Blank Verse: Don’t Be Intimidated

Blank Verse

Poets who want to appear “intellectual” (cue the snobbish accent) will use Blank Verse.

See, I’m already limiting my readers who are turning off because I’m using the jargon of educational poetry.


Okay, first, let me talk about “professors” and “educators” of higher content learning. (I am using “**” here so you will know I am being SARCASTIC about these terms. These people aren’t teachers. Sorry, back to my point.)

These people are professors or they are secondary educators who run the Advanced Placement level courses in high school and many of the higher level college & university courses.

Some of these “people”—not all of them—act as if the knowledge they have is arcane, open to only the privileged few. They want to keep their content secret. They present the information in dribs and drabs wrapped around by multiple distractors, so that only a special few will understand it.

Grrr. These “people” make me mad. They made me mad when I was part of them; they still make me mad.

For example, Math “people” hate John Harold Saxon Jr. For years they decried his methods. Find information about John Saxon, math genius, here.   Now that he’s dead, they’re stealing his methods. Oh, I thought his methods were worthless. Guess not!


I want you to understand and enjoy poetry as more than mindless words set to music. From January of this year to now, I have attempted to present various ideas about poetry in a challenging but not a complicated manner. I’ve truly enjoyed several of these blogs:

“Tigers to be Tamed” about Coldplay’s “Clocks” ::

“4 Requirements of Song” about Dolly Parton’s “Wildflowers” ::

“Riddling Allegories” with Carole King’s “Tapestry” ::

“Poets & the Three Unities” ::

And I still love my blog about Symbolic Colors from 2016 and repeated every summer ::

My point:  Well, it’s simple.

Don’t be intimidated.

Actually, don’t let anything intimidate you. If you’re struggling, ask for help. If certain “people” (there’s those “**” again) won’t help, they are not worthy; move to someone else. If you’re not struggling, well, have fun!

And with these lessons, I won’t keep it simple, but I will tell you what you need to know.

Okay, here we go.

Blank Verse

Don’t panic.

Part One:  Blank Verse is called “blank” because it doesn’t rhyme.

See, regular poetry rhymes at the end of the line (it’s called “end rhyme”. That’s not hard.)  Blank Verse doesn’t.

Part Two: Blank Verse has a regular beat.


Regular poetry follows a regular beat:  Remember “Roses are red / Violets are blue / Sugar is sweet / And so are you.”  Hear the rocking-chair beat?

Now, I could go all “English teacher” on you and talk about pyrrhic meter or iambs and trochees or anapest and dactylic . . . but I won’t. I will say that most people will tell you that “Blank Verse is unrhymed iambic pentameter.”  There, that’s out of the way.

All we need to know—unless we’re studying to be English teachers ~ and I worked for YEARS with English teachers who didn’t know this and didn’t care to learn it—is that Blank Verse will usually and predominantly have 10 syllables per line.

This is how we distinguish Blank Verse from Free Verse.

Free Verse will NOT have a certain number of syllables on each line.

Caveat:  Shakespeare liked to mess with his syllables to prevent that rocking-chair beat of “Roses are red”. I don’t blame him. He was writing some serious stuff, there. You have to avoid a rocking chair when you’re writing philosophy.

So, Blank Verse is different from Pure Verse because it does not rhyme while PURE verse does AND it is different from Free Verse because it will have 10 syllables per line and FREE verse will switch the syllable count up.

Blank Verse in Practice

Now, old-timey poets working in English (they come after Shakespeare, not the decrepit ones before him, ya know) liked to use Blank Verse to give their poetry an “intellectual snobbery”.

And they wound up all their words to sound “intellectual”, too.

Here’s an example:  “Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant. You don’t have to read it unless you want to. You should go and look at the first lines and at the end of the lines, and take a gander at the length.

If you can make it through the first 72 lines, good for you. You don’t have to. Basically, drop over to the link and count the syllables per line on the first ten or so lines, and you’ll see that the majority of lines run about 10 syllables per.

You can take my word for it, if you want to. With students, we count the syllables out for a bit to prove the point. Invariably, one will go on looking for more or less syllables to prove me wrong and wind up proving me right.

