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Farmer and his son listening in the evenings, Shawnee county, Kansas, September 23 or 24, 1924. President Lyndon Johnson with Senator Richard Russell at the White House, December 7, 1963, Washington, DC. Two Latin girls pose in front of a wall of graffiti in Lynch Park in Brooklyn, New York City, June 1974. Alonzo Bankston is a furnace operator in the TVA plan producing carbide for use in plants manufacturing synthetic rubber. When immigrant labor was cheap, some coal companies took the view that miners were easy to replace. The present survey is provisional and intended to serve as only the merest introduction to a vast and extraordinarily complex field, one that commands broad, ongoing attention. Frost simply could not understand why anyone would bother writing free verse, but still they did, and so a question presented itself with some urgency: after the widespread defection of poets from fixed or inherited forms, how would they go about organizing poems? In Missing Measures, Timothy Steele points out that a strong-minded band of free verse pioneers in English—Ford Madox Ford, Ezra Pound, T.S.
Much as poets may like to pose as vatic singers, most still feel obliged to create a persuasive beginning, middle, and ending to a poem as well as engineer a texture or tone that will set it apart from others. As Paul Fussell memorably put it during the Cold War, “we will want to be aware that free has approximately the status it has in the expression Free World.
Many strategies have emerged to cope with the open field of free verse, several of them before Frost was even born. Metered poems tend to be fashioned in simple symmetrical patterns, due to the spatial demands of poetic feet. Although wing-shaped poems appeared in several languages in the Renaissance (modeled on early Greek examples), George Herbert’s “Easter Wings” is the shaped devotional poem perhaps most familiar to English-language readers.
Three and a half centuries later, Dylan Thomas would continue the mystical tradition in this style with his “Vision and Prayer” poems, which alternate between hourglass and diamond formations.
Leaping forward several centuries, we discover an explosion of shaped poetry in tandem with Cubism and artistic modernism at large. An earlier example along these lines is Lewis Carroll’s “Long and Sad Tale of the Mouse” from Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland (1865).
Far more ambitious than Carroll or Apollinaire, Italian Futurists strove to unleash the pure euphoric energy of language, much as Futurist painters had done with color, line, and shape in their highly kinetic, kaleidoscopic canvases. The written word laid siege to the art world, and we see prototypes for later painted poems such as those by New York School members Larry Rivers and Kenneth Koch (“In Bed,” 1982), as well as major text-based contemporary artists like Jenny Holzer (“For the Guggenheim,” 2008), Glenn Ligon (“I Feel Most Colored When I Am Thrown Against a Sharp White Background,” 1990–91), Ed Ruscha (“A Particular Kind of Heaven,” 1983), and Barbara Kruger (“Don’t be a Jerk,” 1996). To leave the artist’s studio and return once more the print shop, one may contemplate John Hollander’s 1969 collection Types of Shape, in which poems are patterned much like Greek Bucolic figure poems to resemble their subjects, though shorn, in this instance, of regular meter. This icon-making tactic continues to enjoy some popularity today, as in the work of Paul Siegell, who takes the extra step of distributing small printed versions of his shaped poems during readings, to allow audiences to follow along as he performs the spoken component of the poems. Aside from such literal representations, the intoxicating influence of Cubism launched a brand of poetry designed to sport with the visual field while delivering an assortment of ocular signals.
Such early modernist experiments seem carefree when set beside their offspring in the effervescent sphere of concrete poetry, a conspicuously avant-garde international movement that germinated simultaneously in South America and Europe before spreading to the United States. Early German pioneer Eugen Gomringer’s 1954 “Silencio” exhibits concrete poetry’s refusal of narrative.
Scottish poet Ian Hamilton Finlay went so far as to introduce systems of sculpture, gardening, and landscaping into concrete poetry, attempting to merge the written word with nature itself. In the middle of the eighteenth century, while committed to a madhouse, Christopher Smart composed a long devotional poem titled Jubilate Agno, “rejoice in the lamb,” not published until 1939.
