24.00, hardcover





In her delightful essay for Poetry magazine, “Presto Manifesto!,” A.E. Stallings mounts a polemical defense of rhyme. “Rhyme is at the wheel. No, rhyme is the engine,” it declares with contrarian bravura. But Stallings is only getting started. Very quickly, she arrives at a conclusion which all lay readers of poetry intuitively know, but which is tragically one of the greatest heresies in poetry workshops and university presses across the land: that “There are no tired rhymes. There are no forbidden rhymes. Rhymes are not predictable unless lines are.” Without the latter principle, readers would feel shallow to enjoy a rhyme of even so great a poet as the Bard himself:

    For as the sun is daily new and old
    So is my love still telling what is told
 Why is it that rhymes involving words as common as “old” and “told” nevertheless startle us? When people speak of “predictable” rhymes, what they assume—and expect their audience to assume—is that rhyme is simply a mechanical, uninspired act of indexing one word to another based on the terminal vowel and consonants with the hope of finding a new, uncommon pairing. Rebutting this simplistic understanding, “Presto Manifesto” offers a much more sophisticated technical account of rhyme’s reason, and the surprisingly complicated and numerous factors which give life to a rhyme—so numerous and complicated, in fact, that the mere pairing of two “common” words has almost no bearing on the quality of the . . .
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