Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Eve Merriam wrote both fiction and nonfiction for young people over a thirty-year period, from 1962 to 1992. Merriam, who was wordstruck and versatile, created poems that are not only lyrical but rich in other ways as well, including wordplay and humor. It Doesn’t “Always” Have to Rhyme is representative of Merriam’s body of poetry for young people. Indeed, the only way in which this volume is not characteristic of Merriam’s body of work is that no political satire or social concerns are explicitly treated.

It Doesn’t “Always” Have to Rhyme was Merriam’s second volume of poetry for young people and also the second volume in a trilogy including There Is No Rhyme for Silver (1962) and Catch a Little Rhyme (1966). It contains fifty-nine poems spread over eighty pages. Because the poems are not arranged by any apparent classification scheme, the book invites browsing, and thus new interests or appreciations may be discovered. The majority of the verses focus on the nature of poetry, various poetry forms, basic elements of poetry, word meaning, and wordplay. One concrete poem is included among the free verse and rhyme. As a result, this volume is particularly useful in English language arts classes.

With the title, some readers may be in for a surprise: There is considerable rhyme in the volume. It is often presented, however, in places and ways that are unexpected, although artful. Because Merriam had a lifelong love of literature and theater, it is not surprising that her poems are also rich in rhythm and in sound (including rhyme). Many of the verses beg to be read aloud. Humor, another characteristic of Merriam’s writing, is liberally sprinkled throughout It Doesn’t “Always” Have to Rhyme. Young people may smile, chuckle, or even laugh out loud as they read her light verse. Also presented, however, are poems of what some critics might call a more substantial stature. These are the poems that involve one or more of the reader’s senses and allow them to experience the exquisite beauty of language in unique forms. In all her poems, Merriam speaks to the experience of her readers and often evokes an emotional response. In this way, she is an authentic poet.

Small, rather whimsical line drawings by Malcolm Spooner accompany fifteen of the poems. While nicely rendered, they neither clarify nor extend the poems and merely act as decoration.