Of Writing Formal Poetry and Free Verse

A free verse is an unrhymed verse without a consistent metrical pattern.  In most cases, the free verse is initially thought to be easier than writing formal poetry mainly because it is not governed with any metrical conventions and anyone could just readily rush into writing lines and make them form like a poem.  However, I find writing free verse much harder than writing a formal poem, mainly because you don’t have any idea how to start.  The length of each line is an arbitrary choice of the writer. Also, I find writing free verse very demanding than writing formal poetry because in the first place, free verse requires you to have a well-tuned ear to be able to achieve the right and appropriate rhythm as it approximates your line breaks.  Since the line break is also an arbitrary choice of the writer, free verse entails a lot of revisions especially if there is a variation of rhythms in a poem.  Without a particular meter, it is difficult to decide when to pause or when to cut your line.  Some pauses naturally (caesuras) while some writers prefer their lines to be enjambed – where there is a continuation from one line of verse into the next line without a pause.  And this decision is crucial, as it is more prone to poetic flaws, like awkwardness in readability, and misinterpretation.  The appropriate usage of them would accentuate and supplement the emotion, tension and the rhythm of the poem.  Writing free verse, for me, should be done with utmost subtlety, and the writer should take into consideration how to deliver the intended effect that he/she has in his/her mind through his/her line breaks.

On the other hand, formal poetry puts greater premium and focus on formal elements such as rhymes, meters, rhythms etc., but it is not as easy as arranging syllables to fit a certain poetic convention, because one must also take considerations that the poem, in the first place, should make sense.  In formal poetry, form is an aesthetic attribute.  I find writing metered poems really pleasurable because I like experiencing the constraints as I meet a certain metrical expectation.  Moreover, some words naturally (or in some time) resist being ‘co-opted’ in the metrical pattern, but this only inevitably urges me to strive hard to get the right meter.

I find writing metered poems easier than free verse, which is ironic because I thought that the latter is easier before since the poems you’ll make would not be subjected in metered expectations.  At some point, I even forgot that I was actually writing a metered poem – there are times when the words and phrases are naturally arranged in the required meter.  What so good about writing metered poems is that you end up feeling satisfied after writing the poems, and the whole process of writing is pleasurable.  Free verse is hard to write mainly because you have to justify the arbitrariness of line breaks.  Moreover, free verse requires so much from a poet – you have to have a good ear to be able to get the right pace or rhythm of the poem and to experiment the variation of rhythms.

In any case, I would prefer to read a poem with complete naturalness of rhythmical expression, smooth and seamless, not rough and chopped sentences.

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2 thoughts on “Of Writing Formal Poetry and Free Verse

  1. Loved your thoughts on free verse and formal poetry, but find the reverse of what you have experienced. I find formal poetry very difficult. It seems to stem the tide of everything I want to say and I get totally bogged down in suitable rhymes and wrestling with iambic pentameters that have eleven syallables! Keep writing.
    Fran

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