In his constantly fascinating book “Finishing the Hat,” the great — and highly opinionated — lyricist Stephen Sondheim includes a short chapter titled “Rhyme and Its Reasons.” By “rhyme,” Sondheim means what we call “true rhyme” or “perfect rhyme” — “two words or phrases whose final accented syllables sound alike except for the consonant sounds which precede them” — rather than “identity,” in which the final accented syllables are identical (Romania/ mania), or near,false/slant/imperfect rhymes, which share the same vowel sound, but don’t end the same way, or have the same consonants but different vowel sounds (buddy/body).

“There is nothing ‘wrong’ with near rhymes,” Sondheim says disingenuously; “two generations of listeners brought up on pop and rock songs have gotten so accustomed to approximate rhyming that they neither care nor notice if the rhymes are perfect.” He then spends the next two pages explaining eloquently what is wrong with imperfect rhymes when it comes to song lyrics as well as for the light verse we give ink to here in Loserland.

(By “perfect rhyme,” we don’t mean that there can’t be creative ways to make those rhymes, especially with words that differ significantly in spelling, or to make a joke on the pronunciation. Think of Cole Porter’s classics from “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” including: “If your blonde won’t respond when you flatter her/ Tell her what Tony told Cleopatterer” and, of course, “If she says your behavior is heinous/ Kick her right in the Coriolanus.”)

Some of Sondheim’s reasons for perfect rhyme are that they work better with a musical line, and help a theatergoer understand a lyric on first listen. But aside from the musical aspect, it comes down to wit: “Both identities and false rhymes are death on wit,” Sondheim declares. “A perfect rhyme can make a mediocre line bright and a good one brilliant. A near rhyme only dampens the impact.”

He cites a rhyme by the ultry-witty Dorothy Parker, who unfortunately missed out on The Style Invitational by about 40 years:

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Roumania.

Sondheim then shows how the wit would falter if Parker had used an identity rather than a true rhyme in Lines 2 and 4:

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A revel that verges on mania;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Roumania.

Or even worse (way worse), a false rhyme:

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
An endless euphoric fantasia;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Roumania.

“In each case, the punch line lands with a muffled thud,” Sondheim says.

“Using near rhymes is like juggling clumsily: it can be fun to watch and it is juggling, but it’s nowhere near as much pleasure for an audience as seeing all the balls — or in the case of the best lyricists, knives, lit torches and swords — being kept aloft with grace and precision.”

He adds simply: “Jokes work best with perfect rhymes.”

We do jokes, and I can’t agree more.

Here are a few poems from past news-in-verse contests, among the dozens of Invite poetry challenges over the years, from our own Parkers:

On the National Zoo’s difficulties in getting its pandas to mate:
Mei Xiang, I am so very sorry
My advances to you were too crude.
Though your well-rounded haunches still thrill me
I will try now to act more subdued.
Could we possibly catch us a movie?
And you’ll be my sweet, sweet bamboo.
Please forgive me, my dear One and Only --
Or I’ll have to go courting a gnu. (Hall of Famer Jennifer Hart, 2002)

From the same week, a parody about the University of Maryland basketball team’s academic woes:
Once upon a March of Madness came the news of lack of grad-ness
From the team that loves to rebound, run the court and shoot and score.
Maryland, that team of turtles, trips o’er academic hurdles,
Thinking books and labs and lectures aren’t what the U is for.
“Ours is not to cram for finals, just to make the Final Four:
Only this, and nothing more.” (Dave Zarrow)

On criticism of Cookie Monster for his dietary choices:

When we’ve got a social problem that’d cause our country shame,
What’s as good as a solution is a scapegoat we can blame.
Now our kids are couch potatoes and they don’t play out of doors,
So we’re haulin’ Cookie Monster up for scarfin’ down s’mores.

First we’ve cut his brownie binges; next we’ll buff up his physique;
Soon he’ll be extollin’ exercise while noshin’ on a leek,
Then a final change to really make the transformation whole:
We’ll give ’im some new name like “Biff, the Tofu-Eatin’ Troll.”

