Poetry Discussions, Part 4: Free Form

Note from Erin:  Next book club meeting is Sept. 3rd, so check out THE LAST SUMMER OF THE DEATH WARRIORS by Francisco X. Stork. Pat, thank you again for leading these poetry discussions! And Happy Birthday!!  P.S. All formatting mistakes are mine.

Welcome to the fourth in our series on poetry.  This will be our final week at looking at famous poems before we try and write poetry of our own.  The last type of poem that we’re reading is the free form.  Almost all modern published poetry (within poetry circles – don’t count Halmark Cards) is written in free form.

The one thing to remember about free form is that anything goes, except for one thing.  There cannot be a pattern to the poem.  Rhyming is discouraged also, but not forbidden.  Free form is also the most difficult poetry to write, and still have it sound like poetry.

I hope you enjoy these three selections.  Try to identify the tropes of poetry within each poem, if there are any.  Harlem, by Langston Hughes, could be considered a lyric poem, but there really is no pattern there, so I included it in this week’s blog.

When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer by Walt Whitman

When I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in
the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

Harlem by Langston Hughes
[Dream Deferred]

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore –
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

in just- by E. E. Cummings

in Just-
spring       when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame baloonman

whistles       far       and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old baloonman whistles
far       and         wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and




baloonMan       whistles


7 thoughts on “Poetry Discussions, Part 4: Free Form

  1. “Still have it sound like poetry.” Okay, I’m very curious about this. When I was a kid, I was taught that most poems rhymed, and that was about the extent of my knowledge. If a poem does not have a pattern or rhyming, what makes it “sound” like poetry? Does it have to do with the beat or the lyrics or the formatting? Or something else entirely, based on verse or poetic meter?

    To me, Whitman’s poem barely sounds like poetry. It could almost pass as lyrical prose, if it wasn’t a huge run-on sentence in poem format. I really like the message though. Moral of the poem: science is such a buzz-killer. LOL. Sometimes when we know how things work, or discuss them too much, we lose the magic.

    Harlem . . . wonderfully gross imagery in this one. So if we put off our dreams, we’re likely to explode? Nice.

    In Just: I don’t understand much of this poem, but I love it. I love the formatting (which I butchered), and I love phrases like “far and wee” and “puddle-wonderful” and “eddieandbill” (which makes me think they’re inseparable; same with “bettyanddisbel”). This poem makes me want to hop and jump and whistle in springtime.

  2. You’re definitely right: Anything goes. I enjoyed these poems, as almost any poems feed the festering desire for strings of unforgettable words, but I doubt I’ll be able to write a free form until I’ve read more. Sounds ironic – free form is the hardest to write…

    Whitman’s poem, hmm. I agree with Aunt Erin that it is pretty… different (?) compared to the poetry I’ve read, but I like it. It was only when I reached the last two lines that I was hit really hard (big surprise). They give me the chills – I love the silence of stars. It’s as if they’re listening… I have a love-hate relationship with words – I love that moments can be captured. I hate that moments can never be captured thoroughly. Sometimes I fear that my memory will alter so greatly that it’s not even related to the original. Words help diminish that a bit, though.

    Harlem took on two meanings for me. Once I read Aunt Erin’s comments, I realized that he could be talking about two “dreams.” #1: If we don’t reach outside ourselves and strive for our dreams, anything could happen to us. We could end up somewhere we never wished to be. We could be miserable in the lingering desire and “explode.” #2: My original thought was about HAVING a dream, the soft night all around. Dreams shy away from the light of the morning. If the dream sticks, it festers in our minds. If we don’t remember the dream while we can, it can say for a while and go, or “explode.” I love how mysterious the answer to the question is: there isn’t one.

    in just. Well, it is e.e. cummings, whom I both love and dislike. He can be so beautifully confusing that you don’t care about the meaning, or it can be so irrationally confusing that you give up and never read his work again. This poem, though, seems somewhere in the middle. Sure, the balloonman and the kids that seem to be strung together are enigmas, but we still relate. I love how carefree it makes the budding of life in spring seem – kids playing together, dancing, the balloonman whistling “far and wee.” Life as we know it, or how we wish we knew it, depending on the POV.

    • Great comments, Vicki–not rambling at all! Love hearing your thoughts! 😀 I especially agree with the silence of the stars, the love-hate relationship with words, and the two types of dreams. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Vicki, love the rambling. Keep it up. And wonderful comments btw.
    Erin, you hit the nail on the head in your own answer to your question about how difficult it is to have free verse still ‘sound’ like poetry. Since it almost always doesn’t rhyme, it takes a lot more skill to get the poetic language, filled with imagery, across. BTW, I like your comments as well.

    I put in Whitman’s poem just for you, Vicki. I know how much you love the stars.

    Harlem just strikes me as brilliant in its message, and the flow of the poem. Hughes is an absolute genius.

    In Just, is a perfect example of why I dislike e e cummings. I actually don’t dislike him, but so many modern poets try to copy him, and fall far short, that I’m getting sick of it. They also try to imitate Whitman, but not to the same extent. In Just can be taken in different ways. First, just as you two did, a sort of happy go-lucky feeling of spring. Another is that it is an analogy for the joy found in love-making, which may or may not ruin the poem for you.

    • I answered my own question? Then why am I still confused? LOL.

      It’s not Cummings’ fault that poets try to copy him! 😀 Totally not seeing the analogy for love-making . . . and not sure I WANT to. I’d rather remain innocent, ha ha!

      • Yeah, I don’t really see it either. Just what some critics have written.
        As to why you are still confused – I’ve been asking your hubby that for a long time, but he just shrugs his shoulders. 😉

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