Poetry Advice

Deciding the Form Your Poem Will Take


Lesson 1 – Rhyme vs. Free Verse

Writing a poem without rhyme is like playing tennis without a net.  

In this paraphrase of a Robert Frost quote, it is clear that he was no fan of free verse. His ‘net’ comparison refers to what he  Perceived as both the true art and the true challenge of quality poetry.  I know from years as a poet who writes both rhyming poems and free verse that mature, delightful rhyming is the more difficult to write, although neither is easy.



If you want to rhyme, here are a few do’s and Don’ts,

1. Avoid elementary, overused rhyme:  night, light/you, blue/sky, why

2. Use sophisticated, interesting, even surprising rhyme: met/regret

3. Decide and stick to your end rhyme pattern (abab  1st & 3rd lines rhyme and 2nd rhymes with the 4th line:  try aabb, aaa bbb, abcc deff (this creates a couplet in the last 2 lines of each verse.  Emily Dickinson was fond of couplets, and so am I)

4. Try internal rhyme: It’s fun to throw in internal rhyme just in time                           to spice up your line.

5. It’s OK to use imperfect, or near, rhyme.  In #4 above ‘rhyme’ and ‘line’, the end rhymes, are not perfect, but the ear accepts them easily.

6. The more you rhyme the easier, and better, it will become.  I have been writing rhymed poetry for so many decades that I now often speak in rhyme without even knowing it until the words are out my spout.

7. Rhyming poems do not have to have a set pattern of rhythm.  Rhythm, or poetic foot, will be in another lesson.

Free Verse

Here is the low-down, and high-up, on free verse: generally, it can have a sense of rhythm, or cadence, but it cannot have a set rhythm or end rhyme.  

1. It has the visual ‘look’ of a poem; it does not run far left to far right margin and/or on to another line like prose.

2. Free Verse contains literary devices (simile, metaphor, alliteration, personification, etc.) to qualify as poetry.

3. Like all poetry, every word is meaningful…no room for useless wordiness: edit it out.  This is hard to do; get tough on yourself.

4. Line breaks and punctuation, like in rhymed poetry, are necessary to convey meaning:  read your poem aloud; when you naturally breathe or pause, give your reader a visual clue…a line break, a comma, semi-colon, etc.

5. Because your reader will not experience the delight of mature rhyme or the comfort of a set rhythm, you must select words of insight or beauty.  In other words, speak with intent to enlighten.

Footnote on Blank Verse

Blank verse is the lovely marriage of Poetic Foot and Free Verse: it is like FV because it has no end rhyme (in fact, cannot have by definition) but it does have a clearly established rhythm.  The most common poetic feet are: unstressed/stressed  _ / (iambic); stressed/unstressed  /_ (trochaic); unstressed/unstressed/stressed  _ _ / (anapestic); stressed/stressed/unstressed / / _ (didactic)