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Be a Better Writer--FREE VERSE #1

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Be a Better Writer--FREE VERSE #1

Postby glorybee » Sat Sep 27, 2014 10:46 am

I’ve cobbled together this definition of free verse from several different sources, so any mistakes in it are entirely my own:

Free verse—poetry that lacks a specific pattern of rhyme or meter. It may also play loosely with the rules of capitalization, punctuation, and length of lines and stanzas. However, free verse must include poetic techniques that differentiate it from prose: the poet uses repetition, imagery, creative syntax, alliteration and the like for their effect on the poem and on the reader.

Here’s another way of stating the most important part of that definition:

It’s not a free verse poem
if it’s just prose
arranged artfully

Something has to make it poem-like.

I could take
any random paragraph
and write it out in long lines like this one
and short ones
like that
but it wouldn’t be free verse. Not at all.

Free verse poets,
even more than “traditional” poets,
must be aware
of the impact of each
individual
word.

I’ll qualify all of this by freely admitting that I’m not an expert on free verse. I’ve only attempted to write it twice for the Challenge, and each time I agonized over every word. I guess, in a way, free verse is like modern art to me—I don’t really know how to describe it or define it, but I know the good stuff when I see it. So in this week more than any other so far, I’m counting on those of you who write good free verse to chime in and help me out.

That being said, here are some frequent problems that I see in free verse entries:

1. As mentioned above, there may be little other than line arrangement to differentiate it from prose.
2. It may be too abstract or difficult to understand. It’s certainly part of the art form to fool around with creative word order and sentence structure—but some free verse poets just make the reader work way too hard. Frustrated readers are likely to just give up and move on.
3. Similarly, creative punctuation—or lack of punctuation altogether—may lead to mis-read words or phrases. It’s fine to play with punctuation, but try to read your poem with a new reader’s eye, and see if there are any confusing spots that could be clarified by a dash or a comma.

Here are a few things that the free verse poet should consider:

1. Free verse uses far less “end stopped” lines, and far more enjambment. That is punctuation (or even an unpunctuated pause) is not necessary at the end of each line. Rather, end each line when the thought or image expressed in it is satisfactory to you.

2. Since you’re not (usually) using rhymes, use other devices that deal with the sounds of words, and use them purposefully. If your poem is about something harsh, use the alliteration of guttural sounds. If it has a gentler tone, some soft whispering “s” or “w” sounds can help to convey your message.

3. Use figurative language: metaphors, similes, personification, symbolism and the like. If the theme of your poem is an abstract concept, present it to your readers figuratively.

4. Sometimes free verse consists of just the depiction of a memory or an image. Use strong nouns and verbs and wisely chosen modifiers to convey that image to your reader.

5. Free verse poetry can have a structure. You can include meter and even rhyme in ways that best serve your message.

Let me finally say that there are a LOT of people who seem to feel that if it doesn’t have a precise rhyme and meter, it’s not really poetry. I don’t suppose I’ll change your mind with one short lesson in free verse, but if you’re one of those traditionalists, I’d encourage you to read some excellent examples of free verse with an open mind.

And if you’re a poet who specializes in rhymed and metered poetry, I urge you to attempt a free verse poem. At best, you may discover a new way to express yourself…at the very least, you may gain an understanding of the difficulties of writing well in that form.

I wrote this poem seven years ago, based on Psalm 132:2, a verse that has particular significance to me. When I look at it now, I’m very unsatisfied with it, and I’d do an awful lot of it differently.

Homework: Write a short free verse poem, or link to one that you’ve written. Tell us what poetic elements you put in there, and why.

OR critique the poem of mine that I linked to above, based on this lesson or your own knowledge of free verse. Be brutal; I can take it. I’m not particularly fond of this poem.


