Mary Oliver on Free Verse

Now that the writing contest is over and Fall is upon us (or we’re smack in the middle of it, whichever makes more sense), I am hitting the computer for work on my poetry manuscript and my memoir and won’t be spending as much time blogging.

Since I’ve been working with my poetry manuscript, I’ve been thinking a lot about poetry, and I like what Mary Oliver says about “free verse” in A Poetry Handbook:

Free verse is not, of course, free. It is free from formal metrical design, but it certainly isn’t free from some kind of design. Is poetry language that is spontaneous, impulsive? Yes, it is. Is it also language that is composed, considered, appropriate, and effective, though you read the poem a hundred times? Yes, it is. And this is as true of free verse as it is of metrical verse.

Merely hacking sentences into short lines because they look pretty and allow the reader to consider the words more carefully isn’t creating “composed, considered” free verse.

Deciding how to break up lines in poetry is the most difficult part.

For all of us buckling down to writing this fall:

Get to work and have fun!!


Filed under Blogging, Nonfiction, Poetry, Writing

18 responses to “Mary Oliver on Free Verse

  1. Best of luck and fun with your writing!

  2. I hope it’s a productive fall for you, Luanne! I love this time of year – but I do get a bit homesick for Michigan’s colorful maple and oak trees.

    • Luanne

      Shel, I’m dreaming of maples. I was just in northern California and it was about a week too early for most of the maples, but they were beginning to turn red. I almost cried. Thanks for your kind wishes.

  3. Luanne, I wish you a lovely autumn with productive and enjoyable writing hours.

  4. There’s something so invigorating about autumn. Good luck with your poetry manuscript and memoir, Luanne!

  5. Hope you have a very productive writing time, Luanne. And thanks for posting the quote about free verse from Mary Oliver 🙂

  6. Pingback: Poetry That Transends All Poetry | findingdoubt

  7. Dear Luanne,
    First off, good luck with your writing goals for this autumn. Your ability to maintain such focus is a true inspiration to me.
    Secondly, I hope that despite posting less frequently here you will find time to share more insight into the “workings” of poetry. I have never had the privilege to study poetry construction formally, but love the genre. I think that what you speak of here, the manner in which lines of poetry are constructed and divided, is incredibly interesting, but also baffling! It was the poetry of W.S. Merwin that really drove home the way that affects the way the poetry is interpreted. I look forward to your future posts on the subject.

    • Luanne

      Dawn, we will see how good I do at sticking to my goals! That’s a fun idea. I will try to share some thoughts here about poetry this fall. Thanks so much for sharing your idea. I hope you are doing well and working at your writing as well :).

  8. Luanne, your commitment to the craft is inspiring! I was just attempting to write some poetry and moved onto prose for today because those line breaks just weren’t happening for me. Some day, I really want to understand that more and work in and through the craft of poetry writing. All the best to you in your writing adventures!

  9. Luanne, enjoy the autumn, and enjoy your writing…. two beautiful things!!!

  10. “Merely hacking sentences into short lines because they look pretty and allow the reader to consider the words more carefully isn’t creating “composed, considered” free verse.”

    In a recent interview I did with Richard Wilbur, he referred to this as “shredded prose.” I like his definition. I keep that in mind when writing.

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