Since I was very young, the inherent qualities of words have captivated me. Many of the first stories I ever read were in traditional verse, but rhyming, metrical poetry was often portrayed as childish or antiquated in the media I was exposed to growing up. As I grew older, and entered adolescence, I became particularly fascinated with fiction, but traditional poetry – particularly from romantic writers, showed me how elevated poetry could really be.
That said, much of the discourse surrounding poetry in broader society – I would come to find, is dominated by modernist notions of untethering poetry from the “constraints” of rhyme and meter. In my early adulthood, the orthodoxy of free verse discouraged me from exploring traditional poetry for a long time. As I’ve grown more confident however, I’ve started writing my own poetry, and lit the fire of inspiration for the many years to come – gods willing.
The fact of the matter is – as there is really no kind way to put this, free verse is not poetry. Free verse is simply purple prose, arranged artfully – often with themes that are even more minimalist than classic poetry, but with far less symbolic imagery, metaphor, exaggeration, or any of the halmarks of quality verse.
In fairness to the young writers filling poetry communities with their submissions, the prose community can, at best, be a rather demanding and critical place for artistically minded folk. At worse – more often than not, prose communities can be very elitist. The very term purple prose – flowery, artistically embellished language, is often treated as a slur by so-called experts in prose communities; the prose intelligencia make it abundantly clear that ornate language is unwelcome – even classic writers like Tolkien have been the object of pretentious contempt for decades.
For this reason, it is hardly surprising to me that writers with embellished styles feel drawn to poetry. Poets are often more driven by feeling than the cold calculations of prose genres and literary structure. But whereas prose can often be too harsh, poetry can often be too lenient.
Though gatekeeping is never the right course of action, the looseness with which we define poetry has greatly degraded the quality of the medium. What once was meant to be a challenge to the percieved rigidity in the format of poetry, has now become a meme about how generically you can express shallow, melodramatic musings inside a bubble of other artsy, vain hipsters – who know nothing about any of the structures that “free verse” is meant to rebel against; they are simply rebels without a cause.
This is why I am not simply a traditional poet, but a poetry advocate. I advocate for a return to quality verse – to poems written with rhyme and meter, alliteration, metaphor, and all other forms of symbolic language that are relevant to the medium. Though I truly think some free verse writers would be better served by writing purple prose, I think that far more writers should be encouraged to learn and grow. The visual art community does a great job of encouraging people to improve their craft – even with very traditional styles, so I see no reason why we can’t encourage poets to do better.
It’s time for aspiring poets to really give fixed verse a try and stop making so many excuses. There are thesauruses, rhyming dictionaries, syllable counters, and all manner of free linguistic and historical resources to develop real skill in classic poetry – both in print and online. I use various different versions myself to craft my poems. Moreover, real poetry provides a creative challenge that few other mediums can really measure up to. When you craft metrical, rhyming poetry, it is like creating and solving a puzzle at the same time. Much like gaming, there’s a real sense of satisfaction from successful completion of your chosen task – with a permanent trophy that possesses the beauty of fine art. Well crafted verse also showcases the beautiful symmetries and textures of language in a way that prose cannot.
It is well worth your time and effort, if you’re willing to give it a chance.