Perhaps the most common misconception
about free verse is that, simply because it isn't written in one of the standard poetic forms
, it is somehow less poetic
-- and, consequently, more random
and less artful
-- than structured verse.
Well, there's just one problem here: free verse is structured verse. It just doesn't conform to the usual poetic conventions of rhyme and meter. Simply because a poem isn't a Petrarchan sonnet doesn't mean it is some sodden, undigested amorphous mass like your Aunt Emma's Jell-O mold gone horribly wrong. Just because free verse is presented as formless in high school English classes doesn't make it so. Consider the following passage from "A Game of Chess," the second section of "The Waste Land" by T.S. Eliot:
My nerves are bad to-night. Yes, bad. Stay with me.
'Speak to me. Why do you never speak. Speak.
'What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?
'I never know what you are thinking. Think.'
I think we are in rats' alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.
'What it that noise?'
The wind under the door.
'What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?'
Nothing again nothing.
'You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember
Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!.
'Are you alive, or not? Is there nothing in your head?'
O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag--
It's so elegant
Does this passage have a regular rhyme scheme? No. Does it use conventional poetic meter? No. Is it, then, rhythmless and unstructured? Don't be ridiculous. These certainly aren't the best lines of poetry ever written, but they're no worse than, say, Shakespeare's Sonnet XVII.
Free verse poets have a hard job. They have to make art without leaning on the formal conventions of their predecessors. And to top it off, they have to compete within their genre with those just cutting their teeth on words, those highschoolers (or younger) giving poetry a try for the first time. They don't compete on the field of value, but in the field of opinion, which is dominated by an elitism that dictates which forms are respectable. As a side note, this elitism, now academically sanctioned, dictates which kinds of free verse are acceptable. For example, it is generally considered fine to play around with form, but it is generally not considered fine to be grammatically or orthographically innovative. Of course there are exceptions, but they do not disprove the rule.
It's also important to remember that crap is hardly form-specific. Most poetry is crap, just like most novels are crap. There was crap before free verse. I mean, just take a glance at Rudyard Kipling or an example of his work. (Peripherally, Kipling did not call himself a real poet. Good for him. Calling oneself a poet is as obnoxious as calling oneself a hacker -- it's a title that must be bestowed externally.)
Lastly, let's not make the hasty assumption that all free verse is postmodern. That's as silly as saying that all blank verse is Romantic. Lots of people, including book and journal editors who should know better, seem willing to confuse a poetic form with a literary movement. It might be fair to say that most postmodern poetry is in the free verse form, if one could come up with some proof to back up such an assertion. Until then, such an argument falls into the "Well, it really seems true so it must be true" camp, which just isn't rigorous enough to carry its own weight in a serious discussion. If anyone wants to gather proof, statistics would be nice.
The points to remember are that rhyme and meter are no more a guarantee of poetic quality than the ability to type, and that good free verse is as formally driven as a villanelle, but since nobody is telling you how to write it you have to work harder. Writing good free verse is much more difficult than writing a good sonnet, since the writer can't rest on the crutch of formal convention.
comments: it's perfectly valid to use a descriptive noun
as a title; just look at the hacker
example above. As they are used here, hacker
are the same part of speech. If we look at the trusty OED
, we'll find:
4. A descriptive or distinctive appellation; a name, denomination, style.
That use has been around since 1383. So the shoe fits
are titles just like doctor
, and father
As to the issue of calling oneself a poet, there's already a node that takes that on from the speech act theory vantage.