Formal Free Verse

The time is 3.30 AM Cretan o’Clock. I am currently having a mild asthma attack on account, no doubt, of a series of cats which hover about our Agios Ioannis home waiting for scraps. Making love to m’lady on the outside bed & thus releasing a snowstorm of dander didn’t help things, while the altitude hangs like a Sword of Damocles over my lungs. Another bone of contention is the massive battle I’ve been having with the native mosquitos, & after two hours of carnage I’ve decided to just go out onto the verandah & type an essay through the night. There is a fresh-laid coffee by my side. The goat’s bell is tinkling.

The subject shall be my recent endeavouring with Free Verse. A Parnasssian at heart, formal versification has been my mantra for many years, but I am not completely ignorant to realise that Free Verse has enjoyed, & is still enjoying, a sustained period as the standard. In recent times I have been deliberating that a Pendragon of this particular epoch should formalize & codify the nuances within Free Verse. There was once a time when the highways had hardly any traffic regulation, when Ford Model Ts career’d all over the place with motorized abandon. Such a lawless state is similar to the one in which Free Versifying finds itself today.

Ever since Whitman elongated his lines, voyeurs of fashion began to look upon the form-poem as a faded, rattling jurassic, & turned to the new, to the fresh, to the exciting vogue of vers libre. ‘I would as soon write free verse as play tennis with the net down,’ piped Robert Frost whimsacally in 1935, by which time the political tide had turned, so to speak, & Free Verse poets were more & more taking up seats in the Senate.

I have personally had the odd dabble with Free Verse since my inception as a poet, including one huge vomiting of material in 2003, a piece entitled Bohemia, which contains one my favorite pieces.


 

THE LOST POEM

I wrote a poem once,
At Hatfield, not far from the scene of disaster
My friend was driving there one sunny day
Smoking reefers & talking about life’s changes

We ended up in a funky metal scrapyard
One of those places you never thought existed
Like when you were younger & joked
About where all the lost odd socks went
But this place was the real deal,
Full of Volkswagon carcasses,
Camper vans & Beetle hulks
& a couple of greasy mechanics,
chilling with the sun

While my friend looked at a ninety-nicker bumper
I was suddenly inspired to write a few desolate lines
About the decaying Earth & the dwindling fuel reserves
& finished it off with an arty kind of twist
About discovering an old photograph of myself
Holding a pretty young lady, she was wearing beads
Sat upon the beach of, perhaps, San Remo
It never happened like that, but all poems need an end

While my friend looked at a ninety-nicker bumper
I was suddenly inspired to write a few desolate lines
About the decaying Earth & the dwindling fuel reserves
& finished it off with an arty kind of twist
About discovering an old photograph of myself
Holding a pretty young lady, she was wearing beads
Sat upon the beach of, perhaps, San Remo
It never happened like that, but all poems need an end

So I stashed it away,
A single sheet of paper folded several times
Constantly forgetting to type the blighter up
Until it turned up in a book I was reading
Livy’s remarkable Early History of Rome
I’d packed it to study on my mission round the Baltic
Where trawling about the soft streets of Stockholm

Wondering what the hell the plastic cows were for
Every time I picked it up the sheet fell out the pages
Constantly reminding me that I should make it safe
It would only take a second, but I never took the time…
I found myself having one of those moments
The sun setting sublimely as I ate my evening meal
Upon the forecastle of the hotel boat I was staying on
The splish-splosh of the waves & a gust of sea breeze
Blew out the sheet as I turned a page
To float on the air like a falling feather
Time was standing still but the paper started F
A
L
To slip thro the narrowest of cracks tween the L boards
To be found one day in the distant future I
By somebody breaking up the hold for scrap N
G
I was gutted at first,
Like the time my girlfriend ran off with a German
But as I ponder’d home to my cabin empty handed,
Past painted memorials of the age of sail
I had a remarkable epiphany
At last my poem had a proper end!


 

The Lost Poem is pure free verse. No rhyme, no rhythm to speak of, with a piece of aesthetic ‘concrete’ wordplay to boot. Thirteen years after penning the piece, I feel obliged to consider Free Verse now in a formal way, to record its invented ‘species’ just as the Welsh Bards recorded their native forms. In recent weeks I have completed my first survey into the possibility of formalizing 24 Free Verse Forms (FVF), a number identical to the official Welsh metres as codified by Einion Offeiriad & Dafydd Ddu Athro. As exercise is always superior to theory, I utilized these FVF throughout the composition of my ‘Sylvermane: The Last Wolf of Scotland.’ The majority of the FVF were taken from poets of the last few decades, which like stars in the sky I have named after their ‘discoverer,’ or in some cases the actual poem itself. On analysis of my efforts, I have come to the conclusion that although most are quite satisfactory, certain FVF didn’t quite hit the mark, & should be replaced by others at a future reassessment. A dozen, however, have passed my own critical standards, which I would definitively like to offer to the senate of posterity. The poetry they contain is from Sylvermane.

 

I The Hugo: After the poem ‘April in Cerignola’ by Richard Hugo.

This is Norway, esteemed. The sun is mean
all summer, but underneath the Watchers
gaze on trollskin forests, trunks support
Valhalla on columns of adamantine granite,
misty mountains stitched with river silver,
lynxes prowl by wolverines, brown bears
& tremendous gangs of wolves, among
whom prospers, exhausted, Sylvermane.

II The Respiro: After the collection ‘Journey Across Breath’ by Stephen Watts, translated as ‘Tragitto nel respiro,’ by Cristina Viti.

