Free Verse Techniques

Free verse is often defined by what it’s free from—structural meter and rhyme. But what active purposes do lines, line breaks and enjambments serve in free verse? In 1909, French poet Camille Mauclair wrote, “There are as many kinds of free verse as there are poets.” The popular narrative continues to promote this appealingly democratic idea. But, while every poet is unique, there are nevertheless distinct and important technical traditions in free verse. In this workshop, through exercises and readings, we’ll explore the major organizing principles—rhetorical, phrasal, sonic, metaphorical, typographical, etc.—that poets have used since free verse began more than 2500 years ago. Readings will include work by Christopher Smart, William Blake, James Henry, Whitman, Stein, Stevens, Pound, Eliot, H.D., William Carlos Williams, Borges, Charles Olson, Elizabeth Bishop, Gwendolyn Brooks, O’Hara, Plath, Lucille Clifton, Rita Dove and others.

Workshop Details


Joshua Mehigan’s second book, Accepting the Disaster, was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2014 and has since been cited as a best book of the year in the New York Times Book Review, the Times Literary Supplement and other publications. Mehigan’s first book, The Optimist, was a finalist for the 2004 Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His poems have appeared in the New Yorker, New York Times, Village Voice and Poetry, which awarded him its 2013 Levinson Prize. The recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, Mehigan teaches creative writing at the College of Staten Island and is a faculty member of Poetry by the Sea: A Global Conference. He lives in Windsor Terrace.