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Is Free Verse Ruining Poetry?

I happened to read something Picasso said about modern art which could be applied to poetry. The gist of it is that art had suffered since the advent of Impressionism, due to the lack of forms and rules. Anyone could pretty much do what they wanted:

"Painters no longer live within a tradition and so each one of us must recreate an entire language.  Every painter of our times is fully authorized to recreate that language from A to Z.  No criterion can be applied to him a priori, since we don't believe in rigid standards any longer." (Gilot 67). 

This is the state of poetry. According to Wikipedia, “Free verse poetry” is an “open form of poetry…It does not use consistent meter patterns, rhyme, or any musical pattern.”

Wikipedia continues to explain that free verse “does not proceed by a strict set of rules.” And therein lies the problem.

Traditional forms of poetry are hopelessly out of style. Therefore, the new style is to completely make up your own form with each poem. No rhyme scheme, no particular number of beats per line, etc. I would be remiss not to quote the famous line from Robert Frost: Free verse is like “playing tennis without a net.”

Picasso continued:

"In a certain sense, that's a liberation but at the same time it's an enormous limitation, because when the individuality of the artist begins to express itself, what the artist gains in the way of liberty he loses in the way of order, and when you're no longer able to attach yourself to an order, basically that's very bad." (Gilot 67)  

A caveat is that free verse poetry is not necessarily bad (of course not). Picasso marks Impressionism as the point at which painting stopped having set rules. But it’s not like Picasso didn’t appreciate Van Gogh. He merely assessed its effects from a long view. Likewise, no one is doubting T.S. Eliot’s skill, while also appraising the long-term problems with free verse.

This brings us to our present juncture: Everyone and anyone is free to call themselves a poet, to publish their poetry online, with no concern for tradition or being a part of a particular school of poetry (besides the school of no rules). This also unfortunately puts a very low bar of entry for people to engage in the act of writing and publishing their own poetry. With no entry fee to the poetry game, no studying the greats required, the results are typically not very impressive.

Works Cited

Gilot, Francoise and Lake, Carlton. Life with Picasso. NY: NY Review Books, 2019.

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