Erin's Poetry Tips

40 tips to poetry and poetry forums

Friday, April 15, 2005

Free Verse

What, exactly, does that mean?

Someone posted a thread recently about free verse. It was a quote that basically defined what free verse is, and someone else replied, wanting a deeper explanation. I find that many writers don’t quite understand what the term free verse means.

Free Verse:
Unrhymed verse without a consistent metrical pattern

Free verse is exactly that, free verse – poetry that is written without
proper rules about form, rhyme, rhythm, or meter. This term is sometimes referred to, incorrectly, as blank verse. Blank verse is similar, in that it doesn’t have to rhyme, but blank verse is written in iambic pentameter.

Free verse is a term loosely used for rhymed or unrhymed verse made
free of conventional and traditional limitations and restrictions about metrical structure. Cadence is often substituted for regular metrical pattern. There is no line count or required repetition.

There is no technical rule applied to it whatsoever, other than the grammatical rules that apply to all writing, and many choose to forego those as well.

Free verse tends to remain rhythmic though not strictly metered, the rhythm or cadence of free verse varies throughout the poem. Though the words don't rhyme, they flow along their own uneven pattern.

Some writers feel more comfortable within the restrictions of poetic forms that have specific requirements. They are reassured by rules that let them know they have fulfilled those requirements, as if someone has told them what to do, and they know they’ve done it. Free verse is, in a sense, more difficult, at least in the way of knowing you’ve done it “right.”

Most writers, therefore, tend to start with more restricted forms, particularly with rhyming poetry, and progress, as they feel more confident, into free verse poetry. Just as poetry itself had to progress into free verse, most writers have to ‘grow’ into it, a sort of micro-evolution of each individual within the free verse movement.

The greatest American writer of free verse was probably Walt Whitman. His Leaves of Grass was published in 1855. It was a major experiment in free verse poetry.