Here’s how WCBryant is intellectual:  He says “Thanatopsis” so only a few people will know what he’s talking about. See, he’s making it arcane.

Thanatos is the Greek god of Death; he’s the one you didn’t want touching you. (Hades ruled the Land of the Dead; he wasn’t Death.)  “Opsis” means “looking/seeing”. So the poem is about looking at death.

The whole first 72 lines basically says

1) everybody is afraid of death,

2) we don’t need to be afraid of death,

3) our bodies are simply manure for plants and everything that comes after us,

4) everybody is going to wind up the same way:  dead,

and 5) Dead will look just like life, with people of all ages and professions and economics.

It’s the last stanza that’s important, and I used to have my students memorize it:  Live your life in such a way that you are not afraid to die. Cuz you’re going to die, okay? Okay.

Bryant takes 81 lines to say all of that. “Thanatopsis” is a classic of American literature. It’s the reason high school students hate poetry. It’s the reason adults look back at high school English classes and say, “I don’t understand poetry.”

Well, jeez, when we have to plow through mucky mire with things like WCB’s “Thanatopsis”, none of us understand anything.

I Got Your Back

Not all Blank Verse is like WCBryant, thank God.

Here’s one by Robert Frost, “For Once then, Something” about looking into a deep well, trying to see beyond literally and figuratively, and being mocked for doing so but still trying:

And one really recent, political and accusatory, by Terrence Hayes:

And from Seamus Heaney, “Storm on an Island,” which speaks to all of us of the elementals of life that dwarf us and give us fear but which we still bow our heads and walk into. This link provides annotations which provide an interpretation:


If you go looking for modern blank verse, avoid Poetry Foundation. They have misidentified pure blank verse, and you’ll find a lot of poems that don’t fit. PF is usually very good, but they let us down here.

And I stumbled upon a review of a book that I would like to put in my ToBeRead stack, which never seems to go down:

Next blog, some Old and New Masters of the Blank Verse form. Shakespeare, of course. Who else? Well, join us to be surprised.

We’re on the 5ths!  And you may need a 5th of something after this blog.

Free Verse: a 3rd Look at Masters Old and New

We’re looking at Major Poetic Methods Every Poet Should Know.

Our focus this time is the MMO: the poet’s Means, Method, and Opportunity, or kairos, as Aristotle called it.

Shaped Verse

The Old Master: Roger McGough, “40 Love” with the net between them

MMO > Means:  lobbing the words back and forth, just as a tennis ball does. Method: the shape of a tennis game. Opportunity: the couple stays together, even though they may bicker, even though they may no longer love each other, they have lost the connection between them.

The barrier is there, like the net on a tennis court invisible to us but relevant to them.

And this invisible net now explains the title, both a reference to the score of a tennis game and the ennui of the middle-aged couple.

A New Master: well, this is an interesting problem. It’s hard to find contemporary shaped poetry that doesn’t devolve into sentimentality or juvenile wish fulfillment. Let’s try the Prose Poem.

Carolyn Forché’s “Ancapagari” (found on Poetry Foundation)

In the morning of the tribe this name Ancapagari was given to these mountains. The name, then alive, spread into the world and never returned. Ancapagari: no foot-step ever spoken, no mule deer killed from its foothold, left for dead. Ancapagari opened the stones. Pine roots gripped peak rock with their claws. Water dug into the earth and vanished, boiling up again in another place. The water was bitten by aspen, generations of aspen shot their light colored trunks into space. Ancapagari. At that time, if the whisper was in your mouth, you were lighted.

Now these people are buried. The root-taking, finished. Buried in everything, thousands taken root. The roots swell, nesting. Openings widen for the roots to surface.

They sway within you in steady wind of your breath. You are forever swinging between this being and another, one being and another. There is a word for it crawling in your mouth each night. Speak it.

Ancapagari has circled, returned to these highlands. The yellow pines deathless, the sparrow hawks scull, the waters are going numb. Ancapagari longs to be spoken in each tongue. It is the name of the god who has come from among us.

