Here’s what the Free Verse poetry form is:
Free verse poetry is a type of poem that doesn’t follow a regular meter or rhyme scheme.
In essence, they provide some leeway for poets who don’t want to follow strict poetry rules.
Free verse poems don’t necessarily lack structure, although unmetered.
This poem type gained prominence in the 19th century.
So if you want to learn all about the Free Verse poetry type, then you’ve come to the right place.
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Forms of Poetry: Free Verse
Free verse is, by nature, somewhat undefinable.
Unlike formal verse of any kind, free verse employs whatever techniques it wants to use whenever it wants to use them.
Poetry has often been tied down to specific forms and structures.
The conventional reasoning is that these structures help to give a poem its rhythm and sense of tradition.
The rules we attach to poetry give us something to conflict with and workaround so that the end result is even more creative than if we had not locked ourselves down.
The counterargument to this approach is, of course, the existence of free verse.
Free verse may or may not employ rhyme, meter, or any classical techniques.
It does not attempt to adhere to any of the old rules and finds its own identity in the absence of limitations.
This does not, however, make either form objectively better than the other.
In fact, there are some pitfalls to the freedom of free verse, which we will get into shortly.
Basic Properties of Free Verse
|Continues to be a popular form in France; has spread to other cultures through time
What Are the Pros of Free Verse?
Free verse offers an unprecedented workspace within the realm of poetry.
From a few lines to a hundred lines, from rhymed to unrhymed, from love to death, free verse offers a blank canvas upon which to paint whatever words and shapes best suit the poem at hand.
Free verse poems also tend to have a conversational, casual tone that distances itself from formal poetry drastically by ignoring the conventions and traditions of the various forms.
This makes free verse a good place to explore a conversation between characters, a careful speech straight from the heart, or a tender natural moment.
What Is an Example of Free Verse?
I look to her and she to me
and we wonder, in that moment,
where we have been all,
why we did not see each other,
where we would be tomorrow,
and, perhaps most importantly,
how deep this space between us
Instead of applying rhyme across a specific scheme, free verse is free to only use rhyme to emphasize certain important parts of the poem.
You could use no rhyme at all if it suits the topic or entirely too much rhyme, just for fun.
Ignoring rhyme and meter does have its drawbacks, for sure, but it means that free verse is not constrained to the point of including a subpar word just because it put a stressed syllable in the right spot.
Free verse is allowed to treat each line as a separate occasion.
Because free verse has no predefined form, it thus has no predefined limit.
Every topic can be adequately explored and iterated on.
Another big draw of the form, especially for new poets, is the sense of ownership.
Your free verse poems won’t look anything like the poems of the person next to you, and that makes them special, in a sense.
What Are the Cons of Free Verse?
The biggest con of free verse is that it becomes a crutch for the inexperienced.
There are many, many people out there who think they’re excellent writers because they like what they’ve written.
While there is something to be said for writing for yourself, that will limit you to the level of a hobbyist, which again is fine if that’s your only goal.
Writing as a career requires that other people judge your writing and decide whether they think it has market value, though.
Anyone can self-publish a book of poems, but not everyone can actually sell their poetry, bring it to contests, build a community around it, or use their poetry to spread a message.
These things require that you master the technical aspects of writing poetry.
Poetry, just like all things, does not exist in a vacuum.
Free verse, by design, is unable to capitalize on the history and legacy of any one specific form, because free verse is unique to the individual.
To put it simply, the best free verse poems are among the best poems ever written but bad free verse poems are the lowest, least impressive poems possible.
Even a mediocre sonnet can still brag that it adhered to the rules and traditions of a sonnet.
Free verse has no such bottom line.
There is no bar to entry, leaving the door open for both the best and worst displays of writing possible.
As an example, a poet who had never studied formal poetry or learned the advantages and disadvantages of various features, including rhyme and meter.
He might write something that uses pretty words but doesn’t actually organize them in a meaningful way.
Here is a sample poem that lacks direction:
Blue is the sky under
which I sometimes cry
as I look up
and drown in all
of it everything
every moment breaking me
down until I break.
While the word choices aren’t inherently problematic, the poem lacks any sense of flow or meaningful progression.