Questions: (Answer as many or as few as you wish)

1. At times, there’s almost a palpable animosity between “traditional” poetry and free verse. (“That’s not poetry!”) Why do some people resist learning to appreciate free verse?
2. Free verse hasn’t typically done as well in the Challenge as rhymed and metered poetry. Why do you suppose that is?
3. What would make a poet choose free verse over traditional poetry? What would make a poet choose traditional poetry over free verse? Are there some “moods” or “tones” that are better expressed in one form over the other?

[Jim McWhinnie, if you’re here, I’d love your comments and suggestions. I admire your free verse more than I can say.]
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Re: Be a Better Writer--FREE VERSE

Postby Allison » Sat Sep 27, 2014 12:56 pm

I'm going to post a couple of mine here.

This first one actually does sound like prose "arrange artfully" so it may not be free verse, but it actually placed 1st in the challenge. I do try to at least keep my stanzas in a similar format, so it "feels" more like poetry. I don't know.

Boots

This one, I used repetition, which you wouldn't use as much in prose. This one place also, but not first.

He Didn't Have To

As to your questions, I'll answer your third question, from my perspective. I use free verse because I just don't feel like I'm got at metered, rhymed poetry. I still find this interesting, because I love music and consider myself to be at least somewhat musical. Actually, I didn't think I was good at poetry period, free verse or otherwise, until some of my free verse poems started doing well in the challenge. Interestingly enough, since the judging switched from all volunteer to editors, nearly all of my EC placements have been either free verse poetry or humor. If it's not free verse or poetry, then it's usually something where I chose an unusual format.
Isaiah 40:30-31 (NIV)

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Re: Be a Better Writer--FREE VERSE

Postby glorybee » Sat Sep 27, 2014 8:23 pm

Thanks, Allison!

I think you used enough poetry tools in the first one to take it out of the prose-y category. And you're right about the second one; your use of repetition really made the poem very effective.

Thanks for sharing these!

j
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Re: Be a Better Writer--FREE VERSE

Postby GeraldShuler » Sun Sep 28, 2014 9:39 am

This is one I did for a mini-challenge a few years back. The form is meant to flow like the ebbing waves on an ocean shoreline. It probably would have been better if I had read this lesson years ago so the poem would have used harsher sounds in certain parts and gentler sounds in others. Oh well... next time I'll know.
Ebbing Waves
Allow
moments to ebb
like ocean waves at shore.
Don’t fear the overpowering
onslaught of the future.
Fateful moments
gently
happen
to friend or foe,
unburdened by justice.
What? You want to pick your own waves?
You would pick easy waves,
but remember
not all
of life's
precious moments
broke shore with quiet waves.
Sometimes the harshest waves brought woe,
Swells not of your choosing.
yet they made you strong.
Had you not rode
the wave
you would have lost;
held tight by xenophobia.
Yield to the ebb
with zeal.


I'll discuss the question about why some people don't have a respect for free verse because I used to be one of them. In high school our English teacher had a favorite poet... ee cummings. He never capitalized anything and didn't use punctuation. To top it off, he was extremely brilliant and left me feeling like I was too dumb to understand good poetry. I decided that poetry should be POETRY. It should rhyme and I should understand it. Of course, when I started writing my own poetry I learned that sometimes a rhyme gets in the way of a feeling. To write with the depth of my emotions I had to learn how to turn loose of the rhyme "crutch" I was using and just put my turbulent emotions on the paper. Now I write as much with rhyme as I do without... but I feel more freedom to express when the poem comes out as Free Verse.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--FREE VERSE

Postby glorybee » Sun Sep 28, 2014 12:38 pm

Well done!

How many people caught your alphabet word play, too? I always love it when I find little bonus features like that.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--FREE VERSE

Postby rcthebanditqueen » Sun Sep 28, 2014 7:04 pm

glorybee wrote:Free verse—poetry that lacks a specific pattern of rhyme or meter. It may also play loosely with the rules of capitalization, punctuation, and length of lines and stanzas. However, free verse must include poetic techniques that differentiate it from prose: the poet uses repetition, imagery, creative syntax, alliteration and the like for their effect on the poem and on the reader.

