What is free verse poetry? Have you ever wanted to write a poem but felt intimidated by all the rules, rhyming, and structure? Then, free verse poetry is for you! This form is a type of poetry where the poet is free to write whatever and however, they want. But don’t mistake this as an easy way to write poetry. There’s much more work to free verse poetry than you may imagine. So, let’s talk about free verse poems, characteristics of a free verse poem, and how to write a free verse poem.
What is a Free Verse Poem?
A free verse poem is a type of poem that doesn’t follow a set rhyme scheme or meter. Instead, free verse poems rely on devices such as rhythm, word choice, and imagery to create a compelling poem. This freedom allows the poet to focus on the poem’s content rather than form.
While there are no strict rules governing free verse poetry, many free verse poems have a distinct structure. For example, they often begin with a description of a scene or an object. This introduction is followed by a series of reflections on the scene or object, which help to create a deeper understanding of the poem’s subject matter.
Free verse poems can be any length and often use natural rhythms to create a sense of musicality. While free verse poems may appear simple, they can be pretty complex. The best free verse poems are those that strike a balance between form and content, using the property of free verse to enhance the poem’s meaning.
Ultimately, free verse poems offer readers a fresh and creative way to explore the world around them.
Characteristics of a Free Verse Poem:
- Free verse poems do not follow any set pattern of rhyme or meter.
- The poet focuses on the poem’s imagery and meaning rather than worrying about finding the perfect rhyme scheme.
- This type of poem relies on natural speech rhythms and cadence.
- Free verse poems often have a more personal tone.
- The lack of structure allows poets to focus on the expressive potential of language.
- Free verse poems can be highly creative and experimental.
- For instance, free verse poems often use enjambment, the continuation of a sentence or phrase from one line to the next without pause.
- Free verse poems often employ imagery and figurative language to create vivid pictures in the reader’s mind.
How to Write a Free Verse Poem
Easy Step by Step to writing a Free Verse Poem
Step 1: Choose a Subject
One of the most critical choices a poet has to make is what to write about. After all, the subject of a poem can determine its entire mood and tone. For example, a free verse poem about a breakup is likely very different from one about a sunset.
Of course, there are no hard and fast rules when choosing a subject. Sometimes the best poems come from simply exploring the world around you and writing down whatever inspires you at the moment. However, if you’re feeling stuck, it can help to brainstorm potential topics ahead of time.
Here is a technique you can use to brainstorm a subject:
- Get something to write with and something to write on.
- Find a cool, quiet place in your home.
- Sit or lie down (whatever is most comfortable, but don’t fall asleep).
- Once you are comfortable, set a timer, three to five minutes should be good.
- Now, let your mind wander, and your thoughts flow freely.
- When the timer is up, jot down a list of things you thought about and have strong feelings for.
Once you have some ideas on paper, you can start narrowing them down and choose the one that feels the best fit. Trust your instincts and go with the subject that speaks to you the most.
Step 2: Create a Mind Map, Free Write, or List
Now that you have your subject, you need to decide what you want to say about it. In other words, we will determine what we want to be the theme or lesson for our poem.
Again, we will fall back on a few different brainstorming techniques to determine what we want to say about our subject. I will list three, but you only need to use one of these to discover your theme.
I discussed creating a mind map in my article on how to write a poem. Mind Mapping is a simple technique where you take your subject and write it in the center of a piece of paper or a notecard. Then, write branching or connecting ideas all-around your subject- use simple words or phrases. You can further write connecting concepts off those words you wrote around your subject.
When you finish, examine your mind map and look for singular ideas or sentences that have formed. You can also look for juxtaposing ideas or subjects. Find a single idea that you can pull from the map. You may need to discard some words or ideas; you don’t have to incorporate everything.
In free writing, all you need to do is write everything that comes to mind about your subject. Unlike mind mapping, in free writing, you will be writing in complete sentences. You can even separate your writing into paragraphs, but it’s not required.
For this technique, I would set a timer to create a sense of urgency in your mind so that you’re not free writing all day. Don’t analyze or filter your thoughts as you write; let them flow directly onto the paper. If, when you are done, you’re not satisfied with the results, you can always set the timer and start again, but don’t do this too many times. It’s just brainstorming, after all.
When you have finished, read your paper, look for ideas or themes and ignore anything you feel isn’t on topic. Don’t mistake this free writing for a finished product– the results of your free writing are probably too raw and disorganized to stand as a completed poem.
Sit down with a notepad or piece of paper. Write your subject at the top of the notepad, then number your paper to ten or twenty. Just write your numbers down the margin of the paper. You can go beyond twenty if you like, but you probably won’t need to.
