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An Ode To Free Verse

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LaszloWalrus
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This is a poem I wrote called "An Ode to Free Verse"

I wrote it in eleventh grade because I was highly annoyed at having to study nonsense "poetry" like that of TS Eliot or Stephen Crane.

All quotations in the poem are lines from the "poet" referenced in the stanza.

Maybe I was a little too mean to Sylvia Plath.

Here it is:

“And because it is my heart”

The line does poetry feign

Saying nothing but called “art”

From a “poem” by Stephen Crane

Or Ezra Pound, quite profound

“Dawn enters with little feet”

Only inarticulate sound

From a posturing esthete

“Lessoned thus the girl”

Sylvia Plath thus tried

A literary pearl

As good as suicide

Where are Shakespeare, Swinburne, Frost?

All have been destroyed

All poetry thus has been lost

In the free verse void

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What is wrong with free verse?

I think that Eliot and Pound are bad* (as is most 20th century poetry), but this has more to do with the horrors of modernism than free verse. The 'art for arts sake' mentality led to terrible work in pretty much all fields it touched - including poetry, music, and painting. The real problem with Eliot and Pound was their bankrupt idea that poetry should be 'difficult' purely for the sake of being difficult, and the number of pointless allusions they made in their work that turned deciphering it into something like reading a detective novel. But despite the bad stuff produced by those 2 (and those that followed), theres still no obvious reason why poetry should have to rhyme or obey predetermined 'rules' - theres some free-verse stuff that I enjoy (perhaps moreso than traditional verse) and as long as the poem is actually good, the fact that it lacks rhyme/meter isnt especially important.

* Although having said that, I quite enjoy Eliot's "Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock", which was written before he met Pound.

Edited by Hal
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What is wrong with free verse?

As poetry goes it sucks

But that is just my narrow perspective

These days the line

between poetry and essay is almost

totally nonexistent

I think it is funny

that writing a bunch of short lines

and throwing in a blank line

makes stuff poetic

even if it has no rhythmic structure

So the essence of poetry is

the vague content I think

Although I do think there is a rule of poetry still enforced about too long lines

which use up too much ink

And I apologize for rhyming

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Well yeah, bad poetry sucks. But that's got nothing to do with free verse - theres plenty of crappy traditional poetry too. Ultimately the thing that makes a poem good is going to the message/image/feeling it conveys and the way it conveys it - its not essential that it has a cute rhyme scheme or satisfies some formal structure. Limericks rhyme and are highly structured but I hope youre not going to suggest that "There was an old lady from Kent" is high art, just like I'm not going to claim that this has any artistic merit.

Edited by Hal
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Ultimately the thing that makes a poem good is going to the message/image/feeling it conveys and the way it conveys it - its not essential that it has a cute rhyme scheme or satisfies some formal structure.
I don't agree, but I'm not claiming that a formal structure is a sufficient condition, just a necessary one. I suspect that a cute rhyme scheme would be a negative for poetry (and rhyme isn't a necessary component, since there are other formal properties that can define a poetic genre, such as alliteration and metrical structure).
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So, basically what you're saying, Hal, is that unlike every other form of art, poetry is JUST content, NOT structure?

I disagree with classicists that believe a poem must contain thus-many lines, be in iambic pentameter, and have thus-and-such a rhyme scheme, but I think that a poem should have SOME kind of structure so that it's recognizable as poetry. This means it should have, at the very least, some kind of meter. I think rhymes are optional: epic poems like the Iliad and Beowulf don't rhyme, they use aliteration.

IIRC the original purpose of structure in poetry was to make it easy to remember so it can be recited. Unlike prose, where rythym is probably your last consideration, in poetry it's actually more important than clarity.

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Is it possible to have "visual" poems that are meant to be read and the structure makes it interesting to look at? Recited poetry is kind of a bridge between prose and music, would theoretical visual poems be a bridge between prose and painting?

Is this why poetry is so hard to define?

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Lol, call me a free-verse-loving hippy if you must, but this is pure genius. :P (That last stanza, especially, really made me laugh out loud!)

