Free verse

Thanks to George Szirtes, who – despite being recently bereaved – has posted today about the recent Cafe Writers awards.  He includes excerpts from the judges’s report, which is illuminating on the rigours and pleasures of free verse.  I was struck in particular by this:

Where and how do you break a line? Why there? Push harder. Think harder, feel harder.

Yes.  This is what writing free verse, the best free verse I can write at the time, asks of me.  And I used to think that writing in given forms – the sonnet, terza rima – would stop me feeling as acutely as I could, in the push towards, the thoughts about metre and rhyme.  But I’m beginning to see that the challenges are similar.

Whether it’s an edifice you built yourself for your animal to run around in, or a pre-existing structure, there is still this dreadful (for me) tension between the wild and the controlled, the possibilities of your language’s behaviour and its constrictions.

Looking at the poem draft in front of me, I’m wondering how I could have missed its sonnet nature.  It’s 15 and a half lines long.  It It’s a love poem. There are even rhymes.  But I cringe at the thought of the work I must do, the changes the poem must go through to be a sonnet.  Of course, I could just leave it as a free verse Sonnetesque.

But that’s just a sloppy sonnet, isn’t it?

Incidentally, the competition winner was the wonderful Helen Mort, with “Deer”.  Beautiful and strange, I love this poem..  Helen was on the Jerwood / Aldeburgh Seminar in 2009, and has a great one-woman show called “A Pint for the Ghost” (details in the links to the right). 

And incidentally incidentally, Issue 68 of The Rialto is now out.  It has a feature on the Masterclass I took part in in November: Catherine Ormell and I discuss the experience, and share our “before and after” drafts of the poems we workshopped.


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