My mother was a published poet for children, and her poetry was essentially Rhyme and Meter. When I rattled off original lines from the top of my head, she decided to teach me the right way to do it. I was five.
Her preferred style was perfect rhyme, scansion without flaw, so that’s what she taught me. With the rare exception of school assignments to do otherwise, I wrote only Rhyme and Meter. Perfect rhyme that always scanned. Always. And my published poems have all been that type of poem.
In more recent years, I’ve met poets who prefer their meter imperfect, so it doesn’t sound “sing-song.” I can’t write it that way. Mom wouldn’t approve. A missed beat grates on my ears. The sing-song part comes from the way it is read, not necessarily the way it is written.
Less than a dozen years ago, I tried my first free verse poem that wasn’t assigned. People had told me for years that my prose tends to be poetic anyway, so I decided to dip my toe in that stream. My subject matter was a serious one, the death of a baby. Without the rules of rhyme and meter, I self-imposed other rules. I used the same words in different ways. I wrote two verses in two opposite moods. Free verse, I was taught, shouldn’t be totally free.
After that, I went back to the prose I love and the form of poetry that had been comfortable all my life. But a person needs a challenge now and again.
At our Rich Wallace reunion in 2011, Gina Gort (retired Swagger) encouraged each of us to write an individual and personal version of George Ella Lyon’s poem WHERE I’M FROM. George Ella’s poem is free verse, so I waded in once again. (If you want to see the result, click here.)
Gina Gort’s poetry continues to inspire me. Another retired Swagger, Juliet Bond, gave free verse a try as well, and just blew me away with a few of her pieces.
While I like well-written free verse, I confess I am not a huge fan of the Novel-in-Verse. When Karen Hesse wrote OUT OF THE DUST more than 15 years ago, she set a very high bar, and too many authors have attempted poor imitations which read more like prose chopped into short lines than true free verse. I stayed away from them in my reading choices and vowed never to write one.
But writer friends have written them, and some very well. I recently decided to give them another chance. I immersed myself, reading several in a row, finding a few good ones (ETCHED IN CLAY by Andrea Cheng, MAKE LEMONADE by Virginia Euwer Wolff, and INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN by Thanhha Lai, to name a few).
As I took my daily walk one afternoon, thinking over an incident from the night before, I found the incident falling into my mind in short snippets of verse. Free verse! I came back to my computer and wrote. Characters emerged to act out the incident, and a story grew around them. I never saw it coming. I was writing a Novel-in-Verse. Whether it will be good or not remains to be seen, but I never shy away from what the Muse sends me. This time she sent me something that went against the grain. She gave me a challenge. OK, Muse, challenge accepted.