As poetry goes it sucks

But that is just my narrow perspective

These days the line

between poetry and essay is almost

totally nonexistent

I think it is funny

that writing a bunch of short lines

and throwing in a blank line

makes stuff poetic

even if it has no rhythmic structure

So the essence of poetry is

the vague content I think

Although I do think there is a rule of poetry still enforced about too long lines

which use up too much ink

And I apologize for rhyming

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I lived in Pittsburgh for about four months a few years ago, and there are some places there where there are always "artists" hanging out (and I knew about them because my friend was going to art school there). Once I struck up a conversation with an "artist," and I told him about an idea I'd been thinking of to write a story or poem, in such an elaborate style of calligraphy that you don't even realize it's written words until you look at the picture carefully. It just looks like a regular painting, and when you realize what it is and read it, the illustration matches the story.

Then the "artist" took off with my idea, and started talking about how he would make it about an angry man, and that he would have a bloody knife or something in his hand, and the story would be about how he'd just killed his parents, with all the gory details... And then I decided not to talk to "artists" about art anymore while I was in Pittsburgh.

Is it possible to have "visual" poems that are meant to be read and the structure makes it interesting to look at? Recited poetry is kind of a bridge between prose and music, would theoretical visual poems be a bridge between prose and painting?

Is this why poetry is so hard to define?

Edited by Bold Standard
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I don't see what the fuss is all about.

Most poems have some sort of structure: aliteration, rhyme, hexameter, whatever.

Yet, there are some poems which don't. They are called free verse poems. You may not like them. But they're still poems. They're just free verse poems. You can say that you don't like free verse poems but I doubt that they are not poems. I think that poems exist to express feelings with words. There are other ways to do that, but poems are one of them. A poet is good or bad based on how well it conveys a feeling. If it does that job, it's a good poem. If it doesn't, it's not. Even if it has all the structure possible.

And -now that I think of it- isn't adding a line break every now and then some sort of structure? Besides, usually free verse poetry uses this line break feature to put some order into the poem.

Roses are red

violets are blue

you think this should rhyme

but it ain't gonna!

It doesn't even have rhythm.

But at least rhyme and rhythm

look remotely alike.

Also note how you pause

in your head

like you did

when you read

the last clause.

Isn't that enough?

:P

Edit:

I know

I know

that poem was bad,

But I

just wrote it

off the top of my head,

I know instead of "clause"

I should have written "line"

But you say it's not a poem

if it doesn't rhyme.

It's just a few lines

you don't have to recall

so regarding rhyme and structure:

why do you need it at all?

Hey, this is fun. Last time I did this I was a kid.

And now the question:

Was that line part of the poem or wasn't it?

Edited by Felix
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A poet is good or bad based on how well it conveys a feeling. If it does that job, it's a good poem. If it doesn't, it's not.

So, are ya gonna admit that that's a perfectly subjective, ethereal "definition," or will you argue that a poem's ablility to convey a particular emotion is innate, in the choice of words, somehow?

By shifting the locus of responsibility from the artist onto the audience-- if they don't think it's poetry it's because they don't "get it." And, conversly, no matter how ingenius or thoughtfull the poet's offering is-- if the audience is indifferent, ultimately he hasn't produced a work of "poetry," in your definition. If this is how poetry has been defined, it's no wonder there are no more popular poets outside of the "Gangsta Rap School."

And one could, if interested, compile quite a list of words that convey strong emotions that would never be considered "poetry" under normal circumstances. In fact-- any words could convey strong emotion, if you were willing to contemplate them. Even the emotion were "indifference." So what you're left with is the situation that something is "poetry" if and only if you want it to be-- with the minor stipulation that it must contain words.

Hmm. But why?

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I think that poetry is simply language given a highly stylized structure. The more elements of stylization, the more difficult the poetry is to write, much like it's more difficult to paint a realistic human figure than to smear some blobs on a sheet. Frankly I have a great deal more respect for poets that go to the effort of working their thoughts into a sonnet than for those that think a few extra line breaks and lack of capital letters make them a genius.

The choice of structure (and how well the poet executes it) is the artist's means of conveying their idea with poetry, and thus largely your basis for judging the skill of said poet. Art is always judged as a synergy of means and content: no art can be judged objectively solely on the basis of content.

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I said that the value of a poem (not poet, it was late, sorry), should be judged based on how it describes a feeling. Feelings are by nature personal, which does indeed make it hard to define. It could be that one would have to learn some background to "get it". But I guess that one can judge here, if one knows the feeling the poet tries to convey.

