Free Verse

Let us free verse from “free verse” while we can;
A pile of branches does not make a tree,
And fruit squashed on a plate does not make jam.
While words strung down a page can never be,
As eloquent as structured poetry.

Let us free verse from “free verse” while we may;
A canvas splashed with paint does not make art,
Fine pottery is more than unturned clay,
While breaking eggs alone does not bake tarts,
So, let’s write verse that’s organized and smart.

Let us free verse from “free verse” while we might,
Though “free verse” may win many a critics’ prize
We find the meaning empty or just slight,
Disjointed words mean nothing to our eyes,
Such poetry’s just prose in false disguise.



Originally from England, Clive Boddy is a Yorkshireman currently living in Perth, Western Australia. He is a semi-retired academic and has held professorships in Leadership and Management. His numerous publications include two books on the effects of corporate psychopaths on employees, organizations and society; and a single book of poems called Poems of Love and Location. 

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14 Responses

  1. Julian D. Woodruff

    On the whole I agree, Mr. Boddy, although saying “free verse” is prose in (false) disguise is giving it more credit than it sometimes deserves.

  2. Cynthia Erlandson

    I really like this! It’s so… comprehensible (as opposed to some “free” verse). Organizing the verses in the way you did, using “can”, “may”, and “might” to end each verse’s first line, was very clever — and echoed in my mind “Gather ye rosebuds while you may”. I love all of your examples of bits and pieces of things, or messy and unfinished products, not coming together to make beauty or wholeness. They are both crystal-clear images, and extremely convincing metaphors.

  3. Michael Pietrack

    A paragraph
    Chopped to bits
    And stacked vertically
    Does not a poem

  4. Paul Freeman

    Good free verse is usually heavy on metaphor, imagery, alliteration, rhythm, and occasionally internal rhyme. It’s not randomly stacked branches at all.

    Look at Ted Hughes’s ‘Wind’, ‘Pike’, ‘Thistles’ or ‘Harvest Moon’ – if you dare!

    Unfortunately, free verse is usually pretty poor because most folk don’t know the rules, such as they are, and end up with those randomly stacked branches.

  5. Joshua C. Frank

    Good one! Though I have to say, while I normally agree with you on free verse, my mother has written some beautiful free verse, using all tools of poetry except rhyme and meter. The problem is that the modern world has lost its standards in nearly everything, and so duct tape on canvas, a crucifix in a jar of urine, and incoherent crayon scribbles (I am not making any of these up!) are called art, and actual art is called stifling, derivative, and pompous.

  6. Mike Bryant

    I like this poem a lot. It reminds me of another poem at this link:

    This is the origin of free verse…
    “I have a new method of poetry. All you got to do is look over your notebooks… or lay down on a couch, and think of anything that comes into your head, especially the miseries… then arrange in lines of two, three, or four words each, don’t bother with the sentences, in sections of two, three, or four lines each.” –Allen Ginsberg, Letter to Jack Kerouac (1952)

    That ridiculous idea has spawned all manner of crap. And also plenty of poetry that identifies that crap, like yours does, Mr. Boddy.

    Joe Salemi took that quote as inspiration for this poem:

    Grab your notebook, flop down on a couch —
    Think of stuff that makes your soul cry “Ouch!”
    Burble out a few words (skip the grammar),
    Arrange the fragments in aphasic stammer.

    Real poetry is making a comeback.

  7. David Whippman

    A skilfully written, enjoyable poem. I too tend to prefer structured verse, but with the reservation that some free verse can be effective. But what you say undoubtedly applies to a lot of the stuff out there.

  8. Alex W

    While I like free verse, I still appreciate the skill required in rhymes works. Your metering of “eloquent” and “poetry” is particularly skillful.

  9. Gary

    So true. I completely agree with your sentiments. Love the way you skilfully and ably illustrated the concept and gave us an example of well written poetry. Good work, Clive.

  10. Gary

    I think there is nothing wrong in free verse poetry in itself. There have been a good few poets who have written some very good free verse poems.

    I think the main problem began when editors started to lower the bar on what was ‘good’ and started to gush over drivel. This of course snowballed. Also editors started to have a rigid mindset regarding what they would print. Free verse, itself had to be written in a certain way with certain content or it wouldn’t be considered, resulting in the effect of nearly every free verse poem written in the last sixty years sounding like it was written by the same person.

    I much prefer traditional formal poetry but think free verse is a valid poetry concept. The main problem has been the poor standard and the strangling of creativity and discouragement of poets finding there own voice.

  11. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Clive, your ‘Free Verse’ poem (clever title) has it all – rhyme, rhythm, great poetic devices, and a message that speaks clearly and passionately. My firm favourite is formal poetry. Having said that, I have read some beautiful free verse. I only wish we lived in a world that wasn’t governed by those who dictate tastes and shut down anything that doesn’t align with the “current thing”, and by the “current thing”, I mean anything and everything the arbiters of art tell us to like. I think poetry should speak for itself and it’s speaking loudly and clearly on this site, which is why I love it! Thank you for your wonderful contribution.

  12. S.A.Todd

    Good stuff Clive! Though I echo the sentiments of many already by saying that free verse can, if done well, actually be very worthwhile and impactful.

    To me, ability and intent come into it. I like to think of it in terms of music – it is one thing to be a person who can *only* play three chords on a guitar, and quite another to be someone who can *also* play a beautifully complex, finger-picked passage but who occasionally *chooses* to play three chord songs.

    The more broadly skilled player will always have that come through in their music, and I’ll bet that even their three basic chords will somehow sound better than the other guy.

    As with music, so with poetry. I think we can all tell when someone is only capable of doing the equivalent of a word-sneeze and hyping it up as as pure art, versus those who can quite happily produce in the classical style but sometimes choose to play around and experiment with imagery in a less formal way. – Steve


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