Wondering how to write a vers libre or just have a penchant for poetry? We thought so - let's take a look at WhyItMeter's most recent composition through the tripartite process outlined in the premiere blog of the Why It Meters poetry analysis series.
Let's start with topic/theme. The inspiration for this poem is forthright - I, quite literally, haven't been getting enough sleep recently. In place of this slumber, I've been staying up late at night, working on projects and poetry, "fishing for lines." It's an all too familiar affliction, especially for those caught up in the allure of some lofty far-off payoff - trust me, without sleep, the payoff won't come, fatigue and burnout will quickly supplant that former ardor. Admittedly, each night as I watched the hours tick by and by, I always felt an ounce of guilt in my industrious indulgence. Naturally, I set out to personify my affair with ambition, leaving sleep alone at night, waiting for her other half to crawl into bed and drift off together. With the central image of listlessly fishing while sleep lay there wishing for her spouse to come home, I began writing about my sleepy affair.
In terms of structure, form, meter, and rhyme, I decided to take my own approach. Although it isn't technically free verse, as I follow a consistent meter and rhyme scheme throughout (except in line 4, where the anacrusis of "Much" is to highlight the inordinate amount of things to "discase" before I can sleep), to the best of my knowledge, this structure does not follow any preexisting form. That's okay! Actually, that's great! It's shows your poetic panache. In this case, I wanted to go for dactylic trimeter with an extra stressed syllable to punctuate the rhyme and lend the poem a sing-song quality. From this, the poem adopts a farcical element, an air fairytale romance satirizing the childishness of my inane industrious affair. Emphatically, I would say keep this idea of ambiance in mind. Read your poem several times over as you compose the piece. Note the tone - Is this the air that you're looking for? Does the tone fit with your theme/message? If not, which would you rather change: your theme, or your tone? These are all questions I ask myself continually throughout the writing process. In fact, I've started writing my poems in pencil because the indelibility of ink rendered my notebook illegible chicken scratch! Digressions aside, as stated last time, rhythm is the heart of your poem. No matter the ingenuity of your wordplay or imagery, the audience will first note how difficult or easy it is to read your poem; use this pacing mechanism to your advantage. Throw in an anacrusis (an extra syllable to the beginning of a line) or catalexis (extra syllable at the end of a line) to emphasize a message or lend a jarring effect in disrupting the meter. Poetry, often, is a plug and chug process. Test what works, scrap what doesn't, and never be afraid to wander off the beaten path.
In terms of devices and minutia, I'll keep it terse. First, the diction of "discase" is a play-on-words, implying both that there is "much more to this case ('dis case)" (tying in with the idea of briefcase, workload, and tired ambition) and saying that there is "much more to unclothe" before I can finally crawl into bed. Carrying on, the alliteration of "wasteland of wraith" not only augments the line's flow, but also ties in with the idea of sleepless work. "Waste" implies work that merely amounts to trash (due to the poor quality of tired labor) and "Wraith" hints not only at hallucinations/psychosis caused by insomnia, but also at the intangibility of the projects and payoffs for which I strain myself "reeling." Similarly, the dash/enjambment of "mist-tris" is a play on words for "mistress," while tying in with the motif of ephemerality via "mist." When personifying an idea or concept, I would strongly recommend providing a name - with the subtle inclusion of "Tris," the mistress becomes real, personal, relatable. aI then dive into the fishing conceit, with my mistress (a siren of sorts) "luring me into line fishing at night" - "line fishing," of course, being a reference to the laborious process of writing poetry, searching for the lines of verse as I write this very poem late into the night. Crudely, "rod as I reel" connotes a phallic reference, both standing as a sexual symbol to tie into the idea of affair, and to symbolize my lust for power and success that gets in the way of quality sleep. "Pesci," implies both fish and the play-on-words "pesky," implying the elusiveness of ephemeral success and maritime lines of verse. Juxtaposing this lust, Sleep is portrayed as faithfully weeping with "watery eyes" (note the consistency in the maritime motif), and the diction notably simplifies. At this point in the poem, I wanted to forgo all the word-play and dalliance with which the poem started. This was to be the moment of simple regret, wistful betrayal, lonely longing lingering from unrequited love. In writing your own poems, I would keep this juxtaposing elevation of language in mind; I often find that the simplest lines become the most impactful, the most memorable in a sea of linguistic play and wit. With the symbol of the moon being associated with sleep, it becomes clear that "Sleep" is the true dream, the genuine payoff that I long for, beyond transient, laborious lust. I'd recommend ending your poems on a simple note, a direct message to the reader that pierces through all of the poetic loftiness that (intentionally or not) obscures your thesis.
Now I know that is a lot to unpack, but keep in mind, these are all my ideas plucked from inordinate iterations of inane trials and embarrassing error. Poetry, perhaps more so than any other literary form, is a process of test and re-test. If you ever have any questions or are looking for suggestions on your own poetic compositions, feel free to contact me personally or submit your work to the Public's Poetic Publications page. Keep on writing and don't forget to count those sheep! Looking forward to your Spring Cleaning Poetry submissions!
-Lucas M. (WhyItMeters)