Free Verse

1999-08-23

Many of those who write metrical poetry object strenuously, sometimes vitriolically, to free verse (though Timothy Steele, my favorite living poet, is not among the offenders here, at least judging by his book Missing Measures). Personally I don't have anything against free verse, just as I don't have anything against people who play tennis without a net. And I think that some free verse is not tennis without a net -- well, perhaps with the net a little lower than usual. ;-) That doesn't mean that some of it is not beautiful and valuable -- more so than many things that happen to have been written with the net raised to its full height. I feel only that metrical poetry has a higher potential than non-metrical poetry. I think that many formalists are traditionalists when it comes to meters (gotta use that iambic pentameter), whereas I often or usually like verse that is original in its meters or rhythms. This is one reason I like John Enright's poetry so much -- it is not wedded to traditional meters -- the same goes for Langston Hughes and what I like of Theodore Roethke. Perhaps here as elsewhere I am more libertarian than conservative, because I like meter that is fluid and that fits the purpose of the poem (that is organic rather than conventional). I think there's a great deal of intrinsicism in the formalist agenda, which makes me rather uncomfortable.


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