1. Agatha Christie
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    Agatha Christie New Member

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    Free Verse vs. prose. what's the difference?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Agatha Christie, Mar 15, 2012.

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  2. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Member Supporter Contributor

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    I have no idea. I pay a lot of attention to the rhythm of my prose. I pay a lot of attention to imagery and word choice. I suppose that some might think my works are "prose poems" which is a term I've never seen a good definition of.

    So maybe free verse is really prose that exists only for its own sake - it's not in the service of a story. A free-verse poet is saying to the audience: "There isn't a story here. Just appreciate the language and the imagery. It's an art unto itself."
  3. Phoenix Hikari
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    Phoenix Hikari Member

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    I am not sure about the technical things, but I'll try to demonstrate this from pure experience as I have written in both genders.

    Freeverse is just poetry, a poem that's broken to verses with meters and line length and the lines should follow each other so that they flow. It's almost like rhyme but without the similar-sounding words at the end of the lines. Freeverse have rules just like rhyming poetry but prose doesn't really apply to that.

    Prose is more like ranting, it has to flow but it doesn't need metre and/or technical definitions. It runs on its own and I think sometimes defies the rules of grammar. I've written prose, it depends on metaphor and imagery much more than on anything else and the sentences can sometimes run for few lines before coming to a fullstop and starting the next. It's easy to write if you have something personal to write about and your vocabulary/imagination is good.

    Personally I enjoy prose very much, I've read for people (not published) who have made me feel so deeply with sentences that have no rules or grammar. It's beautiful.
  4. digitig
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    digitig Senior Member Contributor

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    There isn't a fixed boundary. Like most things in life, the boundary is fuzzy. There are a lot of poetic techniques beyond metre, and so if there are a lot of linguistic techniques used that interact with the textual meaning then it's got more claim to be poetry; if there aren't then it's easier to see it as prose.
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Prose is structured into sentences and paragraphs. If free verse has any structure, it is around imagery or rhythm, not sentences in paragraphs.

    Free verse can be pretty much whatever the author wants, right down to incoherent, meaningless babbling. If you discard enough of the elements that define poetry, you end up with nothing but noise. Some will still protest, quite loudly, that it is poetry. You don't have to agree.
  6. Solar
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    Solar Member

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    From what I understand, free-verse is a form of poetry that
    deviates from formal structures (sonnet and villanelle are
    examples of formal poetry). Free-verse determines its own form
    and generates its own music; held together by a combination of ideas,
    clear images, internal tension, structure and aural form, free-verse offers the
    readers something unique, creates a sense of freshness, and allows
    for more clarity and precision.

    Prose*, on the other hand, is a slightly different creature. For an example
    of prose, see above. And get yourself a decent dictionary of literary
    terms and theory; should stand you in good stead.



    * Prose - derives from Latin prosa or proversa oratio, meaning
    'straightforward discourse'.
  7. Agatha Christie
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    Agatha Christie New Member

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    Thank you Cogito for your input. I am so glad I don't have to agree that free verse is poetry!! I don't know too much about poetry but 'Incoherent, meaningless babble' definitely rings a bell when it comes to free verse.
  8. Phoenix Hikari
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    Phoenix Hikari Member

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    Not all free verse is meaningless babble, and I'm sure that's not what Cogito meant either. Just like rhyming poetry can be meaningful so can free verse. There are many rhyme poems that sound so bad they should not be labeled as poetry at all.
  9. Solar
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    Solar Member

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    Free-verse can make use of rhyme (slant, full, internal etc).
  10. Berber
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    Berber Member

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    Unfortunately, prose also has the ability to be completely nonsensical and inaccessible, point in case: Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein.

    My interest in writing began in classic French prose. This genre is an enormous gray area as it's a hybrid creature, a blend of traditional writing and poetry. Prose borrows the syntactical structure of fiction, but fills it with the imagery of a poem. Prose is an image driven genre that was first experimented with as a challenge to the conventions of traditional poetry (with is, coincidentally, the reason behind the origin of free verse as well). One of my favorite examples is "Be Drunk" by Charles Baudelaire:

    You have to be always drunk. That's all there is to it--it's the only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk.

    But on what?Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk.

    And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking. . .ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you:"It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish."



