Free verse is a literary device that can be defined as poetry that is free from limitations of regular meter or rhythm, and does not rhyme with fixed forms. Such poems are without rhythm and rhyme schemes, do not follow regular rhyme scheme rules, yet still provide artistic expression. In this way, the poet can give his own shape to a poem however he or she desires. However, it still allows poets to use alliteration, rhyme, cadences, and rhythms to get the effects that they consider are suitable for the piece.
One of the instructions that I often give to my home education students when writing poetry is to break the rules. As a rule-follower, some students and parents who know me may accuse me of hypocrisy. Yet, poetry demands an effort to push the known boundaries of tradition in order to create something "new." I place "new" in quotation marks because history does tend to repeat itself, and poetry often lends itself well to imitation in style, theme, and wording. (Remember that Marianne Moore often quoted other sources in her work, which is often known as found poetry. I will cover this form in detail in another post, but for my curious readers you can learn more about it here.)
Free verse is a form without a set form. It relies more on line breaks and other literary devices to convey rhythm and sound. Although Walt Whitman was the first American poet known to have constructed free verse poetry, its roots began in France during the 1880s. The Imagist poets embraced this form with such fervor that many contemporary poets write the majority of their poems in free verse.
Because free verse is flexible in form, it is important to read quality examples to understand how to write it well. It is a matter of practicing and playing with the lines and sounds to create a poem that is concrete and universal while still including the allure of the unknown. I encourage my readers to explore free verse poems here and then practice, practice, practice at breaking the rules.