So, while I’m cataloging the annoying habits of newbie poets, I should probably move on to free verse.  If poetry has suffered a fate of “It’s Creative!  You Can’t Judge It!,” then free verse suffers that problem twofold over.  Basically, there’s this misconception that free verse is absolute anarchy.  Fantatic devotees and partisans of metrical poetry often quote Robert Frost, when he dismissively suggested that free verse was like playing tennis with “the net down.”  Free verse, as a term, basically suggests that there is no metrical standard. There’s no

taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM

of iambic pentameter, or the

TAdum TAdum TAdum TAdum TAdum

of trochaic pentameter, or the

TAdumdum TAdumdum TAdumdum TAdumdum TAdumdum

of dactylic pentameter (the foot is three syllables — Homer used this in hexameters).   Metrical verse is nothing but syllabic regularity that is uniform and predictable.  Free verse is basically, “Make up your own system.”  It’s not “anarchy,” though, because for it to be poetry, there has to be some sort of organizational system.  True linguistic anarchy would be the incoherent word salad of

yesterday my sister ate the butterflies swooning pot pies tire district robots, robots, robots, rhubarb and This American Life has shamrocks on display the smithsonian is closed for the season and I LIKE PIZZA!!!!!1!

Some misinformed DaDaist fanboy might argue, “But that’s poetry too!”  Of course, different argument for a different day.  For poetry to work, there has to be some sort of system of organizing language.  Spitting words on a page isn’t enough.  Actually, there are different traditions, and different types of free verse one can write.  Lets start with the most simple.  If you want to learn how to write free verse, you need to buy the following book:

Forget that some of his poems are frustratingly mundane, filled with cats climbing into flower pots, red wheelbarrows glased with rain water, and an unapolgetic husband who ate all the plums his wife was saving from breakfast.   Williams is a master poet, up there with Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, as a person who helped shaped the direction of American poetry.  So, why is he that important?

Consider, for a moment, that literary history is filled with poeple who wanted to make literature accessible to the masses.  Dante, in his Divine Comedy, shunned academic Latin (the prevailing norm of his day) so that he could write in vernacular Italian, and thus broadening out his potential audience.  Shakespeare, when confronted by the option of writing poetry, or writing verse drama, chose to craft plays that the whole socio-economic cross section of London could see, instead of writing and reciting poems for the wealthy elite.  Williams, along with his cohort, Ezra Pound, decided to throw metrical poetry out the window.  Meter may have worked for centuries upon centuries of poets, but Williams found himself more concerned with getting in touch with the American vernacular.   With apologies to Robert Frost, classic metrical poetry has nothing to do with how contemporary speakers of English actually talk to each other. And that’s what Williams concerned himself with, updating poetry into medium that’s more relevant to everday lives.

Of course, the HOW, of him doing this, on the page, is another lengthy post for another time….

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