In my last post I skited that my free verse is not mere chopped-up prose. Almost immediately I had occasion to wonder if these were famous last words.
I've been doing the "30 poems in 30 days" project over at Writer's Resource Center. Luckily they don't have to be consecutive days! I got a bit fluey for a while and couldn't keep up the pace. Or is it that I'm getting poemed out? For whatever reason, the last couple have dealt with whatever's just happened in my life. Imagination not required!
One assignment was to start with a negative statement and finish with a positive. You can click on the link to see what I came up with. All absolutely factual, I promise you. A good read, some people think – but is it poetry?
I wasn't at all sure myself, so I decided to set it as prose and see if it made any difference. Answer: not a lot; but yes, some. I saw that if I'd been writing it as prose, I'd have been more expansive and I'd have punctuated it differently in some places. There were phrases that seemed to ask to be set as verse – but not so many as I'd have liked.
So then I tried the same thing with a piece of free verse that was clearly a poem, my Imagist piece from the 30 days. To my surprise and relief, it was the same with that one. Setting it as prose did make some difference, but actually not a lot. Some phrases demanded to be set as lines of verse, but by no means all.
I took these differently set out pieces to my writers' group to show them just how little difference there is ... and then again, how much. One thing they noticed is that when you see something set as verse, it sets up a particular expectation in your head. The setting does dictate the way the words are spoken – which I always put a lot of thought into – and you can't really get the full effect of any poem without reading it aloud.
In a strange way, the prose versions proved less interesting to me as a reader.
But it's a fine distinction indeed!