Before I seriously began writing poems over a decade ago, I studied metrics for about six months. I started by reading Timothy Steele’s All The Fun’s In How You Say a Thing: An Explanation of Meter and Versification and also William Baer’s Writing Metrical Poetry. Then I wrote nothing but metrical verse for about nine straight months. I’d try nothing but strict iambic pentameter for a few weeks. Then I’d write in iambics with substitutions. Eventually, I’d switch it up and write trochaic verse for another week. I even wrote a series of sapphic stanzas, which are incredibly difficult to pull off in English.
It was a painful process; most of what I wrote was junk. Everything seemed like children’s poem–too comical or too sentimental. After several months, I started breaking through. This poem called “Narnia,” published in The Road Not Taken, The Journal of Formal Poetry, was probably the first time I felt like I’d written something truly original.
My sons, these stories cut a path
through the thick and tangled forest’s wrath
of your restless minds. Your eyes sway deep.
Your breath attunes to rhythmic sleep.
You slip below the sand’s caprice
secure in the traveler’s layered fleece.
The hazy night god guards the crows
those creeping birds, those shaded flows.
It’s then I open your closet bold
and waver through the hanging cold.
I feel the branches under tread
and there emerge in snow. Ahead,
next to a lamp post, in a glowing thaw,
the dark outline of a lion’s paw.
Working in meter and rhyme for so long helped me when I switched back to writing free verse, so I’d recommend giving it a go. While it wasn’t tennis with the net down, it helped me develop my free-verse style which I still use today–moving in an out of iambic meter depending on how I am trying to use tone and movement. Even better, it taught me rhythm quicker than if I’d simply wrote in free verse from the beginning.