Advice for Poets 4: Free Verse Isn’t Easy

Here is part four of our attempt to inspire you into writing some poetry for our charity anthology ‘The Wait’, all proceeds to Cancer Research UK.

Photo by Alan Cleaver / CC BY NAME
Photo by Alan Cleaver / CC BY NAME

Free Verse is Really Hard!

Don’t let this put you off – the thing is, constructing free verse that is successful requires very careful planning. Following a set form has it’s own challenges and can often lead to you wishing you had more freedom, which free verse offers – but your challenge really is making up a whole new form each time you write that is as punchy as your average sonnet or ballad.

Deciding What Goes Where

We’re going to take this melodramatic sentence and turn it into free verse poetry together…

‘Though I love you I am always feeling lonely like the last apple on the tree after the sinners have taken everything else.’

Random Breaks=Bad Practice

You can’t leave it as it is. However, if you break it up willy-nilly you’re going to end up with something that just doesn’t flow-

Though I
love you I am always
Feeling lonely like the last apple
On the
Tree after the sinners have taken
everything else

We’ve not thought this through. Nothing important has been emphasised and we’ve ignored the natural breaks in the sentence.

Following Natural Breaks=Good Practise

Though I love you
I am always feeling lonely
Like the last apple on the tree
After the sinners
Have taken everything else

Notice how much easier it is to read than the example above, because we’ve broken up each thought.

Emphasising the Important Bits – Good Practice

However, sometimes you can shake it up a bit by going against the natural breaks in order to emphasise key points or emotions:

Though I love you I am always feeling
Lonely
Like the last apple…

Or you can go further and use punctuation along with the breaks to make the reading pattern unnatural. Be careful of overdoing this as you don’t want to make your poem stilted, rather you want to add in a nice little surprise every now and again-

Though I love you,
I am always feeling
lonely, like the last apple on the tree,
after the sinners
Have taken everything else

Starting up a good flow, then interrupting it with an unexpected break can also be a good tactic if used sparingly.

Over-emphasising= Bad Practice..???

This is a matter of opinion. We would say that endeavouring to emphasise every key idea will dilute the power of your poem, but this is absolutely a case of trial and error. You may find that emphasising every power word actually looks great. Decide what you think of the example below.

images

Though I love
You
I am always feeling
Lonely
Like the last
Apple
On the tree, after the
sinners
Have taken
Everything
Else.

There are probably bits that you think are quite effective, and also bits that you think are probably just too much.

How Does it Look??

The example above is a good illustration of how the way a poem looks on the page can add to the effect. The emotions of this lonely, fruity human are clearly all over the place and conflicted, reflected in the jagged edges of the poem. If you’re writing about hate or war then a jagged poem could help you emphasise this, while if you’re writing a poem about peace, rainfall, or a sleeping child, maybe you’d choose your line breaks to give even or gently curving edges.

If you’re being inspired to write any poetry, we’d love you to submit it for our anthology – please email thewaitpoetryanthology@hotmail.com or use the submissions form.

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