I notice I’m writing more and more free verse these days.
I think it’s a sign of growing confidence in the ideas and images of the poems that I want to write – that they are strong enough to stand alone without needing a structure to “make them” poems. And that their word choice makes them more than prose.
I’ve explored this with two poems recently – “disentanglement”, which was first written as free verse and then as a villanelle. And “heartbreak tapas”, which started as free verse and was then transformed into prose. In both cases I think the free verse poem is more powerful than the revised version.
The villanelle (admittedly a challenging form!) has imposed a structure that does add some things, but also constricts the directness of the free verse.
In rewriting heartbreak tapas, I was struck by the way I felt the need to explain things more in prose – and while that led me to add some details, overall I feel it lost some of the intensity of the original. I will say that writing it as free verse first seemed to result in much tighter, more interesting prose than I normally write – but I still preferred the free verse.
Interestingly an earlier poem, kraken, worked better with a loose rhyme scheme than as free verse. But in this case I think that’s because I spent more time working on it, and because the rhyme fits its mythological tone.
One of the challenges with writing free verse is that it feels like cheating because there’s no need to struggle with rhyme or metre. And yet choosing words that can stand alone without structure, and carry a reader along without rhyme, is very challenging. But it’s also very a fresh and direct form – because choosing words to fit a rhyme scheme often requires a slight move away from my original meaning or imagery. Sometimes this adds an interesting new element that is valuable, but sometimes it dilutes what I wanted to say.
Actually, what I’ve learnt above all from all this is the benefits of exploring ideas in different forms, and using the revisions to discover the words and structures that fit each idea most closely.