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04/11/2014

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Like playing tennis with the net down, I think Robert Frost said.

I find it especially painful to hear free verse read out loud because it's usually done with a superimposed "poetic" cadence.

There's a lot of free verse that I love, but there's a lot that really is just prose chopped up into lines. I don't know if the '"poetic" cadence' you're talking about is the same one I'm thinking of, but there is definitely for me a way of reading free verse that I find very annoying. I've never tried to analyze it but I can sort of hear it right now.

The only way I get anything out of free verse is to read it not as poetry, but as poetic prose. And even then I'm not really a fan.

I think it was in Sound and Sense that I read the suggestion to take out all the line breaks. If the piece of writing loses something, it was poetry. If it doesn't, it was just prose with weird extra line breaks.

I'm so pleased that they're still using Sound and Sense in at least some schools. Such a fine introduction. It was my poetry textbook freshman year in college, which is getting on toward fifty years ago now. I still have my copy, and still look into it occasionally.

Most "free" verse is not entirely free, just irregular. The idea is very misleading and tempting to people who think it's pretty much what Daniels describes above. Completely free is usually completely flat. But the difference is subtle. The criterion of "losing something" is kind of subjective, but that's really all you're left with: does it work or not? It's a question of music. W.S. Merwin's work beyond the early '60s has no apparent structure, and yet it very much "works" musically for me.

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