Posts Tagged ‘Free Verse’

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Poetry Sunday: Personal Poems

May 13, 2012

It is one thing to find a poem that fits a situation perfectly for you.  Imagine writing a poem for that occasion.  That is one of the best things about being a poet, the ability to express emotions in a way that reach others.  Of course, that assumes the poet is willing to share their poems.  In reality, sometimes you are and sometimes you are not.  For me, I am willing to publish most every poem unless to do so would cause some sort of indiscretion for another.

Now, personal poems are about much more than just romance.  While romance does fall into this category, it includes things like feeling a specific emotion, seeing something special, or having an epiphany of some sort.  The point is the feeling behind a personal poem is just that, personal to the poet.  Sometimes it is not easy to tell if a poem is personal or just the poet waxing on.  For me, any poem that makes someone wonder about it will have a personal connection.  It is how I write.

Even famous poets create personal poems.  Take Edgar Allan Poe, many of his poems are personal in nature.   Annabel Lee comes to mind.  We can speculate just who Annabel Lee was but we will never really know.  The best candidate is Poe’s wife, Virginia.  Here are the first two stanzas of Poe’s masterpiece:

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of ANNABEL LEE;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea;
But we loved with a love that was more than love-
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.

Just reading these two stanzas fills my mind with wonder.  Of course, I wonder about Annabel but also about the kingdom by the sea.  It is the magic of personal poems, we know there is some truth there, but we get to fill-in the blanks for ourselves.

In this next poem, it is personal but in a light-hearted way.  I was thinking about the duality of the situations life put before me.  I often tell people “if you get this poem, you get me.”  Of course, I do not know if that clears things up for them or makes it worse.  In the end, the poem is not so much about the choices presented to you, as it is about the choice you make.  Nothing says you have to accept things as they are, and I seldom do.

Life can be a turnip or a rose

Life can be a turnip or a rose –
One can give sustenance or beauty.
Life can be a feather or a brick –
One can go gently or break a window.
Life can be red or blue –
One can have passion or compassion.
Life can be a fox or a rabbit –
One can hunt or be hunted.
Life can be phone call or a letter –
One is right away, but then what have you got?

Life can be…
All things being equal, I’d rather be an apple.

That is an example of a poem that has a less than obvious personal connection.  Others are extremely obvious.  For example, you can pen a poem about something personal but it is personal in the same way to all of us.  We might use different words or choose to express a thought somewhat differently but we all understand the emotion as well as understand the poet was writing from personal feeling.  Given that today is Mother’s Day, here is a poem I wrote for my mom a few years back to which everyone can relate.

To Mom:

You are a lady,
that, you will always be.
You are sunshine,
there to brighten my day.
You are happiness,
to make sadness fade away.
You are wisdom,
to show me – when I stray.
You are my teacher,
to follow along the way.
You are my mother,
for that, I thank God each day.

 

While it is wrong to speak in generalities, I think in this case it is pretty safe to say everyone gets it.  It is an example of a personal poem everyone could use as their own, not that you want to, but you could.

That leaves the personal poems poets write for a singular occasion or person.  While we may recognize it is personal, we do not understand the context of the poem.  Still, it makes us wonder and that in itself make them worth reading.  We can imagine the circumstance and ponder at a name or other hint as to the identity of some unnamed person.

The Day I Found You

We sat upon a swing that day
and made the world our own
We talked with more than words could say
with seeds our thoughts had sown

For love began upon that swing
our souls became as one
For us the world had joys to bring
through this life that we’ve run

I look back now, that day I see
and know I found my soul
It’s from life’s dark you set me free
and with your love made whole

I love you for you, but really much more
you taught me to love, you opened love’s door

In this example for instance, you may wonder just who I wrote this for?  Where was the swing?  Whatever became of the relationship?  I could answer the questions but what fun would that be?

So, you see personal poems hold a special magic with poets.  You get to peek into our lives, to share our feelings and emotions.  While you may not know the who, what, or where, you will understand the personal nature of the emotions involved.

