Free Verse Poetry or “how to play with unseen rackets”

By Maria Moss

Any­one can write free verse – or so the say­ing goes. Free verse poems are free from lim­i­ta­tions of meter, rhythm, or rhyme – all aspects that some­times cause grief to cre­ative writ­ing stu­dents. Most of my stu­dents are hap­py if, for once, they are free to fol­low their own ideas with­out hav­ing to pay atten­tion to what many per­ceive as the arti­fi­cial­i­ty of tra­di­tion­al rhymed and metered poet­ry. How­ev­er, even free verse poems are not void of artis­tic expression.

Free verse poet­ry is by no means an inven­tion of the 20th or the 21st cen­tu­ry. Already Walt Whit­man (1819–1892) – known as the father of free verse poet­ry in the U.S. – under­stood the mes­mer­iz­ing cadences of rhythm and rep­e­ti­tion. The moth­er of free verse is Emi­ly Dick­in­son (1830–1886), famous for her short poems, which often fol­low the rhythm of nat­ur­al speech. The most famous 20th cen­tu­ry rep­re­sen­ta­tives of free verse poet­ry are Ezra Pound (1885–1972), who mas­tered free verse com­bined with a musi­cal qual­i­ty, and William Car­los Williams (1883–1963). Link to blog on WCW on July 1, 2015 Although he was a cham­pi­on of the free verse, Williams nev­er­the­less wrote: “Being an art form, a verse can­not be free in the sense of hav­ing no lim­i­ta­tions or guid­ing principles.”

But he was not the only one who had reser­va­tions about free verse. T.S. Eliot (1888–1965) wrote, “No verse is free for the man [and woman, one should add] who wants to do a good job.” Robert Frost (1874–1963), in a famous remark to Carl Sand­burg (1878–1967), stat­ed that writ­ing free verse is like “play­ing ten­nis with­out a net.” Sand­burg, in a beau­ti­ful­ly poet­ic response, wrote: “There have been poets who could and did play more than one game of ten­nis with unseen rack­ets, vol­ley­ing airy and fan­tas­tic balls over an insub­stan­tial net, on a frail moon­light fab­ric of a court.”

Here are four very dif­fer­ent free verse poems, writ­ten by my stu­dents in 2021, that man­age to play “with unseen rack­ets” on a “frail moon­light fab­ric of a court” – using com­mon fea­tures of free verse: allit­er­a­tions, rep­e­ti­tions, and nat­ur­al pauses.

 

“The City and You” by Hilal Şimşek

I’ve come to this city again,

every­thing is in its place

the bak­ery

around the corner

the bar­ber

across the road

but we are not.

I light cig­a­rettes, one after another

beau­ti­ful girls cross the bridge

I stare at the torn poster on the wall for a long time

It has aged here, just like me.

I haven’t missed this place,

the weath­er

and you.

 

“The Flight Tow­er” by Hilal Şimşek

While Haz­arfen

is glid­ing

from the Galata

with his huge

white

wings

I hear neither

the approach­ing

fer­ry,

the waves hitting

the shore,

the shrieks

of the seagulls,

nor the iron

sharp­en­ing

the sword.

 

“22” by Nilüfer Küçük

Not feel­ing a lot different

To be honest

Not a lot changed

Just some numbers

Thank god I got some

Cool gifts

That’s the only part

I like about birthdays

 

“The Body” by Cia­ra Crehan

Red.

The blood drip­ping from your fingers.

White.

The col­or of your icy skin.

Blue.

Dead eyes star­ing at the ceiling.

 

I always told you I would win.

 

“The Comb” by Char­lotte Filippone

The Comb

After every brushstroke

your

curly red­dish hair

 

lace and tangle

in

the stiff teeth

 

of the comb

rest­ing

on the nightstand

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