I think that poetry is at the other side of the spectrum of language than mathematics where mathematics is totally precise and structured and emotionless, poetry just has another motive. Its purpose is different. I agree that it is on average harder to write a highly structured poem than to write it free verse. The question is if it fulfills the purpose of the poem better than if one had just left out the formal restrictions. As far as I see it, language exists for communication, that is, to get information from person A to person B. Poetry is a way to express feelings with words mostly by use of metaphor and other hypnotic language. I just think to convey feelings this is a very appropriate means.

If the poet manages to get his point across wonderfully and stick to some sort of high formal structure, that can be considered better art, but only because he managed to keep up the content in spite of structure.

I think in poetry content is king. Picking the right metaphors, pictures and words is more important than making it rhyme.

If you make it rhyme on top of that, fine. But it's not an essential characteristic as far as I see it.

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It's not essential to use a rhyme scheme, but some kind of stylized structure is necessary in order for it to be recognizable as a poem. When I've heard free verse recited, this usually amounts to unnatural or exaggerated pauses where they would not normally occur if one is simply speaking.

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I said that the value of a poem (not poet, it was late, sorry), should be judged based on how it describes a feeling. Feelings are by nature personal, which does indeed make it hard to define. It could be that one would have to learn some background to "get it". But I guess that one can judge here, if one knows the feeling the poet tries to convey.

You're right. I should have attacked you for failing to provide a definition-- not for providing a bad one. My appologies. <_<

I think that poetry is at the other side of the spectrum of language than mathematics where mathematics is totally precise and structured and emotionless, poetry just has another motive.
Math is incapable of producing an emotional reaction in a person? Not even curiousity-- at how to solve a problem? Or astonishment-- at how Euclid derived his theorums from his axioms? Not even perplexity-- at what seems to a layman like me to be an unbreachable complexity, in its more complicated applications?

On the contrary, I've never had more than an instant's emotional commitment to any "free verse" that I've ever been exposed to. Except, in some cases, an intoxicating boredom, contempt, or revulsion.

Poetry is a way to express feelings with words mostly by use of metaphor and other hypnotic language.

So a poem must express feelings? It's impossible to compose a poem that is merely a historical record, a story, a myth, a fable, or anything else besides an emotional expression?

Art is always judged as a synergy of means and content: no art can be judged objectively solely on the basis of content.

Always? Never? I'm interested to see if you have any arguments for these assertions.

Edited by Bold Standard
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You're right. I should have attacked you for failing to provide a definition-- not for providing a bad one. My appologies. <_<

You want a definition? Hm. Okay. How about text with line breaks in the middle of sentences? I thought what I meant would be obvious.

Math is incapable of producing an emotional reaction in a person? Not even curiousity-- at how to solve a problem? Or astonishment-- at how Euclid derived his theorums from his axioms? Not even perplexity-- at what seems to a layman like me to be an unbreachable complexity, in its more complicated applications?

That's not an argument. Everything can produce an emotional reaction in a person. That's completely missing the point. I said that the purpose of poetry is to express feelings. Do you think that a polynomial has the purpose of expressing a feeling like "I'm sad because my dog died."?

On the contrary, I've never had more than an instant's emotional commitment to any "free verse" that I've ever been exposed to. Except, in some cases, an intoxicating boredom, contempt, or revulsion.

You don't like free verse. I know. :blink:

So a poem must express feelings? It's impossible to compose a poem that is merely a historical record, a story, a myth, a fable, or anything else besides an emotional expression?

Good point. I guess it could. That's this "structure for memorization"-thing Jenni has mentioned. But I guess since printing was invented, this has become obsolete.

I rather see it the other way around.

Not: All poems express feelings.

But: If you want to express feelings, a poem is the way to go.

You could use the form of a poem for other purposes. You could perhaps even do your bookkeeping with it. You could use a hammer to open a tuna can. But that doesn't mean that its purpose is opening tuna cans.

Jenni was right that historically poems were used as a mnemonic tool. I just think that nowadays this is no longer done with that intention. Especially not free verse, since it doesn't have such mnemonic structural elements.

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You could use the form of a poem for other purposes.

