Verse: Rhyme or Free?

Anyone who has watched Dead Poets Society remembers the viewpoint Robin Williams’s character John Keating gave regarding poetry, and how it cannot be measured. It was a very touching scene, and so I thought I’d talk about my own experiences with poetry, this being National Poetry Month.

I first began writing poetry when I was a teenager. Back then, one could say I was rather rigid. I didn’t experiment a whole lot, typically using a simple rhyme scheme, unless of course if I was writing a sonnet. I would write sonnets because I was (and still am) a huge fan of Shakespeare. I had even recited Sonnet XVIII (Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?) at a Poetry Out Loud contest in high school, in which I won third place. But then again, I was rigid there too, because I’d only written sonnets in the Shakespearean format. In a way, looking back, perhaps I was afraid of breaking into new ground.

My rigidness continued for a while at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, where I was introduced at a poetry club reading by the club leader as a more traditional poet compared to other members. The professor of an advanced poetry workshop class later made the observation that I liked to express a theme or idea at the end of each of my poems. However, it was through both that class and another poetry class at St. Mary’s that I began to break free and experiment with poetry.

I discovered new different forms that I had to write in as part of my assignments in those classes. More importantly, over the years I’ve broken free of form alone and began to not worry about syllables and rhymes. I’ve realized how poetry provides a way to really experiment with words and phrases, more so perhaps than fiction. I continued to express themes in my poetry, but also turned to showing and portraying emotions and feelings.

Among the blogs I follow are poets who use their sites to share their work, which is amazingly diverse and wonderfully done. I myself read three poems during an open mic at the Annapolis Chapter of the MWA:

Here’s another reading I did online for The And I Thought Ladies:

And another at the Annapolis MWA:

Poetry expresses what’s in the heart and mind. For any poet, and every writer, their work evolves over time, and through experimentation, gets better.

  1. Community of Literary Magazines and Presses Directory.
  2. Brewer, Robert Lee. List of 86 Poetic Forms for Poets.
  3. Guildford, Chuck. Stanza Breaks.
  4. Hess, Gary R. 55 Types of Poetry Forms.

39 thoughts on “Verse: Rhyme or Free?

  1. Your journey with poetry sounds very natural, Andrew. I had to study it for a while and later to write the formal stuff – just for a wee while. But there were the free forms to explore later and to try out too. I thought I would hate trying to write poetry, but ended up quite enjoying it, learning about rhythms and rhymes. The I came up with what I preferred to read and preferred to write, a non formal rhythm with a non formal rhyme! Lovely post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Attached are some of mine going back a half-century to my dissipated youth. The one to Katy was on the occasion of severe automobile accident, in which she almost, but didn’t die, though she was in a coma for four days.


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  3. I’m from Baltimore and attended Towson State about a a hundred years ago. If you ever have a chance to hear Dr. David Bergman lecture or read his poetry, go! He’s a wonderful man, teacher, and poet. I could listen to him for hours. He used to guest lecture at Hopkins, but I don’t know if does that any longer.

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  4. I enjoy rhyme and meter as a personal preference, but every so often the emotions from a poem that takes me over are too raw and I have to use free verse. I loved this! Thanks for the interesting read, and it’s nice to see you speaking

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    • I 100% agree with you, rosejfairchild. To me, many of these modern poems seem just like prose broken (arbitrarily) into lines and called a poem.
      Not that they aren’t often poetical and also often quite moving, but if they weren’t in lines, no one would know they were poems.
      I agree that poems needn’t rhyme, necessarily, but they absolutely MUST have rhythm.
      I’ve written non-rhyming poetry with rhythm and tried writing some of the modern free poetry. Writing traditional poetry with rhythm and/or rhyme is much, much more difficult. Is that why free form verse has become such a big thing?
      I apologise to all the free-form poets out there if you think I’m being rather pedantic. I’m not trying to belittle you in any way. I’m sure you all work hard in finding the right word to express what you are feeling, but then so do all writers, whatever their niche. It’s just that finding the right length of word that fits the metre and has the correct sense and feeling is harder than simply writing the word regardless of this.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m wondering how much you you can explain the fundamentals of poetry with the basics of music of music theory? I’ve related to pitch, rhythm… most to structure my poetry rather than memorize all the different rules you described above.

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