August 04, 2006

Poetry Friday: The rain in Spain edition

Very thoughtful Grandpapa (aka Old Curmudgeon) sent us a parcel the other day. It's always a wonderful surprise albeit a bit confusing to get a box from Amazon I haven't ordered. But before we even left the post office Laura suggested, "I think it's probably from Grandpapa." And it was, too: two rhyming dictionaries -- "For Poetry Friday and the rest of the week, too," he wrote. No doubt to help Laura and the boys compose some Ruthless Rhymes of their own.

The first is the Oxford Junior Rhyming Dictionary by John Foster, illustrated by Melanie Williamson and Rupert Van Wyk. Not to be confused with the Oxford First Rhyming Dictionary, for budding poets (and readers) of about 4 or 5. The junior edition is more geared for established poets from about, oh, age 7 or 8. The "How to use this dictionary" section runs several pages and is a lovely and almost invisible reinforcement of early phonics lessons, reminding children that "hole" rhymes not only with words in the same "rhyme family" ("words that end with the same rhyming sound and have the same spelling pattern") but also with those in other rhyme families (reminding them that "-ole rhymes with -oal" and "-ole also rhymes with -oll"). Most of the entry words in the dictionary are fairly simple, one or two syllables at most, but the rhyming words offered are quite comprehensive and not at all as simplistic as you might expect in a dictionary for kids; "us", for example, rhymes with pus, plus, thus, as well as circus, genius, hippopotamus, glorious, raucous, and dubious.

The back of the book includes a 13-page section of activities for playing with rhyme by writing poetry, complete with prompts, from limericks, nonsense nursery rhymes, and counting rhymes to rhyming riddles, epitaphs (handy for pets and aged relatives), rapping, rhyming couplets, chants, homophones, and a brief discussion of rhyme patterns.

The second book in our box was the Oxford Rhyming Dictionary by Clive Upton and Eben Upton. Aside from the actual entries and the usual "how to use this book" business, the book has three other charming though not necessarily G-rated bits at the front, "Introducing rhymes", "...and a bit of theory", and "Who needs rhymes?". The first two sections explain that the rhymes in the book are organized phonetically and are based on their pronunciations, with no regard to spelling or alphabetical considerations. Which means that "moustachio is as good a rhyme as peepshow for the word quizshow", not to mention "clayey" for "Pompeii". Though it also means you have to bear in mind that the book was put together by two authors who pronounce, and write, the Queen's English. Another reason that the very comprehensive index of 85,000 entries is so handy, including everything from Oberösterreich, "off and on", and cetaceous to Nintendo and both "raison d'être" and "raisons d'être".

As for who needs rhymes, the Uptons write,
...almost everybody needs information about rhymes at some time in their lives; perhaps to compose a little ditty as a joke for family or friends, when constructing a quiz, or to settle an argument such as whether there's an exact rhyme for orange (there is, incidentally, though there isn't for butcher). So this dictionary is for everyone. Anyone, who enjoys the sounds of the language, whether or not they have a professional purpose or a pressing personal need for a rhyme, could find themselves browsing far beyond the immediate confines of any target word they look up.
And so I leave you with one of John Foster's epitaph examples from the Junior Rhyming Dictionary:

In memory of Charlotte Cul-de-sac,
A loyal and trusted friend
Who finally lived up to her name
And came to a dead end.


As usual, Kelly at Big A little a and Liz B at A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy should each have a round-up of the day's poetic offerings from around the blogosphere.

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