How to Write a Free Verse Poem (You’re not the boss of me)

When you write traditional verse, you are bound to rules. Rhyme, meter, stanza, shape, 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 the lines, which type of stanza to use, and when to end the poem.

But, like a boss, you have to create some rules 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? 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)

When I was a little girl, my grandfather told me to put honey in my mouth before speaking. An old saying from his time. With the nectar, angry words would become sweet. Honey is scarce these days; the bees are feeling the sting of their own pandemic.  I sprinkle Stevia on my tongue instead. Words spill sweetly from my lips, but they are artificial like those little crystal crumbles.

  • These 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)

When I was a little girl, my grandfather
told me to put honey
in my mouth before speaking.
An old saying from his time. With the nectar,
angry words would become sweet.
Honey is scarce these days; the bees
are feeling the sting of their own
pandemic.
I sprinkle Stevia 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 there is little poetic craft involved. 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)

SACCHARINE WORDS

When I was a little girl,
my grandfather told me
to put honey in my mouth 
before speaking.

An old saying from his time.
With the nectar, 
angry words 
would become sweet.

Honey is scarce these days,
the bees are feeling the sting
of their own pandemic.

I sprinkle Stevia
on my tongue instead.
Words spill sweetly
from my lips

but they are artificial
like those little crystal 
crumbles.

©2020 Danna Smith all rights reserved
  • See how structure made the poem stronger? The added title, line breaks, and stanzas help evoke a feeling and voice and give the words room to breathe and the reader a chance to ponder.