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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Some thoughts about free verse and traditional form

I've looked at a number of "literary journal" web sites over the last few days reading "sample poems" that reveal the editors' taste. I have to tell you I'm not overly impressed with a lot of what I see. And here is some of my thinking.

First of all, poetry should be something more than prose, or at least something different. And new poetry should do something more than old poetry, or at least something different.

Taking bad prose and breaking it into lines that make it resemble a poem doesn't change the fact that it's still bad prose.

Free verse is not prose broken into lines. Good free verse has structure of some sort and rhythm of some sort.

Free verse means verse that is genuinely "free" to explore language in interesting ways. It should use language in a way that prose doesn't and in a way that traditional form doesn't. It should explore new syntax.

Formal verse and free verse share the same grammar but not the same syntax. But some poets approach free verse as syntax without grammar.

Unless free verse genuinely explores the nature of rhythm of both language and image, it is a lazy approach to writing poetry.

When a person encounters a poem--either through writing it or reading it--that person should ask and attempt to answer -- what is exciting about the poem's language? what is exciting about the way the words are working together?


  1. Excellent post, GP. I've read a lot of poetry lately that seems to be nothing more than chopped up, bad prose. It's gotta sparkle, doesn't it?

  2. Hi, Willow. You're absolutely right. It does have to sparkle.

  3. You have my vote! I agree, and am puzzled by most "good" contempo poetry. I'm humbled that you seem to like mine. Aloha, friend

  4. Don't be humbled, my friend. What I've read is good. You like making language work and it shows. Aloha, Cloudia.

  5. I found your post interesting... though I am no expert, I have done a fair amount of studying on the role of poetry and journal writing (I call it personal writing), in the development of the self. In my research I have found there are many reasons persons write... and yet too some of the poetic musings you discuss are related to semantics and syntax. Yet too, for many, poetry is merely an exploration and expression of self that leads to a transcendent place. Common themes I have found are the personal exploration and creation of selfhood through the personal writing. So perhaps part of all of this relates to the writer, the skill, and the purpose by which it is written?
    I'd appreciate your thoughts..