Posts Tagged ‘slam poetry’


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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