Thursday, June 26, 2014

Poetic Techniques for Free Verse

I haven't written about poetry much here, although I love to write it.  I love form and structure and finding the perfect word for the sound and rhythm I am looking for.  I write a lot of sonnets.

Poetry is a difficult genre to define, especially when speaking about works of free verse or vers libre. Free verse is a popular modern poetic form, especially for novice poets. The freedom of structure allows the writer to do as they like with their ideas. Though free verse poetry does not follow a strict rhyme scheme or meter like other poetic forms, there are still recognizable techniques that identify it as poetry.


Not all free verse is completely without meter. Cadenced free verse, for instance, was a form used frequently by Walt Whitman. In cadenced verse, there are rhythmic patterns but they are less structured than other poetic forms. If you are familiar with the different metrical feet, you may want to experiment with ordering them in new ways throughout your poem to give it a musical feel.


Rhyming may be used within the course of a free verse poem; however it is not used in as formal a manner as might be found in a sonnet. Internal rhymes that fall in the middle of a line may be a good choice. Or, more sporadic and random rhyme patterns can be used to accentuate certain words. This poetic technique does not have to be completely dismissed for a poem to be considered free verse.


Though there is no set way to break up lines and stanzas, many free verse writers still find ways to make the separations meaningful. Experiment with stanza breaks in your work to find the places where they make sense or strengthen your point. Written poetry is a visual experience for the reader, so you may want to consider the shape of the poem as a part of the form.


Free verse poets often take advantage of other literary devices in place of a rhyme scheme. Alliteration is one of the easiest techniques to identify, and a popular one to write. It is an easy technique to learn so it is accessible to all writers. Alliteration uses the repetition of the beginning sound in two or more words in a row. This string of like sounds will pull attention to the phrase and give it more impact.

Assonance and Consonance

A different kind of "rhyme" can be created by using assonance within your poem. Assonance is a poetic technique in which vowel sounds are repeated. A similar technique, consonance, repeats the sound of consonants during the course of the poem. These techniques do not make a hard rhyming sound, but give the free verse poem a sense of structure.


Free verse poetry often takes advantage of metaphor, simile, and imagery. The poem should be vivid so that it does not read like a piece of prose that was broken up into lines. The language you choose should help the reader feel the emotions you are trying to convey. Use imagery that provides them with a sensory experience for the strongest effect.

If you enjoy writing free verse poetry, spend time reading other writers who utilized the format. Walt Whitman was one of the first English-speaking poets to write in free verse, and is an excellent place to begin. Emily Dickinson also has many free verse works in her collection. When you are reading the poems, stop to consider what defines them as poetry. What literary and poetic techniques do the authors employ in place of rhyme or meter?

Learning to write free verse poetry takes as much effort as the more formal poetic structures. In fact, because of the lack of a defined form, free verse can be more difficult to write. Try incorporating some of these poetic techniques into your next poem. They may help you express your ideas and emotions while still retaining a poetic feeling.

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