Letting words find their own form

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.

I wouldn’t want to abandon using structures, and I’ve been enjoying exploring new ones, like the ghazal, the fib and the Burmese climbing rhyme. But I’m definitely enjoying writing free verse!

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.

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4 responses to “Letting words find their own form

  1. Very succinct recap of your poetry style. For me I always wrote in free verse and the majority of my poems remain that way. The structure I use the most would be haiku, not because they are short, but because of the challenge of condensing a free verse idea into 17 words. For big ideas I like to write sestina.

  2. I think it’s wonderful that you continue to test new ways of writing poetry. There are always new challenges in the poetic arena and to overcome them is extremely pleasing to the poet and in most cases, the readers.

    My favourite form is in fact the Villanelle. It’s incredibly difficult but if it is completed successfully it is also one of the most rewarding. The Sestina I like too.

    I rarely write free verse poetry. I very much like to read it in other people’s work but it’s not really my style unless I’m asked to write one for a client. Crafting away at structured formats and within certain constraints actually increases my feeling of creativity.

    I must try a Haiku one day.

  3. I have to say that blogging has really expanded my range as a poet… not just being able to use new forms in themselves, but getting to grips with the properties of words and how they can be combined. Partly the practice, of course!

    I know what you mean about constraints inspiring creativity… often that works for me too. But a lot of what I do at the moment is about capturing a brief moment that has some personal significance, and the spontaneity and flexibility of free verse seems to work well for that. It helps me to get at least something on a page, that I can then step back from and rework (either as free verse or into a structure) if necessary.

  4. I love your poems, but I really enjoy the free verse ones too – as you say, there just seems to be more meat on their bones… or maybe it’s just a form I’m more comfortable with (whenever I do write a poem, I spend ages trying to squash it into paragraphs before I give up and let it be).

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