If you are looking to expand your poetry in new directions, you might consider learning about the free verse poem format. Sometimes in the creative process, it is useful to have formal constraints to help focus your work. If you are writing ballads, sonnets or haiku for example, there are certain formal rules that must be followed to create those styles of poetry. These rules are based on the rhyming schemes or the number of lines or stanzas in the poem. Some poems, like concrete poems, are even defined based on how they physically look on the page. In the free verse poetry format, however, the only rule is that there are little to no rules. This article will take you through the basics of understanding free verse poetry.
Understanding Basic Aspects of Poetry
In order to label a poem as free verse, one needs to understand what elements it does not have that make it free.
Rhythm and Meter
The study of the meter and rhythm of a poem is called prosody, and this discipline identifies types of poems based on certain poetic patterns. Meter is the pattern of syllables that create particular forms of poetry and it is typically understood in terms of metrical feet. When you scan a poem, you count the number of feet the poem has and you also identify the types of feet. For example, iambic pentameter is a type of poetry that uses five iambic feet. An iamb is one unstressed syllable and one stressed syllable and penta in pentameter means five.
The rhythm of a poem refers to the way the poem sounds when it is read aloud. For example, all languages have their own natural rhythm when spoken based on the accents and syllables that are intrinsic to the language. This fact carries over to the poetry written in a language.
Rhyming is the use of words that contain identical or near-identical sounds and placing them at points in the poem where patterns can develop. Often, these words are placed at the end of lines, but they do not have to. Much in the same way there are many different types of metric patterns in poetry, there are many types of rhyming patterns as well. For example, a quatrain rhyme is created when the first, second, and fourth lines of a stanza rhyme but the third line does not.
What Makes the Free Verse Poem Format Different?
What separates free verse from other forms of poetry is that it does not follow any traditional rhyming or rhythmic patterns. Instead, poets who work in free verse attempt to establish imagery and emotional resonance by using more complex and abstract types of patterns that might not be instantly recognizable or consistent. Even though free verse implies that no rules apply, there are still recognizable forms of free verse that have become established over the years.
Types of Free Verse
Most writers of this genre recognize three different forms of free verse poem format: End-Stopped free verse, Run-on free verse, and Spatial free verse.
- End-Stopped - End-Stopped free verse creates line breaks in the poem when there would be a natural pause if one were speaking the poem aloud. The American poet Walt Whitman is often considered the father of this style of free verse.
- Run-on - In run-on free verse, line breaks occur where there is no natural grammatical pause. Often, the breaks are inserted between adjectives and nouns, which tends to create poetry with very short lines. Some poetry by William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound is often associated with this format of free verse.
- Spatial - Spatial poems use the words of the poem to create a visual picture that adds to the poems meaning. The lines are arranged in such a way as to create an image, a feeling of movement, or even a tension.
Is It Still Poetry?
Some traditionalists might wonder how a form with little established rules can consider itself a formal art. However, the fact of the matter is that free verse has become the dominant form of the art of poetry in contemporary times. Just because there are fewer restrictions on free verse poetry, the format is not reducible to the level of anarchy. There are many beautiful complexities and unexpected revelations to be found in this challenging and modern form of poetry.