Free Verse: You’re not the Boss of Me

When you write traditional verse, you are bound by rules. Rhyme, meter, stanza, length of line, and more are set up for you depending on which poetry form you have chosen. With free verse, you get to be the boss. You get to decide where to break your lines, which type of stanza to use, and when to end the poem.

photo, with thanks, by Brooke Lark / Unsplash

However, like a boss, you have to create some rules of your own and make some decisions so your work will have structure and deliver. If you don’t construct a framework, what makes it any different from prose (ordinary language)? The more structure, the stronger the poem!

Let’s look at these examples. I’ve used my poem, Saccharine Words, to demonstrate how structure alone can turn thoughtful prose into a poem.

1. Prose (good)

My grandfather used to say, “Put honey in your mouth before speaking.” An old saying from his time. With the nectar, angry words would turn sweet. Honey is scarce these days; the bees are feeling the sting of their own pandemic.  I sprinkle Splenda on my tongue instead. Words spill sweetly from my lips, but they are artificial like those little crystal crumbles.

  • My thoughts are in the form of sentences within a paragraph but lack the added meaning that stanzas and line breaks would give it. 

2.  Unstructured Free Verse (better)

My grandfather used to say, “Put honey in your mouth before speaking.”
An old saying from his time. With the nectar,
angry words would turn sweet.
Honey is scarce these days; the bee
are feeling the sting of their own
pandemic.
I sprinkle Splenda on my tongue instead. 
Words spill sweetly from
my lips, but they are artificial like 
those little crystal crumbles.

  • Here, irregular lines form a pattern within the poem but I have applied very little poetic craft. The poem could be stronger with carefully place line breaks to add meaning and tension. A line break forces a breath which helps the reader slow down and digest the meaning of the poem before moving on to the next line. 

3.  Structured Free Verse (best)

  • See how structure made the poem stronger? I’ve added a title, line breaks, stanzas, and spaces to help evoke a feeling and voice and give the words room to breathe and the reader a chance to ponder.
Now it’s your turn

Feel free to leave your free verse poem on any subject in the comments below (scroll way down). If you are feeling “iffy” about sharing, here’s a pep talk. And for those of you who would like to comment or share anonymously, I’ve created settings to allow you to do so. Just reply without signing into your WordPress account.

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2 thoughts on “Free Verse: You’re not the Boss of Me

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