When a poet chooses to write a poem in a pre-existing form, with an expected rhyme scheme, there is a particular pressure on each line, and pressure on the poet to avoid the kind of easy rhymes Mara described last week. When we write in free verse, we are free to improvise, but there is still pressure to make the most of every word, and the form, line length, and repetitions of sounds have to come from within the poem itself. This poem began as a notation, an effort to capture a sound-thought, an experience of listening, and gradually emerged from the block of prose like a carved figure.
Out of the beat
The drummer looks left,
far offstage; wrists supple,
he brushes the skins
clips the cymbal, hangs something
I can't hear in the air.
It seems to me he left out a count
but they all dive in after the solo,
no bumps on Route 66.
I nod, tap a toe, a finger,
watch the horn player trace the melody
before escaping on a musical ATV
off-road, off the leash.
I catch a note here and there
like a blaze along a rough-hewn trail.
They track with shoulders down
almost without looking –
I am listening to jazz.
Once or twice I lose myself and
forget I don't know where I am –
muted horn calls to the sax
piano anchors in thin air
a chart that tells them
where to go and who they are
playing with the beat
toying with it all.
A cool nod recognizes
the applause of the crowd.
It was never about making time --
It's the space between pulse and life,
silence lost and a paradise regained.
--Karen Lynn Erickson
Photo courtesy of Joe Sullivan
Invitation for your writing:
Choose a sensory experience you wish to capture in language, in order to relay it to someone who was not with you at the time. Write a prose paragraph describing the sensations, and then transform the paragraph to free verse. How many words can you remove without losing the evocative power? Where will you create breaks between the lines? Do you find yourself revising your text to create rhyme or to emphasis the pulse of the poem?