I find poetry interesting. But I'm not sure how to appreciate poems which do not rhyme, like the one below. (I think it is called 'free verse'?) I'd greatly appreciate it if someone could enlighten me.

* * * * *

THE NET

Toward evening the wind changes. Boats
still out on the bay
head for shore. A man with one arm
sits on the keel of a rotting-away
vessel, working on a glimmering net.
He raises his eyes. Pulls at something
with his teeth, and bites hard.
I go past without a word.
Reduced to confusion
by the variableness of this weather,
the importunities of my heart. I keep
going. When I turn back to look
I'm far enough away
to see that man caught in a net.

* * * * *

Usually, I'd have questions such as:

1. How does the author choose to break the lines?

2. Why does the author choose to break the lines at 'Boats', 'keep', etc. (Maybe breaking at 'Boats' leaves a picture in the reader's mind, but what about 'keep'?)

3. What is the significance of these breaks?

4. Why do we call this a 'poem'? How do we judge if one is or not?
1 2 3
Hi clarence! I too would like to have some advice on poetry appreciation. Are there any good sites to help budding poets understand the laws that govern poetry appreciation?
It's a vast area, so I doubt you'll find a single comprehensive site, but googling 'poetry appreciation' will give you a beginning and directions to go.

As you are curious about the line breaks in The Net, Clarence, I'll give you my two yen. I don't know the author, but I don't think much of a couple of the line breaks here. (Now you'll tell me that the poet is famous, a laureate, right?)

The breaks should come (1) to stress the last words/phrases, as you mentioned; (2) to mark out the structure/composition much as punctuation and paragraphing do; (3) alternatively, to draw the reader along by breaking the lines at mid-phrase (this is called 'enjambment'); (4) to dissociate from the succeeding line for purposes of surprise, ambiguity, etc, and/or (4) to maintain a natural rhythm-- though the piece may not be in strict meter, it will probably have an internal flow that the writer wishes to impart to the listener.

Unfortunately, there is another reason (used by new versifiers): to avoid the poem's being mistaken for prose. In that case, you may find the piece broken at very awkward or coy places.

The Net

Toward evening the wind changes. Boats -- I can live with 'boats' out on a limb like this: it leaves the strong image you noticed.

still out on the bay -- sets the broader scene.

head for shore. A man with one arm-- another strong image (we don't know why yet, though).

sits on the keel of a rotting-away -- I would prefer to end on the next word, 'vessel'; that is the image he wants, I think, rather than everything deteriorating.

vessel, working on a glimmering net. -- end of statement.

He raises his eyes. Pulls at something -- this is done, I believe, to tie the two sentences ('He...hard') together; we are urged to view them as closely related actions, a single 'fisherman-image'.

with his teeth, and bites hard. -- end of statement/action/image.

I go past without a word. -- one short simple sentence, isolated, the persona's activity.

Reduced to confusion -- he is going to list more than one confusion below.

by the variableness of this weather, -- one of the confusions.

the importunities of my heart. I keep -- the other confusion, and I would have broken after 'heart'; I don't think the poet meant to leave us with 'heart I keep', which is a romance alien to this poem. In fact, he seems to have trouble keeping his heart, as we'll see below.

going. When I turn back to look -- end of persona's action.

I'm far enough away -- wise to break here, then we don't limit the distance to the seeing of the next line, but can think of other distances as well.

to see that man caught in a net. -- end of poem; line must stop here!

The bigger question is, what does it all mean? Is the persona caught in the net of his importunate heart? Is his heart at a disadvantage like the one-armed fisherman? Getting to the end and developing an interpretation should lead you to re-reading and re-considering the line breaks, and deciding how well the poet has done his work.

Of course, this is only my personal view of this poem; you and the author-- and probably a number of contributors who will post after me on this thread-- will have other opinions. That is what makes poetry fun: you don't have to believe that 2 + 2 = 4.
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...I too would like to have some advice on poetry appreciation. Are there any good sites to help budding poets understand the laws that govern poetry appreciation?...