Each morally instructive line proceeds from the anchoring preposition “for” to describe the admirable traits of the author’s familiar. Allen Ginsberg, a poet deeply indebted to this technique, cited both Smart and Whitman as models for his famous 1956 dithyrambic poem Howl. Ginsberg refers to the “fixed base ‘Who’” in a 1956 letter to Richard Eberhart (he also remarked that the poem is “really built like a brick shithouse”). William Carlos Williams patterned his late, long poem “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower” into tumbling indented tercets, a shape that makes the unmetered, unrhymed poem more approachable, though Williams claims he wrote in that fashion only because it helped him to see the poem more clearly despite failing eyesight.
Beyond mere parallelism, line length itself may be used to reinforce larger rhetorical aims, as Paul Fussell observes in the gradual opening up of Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” The speaker’s senses fill with the panoramic view of New York harbor, and the lines enlarge to accommodate the vision, swelling from the opening line of 11 syllables through lines of 18, 23, and eventually 28 syllables.
He accomplishes a similar feat in the slow winding down at the end of Leaves of Grass, after more than 1,300 lines. Combining modern typographic techniques with the mystical ingredient of medieval cubic poems, T.S.
Eliot also borrows from the liturgy of the newly-embraced Anglican Book of Common Prayer to create a call-and-response pattern. One can almost hear a congregation responding to the poet-priest’s solitary appeal in the preceding line. Readers are compelled to slow their reading pace and grasp the poem in a mostly arrhythmic manner, as if looking at a painting. Another method relies on the introduction of specific, arbitrary limits. Bob Perelman is known for sometimes using a fixed number of words per line, as in his poem “A Body” from his 1993 book Virtual Reality, which installs six words, of any syllabic length and sound, per line. The trouble with parameters such as this is that they only control for one aspect of a line’s creation, ignoring the number of syllables (as in syllabics) or regular rhythm (as in metered poetry).
The physical limits placed by the edges of the tape result in extreme enjambment reminiscent of William Carlos Williams.
On the far end of the gamut, small, deliberate visual patterns can imply meanings without distracting too much from a verse itself. In this largely unrhymed passage, the terza-rima-like shape puts the reader in mind of Dante’s Commedia (specifically the Brunetto Latini passage in Canto XV of Dante’s Inferno),[4] allowing Eliot to be led through the bombed streets of the London Blitz by Dante much as the Florentine poet was led by his Imperial Roman predecessor Virgil. Other graphic techniques include use of acrostic patterns as well as anagrammatic and inverted end-words. Vertically, the initial letters spell out the poem’s subject, Elizabeth, though one is hard pressed to argue that the trick does much to help an otherwise unremarkable poem.
Consonance strengthens and amplifies words that, even rearranged, can sometimes remain half-rhymes.
A contemporary poet who makes use of this technique, one no less sardonic, is Frederick Seidel.
Kasischke stretches rhyme very nearly beyond its capacity to hold a poem together, but this performance highlights the disintegrating personality of the poem’s central figure, who eventually falls apart altogether and perhaps commits suicide. Kay Ryan’s use of free verse rhyme is more muscular and taut, suited to her shorter, epigrammatic style. Some organizational techniques applied to free verse could be as easily applied to formal verse, yet their presence is typically more meaningful in a field devoid of set form.
Formlessness may also, at times, assume the guise of a gesture toward aesthetic liberty or be employed as a tool of exploration. While one may be tempted to see a typical poem by John Ashbery, for instance, as gaseous or essentially shapeless, it is this very deflecting technique that lures a final shape from chaos. A simpler, more common approach to shaping a free verse poem is what I will call the instinctive.
Detail from 13th-century illuminated Icelandic Saga manuscript, the Arni Magnusson Manuscript Institute in Reykjavik, Iceland.
Technology itself, advancing with dizzying swiftness, continues to alter the way poets compose.