Okay, so form is the essential defining characteristic of a poem, then. It seems to me that this is what "free verse poetry" attempts to obliterate. I really don't have a problem with free verse-- as long as it doesn't pretend to be poetry. If it's not poetry, and it's not prose (which "free verse" sometimes is, but not always) then call it "free verse messages" or "free verse emotional expressions," or something else. All I'm saying is that if it lacks any form that would make it poetry, it should be called something else, or else the concept of "poetry" would be destroyed (as it is being destroyed).

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So, this is my opportunity to post my only free verse poem of any substance. It is certainly philosophical. However, it does not represent my philosophy. Therefore, I don't like it that much. It was an exercise and an amusement. I don't like it also because it doesn't rhyme. And I haven't had time, and I don't know if I can succeed, to give it the appropriate rhyme scheme in order to make it more emotionally powerful.

It was my way of acting in verse. The speaker is surely evil. To write something on this pattern and with the substance of this poem for serious publication, would require the other side of the argument.

Here, I just want some suggestions, if possible, on how to give it an apt rhyme scheme. And did it have strong impact, though it is in free verse, and of an evil theme?

Jose Gainza.

--------------------------------------------

THE ONE: SUPER SYLVESTER

By Jose Gainza

“Knee-chea,” “Knee-chea”?

What mean your words, O, Powerful one?

No, Don’t Speak! No need, Your Eminence.

Your chaotic utterance,

These symbols of a foreign eloquence,

Their noise confuses human ears and bewilders human thought,

Though your kin will find them beautiful one day.

But to this old man, who has earned one thousand years,

Thus who has heard countless lectures and concerts by humans …

They are but noise.

No, don’t look saddened,

I am just stating a fact,

Not indicting your performance with my values.

You must be super in every way, I know.

You must enrich every social process you engage in,

As you enrich mine at this moment.

Good, you smile now.

And so I know you comprehend

My language and my science.

So, walk over me, you New One.

Walk over the bridge made, express, for you to walk on.

Use me as you wish, as nature beckons.

You are destiny’s child,

You are the promised one:

The one of my prophecy of almost one thousand years.

And now I’ve reached the arrow’s end:

I have seen you and know that you exist.

I was the doctor of your birth.

I sprung you from the womb of nature.

I am the last man to command nature

By the solemn use of his intelligence.

(Oh, how beautiful you are …

Will you dance for me—?

How does a super man dance?)

(No, wait! You are not here for me.

Your are here for yourself alone

And your descendants.

I am your prey, your slave, or your pet,

As you see fit.

I am touched, though, by your intended magnanimity.)

Sacrifice!

Walk over me, O, New One;

I am the bridge for you to walk on,

Towards a greater bank,

A bank that fills my heart with joy,

That means the end of my beating heart

(That found its way in you).

My heart, it dreamed that men were not enough …

When I was thirty-five.

It bled disgraced that you were not yet born,

For, there were fools who could not fathom you …

And now they are all dead.

They missed your strength to reach the highest crest,

And lost the promise of your peak euphoric joy.

They lacked your wrath,

Which left them all behind:

The great perfection of your epic dawn.

(This is day one for you, and is my last).

They fouled their brains, forgotten for blind faith;

They cellared minds that found this fertile earth;

That built wings that men used to explore;

And condemned pride, dropped the motive of invention;

Self-sacrifice trumped the ego flame.

There were few times when men did wish for you.

They lived in times of lofty culture—but manly just the same.

Your type—my type—

Were once the painters of a pink and naked flesh.

Since you were destined to exist, they dropped you.

And since: you could never be so real.

And for your blood, you could not be Ideal;

Not universal because you live.

Greek-like you were a deity of earth—

How dare men praise!

(You like my sarcasm? I’m glad).

They thought a god like that is surely flawed.

And thus is god—the only way it can:

When man surpasses man.

But here you are!

And I make way for Superman.

Coz it’s not man that makes it past the threshold into heaven

But Superman;

And here on earth.

They also did not know that man is surely flawed.

Some men must leach on the master’s of their toil.

The masters must respond with justice force.

The former cannot know that they do err.

The latter knows this fact and thus must act.

The foe does slyly take but hopes to wield the knife;

The foe’s naïve of his necessary doomsday.

