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.
Some beginning poets think that writing free verse poetry is easier than writing rhymed and metered poetry. After all, it’s free—the poet doesn’t have to be restrained by finding a word to rhyme with sacrifice that also works in the poem, and she also doesn’t have to make sure the word has three syllables with the emphasis on the first one, in order to fit the meter of the poem.
In reality, the free verse poet has a more difficult task. She has to make every word in the poem work, and to master several poetic skills that perhaps are not quite as important in structured poems. I’ll cover some of those skills briefly here, but those of you who are working on writing excellent free verse will want to research them more thoroughly. Each of these terms could easily be a whole lesson in itself; this lesson will only be an overview.
1. Free verse poets often disregard rules of punctuation, capitalization, and sentence length that would apply to structured poetry or prose. That’s why it’s called free. However—please be aware that simply arranging prose into lines of varying lengths, without punctuation, does not make for a free verse poem (although this is characteristic of many “poems” I’ve read).
jumps on my lap
and kneading my thighs
with her paws
That might look like a free verse poem, but there’s really nothing poetic about it. It’s a start—but it needs a lot of work before it could be considered poetry. Here’s a test for your free verse: try rewriting it in paragraph form with punctuation and capitalization, as if you had written prose. If you can easily do this, then perhaps you need to work on some of the skills that follow.
2. Good free verse poetry needs some figurative language. I can only cover a few of these in this lesson—and certainly you don’t want to pack your poem with dozens of metaphors and allusions. Pick a few, though, and work them into your poem.
a. Metaphor—comparison between two dissimilar things. My cat kneads bread dough in my lap. My chubby legs are being compared to bread dough.
b. Simile—comparison that uses ‘like’ or ‘as.’ Her purring, like the vibrations of a silenced cell phone…
c. Onomatopoeia—words that represent sounds. She watches at the window, chirruping at the haughty robins
d. Personification—attributing human attributes to inanimate objects. She springs to the waiting windowsill.
3. You’ll also want to try your hand at using some of these devices, which deal with the sounds of the letters in the words that you choose.
a. Alliteration—words with the same beginning sounds. I used some alliteration in ‘d’, above—waiting windowsill. The alliteration in your poem should not make it sound like a tongue twister, and the alliterative words need not be right next to each other. Sophie pads on silent paws…
b. Consonance—words that share consonant sounds, but not necessarily at the beginning. the arch of her back, the twitch of her tail
c. Assonance—words with the same vowel sounds, but not necessarily rhyming words. With subtle nudges, she invites me to rub her tummy
4. Miscellaneous poetry tools that don’t really fit into the above categories include (but are not limited to) the following:
a. Repetition—of significant words or phrases. I love you, she says with a worshipful look. I care nothing for you. Give me a moment; I love you. I care nothing.
b. Imagery—words or phrases that appeal to any of the senses (not just the sense of sight). She stretches in a dancing beam of sunlight
c. Symbolism—something tangible which represents an intangible concept. …the mouse head she left on the top porch step
d. Altered syntax—ordering words in a way that would seem odd or unexpected if you were writing prose. Under the bed she hides…
These are just a few of the items that the free verse poet should keep in her poetic repertoire. And again, not every free verse poem should include each of these tricks—choose the ones that best serve the purpose of the poem. One that is intended to convey to the reader a sense of the peacefulness of a mountain like might include imagery, a metaphor, perhaps the alliteration of some ‘s’ sounds to suggest the waves on the beach. A poem with spiritual meanings might include repetition, symbolism, simile. The point is that a free verse poem should be substantially different from prose in more than just the obvious visual difference of line length and mechanics. The words should be chosen and arranged carefully, for maximum effect.
A few final things about free verse poetry: it’s fine to also use rhyme and meter. Again, every word counts; and if a rhymed word or a bit of iambic pentameter enhance the feel of a particular line, please use them.
And a free verse poem should not be too abstract or so strangely written that it is a struggle for the reader to decipher its meaning.
HOMEWORK (you may post this here, or just do this for your own benefit):
Choose 2 or 3 of the terms above and find examples of them, either in your own poetry or in someone else’s work. OR…
Try your hand at writing fresh examples of 2 or 3 of the poetic terms. OR…
Write a free verse poem about my cat, using a few of the examples above and your own original touches. OR…
If you post your homework as a response to this post, I’ll read it and give you some feedback. In addition, feel free to ask me a question, or add something I’ve left out, or suggest a topic for a future class.
