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Free verse is a modern form of poetry that does not follow any specific rhyme or metrical scheme, although it does not completely abandon the basic poetic precepts of heightened language and sonics. This type of poetry is said to have been popularized by such notable poets as Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson during the late 19th century, although earlier poets like the mystic William Blake were beginning to pull away from the restrictions of the formal poetry of their day. Whitman's signature collection, Leaves of Grass, is almost entirely composed of free verse poetry. Dickinson, however, still wrote much of her poetry according to the metrics and rhyme of a favored hymn composer.
This style of poetry soon became popular with rebellious young poets such as the Frenchman Artur Rimbaud, who wrote many of his best free verse before the age of 18. Other poets embraced the form as a way to express raw emotions or unbridled passion not generally found in the formal poetry of their time. Whitman himself referred to this artistic awakening as the great YAWP, a call for all artists to break free of social conventions and live life to its fullest.
Free verse poetry continued to evolve throughout the 20th century, beginning with poets such as Carl Sandburg and Robert Frost, both of whom were equally comfortable with this form as well as formal poetry. Other poets, such as Amy Lowell and Edna St. Vincent Millay, however, were primarily known for their often scathing free verse poetry. The acerbic writer Dorothy Parker used it to address the social and political issues of her generation. Perhaps the most admired poet in this style was the expatriate Ezra Pound, who became a mentor to many of the 20th century's most famous authors and poets.
Perhaps the poet who pushed the limits of free verse the most was e.e. cummings, an artist and poet whose work reflected the jagged sensibilities of the Jazz Age. cumming's poetry completely abandoned the classical form in favor of idiosyncratic language and stunning visual construction. While some modern literary critics may consider cummings to be more style than substance, many poets working in the style today credit him as an inspiration. Although the style may sound like an opportunity to compose lesser work, the best free verse poets still have a respect for the craft and a method to their madness.