Then I found you, O, Saviour of this earth,

Who can harness power by Nature’s grace,

The one to fulfill her plan.

You will bury man but will commend him …

On a job well done.

Now take a knife and prick your wrist.

And fill this last goblet of man.

I gave you birth and now you’ll give me rest.

Do not speak for it I can’t endure;

No man deserves to hear the music of your soul;

Not even me, agent of power’s destiny.

I leave no advice, for, you will soon know all.

Though I’m so wise, to you I don’t compare.

My eyes I should gouge out,

For, your beauty makes me quake.

I wish I had no ears,

For, your steps fill me with tears.

And thus you see: how weak a man can be?

And your fragrance makes me dance …

The swansong dance …

Before it’s time to taste

And leave nature all to you.

I danced because I know this event will not die.

The curtain will rise, it will rise again the same.

My death will endure as your birth recurs.

I will forever be the greatest man who ever lived …

And greatest dancer too.

So I will love you forever.

I do advise, therefore, that you proudly live—

You have gotten thus far …

And eternity will be grand,

Of metaphysical virtue,

And of your own.

Thank you for this blood blessed cup.

It looks so sweet and I cannot wait.

Your existence required the transplantation of my replicated heart.

The species, Super Sylvester, was born with the last and best

Of human hearts.

Your blood, this metaphysical wine, is the harvest from

The energy of this earth,

And my, O, so human heart.

And it is now my downfall …

There—that was quick.

It is now all gone.

Chug-a-lug.

I must relate, I should have known,

The inadequacy of my tongue to taste

The super sweetness of your blood.

For, your blood is bitter now.

Your blood is thick and tingles …

There! It is now all down.

There! What a joy! –

There! Happy vertigo.

At last, the arrowhead arrived.

O look, the goblet dropped.

(Don’t even think to pick it up).

So long … My Super Sylvester.

Edited by AMERICONORMAN
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Always? Never? I'm interested to see if you have any arguments for these assertions.

Here's two examples of judging art based only on one trait or the other:

1. Calling the scribblings of a 3-year-old "great art" because that child is trying to draw God.

2. Andy Warhol. The paintings are beautifully done. They're cans of soup. Yay.

If you want to achieve truly great art, you need to pick a great subject and portray it via great means. Anything else, no matter how well-intended, is going to fall short of this mark. The scribblings of a three-year-old or the soup cans of Andy Warhol don't convey anything objectively meaningful. In fact, they may not succeed in conveying anything in particular.

For reference to poetry, I suggest you compare Lewis Carrol's "Jabberwocky" with Badger Clark's "The Westerner". Carrol has undoubtedly achieved excellent form with his poem (easy when you make up the words), but it doesn't mean anything (unless the reader supplies it himself, which I understand in modern art is supposed to be "deep"), but Badger Clark's is absolutely superior because he combines form with meaning. (You can find both poems online.)

Now compare both with this poem by Linda Pastan, which has almost no form, but a very meaningful subject:

To a Daughter Leaving Home

When I taught you

at eight to ride

a bicycle, loping along

beside you

as you wobbled away

on two round wheels,

my own mouth rounding

in surprise when you pulled

ahead down the curved

path of the park,

I kept waiting

for the thud

of your crash as I

sprinted to catch up,

while you grew

smaller, more breakable

with distance,

pumping, pumping

for your life, screaming

with laughter,

the hair flapping

behind you like a

handkerchief waving

goodbye.

If you judge poetry strictly on the basis of form, "Jabberwocky" is the best! If you judge it strictly on the basis of subject, this poem by Linda Pastan is probably the best. I think "The Westerner" is the best because it combines both form AND subject into a wonderful package. Think of any form of art you like, music included. (The "subject" of music is the "mood" it conveys, happy, sad, mischevious, you name it.) If you only judge based on one of the two factors, you end up doing grave injustice to the artists involved, either ignoring the effort that goes into perfecting form or the spirit that chooses and breathes life into a particular subject.

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Art is always judged as a synergy of means and content: no art can be judged objectively solely on the basis of content.

Okay, I'll admit that the quality of art can't be judged objectively solely on the basis of content. But what about whether a specific work constitutes as art or not? To me, it seems like that's when the form becomes important, and the subject matter less important (temporarily).

