The Blog of John Hewitt

Write the first draft of your poem in paragraph form and then change it into a free verse poem

Trading Safety for Freedom

I’ve touched on the subject of free verse before, most notably in the article about the pros and cons of meter. Free verse is poetry that does not use a regular meter or rhyme. While poetry without rhyme dates back many centuries, the practice of using neither meter nor rhyme was a poetic movement that began in French and Europe during the 1800s. The first popular American poet to write in free verse was Walt Whitman.

Free verse does not mean that there are no patterns or rhythms at all. Instead, the rhyme is determined, sometimes subconsciously, by the poet. The lines come in the form of thought patterns, breath patterns, visual patterns, and syntactic patterns. More to the point, the form tends to mirror the voice of the poet.

While in some ways, free verse does not require the discipline of metered and rhymed poetry, it creates new requirements. The poet must determine, without the crutch of form, when the line ends and what makes for the best line. They must find a way to make the poem still feel poetic without relying on some of the most accepted tools. With free verse, you cannot defend the use of a word or phrase simply because it fits the meter. You must determine where to end the line because there is no set length to fall back on. Even the length of the poem is now completely up to you. So, while you have less limitations and restrictions, you have more responsibility.

While free verse is ultimately freeing, it is not for the lazy of for those who think it will be easier than writing metered or rhymed poetry. There is no safety net without form. There is no literary excuse for a mistake, because you have all the power. If you choose to write in free verse, you sill have to learn to be confident in your own voice, because that is what you will be relying on.

Today’s Poetry Assignment

Write the first draft of your poem in paragraph form and then change it into a free verse poem. Don’t be surprised if you have to change lines, words and phrases. That will probably be a part of the process.

Today’s Recommended Poet

Bruce Bond is a highly respected poet, teacher and the poetry editor for the American Literary Review. In this interview, he explains part of his poetic philosophy. “white space is one way of suggesting a kind of silent listening, an openness to the strange and what the language longs to accommodate, how words are taken to their limits. I like poems with silence in them, both the formal resonance of literal silence, and silence as a metaphor for the unknowable, the erotic, the sublime.”

Poems on the Web

Books of Poetry