In free verse poetry you should always know why you end a line where you do and start the next one. Your reason does not have to satisfy anyone else but you. But if someone asks you, “Why did you end that line there,” you should be able to tell them why. If they don’t agree, too bad; it’s your choice. But you must have a reason.

Play One Line off Another Line
You might experiment with lines that play off each other, so you read a line and think it means one thing but when you read the next line you realize it means something slightly different. And then you may read the next line and a whole new meaning is twisted in. For example:

She could’ve been a prophet
From some ancient time,
Sent 2,000 Years into the future,
Cross the globe,

An evangelist who’d seen Christ
Raised up on a cross,
Who had shed tears
Upon the lovely
Body, wiped the lovely blood
Off His own hands,
And whose words came

From the mouth of God.
I thank God, she was,
and that she was my mom.

We shared life lovely,
and life hard, our hands
Intertwined, our hearts
Entwined, Praying
At the dining room table.

A Few Examples of Using Line for Effect

This is one of my poems written for my mom (Only a piece of it). The first four lines are ordinary, except the word “She” foreshadows that something is odd — a woman prophet? May be in some religions.


The word “Christ” shifts meaning

But when we see “Christ” it doesn’t make sense. Christian women usually weren’t prophets 2,000 years ago, or evangelists.

That she saw Christ “Raised up on a cross,” adds another spin
Now we find she supposedly not only saw Christ, but saw him lifted up on a cross. This adds to the previous. The image we get when it says “Seen Christ” is perhaps him healing people, preaching, etc. But she saw him raised upon the cross, far more serious.

Next line adds intimacy and inclusion

But in the next line we find she “shed tears.” So we know she cared. But in the next line we find she shed tears “Upon the lovely/Body, wiped the lovely blood/” So now we know not only did she care, but she was one of the chosen, worthy not only of being near enough to see Christ after his death but to actually shed tears upon it and wipe the lovely blood.”  She was included into his group.

Who can argue with God?
And her words came from the mouth of God. This cements the fact she is a prophet, one close to the source, Jesus.

One line can change the meaning of the whole poem
Then, in one line the whole course of the poem is changed. “She was my mom.” (So see, one line can change all the lines before it. Now we’re jerked into the 21st century, and we’re not talking about anyone who actually lived in the time of Jesus.

Five lines sum up the poem
The last stanza finishes this new twist by adding a mere five lines on our relationship. First line, “Lovely,” second line “hard.” First and second lines contrast each other, giving reader a chance to see both ends of life’s experiences. Notice that I don’t end the line on the tail end of a thought. This is how it could’ve looked:

We shared life lovely
We shared life hard
Our hands were intertwined
our hearts were entwined;
We prayed at the dining table.

Line use adds to poetic quality of poem
This revision doesn’t have any of the poetic qualities of the original. Since one whole thought is contained in each line the lines seem disassociated from each other. (This isn’t necessarily bad for some type of poems, but only if you want those lines separated for effect. this is usually done using couplets)

Two ideas can share one line
So there is an effect you can get by splitting one thought into two lines. It tends to give continuity to the poem and layers on meaning line to line. If each line contains exactly one thought, there is no transfer of imagery, thought, ideas, etc., from one line to another, which is not good for most poems, though effective to use occasionally.

Do it your way

Free verse is a continual experimentation with doing things your own way instead of like form poems where everything is solidified. What I have shown you is a few techniques. There are many others.


Donald Standeford


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