Free Verse and Kids’ Poetry

Teaching Writing  /   /  By William Rubel, Editor
Stone Soup Magazine
Sept/Oct 2016

Most of the poetry we publish in Stone Soup is free verse. Free verse is the most prose-like form of poetry. It is very popular amongst adult poets and it is also very common in American schools. Free verse may by rhymed or unrhymed. What defines it is that it is unmetered.

Walt Whitman was the American poet who popularized the form. Here is an example by Whitman. This poem is called The Noisless Patient Spider.

“A noiseless, patient spider,
I mark’d, where, on a little promontory, it stood, isolated;
Mark’d how, to explore the vacant, vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself;
Ever unreeling them—ever tirelessly speeding them.

“And you, O my Soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing,—seeking the spheres, to connect them;
Till the bridge you will need, be form’d—till the ductile anchor hold;
Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my Soul.

As free verse, Whitman is not constrained by meter or by rhyme. The poem consists of two grammatical sentences, one for each stanza. I’m not going to parse the poem here. If you are interested, look up the poem in Google Books.  There are many commentaries. I’ll offer you this commentary on The Noiseless Patient Spider for those of you who want to delve further in the poem.

For my purposes here, I will just say that by choosing free verse Whitman is able to focus on other things — to say things he couldn’t say if otherwise constrained by form. The language is poetic — .. “till the ductile anchor hold;/Till the gossamer thread you fling…” This is not prose.

The great 20th-century American poet, Robert Frost, rejected this style of poetry for himself. Famously, in an 1935 speech at the Milton Academy he said, “Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down.”

We at Stone Soup believe that this is a style that more easily lets children get someplace deep with their poems. If you want to think of it as Robert Frost did — then its a style of poetry that gives the young poet a handicap. It lets young poets focus on content and language but doesn’t impose an overly consisting of structured meter.

Anyone with a free verse poem to share by a child is encouraged to do so in the comments.

William Rubel, Editor
About the Author

In 1973, I was twenty years old, teaching children's art classes at my college, the University of California, Santa Cruz, and came up with the idea that the best way to encourage children to write was to introduce them to the best writing by their peers. Stone Soup grew out of that idea. Along with co-editor Gerry Mandel, I have continued to edit and publish Stone Soup for all these years. I am also a culinary historian. I write about traditional foodways. My book, "The Magic of Fire," is about hearth cooking. My book, "Bread, a global history," speaks for itself. I am currently writing a 130,000-word bread history for a University Press. I publish articles on gardening and traditional foodways at Mother Earth News. I also publish on wild mushrooms and other food-related subjects.

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