In this post, we continue our poetry 101 series and explain free verse with examples.
In a previous post, we discussed the sonnet, which has a specific structure and is divided into stanzas with a set number of lines, which must then have the right number of syllables, for example. So, it seems easy to say that Free Verse is the opposite of that and that there are no rules, but that is not exactly true either.
A poem must make you feel something, right? That is why it isn’t just a random selection of words. That is one thing all poems, regardless of form, have in common. They are still an artistic expression that evokes emotion.
The ‘rules’ of poetry help you to convey the theme or idea to create that emotion. The tools or techniques give the reader the clues that they need to interpret the poem.
I always tell my students when we debate the validity of writing rules, and this includes fiction, that ‘the rules’ might help you or they might not, but if you decide to break ‘the rules’ you should do so deliberately and with intention. Not just because.
That is how I think about Free Verse. It is a deliberate disregarding of the rules and that becomes a technique in itself.
What is free verse?
The question sparked a very interesting debate on the 12 Poems Facebook Group. Sarah Werbach gave the following reply, “basically, in freeform you have to absolutely pay attention to imagery, language, form, tensions, white space. All which must not be random – there must be a meaning and purpose behind every choice the poet makes.”
When the reader doesn’t have the traditional clues to interpret the poem our writing must work harder. In a Shakespearean Sonnet we expect that the couplet (the last two lines at the end) indicates a turn or change in the poem. There are no such clues in the Free Verse.
In the absence of rules, the parts that are present need to convey so much more. Everything must be considered. The vocabulary, the punctuation, the spaces, the line breaks, and the images that are created, and the emotions that are evoked.
We are not constrained by rigid rhyme schemes and metre, but don’t think that makes your job any easier. The poem should still sing, it should still evoke an idea of cohesion and convey an idea.
The joy of the free verse poem is that we can still use the traditional tools, but not in any way that is prescribed. So, feel free to use rhyme, assonance, foregrounding or any other technique to write your poem.
Here are some examples:
Fog by Carl Sandburg
The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
I love the simplicity and clear imagery created by the example above.
It is interesting to note that free verse is considered to be a more modern style, but it has been around for a while, considering Whitman wrote this. Note the images and movement he conveys in this poem.
After the Sea-Ship by Walt Whitman
After the Sea-Ship-after the whistling winds;
After the white-gray sails, taut to their spars and ropes,
Below, a myriad, myriad waves, hastening, lifting up their necks,
Tending in ceaseless flow toward the track of the ship:
Waves of the ocean, bubbling and gurgling, blithely prying,
Waves, undulating waves-liquid, uneven, emulous waves,
Toward that whirling current, laughing and buoyant, with curves,
Where the great Vessel, sailing and tacking, displaced the surface,
Larger and smaller waves in the spread of the ocean yearnfully
The wake of the sea-ship after she passes, flashing and frolicsome
under the sun,
A motley procession with many a fleck of foam and many fragments,
Following the stately and rapid ship, in the wake following.
Happy poem writing.
P.S. If you are taking part in the 12 Poems Challenge, join the group on Facebook: 12 Poems in 12 Months
by Mia Botha
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