Jan, these are the first two verses of a free verse I wrote. Does this meet your criteria?
stardom gained in the dullness of a starless night
is elusive but to the few - yet still it hastens away
for the capture of a name and fame
is a lost hope - that takes its flight from most
it avoids the eager grasping hand - ungainly hand
for few can truly hold it dear and true
that sparkling shining elusive star
that bright star of the night
it is known to suddenly draw near within the grasp
and promises to stay close to the humble heart
it captures to please and tease the foolish soulless mind
to find unknown peaks from which to fall
and casts the hapless helplessly o'er the edge
few know its truth is a dark deceit
a secret to the wise - alone - discerned
for pride must change and lowly lessons learn
Jesus’ love is constant and never wavers.
Hi Jan, Thanks for your comments. I just started writing verse and didn't know what I was doing. I really need your lesson! This is one of the first poems I wrote. May I please have your comments?
I always center the text, but I don't know how in this case.
The sweat of our face,
the aching muscles,
the tired bones,
Emotions stretched to the breaking point-
Minds so tired we can’t think another thought.
All this – wrapped up in a paycheck.
Wanted this, wanted that,
He came to this earth, and lived this life,
And sweated blood.
To give me Hope.
A tithe of my money,
(blood, sweat and tears)
And in the doing,
Comes relationship, uniting,
As our mutual sacrifice is mingled at the cross
And Love is consummated.
We are one.
Colin--this is absolutely an example of an accomplished free verse poem. Here's what I found therein:
freedom in the use (or non-use) of writing conventions
In addition, it doesn't read in the least bit like prose. I'm sure there are other gems in there, too. Thanks so much for sharing this; I didn't realize you were a poet, too.
Thanks for sharing your poem. It definitely passes my first "test"--it would be difficult to write this out in paragraph form, and it would definitely seem "odd" as a prose paragraph. So it's got some definite poetic skills going on. These are the ones that I can see:
repetition (your -ing words)
altered syntax ("but God")
unusual capitalization (Love and Hope)
metaphor (emotions stretched)
I've got a few suggestions for you, but you're definitely on the right track.
Avoid using cliches--phrases that are in common use. In this poem, I'd call stretched to the breaking point and blood, sweat, and tears cliches. My test for cliches is easy: have I ever seen this phrase before? If so, then I look for a fresher way to portray the same idea.
The poem uses a lot of plural pronouns (our, we)--but I think it would have more impact if it was personal (I, my, me). In fact, you use 'me' toward the end, and it works very well there.
There's nothing wrong with your word choice here, but a few more interesting synonyms might be good, too.
Finally, I don't think I've ever read an approach to the concept of tithing that's quite like this--comparing it to Christ's sacrifice on the cross. That's a GOOD thing--your idea is unique--but I think it could have been more fully developed with some more imagery or additional metaphors. I wanted more!
Okay, y'all don't laugh. This is my first attempt at free verse. Jan HELP!
my tiresome mind wanders
yet another day of loathing hours
yielding to musky darkness
lying sleepless 'neath glimmering stars
night brings yearnings long
love whispers from heaven's light
a savior lulls my aching soul
peace comes gently at last
God Bless the beasts and the children
Give them shelter from the storms.
Children are our tomorrow
Keep them daily from the sorrow
Of the beasts in life
http://www.faithwriters.com/websites/my ... p?id=57394
This is a fine first free verse poem! Its best quality is its imagery, and also mood (which I didn't really cover in the lesson). I like the progression from sadness/depression/loneliness to peace in the last three lines. Lovely.
Here are a few things you might want to fiddle with, if you give this another try:
"Tiresome" means "boring, uninteresting." I think you were probably going for a word more like "weary" in the first line. Similarly, I'm not sure that "loathing" works as an adjective for "hours"--I'd suggest "loathsome" or some synonym. However, I really like the unexpected combination of "musky darkness." It suggests a weight and a not-pleasant aroma, and so it's both symbolic and evocative.
"Glimmering stars" might be a bit of a cliche.
