Free verse and prose rhythms, by definition, do not have metrical organizing schemes, but does this mean that rhythm in free verse or prose poems is like speech or prose rhythm? Taking up these questions debated since the advent of modernist free verse more than one hundred years ago, this essay draws on recent critical literary and linguistic findings to formulate a new method for scanning and comparing rhythm in English-language free verse and prose genres. The comparison of six texts suggests that in poetic free verse or prose texts rhythm constructs information-rich, multilevel, context-specific semantic systems in a way that does not occur in the nonpoetic texts. These results contest persisting prosodic theories that free verse and prose poetry are largely written in prose, and suggest that rhythm is a more important generic marker of the poetic function than lineation is.

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