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By Brenda B. Covert
1 Many people consider free verse to be a modern form of poetry. The truth is that it has been around for several centuries; only in the 20th century did it become one of the most popular forms of poetry. Its popularity stems from the belief that free verse is poetry without rules; after all, it doesn't rhyme, and it doesn't have a meter. However, what separates poetry from prose is the arrangement of carefully chosen words into verses.
2 There's more to free verse than a sudden thought recorded on paper. It's not that no rules apply to free verse; rather, the poet makes up the rules for each poem! Free verse done well will have rhythm, though it may not have a regular beat. A variety of poetic devices may be woven throughout the piece. There may be patterns of sound and repetition. Free verse can be compared to a song that doesn't rhyme. There is still a lyric quality to it.
3 It may be more difficult to write free verse than any other form, simply because the poet has more decisions to make. With a haiku, you know the exact measurement of the poem; your task is easily defined. You need only follow the rules of the pattern. With free verse, there is no pattern until the poet creates one!
4 Without set rules, you are free to decide where to break your poem into stanzas. You may arrange your poem in stanzas of two or more lines. You may break at each new thought, much like paragraphs. You may break stanzas in mid-sentence to draw attention to a specific word or phrase. Like American poet Walt Whitman, you might break stanzas at the point where one would take a breath, were he or she reading aloud. It's up to you.
5 As we try our hand at writing free verse, we will begin by writing our thoughts all together, without stanzas. Then we can go back and edit the words, removing unnecessary ones or choosing more powerful synonyms, and working to cut and shape the poem. We'll know we are through when we're satisfied with the message and the shape of our poem.
6 First, let's analyze this short free verse poem.
|I Dream'd in a Dream|
by Walt Whitman
| I DREAM'D in a dream I saw a city invincible to the attacks of the|
whole of the rest of the earth,
I dream'd that was the new city of Friends,
Nothing was greater there than the quality of robust love, it led
It was seen every hour in the actions of the men of that city,
And in all their looks and words.
7 Walt Whitman is gone; he cannot tell us what this poem means. That is something we can only guess. So here's a thought to ponder–is this poem about a real city, or is it about friendship? How would you interpret this poem?
8 Did you notice any rhyme, rhythm, consonance, assonance, alliteration, imagery, or other poetical devices? Are you getting comfortable with the idea of writing your own free verse? Before we start, let's look at two more poems written in the free verse style. The first one is a simple poem of 21 words written by American poet Carl Sandburg. It gives the reader a different mental image of 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.
9 Notice that the first stanza has only two lines, while the second stanza has four. Also, the author used imagery in describing fog as a cat. Imagery is another poetical device with which you might wish to experiment. This is a very short poem, to state the obvious. If writing poetry leaves you feeling awkward, remind yourself that it need not be long, labored, or detailed.
Paragraphs 10 to 19:
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