Free verse. Have you heard of it?
I mean, I am sure that you have.
But the term floats around all over the place, what does it really mean?
If you ever wanted to know more about free verse poetry, you’ve come to the right place.
What is free verse?
Free verse poetry, basically, is poetry that doesn’t rhyme.
Obviously, this isn’t all there is to it.
As Wikipedia says, ‘Free verse is an open form of poetry which in its modern form arose through the French vers libre form. It does not use consistent meter patterns, rhyme, or any musical pattern. It thus tends to follow the rhythm of natural speech.’
Which I mostly agree with.
The free verse poetry that I have experienced is a lot more than that.
Though there is typically no rhyme, there does tend to be a beat. This means that when the author is reading it aloud, they have written it in such a way that the emphasis on a particular word or phrase is meant to be there.
If you were to hand the same poem to someone else, they would read it completely differently.
Meaning that the way the poem is read is part of the poetry of it; is part of the fabric of the poem.
Dictionary.com says that free verse is ‘verse that does not follow a fixed metrical pattern.’ This fits much better than the previous definition.
And the Poetry Foundation describes free verse as ‘Nonmetrical, nonrhyming lines that closely follow the natural rhythms of speech. A regular pattern of sound or rhythm may emerge in free-verse lines, but the poet does not adhere to a metrical plan in their composition.’
For those history fans amongst you, ‘Matthew Arnold and Walt Whitman explored the possibilities of nonmetrical poetry in the 19th century.’
So we’re following a tradition that has been going on for over 100 years!
My first time…
The first time I properly experienced free verse poetry was when I stumbled across a video of Sabrina Benaim reading her poem Explaining My Depression to My Mother.
I was truly at a loss for words, I almost cried. (And I am not a crier!)
Sabrina is so breathtaking in her delivery—so passionate—that I was just blown away. I immediately went and pre-ordered her book and have been hooked ever since.
I even had the pleasure of seeing her live and meeting her in person. She is so lovely, and extremely talented.
When I saw her perform, all of her poems came to life. Though I had purchased her book beforehand and read through them, hearing them live meant that I really got to hear the poem how she meant it to be heard.
There is a huge difference between seeing free verse on the page and seeing it on a stage in front of you. I would recommend seeing it live as often as you can!
What I love about it
It’s the passion behind the words that really speaks to me.
The poems tend to be, though are not necessarily always, designed to be read aloud. Meaning that part of poetry of them is the way that they are delivered.
If five people read the same poem aloud, it would be read in five different ways.
The life and enthusiasm behind the way that the author reads them aloud makes up a huge aspect of the poem.
Take the following sentence:
I NEVER SAID SHE STOLE MY MONEY
Try reading it out, placing emphasis on the word I.
Now try reading it with the emphasis on the word never.
Now said, etc.
That seven word sentence can be read seven different ways to produce seven different meanings.
Equally, if seven different people read the same free verse poem aloud, there is a good chance that they would be reading seven different poems.
Each person would bring their own interpretation of the words, their own experience, their own accent, bias, mood, emotions, etc.
And isn’t that incredible?
As I said, it is normally written to be read aloud. Written so that the delivery is part of the poem.
So it’s an entire performance, not just a collection of words that don’t always rhyme.
I know what you’re thinking.
‘Ellie, this all sounds amazing and I can’t wait to start writing my own free verse poetry!’
It’s cool, I got you.
I can show you the… way!
This is just one method for writing a free verse poem. Now, I am not saying that this is the definitive way, but I have pulled together some of my ideas, some points I found online and put together my…
Free Verse Poetry 101
1. Take an idea
As with most writing, you must start out knowing what it is that you want to say.
Are you trying to describe the beautiful way the sun falls through the leaves on the trees? Or the feeling you get when you can’t help falling in love with someone? Or simply that you dislike something, so strongly, that it conjures a poem inside you?
These are all generic ideas, nothing that I would write a poem about necessarily, (except the tree one, I frigging love trees!) but consider first what it is exactly that you are writing.
2. Write down key words or phrases
Literally make a mind map of all the things that come into your mind when you think about your chosen theme.
Write down everything—even if it seems terrible at the time, writing it down is good for two reasons:
a) You may actually see it on the page later and find that it is more useful than you though.
b) There is a theory that getting rid of the terrible ideas helps you to then focus on the good ones. Like removing the broken down car causing a traffic jam.
Hopefully during this process your poem will start to form.
Which are the important things that you want to say? What do you feel has to be in there, and what is kind of redundant? Where could you replace or remove words for better impact?
3. Put them together
Start to pull your important words and phrases together in a potentially less abstract way.
I have no exact guidance on this. The way you put the words together is the poem itself.
Try and make it so that ‘the words on the page read more like a conversation or story’ is a good way of approaching it.
This means that you are writing the poem as if you are telling someone something. You are talking to them about the subject or theme of your poem, and telling them what you think.
4. Add the magic…
Okay, so I am not referring to actual magic. Although, maybe you could look at it like that.
I mean, you need to add the sparkle to your words, add the pizaz!
You know how you want it to be read aloud, so make sure it’s formed in that way.
And if you aren’t sure, try reading it aloud to any willing victim! I mean, erm, volunteer…
My lucky cat gets to hear all of my poems before anyone else. He normally gives his approval—he has good taste.
This goes for almost all writing, to be honest—don’t be afraid to try new things to see how you like them, and whether or not they work for you.
Try an angry free verse poem—it can be quite therapeutic, believe me.
Try a romantic poem, a happy poem, a poem about the trees!
Try anything and everything.
Of course, there is always a small chance that you will find free verse poetry to not be for you. And that’s absolutely fine.
But you won’t really know until you properly try, will you? 🙂
Having seen all of them live, and experienced all their different styles, I can confirm that they are all worthy of a watch.
Over to You
Have you written free verse poetry before? Do you have any more tips for new people?
If not, are you going to give it a try? I know you can do it.
Let me know how it goes, and what you think to free verse whether you’ve read it before or not.