The internet and home computers have given rise to hypertext and digital poetry, and inaugurated a restless age of sometimes dazzling, sometimes tedious interactive poems that change according to reader input. I will end what has become a rather dispassionate survey with something of a personal statement. Unscramble Adjectives: Adjectives Describing An Apple Unscramble the adjectives describing an apple.
Today, as this sign indicates, the health and safety of miners have become important concerns in the coalfields.


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Useful examples and additions are welcome and may be entered in the comments section below the article.[1] An earlier version of this essay was given as a talk in the poetry symposium of “Writing the Rockies,” a conference sponsored by Western State College of Colorado in July 2011. Although Frost displayed modernist tendencies of some kinds, he never accepted free verse, one of the hallmarks of modernist poetry. Eliot foremost among them—never envisioned free verse as a means by which to abandon form, jettison technique, or turn entirely away from the past. The absolute freedom of the creator, axiomatic for over a century, has produced masterpieces that demonstrate the value of the ever-new.
Not only is the poem’s form a natural and concomitant growth with the poem’s substance, but both are projections of the poet.
That is, free, sort of.” Although it may make use of elements of formal prosody—meter that comes and goes like the ladies in “Prufrock,” for instance—most free verse since the 1950s strenuously avoids even the poorest vestiges of Victorian prosody. When moving away from oppositional definitions—free verse is non-metrical, non-strophic—one is confronted with such a vast array of possibilities and examples that it is necessary to summarize and, at times, simplify them for the sake of argument. Although this is not, strictly speaking, a modern practice, it is one that twentieth-century poets readily adopted and made new.
Thus we find wings and axes (they look the same, like hourglasses), diamonds, and plain old big squares. The earliest true figure poems date to the Hellenistic era, in the second and third centuries B.C.
To accommodate its unusual shape, “Easter Wings” was printed vertically across two facing pages of Herbert’s 1633 volume The Temple: Sacred poems and private ejaculations.
Unlike Simias or Herbert, however, Thomas adds and subtracts lone syllables to sculpt his poems.
Notable examples include the Calligrammes of Guillaume Apollinaire, an immediately posthumous 1918 volume that contained a variety of mischievously-shaped poems.
The mouse’s brief story rhymes as it diminishes in both line length and, eventually, type size, to resemble a mouse’s tail, thus setting up a pun on the world “tale.” It is whimsical and, basically, done for fun. Perhaps the most widely-anthologized of these is the mirrored “Swan and Shadow,” which mimics the image of a swan and its shadow in the water. This year, Geoffrey Hill’s book Clavics—a word defined in the OED as the “science or alchemy of keys”—features on each page two rhyming, largely iambic nonce stanzas in the shapes of a key and what may be a keyhole (though the latter resembles nothing so much as Herbert’s “Easter Wings”). It reached its giddy peak in the 1960s, described by Italian theorist Clodina Gubbiotti as a golden age of visual poetry, when poets and artists attempted to bend and break the written word in every possible direction. It squats there on the page, striving to become as mute and monumental as a minimalist sculpture.
Although shaped, optical poetry existed long before the printing press, graphic poetry is a product of the age of print. It has gained considerable popularity, largely due to its affectionate and inventive series of addresses to his cat, Jeoffrey.
This quality permits the poem to lunge forward and also lends a pleasing lilt to the otherwise unmatched lines. Williams is known for composing in passages that, visually, at least, resemble prose paragraphs. The repetition of “I remember” sets up a parallel that is amplified and turned with the conjunction “but, more vividly.” It is hard to imagine lines growing any longer without simply becoming small prose-poems.
