I found this morsel of Auden while reading today:
(Source) “The poet who writes ‘free verse’ is like Robinson Crusoe on his island: he must do all his cooking, laundry, darning, etc. In a few exceptional cases, this manly independence produces something original and impressive, but more often the result is squalor: empty bottles on the unswept floor, dirty sheets on the unmade bed.”
I like the analogy. Some of the best advice I’ve ever received was from a formalist poet who told me to study the classic forms along with rhyme and meter. It would improve my own free verse, he said. He was right.
While in college, I took to free verse right away because up till that point I had only been exposed to the classic poems of high school literature. Contemporary poets and their breaking away from traditional forms cleared my mind and freed my imagination. But what I wasn’t aware of then was that my poetry lacked the focus that metrics brings to the poetic table. Later, I took to studying the forms – sonnets, sestinas, villanelles – and learned that the meter and rhythm of formal poetry can be used in free verse too. Frederick Turner was right. It made me a better poet.