I'm not sure why that Linda Pastan article should be called "poetry." Just because of broken lines? Is "poetry" a designation of an art form, or of a style of typography? I don't know. I'm not an expert in poetry, and maybe I should study this issue deeper before I make any further remarks. Just on a gut level reaction, it seems like the poetic "train of thought" is broken by the attempt to incorporate such phenomena as this into the concept of poetry.

And what about translating a poem from another language into English? Is it still supposed to be considered a poem, if it keeps the same structure of beaking the lines mid-sentence, but looses any other ties to a poetic form? I don't know. How has that problem been handled traditionally? I really just have to do some research, I think.

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I'm not really qualified to speak much as to the technical aspects of what constitutes poetry, but I will say that what "Free Verse" I have heard did not move me. It seemed more monologue than poetry to me.

(inserted for humorous effect)

However, it is well known across the galaxy that at least one form of "poetry" is worse than Free Verse;

Oh freddled gruntbuggly,

Thy micturations are to me

As plurdled gabbleblotchits

On a lurgid bee.

Groop, I implore thee, my foonting turlingdromes

And hooptiously drangle me

with crinkly bindlewurdles,

Or I will rend thee in the gobberwarts with my blurglecruncheon

See if I don't. **

Now just imagine Vogon Free Verse.... ahhhhhh!!!! :)

** Reference to Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams for those unfamiliar with his work of genius.

Edited by RationalCop
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Well, it's not much, but I did find this quote from AR: "'Poems' without rhymes are neither prose nor poetry—they are nothing. For the same reason, a rhyme in a prose sentence is out of place, and thus distracts your attention by taking your mind to another medium. Moreover, it sounds artificial. If a rhyme occurs in prose, it can create all kinds of confusion." The Art of Nonfiction pg 136.

But she doesn't really give an argument, because her discussion is about writing prose, not about what constitutes poetry.

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I'm not sure why that Linda Pastan article should be called "poetry." Just because of broken lines? Is "poetry" a designation of an art form, or of a style of typography? I don't know.

It's not that unstructured, actually. It lacks rhyme, certainly, but so does blank verse, which includes some of the finest poetry in English. So look at the meter, is it blank verse (unrhymed but metrical)? No, not in any strict sense. But the meter's structured well to go with the content. The poem falls in several sections (three, most basically) with a tension between iambs (duh-DUM) and anapests (duh-duh-DUM); the former quickens the rhythm like pounding feet while the latter gives a more leisurely, even pace like a coasting bicycle. The middle section has the most obvious effects:

my own mouth rounding

in surprise when you pulled

ahead down the curved

path of the park,

I kept waiting

for the thud

of your crash as I

sprinted to catch up,

- * - *-

- - * - - *

- * - - *

* - - */

- - * -

- - *

- - * - -

* - - * -/

The first line has two iambs and a feminine ending (unstressed syllable outside the foot), and the section ends on another iamb, and the rest of it (six lines and an extra foot) is a series of anapests (again, one with a feminine ending) with significant shortening in the first three lines--the stress keeps pulling ahead of the even flow of the meter just like the little girl is pulling ahead of the mother on her bike. In the next three lines the mother has stopped running, expressed metrically by the stresses suddenly standing on the same position in each line after a strong pause at the comma following "at the park," until suddenly the mother starts sprinting ahead (note the way "sprinting" ends its foot but begins its next line) to catch up with the girl, causing the meter to "jump ahead" and try to catch up. The line breaks in that second set of three lines are chosen in the usual way to give special emphasis to the last word of the line--you have a feminine ending in "waiting," which adds a pause that evokes waiting, while "thud" ends the line with a thud and "crash" ends its clause with a crash. The other sections have meters suited to their contents as well. In other words, there's an artful, conscious use of traditional metrical techniques that is intended to evoke one person running after another riding a bicycle; it's that that makes it a poem. Sure, it's not a standard form and it might take some thought to get the structure, but if you take the trouble you'll probably find it works. (Of course, that's not true of much free verse.)

Just on a gut level reaction, it seems like the poetic "train of thought" is broken by the attempt to incorporate such phenomena as this into the concept of poetry.

Actually, I think it's a fine poem of its kind, and I've enjoyed Pastan's poetry for a while now (I first read her a bit over a year ago).

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