 

 

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Poetry Sunday – My Idea of Free-Verse Poetry

April 8, 2012

I’ve made the statement that I am not the biggest fan of free-verse poetry.  It’s not that I do not like it so much as I do not like so much of it.  It seems today it is the ubiquitous form of poetry and it should not be so.  Free-Verse is advanced poetry, and not intended for the novice poet.  It is poetry without the rules of poetry but that does not mean any old thing thrown on a page is poetry, far from it.  Writing without structure is prose, not poetry, even free-verse.

Often, people have a problem knowing just where the line between poetry and prose lives.  Like in Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous quote 1964 quote[i], I will not attempt to full define it (prose), but I know it when I see it.  Basically, anything that is not poetry is prose in one form or another.  For example, slogans, essays, news articles, and short stories are examples of prose.  Free-verse poetry, like all poetry, requires a flow and sinew binding words and feeling.

For example, this poem by William Butler Yeats illustrates that flow and connectivity:

HAD I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Though technically it is an example of blank-verse, it shows well the qualities required for free-verse that repeats end words.  Not to mention it is one of my all-time favorite poems.  The lines repeat talking about the cloth, then about light, and ending on the dreams.  This binds the work.  Moreover, each line sort of “sings” when read aloud, tying the lines internally.

Even abstract writing can qualify as free-verse, even when it has structure.  For example, in my poem Circular Logic I use syllable count, word repetition, as well as words to tie each line and stanza together.  Moreover, the poem as a whole, circles around at the end back to the beginning.  It has balance, and structure but does not follow any recognized form, it does not use rhyme or meter.  It is free-verse:

My eyes see a tarnished world
A world with stain
Stain my soul
Soul

My soul feels an angry world
A world with hurt
Hurt my mind
Mind

My mind needs a better world
A world with delight
Delight my heart
Heart

My heart is a willing world
A world with trust
Trust my eyes
Eyes

While Circular Logic is easily identified as poetry, most free-verse is harder to categorize.  If I write:

I sailed across the oceans like Ahab did before.
It was no beast from the depths that drove me ’round Perdition’s Flame.
I too have given all to a single thought becoming consumed by the sin of it –
my last breath of hate so spat.

It is hard to discern if its poetry or prose.  As it is presented, the vote goes to prose.  It reads well but does not really tie things together any more than a simple paragraph ties a thought together.   While the writing may be somewhat poetic, it does not rise to the level of poetry; that is until I tie it together with other stanzas in the complete poem, Epitaph of a Sailor:

I sailed across the oceans like Ahab did before.
It was no beast from the depths that drove me ’round Perdition’s Flame.
I too have given all to a single thought becoming consumed by the sin of it –
my last breath of hate so spat.
I joined the ancient mariner on his ship of lonely times.
It was no solitary bird, drifting on currents high, which focused all my shame.
I wasted life’s precious gift and watched time mark my soul –
my own folly chained my neck.
I battled fish like the old man, just a speck upon the sea.
It was no noble cause or sustenance for which I fought and landed game.
I reeled sacred lives to me only to watch them be devoured –
my vanity noshed on their souls.
I journeyed with Odysseus in Homeric tails of lore,
offering myself to recklessness, too clever for sing-song sirens to claim.
I faced dangers for no reason, bravado for bravado’s sake –
my vessel wrecked upon the shore.
My tale’s been told ten-thousand times by poets greater than me.
No moral was upheld or redemption did I find as life’s innocence did wane.
I followed a wake of destruction on this life-course that I sailed –
Take heed, my friend, this ten-thousand and one.

Each stanza by itself is prose, but tied together, they give each other form and balance rising the whole to qualify as free-verse poetry.  It shows the elusiveness of a true definition.

In the end, free-verse poetry requires the poet to understand form and meter at a level that goes beyond the mere use of form and meter.  It requires intament knowledge of poetic form to construct a poem that suggests a structure but is not directly supported by it.  While sometimes confused with proses, free-verse poetry employs this sophisticated structures in ways  not always understood or even perceived.

