Posts Tagged ‘Meter’


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

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

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

My heart is a willing world
A world with trust
Trust my 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. <>.


Poetry Sunday – Sonnets, A Bit Harder but Well Worth the Effort

April 1, 2012

Sonnets are one of the harder forms of poetry to master.  To make matters even more muddled, there are many forms of sonnets.  In the United States, when we think of sonnets, it is the English, otherwise known as the Shakespearean, form we think of.  Other popular sonnet styles are Italian, Occitan, Spenserian, Modern, and many others.

I like Shakespearean most, but when I write them, I modify the style a bit.  A classic Shakespearean sonnet uses three quatrains and a couplet with a rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG and a meter in the iambic pentameter style.  To put that into English, each stanza rhymes every other line and no two stanzas use the same rhyming words as other stanzas.  Further, each line is ten syllables long in most cases with a natural strong stress on the even syllables.  This is where the word foot comes in.

Iambic means the syllables of a line are grouped in pairs with the stronger stress on the end syllable.  One of the best examples comes from one the Bard’s plays:

“To be, or not to be, that is the question:[i]

It is hard to read lines like this from Hamlet in anything other than its Iambic form.  The words are naturally stressed on the even syllables.  With the stressed syllables emphasized, it looks like this:

 “To be, or not to be, that is the question:”

Remember, the line is from his play and in his plays the lines do not always contain the right number of syllables. Such is the case with the example, but it does illustrate extremely well the proper use of iambic meter.

The syllable group is called a foot.  Some groups have two syllables, and some have three or more. In the Shakespearean Sonnet’s case, there are ten syllables making up five iambic pairs or five feet. The word for five feet in a line is pentameter and when the two work together it is called iambic pentameter.

While this is not the technical definition, it works for a general understanding of how Shakespearean Sonnets work.  Here is one of William Shakespeare’s famous examples, simply titled Sonnet 18:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.


You can see Uncle Bill’s (Shakespeare is every poet’s good ol’ Uncle Bill) use of the rhyme scheme and meter.  We must give deference to the changes in language since then that makes the rhymes seem forced in some cases.

Another writing device used in most sonnet forms is the “turn,” or volta, as poets like to call it.  By the way, volta means time or turn in Italian.  This turn is a distinct change in the thought and flow of the poem.  While it is not a spelled out rule, many poets place the turn in the third quatrain (stanza) and return from the change in the ending couplet.  Shakespeare placed his volta at the couplet and so do I.  It really is up to the poet.

While Shakespeare is one of the true masters of the form, I find sticking to a constant meter (iambic pentameter for instance) does not blend well with modern though and speech patterns.  I like to break the quatrain into couplets with the first line having four feet and the last having three.  It just reads easier to me and gives the work a more song-like quality.  Here is one of my sonnets for example:

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

So, why not take out your pen and give a sonnet a try.  It is the first day of National Poetry Month after all!  Pick a classic style or modify one and I did.  It is up to you.  The point is to create something that is uniquely you, something that expresses your feelings and thoughts.  I know some of you are thinking “eeew – I can’t write a mushy love poem.”  The good news is sonnets can be about anything, it is the style of the poem, no its subject matter, for example:

What Stars Know

The far off lights that paint the sky
as dark does veil the Phoebus stage
and the crescent moon’s winking eye
do know the truth of wars we wage

For land, for God, for things profound
we give as reasons why we fight
but orbs up high retort the sound
of angry words proclaiming right

Tis death and pain that man does sow
upon this home, our home – the earth
the cost exceeds what we can know
are we so vain to set life’s worth?

To learn from stars is what we must do
Live and let live is the path that’s true

 Sonnets are harder to write, that is certain.  Once you do, you will understand the fun of it.  The rules make the game fun, but like with any game you must practice before you become good at it.  Write well, write often!

[i] “Hamlet.” – Act 3, Scene 1 by William Shakespeare. Web. 01 Apr. 2012.


Poetry Sunday

March 25, 2012

I think I am going to start a series here in my blog and call it “Poetry Sunday.”  On Sunday’s, rather than a typical blog post, I am going to post a poem or two.  Some will be old, some new but comments are welcome on either.  I will comment just a bit about the poems, either what I was thinking or to point out something of interest about its style.  It would be wonderful if other poets would join in and comment with examples of their works or at least links to it.

To get started, here are two of my most popular poems:

Life’s About the Adjectives

Life’s about the adjectives,
it’s how we know the world.
Nouns, you see, are only names,
with adjectives – life is knurled.

Think about the apple,
just fruit upon the tree,
red ripe skin with tasty pulp,
better lets us see.

Providing us the texture,
of color if you will,
ADJ allows us space,
to give our lines the fill.

Life’s about the adjectives,
spice for the written line,
Verbs, you see, are motion,
and index things like time.

Think about the race car,
going around the lane,
zipping fast with lightning speed,
better feeds the brain.

Providing us the feeling,
of nature if you will,
ADJ gives the taste,
to writings we distill.

Verbs contain the action,
and nouns have the heart,
adjectives add the flavor,
for cooks of written art.

Life’s about the adjectives,
how else could it be,
that words paint the pigments,
in poems for us to see?

This poem won the 2008 Willard R Espy award for light verse, a nice honor for me to say the least.  The poem uses an aBcB rhyme in each stanza with no formal meter.


A grain of sand, nothing more
blowing and rolling about the shore.
All alone, one takes no note
its moving about the wild sea oat.

Soon to fall and move no more
the Wind takes another from the shore.
Blown again under the night’s full moon
it finds the oats and forms a dune.

To rise or fall, the tender dunes wait
as Wind moves sand to receive its fate.
They welcome me back each day anew
as I walk within the sunrise hue.

It is the same but different now
the dunes I see as I make this vow:
“Dear Lord, I thank you for this day
the same is new in a gentle way.”

“Each dune is sculpted with your hand
by blowing around each grain of sand.
The dune has beauty as a whole
but is nothing without the single sand’s soul.”

“I pray we learn from the grain of sand
to become a part of your larger plan.
We each have beauty within our core
it’s by coming together, we become much more.”

This poem uses 2 rhymed couplets in each stanza making it an AABB scheme.

Notice how the form of rhyme changes the feel of the poem.  In the first example, the aBcB gives the poem a whimsical feel as it is read.  While the more formal AABB couplets of the second example gives the end of each couple a natural hard stop.  In a sense, it forces the reader to pause and reflect.  Each shows how rhyme scheme selection plays a huge role in the overall feel of a poem.

Reading poetry should never leave you with sort of a “wow, that was one technically perfect poem,”  no, it is more about the emotions and feeling you are left with as the reader.  These tools and devices come into play for the poet to implant emotion and feeling into a poem.  At the end of it all, if you enjoyed the poem, the technical merits of it mean nothing.

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