People who maintain that there is such a thing as “free verse” deny that “verse” is measured language and to write it one has to count so many syllables to a line in some way. They cite the derivation of the word from plowing a field and “turning” when one comes to the end of a row. But such folks, I guess, have never watched a farmer plowing a field. The farmer plows to the end of his field, then turns and plows to the other end of the field before he turns again. That farmer’s field has limits, and he plows the WHOLE field, not half a row here, then a third of a row there, and three-quarters of a row next, and so forth. That’s what one does when one writes “free verse.”
Let’s say that the “field” is a paragraph. One begins to write a sentence of that paragraph, but before one gets to the end of the sentence the “plowman” decides to begin a second row after writing a phrase; he continues it to the end of that phrase, then he begins a third row until he finishes a clause. He begins another row and a new clause in row four, and so on until he has finished his poem, until he has finished “plowing his field.” Stand back and look at that field – what do the rows look like? They are uneven; there is unplowed earth at the ends of many of them. They look like a “free verse” poem.
Listen, all you poets who cling to a ridiculous term because you feel as though you cheat when you write a lineated prose poem: THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH PROSE POETRY! You don’t have to justify your practice by clinging to a metaphor that won’t hold up against scrutiny simply because you think that the English tradition requires you to write in “verse.” It does not! There have been prose poems written in the English language since the Roman occupation of Britain. Neither Edgar Allan Poe in “Eureka” nor Walt Whitman in “Song of Myself” knew anything of “free verse” when they wrote their prose poems; neither did Christopher Smart or William Blake or the translators of the King James Bible. It was the satirical French who invented the term “vers libre,” and they weren’t writing it either.