In the end, prose may be nice to read but if it lacks even the suggestion of form, it is not free-verse.  Each poet must decide what form of poetry they wish to create and there are no hard and fast rules, I tend to write one free-verse for every ten formal poems. I live in the formal rhyme and meter of classic poetry most of the time, it keeps me sharp for when I step beyond its bounds.


[i] Stweart, Potter. “Jacobellis v. Ohio.” Cornell University Law School. United States Supreme Court, 22 June 1964. Web. 07 Apr. 2012. <http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0378_0184_ZC1.html>.

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Free-verse, free-verse everywhere, but still no poets think

March 20, 2012

Walt Whitman
Father of Free-verse

I am often asked where my inspiration comes from regarding my poetry.  I am taken a little aback by this, as I think my poetry is self-evident. I guess they are asking more about what makes me see the world as I do rather than what a particular poem is all about.

For me, my life is poetry, not some free-verse prose form that runs on like a bad version of Hemmingway.  No, the poetry of my life is more like Frost, Dickenson, and Yeats.  In other words, it has something to say, a singular point to make.

I will never be a modern poet.  I do not understand spoken-word or slam poetry.  I’m not knocking them, it’s just not me.  I am all about metaphor and form, that and a good selection of adjectives.  It has been said I write “like a nineteenth century poet.”  I am sure it was not meant as a compliment but for me there could be no greater.  I am lost in a romantic time when true craftsmanship existed in poetry.

In the end, modern poetry has just passed me by.  In fact, I see free-verse much the same as Robert Frost.  He put it like this: “Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down.”  I tend to think the form is over used today.  In a sense, it is advanced poetry.  It requires the poet to be poetic without the use of ninety percent of poetry’s tools.  It is like a carpenter building a house with just a hammer.

Still, it does have its place, there is no denying that.  To be honest, some of my more popular poems are free-verse.  My point is I use the form sparingly.  I produce a work in that style, and then retreat back to the safety of rhyme and meter.  It is like coming home after a vacation.   It is good to get out and see the world, but nothing beats coming home.

Perhaps it is the fast-paced world that promotes free-verse.  I mean if all you have to do is move from a to b and not worry over structure, results come quickly.  I am not sure “quickness” is what Walt Whitman wished to inspire or that the controversial poet, Ezra Pound accepted a “fire and forget” approach to poetry.  They mastered the use of words and kept a poetic feel to their work.  Pound’s great free-verse The Garden has little in common in approach, style and feel of works produced today.  The effort he expended is obvious and the result speaks for itself.

Opening Stanza of The Garden:

Like a skein of loose silk blown against a wall
She walks by the railing of a path in Kensington Gardens,
And she is dying piece-meal
of a sort of emotional anemia.

Of course Ezra would be happy with poetry going beyond where he left it.  He even said to do just that.  My point is not about the newness, it is the seeming lack of effort I feel with much of what I read in today’s free-verse offerings.  I feel it debases the art of poetry.  I get the sense a young poet reads some T.S. Eliot and thinks “I can do that,” never realizing the painstaking time and deliberate word selection Eliot struggled with.  Even one of his best poems, one of the best poems ever, The Waste Land has been criticized for its disconnection and disjointed style, more a criticism of free-verse than Eliot.   Still, when you read it, then step back from it, the symmetry and beauty of the work stands like a beacon in the night.

The opening lines of The Waste Land:

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

What all these champions of free-verse had in common is the ability to pick and choose the elements they used and remain poetic.  They knew how to color outside the lines.  That is what seems to be missing today.  While they abandoned the rules, they never abandoned style.

In the end, each poet must walk their own path.  My 2¢ worth of advice will not hold even that value to them.  My only hope is young poets wake up and put in the effort to produce true poetry and not just slap a few catchy words together and think themselves brilliant.

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A Case for Rhyme and Meter

February 28, 2012

I am often asked why I write in the classic styles of poetry, as opposed to the free verse so popular today, the words of Robert  Herrick come to mind:

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.

Though 350 years old, this poem still makes me think, the rhyme and flow simply opens my mind in ways free-verse is hard pressed to compete with.

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