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Verse constructed in specific forms relies in part on specific patterns and rhythms. In the past, most verse relied upon specific forms to communicate meaning. For example, iambic pentameter is a form used by Shakespeare, among other writers. Iambic pentameter is a specific combination of stressed and unstressed syllables.
In contrast, structure changed along with as attitudes toward creating meaning through verse. Writers instead chose to break forms, patterns, and meaning to create new structures. They relied upon other influences, such as music, rather than specific, traditional verse structures. African American poetry in the Black Arts Movement as well as the Beat Poets are examples of free verse. Free verse does not conform to a specific pattern or rhythm yet may have a new structure that the writer chooses or constructs or even no structure at all. Quite often, contemporary poets do not rely upon the concrete structures of the past and, instead, chose to write in free verse. Sometimes, free verse borrows from formal verse structures but does not follow patterns or rhythmic rules as rigidly as in the past.
Imtiaz Dharker’s “The Right Word” follows the conventions of free verse, as well as some of her other poems. One helpful way to determine this is to tap, clap, beat, or otherwise count the syllables in a few lines and a few stanzas of the poem. If the pattern seems to be irregular, most likely the poem is written in free verse.
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