Friday, January 9, 2009

Edumacate Me: Free Verse

I am going to do something I don't particularly care to do. I am going to admit ignorance. While I am, truth be told, shockingly uninformed about a great number of things--The French Revolution, how to fix anything that breaks in or out of my house, Impressionism, Darfur--I usually attempt to conceal my stupidity by pretending to know what I am talking about ("The genocide in Darfur is, of course, an outrage, but you can't expect the U.S. to involve itself in every single conflict in the world. We can't always be the planet's peacekeepers blahblahblah").

Other alternatives:
  1. Walk away and find something to eat.
  2. Change the topic. "Yeah, that Impressionist art is crazy. Aren't the cheese sticks here awesome?"
  3. Not hang out with people who would talk about those things in the first place. (preferred)

But this has bothered me long enough and while I could research the topic of free verse poetry on the Webosphere or read books or take a college course in poetry, I would much rather get my information from people who read my blog, because you know what they say: Anonymous Internet users are almost always the best source of unbiased information.

And so I ask, what is up with free verse? Because dude, I don't get it and I never have (this could be because I've never tried). I did a cursory check on that paragon of reliability, Wikipedia, and it said this:

Free verse is a term describing various styles of poetry that are written without using strict meter or rhyme, but still recognizable as poetry by virtue of complex patterns of one sort or another that readers will perceive to be part of a coherent whole.

Translation: It doesn't have to rhyme. It doesn't have to flow. It mostly has to look like a poem.

If I have this right, you can take pretty much any sentence, throw in some colorful description, alliteration, metaphor-whatever you like, break the lines in funny places, and you have written a free verse poem.

Like this:

Prose: This morning I sat waiting on the curb for the bus that would take me to school.

Free Verse Poem:

This morning I
waiting on the cu
for the yellow box that
would swallow me
and spit me back out

at school

Like how I broke up "curb" there? Think about it, you'll get it. And how I left a line before "to school?" Yeah. That was to build suspense, ya'll.

Now I know I'm missing something here, because what I wrote is pure, unadulterated runny turd. So please, someone explain what the deal is with free verse. What do I need to know? How can I tell "good" free verse from something I could write in two minutes? And why should I be impressed when I see it?

Edumacate me. I'm asking for it.

Literary Wisdom of the Day:

"Look, if it were up to me I would open the world's borders to everyone so they could go anywhere. The only problem is that the United States is the only good country in the world."

--Howard Stern in Private Parts


David Yoo said...

Not sure if you'll even find this, but I'm a luddite and couldn't figure out how to write you otherwise. Just wanted to say thanks for the anecdote about the shovel, made me laugh out loud--that can't have looked good!

Mary Witzl said...

I liked rhyming poetry and blank verse, but I'm picky about both. The rhythm and the choice of words have to be just right -- no scientific way to describe it, I'm afraid -- they either sound right to me or they don't.

As for blank verse, Robert Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays" is one poem that really works for me. I love the first stanza:

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

A lot of poetry leaves me cold, but that's one that has stuck with me for years -- the rhythm and the word choice just seem perfect.