Here’s another way of stating the most important part of that definition:

It’s not a free verse poem
if it’s just prose
arranged artfully

Something has to make it poem-like.

I could take
any random paragraph
and write it out in long lines like this one
and short ones
like that
but it wouldn’t be free verse. Not at all.

Free verse poets,
even more than “traditional” poets,
must be aware
of the impact of each
individual
word.


I am a little confused. I may have missed something when I read the rest of the lesson, after this point, but when you wrote

"It’s not a free verse poem
if it’s just prose
arranged artfully...."

Why is that not free verse? It looks very similar to the little bit of free verse that I have come across. Not trying to argue - I honestly am wondering. What makes that "not free verse", and something else "free verse"?

Hoping an expert will enlighten me. :) :bow

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Re: Be a Better Writer--FREE VERSE

Postby glorybee » Sun Sep 28, 2014 7:18 pm

rcthebanditqueen wrote:I am a little confused. I may have missed something when I read the rest of the lesson, after this point, but when you wrote

"It’s not a free verse poem
if it’s just prose
arranged artfully...."

Why is that not free verse? It looks very similar to the little bit of free verse that I have come across. Not trying to argue - I honestly am wondering. What makes that "not free verse", and something else "free verse"?

Hoping an expert will enlighten me. :) :bow


It's because there's more to determine free verse than just LOOKING like free verse. If that's all that made it free verse, I could take the phone book and arrange it in random lines--or the dictionary, or my grocery list, or my instructions to my cat sitter. But that doesn't make them poetry.

Take a look again at my second numbered list, where I wrote about some things that free verse SHOULD have: enjambment, word techniques like alliteration, figurative language, imagery and the like. It's the presence of these things that make free verse poetry. My list isn't an exhaustive one--the free verse poet should have a tool box full of literary techniques, including these and (to name just a few more) altered syntax, creative punctuation, onomatopoeia, personification...I could go on and on.

I fault our English teachers for this common misconception. Many of them figure that it's easy to teach students to write free verse; just tell them to think about some time when they felt a feeling, and write it out in lines of various lengths. Voila! A free verse poem! But it's much different than that, and much more difficult, if done correctly.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--FREE VERSE

Postby Laurie » Sun Sep 28, 2014 7:59 pm

I later renamed this one The Nail since my intention was to show this from the perspective of the nail.
http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=10567

I remember trying to wrap my head around what it meant to use rhythm in free verse. In my mind, this one (A Day in the Life of Toes) has rhythm and the pace clips right along. BUT I don't know if someone else would see it the same way. I like to use alliteration and imagery in my free verse. I also sprinkle in some rhyming words here and there, but I don't establish any particular pattern for their placement.
http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=16903

I don't write poetry anymore, and I don't remember if I had any rhyme or reason as to why I chose to write free verse v. traditional. I don't think I had any reason, but just went by what came to me. When you look at the examples I've shared, they obviously have two very different moods.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--FREE VERSE

Postby glorybee » Mon Sep 29, 2014 6:41 am

Laurie, thank you so much for sharing these! The imagery and the voice of the first poem are outstanding, and it's very moving.

And I really appreciate the second one, too, because it reminds me of something that I should have said in the lesson: free verse doesn't have to be ponderous. It can be light-hearted, too, and delightful.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--FREE VERSE

Postby Laurie » Mon Sep 29, 2014 11:12 am

Thanks, Jan. :) I loved experimenting with free verse, as well as other things, in the challenge.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--FREE VERSE

Postby Shann » Mon Sep 29, 2014 11:27 am

glorybee wrote:Well done!

How many people caught your alphabet word play, too? I always love it when I find little bonus features like that.