Hello Benita

One method is imitation. You take, say, a sonnet by Shakespeare; a song by Donne; a lyric by Thomas Hardy; a 25-line passage from T.S. Eliot or Pound. (It's probably best to choose poems you like, at first; and poems in your own first language, of course, if you prefer.)

Then you memorise each poem. Say each one out loud to yourself a few times, once you've memorised it, with your eyes closed. Imagine every event in the poem as you speak it. Try to turn it into a series of pictures.

Once you've done that, learn about the structure of the poem: read about the form of a Shakespearian sonnet, for instance. Examine the rhymes, and listen for any patterns of vowels and consonants when you recite the poem. If you notice any special effects in the poem, see if you can work out how the poet made them happen.

Then write out the meaning of the poem in prose. (Make it as prosaic as possible.)

Last of all, you try to imitate it. For instance, try to put the sentiment of the lyric by Hardy into the form of a Shakespearian sonnet. Try to express the sentiment of the song by Donne in the style of Ezra Pound.

Then post your versions on a website and see what people say.

MrP
Hello MrP,

A lot of helpful advice from both of you here - thank you Mister Micawber & MrP! As I see it, poem appreciation is something that one has to really work hard on. It is like learning how to appreciate a form of art (like a painting). Most certainly ain't a piece of cake! Emotion: smile
Hi Mister Micawber,

I really appreciate your reply. I was thinking it might turn out to be my greatest 'nightmare' if there are no real explanations as to how this kind of poetry could be written. So far, I’ve not found any books that could give me a clear idea. "The bigger question" you mentioned really enlightens me; I've never thought of looking at the poem from this aspect; it gives me a new perspective in appreciating poems. This is great!

There are times when I really feel like letting out my feelings in a poem. But the mystery of it deters me, and even if I get to write something, I tend to look at it with skepticism. Eventually, these 'emotionally filled' moments just pass on. Thanks very much for your detailed explanation; I really learn something; and it has given me some confidence and something I could use. Are there some books that I could refer to as well?

Shall we keep the poet anonymous and let the views be objective and more fun?
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Hello Benita

Yes indeed – though it needn't be such hard work for the ordinary reader; I was writing with your comment about 'budding poets' in mind!

I suppose there's no reason why training oneself to write poetry should be any easier than training oneself to write symphonies. But at least you don't need special paper.

MrP
Hi Benita,

I’ve done some searching in google for “free verse”. The best I’ve got is a explanation of what it is, and this after sorting out the rather overwhelming information on the subject of poetry. I’d like to get to know the sites you mentioned too!
Hi MrPedantic,

Your advice sounds really ingenious to me! It also gives me an idea: maybe poems are first initiated and composed in the mind by forming a series of pictures? and then followed by the words?

The steps do sound quite ‘advanced’ to me. It took me quite a while to digest them. After reading through, I think, mainly, I don’t quite understand the purpose for each step and some of the technicalities (like ‘patterns’ in “listen for any patterns of vowels and consonants”). May I clarify my queries with you below?
  1. Are these steps intended for us to learn how to write poems? Or to understand poems?
  2. What is the rationale or basis for these steps and the sequence they should be followed?
  3. After reading the steps, I was thinking to myself:
- Why choose the four mentioned: a sonnet, a song, a lyric and a 25-line passage?

- Would the steps pose any particular difficulty for the non-native speaker? (I'd likely choose a poem in English, the language of my main interest, though it's not my native language)

- What’s the purpose of memorizing the poem and turning it into a series of pictures?

- What does it mean by “examine the rhymes”? What are “patterns of vowels and consonants”? (listening for these patterns may be difficult for the non-native speaker?) What are the “special effects”?
-
What is the purpose of writing out the meaning of poem in prose?

- What is the purpose of expressing the sentiments of one poem in another form?

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