Traditional stanza forms sometimes included dimeter or trimeter lines, known as “bobs,” to bring variety to the regular tetrameter or pentameter lines that surround them.[2] In a similar vein, the quatrain, perhaps the most recognizable stanza form in English, continues its popularity even in free verse, where it often appears more as a “ghost” stanza, in which the visual qualities of the quatrain survive while a standard aural shape—informed by meter and rhyme—has been dropped. The lines diminish in length over each of the two famous final verse paragraphs, lending a structural component to the gentle end of what has been called America’s second declaration of independence. Ammons typed the book-length poem Tape for the Turn of the Year on adding-machine tape, which severely limits line length over very long stretches (and, as Stephen Burt notes, is also a way for a poet to “try to seem endless”). English-born Canadian poet Peter Stevens wrote in the Ontario Review that Ammons’ tape technique was “an almost perfect method to allow his . Thomas Hardy’s 1915 poem “The Convergence of the Twain,”[3] on the sinking of the Titanic, is composed of rhymed tercets, the first two lines of which are inset iambic trimeter built over a longer Alexandrine line, creating the silhouette of both a ship’s superstructure and the visible portion of an iceberg. Eliot uses similar visual cues to summon a Dantean precedent in the ghostly terza rima of the “Little Gidding” portion of The Four Quartets. Acrostic poems relate loosely to cubic poems, which consisted of full mesostic[5] word squares that could be read in several directions, though acrostics employ only the initial letters of each line to spell out a word.
The beauty of this technique is that it can produce wonderful sound effects, as consonance is easily reared from the same group of letters in any order. Correspondingly, I make use of inverted end-words in my poem “Photographs above the Desk,”[6] though the results are less musical. The use of mirrored words is intended, in this case, to evoke the mirror quality of poets facing each other across generations in a photograph as well as today’s poet contemplating the image of his or her predecessors as if gazing into a mirror.
Laura Kasischke uses irregular and sparse rhyme to display the gradual unraveling of a speaker in “Miss Congeniality.” Some rhymes fall close together and relate musically, while stray rhymes reside as outliers, visible only to the eye and almost imperceptible, over such cold distances, to the ear. In a Paris Review interview (Art of Poetry XCVIII), she described what she terms “recombinant rhyme.”[7] Internal rhymes harmonize with end rhymes while working against other unrhymed, enjambed line endings to create palpable tension. We find the technique used to perfection in a poem like “Shark’s Teeth” from Ryan’s 2005 collection The Niagara River, as the aural contours of the poem grate against its visual ones, causing a sense of jaggedness and unease. Lawrence uses repetitive sarcasm as a principle in his short poem “The English are So Nice.” His repetitions would become monotonous if not for their obvious intent. He wants to make sure the reader knows exactly how he feels about his countrymen, who were not, after all, very nice to him much of the time. Ashbery has declared that his “poems have their own form, which is the one that I want, even though other people might not agree that it is there. A poem’s shape, its length, its sound, are determined not by strict observance of a pre-ordained structure of any kind but instead by the needs of a rhetorical gesture. Internal rhymes, “grate” and “gate,” for instance, and half end-rhymes, “best and “first,” lightly draw lines together while allowing them to flow. As Marshall McLuhan observed, “we drive into the future using only our rear view mirror.” Poetry has adjusted to accommodate every major technological transformation related to the word. Earlier this year The New York Times heralded the arrival of Twitter poetry, claiming much “evidence that the literary flowering of Twitter may actually be taking place. As a bonus, site members have access to a banner-ad-free version of the site, with print-friendly pages.Click here to learn more. In Canada, Thanksgiving Day is celebrated on the second Monday in October. The first Thanksgiving in the USA was a feast in 1621 shared by the Pilgrims (who had recently settled Plymouth Colony in what is now Massachusetts) and the Wampanoag Indians, who shared their corn, squash, and wild turkeys. An anagram is a word or phrase that is made by rearranging the letters of another word or phrase. It is to be expected that a poet like Frost, whose work embodies the persistence of the accentual-syllabic tradition in English, would be displeased, even disoriented, by the widespread acceptance of free verse in his lifetime. Rather, those involved held that free verse allows the rare genius, one who has internalized centuries of poetic technique, to realize infinite new forms, what some critics have called “discovered forms,” as if they had been there all along, in the Platonic manner, waiting to be revealed. But since original genius is not given to every artist, much spiritless contriving masquerades as innovation. Examples are known broadly as carmina figurata—a term derived from the Renaissance practice of highlighting sacred shapes in red letter type within the standard black letters of a block of printed prose—literally figure poems, or, more recently, concrete poems. Non-metered poems can take on more supple and intricate patterns because slugs of type may be arrayed as tesserae in a mosaic to fashion just about any silhouette. The best known examples are Simias’ “Axe,” “Wings,” and “Egg,” alongside Theocritus’s “Pipe” and Dosiadas’ two “Altar” poems. He perceives a mystical dimension to the cascading lineation of “Axe,” and in fact mathematical and mystical varieties of shaped poetry appear across the centuries. Like Simias, Herbert shaves a foot from each line as it advances and then swells the figure out again by adding new feet from the midpoint.