MMO > Means: four paragraphs. Fragmented sentences alternated with complete ones. Method: It looks like any other prose; however, it reads as poetry, compact ideas with rhetorical repetition and climatic ordering. Opportunity: the resurgence of life once gone yet never departed, the power of the cyclical eternal to influence us when we allow ourselves to open and “speak it”.

Simple Form

Old Master: Carl Sandburg’s “Bones”

MMO > Means: a dramatic monologue of someone who died at sea. Method: the speaking voice contrasts the mundane grave with the “song of thunder, crash of sea”. Opportunity:  if we cannot live an extraordinary life, we can give our bones an extraordinary death.

New Master: Billy Collins’ “Introduction to Poetry”

MMO > Means: presenting the reactions a poet wants to hear from the audience. Method: the catalog across stanzas. Check out that list! Opportunity: Collins wants students to enjoy the poem, not analyze it to death.

Literature classes often over-analyze. As Archibald MacLeish says, perhaps the poem “should not mean / But be.”

New Master: Charles Simic’s “Stone”

MMO > Means: a simple imagining of the life of a stone. Method: three unrhymed stanzas, repetition, anaphora and other devices. Opportunity:  Like Sandburg’s “Bones”, this poem is about transformation. Simic, however, imagines the serene existence of the stone only to wonder if it hides a more volatile existence beneath a cold, hard covering ~ as we often encounter with people, the difference between their exterior and interior lives.

Wrapping Up

Coming Next: We look at Blank Verse. Part 2A will introduce considerations with Blank Verse; part 2B will provide more examples.

We’re on the 5ths!  Join us.

Newbies: Live as a Writer, Learn as a Writer

It’s a series on Advice to Newbie Writers. This is transitioning to the podcast The Write Focus.

Advice to Newbies ~ Live and Learn

Herewith, a continuation of my response to a Newbie Writer’s concerns. (See the 9/1 post to read her second email. Names are changed to protect the innocent.) This series began back in July, and I offered that Newbie Writer 7 mistakes along with ways to avoid them. August followed with 3 Newbie Notta Mistakes, because everyone with a little sense goes into something completely new with background research. Since she popped a much longer email to me for more information about Advice to Newbie Writers, my response to that one became the September posts … and those responses are continuing here in October.
She sent a third email, which I posted on October 1 (Remember, names changed!).

On Oct. 5, I presented the six basic steps that every writer follows: Write / Covers / Edit / Format / Publish / Market.

On the 15th, are the basic ideas about Write the Novel.

This post looks at that first step without going into great detail.

If you want great detail about Writing the Novel, you can look at Discovering Your Novel, a 52-week slow-burn through the entire 6-step process, needing only a few minutes each day for those of us with hectic lives and stressful jobs.

If you want more detail about Plotting or Character Development, here are two great resources.

Discovering Characters

Discovering Your Plot






The focus of this post is Step 2 :: Covers, 3 and 4: / Edit / Format.


Covers are the reader’s first impression.

In 2013 and 2014, when I was first launching into my indie writer journey, the independent marketplace for electronic books offered a wide range. It still does, but the lower end of the spectrum is gradually going away.

Excellent covers. Cheaply made covers (all words and no images). Horrible covers. That’s the spectrum mark-points.

Whenever you consider the six basic steps (listed above, in bold), you have to juggle what you can do with what you shouldn’t do. One of the decision-making processes is WIBBOW: Would I be better off writing? That should drive the first and strongest part of your decision process.

The other considerations are cost and time.

When I launched, I wanted to spend my time on writing, not learning cover design. I still want that focus.

Looking for a cover designer on the internet would surely not be hard, I thought.

Looking wasn’t hard.

Finding cover designers wasn’t hard.

Finding a cover designer that had a portfolio that fit my own vision as well as one who clearly presented the cover design business as a professional endeavor – extra hard.

Three parts to that one. Did you see them?

  • Portfolio means that they were generating work over and over again.
  • My own vision means that we would have few clashes over aesthetic differences.
  • Professional means … Well, there are more and more horror stories about graphic designers and money down the drain and covers yanked back after they were published and stealing cover designs and not properly licensing images used and on and one. Yikes!

Longer story shorter, I thought finding a cover designer would be easy. Nope. Took 18 months of on and off looking, month after month.