Upon ancient Cruachan,
Long-lost hill-fort, mossy
gums, rings of gorse, Hipp
olytes’ spear, amber-heade
d, shaft thrust in cavern so
il : Millennia before; in thi
s den tonight a she-wolf e
mpties slowly her womb f
or Old White, these pricele
ss births AT LAST! AT L
AST! & manifesting the di
vine, four wonderful pups;

III The Tomlinson: A staccato stanza From Charles Tomlinson’s ‘Ode to San Francisco.’

The Red Dawn spreads
& did suffuse
sufficient pinks
horizon turns
milky white
a splodge of paint
hits holy canvas
from Culbin’s rooves
early birds
gawp in awe
bauble orchards
ivy creeps gladly
up sunlit walls

IV The Thorpe: After the poem ‘Putting the Boot In’ by Adam Thorpe.

Malcolm waits
for full-faced moon

he loved hearing tales
of Cruachan’s Carlin

he comb’d the locks
of Morag, by rivers

he heard the thunder
stun green-robed Watchers

‘Fetch me, my love,
my bier & my bow

rough-clefted arrows
& strings so supple’

V The Aygi: After the poem ‘Playing Finger Games’ by Gennady Aygi.

Malcolm welcom’d heartily – the Hunter Poet, whose fresh-spirited lines, in these very halls, have been repeated by lesser-breathing bards – they had stood proudly before the Campbells of Glenorchy – of these, Sir John of Bredalbane had made Kilchurn a barracks – it stands, knifepoint sharp, at the bare throat of cattle-tracks

VI The Wheatley: After the poem ‘A Skimming Stone, Lough Bray’ by David Wheatley

Unseen forces
lift the lid of sleep
twitching limbs, raising heads
lick her mouth
belly’s filling
blood-flow growing thicker.

Months pass by
happy playtimes
burgeoning hierarchies settle
ears flatten
tails between legs
pointing straight at Sylvermane.

VII The Barnstone: After the poem, Family, by Willis Barnstone.

Two years fly by & the pack
Is changing fast, Sylvermane
his brother
& his sister
after the season of snows
tension rises with the sun
day of fangs & claws
broke oer Cruachan
it was a mighty match-up ‘til the last
when Sylvermane saw sense & slinked
away, alone
a refugee

VIII The Tempest: A wild, stormy, random & meandering form used by Kate Tempest in her ‘Let Them Eat Chaos.’

Angry winds batter land

Climate change

Climate
Changing

Sun dimmer than memory remembers

Music

Of

The

Spheres
Intermingles melodical
Conducting feebly bleating sheep

IX The Gaer: From the poem ‘The Hill Fort (Y Gaer) by Owen Shears.

Since the day she was taken
fuscous darkness stains the mountains
despite gloriously daybreaking worlds

Sylvermane ensared by sadnesses
torturous sensations of stagnancy
of life forfoughten – he paws loosely

Raven swoops by, depress’d by
His doomdrunk dolour, pitying
His gait’s subsidence… a fly drifts by

X The Insom: After the poem ‘Insomonia; By Sydney Lea.

The pack has grown perilously small;
Beside the alpha mates,
in perfect genuflection,
only her parent & brother for protection
& Goldenfang’s nulliparous womb,
‘Let us try again for the Spring’
She nuzzles her beloved
The famous Old White whose thunder-howls pierce

the Trossachs’ sculptured stillness, since him born
his Fur always grey, but his name
was given under noble circumstances –
His mother watched him as a pup
sat stone-still on stones below peaktops hidden
by tottering cumuli, where flashes of cyan sky
erupted in the whiteness of the whitest cloud,
jaws gape open… an old, old soul

XI The Concrete: The universal term for poetry that has both meaning & ashthetic qualities.

XII The Kazantzis: From the collection, ‘The Rabbit Magician Plate’ by Judith Kazantzis

Flipping in her iron-forged talons
she brings back fish for the feasting
Sylvermane coughs up bones

Days pass, stength increases,
cunning accumulates & speed
accelerates as teeth gnaw sharper

Night falls, as was the custom
wolves set off in single file
silently treading, & softly

The scent is caught upon the tracks
red deer, hot blood throbs thro’ veins
churning with bestial intent

From chaos, then, comes order, or at least a semblance of order. Times & tides & of course tastes will change again, that is certain, & new modes of poetic creation will come into play & Free Verse will become confined to fringes along with all the other forms that had been invented, utilized & then put out of fashion by newly-forged forms. The old forms do not go to a graveyard, however, but to a library of mechanisms able to be accessed by the student poet, or the practitioner who feels their soul connected to a particular form. Where we have our Sonnetteers, let us also have our Freeverseers. For the latter, the directorial words of Ezra Pound, one of the leading exponents & standard bearers of free verse, should suffice;

I think one should write vers libre only when one ‘must,’ that is to say, only when the thing builds up a rhythm more beautiful than that of set metres, or more real, more of a part of the emotion of the ‘thing’, more germane, intimate, interpretative than the measure of regular accentual verse; a rhythm which discontents one with set iambic or set anapaestic

In this essay I have made the first tentative steps into organising free verse & bringing the mould into the accepted family of forms. Of course, Free Verse by its nature has needed tidying up a bit, given a close shave, & supplied with the proper lessons of decorum as given to any dilettante, but as with all young rebels, the form must bow to the inevitable & realise it is just a minor prince in a wider nation of princes. The Risorgimento has come.

Agios Ioannis
14/07/17

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