Playing Tennis with the Net Down

By Bonnie Stanard

Robert Frost was quoted as saying, “Writing in free verse is like playing tennis with the nets down.” I would ask, If you’re playing tennis with the nets down, are you playing tennis?
Free verse is usually defined as verse without meter or rhyme. Most poetry I read today is free verse, whether we classify it by form as narrative, lyric, sonnet, etc.

Take a look at the excerpt below from “Nightclub”, written by former poet laureate Billy Collins and printed without its versification. Is this poetry or prose? 
You are so beautiful and I am a fool to be in love with you is a theme that keeps coming up in songs and poems. There seems to be no room for variation. I have never heard anyone sing I am so beautiful and you are a fool to be in love with me, even though this notion has surely crossed the minds of women and men alike.
Prose poems have enthusiastic defenders. This is a poem that “appears as prose, but reads like poetry,” according to I’d like to know what reads like poetry means. Prose poems throw out meter and rhyme as well as versification. What meaningful difference is there between prose poems and flash fiction? For poets to stake a claim on prose can only mean the genre is desperate for an audience.

Some poets are staking out territory in music. Poetry on Record, a CD collection, includes several poets reciting to music. I have to wonder when some writer will come out with a CD collection of, not lyric poems, but “song poems” with a trio knocking off a beat in the background.

Poetry slams, defined as performance poetry, have emerged as competitive events. In this case, the success or failure of a poem depends not so much on the merits of the writing as the performer’s ability to entertain. Written representations of these poems convey less in terms of drama or substance. 

Fiction writers rehash characters and plots that have been around since the first written words. They’re able to make prose interesting for the contemporary reader without abandoning the devices that serve the style, things like dialogue, foreshadowing, symbolism, narration, point of view, etc.

In the 20th Century, rhyme morphed into assonance/dissonance, and meter went from structured beat/lines such as iambic pentameter to syllabic and blank verse. Innovation in poetry today seems to be missing the mark. Why have we abandoned rhyme and meter rather than pioneer revolutionary varieties? Surely there are more avenues to explore. Aren’t there?

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