Robert Frost Hates My Guts

How’s that for a title? Today’s device is Free Verse. It seems an obvious choice, since that is the kind of verse I mostly write; however, I did not choose it for that reason. I chose it because of the detailed definition Packard offers. From The Poet’s Dictionary: A Handbook of Prosody and Poetic Devices, by William Packard:

Free Verse:  Poetry of any line length and any PLACEMENT on the page, with no fixed measure or METER.

Of course there are those for whom the very idea of free verse is anathema – from T.S. Eliot in his essay “Reflections on Vers Libre,” where he says “No vers is libre for the man who wants to do a good job,” to Robert Frost, who once commented caustically, “I’d as soon write free verse as play tennis with the net down.”

The lack of any imposed or a priori form in free verse does not necessarily mean the poet has license to do anything he or she wants; on the contrary, the poet must concern him- herself even more attentively with the organic requirements that grow out of the materials at hand. […]

This is to say that the poet, in a purely intuitive state, may not necessarily be aware of external requirements of form but can trust to creating his or her own order simply by following the impulse of his or her own genius in action. […]

This being the case, a poet may be said to have an even greater responsibility to him- or herself when departing from metered lines and strict end-rhyme to embark on the uncharted terrain of free verse.  The poet must now at all points stay attuned to the peculiar form and shape of his or her own impulse or breath line or process poetry, and will independently create line placements, STANZA breaks, and all the other external manifestations of form that previously had been given to poets.

Surely some of the greatest examples of free verse writing in our literature occur in the Psalms of the Old Testament – in language that is unaccented and unmetered, having only breath units and and clusters of images and ideas to tie them together.

Wow.  I did not know that about Robert Frost.  Did you know he played tennis?  See, you can learn something new every day.

I love this discussion of free verse.  When I do workshops in the schools, I tell the students that I mostly write free verse.  I explain the difference between that and formal poetry, and when I describe free verse, I say that there are no rules, except for those rules which make for good poetry.

What follows most definitely is a draft, but since I had hoped to use this as a kind of forced writing exercise, I won’t apologize.  This draft poem is not yet titled.

She is counting
the days, maybe the hours
until she can escape,
get out from under
the parental thumb
and some days
I imagine her gone
off to school
and am satisfied.
Those are the days
we are like two
bitches in a too small
kennel, and the snarling
and snapping is too much.
She imagines my territory
has gotten smaller,
that she is no longer
part of it. She is right.
She is also wrong.

Some days
I remember the little blonde
in jelly shoes
who jumped off the yellow
school bus with a smile
always a smile, for me
– until the one day
she ran into my arms and cried
because a boy
on the bus had been mean
to her. I offered to pull
his ears off on the spot
and put them in a box
for her. A proper
gift for a princess.
She laughed
and said, “No thank you.”

Those are the days
I am angry with her
because she is leaving me.
Every day
she is angry with me
because I am her mother.
Labor lasts many days longer
than anyone says.

by Suzanne Baldwin Leitner

6 thoughts on “Robert Frost Hates My Guts

  1. Suzanne B. Leitner

    Thank you, Sunnybrook.

    I am waiting to get a reaction to my use of the word, “bitches.” Is that controversial? I was actually attempting to put that word back in its place by using it as pure metaphor, but I don’t know that it worked to that effect.

  2. No ..bitches not controversial, certainly not as used here. And I think it does work. It pretty much all works and sans the maudlin, highlights the universal, which makes your endgame personal observation more telling.

  3. Ann

    Oh Suz,
    Love the honesty and emotion of this poem — and of course the thought of you pulling off the boy’s ears! Helps me know “where you are” these days. I was thinking of you this morning as life was flying by trying to figure out how I would describe my own precious, crazy, unbelievably filled days to you. I may just have to write a poem — if I can ever find the time.
    Love you dearly,
    and yes, I’d love to see you!

  4. Suzanne B. Leitner

    After re-reading this poem several times, I fear it suffers from the wrong kind of “closure -” the “Do you get it” closure that Packard disparages in his book. But … it is a draft. Maybe if I re-order some lines…

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