The line breaks seem almost unintentional as if they simply tumbled out of nowhere, and there are no techniques or interesting moments to latch onto.
Compare that version to this one:
Blue bleeds that old sky
beneath which I often cry
as I look up, drowning,
mere moments breaking me,
leaving so little to see.
While the above poem is still free verse, it pays attention to when a line break should be used for maximum effect, utilizes phonetic techniques like alliteration and assonance, and keeps the line lengths similar enough to give off a sense of purposeful structure.
Overall gives a general impression that this is the work of an experienced poet.
These are all lessons learned by studying classical techniques.
The best free verse usually achieves its level of recognition and impact by building off of everything that you can learn from knowing the history and structure of multiple types of poems.
While you can write a free verse poem that only exists for its own sake, it throws away the biggest advantage that free verse has to offer.
That advantage is that instead of drawing on one set of traditions, free verse is capable of combining everything you know about poetry.
A poet who has experience with villanelles, sonnets, haikus, pastorals, spoken word poems, and shape poetry will have a much deeper, richer writing style than someone who has never tried to appreciate what makes each poem form special.
The worst poets choose free verse because they are unwilling to learn.
The best poets choose free verse because they want to show off everything they’ve learned in one singular place.
It is not necessary to use every technique you know of in a single poem, of course.
But having those tools in your belt will ensure that you are ready to apply them at a moment’s notice when the opportunity pops up, creating effects that you would have missed if you had never built a well-rounded foundation upon which to write.
History of Free Verse
While free verse has technically always been around, since each new form was a free verse poem before it was popularized and spread around, the concept we’re familiar with today draws inspiration from French vers libre poetry.
Vers libre poetry, popularized by the French journal La Vogue and a group of poets emerging around the early 20th century, gives us a unique lens into free verse.
Instead of being without patterns altogether, vers libre poetry was associated with the creation of a new complex form for each individual poem, designed to fit that specific poem’s purposes.
These stylistic choices have led to a culture in which free verse is typically expected not to avoid all techniques but to mix and match them, creating new possibilities out of old styles.
Repetition and complete sentences are used to lend structural integrity to free verse poems, guiding the ear or mind and giving clear tethering points to the poem.
As hinted previously though, free verse has existed since the formation of poetry.
While there have been some arguments as to whether free verse is technically prose written out in a poetic form, the bottom line is that where there are rules, there will be people breaking them.
It’s just that poetry has a constructive version of breaking the rules that becomes meaningful in exactly which rules it chooses to ignore or employ and why.
Tips for Writing Free Verse
The most important tip you can get for writing free verse is to not think of it as entirely, completely free.
While you are free to pick and choose which techniques you will and will not use, you should be making those decisions consciously.
A good reason not to use rhyme is that you feel it takes away from the bleak sobriety of a poem about a departed loved one.
Not using rhyme because you don’t know how to is, by contrast, a pretty bad reason to avoid it.
Your decisions should come from a place of knowledge and experience and should be informed by your own abilities.
The best poems and the best writing, in general, tend to be pieces that showcase thoughtfulness, skill, and careful attention to detail.
A writer who is experienced with haikus might recognize the importance of metaphor and concision to a greater extent than a writer who never even tried to write one.
A high-level free verse poem should combine the ideas you’ve taken from real-life events, the influences of your own favorite writers, the skills you’ve picked up studying poetry, and so on.
It should be the culmination of everything you can pour into that specific poem at that specific point in time.
Even a poem that employs no rhyme, no meter, and no classical techniques should leave the reader with the impression that you are skilled enough to employ any and all of those things and simply chose not to.
The work of a writer who consciously attempts to improve will always stand above the work of those who rest on their laurels, thinking that a few pretty-sounding words are good enough to count as poetry.
Free verse can be your reprieve from the rules and regulations of other forms, but it should still be a testament to how far you’ve come as a poet if you’re serious about writing.
It’s this fanatical devotion to creating the best poem possible that separates most best-selling award-winning writers from the flock.
That and marketing, of course, but we’ll leave that discussion for another time.
In the modern era, this is easily the most common type of poetry.
Most poets have moved away from an obsession with form and toward an obsession with meaning.
Comprehensive Collection of Poetry Forms: Craft Words Into Art
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