When I started reading the collection of 100 poems previously published in Poetry, put together by Don Share and Christian Wiman—called The Open Door—I didn’t intend to wonder about the publishing choices of the magazine, just read some poems.

However, the amount of rhyme really surprised me. I began to wonder how it varied with time, because the poems included in the collection were published between 1913 and 2011. Was there some pattern? I would have assumed more rhyme earlier in the history of the magazine. I mean, didn’t free verse smash formal poetry, or why did we have that renaissance of Formalism?

I am assuming here that the “best of” choices made by Share and Wiman reflect both the best poems of the time in which they were published, as well as posterity’s take, in some way. I am also assuming that the form of the poem chosen was in some way representative of what was popular at the time it was published, which is also a bit iffy.

So here’s the breakdown, with rhyming poems indicated in blue and non-rhyming poems in orange. Some years from 1913-2011 had no published poems chosen for the collection; some years had more than one.

There were 39 rhyming poems, by which I mean poems which used end-rhyme in any way; the remainder didn’t use end-rhyme.

bar chart showing rhyming and non-rhyming poems from best-of Poetry magazine

(Click graphic for larger version.)

I think what I expected to see was a pattern.

I think I expected the first half of the 20th century to be full of rhyme and see that change as time progressed. That does happen a bit, but there’s also a surprising increase in rhyming (blue) poems near the end of the timeline.

While the number of rhyming poems does decrease as time passes in the plot, the non-rhyming poems are there pretty much from the beginning. This also surprised me. I guess I had thought that free verse got popular later than it actually did. Just my ignorance.

And something the graphic doesn’t show, but which I noticed with my eyes currently working to understand the ordering of manuscripts: the front of the collection included a number of rhyming poems, including the first one, while the ending began to pull in more rhyming poems as the final page approached, and the final two poems of the collection rhyme. Which says to me that Share and Wiman believe that a rhyme is a wonderful choice to provide closure.