I love the poem, but I'll admit I didn't catch on to the alphabet word play. Even after you mentioned it, I kept saying but where's the b? I couldn't get past it. I easily saw the w, x, y, and z though. After reasdingf it several times it dawned on me that the b is in ebb. I slapped my forehead because it seemed so obvious once I could see it.

Every piece I've read thus far leaves me in awe. I struggle with traditional poetry, hearing rhythm and rhymes so this type scares me even more, but thanks to your tips, I've learned to appreciate it in a way I never have before. I doubt I'll be brave enough to try free verse anytime soon, but I have no doubt I'll enjoy it more now when I encounter it. :thankssign
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Re: Be a Better Writer--FREE VERSE

Postby glorybee » Mon Sep 29, 2014 12:11 pm

Glad to hear it, Shann.

Since meter and rhyme aren't your cup of tea, I'd really encourage you to try your hand at free verse. Pick one "goodie" to put in there (maybe strong imagery) and give it a try!
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Re: Be a Better Writer--FREE VERSE

Postby Milly Born » Tue Sep 30, 2014 6:10 am

Hi Jan,

Some time ago, I "discovered" the haibun (here's a definition http://raysweb.net/haiku/pages/haibun-definition.html).

Since one of my biggest points for improvement is "showing rather than telling," writing this type of prose helps me develop this weakness.

I'm not a poet at all (being a non native makes it almost impossible), but after reading your lesson on free verse, I realize that the poetic prose of the haibun is a sort of free verse--correct me if I'm wrong.

My purpose for writing free verse would be to train my writing skills. Not to publish... :lol: !

Here's a short free verse that started out as a haibun to put my day-at-the-Mediterranean-sea experiences into words. It's called "Liquid embrace."

I walk into the sparkling waves,
arms wide open to embrace
the breeze,
the dancing, darting light,
the vastness of the sea.

Wordless worship from within
wells up
and overflows
to join the praise of all creation.


My most important question is, does it show enough?
Milly Born
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Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
make known his deeds among the peoples!
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Re: Be a Better Writer--FREE VERSE

Postby glorybee » Tue Sep 30, 2014 6:23 am

Milly Born wrote:Here's a short free verse that started out as a haibun to put my day-at-the-Mediterranean-sea experiences into words. It's called "Liquid embrace."

I walk into the sparkling waves,
arms wide open to embrace
the breeze,
the dancing, darting light,
the vastness of the sea.

Wordless worship from within
wells up
and overflows
to join the praise of all creation.


My most important question is, does it show enough?


Thanks for pointing me to that definition page--this was a form of poetry that I'd never heard of.

Your little poem is lovely. I especially like your use of alliteration (wordless, worship, within, wells and dancing, darting) imagery. Yes, this definitely shows enough. Well done!
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Re: Be a Better Writer--FREE VERSE

Postby Cinnamon Bear » Wed Oct 01, 2014 9:47 pm

Questions #2 and #3:

When I write poetry, it is nearly always rhymed and metered, but I don’t feel any animosity towards free verse. I just think it is very difficult to do well. A poem with rhythm and rhyme can be at least passably entertaining. But it is not enough for free verse to be good--it must be great.

Some of the free verse that I have seen in the Challenge tends to be too literal, too direct.

Consider for example, “When Lilacs Last In the Door-yard Bloom’d.” In 1865, Walt Whitman wrote this elegy to the assassinated Abraham Lincoln. The poem is replete with imagery and symbolism. In none of the sixteen stanzas, does Whitman mention the president by name or describe the circumstances of his death:

“When lilacs last in the door-yard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d—and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring…”


Also, some of the free verse on the Challenge tends to be overtly religious in character. In my view, it is extremely difficult to write poetry that can compare to the beauty of just about any of the psalms. For example, psalm 91:

“1 He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.
3 Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence.
4 He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
5 Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day;
6 Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.
7 A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee…”

Who wants to compete with the likes of Walt Whitman or the author(s) of the psalms? :(

Cinnamon Bear

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