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Free Poetry (1 Viewer)

Pamelyn Casto

WF Veterans
Good question to occasionally ponder, Serendipity. Seems to me, maybe (or most likely) there aren't any hard-and-fast rules for free verse poetry. But at the same time there *seems* to be at least *personal* rules at work when we write poetry in order for us to view or name our work as a poem or free verse poem. If there are any "rules" in free verse (or any type of poetry), I suspect they exist to be used and/ or broken, changed, or stretched over and over again.

Some say a poem is to sound much better than we might actually say something in real life. So there's sometimes (or most likely) a deliberate choice of words used, perhaps some carefully planned assonance, consonance, alliteration, internal rhyme-- without there being external rhyme or without an official rule we could site.

Some claim a free verse poetry line is to be the length of the poet's breath but reading any selection of such poems will show that's not always the case either.

I think it was Frost who said something like writing free verse poetry is like playing tennis with the net gone. I'd say, yes, the net's gone, but the unstated or implicit rules also suggest a presence in that what we might recognize or classify or name as poetry. The net's gone but the spirit of the type of game is still there quietly shaping (or "ruling") things.

This is also related to your question. I recently did a personal study of sonnets. I looked closely at similarities and differences between the various kinds (all sorts of interesting differences). Then I found sonnets I would not have thought to classify as sonnets. Some rhymed, some didn't. Some added a line or two to the form. One "sonnet" I found was in a lengthy paragraph form and while I would classify it as prose poetry, it didn't seem like a sonnet to me at all. But it's a piece by a renowned poet (can't think of his name at the moment) and he would have been careful with what he was doing by using the word "sonnet" in his title. We live and we learn. Or unlearn.

I once believed there were hard-and-fast rules for haiku. And at one time there *were* several expected rules for English haiku. They don't always hold now. For instance, some claim an English haiku can be as short as eleven syllables (not seventeen-- that number's often believed to be too many now).

So I guess formal verse or free verse poetry types seem to create or break their own rules as the poets write along and make new discoveries about language and ways to use it. The journey you've undertaken can be such an interesting adventure. It sure has been for me. And I still have more than plenty I'd like to learn. Best of luck with it!


WF Veterans
"The Code is more like guidelines...' - Pirates of the Caribbean

Like a Heinz 57 dog, there are no must dos. Put in the time and effort, you get a good dog...er...poem. The only major don't is, don't label a poem a certain type unless it has the majority of characteristics of its breed. e.g. We had a guy call a collection of unrhymed couplets, a limerick. The form was not even in the same ball park. Stuff like that will draw fire from people who actually read and write the established forms.

Unlike terms like free range and cage free on food packaging that mean very little in reality, if you are dealing with a specific form or hybrids thereof, the technical aspects matter. One of my favourite forms Villanelle for example, I variegate a little bit, strict with the rhyme scheme, but without exact repeats on my refrain lines. Terza Rima, I don't use iambic, because frankly, I cannot write in iambic to save my soul. Terzanelle is a fusion of villanelle and treza rima, and is another form I like. The work is not an AKC Best of Breed, but it is recognizable as the breed.

Any hard and fast rule in any creative field is going to be broken. Don't give any thing a label, keep things (rhyme scheme, punctuation, capitalization, etc..) consistent, and you'll be fine.

- D.

TL Murphy

Met3 Member
Staff member
Chief Mentor
As far as I know, the only rule in Free-Verse, or Free-Form Poetry is that it is not any other form. The form is original, found or invented in the process of writing the poem. The form of the poem marries the content, they are interdependent. Both form and content are part of the poet's voice and the poet's intention.

Don't mistake "Free-Form" with "formless". It is not formless. There has to be a structure to hang the images on. Even the language is a form, with rules. So we can't escape form. But we can make up our own rules within that structure. And then we can do whatever we want, because they are our rules. Creating the form is part of creating the poem.

Robert Creeley said "form is content and content is form". I'd say that is the essence of Free Verse Poetry. Not a rule, but a guide.

Having said all that, forms are great to experiment with. They help you liberate your ideas by laying out a structure to follow. The form guides you,so you end up doing things and discovering things that might not happen in Free-Verse. The challenges are different.


Met3 Member
Staff member
Chief Mentor
I like Darkkin's comment that if you're going to work/play with a traditionally identifiable form, like a sonnet, fine, colour outside some of the lines, use a 12- or 16-line format, or end the last three lines as a rhyming triple. Or bury rhymes and slant rhymes in the middle of lines, rather than the end. But keep basic form, tone, flow, and parameters of expectation broadly within the idea/tradition, don't grandly announce that "YOUR idea" of the sonnet is 5 lines of trimeter verse--that's just arrogant bullshit. That's Humpty Dumpty, after saying the word "glory" means "a nice knock-down argument," declaring further, "when I use a word it means exactly what I want it to mean." Free verse for me and most poets i follow means freeER to explore, experiment, and let a poem find its form in the process of Becoming. So free verse poets reinvent form with every poem BUT rhythm, musicality, image, metaphor, figurative language, and more are all there for the poet to put her/his unique stamp on the piece


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One rule: Creely said form is never more than an extension of content; later at a book signing someone asked him to write his quote on the cover page. He wrote the reverse — content is never more than the extension form. Confronted, he said it was the same thing – one is the other.

