The Blog of John Hewitt

Write a poem with meter and without meter

Thoughts on Meter

Street Lamp on a Cloudy Day

Street Lamp on a Cloudy Day

I rarely focus on meter when I write poetry. In my college days I took many of my style cues (though not my content cues) from William Carlos Williams, Charles Bukowski and others who wrote in an imagistic style. Meter will always have a place in poetry, but in the 20th century the move was away from forms and meter and towards less structured styles. The beauty of poetry though, is that there is room for everyone. If you want to write sonnets, you are still welcome at the party. If you want to write stream-of-consciousness free verse, that’s fine too. People who rhyme? Well that’s kind of like inviting smokers to the party. You still like them, but you just wish they would stop (that’s a joke).

Here are some arguments for and against the use of meter and form:

What are the reasons to use meter?

  • It adds structure. It is a framework on which you can build a poem.
  • It forces you to think about word choice and word order. This helps you develop and reinforce language skills.
  • By dividing a poem into beats and feet, you create the same patterns as music. For many, this musical quality is one of the primary reasons to listen to poetry.
  • It was the choice of poetic masters for thousands of years and some consider it to be the only true poetry.

What are the reasons to avoid meter?

  • Structure adds predictability. I love Emily Dickinson, but I am distracted by the fact that I can sing any of her poems to the tune of “Yellow Rose of Texas”.
  • Meter can force you to avoid the most meaningful word or phrase in favor of a word that “fits”.
  • Meter often forces people to use “padding” words to fill out a line.
  • After 4000 years of iambic pentameter, we could use a little break.

There is nothing wrong with writing poetry in a metered form. Just don’t become a slave to the meter. Also, be bold enough to move beyond iambic pentameter to some of the lesser used and often more interesting styles of meter.

Today’s Assignment

Write a three or more stanza poem that uses a metered style for the first two stanzas and a non-metered format for the remaining stanzas. As always, feel free to post your poem in the comments section for others to see.