A Writer's Handbook

Burmese Climbing Rhyme Poems

Climbing The Stairs

John Daleiden, US

Larry Gross characterizes the Burmese Climbing Rhyme as a poem based on a “repeated sequence of three internally rhymed lines consisting of four syllables each”. The rhyme pattern begins at the end of line1, but then is placed internally in the next two lines; the fourth syllable of line 1, the 3rd syllable of line 2, and the 2nd syllable of line 3. The 
last syllable of line three begins the new series of rhymes repeating the 4-3-2 pattern. The poet repeats the pattern until the idea of the poem is completed. This stair step pattern is called the 4-3-2 scheme; the physical appearance of the rhymes gives rise to the name climbing rhyme.

"Basically, Burmese is a monosyllabic language with each syllable having independent meaning. A four syllable Burmese line is generally also a four word line”, says Gross. The principle of the Burmese Climbing Rhyme poem when applied to an English language poem is based on word counting the verse line instead of syllable counting. Gross offers his poem of homage to William Shakespeare as an example:

Each In His Time
Living’s merely the
untutored actors
age on—
sage, nothing profound
happens, only
drowned emotions
uncrowned king inside
continues to
hide, refuses
to stride the
unfettered, flag
unfurled against
hurled arrows, cannot
invent his
plot, must
what is penned
for him,
suspend himself,
pretend until he
becomes someone
free, someone
Galilee, crowned messiah
in a world
he never meant to be.

In the final four lines Gross uses experimental rhyming.

Applying the techniques of the Burmese Climbing Rhyme poem to English language poems is an interesting experiment. The internal rhymes offer abundant and sonorous harmonies, but avoid the sing song rhyming of 
some end rhymed English poetry. The techniques adapt well to the current preference for short lined poems in English and as demonstrated in the example by Larry Gross, the form seems to tolerate variation. Variations might include an altered rhyme pattern, or a five or six word line pattern.

Three writers from The OutlawPoets offer some examples of the Burmese Climbing Rhyme poem in this issue.

Read the Burmese Climbing Rhyme  poems in Sketchbook.

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