Basically he was implying the poem has to fit the form and form has to fit the poem. Still it's the same thing. It sounds simple at first. Think about it awhile. Everyone has read at least one bad poem in their lifetime. Bad; why? A speedo is not a full dress Tuxedo, and vis-vers —

Lu Chi in 303 A.D. warns about "Purple Patches" in his famous Wen Fu, an essay prose-poem on the craft of poetry, It hasn't changed much today. The obvious is still the obvious.


Perhaps one ear of the stalk has opened, its tip prominent, solitary, and unsurpassingly exquisite.
But shadows cannot be caught; echoes are hard to hold.
Standing forlorn, your purple passage juts out; it can't be woven into ordinary music.
Your mind, out of step, finds no mate for it; your spirit, desperately wandering, will not surrender it.
When the rock embeds jade, the mountain glows; when the stream is impregnated with pearls, the river becomes alluring.
When the arrow-thorn bush is spared from the sickle, it will glory in its foliage.
Let's weave the market ditty into the classical melody; perhaps we may hold on to what we find beautiful.

Quote from the Wen Fu by Lu Chi

Sounds like he's talking about the perfect fit between form and content. Then he lists 5 criteria: 1. music, 2. harmony, 3. sadness, 4. Decorum, & 5. richness/ If you want more about these 5 things. I'm sure you can find a translation of Lu Chi's "Wen Fu" on the internet. Look for the one by Achilles Fang. This is what I've been quoting. Oh by the way. Chinese in a mono-sylablic language. There poetic rhythms are formed by grouping words together to create rhythms and antithesis.



Met3 Member
Staff member
Chief Mentor
I'm familiar with Creeley's book-signing moment, where--as Ron says--he wrote "content is never more than the extension [of] form." Confronted, he said it was the same thing – one is the other. Well, it seems to me Creeley is confused about his own pronouncement. There are two 'stages' to which the pronouncement is applied: the creative process itself, and the finished poem. I can see, in exegesis of the finished poem, the critic might well say, because the poem is the fusion of form and content, that the terms are interchangeable. The poem, however, at any given stage in its evolution, is static at that stage, and the critic has the poem as an entity to argue, say, that this long line superbly reflects the protracted agony of the dying persona, and this series of monostitches captures his stuttering fear. YES! the fusion of form with content, content with form . . .is manifest. Its concreteness , put in the simplest terms, makes it available. But the pronouncement also applies to the creative process. It is that weld of 'rightness' that the poet knows to be there, when the vague, exciting idea/insight/vision/intense feeling flows from within his/her self into Words In Form on paper: " . . .and, as the imagination bodies forth/the forms of thing unknown/the poet's pen turns them to shapes/and gives to airy nothing/a local habitation, and a name." I cannot see how that process could be reversed, that is, that a FORM presents itself to the poet as primary, and then "extends" itself into CONTENT.

It is said that somewhere in his writings, Aristotle stated that men had more teeth than women. It took about 2000 years for someone to open some mouths and COUNT. Creeley doesn't get the right to be believed arbitrarily, just because he made the original statement. I think he's wrong: Form is never more than an extension of Content, makes sense. Content is never more than an extension of Form, does not.


Met3 Group Leader
Staff member
Senior Mentor
When we speak of a poems structure we make and arbitrary concept about there being these 2 identities — form & content. It is difficult to prove that either exists separately when form and content are one unified field called a poem. Just where does one end and the other begin and still maintain a unified field as a presentation? The artistic makes no such distinctions between such parts as form and content. It's a poem. Not content that has form or form that has content.

Archy actually said the same thing in different words.

A poem should be equal to:
Not true.

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea—

A poem should not mean
But be.

Neruda says it this way.

but the hard truth is if you want it so,
this wind that whacks at my breast,
the unbounded expanse of night collapsing in my bedroom,
the morning's rumours afire with sacrifice
now beg of me this prophecy l have, with mournfulness
and a lurch of objects calling without answers,
with a truceless movement, a name l can't make out.


Marianne Moore puts it another way.

for inspection, "imaginary gardens with real toads in them," shall we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness and
that which is on the other hand
genuine, you are interested in poetry.


And the master Tagore says it like this:

Today I see her figure
standing still,
amidst the fence of light and shade.
It looks as if she wants to say something
but no — it does not happen.
I feel I want to turn back to stand by her side
—there is no way.


Rilke speaks about the field as erasing memories.

The memories themselves are not important. Only when they have changed into our very blood, into glance and gesture, and are nameless, no longer to be distinguished from ourselves—only then can it happen that in some very rare hour the first word of a poem arises in their midst and goes forth from them.

The poem maintains its unified field. Not its parts.

a poet friend
RH Peat
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Met3 Member
Staff member
Chief Mentor
All good references, all at the core of this conversation. And of course the finished poem is a "unified field". It is so very difficult to grasp the idea intellectually, in linear prose. Which is what we are using here, necessarily. I can grasp the idea of form being an extension of content, intellectually, as I sit here typing. That flow makes sense. Discourse is possible. I simply have difficulty reversing the key terms when attempting to talk about free verse