Although principally a poet, Apollinaire was deeply immersed in the artistic world of his day, and its influences are plain.
Swiss critic Max Nanny decodes the “poempicture” as if it were a puzzle and leaves us with an amusing diagram. The mathematical precision of Renaissance permutational poems was combined with post-Cubist art theory to create a new strain of poem that thrived somewhere between art and literature, soaked in a rich Petri of radical politics.
Typographical arrangements of letters, lines, and words can send signals, create larger literary structures, divert attention, or even help to announce allusions.
Their simplicity and seeming sincerity, coupled with their fragile transport through a large field of empty white, leave an impression entirely unlike poems of an earlier era.
This is so, not least, because while the presence of vertical spelling might appear clever, or, perhaps merely cute, it makes no impression on the ear and contributes nothing to the poem’s music. These cases belong to the world of “constrained writing,” in which arbitrary structures and limits, or deletions, are imposed on the language during the act of creation. The metaphorical ‘music’ of verse structure was once indeed music.” He is not implying that the poem as heard takes precedence over or precedes, for that matter, the written poem. Note the rhyme of floor (repeated), bore, war (internal), shore—as well as the slant-rhyme “despair”—spread out over fully 13 lines.
A formal predecessor to her technique can be found in “Sunlight on the Garden” by Louis MacNeice. He beats the reader half to death by repeating the words nice, nicer, or nicest no fewer than 17 times in a mere 22 lines.
I feel that there is always a resolution to my poems.” His poems are not the result of chance operations, as are (at times or in part) the poems of John Cage, Jackson Mac Low, Fluxus poets, and their internet-age progeny, Flarf poets. Once a point is made, an image completed, an emotion displayed, a story told, the poem ends. It ends much as one might expect a short story to end, just at the moment when enough, but not too much, has been said.
Before the age of the printing press, when writing surfaces were costly and hard to come by, verse was often written in continuous lines. It is impossible to know what bizarre breeds of poem will be unleashed by future technologies, but, barring a wholesale return to traditional verse forms, as well as to the types of publishing technology that reigned from Gutenberg to the age of the smart phone, poems will continue to scatter, reform, and shift shape as long as poets practice their venerable, endlessly variable craft. You may also listen along to the author’s recordings of the essay by using the embedded audio players. One senses his exasperation as, writing the introduction to a very traditional verse romance—E.A.
The age called for new techniques, but no one knew quite what the ideal free verse poem might look like.
The terms are largely interchangeable and may be used to describe poems that rely primarily on shape to provide meaning (as opposed to the more nuanced examples of graphic poems, below).
These consisted of dedications composed specifically to be incised on the objects they described. Notable examples include 16th and 17th-century cubic poems that may be read in several directions—such as cruciform poems designed to be read mirror-wise out from their centers.
