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Writing Free Verse

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January 2010
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A Few Tips

Free verse is the most common type of modern and contemporary poetry. It doesn’t require a metrical pattern, specified line length, or rhyme scheme. With a basic understanding of poetic devices and figures of speech, you can learn to write free verse. Here are some suggestions:

1. Read good free verse poetry. Read poetry by Billy Collins, Charles Simic, Robert Frost, and so forth.  By doing this, you will learn how these poets composed their poems and what topics they wrote about.  For more information on good poems to read, visit the Poetry Foundation Website at

2. Learn the meanings of different poetic devices. You can use allusion, assonance, onomatopoeia to create sound effects. You can use imagery and symbolism to communicate meaning.  You must show the readers, not tell them. 

3. Learn the meanings of different figures of speech. You should have a good understanding of how to use simile, metaphor, synecdoche, metonymy, personification. Remember that modern and contemporary poets use figures of speech to express meaning and emotion.

4. Select a topic. Be sure to choose something you are passionate about. Some popular topics include love, death, cycles of life, and the four seasons. Remember that poets have written about most topics–there is no taboo subject. If you are not sure what to write about, read poems by the popular modern and contemporary poets. As well, brainstorm for ideas, or mind-map for ideas. Write about what you see or hear or have read. The key is to write about what you are passionate about.

5. Choose a point of view Will you write in the first person? Or third-person? Or will you use an imaginary persona? Or will you write a dramatic monologue?
6. Engage in freewriting. To discover an idea for a poem, write about what comes to mind. Choose interesting words and phrases from your freewriting. Then write about your feelings and thoughts. Write about your memories and experiences. Write about your attitudes, your views, and your beliefs. Arrange them into a poem.
7. Write your poem in rough form. Begin with a specific purpose. Use concrete and specific descriptions. Show, don’t tell. Use imagery. These are words that appeal to the senses, such as sight, sound, touch, smell. Emphasize the important ideas by placing them at the beginning of a line, or at the end of a line. Include meaningful figures of speech and poetic devices.Make sure your poem has a beginning, middle, and end.
8. Rewrite your poem several times.  Edit your poem for diction, connotation, spelling, punctuation, sound, imagery, figures of speech, and meaning. Some poets rewrite their poems more than 40 times to get it right. Keep in mind that a poem is never finished.
9. End your poem with a provocative and important point. What is the main point of the poem? Be sure your reader doesn’t think, “So what?” What is the point of the poem?

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