Aye, it’s ’ello beets and broccoli, and goodbye Keebler Elves,
For our chubby little children need protectin’ from themselves.
We won’t take away their GameBoys or deny ’em their cartoons,
So we’re haulin’ Cookie Monster up for eatin’ macaroons. (Hall of Famer Brendan Beary, 2005)

For Week 1062, I just said “rhyming poem”; you can choose the genre. Just impress Steve. Spin those lit torches in the air.

The good, bad and ugly entries to Week 1058

While Elden Carnahan’s Master Contest List to the entire Style Invitational (Loose) Canon classified our previous “good/bad/ugly” contest in the “words” category, I’d vote for it to fall under “jokes”: Each triplet consists of a straight set-up line, some sort of development in the second line, and a punch line that surprises you in some way. (Of course, there’s almost always some wordplay as well in virtually every Invite contest.)

As I noted in my introduction to the results, a lot of the entries were pretty much finished by the “bad,” rather than paying off with the “ugly,” or the intermediate line, the “bad,” wasn’t bad, or wasn’t really different from the ddd “ugly.” Example:
Good: Your fever has broken and your temperature is coming down.
Bad: All the way down.
Ugly: To room temperature.
That would have been a great joke with just Good/ Ugly.

This one would have been good with just Good/Bad:

Good: You’re in love with a beautiful femme with flaming haunches.
Bad: She lost by a nose.
Ugly: You bet your mortgage payment.

But this week’s inking entries delivered with that one-two-three punch, and , I hope, plenty of variety.

It’s the 11th win for Beverley Sharp, who with 435 blots of ink seems to be first in line to be the next inductee of the Style Invitational Hall of Fame, though she’s not quite at the doorbell. This has to be better news for Beverley than what she and her husband received last month after returning from a vacation cruise: The freak polar vortex storm that reached even Alabama had caused two water pipes to burst in their house, followed by the collapse of a large section of their dining room ceiling. Beverley and Dick were able to stay in the house, but sizable areas of ceiling, floors and walls of two floors of the house needed to be removed and rebuilt; some of the furniture is being repaired. I have a feeling that all this wasn’t in the plan when they moved from Washington to Montgomery, and their first house ever with a pool. (They should have specified outdoor pool.)

Brendan Beary — of the Cookie Monster poem above — reminds us that along with iambic heptameter, he’s also good at sicko one-liners (er, three-liners). Out of his more than 900 inks, Brendan has finished in exactly second place . . . um, I think 52 times; the stats became a little fuzzy when the Invite results switched from listing “first runner-up,” “second runner-up,” etc., to “2,” “3,” “4,” and what’s listed as “1” in the stats might mean “first-runner up,” while “2” might also. Anyway, Eneman is the latest of many, many fabulous gag prizes sent over the years down to remote Southern Maryland.

It seems that a much newer Loser, Neal Starkman, need only stick around to sponge up the puddles of ink; since his debut in Week 944, Neal already has 31 blots, including two wins and four more “above the fold.” By the way: In addition to his obviously more important writing for The Style Invitational, Neal also writes a blog on more serious issues for the Seattle Post Intelligencer, and is the author of two recent novels, “Poison” and “Dervishes.”

And speaking of newer: Nick Culp of the D.C. area will be getting, along with his choice of Loser Mug or Whole Fools Grossery Bag, a FirStink for his first ink, for his cleverly crafted “trip to Paris.” While in this case the “ugly” didn’t really play against the “bad,” he saved the joke with the great punch line “treated like royalty.”

With Malitz toward: The favorite this week of Sunday Style Editor David Malitz was Art Grinath’s sickoid honorable mention about the fur coat.

Hungry for brunch? Will you be by March 16?

It’s time for the Losers’ annual-or-so visit to the groaning buffet at Paradiso, close outside the Beltway between the I-95 and Van Dorn Street exits in Northern Virginia. We’re getting together at noon, so that should work okay with my usual MO: to eat a big plate of breakfast food, then go back and have a big plate of lunch food. Oh, right, then there’s dessert.

Anyway, it would be great to meet some new Losers, or just Invite fans, as well as to see the regulars again. RSVP to Elden so we can get a good count for a reservation.