I like your word choices in the 2nd stanza, but I think you might want to work with the format--each line begins with a noun + a present tense verb. Shake things up a bit, so the reader doesn't slip into a predictable rhythm and a tendency to gloss over what you've written.
Finally--and this is entirely my personal preference and not a "rule" at all--when you set a poem up in regular stanzas like this (4 lines in each stanza, alternating short and long), your poem looks like it's going to be a traditional rhymed and metered poem. Readers might be a bit thrown off when they don't encounter a rhyme. Thus, you might want to experiment with altering line lengths. Put a word or two in isolation to make them stand out...write a long, uninterrupted line to describe a series of actions...write some lines that shrink and then expand to mirror your emotions.
I appreciate so much your willingness to try a new form--you've made a great start of it! Keep it up!
I just now saw this. Thanks, Jan for the great information and tips. I have to reread it, mull it over for a bit, and give it a try.
A child of the King!
Being also from the South, I say with tmoral, y'all don't laugh... But it's okay, really, because I can't hear you.
Seeking in vain for silence
Amid the maddening mass of sounds
Yearning for a quietness I could not find
I withdrew into a windowless room
Thinking to nullify voices and noise
Finding rest for spirit and soul.
Alone and aware of only my thoughts
Waiting for respite and needed relief
I found peace elusive, escaping my grasp
When the truth tumbled into view.
The setting and source of my unrest
Was mostly due to the noise in me.
A child of the King!
Genia, thanks for stopping by and sharing your poem with us. Love the alliteration (maddening mass, setting and source, truth tumbled) and assonance (voices and noise). Love the little kick at the end, and the imagery throughout.
I also really like the way that several of the lines have a meter to them (WAIT ing for RES pite and NEED ed re LIEF, for example).
I really don't have much in the way of critique, except to say that free verse poetry doesn't have to be entirely free of punctuation. There were a few places here where I thought a comma or a dash might aid the reader. That's entirely your call, though.
The poem is lovely, and I was happy to have read it.
Thanks, Jan. I was unsure about punctuation. In fact, I put some in but took it out. lol
Also, some of the things you saw were just by "feeling" on my part and going by sound, rather than realizing it was assonance, alliteration, etc. I still struggle with it, but enjoyed trying. Thanks again for taking time to help us with this.
A child of the King!
Years ago, I began to fiddle around with trying to write free verse. Among my beginner's archives is this quite short poem. As is often said, red ink, please for punctuations et al.
"I am not pretty."
"Behold the finely chiseled visage of your mind.
Free from the ravages of rouge
And pitted power.
Unclaimed by wrinkles,
Undaunted by rejection
Caste in delicate thoughts
And lofty flights,
Molded by laughter and tears."
"You are not pretty," you say?
I see the finely chiseled visage of your mind.
E-Book - Retirement Lane - How to Celebrate Life After 60
I write even when I think I can't, because I must.
I love to write. Nothing escapes the crush I have on the written word. I'm hooked on words!!
"Let words bewitch you. Scrutinze them, mull them, savor them, and in combination, until you see their subtle differences and the ways they tint each other." Francis Flaherty
Lillian, thanks for sharing this poem--I can tell that it comes from a place of deep sincerity.
My favorite thing is the repetition of "finely chiseled visage of your mind." That's highly effective, and since it's the best line of the poem, getting it twice is powerful. I also like the alliteration in 'ravages of rouge' and 'pitted power' (although I'm pretty sure you meant that to be 'powDer', yes?).
My only critique is one of pronouns. I wonder if the first lines would be more effective like this:
You say you are not pretty.
Behold the finely chiseled visage of your mind
Toward the end of the poem, the use of quotation marks around "You are not pretty" are confusing--because if the person you are addressing in the poem said those words enclosed by the quotation marks, she would be saying them about you, the poet. Know what I mean? so if you want quotes there, it should be
"I am not pretty," you say?
Or, to avoid confusion, perhaps
You say you are not pretty?
Other than clearing up those pronouns, I like this very, very much, and I thank you for sharing it with us.
This week's 1st place Challenge entry is an excellent example of free verse.
Suppositions by Linda Goergen
Last edited by yvonne on Fri Aug 02, 2013 6:20 am, edited 1 time in total.
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