    Free verse is simply poetry without meter; it's still constructed in lines and stanzas, but has complete poetic freedom from any other form of structure.
  11. Kaymindless
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    Kaymindless New Member

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    That's my understanding of free verse as well. Something free of the restrictive forms (Which are a pain and a half to write.) Not that it's free of elements that make poetry.
  12. Agatha Christie
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    Agatha Christie New Member

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    Hello Berber. Thanks for the examples. But surely that paragraph "And if sometimes..." could just as easily be an interesting, imaginative paragraph in a fictional story? Maybe, whole chunks of fictional writing could be considered free verse, if it is divided into suitable chunks? The first lines..'You have to be always drunk...' is also, to me, an interesting proposition. But why is this different from a normal sentence....why is this termed poetry? I am not trying to start an argument with you, in particular, Berber, I am just amazed and disconcerted (being new to poetry of any kind) about what is generally considered to be 'poetry'.
  13. digitig
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    digitig Senior Member Contributor

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    Actually, I think it goes the other way. If you discard enough of the elements that define poetry you end up with legalese -- the language of legislation and contracts, where all meaning is strictly on the surface. As you increase the poetic content then the sound and flow of the language start to matter and you move through increasingly stylised forms of prose, through prose poetry, into free verse, into conventional poetry, on, as the balance shifts from surface meaning to sound, into nonsense poetry where the sound of the words is pretty much all that counts (Edith Sitwell's Façade poems, Gaelic "mouth music") and eventually you lose the words altogether and end up with things like scat singing ("incoherent, meaningless babbling"? Yes, but still an art form when done well).
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Supporter Contributor

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    dig and cog have it nailed, imo...
  15. Solar
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    Solar Member

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    Hi. Interesting terminology.

    What exactly do you mean by 'have it nailed'? And once you've
    explained what you mean, can you provide the reasoning behind
    your conclusion, please? I would very much like to critically
    examine this idea of what is or isn't free-verse, and I would like
    to see what people really know.
  16. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma New Member Contributor

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    To nail something/nail something down/have it nailed means to fix in place, or have it exactly right.
  17. Berber
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    Berber Member

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    The example was not free verse. It was a piece of well-established prose from Baudelaire's famous collection Paris Spleen, published in the 1800's. It is important to recognize that this is not a part of a whole - it is a stand alone piece. So the hypothetical you presented is baseless. The difference between the presented example and fiction is the use of language. Fiction wants to portray an idea as cleanly and clearly as possible; prose wants to steep that idea in drawn out images. Even the idea of "be drunk" is an image. Listen to the words and tell me you don't hear the poetry behind them, in particular the paragraph that begins with "And if sometimes..." You would be hard pressed to place a sentence (as it is just one sentence) like that into a work of fiction.

    You have to understand the difference between prose and fiction is that prose leans heavily on the language of poetry and is not concerned with the language of story telling. There's a flow in prose that does not exist in fiction.

    Pulling one sentence from the whole is not beneficial for trying to determine what is and isn't prose. It's like pulling the line "I could not stop for death" from Emily Dickenson's work and saying,"Well that could easily be a sentence found in fiction, so this must be fiction." You need to look at how this sentence affects the whole. "You have to always be drunk," is poetry because it is a metaphor. The line is not simply stating you must always be intoxicated by alcohol, but by passion or kindness. Be drunk on something, anything - a feeling, a fine wine, life. Be drunk so you can be numb to the weight of the world.
  18. Phoenix Hikari
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    Phoenix Hikari Member

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    Fiction is different from prose. In a story we use sentences to tell something as it is, in prose we point at something through something else, i.e Metaphor. "Be drunk" can mean so many different things for each reader. If it was in a sentence in a fiction it would just mean 'Be drunk' and nothing else, but in prose it could mean anything.

    Here's another example that uses much more strong metaphor:

    "Toad, hog, assassin, mirror. Some of its favorite words, which are breath. Or handwriting: the long tail of the ‘y’ disappearing into a barn like a rodent’s, and suddenly it is winter after all. After all what? After the ponds dry up in mid-August and the children drop pins down each canyon and listen for an echo." By Larry Levis

    The words are just words if you look at them individually, look at the whole picture that's being drawn here and try to see the deep meaning of all of it.It menat something to me and it could mean something totally different to you.
  19. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Member Supporter Contributor

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    This makes no sense to me. Fiction is written in prose, generally speaking. Differentiating fiction from prose is like differentiating a steak from meat.
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  20. Berber
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    Berber Member

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    My apologies, I was referring to prose poetry, not simply prose as exposition. I should have clarified.
  21. digitig
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    digitig Senior Member Contributor

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    I think where Cog and I are agreeing is that "free verse" is a fuzzy area on a whole spectrum of writing styles, and trying to pin it down exactly is like trying to work out where blue turns into turquoise. There are some things that are definitely not free verse (Tennyson's Charge of the Light Brigade, for example), just as there are some colours that are definitely not turquoise (eg, vermilion), but once you get into the fuzzy area then opinions can legitimately differ. And where something lies on that spectrum depends on the range and extent of poetic devices used. (Am I being fair to your position, Cog?)
  22. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Member Supporter Contributor

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    No prob! I get you now.
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