“Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.” ~Carl Sandburg
What is free verse poetry? The Poet’s Cookbook says free verse does not use consistent meter patterns, rhyme, or any other musical pattern.[i] In fact, most slam or spoken word poetry from the past thirty or more years is free verse. Many poems composed in free verse tend to follow the rhythm of natural speech. Although free verse requires no meter, rhyme, or other traditional poetic techniques, a poet can still use them to create some sense of structure. A poet knows when to use certain phrases and comma to create rhythm and structure. The exact definition is written by the poet although T. S. Eliot wrote, “No verse is free for the man who wants to do a good job”
Free verse poetry has become the favored form for new and experienced poets alike. Free verse may be written as very beautiful prose; prose may be written as very beautiful free verse. If you consider the Bible, there are passages written that flow naturally with a poetic cadence and no visible sign of structure which indicates to me that free verse has existed longer than we’ve realized.
I feel free verse provides me a sense of freedom to create without the confines found in traditional poetry. I frequently write free verse although my goal this year is to master sonnets and villanelles because every artist needs to continually improve their skill set. Robert Frost remarked that writing free verse was like “playing tennis without a net.” The thrill of no net appeals to most free spirits. Whereas William Carlos Williams states “poetry is art form, and therefore verse cannot be free in the sense of having no limitations or guiding principles” I think poets like Charles Bukowski, Walt Whitman, and Ezra Pound, who were masters at free verse poetry and would disagree with Mr. Williams. Many poets today still disagree on the value of having structure versus having no structure. Although we can all agree with Maya Angelou statement “Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes a human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.”
I’ve chosen four selections of free verse that I enjoy and one of my own so you can see how the different poets approached free verse.
Finish and Cause and Effect are written by Charles Bukowski [ii]
We are like roses that have never bothered to
bloom when we should have bloomed and
it is as if
the sun has become disgusted with
Cause And Effect
the best often die by their own hand
just to get away,
and those left behind
can never quite understand
would ever want to
O Captain My Captain by Walt Whitman [iii]
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done, The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won, The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting, While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring; But O heart! heart! heart! O the bleeding drops of red, Where on the deck my Captain lies, Fallen cold and dead.
O the bleeding drops of red, Where on the deck my Captain lies, Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells; Rise up- for you the flag is flung- for
you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths- for you the shores
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head!
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
Tame Cat by Ezra Pound [iv]
It rests me to be among beautiful women
Why should one always lie about such matters?
It rests me to converse with beautiful women
Even though we talk nothing but nonsense,
The purring of the invisible antennaeIs
both stimulating and delightful.
Our Eyes Meet by Lyn Crain [i]
The warm, afternoon sun trickles through the tree branches.
As I amble along the worn trodden path
our eyes meet, when I look her way.
I ask if I may join her, she nods yes.
Taken off guard as a rush of heat rises to my face
by this beautiful, enchanting woman before me.
Her short shiny blonde hair against her golden skin-
sparkling blue eyes with an irresistible smile.
Her curvaceous body dressed provocatively-
a blithe smile slowly widens as we converse.
I am curious what made her cheeks suddenly flush,
and her azure eyes darken and smolder.
The minx suggestively teases me as
her tongue slowly slips across her pink lips.
I sense there is a passionate woman hiding within.
Her beautiful blue eyes twinkle with mischief reveal
a more intimate side in her nature.
Her mysterious aura enthralls and seduces me
breaking down every barrier, melting my soul.
Her lascivious laughter lifts my troubled spirit and
captivates my heart with her bubbly carefree nature.
I smile as I gaze once more into her sparkling eyes.
My breath suddenly ragged with desire.
Her gentle touch setting my blood aflame.
As we stroll along the now dew covered path
fingers intertwined, not a word spoken.
The sensual magic of a new love unfolding
as our eyes lock once more…
[i] The Poet’s Cookbook by Dan Gilbert
[v] Our Eyes Meet was written for Victor Crain, my best friend, my husband.