Write a list of twenty ideas, phrases, or words that come to mind when you think of your subject. Write these things in the order that they come to your mind. Try to write quickly with as few pauses as possible. Stop when you get to the bottom of your list.
Now, review. Again, you’re looking for connecting ideas or an overall theme that might have emerged.
Step 3: Plan your structure
Now, we have a subject for our poem, and we have decided what we want to say about that subject. When we talked about writing a classic poem, we used an extended metaphor to create a structure. Then, we practiced Haiku, where we attempted to capture a moment in time.
For a free verse poem, it is helpful to structure your writing as a narrative. Think of this poem as a “slice of life.” As we said above, free verse poetry often has a personal tone. You can structure this poem as a personal narrative.
Choose a moment in your life that relates to your chosen subject. In your poem, you will describe that moment from a natural starting point to a natural conclusion. As you structure the poem, think of ways that you can illustrate your theme.
Step 4: Experiment with figurative language
Free verse poems are often thought of as free from the restraints of traditional poetic forms, but that doesn’t mean they can’t use figurative language. Many free verse poets find that employing figurative language can help to add depth and richness to their work. Simile, metaphor, and personification are potent tools that can create vivid images and convey complex ideas. So don’t be afraid to experiment with figurative language in your free verse poems – it might be the key to taking your work to the next level.
Let’s discuss one type of figurative language you might use.
Enjambment- when a poet continues an idea beyond a natural pause like a line break. Here is an example from John Keats’ poem Endymion:
“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness…”excerpt from “Endymion,” John Keats (1818)
Enjambment can create a sense of movement or momentum in a poem and add to its overall rhythm and meter. Additionally, enjambment can be used to develop surprises or juxtapositions within a poem. For example, a poet might use enjambment to break up a long list of items, words, or ideas, providing moments of rest for the reader amidst the stream of information.
Adding a figurative language is a crucial step in writing your poem. Choose techniques that will help highlight the theme of your poem. Click here to read more on figurative language.
Step 5: Write your first draft
Writing the first draft of a free-verse poem can be a liberating experience. With free verse, there are no rules to follow in terms of rhyme or meter. This means that you can focus on expressing your thoughts and feelings without worrying about whether or not they fit into a prescribed format.
In addition, free verse poems often have a more natural flow than poems that adhere to stricter conventions. As you write your first draft, don’t be afraid to experiment with different wording and images. The important thing is to capture your authentic voice on the page. Don’t forget to tell your personal story, using imagery and figurative language to add a poetic flourish.
Step 6: Proofread & Edit
Assuming you have a free verse poem that you would like to proofread and edit:
First, read the poem aloud to yourself. This process will help you to catch any errors in grammar or punctuation, as well as any awkward phrasing. If possible, have someone else read the poem aloud; sometimes, it’s easier to catch mistakes when you’re not the one reading.
Next, take a look at the overall structure of the poem. Is it balanced, or does it seem lopsided? Are there any parts that feel excessive or out of place? Rearranging or cutting out some of the lines may help improve the poem’s flow.
Finally, focus on the individual words and phrases used. Are there any places where a different word might create a more powerful image or emotion? Is there anything you can do to make the language more concise and impactful?
You can ensure that it is the best it can be by taking the time to proofread and edit your free verse poem.
How to write a Free Verse Poem PDF Worksheet
Example of Free Verse Poetry
Below is a very famous example of contemporary free verse poetry. As you read, pay attention to the poem’s narrative and theme. What story is the poet telling? What lesson does he want his readers to take away? Also, notice Hughe’s unique use of line length, language, and punctuation.
Mother to Son
By Langston Hughes (1922)
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’ve been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’ve still goin’, honey,
I’ve still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
Free Verse versus Blank Verse
Blank verse and free verse poetry are sometimes confused, but they are not the same thing. While blank verse poetry has fewer limitations than most formal poetry, there are still some standard requirements.
Like free verse poetry, blank verse does not require rhyme or a rhyme scheme. However, the primary difference between the two is that blank verse poetry still requires a meter, or in other words, a rhythm.
Meter refers to the number of syllables in a line of poetry and the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. Blank verse poetry is almost always written in iambic pentameter. Iambic pentameter is a type of meter. It consists of five iambs- two-syllable units with the stress on the second syllable.
Free verse, on the other hand, does not require a meter.
Hopefully, by now, you are halfway through your free verse poem! Because that’s all, I have to say on the subject. But, if you’d like to read more, check out our section on poetry here. Please support the blog by picking up something at our shop. Or, share this article online (I think there are some buttons at the bottom for that).
Until next time, keep writing!