“Teaching Slant Rhyme” by Leah Nielsen

Leah Nielsen


I have always wanted to write a poem in which lavender
rhymes with vendor or scavenger but mostly cadaver,

but the image—imagine a literary journal’s response—
seems inadvertently humorous—and there seems no nonchalant

way to pair them, to rhim them, as my students
say, which is a marked improvement

over their DO NOT RHYME policy
and their almost comic cacophonies

composed confidently through alliteration,
and when they get it, it becomes an addiction—

one kid rhims porridge with dirigible,
another, having fallen in love with Prufrock’s dreariness

and his own cleverness suggests fellatio and go,
and another student, in earnest, asks what’s fellatio,

and I try not to laugh, to let
another student

say it, but no one does—a blow job,
I blurt, having reached an all-time teaching low,

and another, seeing I am losing control
suggests go and polka dot

and they go down the cananendwordbetwowords path
and come back to craft,

which kind of goes with Pabsts, which one argues
is not that bad a beer, and so the impromptu

debate on the virtues of PBR,
which one declares sells well in this recession—or so he heard

on CNN—a connoisseur, he also notes the virtues
of Natty Light and when I ask for a 50% rhyme for virtue

he says river, rivet, turtle, true—here I should note that I stole
the percentage concept from an old

mentor who does not like to be called old. But never mind.
What do you say to a twenty-year-old who hears Kevlar

and thinks larva, lava, valley, ale, and just because
he can, adds vulva and uvula and pauses dramatically for guffaws?

I’m sorry, kid, but you’re going to be a poet.
And poet

is an orphan,
a word for which there are no pure rhymes, like orange.

I’m sorry you have a gift for words.
I’m sure your parents would have preferred

even geology over writing,
but here you are spiraling

spite, rips, lipid, dalliance, nascent, land,
and pyrrhic, hiccup, puce and pedal.

from Rattle #35, Summer 2011

[download audio]


Leah Nielsen: “My mother read my Dr. Seuss’ One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. My father read my Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. Then he died (my father, not Stevenson, who was dead before this story started). By my teens I was hanging out in Howard Johnson’s, chain smoking, drinking coffee, and quoting T.S. Eliot, ‘I grow old. I grow old,’ as I exhaled, not that I had ever truly inhaled. Seuss and Stevenson and Prufrock stuck. The cigarettes did not. I now drink ridiculously expensive organic coffee, which is almost as good as the coffee HoJo’s served.” (website)

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