Hello Fellow Netwest Writers. This is the final part of the talk I gave Oct. 21, 2007 at Young harris College at the state meeting of the Georgia Poetry Society. For the sake of learning, the speech was adapted and is presented in three parts. Please feel free to share this with others, but do not reprint or publish without my permission. Some have asked to print a copy for study. Yes to that. -- Positively, Nancy Simpson
Forms of Free Verse Poetry Part III
I believe you can look in any poetry book and identify a fee verse poem without reading it. If there is an absence of regular stanzas, and if end words do not have a rhyme scheme, it is free verse. I believe not only can you tell at a glance that a poem is written in free verse form, you can guess whether it is a meditative poem, a narrative poem or a lyric poem.
If the poem has questions marks, it is meditative, the mind in the act of thinking, driven by an idea.
If it is a long poem, more than one page, with the name of character and maybe some dialogue, without reading, you can guess that it is a narrative poem, driven by the poet’s desire to tell a story.
If the poem is a short, first person, and if it snags your interest with images of a place, you can guess it might be a lyric poem.
What difference does it make? First and foremost a poet must write, but once there are words on a page, a poet will ask, sometimes somewhat surprised, “What do I have here?”
If your words show the mind in the act of thinking, with one or more questions, or if you have used the phrase, “I Know” or “I think”, for certain, you are writing in meditative form.
If you have a story with all its components: character, setting, plot and theme, you are working
in narrative form. Perhaps you have dialogue between a married couple as Robert Frost did in his great narrative poem, “The Death of the Hired Hand.” Or you may only have a narrator’s voice describing and telling what happened.
For me, the lyric poem is the most fascinating free verse form. The lyric poem has been around since ancient days. It changed its focus in different ages. Its definition has evolved. Today, the lyric poem is one of the most prized forms of free verse poetry among literary editors, perhaps because the lyric tightly compresses language, it is more brief, and it never covers more than a page.
In my years of study, practicing, publishing and teaching poetry, this is how I came to identify and define the lyric form: A lyric poem has three components. It must have all three.
1) A lyric poem is a moment in time, a frozen moment, a scene, or something like a short video blip, not the whole story. The reader will always know where and when the poem takes place.
2) A lyric poem is a personal experience, driven by emotion, with words drenched in emotion.
3) A lyric poem has a moment of knowing something not known before or a moment of remembering truth known but forgotten.
The poet who understands the difference in free verse forms, I believe, would be a poet who could more skillfully bring a new poem to completion.
A meditative poem is driven by intelligence. The poet must find a way to hook the reader. “Moon” and “The Death of the Hat” by Billy Collins are good examples of the meditative poem.
The narrative poem is driven by the poet’s desire to tell a story. In writing a narrative poem, the poet must work the lines more carefully than any other form, cut, cut, and prune away all the dead wood, to avoid the relentless impulse of prose.
The lyric poem is driven by emotion, with the poet’s main responsibility being to to lead the reader to the moment of knowing. If there is no moment of knowing, it is not a lyric poem.
Your best poems may have elements of all three forms, for the best poems connect with the reader on a sensory level, an emotional level and on an intellectual level.
Here at the end, I must say writing free verse poetry does not end here. There is more, more
free verse forms, more topics to discuss, such as “Where do I break the line”? More for future study.
Meanwhile, pull out your writing folder , write, study, revise and write some more. Present yourself as a practicing poet, and keep practicing poetry.