While looking, I managed to write the third book … while holding down a horrible creativity-sucking job … and format the other three books to electronic publishing standards … and even tinker with a few as-yet-unwritten ideas … along with pulling from storage another HistRomSusp but in a different time period. 18 months.

In that time, I also set aside a little bit of money every month to pay for the cover designs of four books.

The cover designer that I found is extremely professional. From the beginning, the designer has used a template that covers all sorts of things about the novel, characters and setting, tone and genre, and more. The designer can do ebooks and paperbacks and social media packages. The company can do book bundles and provides all images in an easy manner.

In emails back and forth, the three project managers (all still working for this small business company) have taught me about branding series and branding for authors and much, much more. Things I never would have considered about graphic design.


Branding is something that every writer needs to consider. Branding your book so that it will standout for its genre. Branding for the series of connected books. Branding your writing self.

Everything that I have learned about branding—basically creating your own Marketing Ploys, I put into a book called Discovering Your Author Brand.

I don’t teach about cover design, but I offer several ways to understand how to develop your cover design—as well as considerations when you are branding an entire series.

I don’t teach about creating your marketing image, but I offer several elements that you might not think of.

Finally, I do teach about how to create a video trailer. People are visual, and people like movement. A video trailer will give readers a moving visual (but not a movie) about your book or your series. Finding places to put your video trailer so readers can find your books—that’s the hard part of marketing that I’m still working on.

Best marketing ploy—word of mouth. Increase that, and your books will fly.



Free Verse: New Masters

Hey! Remember this? We’re looking at the various ways that we classify poetry.

First off, all writing is either  Prose or Poetry.  Plays are either one or the other—with Shakespeare, you sometimes get both.

For example, in Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare distinguishes between prose and poetry and between Blank Verse and Pure Verse.

  • Prose: any lines that are just plan fun are usually written as prose, such as the servants’ conversation at the very beginning.
  • Poetry: All other lines follow poetry, with a standard meter (Yss, a few lines are exceptions. Cast back to the Symbolic Numbers blog and consider why a line about Death would have 11 syllables?)
  • Blank Verse: Lines that discuss the feud between the families.
  • Pure Verse: any lines that advance the love story are written as poetry.

R&J is about the only Shakespeare play that is so tightly written to follow this rule. The classic procrastinator’s play Hamlet is not one of his better written works, and the structure of the lines is all over the place.

This is all digression, however, to remind you of what we’re doing.

And we’re focusing on the New Masters of Free Verse.

On the 15th, we looked at Old Masters of the three forms of Free Verse.

Today, the 25th, we look at New Masters of those three forms.


The New Master: Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Constantly Risking Absurdity”

Ferlinghetti reminds us that poets are performers, risking their public acceptance just as a trapeze artist does. Both work without a safety net.

Ferlinghetti’s structure mimics the acrobatic performance as the words walk back and forth across the taut lines of verse.


The New Master: Gwendolyn Brooks’ “The Pool Players”

Brooks plays with unusual rhyming, but the tight control of her lines lands this poem firmly in the free verse world. She adds in alliteration to keep everything tightly controlled.

Classic Form

The New Master: Arcelis Girmay’s “Elegy”

What to do with this knowledge 
that our living is not guaranteed?

Perhaps one day you touch the young branch 

of something beautiful. & it grows & grows 

despite your birthdays & the death certificate, 

& it one day shades the heads of something beautiful 

or makes itself useful to the nest. Walk out 

of your house, then, believing in this. 

Nothing else matters.

All above us is the touching 

of strangers & parrots, 

some of them human, 

some of them not human.

Listen to me. I am telling you

a true thing. This is the only kingdom.

The kingdom of touching;

the touches of the disappearing, things.

Notice how Girmay uses the ampersand, that looping connecter, which stresses that this poem is about connections. She plays with the idea of the catalog, but doesn’t carry it through–that would become too jerky and abrupt for her concept of smoothly curving connections.

Aracelis Girmay, “Elegy” from Kingdom Animalia. Copyright © 2011 by Aracelis Girmay. From Poetry Foundation:

Coming UP

November begins with a third look at free verse before launching into Blank Verse.

Join us.