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 fewer limitations and restrictions, you have more responsibility.

While free verse is ultimately freeing, it is not for the lazy or 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 still have to learn to be confident in your own voice, because that is what you will be relying on.

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