freedom part three: free verse

3 March, 2010

If I’d been posting a bit more regularly recently I’d have mentioned this the week it happened rather than now, but as it stands I hope it makes a nice close to this little sequence about things freeing up.

So last week was my most recent turn to be workshopped. Things were feeling quite tough by then and I was slogging away at a few things that had been rattling round my brain for a while. In the end I submitted my work pretty late, and only two pieces instead of the suggested three or four, which was a bit slack of me. Instead of pressing send on Friday afternoon before heading to Kent for a weekend with the folks, Sunday found me still sweating over the wretched things, missing out on relaxing in front of the fire with my family. Gah.

Still, I got them done, sort of, and sent round.

So where’s the freedom in this? Well, for the first time I wrote two pieces that were in free verse, which seems quite incredible to me now – that in six years I’d never written anything that wasn’t in a particular form, even if that form was one I’d borrowed or made up. I suppose I’ve always felt naturally drawn to more formal poems (and who doesn’t love a sonnet?), but a huge part of it has also been (rather embarrassingly) an uncertainty about how you go about structuring a poem – or even writing one – without a particular set of rules to follow. I guess it’s part of being a novice: when you’re learning to cook, you follow recipes (if you’re learning by yourself, that is, and not naturally adventurous). It just makes sense. Not that writing formally is easier than writing in free verse – of course it’s complex and demanding – but there is at least a safety in knowing that you’ve fulfilled the requirements, no matter how badly. When you’ve just started writing, how do know if something’s a poem or not? How do you know you’ve got to the end?

But I’d been feeling for a while that, although I love writing in form and will continue to do so, I needed to break out; that to become a better writer, I needed to experiment with free verse, even if it didn’t end up being my natural home. This was partly thanks to Alice Oswald, probably my favourite living poet and certainly the writer who got me back into poetry in my twenties. She writes both formally and in free verse, and I love both, but it’s the incredible energy of her free work that made me think I needed to just get on with it. I tried and failed all last term – back to the flailing that I mentioned yesterday. But I knew which particular image it was that needed to be written out more freely, and following that quietly paradigm-shifting workshop a couple of weeks ago I finally managed to draft something. And then another something. With much huffing and puffing, and no doubt boring my longsuffering family horribly. When they were drafted I was convinced they were rubbish – I guess when you’re doing something new it’s hard to step back from it – but I had already missed the deadline and just had to send them round. So I did, and hoped I wouldn’t get too much of a slating come the workshop.

Well, I didn’t. Our tutor kicked things off by saying that she was really impressed by the measured and confident tone of both pieces, by their striking voice and by the images, which were ‘subtle but easily located’. Someone wrote on one of the pieces that it was a really excellent, rigorous poem, and someone else wrote that it was their favourite piece of the term. I’ve had good feedback before but none so direct as this. It was all rather wonderfully surprising. It felt like I’d been using some writing muscles I didn’t even know I had.

I’m not meaning to big myself up unduly… but to get that kind of feedback is profoundly affirming, and I suppose I just want to celebrate, in the middle of what has been another hard slog of a term, the feeling that my writing has somehow broken through into something new and more free and perhaps more assured.

So, onwards and upwards. Here’s to free verse, and finding a new measure of freedom in the work I’m doing, however small.

3 Responses to “freedom part three: free verse”

  1. maggi said

    yay! that’s an inspiring story for me as well as “yay” for you! Keep up the good work

  2. areffvee said

    yay again – well done! kisses x

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