He coined the term “orphism” to describe a tendency toward pure abstraction, and he also published an important early essay on Cubism. Practitioners assiduously avoided literary allusion or literal shape, stripping letters of meaning, scattering punctuation in non-semantic clusters, erecting colossal letters as landscape art, and even exhibiting carp swimming in a tank with words attached to them as a supreme example of textual instability. The movement’s name derives from a mysterious Provencal word, whose meaning remains unclear to scholars but which nonetheless appears in Ezra Pound’s Cantos.
A common form of organization in free verse is syntactical parallelism (which often produces long lines referred to by David Rothman as “anaphoric versicles”).
My breath is long—that’s the measure, one physical-mental inspiration of thought contained in the elastic of a breath.” The extraordinarily long lines trigger a head rush and can be held together only by repeating the descriptive “who” did this and “who” did that of the poem’s reportage. The line breaks are surely not intended as instructions for reading the poem aloud, rather serving as brakes on a car. Further examples include palindrome-poems (poems that read the same back to front), univocalic poetry (limited to a single vowel), and lipograms (in which a letter or selection of letters is disallowed). Ashbery’s poems may at times incorporate overheard conversations and found texts,[8] but they are designed, in each case, to generate a specific effect. It thus appeared prose-like, upon first glance, though verse qualities readily surfaced when audited.
What tactics will permit a poet to lend meaningful form to a poem without recourse to established strophic, metrical patterns?
Simias’ “Axe” is made up of choriambic lines that contract and then expand by one foot per line in axe shape, in order to fit on a ceremonial axe—in this case, a votive artifact housed in the temple of Athena and thought to be the instrument with which Epeius constructed the Trojan Horse. Apollinaire conveyed these new trends onto the printed page with such poems as “La Cravate et la montre,” truly a typesetter’s nightmare.
As Gubbiotti explains, they made “consistent attempts at problematizing the capitalist and imperialist values conveyed by the advertising industry,” as one is meant to understand in Decio Pignatari’s 1957 poem “Beba Coca Cola,” one of the most famous concrete poems. Mimicking repetitions common to ancient Hebraic prosody, it establishes a pattern that may continue over the course of a long poem.
If the poem were read by Victorian standards, its speaker would sound like a drunken William Shatner.
I am not aware of any poems written with such constraints that also achieve lasting artistic effects, though I remain hopeful that an example may emerge. Much like a crossword puzzle, this characteristically permutational poem can be read in a number of different directions. In Apollinaire, one reads poems about a necktie and a pocket watch formed on the page as those very items.
This method may be used to build a theme, amplify a sensation, or mint ironic juxtapositions, but most importantly it creates form in the absence of meter. Consider Ogden Nash, whose epigrammatic style, even in his longer poems, relies on extraordinarily strong, whole rhymes. A magnificently designed acoustic entity, relying not at all on regular rhyme or meter, such a poem is a marvel, and hard to surpass. Readers thrill to the unpredictable qualities of the poems, the semantic back-flips, funhouse wordplay, and rhetorical barrel rolls. Ashbery’s poems twist and turn, defying obvious logic and conclusions, varying line length with feverish enjambment, screeching to a halt in unusual places. This type of poem illustrates the prevailing variety of free-verse poetry over the past few decades; it characterizes a departure from poetry that aspires to the purely aural or visual. We wait for big, hammering rhymes as we might anticipate the closing of a musical passage, as in “More About People” (note the double-word rhymes). This strain is not experimental according to any avant-garde logic, nor is it, strictly speaking, what one might consider traditional (although one could argue that it has become the new tradition in many respects). The words are turkey, thankful, Pilgrim, dinner, platter, harvest, pumpkin, stuffing, supper, corncob. The words are pie, yam, corn, hat, hay, turkey, Indians, Pilgrims, cornucopia, pumpkin. Unscramble Thanksgiving WordsUnscramble the Thanksgiving words, and then color the picture of the words. The words are pie, yam, corn, hat, hay, turkey, Indians, Pilgrims, cornucopia, pumpkin. Thanksgiving Spelling Word QuestionsUse the list of Thanksgiving spelling words to answer simple questions.



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