In Poetry, Free Verse Often Needs A Wet Nurse

I am not a big fan of free verse poetry, but don’t get me wrong, there are some great free verse poets. Carl Sandburg is my personal favorite, and I have read and loved many excellent free verse poems by many great poets. However, I believe that poetry should express images, feelings and thoughts eloquently and conventional poetry with structured meter is vastly superior to free verse.

Meter gives poetry rhythm and that is the most powerful magic to put in any poem. In my book, LANTAMYRA A TAPESTRY OF FANTASY, Keeper Jocelyn Rogers proclaims:
“Words are spoken music, poems magic song;
Words that march in rhythm pull the mind along….”

Most modern poets embrace free verse because it’s requires so little effort. They focus on creating image: “Blue birds reflect the azure skies while butterflies melt into shadows.” They focus on creating feeling: “It rips my soul; the agony is mine.” Or, they focus on creating thoughts: “Regardless of the source the truth flows pure.”
The latter quote is one of my own created favorites. The first two examples I created spontaneously to illustrate how easy it is to express in free verse.

Most modern free verse poets admit that composing in conventional rhythm and rhyme is too difficult to do line after line, verse after verse. They stuggle to find the words that rhyme, or they struggle to keep from breaking rhythm. “Challenging is it?” (A quote from Shadozzar, one of my dragons) So most modern poets choose the least challenging form of poetry which I affectionately refer to as “baby poetry.” It’s a good way to begin, but I hope the poets will eventually grow to learn to express their poems with conventional meter. It may be more challenging, but it is also much more powerful and rewarding.

Edgar Allen Poe skillfully mastered all forms of conventional poetry. His poem, “The Raven” begins with the immortal quote: “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary…” So many people can quote that couplet. Why? Because words that march in rhythm pull the mind along. Robert Frost’s beloved “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is (in my opinion) one of the most beautifully crafted conventional poems in the English language. He dared to create a rhyme scheme so unique and extraordinarily challenging that no poet has ever (to my knowledge) dared to compose a poem using the same scheme. That is a strong testament of his skill and why his poem is immortal. How many people can remember the lines at the end?
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep…”

Conventional meter is challenging! It took me many years to grasp it. As I grew older, I dared to take the challenge. Now, I am no longer restricted to the first grade primer of free verse. I don’t need a wet nurse just because the teat is within reach! For better or worse, I try to write my favorite poems in conventional meter. I do not believe I am a great poet. So for all the free verse poets out there that feel like Granny just spanked them and called them babies, here is one of Granny’s poems, for them to criticize. It’s not great, but I gave it a shot. It was conceived on a picnic by a Sierra stream.

“The Brook”

The babbling from a little rill
As it goes tumbling down the hill
Does beckon me to wander there
To hear the tale it has to share.
Entreating me to stay awhile,
It tells of flowing many miles
From high and snowy mountain walls
And down the stately waterfalls.

“A mighty stream was I,” it said.
“And from the icy heights I fled
On through the woods of oak and birch
Where songbirds came to make a perch.
Then ‘round a beaver dam I passed
Into a meadow green with grass
Where blossoms from the verge did burst
And creatures paused to quench their thirst,
Then traveled over rock and sand
To find myself where you now stand.”

As shadows lengthen on the glade
The little brook flows on to bade
A fond farewell to me this day.
Then as I turn and step away
It sings of joy in giving life
To those enduring stress and strife.

Susan Waterwyk

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “In Poetry, Free Verse Often Needs A Wet Nurse

  1. judy Warden

    I love the poem, the Brook. I am not a fan of free verse or abstract poetry with metaphors that few of us understand. My idea of poetry is often rhythmic, comes from the heart and has vivid images the reader can visualize. For me, a meaningful poem often has at least one if not all these elements. That is the reason I love the poetry of Henry Longfellow, Edger Allen Poe, Sara Teasdale, and one James Whitcomb Riley. There are many more such as Arthur Guiterman. 1871-1943 who aren’t well known at all but write enjoyable things to read and ponder.They often write just simple things that make you laugh, and cry and just feel a breadth of emotions. The Brook gives me a feeling of peace, beauty and serenity which I am sure the writer was feeling at the time.

  2. Thank you, Judy. I agree that Henry Longfellow was a master of poetic meter. The rhythm of his blank verse is so powerful that he did not need to rhyme. “The Song of Hiawatha” is an excellent example of his master craftsmanship. James Whitcomb Riley’s “The Raggedy Man” is an endearing favorite as is Sara Teasdale’s “There Will Come Soft Rains.” But I must confess that I’m not familiar with Arthur Guiterman. Thank you for sharing him. I will go online and read some of his poems.
    Susan

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