Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Thursday Poetry Forms (Poetry for Dummies) Week 8

Another Thursday and CC Champagne is back, trying to make sense of the wonderful, but oh so confusing, world of poetry forms. Last week we had two posts, thanks to the lovely Ava and our fabulous Morning, providing not only a list of various poetry forms, but a closer look at what a limerick is.

As usual I venture a little bit off the beaten track in my poetry form musings, but I would like to take a closer look at some un-metered forms today. I have previously described myself as a lover of free verse, preferring not having to count syllables or decipher meters, sort of taking the easy way out. But what is free verse?

Wikipedia defines free verse as 'a form of poetry that refrains from consistent meter patterns, rhyme or any other form of musical patterns', whereas the Encyclopedia Britannica defines it as 'poetry organized to the cadence of speech and image patterns rather than to a regular metrical scheme'. Most of my own scribbles would, by these definitions, not be considered free verse at all since I rarely write anything that has no rhyme! It is, however, noteworthy that a poetic structure must still be upheld even in free verse, and this can be achieved by use of repetition of phrases or various punctuation used to create a sense of structure and rhythm.

Although Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia seem to disagree on the early origins of free verse, it seems clear that it dates back to at least the verse libre movement during the 1880's in France. For those of you who don't speak frog (I am sorry, but I could not resist joking), verse libre translates into free verse. Wikipedia, however traces the origins back further and argues that part of King James Bible and the psalms translated by John Wycliffe in the 1380's. I will let you debate that amongst yourself, and simply note that this poetry form has been around for a while.

An example of what is considered 'proper' free verse would be 'Jubilate Agno' by Christopher Smart (1722-1771), a 1200 line work (obviously penned before the age of blogging introduced the adage of 'keep your posts below 500 words or your reader will get bored') of religious nature. The most famous part of this work would be the section called 'Jeoffrey' that deals with Christopher Smart's cat Jeoffrey and the cat's relationship with God (see brief excerpt below).

"For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For the dexterity of his defence is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion."

It may well be worth noting that Christopher Smart produced this work of free verse while committed to an asylum of the time, although I am not saying you have to be mad to love your cat (or to write a piece of poetry 1200 lines long). A more modern proponent of the free verse form, who you might be more familiar with, is Walt Whitman.

Based on what I have read about free verse trying to prepare for this post, it is not as much a case of 'anything goes', but rather a case of creating your own rhythm. Quoting T. S. Elliot (another lover of felines, as noted in his 'collection of whimsical poems' Old Possum's Book of Practical cats - though this does not appear to be strictly in free verse) on the subject of free verse 'No verse is free for the man who wants to do a good job'.

Just to make things more interesting, there is also the blank verse form which is statistically (though I do not know how they came up with the numbers) far more common in the English language than the free verse, to the point where three quarters of all poetry written is in blank verse, according to cultural and literary historian, author and university professor Paul Fussell.

From what I can gather, the major difference between free verse and blank verse is that the latter is in un-rhymed iambic pentameter, whereas free verse - as we started out with - does not follow a set meter at all. And then, of course there is always poetic license, leaving us with the possibility to do just about whatever we wish with our precious words and creating new forms as we go along.

Please feel free to comment on any of the above and we can try sorting it out together. Also don't forget to join me and the others on the blankets at The Gooseberry Gardens Poetry Picnic Week 7, where Shashi has provided us with the lovely prompt 'Love and Loss', or if you are of the more speed-loving kind join in The Thursday Poets Rally Week 53. Whichever poetic path you chose to take this week, I hope it brings you inspiration and a whole bunch of happiness!



Bajanpoet said...

I love the freedom of free verse... thanks so much for the lesson in forms :)

Been reading the links in the post avidly :) awesome stuff...

-Bajanpoet/poetwhispers (depending on which account I'm logged in under!)

Oh and this is my first time posting ... :) I got invited by a comment on my poetry blog :)

Maxwell Mead Williams Robinson Barry said...